Theo's Violin

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At first glance, I thought it was the ugliest thing I had ever seen. Reddish-yellow splotches marred its dark finish, making the instrument look like it had some kind of disease. It was old, too. What remained of its finish was dull and worn, and the grain the of the wood that peered through was of a gross, grayish color. It probably had been a very nice violin – about a hundred years ago. Or more.

I looked up at Theo, and wondered why he was showing me his violin. I've seen it before. He'd sometimes take it out of its worn, wooden case, and hold it. Not play it, but hold it, like it was a delicate, precious thing that he'd never let go.

He only played it once.

It had been when the entire Company had been traveling though a forest, moving from one small town to another. Theo had wandered off into the dense thicket of trees, and I had been sent to fetch him for dinnertime. It had taken me a good twenty minutes of searching before I heard it. A faint, low keening sound, so mournful that it made me freeze in place, and listen. It wafted throughout the dark forest like a gentle breeze, drifting past stoic trunks, dancing around still leaves. It was such a sorrowful tune, and I began to imagine that the entire forest was sighing and weeping in a deep bout of sadnesss.

I had to give myself a mental shake to push away the haunting feeling that came with the strange song, before I continued on, following the sound. The closer I got, the more I got the feeling that I was intruding upon something private, something secret. And then I saw him.

Seated on a fallen trunk, illuminated by a single shafted of fading daylight, Theo played. The old violin was cradled between chin and shoulder, while one hand supported its neck, and another drew the bow gracefully across the strings. Theo's eyes were closed, as he played, yet his face bore such a faraway expression that matched the terrible pain of his haunting music.

For a long time, I stared, hidden in the shadows of the forest. Just like Theo himself, I was trapped in the spell of his song. Tears sprang unbidden to my eyes, and my chest gave a pained clench. How could someone like Theo create such painful, yet beautiful music? What kind of terrible experiences had life given him for him to hold such agony?

And suddenly, it was over. Theo played the final note, a high whisper that echoed around us even as he set down his bow. He began to pack away his beloved violin, and I knew that it was time to go.

I crept back to camp, knowing that Theo wouldn't be long after, and knowing that I would never forget that horrible, wondrous song. And when Theo returned for his dinner, it was like nothing had happened. All traces of emotion had been cleared from his face, and his moment of strange vulnerability had passed.

The violin, I think, was his most precious belonging, because I've never seen Theo without it. So now, I looked up into his wizened face, still strong despite his age and tried not to display what I thought about the ugly thing. I must have failed, for he began to chuckle.

"Ah, Adrian. This. . ." his large hands gently carressed the violin, ". . .is far more special than it looks."

"It looks old," I blurted out, then wished I hadn't. Even though Theo had been my friend for most of my fourteen years, the last thing I wanted to do was insult something that was clearly precious to him.

He didn't seem to mind. He held the instrument in his lap, smiling down as if he and it had just shared a joke between them. "It's old," he said agreeably. "Much older than I."

"How old?" I leaned closer, my curiosity piqued.

"I don't now the exact age, but it's far over a hundred years." His fingers gently ran up and down the strings, and I couldn't help but notice that his smile faded into something. . .sorrowful. That expression - he'd been wearing it a lot, recently. "It has been passed down over the years," Theo suddenly continued. "From one to another. Thirty-eight years ago, it was passed on to me."

"Did your father give it to you?"

He barked out a humorless laugh. "In a sense, yes. That man was probably the closest thing to a father that I had." He lifted a hand, and rubbed his temples like he had a headache. His eyes found mine, caught me watching worriedly, then hastily changed to running his hand through his dark gray hair. I was not convinced, but said nothing.

Theo was a very secretive man, and I'm sure he had more secrets than all of the Kingdoms' kings and queens put together. Which is why I found it strange that he was telling me about his violin tonight. Like many times before, I wanted to know what he was thinking inside that head of his.

"Adrian," he called out, a bit sharply. I started at his tone, and looked up at him again, a bit wide-eyed. When he spoke again, his voice was soft. "Please listen to me, Adrian."

Now I was sure. Something was not right with Theo. All these little clues – why hadn't I noticed them earlier?

"This violin is very important," he went on quietly. "In a way, you could call it cursed, for those who carried it have only experienced pain and misery. Danger and darkness have followed them around like a shadow. But. . .I hope it will be different with you."

Wait. What? With me? Suddenly, I was very confused. "Theo, what are you saying?"

He was silent for a long moment, his sad eyes searching my face. Then he seemed to nod slightly to himself, making some kind of decision, for he held out his violin to me. "Here," he said. "I want you to have it."

"But. . ." I looked at the thing. Not only did I not want it, as I had no use for it (not to mention it was really ugly), but it was Theo's. It belonged to him, was part of him. Why was he giving it to me? "Why?"

He smiled a sad, gentle smile. "It has been with me for long enough, Adrian. And it is time for me to pass it on to someone capable. Please. Take it."

I couldn't say no to Theo. Gentle, kind, old Theo, who had been the one to find me, to practically raise me during all these years. So I reached out, and took the violin from his hands. "Are you sure you want to give this to me? I can't even play it."

His smile became bigger. "Oh, Adrian," he softly said, his tone a bit chilling. "You will learn."

A shiver ran down my back. Theo got up then, leaving me holding his violin, with its case resting next to my feet. I watched him go. There was a certain bouyancy to his steps, as if he felt lighter, happier. . . freer. I looked down at the violin, taking in its smooth curves, it age-spotted surface. And I felt a sudden weight, a pressure, as if Theo's burden had been passed on to me.

It was then I realized, that something more than a simple transaction had happened. I didn't quite understand it, but I somehow knew. Theo had passed on more than just his violin to me.

My suspiscions were proven correct, for in the next morning, when the entire company came alive with rising of the sun, he was gone. His tent, his belongings, even himself – all had disappeared without a trace, as if they had never been there to begin with.

The only evidence that he'd been there was his violin.

Theo's violin.

Only, it was mine now.

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