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The Sky is Full of Fiddles

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Star-pepper-bundle
The sky is full of fiddles
Star-pepper-bundle
The sky is full of stars and fiddles

I have just blown out the candle and lain down in my bed when I hear the voice from outside.

I frown. The spring night-wooing was a week ago. That verse does not belong on an ordinary Sunday.

It sounds as though whoever is speaking stands right outside my door. I wonder if he's trying to get to Harriet and has somehow misunderstood what weekend it's appropriate to do so.

There are two doors into our house; the main entrance, and the extra entryway which leads directly into my room. Harriet doesn't have a door. Her window is at the other end of the house. The boy currently standing outside my door must truly be an idiot.

I sit up in the bed and reach for the matches. I'd better go out and tell him he's thoroughly missed the mark.

Just when the candle lights up my room he speaks again. His voice is deep and smooth even muffled by the door.

Here we stand, heels planted,
and thaw the frozen earth
It is starlit and slick
and crispy-cold it is
Open the door and let me in
Open the door of every man inside
ere the frozen earth thaws 'neath my heel

I freeze halfway out of bed, staring at the door.

Man.

He changed it. I know this verse; it's supposed to be every woman inside. But this boy said man, loud and clear.

Against all reason, I understand that this is not a mistake after all. Whoever this is, he really meant to find my door.

I have never before heard of a boy being night-wooed. In my surprise, I find myself standing at the door without remembering actually getting out of bed. With no small amount of curiosity, I open it.

On my threshold stands none other than Holm William, the fiddler from yesterday.

I stare at him, startled. This is the last thing I expected to happen; I don't even understand what's happening. But it really is him – the dark curls, the sharp features, the intense eyes. He's staring back at me with that same defiant look he had when he played last night.

“Hello”, I finally get out.

“Evening”, he says. His eyebrows rise expectantly, and I automatically step back, allowing him to walk inside.

He shrugs out of his long coat. I watch it slide down his arms, revealing a light-grey shirt with black braces framing his back. I quietly close the door, pursing my lips as he tosses the coat over the back of my chair without invitation. He steps out of his shoes. Then he walks straight to my bed, smooths out the blankets and lies down on top of them.

He looks up at me from my pillow. Several seconds tick by. He's the one to finally break the silence.

“Aren't you going to lie down?”

I grasp for something to say. “Why?” is the word that falls from my mouth.

“It's how these things work, isn't it?”

I look at him on my bed. Look at the window reflecting a distorted image of my small room. Look at the floor at my feet. Nod to myself. “Yeah, okay.”

I walk to the bed and lift the blankets as much as I can with him lying on top of them, then slide back in underneath. He's lying on his back, gazing up at the ceiling. I tentatively lie on my side and watch him for a moment.

His face is just a few inches from mine. It looks different from here. I study the artful bridge of his nose, and his forehead which is now exposed by the curls falling back onto the pillow.

I wait for him to speak, and when he doesn't, I go first. “Um. I'm Wattbacka John.”

“Obviously”, he says to the ceiling.

A pause. “Okay.” I frown to myself.

He glances at me. “I came here, didn't I? This is the Wattbacka house, which I've spent the evening looking for, so it's hardly a surprise for me to find myself inside it. The Wattbacka fiddle maker has two children, twins, and you are clearly not the female of the pair, hence you are John. Not to mention the fact that I came here for you specifically.”

I scratch my ear. “You asked someone about me, then? Yesterday, at the dance?” I feel strangely flattered by the idea.

“Of course not. I didn't have to.”

“Then how did you know I'm the fiddle maker's son?”

He snorts. “Please. With hands like yours?”

I'm not sure what to make of that. I'm actually not sure what to make of any of this. If Holm William wants to become my friend, it seems odd to do that by lying down in my bed without exchanging more than one word beforehand. And if this is meant to be a night-wooing, it's clear that Holm William has never done it before; he unconcernedly bypasses almost every etiquette around the whole thing, including the pretty fundamental one that you're supposed to do it with a girl. Still, he knows what's supposed to happen; he knows the verses, and he knows enough not to crawl in under my blankets.

He doesn't elaborate, so I'm the one to speak again.

“Aren't you going to introduce yourself?” I ask.

He turns his head to look at me. “You already know my name.”

“Still. It's only polite.”

He blows out a breath. “Boring.”

I peer at the strange creature who has appeared out of nowhere in the night, stomped into my room, lain down in my bed; and now lies here hissing and quibbling, seeming for all the world as though I have dragged him here against his will.

It's the most interesting thing that's ever happened to me.

William looks around my room now. His eyes pause at the cabinetwork of my bedside table, my door, my chair, my bed posts. He tips his head back a little to study the post right behind him more closely.

“You've carved these”, he says, and it's not a question.

