The White Rose of Fiorazzurro
Chapter 17 (or, “The Songstrummers”)
Park Haneul had always wanted to live on Fiorazzurro, but had never anticipated it would be so hard.
As an immigrant to the country with her family, she had needed to go through the paperwork, signing her life away under the kingdom of Queen Cendrillon. None of the forms had stood out to her, save for the ones about the extremely limited use of magic. Haneul's family had used magic in Korea all the time, but with the civil war breaking out, they couldn't afford to stay in their country any longer. They would give up the temporary comforts of magic to survive on the island. Since every other country's immigration requirements were higher and much stricter, Fiorazzurro was easier to get into.
Besides, while Haneul's family practiced magic, they were not exclusive magic users. They could live without it, unlike some people.
Haneul had begun the daily stress of living in a city that was much inhabited by all types of people. Her family moved into the Korean neighborhood on the south side of the island, close to the ports, their big boats, and the even bigger muscles of the Fiorazian Navy. Haneul would watch the sailors go to work every day at port as she went to school, among her group of friends. They all wore the same Korean uniform and took the same classes in Korean. Haneul felt that Fiorazzurro was the same: decidedly Italian in its original build, but built up of several little pieces of culture, none of them overlapping, all of them in their own specific little spots. She liked how nobody ruffled feathers and longed to be back in Korea soon. It was a sentiment shared by many of her classmates, to once again be home after the war, able to practice magic again and celebrate their homeland.
But days turned into weeks turned into years, and Haneul wasn't certain that anybody would be returning to their Korea. Then, with a flash, there was no longer any mention of Korea in the newspapers. She spoke Italian at home with her family, who no longer spoke of the dynasties and the old days. Her set of hanbok were missing from her closet, and her school uniforms now used pleated skirts. It was as if Korea no longer existed, and Haneul was the only one in Fiorazzurro who remembered. She was afraid thy one of these days she would wake up and no longer be Korean herself. It didn't sit well with her, thinking about a reality without her identity.
Instead of thinking about it, she chose to think about something else entirely. Earlier that same school session, when school had come back after the winter and holiday break, she had met Angelica, a new student two levels ahead of her. Angelica played the violin as more than an after school activity, and Haneul stayed after school one night to listen to her practice for a huge concert she had coming up. While listening, she caught two other students listening and gossiping in a corner of the dark, dusty auditorium.
"You know they say she's a songstrummer, right?" they told Haneul. "She knows how to write new music and use it to heal people with magic."
Haneul was in shock. Music used as a form of magic? She had never heard of this before. Thinking about it later, however, reminded her of the sanjo gayageum that now lay unused in her parents' hope chest. Haneul had played the many stringed instrument as a child in Korea, but Cendrillon's government had restricted its use since it was not on the list of approved instruments. She remembered how she had once ran her fingers over the silk strings, holding it close and making up melodies on her own time. Could she learn to be a songstrummer, or was it something you were born with?
Angelica had caught Haneul watching the next time she listened to her practice. They became fast friends, Angelica even letting Haneul try out her violin. "I have a stringed instrument, too," Haneul said, "but it's from a country nobody believes exists anymore."
The next day, Haneul invited Angelica over to her decidedly Italian apartment to meet her decidedly Korean looking parents. All traces of their heritage were gone, but thankfully, the sanjo gayageum was still in the chest when Haneul opened it. "Nobody believes me," she confided in her new friend.
"I believe you," Angelica said. "There was a war going on in Korea, wasn't there?"
They began to practice together, Haneul on her gayageum and Angelica on her violin. Pretty soon, they fell into a rhythm. Haneul would play cords on her gayageum while Angelica would make up a melody over top. And when the sparks of magic began to fly during their secret practices, Haneul knew that the gossiping kids had not been joking.
"I have to keep it a secret," Angelica told Haneul when she found out. "They made me sign a contract as a kid, long before I even started playing violin. I only play the required songs in public, but here, in secret, I can still be myself. Will you still practice with me?"
Haneul wasn't sure what she was more infatuated with: becoming a songstrummer or Angelica herself. "Of course."
Haneul longed to become a songstrummer just like Angelica. To her, the warm fuzzy feeling she got when Angelica played a song wasn’t just magic. It was the feeling that you were with somebody special, somebody who could make the day easier and better for you without even trying. She wanted to find her way to that same place in her own talent, with the gayageum, but wasn’t sure she ever could. If she could find more time to practice with it.
During one of their practice sessions, somebody knocked on their door. Since Haneul was pretty sure she wasn’t magical — at least, not overt — she was the one who answered the door. “Can I help you?” she asked, afraid that someone would have heard them practicing and was coming to make them stop, or perhaps they knew the truth about Angelica.
There were two people in the door, both tall and well dressed. The woman in the corset spoke first. “We heard there were some white roses in a vase.”
Angelica recognized the two newcomers as Dennika and Keziah, twin siblings who were also fiddle players and fellow songstrummers in the area. They were also technical players and would play songs from the Scroll of Selected Pieces at traders fairs and performances all around Fiorazzurro. They still honed their songstrumming skill in secret, however, just like Angelica herself did. “There is talk of a revolution within our midst,” Dennika mentioned to Angelica. “We have been told to gather all of the songstrummers in the area and take them to Strada Pianure Bianche, where our leader awaits. You do not have to come today, but you should come on Sevenday. There will be a great meeting then. Are you interested in assisting us?”
“You are young,” Keziah noted, “so we understand if you do not want to be part of it.”
“Um…” Haneul spoke up. “If she goes, can I go too? I want to learn how to be a songstrummer. I keep trying, but I’m not really good at magic. I’m good at technical playing, however.”
Keziah smiled at Haneul. “You’re missing one important piece of the puzzle if you want to become a songstrummer. I’m sure, if you come with Angelica, you’ll discover what that is.”
“I don’t mind helping,” Angelica said, putting her violin down. “Is it safe?”
“We will be there, and we can even meet you in the Square on Sevenday before we go,” Dennika told her. “Just be prepared to finally play your heart out.”