“Why do we sing?” I ask the class, standing in front of the piano. I’ve one hand tucked inside my pocket- the other, gestures outwardly as I speak, accenting my words. “This is, perhaps, the most important question an artist can ask themselves, when it comes to their art. Why do you play, or sing, or write? What’s the purpose? Perhaps, it’s for someone you care for. Perhaps it’s because it’s an outlet, for you. The reason behind the action, though, is what makes it powerful.”
Turning to the chalkboard, I pick up a piece of white chalk and begin to write. “We’re going to be starting work towards Winter Recital performances, very soon. You’re all going to be required to memorize a duet, and you’ll be paired with someone I’ve already chosen within the class, and you’ll have a list of songs to choose from.” I arch a brow, pausing, and smiling. “And yes- if you’re not going to be in this class for the Winter term, you’re still required to learn. I’ve paired students such as this together on their own list, so never fear. In addition, you’re each going to need to perform a solo.” As I make note of all this on the board, I hear a couple of sighs behind me.
“I don’t want to hear any complaining about it! This is an elective class. You all signed up for it… surely, if you didn’t want a challenge, you’d have passed to something simpler.” I chuckle, shaking my head. “For this solo, you can do anything you wish. Poetry, a song, storytelling… if it’s something we’ve covered as falling under Bardic Studies, you’re allowed to do it. You can do something original, if you desire- I’ll need to approve the script, though.”
A student raises her hand- one of the more attentive girls in class, a younger half-elven lass. I nod in her direction. “What does this have to do with our reason for performing?” She asks. I smile, of course- I get this kind of confusion almost every term.
I pull out the piano bench, and sit, looking at them all. “I expect you all to ask yourself that question, between now, and then. Why are you here? Why do you want to perform? And when you find that answer… it will only make your performances at the recital that much stronger. You’ll be fueling your song, your story, your words… your energy, with the most potent fuel possible- passion.” My gaze passes over each and every one of these students. “And if you haven’t figured out what it is that makes you want to perform by then… you will be failing your final for the term.”
I have to admit, there is a slight glee I find in watching the dread settle in. That realization that their favorite, laid-back professor wasn’t kidding around- not this time. Is that sadistic, you think? I don’t. Over the course of the term, they get all the tools they need to perform well, but this is one they’re going to have to figure out on their own, and it’s better they learn the truth of it now, when they’re in the safety of the university, and not down the road… searching for purpose in the next town, and the bottom of a bottle.
Ask me how I know.
“Now! As for the duet portion, I expect you and your partner to pick something which highlights both of your strengths. As per usual, you’re able to make adjustments to key and rhythm where you wish for stylistic purposes- express yourselves, in this way. Take that passion you both possess, and make the world hear you.” I reach over and pull a folder from the piano. “I have the pairings right here, and they’ll all be posted by the end of the day, outside the classroom. In the meanwhile, make sure you grab a song list on the way out today- start thinking about which ones play to your strengths. Class is dismissed.”
All the students begin to gather their things, still stunned into silence from the news. I watch, curiously, to see who is taking it the worst- I’ll likely be seeing them in my office later, I’m sure. Poor dears… ah well, what can you do? One student approaches- the same half-elf from before- after the rest are gone. “Professor G-- erm. Professor Steele, I have another question, if you have a moment?” She smiles sheepishly at her slip, and I simply chuckle.
“It’s alright. I’m not going to get upset if you call me Professor Goodwin- you were in some of my choir classes the last few terms, aye? You’re just used to it, by now.” I shrug, and run a hand through my hair. “What’s up?”
“I was wondering, why do you perform, Professor?”
This, too, is not an uncommon question at this point in the term. I’ve usually given rather generic answers- something predictable. I perform for my parents, to keep their memory alive. Or, as an outlet, to cope when I’m feeling down. But, today…? I look at the student silently, seeing Her flicker in my peripheral vision. My expression grows distant, and my mind races. Why do I perform? Is the answer the same, now, as it was a month ago? A year ago? ...even further beyond?
She’s still looking at me, waiting for an answer. So why can’t I figure out what to say…? I think of Sevastien, who brings such light and joy into my life. I think of Mama & Papa, long gone, but ever on my mind and in my heart. I think of this new family I’ve found- both in the Steeles, and in the University, and how I’d give everything for them.
