• The first rays of the sun thurst through the stained glass windows of his room making the poppy blossoms it depicted glow with an aggressive, blood-red light. Nîtirann stirred like a hound whose sleep is disturbed by a buzzing fly, then pulled the blanket over his head trying to flee back into the soothing realm of dreams. But there was no escape. He mechanically stood up and dressed, washed his face in the washdish, then went downstairs to have breakfeast in the cantine; then to the morning classes, solfeggio and composing. Normally, he enjoyed them, but not today, nor the day before; not since ’the Incident’, as he marked it for private use. He often got even annoyed. Once he was finally done with his composing class, he went out into the grove surrounding the school buildings to pass time with practice or thinking until his next class as usual. He sat down, leaning against the stem with his back. Then he closed his eyes and opened his ears to the voices.

    He was listening to them, inspecting and scrutinising them, wondering what might have changed. What he heard was still … how to put it?…empty... As if a tune was missing from the great symphony of the world. But did it, really, or were only his senses deceiving him? Tired of the concentration, he just let his thoughts and the sounds around him slip away, and sat there staring with a blank expression. Suddenly, a voice broke through the fog on his mind. He did not understand the text, but the clear, slightly tremulous voice filled with an almost unbearable longing stirred him like nothing else before. He listened with his head held high, and his breathing quickened and his nostrils trembled as if he were a hound smelling a deer’s scent on first occassion.

    Shanii aan.
    Alawii red’ aan.
    Nakha malkhiaan
    ai-i-emmar aan?

    The last words still lingered on, as if questioning him. He also felt that he must answer and in that very moment he realised he cannot. And one more thing: he was ashamed. I can’t go on like that, he thought.

    Alnawen sat cross-legged on the floor. An image pushed into the background of his thoughts long ago came back, haunting him in more vivid colours that ever. A freckled, childish face, smiling eyes and locks of maroon hair. Calla. The name meant ’butterfly’. Butterfly… indeed, she was one, flying recklessly around. His first and only love. Not the only one, he corrected himself. There was another love in his life for which he forsook his affection for Calla: music. Even at that young age (he was eighteen then) he was aware of that he cannot spilt his energies between his two lovers if he wanted to become an Artist. But ever since the sacrefice she was still present with him, present in him; a spectre, a shade or a sylph dancing through his vague dreams and impregnating his mind to bear forth more and more beautiful chords. More than forty years since then. He has changed much, and this did not only mean his once black hair giving way to greyish streaks or his ice-blue eyes becoming more and more indecipherable. However, he might even say he was happy with the outcome…
    Yes, I must have been looking like this at that time, he thought as Nîtirann entered, the somewhat hollow cheeks and heavy eyes telling much more about the state of his soul than he might have wished.
    - I’m quitting. – he announced without any further explanation.
    Alnawen did not say anything. He was only watching him intently, an eyebrow raised and a questioning look on his face as if he did not know.
    - I think I have become unworthy of … – is voice broke into an incomprehensible whisper, his eyes cast down.
    - Your technique and skills are improving day by day.– Alnawen said with a hidden smile.
    - And still… - the young man was apparently struggling with the words - …still… something is… missing.
    - And you don’t know what, am I right? – it sounded more like a revelation than a question.
    Nîtirann only shook his had in answer. No, I don’t.
    - You had better stay then, till you find it out. – Alnawen spoke softly, in a fatherly tone, his lip curling into an enigmatic smile, and his light-blue eyes were almost glowing with the ominous light of recognition. I can clearly see what is troubling you. I faced the same decision but I’ve made the sacrefice and never regretted it. Don’t let it confuse you my son, he wanted to shout after him. But however strongly he wished him to stay, deep down he knew that although his students were all his ’spiritual children’, this did not entitle him to force his own will on anyone of them.

    At that night, Nîtirann was lying in his bed, staring at the light patches of painted gulls on the ceiling with the gaze of a starving puppy. He tried to call the memory back. Such a voice! But how to find its owner? The most logical answer was that she should be sought somewhere near the singers’ quarters. Thus Nîtirann became their shadow. Every minutes of the breaks between his classes were spent with listening hideously behind the huge hawthorn bush guarding the entrance of the Antlersgarden which was a resting place with numerous benches whose backs were wrought to form stags. This was the favourite meeting point of the students who devoted themselves to the artistic refinement of their voices. He hid there, like a hound guarding a supposed fox hole, overhearing their jests, their merry or melancholic songs, many mesmerizing or thrilling voices, tenors, sopranos, altos… but not the one he sought for.
    The ninth day of Spring’s Bridge, the second month, came with an unusual chill and thin fog so he was forced to move from his hideout inside the wing where the classrooms of the singers were situated. He spent a few hours lurking on the corridors feigning that he is waiting for his teacher when a group of students by-passed him.

