Of Silence: the Two Arts
Once the clock has finished striking midnight, Kanrik finally decides to ask the question that Simeon’s been dreading: “So what’s with the violin?”
The grey Gelert assassin just tries not to roll his eyes.
Honestly, though, it was only a matter of time before the thief asked. The old instrument does stick out quite a bit amongst the rather drab-looking books and dulling magical trinkets that the assassin keeps scattered about his home. Not to mention, he’s seen the thief eyeing that ancient thing since the very first day he’d traipsed his way into Simeon’s home — no doubt simply trying to figure out how much it’s worth, as the thief is wont to do — but...
Well, Simeon was still hoping the question would remain unasked, just for some silly reason he can’t quite give a name to.
Unfortunately for the assassin, though, he blushes almost immediately at the sound of the thief’s words — getting embarrassed over absolutely nothing, though still feeling it like the weight of regret. He hunches his shoulders slightly, like a child being accused of something by his parent, and Kanrik makes a confused but amused face at the typically stoic assassin’s foreign change in demeanour. Simeon slowly turns his attention away from the book in his hands to the instrument that sits patiently within its case at the foot of his bed, pursing his lips slightly as he tries to come up with some sort of explanation other than the truth. “Uhm... well, I play it, sometimes,” he eventually decides to admit, seeming overwhelmingly embarrassed to do so, his voice hushed to a whisper. Honestly, him saying that he plays it "sometimes" is a gross understatement, but he would never admit that to Kanrik. Yet, at least. “I’ve, uh... Playing the violin is something I’ve done since I was a child.” He pauses for a while as Kanrik gives him a questioning look from the chaise across the room. Simeon refuses to look over to see Kanrik’s expression, though. He knows that meeting his eyes, no matter what they read, would only make him more nervous. As strange as it sounds, he’s honestly never given thought to the fact that he still plays this silly thing. It’s just something that he does. It’s a part of his daily routine that has become so second nature that he hardly even notices it anymore. Blinking through bowing. Breathing through strings. “I guess it’s calming,” he eventually says, closing his book and placing it down beside him, then reaching for the case by his feet.
Kanrik isn’t quite sure what to think. He was honestly expecting an answer more along the lines of it once belonging to Simeon’s wife, and he now treasures it as a keepsake, or perhaps that it’s something that once belonged to a close friend, or a family member, or something like that. The grey Gelert’s tendency to cling to whatever remnants of his past stay pleasant in his thoughts is no secret, and it honestly wouldn’t have surprised Kanrik if it turned out that the assassin simply meditates upon the seemingly misplaced old thing in the hours he spends alone at night, but...
Well, he’s not sure why he didn’t expect this answer, considering all the other artsy garbage that that peculiar old man does.
“Well... huh,” the thief eventually mumbles, more to fill the awkward silence than to broach a thought. He watches with puzzled eyes as Simeon pulls the case over towards him and takes the instrument from within, resting it in his lap, running his fingers down its neck in a melancholy sort of contemplation. “I never would have guessed you’d be musical,” the thief then adds — although, upon hearing the words leave his mouth, he realises that he actually isn’t surprised at all.
Simeon laughs bashfully. “I’ve, uh... actually always considered myself a better violinist than... well, anything else, really,” he says, more thinking out loud than answering Kanrik’s implied question. “Though the technical skill required also helps with magic and swordsmanship, as funny as it sounds.”
Kanrik makes the correlations immediately. “Is that why you always fight with your right hand and cast with your left?” he asks. “From holding the bow in one and the strings in the other?”
Simeon laughs again — more nervously. “Well... yes, honestly... I think,” he says, lifting the violin without really realising it, holding its neck in his left hand and pressing its body against his bicep. He’s not really intending to play anything, but he’s still letting his thoughts escape through words and gestures — going through the motions. He runs his fingers over the strings as if playing scales, then continues speaking his thoughts. “My fingers are nimbler on my left hand and I’m, uh... used to sweeping motions with my right arm,” he explains, then pauses as he thinks for a while about the implications. His fingering slows until he holds the ghost of a gentle vibrato, then he stops moving completely. “Bit unnerving, actually, now that I think about it,” he says softly. “How something so innocent can be tainted so thoroughly.” His expression mutes to one of almost mourning as he slowly begins to finger a silent sonata. “Music is such a pure and good-natured thing,” he says. “I never really realised just how corrupted I’ve made it by applying these skills to, uh...” He doesn’t want to acknowledge it right now. He twirls his free hand in the air a few times. “Well, you know,” he eventually concludes.
Kanrik doesn’t want to hear the sudden sadness in Simeon’s voice. He was planning on saying something snarky in response to all this artsy nonsense, but... “You didn’t corrupt anything,” he says seriously, deciding that the changing colour of the assassin’s voice is sign enough that he should treat this seriously. “It’s obvious you keep the two arts separate.”
Simeon shrugs as he takes the violin off of his arm and holds it in his lap. “The two arts,” he repeats in his head as he traces the edge of the violin’s body with one finger. How could someone compare the innocent art of music to the disgusting arts of death?