“I have.” I turn my head to look at the post. “Just a lark, really. I like working with my hands.”

“Why this pattern?” William lifts his hand to touch the carved image of a flower tendril weaving its way upwards. He runs his finger over the little bees sitting in the flowers.

I shrug. “Was watching the bees one day last summer. Got inspired, I suppose.”

“Bees are inspiring creatures”, William agrees. He doesn't outright praise my handiwork, but something tells me this is the closest to a compliment you get from him. His long forefinger keeps stroking one of the tiny bees.

That feels intimate, somehow. No one has ever been in this bed with me before.

“So, what brings you here?” I ask him.

He lowers his hand. “I should think that was obvious.”

I huff a short laugh. “You're a bit of a prat, aren't you?”

His eyes slide over my face once, then he looks away. “So they tell me.”

Now I feel bad. That wasn't a very nice thing to say, and William is my guest, no matter that I didn't exactly invite him. Too bad he didn't seem to hear the fondness in the undertones of my voice.

I heard it, and it surprised me.

“Say again”, I venture, searching for something to say that will please him. “How could you tell I'm from the Wattbacka house?”

He hesitates. But once he opens his mouth, he can't seem to stop talking. What comes out are the most brilliant things I ever heard. He describes me in a way I didn't think I could be seen; he's seen everything, from the way I hold myself to the calluses in the palms of my “delicate hands”. Every single one of these details have prompted a deduction in his mind about who I am, and he lays it all out for me completely without judgement.

I am floored by the truths coming out of his mouth. It sounds so… uncomplicated. In his voice, it sounds simple and beautiful. No one has ever seen me that way before. No one has ever brought my contours into light like this, and it's dazzling.

He gains speed as he talks, barely pausing for breath. He mentions my hands several times; really, I can't understand how he could pay them such close attention in the middle of the busy dance floor yesterday. When he's finished, he snaps his mouth shut. He rolls his lips in between his teeth, biting them in what could be nervousness. I can't imagine what on earth would make him look so apprehensive after all of that.

“That…” I start, and have to clear my throat before I continue: “… was amazing.”

There's a small sound in his throat; I wouldn't hear it if I weren't so close. He glances at me from the corner of his eye. “Do you think so?”

“Of course it was! It was extraordinary, it was quite… amazing.” I sound like an idiot. God, it's clear that Holm William is a genius; I must seem so stupid to him.

“That's not what people normally say.”

“What do people normally say?”

He doesn't answer. Instead he turns on his side, facing me. One pale hand comes up to rest beneath his cheek. It strikes me that his eyes seem more alive now. In the candlelight I'm not even sure what colour they are; bright blue, or green, or perhaps yellow. There's a sparkling interest in them. Almost as if I'm the fascinating genius in this bed.

“You did ask someone about my first name, though.” My voice has turned low and private. “Last night.”

“Fine. Yes.” His voice too has dropped. It's so low I can almost feel the vibrations in my mattress. “But you asked about me too.”

I smile. “'Course I did. I've never heard anyone play like you. It was amazing.”

I can't seem to stop using that word. And William can't seem to stop his tiny, pleased smile when I do.

We lie in comfortable silence for a few moments.

“You do know this isn't a night-wooing Sunday”, I say, clearing my throat.

William raises an eyebrow. “Problem?”

I think on it for a moment. “I guess not.” He sighs softly, settling into the pillow. “I don't have any caramels for you, though”, I add.

He looks up at me, amused. “John, you shock me.”

I chuckle quietly. And that's when I get to hear it for the first time; his laugh, blended with mine.

**

Stambro Mikael and Lestare Greger want to go to our dance barn in Drömme next Saturday, but I convince them that we should go back to Sidensjö again. One dance isn't enough for us to introduce ourselves properly, I say. There are only seven Saturdays left before the Midsummer night-wooing; we'd better spend them all in Sidensjö if we want to woo the girls there.

They agree with me. I don't think too hard about what made me argue this point so strongly.

I haven't told them about my strange visitor last Sunday. I don't know what to say about it. It's a good thing no one noticed; no one in my house heard Holm William entering my room, and they didn't hear us talking all night. Greger did notice me falling asleep while carving out the scroll of a fiddle the following Monday, but he just had a laugh about it and let it go.

It all seems like a dream in retrospect. Holm William is so fascinating, so brilliant and so out of the ordinary that I wonder if any of the things that happened last weekend were real. On the other hand, William is too peculiar for me to have made him up. If I'd made him up, I'd frankly have made him more believable.

And when we enter the Sidensjö dance barn on Saturday, William stands there in the middle of the room, as real as anything can be.

He's playing with Soling Jacob again. I now know that the old fiddler has been William's teacher since William was a child. He told me that it's his dearest dream to become as skilful as Soling Jacob – to become a legend.