    The night lay heavily over the buildings drowning out all the lights except for one. After another day of futile errands Nîtirann was sitting at the table in the dimly lit room. Again and again the proof-read the sheet music he has written in a sudden overflow of inspiration. Subtly constructed, charming and beautiful for even the keenest ears. Oh, yes, the perfect composition of a perfect componist! He scowled at the paper, eyeing the lines with contempt. Lies, finely arranged lies! And each and every pluck on the strings to perform them was dead. Best would be to burn them, one by one, to watch them perish, breathing in the sweet smoke of cleansing truth… And he dared not. Instead, he started rummaging in the pile of old sheets on the left. Alnawen had him call back a particular piece, the first one he has written as a student of the Hall. However, instead of looking for the sheet music and practising he spent the entire day skulking around the singers’ classrooms…
    What the hell is that? A slightly worn piece of parchment lay between the papers, displaying four lines written in intricate, old-fashioned letters in red and blue ink.

    ’While life itself is a tune played by the living
    no absence may cover the other which is stirring.
    And all the circles begun will come to an end
    Though he dancer may die dance itself has no end.’

    He was sure he could not have written it. He never used coloured ink, he wrote everything in plain black! And he must have remembered it if someone had given it to him. Fine! Another annoying riddle! He could not shake off the feeling that some higher power is playing tricks on him, and that Alnawen, the dancers and that damned feeling of absence are all part of the comedy.

    And the days passed, one after the other in the well-known boring routine. He gradually gave up the constant eavesdropping. Then, on a windy day (that was the twentieth of Spring’s Bridge) something caught his ears as he was sitting under the hemlock tree.
    His heart leapt. Like a hound having caught the wind of the game he launched himself after the voices, breaking through bushes and the leafy mass of tangled branches. He stopped for a moment catching his breath, his heart pounding heavily then he surged forward again.
    The silhouette of a slender young woman showed up behind the curtain of the willow branches. She stood with the back to him, so all he could see were the streaks of her hip-length brown hair tied neatly into a complex pattern in the manner of the women of the Evaan folk.
    - Go on! – Nîtirann exclaimed as the song was over, forgetting about the awkwardness of the situation. The girl spun, her slightly almond-shaped warm brown eyes widening with astonishment. Her face seemed familiar, as if he had already seen her somewhere…
    - Well, I just heard you singing... aaand…aand I..I thought… - his voice tailed off. For some minutes he was staring at the ground at his feet, his fingers involuntarily twisting the cuff-link on his left sleeve. Then he hesitantly glanced at the girl again. She was still standing there, alert but too curious to run away. Go on, the light dancing in her eyes said. The eyes! Great Harmony, it was her! – Nîtirann thought. Again, he cast down his look, and mumbled, almost to himself:
    - So…I…I just thought…– he wanted to say something really beautiful but words eluded him forcing him to resort to a clumsy compliment - … your voice was marvellous and.. well..I was drawn here by it.
    The girl started to laugh (He has never heard such a musical laugh before except for his mothers’!). Then, all of a sudden, she fell silent, and added, blushing:
    - My voice? I don’t think there is aanything special about it. Actually singing is something aanyone can do.- she spoke with somewhat longer and broader as than people usually do, but it did not disturb Nîtirann. He even found it unique and charming like people who admire the song of an exotic bird they have never heard before.
    - No, I can’t sing. – he objected.
    - Oh, don’t be silly! Of course you can! – she laughed.
    The loud chime of a bell signalling the beginning of the evening classes cut off her laughter.
    - I’m so sorry. – she said softly – I have to go.
    - Wait… Will we meet again?
    - If you wish. – she smiled at him revealing a row of pearl-like small teeth.
    - Ummm… tomorrow here by lunch-break?
    - Agreed. I’m looking forward to it. – she waved goodbye, then disappeared between two stout lilac bushes.