When Simeon’s pensive silence persists, Kanrik decides to just go ahead and make the obvious request. “Can, uh... could you play me something?” he asks.
Simeon shakes his head — not necessarily as a sign meaning no, but rather in a bit of frustration again. “How did I know you were going to ask...”
Kanrik snickers lightly. “Because it’s the obvious thing,” he says.
Simeon rolls his eyes. He doesn’t really want to do it, just because it seems so obnoxiously intimate, but... well, he isn’t sure. A huge part of him is honestly aching for someone to hear him play — for someone to see him as maybe more than just a murderer. He yearns for someone to know that he’s capable of creating more than just death...
Simeon is silent for a long while; then, “Forgive me if I’m hesitant,” he says, grabbing the bow and turning to sit on the edge of the bed, shyly crossing his ankles as he straightens his posture for proper playing. “I’ve... never played for an audience,” he then adds, laughing nervously once more.
Kanrik smiles warmly, shifting his position to face Simeon directly. “I’m sure this audience” — he sweeps one hand downwards in front of him — “will love whatever it is you play no matter what,” he says.
Simeon rolls his eyes. “It’s... also really personal,” he says, still without fully realising that he’s thinking out loud — and voicing such private thoughts, no less. “Um... nobody except my closer relatives ever knew that I played. It’s... something I suppose I’ve kept secret. For no real reason, honestly. It’s just... a way to cope, I guess. It always has been. Just... just to help find some sort of peace within myself, and with my, uh...” His voice trails off as he realises he’s revealing way too much about himself. He rests the violin on his shoulder. “Well, I’m getting too personal...”
Kanrik tsks under his breath. “If you think that I’m uninterested in hearing you talk about personal things, then you clearly don’t know me very well,” he says cheekily.
And Simeon’s laughter is genuine this time. “I’m not worried about you,” he says, “I’m worried about myself.”
He actually didn’t mean for that thought to escape.
Kanrik’s eyes widen a bit in shock at the fact that the assassin is suddenly letting his guard down so much; but then, Simeon plays a quick scale — pitch perfect, fast as the wind — and Kanrik’s thoughts are immediately silenced as he finds himself almost immediately enraptured.
Still, though — and seemingly without fully noticing — Simeon just... keeps talking. “I, um... I don’t really like the thought of people knowing me intimately,” he admits, though hesitantly still. “It’s... foreign, and a bit frightening, honestly. Knowing that someone knows enough about you to be able to throw it in your face if the tides turn poorly. I don’t, uh...” He pauses. “Well, I suppose that’s why I’m always such a ‘shifty weirdo’ ” — he puts quotes around the words with his fingers, though the gesture is awkward since he’s holding the violin’s neck in one hand and the bow in the other — “as you like to say.”
Kanrik snickers. “Uh, sorry,” he mumbles over his laughing. “I guess I, ah... never really thought about why you’re so secretive. I’m...” He gives a short shrug, then decides that, well, since Simeon is being so open, he might as well be open, too. “Well, you’re still so mysterious in a lot of ways,” the thief says, “and almost frighteningly powerful and intelligent,” — Simeon rolls his eyes as Kanrik says this — “so I guess I never really realised that... well, under all that, you’re just a normal person, too.”
Simeon’s expression immediately falls flat, and he loosens his grip on his instrument.
And Kanrik panics somewhat. “U-uh, no offense, I, uh, I mean—”
“No, no, no,” Simeon cuts him off immediately, placing the violin in his lap once more. “Please don’t apologise, Kani. That’s... that’s, um...”
Simeon finally looks over to the thief as he tries to catch up to his suddenly racing thoughts, his eyes reading both sorrow and what looks almost like... no, no, it isn’t that... “That’s... truly the most comforting thing anyone’s told me in years,” Simeon then says softly.
And it’s true.
Kanrik can tell it in Simeon’s tone.
Simeon turns to look back down at the instrument in his lap, then continues with the thought, his voice now hushed to a tone that’s so timid it’s almost completely unrecognisable as his own. “Um... people tend to speak of me as more of a concept than a person at this point,” he says. “Just this violent, emotionless force of destruction. It’s... painful, honestly, but I suppose it’s my own fault, considering I encourage it by forcing such a stoic façade. I, uh... I really shouldn’t complain, though, since that’s the only portrait I ever paint of myself for the public to see.” He places his violin on his shoulder again, playing another series of scales — harmonic minors — quietly as he continues talking. “I suppose my fear of people knowing the details about my life and... history... frightens me more than being treated like an object hurts.” He shrugs against his instrument. “But, whatever, I guess...”
“I mean, it’s never too late to change,” Kanrik suggests, and Simeon looks over to the thief sombrely again. “If... if you wanted to, I mean,” Kanrik continues. “To reintroduce yourself to the world as... well, not a shifty weirdo.”
Thankfully, the joke goes over well. Simeon smiles, looking away and shaking his head. “You have too much faith in me,” he says as he bows a couple of long, beautifully executed notes. “I’m really not worth your optimism.”
