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The Broken String
Knock! Knock! A faint banging on her wooden door disrupted Kyra Heali from her studies. She slammed her book, titled “Warts, Pimples, and Burns,” onto the oak tabletop.
“Yes?” she called and swung the door wide. “Sorry, we’re not open until...” Her voice froze in her throat when she spotted the visitor. On her doorstep stood a thin, emaciated figure. A gentle breeze swished shaggy brown hair around his high cheekbones. Cold grey eyes stared at her from their sunken sockets.
“Kyra....Heali?” the voice croaked, and the sickly figure collapsed.
Being the compassionate Healer that she was, Kyra dragged him inside to the guest room. Blue linen sheets and a simple quilt adorned the bed she laid him in. He would be rather good looking, Kyra thought, if he were healthy. She briefly gazed around the room to make sure everything he needed was there. There was the mirror, a few extra books, washcloths and the water basin, and, she noted with satisfaction, her mother’s old lyre with the broken string. I should go to the market soon and try to earn some money by playing it, Kyra thought.
She had immediately diagnosed the stranger with “jebola sclerosis,” a rare disease consisting of high fevers, fainting if over excited, and a flushed, sickly appearance. If it wasn’t treated immediately with garnelia, a special herb, Kyra reminded herself, it would most likely result in death. She shuddered. It wasn’t often that her patients passed away, since she knew every cure there was to know, and every herb for healing. Fame had spread about the remarkable Kyra Heali and her “magical solutions to every sickness.”
Most of that day Kyra spent reading medicinal books and tending her vast herb garden in the outer yard. When it came time to prepare dinner, she brought the supplies to the outdoor cooking pit. Soon the delectable aroma of roasted pork and onions wafted through the air.
Presently Kyra was joined by her patient. He shuffled weakly onto a nearby bench.
“Welcome to my home,” Kyra said kindly. “Would you mind telling me your name and where you’re from? I’m Kyra Heali, but you seem to already know that.”
The boy, for he was around the same age as Kyra, said, “The name’s Sebastian. I’m here to figure out what disease I have and how to cure it, since my parents passed away from it a few days ago.” His voice cracked as he struggled against the tears beginning to well up in his eyes. “There’s only me and Zephyr left, and if I died, there’d be no one to watch out for her. Do you think you can help?”
“Of course. Here, this is called garnelia, and it will help you recover. You’ll need to take some every day.” She handed him the herb and watched him consume it.
Then there was silence. Kyra handed Sebastian some food, which he quickly ate using only his hands. “You know, my parents died a few years ago too. I know how awful it is to lose both at once.”
“Yes, awful,” Sebastian muttered. “I just worry about Zephyr. I think it’s affected her the worst.”
“Maybe I could meet her sometime,” Kyra said. “Now, tell me about yourself. What do you like to do?”
Sebastian paused and looked up into the starry night sky. “I enjoy building things, writing, and nature. Isn’t it amazing how all those sparkling lights got up there?”
“How did they?”
“I don’t know for sure, but I’ve heard that a long time ago one old Scientist created an explosion and all the little particles flew up into space.”
“That’s a creative story!” Kyra laughed. “But do you really believe it?”
“Oh, I don’t know. It’s fun to imagine. Maybe they are just our fathers and mothers looking down on us after they die.”
Kyra smiled up at the vast universe. “That’s an encouraging thought. I always remember my parents by the lyre.”
“Well, it was my mother’s. Her name was Karla Musici, but when she married my father, who was a Healer, her last name changed. However, she always would play the instrument at night and sing. Her voice was beautiful, like the clear, sweet notes of a bluebird on a misty spring morning. When they...passed away...I taught myself how to play it. The only problem is the one string that’s always been broken. It snapped a long time ago, but my parents never fixed it, and I don’t know how.”
Her companion nodded. “I remember my parents by this journal.” He pulled out a brown leather-covered book with rusty yellow pages and scrawled ink. “I write stories in it, and journal entries.”
United by the present circumstances and similar pasts, the two talked until the fire embers burned low and they could barely see an inch in front of their faces. Finally, Kyra advised Sebastian to get some rest. He thanked her and went to bed.
The next few days passed rapidly. Kyra fed Sebastian the herb, but realized that his condition was so frail that daily doses for two weeks would be necessary. To miss a single day could result in his death.
However, during the midday meal on the fifth day, a small thought nagged at Kyra’s brain. “Sebastian? What’s your last name?” She tried to reassure herself that there’s no way it could be...
“Carpentri. Sebastian Carpentri.”
No. No! Kyra’s heart starting racing. It pounded so loud she feared it would burst right out of her chest. Frantically she stood up, breathing hard and knocking the bench down behind her. The day seven years ago, when she was only eleven years old, was still a vivid memory. Her parents slumped back in their chairs, their cups of wine smashed into tiny glass pieces on the cold tile floor, and all the villagers frantically gasping, shrieking, and causing an uproar. In answer to her questions for explanation, Kyra had been told that her parents’ death was caused by deep jealousy. When she had been young, Karla Musici was the loveliest maiden around. She sang so clearly, danced so gracefully, and played the lyre so beautifully that all the young men were enchanted with her - especially Mitt Carpentri. However, when she and Jeffrey Heali fell in love, there was nothing he could do. When he saw the happy family flourishing, Mitt Carpentri nursed his covetous nature until he became so jealous that he poisoned them during the village banquet.
“You! Foul Clan! Murderer!” This time she yelled at Sebastian. Ever since that day Kyra had despised, hated, and avoided all Carpenters. She wasn’t about to make an exception now, however friendly she had been to this boy. The awful scene played over and over in her mind. “Please...excuse me.”