“I think you already are”, I told him. He waved that away.

The tunes they're playing today are less explosive than last week, but just as powerful. This one is in a minor key, pensive and expressive. Holm William still plays the melody, Soling Jacob sweeps forth the harmonies, and there is no bow-stroke that isn't skilfully reflected by the other player.

I walk along the walls and look for a girl to dance with. Once I'm on the dance floor, I try to catch William's eye. Seeing him brings back a flood of memories from last weekend; all those little things I've thought I'd forgotten during the week. Like the way he moves his head fractionally to the side when observing the room, keeping his neck straight. Or the way the corner of his mouth ticked up when he thought I'd said something interesting.

I realise now that I'm dying to talk to him.

He looks up when I dance past him. His gaze bores into me just as sharply as I remember, but his face gives nothing away. Even when I smile at him, he is unmoved. I clench my jaw and add an extra stomp and a slap at my heel to the dance, telling myself it has nothing to do with the fact that he's watching me.

I dance for a long time before William lowers his fiddle, bows his head at Soling Jacob and walks off the dance floor. I quickly thank my current dance partner and leave her when Soling Jacob begins to play solo.

I sit down on the bench next to William's fiddle-case, trying not to let on that my limbs are buzzing with excitement to finally meet him again.

“Hey there”, I say.

William nods at me. “John”, he says gravely. I like the way he says it. It sounds… significant, somehow.

“Thank you for the music.”

He shrugs. “My pleasure.”

“It's still amazing.”

I say the word just to see that smile again – and sure enough. He hides it well, but it's there.

William puts his fiddle into the open case and slackens the bow. I take the opportunity to stealthily admire his fiddle. It looks a bit odd, because it's covered in two different shades of varnish; there are uneven patches of a dark brown upon light, golden wood. Whoever made it must have run out of varnish in the middle of their work and finished the job with another hue. That won't affect the sound, though. If you know what to look for, which I do, you can see that this instrument is a masterpiece.

“You're working on your first fiddle”, William comments as he sets his bow into the case.

“Huh?” I tear my gaze away from the fiddle, look up at him and remember – of course. He sees everything. “Oh. Yeah. Haven't gotten very far, though.”

He eyes me intently, his gaze flickering down to my hands once. He doesn't speak, which is maddening. I want to ask him what he sees when he looks at me like that.

William sits down on the bench beside me. If it was an effort to get him to start talking when he came to my bed, it's even harder now. He's on edge, constantly sweeping his eyes across the room. His shoulders are a stiff, self-conscious line.

When I ask him about the songs he played tonight, I finally manage to coax him into speaking. He has some fascinating takes on the interplay between music and dance. Every good dancer knows that what takes place on the dance floor is a dialogue, really. The dancers are inspired by the subtle changes in the music and move in answer to it, and the fiddler in turn plays off what happens in the bodies of the dancers.

But William takes it one step further. His analysis is razor-sharp when he speaks of the precise way his choices in dynamics, phrasing and beat affect the dance floor. I gradually come to see that in his mind, there is a great map with thousands of possible ways it could go. He's ready to follow one of those paths at any time, knowing precisely what the effects will be given what he sees on the floor.

He tells me about the Sister-Polska from Ore in meticulous detail. Truth be told I barely understand half of what he's saying, but I do understand that it's utterly brilliant. Just the sheer amount of information he keeps in his mind for that one tune is staggering. It sounds very scientific when he speaks about it; all these mathematical calculations he makes in his head while he's playing. And yet it looks so infinitely artful – sensual – when he plays. Science made into a breathtakingly beautiful art. His body and his mind coalescing to handle his fiddle.

Then he sniffs haughtily and adds: “Of course, the average dancer doesn't bother to really listen to the music. They dance in time with the beat but are too lazy to listen for nuances.” He rolls his eyes. “Dull. Tedious to play for. Why dance if you don't want to dance?”

As we speak, we watch the couples dance by. It's quite the funny little schottis tune Soling Jacob's playing, and I see Mikael try to spin and laugh so hard he cries at the same time. All this talking about dancing has my feet tingling and longing to move.

“You know”, I say, “it's a crime to sit still when there's music like this.”

“Indeed”, is all William says.

I smile at him and rise from the bench to find a girl to dance with. We share a couple of dances, and all the while William remains sitting where I left him.

In between dances I come back to share a few words with William. As I do, I become aware of people giving us odd looks. I wonder briefly if it's somehow obvious to them that William was in my bed a few days ago… because that is odd, I'll grant them that.

William doesn't talk to anyone else in the room. Actually, it seems that no one even greets him. He also never dances, and in the next break between two girls I ask him about it.

“I don't dance with the girls”, is all he says, crossing his arms and looking out over the dance floor.

I'm not sure if that's an answer to my question, but I don't push the issue.

