Writing Sample

Verbes heard voices from the front. He ignored them. Vorst would know what to do. With the very tip of his knife he evened out the shape of the top hole on the recorder he was carving. He blew tentatively and quietly into the instrument, frowned, and scanned down the other holes. Footsteps made him look up. His small assistant stood there looking a bit flustered, a bit excited, and a bit dense: rather like usual.

"We've got a customer you'll be wanting to handle, Master."

Brushing his hands on his apron, Verbes walked out into the storefront. Vorst was right. A young man stood at the counter, dressed in nouveau-riche finery, looking haughtily about. He held an instrument case in his hands.

"Yes?" Verbes asked, putting a little taste of disdain into his voice. These rich boys did not particularly bother him but he found they were easier to manage if you made it clear that you were not impressed. The boy cocked an eyebrow slightly. Perfect.

"They tell me you are the man to see about antique flutes. I have recently acquired a rare piece, second-century Arysian construction. The merchant let me have it for a steal - only two thousand! - and I want to know how much it is actually worth."

"Second-century Arysians usually go for at least ten thousand. Let me take a look."

The young man opened the container. A small, wooden flute sat in the case, stained a rich dark red and covered in little scrolls and swirls. Verbes picked it up and examined it from end to end, quite silent.

"Five hundred."

"Five hundred! But you said yourself…! This is an ancient, rare instrument!" The man laughed nervously. "An excellent joke, I'm sure."

"This instrument is expertly-crafted and probably genuine - or, if not genuine, one of the finest fakes I have ever seen - but it is neither ancient nor particularly rare. It was made about a century ago, most likely in New Perth."

"What! But you just said it was genuine!"

Verbes turned the flute to his lips and made as if to play. The young man gasped.

"You can't play it! You will knock thousands off its value! You'll ruin it!"

"Ruin it? Instruments were made to be played, not displayed. But in any case, this is not a rare instrument, and still in good condition. A few moments of play will not hurt it." Verbes played a few scales and ended with a flourish. "How did that sound?"

"A lovely tone! Perfect craftsmanship! Surely it…"

"You heard nothing strange about it?"

"Strange?"

"If this had been made in the second century in Arys, it would sound very strange indeed to your ears. Modern instruments throughout Thrynn employ a tuning standard that was developed in Maena and would not have been heard in Arys until at least the fourth century, and did not become standard there until after the war with Alyssa. A flute of second-century construction would be tuned to the Va'Akel standard, which sounds quite alien to modern ears. As such, early Arysian flutes remain prized for their quality construction and their significance in the history of music, but they are of little use as practical instruments. A century ago a conclave of artisans in New Perth made a number of flutes, patterned after the ancient Arysian aesthetic but tuned to the Maenan standard, as a sort of compromise: age-old beauty and modern accessibility. Now, they are excellent instruments in their own right, crafted by the very best, and are still worth a good deal more than anything I could sell you. You might be able to get eight hundred for it if you negotiate well. But there is nothing rare or particularly special about them."

"You're saying I was cheated!"

"Probably not cheated. I don't imagine there are many in Bhan who would have known the difference. Not without playing the flute, at least, and you're quite right that a true second-century flute would decrease in value a great deal if played. No, more likely the merchant was in earnest, and simply not very thorough."

"So if I were to say it was the real thing, no one would be any the wiser?"

"Not likely."

"Well. So. How much?"

"I'm sorry?"

"You know very well what I meant."

"I am not in the habit of accepting bribes."

"I've told everyone about my purchase! I'll be a laughingstock!"

"Young man, if you think I have nothing better to do than to go around deflating the reputations of little rich brats, then you know far too little of working for a living. I cannot make you moral, but I am not particularly interested in making you suffer. If there is nothing more, I should like to get back to my work."

The rich man turned and stamped out of the store. Verbes turned to Vorst, sighed, and headed toward the back room.

"If you don't mind my asking, Master, how did you come to know that sort of thing? I mean, I should have had no idea whether it was even an Arysian construction, much less what century."

Verbes smiled. "I was in New Perth some years back, when I was looking for Analia. You know how fruitful that expedition turned out. Well, before I left to return to Doerstadt, I decided that the trip ought not to be a complete waste, so I made a point to study Arysian musicology for a bit before I left. I had the privilege of seeing an actual first-century instrument from Gan. Very much like the one we just saw."

"If you don't mind my saying so, Master, I'm a little surprised that you would be able to study music after such a difficult… I mean… that is…" He swallowed and cut off.

"You can tell the difference by the holes, mostly," Verbes said. "You've carved enough flutes yourself that you could probably have spotted it if you had known to look. Slight differences also in the shape of the mouthpiece, which has been improved upon in the intervening years. Here, have a look at this one." He took a flute off the shelf. "It's not as ornate as the old Arysian style but the basic construction is similar. Here, this hole would be shifted up a few hairs." He took out a small measuring rod and demonstrated. "You see how these are equidistant? On an ancient model the second would be closer to the third than to the first. And this hole here is unique to the Maenan standard."

"I see, Master."

"Good then. We can study that sort of thing more if you like, but I think we've had enough of flutes for today. I'll man the counter for a bit. Go finish up the oboe you've been working on and I'll take a look."

"Yes, Master!"

Vorst skitted off. Verbes made himself comfortable on the high stool behind the counter and turned the flute over in his hands. The oboe would be just fine - Vorst would make an excellent craftsman in a few years, though he'd never be much of a musical scholar. Verbes raised the instrument to his lips and began to play an old, sad melody. For a while he continued, lost in thought, until he realized that one of the notes sounded slightly sharp. He pulled out his knife and set to work fixing it.

Unless otherwise stated, the content of this page is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.5 License.