When Geranium was younger she wore her hair long. A careful waterfall of black that never, ever hid her face. She wove guitar string through it, silver and sure- encircled her brow like the ring of a tree marking time. She did not know yet that she would be a Bard of Gate City, though she had an inkling. She had not yet bent knee in service of the guitar, Lady Moon-Death. She had not even yet found her cobalt coat, the one that all the posters and action figures showed in later days. She was not yet the one that other bards would curse and envy as the Eruption.
But she was already Geranium. Already knew the Five Unlikely Songs, already could play the guitar like rain in the summer and sing like moonlight in the spring. Already could look in a young man’s eye, hum three notes and evaporate his rib cage. Already had been thrown from the rolls of the best conservatory, a third-rate orchestra, and a passable jazz trio. She was wandering and entirely too talented and entirely incomplete and just beginning to gnaw on the bones of useless defeat when she met the Lute.
He was sitting in the Razor Square in Gorah. He was old, at least to her eyes. Years later Geranium thought he might’ve only been in his late fifties, but to her fifteen he might as well have been crypt ash. He wore only a brown blanket, carefully wrapped and seemed only to own the clay bowl he sat behind in the square and the dusty brown lute that he played. Crowds walked by and he played. Never sang only played. A few coins fell and he played. Played until sundown.
Geranium only saw him by chance. Only listened for a heartbeat too long, then stared at his hands move on the strings and could not look away. She watched all day. And the next. Then on the third she sat down at his side.
“Will you teach me?” She pressed her long fingers hard onto the emerald green guitar case she carried.
The Lute continued to play.
Geranium opened her mouth to speak again. Then stopped. The two sat alone, the crowd was only shadows. She stared at his hands again and felt overpowered by two rare and unfamiliar emotions. Envy. Need. She realized that her face was inches from his strings and her hands were twitching, as if she could pluck his skill from the air.
I want what this old beggar has. She smiled after a time. The only thing that I’ve ever wanted.
She snapped open the silver clasps and pulled free her own darkwood guitar. The Lute smiled at last, the barest tug at his lips.
Geranium played. The Lute played. They played like lamps in autumn. They played like winter’s heart. The crowd passed and coins fell from time to time.
Geranium played. And the Lute played. For three years. Her hair grew ever longer and it often fell forward into her face. Guitar wire and lute string and the stone square and coins in the bowl. Three years playing until sundown. Three years until at last she did pluck his skill from the air.
Geranium laughed bright and free and kissed the Lute hard on his dusty mouth. He offered only an amused grunt then went back to playing. She stood and walked from the square without looking back.
The Lute played and Geranium walked on towards the legend she had promised herself.