Sparks o' a Story: I said it would suit you

Today was so much harder, because HISTORICAL FICTION, Y'ALL! I wanted to get all the things right. I'm fairly certain that I didn't, but as no-one is likely to cite me as an authority on WWI soldiery, I guess that's okay.

Day 2:
In third person, set in a historical time period.

He was cleaner than he had been in weeks, there was the prospect of a decent night's sleep, and for once, the miserable, bone-chilling rain had stopped. Lieutenant Brantley should have been reasonably content. Instead, these small comforts served only to throw his greater desolation into a more accusing light. 

His booted feet carried him through the center of a village that could have been, he reflected, not unlike an English village, or any other quiet, country town, anywhere in the world. He saw the tidiness of it all beneath the churned ruts of the muddy road, the fences smashed to splinters, the houses bashed and riddled. It had been picturesque before the concentrated destructiveness of companies of drab-clad men.

The owners of the houses had fled long before his platoons's arrival, but he caught traces of them even through the disorder of occupation and destruction of battle. Before him was a small garden, neatly made up for winter with fallen leaves cultivated into the empty rows. Beyond that was a house, its once-pristine condition showing through smutty white paint. Its shattered windows and broken door gaped expressionlessly. Tattered lace curtains beckoned on the thin, chill wind.

Brantley went up the straight garden path, edged with large stones. He carefully cleaned his boots on a scraper that still stood beside the front door, then entered the house. Shattered glass and windblown leaves crunched beneath his feet as he wandered the empty rooms. There was not much to see. Everything of value had been carried off, the rest destroyed, though in one room, a large, four-poster bed stood resolute. Amazingly, the straw tick was still in place. Brantley bent and idly tested the ticking. It was wet from blowing rain and gave off a mildewed smell. As he turned aside, the toe of his left boot caught on something shoved beneath the bed. He bent and peered into the shadows. The object was long and narrow, not very large. He got down on his knees and pulled a leather case out onto the weather-stained floor before him. Fumbling the catch with clumsy fingers, Brantley lifted the lid to reveal a violin resting securely in a nest of crimson velvet.

It took his breath away to see the perfect, honey-colored instrument shining there in the cold winter light. He lifted it carefully from the case and ran his fingers along its smooth curves. Gently, he plucked the strings. They produced dismal, hollow tones; hopelessly out of tune. Brantley turned his attention to the tuning pegs. He tuned with careful patience as the cold, tight wood protested and the strings creaked and twanged. The bow was next. He tightened the white horsehairs and carefully ran them over the little rosin cake he'd discovered in a pocket of the case. His muscles recalled the familiar motion of cradling the violin in the curve of his neck and poising the bow above the strings. It was not until his fingers were in position that he recognized the opening notes of the song he was about to play.

"I'm going to call it the Victory March." Carrington displayed a biscuit wrapper, written over with careful notes. "It's a jolly little thing. You must memorize it, Brantley, so we can play it together once all this war business is over and we get back to our proper lives."

"Why do I have to memorize it?" Brantley was already humming the notes under his breath.

"You know how I am about losing things. This paper's as good as gone, already. And you've a better head for melodies than I."

"Very well." Brantley hummed the opening notes again. "It's lively, all right. Catchy, too. I think it might be your best yet."

Carrington grinned. "Wish I could hear you play it. It suits you, I think."

White-faced, Brantley bundled both violin and bow into their case and snapped down the lid. He thought that he would shove the case back underneath the bed. Then he would rise and walk away and forget again. But he found that the instinct of a musician would not let him abandon a fine instrument to the destruction of cold and damp. He carried it with him as he fled into the raw, grey afternoon.


"My father used to play violin."

Brantley turned quickly to identify the speaker. "Hullo, Morris."

"Mind if I join you?"

Brantley had slogged out here to the farthest edge of the village to avoid company, but he shifted his position atop Flora's flat roof to allow Morris easier access.

Morris clambered up the side of the tank and seated himself. He turned his attention back to the violin in Brantley's hands. "I've heard that you're good. Mother was always after me to learn, but I didn't care much for the notion. Never had the desire...not 'til it was too late."

Brantley felt a strange mixture of respect and sympathy for this man who had turned his back so abruptly on boyhood. Morris was studying his face, though, and Brantley dreaded that the fellow would read too much of his emotion there. Desperate for a change of subject, he spoke more quickly than he thought. "Shall I play something?"

"I haven't heard any good music in a long time." Morris commented.

"I can't say how good it will be." Brantley admitted. "The tuning slips. Cold weather isn't kind to instruments like this."

He began plucking the strings and adjusted the tuning pegs, all the while berating his own clumsiness. Why couldn't he have thought of anything better to say? He had never once played the violin. He had kept it dry and clean. He had held it and admired it as the only perfect, beautiful thing in the midst of destruction. But he had dreaded the memories that might come if he once set his bow to the strings.

Morris was waiting expectantly.

Brantley tightened the bow and stood. From his vantage point, he could see the entirety of the dirty, battered little town. He tried to think of what he should play. The Marche fun├Ębre was the only piece of music that came to mind.

Carrington would probably have laughed at that. "Be as gloomy as you'd like." He'd have said, "But don't impose it on the rest of us. I hope no-one takes the notion to perform such a monstrosity as my funeral. Give the gravediggers a tune they can work to."

Well, then. Brantley squared his shoulders and set the bow to the strings. His cold, chapped hands had not forgotten their skill. The first bright notes of Carrington's Victory March rang strong and clearly through the cold air.

"See, I said it would suit you."

Brantley closed his eyes and released himself into the swing of the tune. A sudden burst of rare sunlight sparkled from a single tear that traced down his cheek and splashed to the honey-colored wood.

You can find my other entries for this challenge HERE

Head over to The Golden Dusk for Clara's take on today's prompt.


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