“I mean... I think you’re worth a lot more,” Kanrik says.
And Simeon is forced to pause once more.
There’s a long, long silence.
Then Simeon shakes his head, his eyes downcast. “Too much faith,” he says softly, then begins to play before Kanrik can object any further.
And Kanrik doesn’t. He can’t — not when Simeon is playing him such a beautiful melody. He completely forgets how to speak — how to breathe, how to blink — as he watches and listens, the essence of Simeon’s music filling his veins like blood. His every pitch is perfect. His tremolo is almost eerie in its beauty. The melodies of his song are just as intense and emotional as he himself seems to be.
Not to mention his technical skill is incredible.
Kanrik honestly can’t believe what he’s seeing.
Simeon pauses in his playing, holding one long, droning G on the lowest string, looking up towards the ceiling in pensive contemplation. Once his thoughts are gathered, he takes a deep breath, closes his eyes, relaxes his everything, then continues playing on, now putting his entire heart into every note, telling the honest tale of his life.
And Kanrik can almost feel it — feel the man’s heartache, and his desires, and his fears, and his love, all being conveyed through the way he so delicately moves with the sounds; each crescendo telling a story, and each pianissimo speaking of an end. It’s a poem told by notes — a sonic biography.
Kanrik could be lost in this for days.
But Simeon eventually ceases his playing, cadencing into a rich perfect fifth on the middle strings — a prayer for a new hope.
As the music stops, Kanrik feels like his heart has stopped, too.
Simeon keeps his eyes closed for a few seconds longer as he takes a deep breath, then exhales long — emotionally exhausted, it seems. Putting so much passion into his music seems to have worn him out more than the physical motions, despite how fast and accurate each movement had to be. His eyes read mourning as he opens them once more, then he lowers the instrument from his shoulder, giving a bittersweet half-smile to Kanrik as he looks back over at him.
Neither of them realise it, but twelve minutes have passed.
Kanrik doesn’t have any words. He doesn’t realise it until Simeon looks over at him, but he’s been holding his hands over his heart almost this whole time, as if trying to keep it from literally bursting through his ribcage. “Happy now?” is all Simeon says as he uncrosses his ankles and turns to sit comfortably cross-legged again, then begins to put the violin away for good for the evening.
Kanrik simply can’t comprehend what he’s just seen. “I’m... beyond,” he says, completely breathless, and Simeon looks over to him with an eyebrow cocked. Kanrik ignores his cheeky expression and takes a deep breath. “That was incredible,” he mumbles. “I’ve never heard someone put so much feeling into a song before...”
Simeon shrugs. “I vent through my violin, I suppose,” he says. “Like screaming out all of my troubles, but without ticking off the neighbours too much.”
Kanrik chuckles. “Did, um... So that wasn’t a written work?” he asks.
Simeon shrugs again as he closes the violin case, then pushes it back to the foot of the bed. “I just... play what I’m feeling,” he says. “It’s been so many years now, the melodies just come naturally depending on my mood, I guess.”
“That’s...” Kanrik really doesn’t know what to say. “You’re... beyond amazing, Simeon...”
It’s only now — at the sound of the thief’s half-mumbled words — that Simeon starts to realise... he hasn’t heard the sound of genuine praise in years. He’d forgotten what it felt like to be admired for anything other than his strength and brutality. To be proudly referred to as anything other than ruthless and cruel. Any semblance of respect that had been paid to him in the past dozen-or-so years had only ever been in fear, or out of supposed necessity, or feigned in an attempt to ensure safety or a job well done. It feels so painfully foreign...
But he manages to hide all those thoughts behind another eyeroll. “Too much faith,” he echoes himself.
Kanrik snickers, though the laughter is sparkling with an undertone of admiration. “I don’t need to have faith in you to think that you’re a wonderful musician,” he says.
Simeon can tell that there’s more to the words than Kanrik simply seeing him as a good musician... but he just shrugs — for what seems like the millionth time at this point — and talks as though he doesn’t. “Well, thanks,” he says, crouching over comfortably, holding his cheek with his left hand, still seeming nervous. “I’ve, uh...” Well, he was going to say that he’d never received compliments on his playing before, but, well, that’s obvious, considering he’d already said he’s never played for an audience. Now he isn’t sure what to say. “Well... I dunno. I just, um...”
He looks up to Kanrik, and Kanrik looks over to him.
Their eyes meet with a sense of genuine respect.
And, for the first time in years, Simeon isn’t at all ashamed of it.
But still, despite everything — despite the fact that it feels as though a crushing weight’s been lifted from his tired shoulders; despite the fact that he’s feeling the closest thing to real, genuine pride that he’s felt in over a dozen years; despite the fact that, in this moment, he could fill a million journals with words to describe just how much this conversation has meant to him...
“Thank you,” are the only words that manage to escape through Simeon’s lips, though given the honeyed tone of his tenor, everything that he’s currently feeling can be heard as clear as the springtime sun.
Kanrik gives a gentle smile at the sight of the newfound sparkle in Simeon’s eyes, then looks away slowly as silence enfolds them once more.