I think of Lachlainn Steele. The Master- both enemy, and friend. A week ago, a stranger, but… now? A soul so familiar, I see it every morning when I look in the mirror. A man who owns his each and every action, and won’t let anyone take that from him. He has learned as much magic as he is capable of learning, in pursuit of the power to protect the ones he loves- and will go to whatever twisted ends, and give up whatever he must, to win, in that regard. A dangerous game we play, Uncle Lachlainn. You have my respect for it, now. Do I have yours?
The understanding I craved has come. At what cost?
Finally, I figure it out, and the words come as easily as any ever have. “I perform to fill the hearts of those who need it most.” This much is true. She nods before she turns to leave… and now, I’m alone again. My next class isn’t for a while, so I lock up the door, and head into my office. I light up some peacebloom, and take a puff, mulling over my little meeting with him from last night.
I did not like, at first, how much he looked like Declain. Ever similar, save for being a few decades older, of course. Had Dex not grown his beard out, perhaps it would not be as shocking a similarity… annoying, I suppose, that Silloria wants him to keep it longer. But it was more than that, too. His hair, the noble way he spoke… the difference, chief among them all, I think, is that Lachlainn has embraced his noble birth and nature, and Dexy does his best to minimize it.
Those eyes… I don’t know what I expected. That they would be full of felfire & hate? Or perhaps, I didn’t expect anything. They’re the Steele eyes- emerald, shining bright. Flashes of the fel, throughout, not unlike that of Isbeth. Just feeling his energy was enough to send my own magic on the fritz, at first! I know he noticed- the tiniest twitch of his lips, or arch of his brow, gave him away. We were both watching one another so closely… a game of chess, indeed, though neither one of us touched the board.
Do I dare to believe I managed a stalemate against someone far more strategic than I have ever been? Does he dare to believe he won?
Then again… I did have a victory, in one way. He cracked. Just like Isbeth did, when we began to get close, back when our deal was in place.
It started with the discussion of Sevastien, and how he was no monster, regardless of it all. I saw the first signs of anger, yes, but frustration just as much… so, I did what any insane person would do, and I sought another sore spot to press upon. His family- no, our family, now. How I expected many of his Clan would simply be glad to know that he’s okay. That he’s alive- just as Nydalor Skystrider cared not about his son’s eyes. “My son, I’m glad you’re alive.”
And there, I found the weakness that Lachlainn was hiding. I could see the pain he felt, losing the connection to his father, and mother, and surely, many of his other kin… and, beyond that, knowing it was only right of them to feel as they do about him. How bitter it must taste, to have the very people you desire to protect turn against you for your methods of doing it…
Another puff of peacebloom to cloud the mind.
All of this in mind, he still turned me down, when I offered him something so powerful in exchange for the safety of those here, at the university. I cannot tell, in truth, why- not in full. He told me to ask Auntie about this… covenant, whatever it is, so that might be a good place to start. Of course, doing that would require admitting to her that I went out to see him without telling her first, and she won’t be happy. I knew she wasn’t going to tell me no, so why bother wasting time with her worrying and floundering about? No, it’s better to ask forgiveness than permission.
...oh, Uncle. Did you feel anything at all, when I embraced you? I feel my eyes beginning to well up with tears of sorrow. I want so desperately for you to be reunited with them all. There is a happy ending, somewhere in the infinite realities of our world. I know there must be. You poked fun at these ideals of mine- said that I court monsters, and that it lights me up. But in my eyes, they aren’t monsters. They’re simply… lost souls. Auntie collects us all- each and every one as lost as the last, and you, the farthest from the path of us all… how I long to bring you back to her. To welcome you into the love we all share, as her children.
‘Be ever watchful, dear niece, for the night is dark and full of terrors.’
And I smiled up at you, all the same. Be ever hopeful, Uncle, for those terrors are not nearly as scary as our own minds… and there’s always someone with a lamp, somewhere.
I shake my head to clear it, and rise to my feet, putting out the peacebloom as I march out the office door. I put on my scarf and jacket, and keep everything locked up as I leave. My feet are leading me straight to Amara’s office, and I’m calling Silloria over the ChatStone to join us. Well, Uncle. You think my request for such a contract is not worthy, not equally beneficial?
We’ll see about that.