Ignoring the fact that she was committing a heinously rude offense to her house guest, Kyra raced into her room and slammed the door. She sank down to the floor in frustration. How could he be a Carpenter? That foul Clan lived on the distant shore across the River. Why would he come all the way here? Finally, she decided to wait for morning to strike back once and for all to avenge her parents’ gruesome death.
The next morning, Kyra hesitantly knocked on Sebastian’s door. He had found his way back to the room the previous night and fallen asleep, bewildered at Kyra’s violent outburst.
“Come in,” he said, yawning, and Kyra entered with a bowl of crusty bread and ham.
“Here.” Kyra grunted, shoving it at him.
“Thanks! Kyra, is everything okay?”
“Hmph. Soon I’ll be back with your medicine.” She exited the room in a huff, disgusted at the sight of such vermin. How had she allowed him into her house? He had probably defiled her perfectly sanitized ornaments and decorations. Why had she talked long hours at night with him, sharing her life story and all her thoughts? Vowing revenge, Kyra went to the medicine room to prepare yarro, an herb which appeared similar to garnelia, but was actually useless.
“I’m going to the market. When I get back I’ll check your progress. For now, here’s the herb for today.” Kyra’s stiff words confused Sebastian, but he accepted the bowl and consumed everything, blindly trusting in the kind Healer.
Yes, I’ll check your progress, Kyra thought maliciously. I’ll check to see how dead you are - stiff as a doornail or starting to rot! Ignoring a tiny twinge of guilt, she hastily grabbed her mother’s lyre, stuffed it in her satchel, and stormed out.
In the village she set up a bench and quilt. Healing was her specialty, which earned her the last name Heali and a position in the Heali Clan, but her secondary talent was the art of Music. There were various Clans and last names in her village, some of which were Musici, Clowni, Authori, Artisti, and Tameri. One of her closest friends was Dill Poeti. Together they would put Dill’s long epic poems to music and Kyra would play it on her lyre. However, there was always that one broken string which annoyed her, but she was too stubborn to ask a Carpenter for help.
“Ho, Kyra!” Dill’s cheerful voice said. “What’s new?”
“I still can’t believe it,” Kyra muttered, not glancing up at the tall blond-haired boy in front of her and starting to unpack her lyre. “A real Carpentri right in my home.”
Dill started and his voice wavered a little. “Um...Kyra? Isn’t that the Clan you hate? What happened?”
The young Healer sighed. “It’s a long story, okay? I just need to earn a little...Oh.” Kyra had pulled out the exquisitely carved instrument when something odd struck her eye. The broken string had been repaired! And there was only one person who could have possibly done the job...
“Oh, no! No, no, no!” Kyra wailed. She grabbed the lyre and started running home.
“Kyra! What’s going on?” Dill’s voice was snatched away by the wind.
Blood pounded ferociously in Kyra’s ears. Her eyes were watering and her nose running. Beads of perspiration broke out all over her forehead as she raced as fast as she could over the hill, straight down the cobblestone path, past the Tailori Clan’s buildings. She took a shortcut through John Planteri’s cucumber field.
Breathless, she reached the front door, bounded through the hall and flung open Sebastian’s door. The broken bowl lay on the floor in shreds. The boy’s eyes stared, unblinking, at the ceiling. He was freakishly still. Kyra laid her head down on his chest but could find no heartbeat. She was too late.
Sobbing, Kyra slammed the lyre down to the floor. She slowly sank down into a crouching position and wept uncontrollably. By giving him the useless but harmless herb, his body hadn’t received the treatment it needed to get through the day. Now, just because of her unjust assumptions, she had pretty much committed murder. Not only that, but poor, miserable Sebastian’s life was ruined. Forgetting about her own parents and her vow to avenge their tragic death, Kyra thought only of the present situation. What had caused her to become such a monster? What evil had swelled up inside of her so large that it couldn’t even be controlled? And now what was she to do with her life? There was nothing. Nothing could ever bring the dear, young Carpenter back to life.
After two hours, Kyra realized she must leave the grief-filled room. Feeling completely miserable and utterly hopeless, she picked up the lyre and stumbled to the front steps.
There she strummed a few notes and stifled a sob.
“Good night, sweet child, lay down to rest...” Strum, strum, and gently rain started sprinkling on her rooftop. Kyra continued to sing the familiar lullaby. “...As the bluebirds snuggle in their nest...” An off note twanged. She couldn’t go on. Covering her head in her lap, Kyra shook with sobs and didn’t move for a very long time.
“Hello?” A young feminine voice broke the silence. Kyra started, staring feverishly at the small girl who was holding a bouquet of daisies. The rain had stopped.
“Who are you?” Kyra replied.
“Zephyr Carpentri. I’m looking for my brother Sebastian. Have you seen him? I wanted to give him these!” She held out the flowers.
Grief and guilt loomed in front of Kyra once again. “Dear, dear, Zephyr! I am so very sorry. Will you...would you like to stay with me for a while? I can take care of you since you have no family left.”
Realizing what Kyra meant, Zephyr burst into tears. Kyra pulled the small child towards her, now a sibling-less orphan like herself, and squeezed tightly. Bitter hate transformed into overwhelming compassion. All the previous prejudices against Zephyr’s and Sebastian’s Clan vanished. Now, a small sparkle of hope began to glimmer in Kyra’s soul - hope that someday, somehow, she could prove that even she could experience a change of heart if given a second chance.