Lili was a genius.
Or perhaps losing her mind.
She smiled at the children and said with absolute conviction: “Would you please teach me your favorite songs?”
She had dug this grave and now she would lie in it.
She sat helplessly at the piano as three children simultaneously attempted to teach her a song about stars, all singing off-key, two hitting piano keys at random, and one screaming the words to be heard above the cacophony.
She had thought she was so smart to try to learn from them.
Someone—probably a child, but possibly not—screamed “TWINKLE” at the top of their lungs. Another immediately picked up the song from that word. It was the loudest, most raucous, most un-musical rendition of…whatever song this was that Lili had ever heard. Or of any song, really. She could hear the reverberations of the “music” hitting the surrounding buildings. People leaned out their windows to get a look at the commotion and then snapped their windows shut with extreme prejudice.
Lili wished she could join them. Still, though she had learned nothing so far, she had at least managed to avoid being caught not knowing basic Neilsland children’s songs.
There were a couple of people who clapped and egged the children on, but for the most part the consensus was that Lili and her merry band of four-to-twelve-year-olds were a menace to society and disturbing the peace.
Lili’s peace was absolutely disturbed. But while sitting in the center of a bunch of screaming children slamming meaty little fists onto piano keys at random intervals was a fresh kind of hell, it was also still always going to be better than sitting quietly in a tower playing a perfectly tuned instrument at a nice, even volume for an audience of one.
There was a frivolity to the children’s playing (if it could be called that), with a kind of enjoyable flippancy that made light of music. Lilinova had never been allowed to make light of anything, let alone her only useful skill, and to have such unbridled reckless musical abandon was cathartic—even if not particularly pleasing.
By informing the children that she was, in fact, the resident musician of the castle, Lili was able to wrestle the keyboard away from them. With their help shushing each other, she sounded out the songs from their various momentary harmonies as best she could for their amusement.
And, hey, Lili did manage to learn a couple Neilsland songs! She learned one about a warrior who lost his parents to a monster and then beat it into bloody (overly bloody for a children’s song, in Lili’s opinion) pulp. She also learned a song called “Philos” for a festival coming up about souls, or something? Also possibly dinosaurs, because four different children were screaming information simultaneously at her.
She managed to extricate herself from the hellions just long enough to feel her ears buzzing and also feel the prickle down her spine of someone watching her. She looked around, but the square was only full of parents, a few of whom waved to reassure her that the screaming, shrieking, bad piano was perfectly normal. Otherwise, maybe she was just paranoid.
Then tiny hands yanked her back to the piano and she had no more room to worry about anything else.
Lilinova was a princess, but Lili was a musician. So she spent a while teaching the children basic notes on the piano. Together, she and the children sounded out the tune of the “Philos” song, plus a few others about friendship and cats. She eventually got through enough songs to feel her throat ache and her ears pulse painfully with a well-earned headache.
A helpful parent who had been watching the slow ritual execution of Lilinova of Tresterville facilitated her escape with a few kind words (and a few harsher ones for the kids still insistently pulling at Lili’s skirts). The parents, grateful for Lili’s involvement with their screaming hellspawn, gave Lili a cinnamon bun and hurried her away while the first bars of what passed as the cat song rose behind her from the piano.
“But you should probably run home,” one mother warned her gently, “that soldier has been watching you this whole time.”
Lili whipped around in a way that telegraphed immediately that she knew she was being watched and only had the presence of mind to be embarrassed about it when the women all giggled and shushed her together, causing more of a commotion than she had intended.
She saw the flash of a dark robe around the side of a building and imagined she knew exactly who was tailing her. She felt a small swoop in her belly at the thought of the Duke watching to see how she engaged with his people.
A little creepy of him to be hiding it, to be sure, but she’d rather it be him following her than anyone else.
Which was why it was so disappointing when she glanced back in his direction and made immediate and unexpected eye contact with Amedeo.