We sit there until next time a tune ends, then William suddenly rises and makes his way to the centre of the floor. I consider being annoyed that he didn't bother to tell me an excuse, or even look at me before he left – but instead I just find myself curious. I'm starting to understand that Holm William is a whirlwind of sudden turns and unpredictable whims… and that I'll never be bored again if I keep spending time with him.

He's whispering something in Soling Jacob's ear now. When he pulls back, the old fiddler is smirking behind his beard.

William scurries away again and Soling Jacob stomps against the wooden floor with his hard soles. The room quiets. “Halling”, he announces, and the floor immediately clears. Every dancer finds a seat on the benches along the walls until only the fiddler remains in the centre of the floor.

Soling Jacob starts up a halling tune, keeping time loudly with his foot. The tune is dark and dramatic, the common-time beat ruthless and heavy.

Onto the empty dance floor strides Holm William. His chest is puffed out to convey utter confidence. Confidence in his body, in his dance, in the fact that he and no one else owns these floorboards for as long as the halling lasts. I find myself waiting with bated breath for what he will do.

He walks in a wide circle around the fiddler in the middle. The self-consciousness that I can normally see in his stride is gone; although he's still just walking, he is dancing. He bounces a few times, stomps lightly and swings his arms before spreading them to his sides. He walks along the edges of the floor with his face to the audience, arms spread wide, cocking his head as if to say Look at me, am I not handsome?

He is. It's impossible not to notice. When he daringly draws attention to the grace of his body like that, I find my eyes sweeping over him from head to toe. Today he's wearing a white shirt with his black trousers and braces. It makes him look elegant and sharp; clean lines and colourless contrasts. It makes me notice the pink of his cheeks and lips in a way I don't think I'm supposed to.

Just as he's about to pass me he makes his first spins, arms still stretched out on each side. His balance is perfect; it looks effortless. Just as it does when he plays the fiddle. Just as it does when he knows everything about me from a single glance. He stops spinning to walk casually backwards, staring into my eyes. I can see a challenge in his eyes that I don't want to back down from.

William turns back around with a jerk of his head that draws attention to the strong line of his neck and shoulder. Then he starts showing off in earnest. For a moment, I envy him deeply. I am a decent halling dancer myself, but when William does it it looks like no effort at all. This is the most physically demanding solo-dance that can be seen in the dance barns of Sweden, and it's unfair that someone who can play the fiddle as though possessed by the devil can also move his body in this way. He drops to a crouch and kicks out his legs in a way that looks as though he's resting. That move is murder on the thighs, I happen to know.

In the next moment, William approaches me again and effectively shuts up every coherent thought in my head. He bends his leg to slap his heel with a loud smack, emphasising it by raising his hand high into the air afterwards – all the while staring at me with positively smouldering eyes. Without really thinking about why, I suddenly know with crystal clarity that this dance is solely for my benefit.

My cheeks are inexplicably heating under William's blatant stare. He smiles then, self-assured and smug – I'm sure he sees my blush, and I'm sure it tells him something very intimate about me, whatever it might be.

I glance around at the others. I half-expect them all to look at me, or at the very least boggle at William's near indecency. No one does. They don't even seem as spellbound as I am.

Looking back at the dancer, I give in to the urge to really look. Everything about him is completely breathtaking; his sinuous spine, his strong arms, and his neck, smooth under his curly hair. Even his feet are beautiful to look at, a dance in themselves. His steps are heavy where it suits him and feather-light where it shouldn't be possible; William uses gravity as though he is the master, rather than being limited by it. There's an enticing paradox there. To defy gravity like that, you have to be strong as an ox, but William moves with a grace that hides his strength from the unobservant eye.

The tune ends with a last forceful note. William halts with a flourish and bows in my direction.

The audience claps, already discussing who's going to dance next. I blink and gasp a breath into my dry mouth. William walks back to his place on the bench next to me, sits down with his arms crossed over his chest, smirking when the next tune starts and another dancer takes the floor.

William doesn't so much as glance in my direction, and I do my damnedest not to look at him either. But the space between us buzzes with a strange tension. We don't have to touch; we don't even have to look at each other to be somehow connected.

Although I've never felt anything like it before, I know he feels it too.

And as people clap to the new dancer's steps, it all clicks in my mind. William wasn't entirely wrong to wave away that comment about him being a legend. These people don't know it yet. I don't know how they can have missed it, but they have. For some reason, at this point in time, he is a legend only to me.

This is why they're looking at us in confusion when we're speaking. No one else bothers to talk to him, and they wonder why I do. They don't know. They don't see.

I finally look at him beside me. William turns his head fractionally, meeting my gaze from the corner of his eye. We look at each other in silence. I find myself with the strangest urge to take his hand, lead him onto the floor and dance to the next polska.