Through the fog a caravan traveled across the Plain of Trevick toward the tiny village of Urigstat. Nestled alongside the gently flowing River Vridlo, the quiet hamlet slept unaware. As the sun climbed slowly above the horizon, the mist lifted like a young bride’s veil. A rooster crowed, and Karman gathered eggs and fetched water from the well for breakfast.
Her father was a violin maker, as was his father before him. He was not famous, but he was a master of his craft, and it pleased him to run a bow across a newly made violin and hear its unique voice. Vladnew took pride in all he possessed, from his small shop to his beautiful daughter, Karman. He told all who would listen there was no one this side of Heaven with a voice as sweet as hers. And nothing pleased him more than to play his violin as she sang, voice and strings melding into one perfect sound.
Karman heard wagon wheels in the distance, bumping along the road, and an occasional neigh of a horse. As she stepped onto the porch, the first wagon appeared around the bend. It was brightly painted, and she smiled as she saw a woman with long dark hair walking along side it, dressed in a silk shawl . She waved and lingered in the doorway as the second, the third, and then the fourth wagon rolled by. Karman counted fifteen caravans, all decorated with bright colors and curious symbols.
Vladnew called from inside the house, and she turned and hurried in to prepare breakfast.
“Father, have you seen the caravan? What oddly beautiful wagons they are. Where do you think they’re going?”
“What are you going on about, Daughter?”
“Outside, Father. Look. You can just see the last two wagons.”
Vladnew peered through the window and saw the caravan as it made its way west toward the village. He knew who they were. A caravan of Roma had come through their village the day before Karman was born. Her mother had gone into the village to buy flour and sugar and stopped at their encampment to have her fortune told. She believed in things not seen. The cards spoke of calamity and death, and the young woman hurried back home without the flour or the sugar.
Vladnew told his beloved wife not to worry. It was all nonsense, the words of an old woman, nothing more. But that night she became ill with a fever and by morning Karman breathed her first breath as her mother breathed her last. Word spread through the village like a fire chased by high winds, and before nightfall a mob had gathered to drive the Roma away. They had not been seen again.
Karman had heard the story many times in the village, but never once from her father. He refused to talk about it except to say, there was no such thing as magic. Her mother had probably caught the fever from the Roma camp. She should never have gone near them.
Karman stood next to her father by the window.
“They are the Roma. Stay far away from them. They bring nothing but trouble with them wherever they travel.” He turned to her and grabbed her shoulders. “Promise me you will not go near their camp.”
“I promise,” Karman said. She had never seen her father afraid or angry. She was not sure which he was now, possibly both.
“I have much work to do today. I will need your help in the shop.”
“Yes, Father. Just let us eat now and forget about the wagons.”
Vladnew walked to the table and slumped into the chair staring at the picture of Karman’s mother sitting on the wooden mantle above the stone fireplace. She worked as quickly as she could to put breakfast on the table. She talked of how well the hens were laying, and what a fine strong voice the rooster had. Her father didn’t seem to hear her.
The Roma had been camped just outside the village of Urigstat for more than two weeks. Every night after her father had gone to bed, Karman slipped out of the house and hid behind the large oak at the edge of the meadow and listened as the Roma played and danced to wild rhythms and magical jigs.
She thought the young women were beautiful and the men quite handsome, all with hair and eyes as dark as a moonless night. They laughed and sang and danced as though they were the only people in the whole world. How could these people bring only trouble?
There was a young man in particular that had caught Karman’s eye. He played the violin as though it was an extension of himself. She had never seen anyone play as he did, and she had seen many violinists in her short lifetime.
The young Rom closed his eyes and moved and swayed with the melody until he became one with the music. It was hypnotizing. If only she could know his name, maybe just speak to him once in passing on the road into the village. She knew her father would never allow it, just as he would never allow her to be out at night while he slept.
“And what are you doing watching us from behind this tree, hiding in the dark?”
Karman jumped and gasped as she felt the strong grip on her arm.
“Please sir, I’m sorry. I just wanted to hear the music, that’s all. I meant you no harm.”
The man wore a felt hat, and his gold earrings glistened ever so slightly in the starlight.
Karman thought he looked to be the age of her father. He pulled her into the light of the fire and smiled.
“Why, you are just a girl. What are you doing out alone in the dark?” His low voice had a mystic melody all its own.
The music had stopped, and a small crowd had gathered around her. An old woman wrinkled as the bark on the oak came near her and removed the thin scarf Karman wore covering her long hair.
“Look. She has sun-spun hair of gold. This might bring quite a pretty price in Prague. I’ve seen wigs made of hair this very color.”
“No, please. Let me go,” Karman cried.
They all began to laugh, and the man in the felt hat patted her on the head. “I’m sorry, dear child. We are just having a little fun here. No one wants your hair. In fact, if its music you want, come join us around the fire. We promise not to harm you, and you may leave whenever you like.”
She looked across the group of strangers and saw the young man with the violin in hand smiling at her. Maybe it wouldn’t hurt to stay for just one or two songs.
She sat next to him as he began to play, and as the evening passed the stars filled the clear night sky and seemed to shine more brightly than usual. His name was Antonin. His dark hair hung in ringlets across his shoulders, and she could see the flames of the fire reflected in his black eyes. After many more than two songs the stars began to fade and the slightest hint of light appeared on the eastern horizon.
“I must get home before my father wakes and finds me missing,” Karman said.
“I will see you safely home,” Antonin said.
He carefully set his violin inside a nearby wagon and turned to walk her home. “I don’t even know your name. I am Antonin.”
“My name is Karman.”
“Karman Eternus,” he said.
“You shall be called Karman Eternus—eternal song.”
“But how did you know my name means song?”
“I’m a musician.”
“So, Karman Eternus, what does your father do?”
“He’s a violin maker. A master violin maker,” she said proudly.
“This is fate then,” Antonin said. He took her hand as they continued to walk along the road. “I am a violinist, and your father is a violin maker. We are cut from the same stone.”
“My father would not think so, I’m afraid.”
“What do you mean? Because I am a Rom?”
“Yes,” Karman said. “But you don’t understand.”
Karman began to tell Antonin about her mother’s death and how her father believed only in what he could see. The rooster crowed nearby, and she told him he could walk with her no further. She would gather a few eggs and walk into the house as though she had just gotten up to prepare breakfast. He agreed to turn back only after she promised to meet him that evening at the edge of the woods after her father retired.
That night as her father slept, Karman slipped away into the forest. Antonin was there to meet her, and they made their way to the Roma camp. As they arrived, all the children were sleeping and the adults were sitting around a large campfire drinking coffee and talking. They stared as she entered the circle with Antonin at her side. But unlike her father had told her, they were not troublesome. They were welcoming, and they possessed the power of music and story. And she was intent on learning to sing their songs.
Karman and Antonin met every night for three months. They sat around the fire at the camp, Antonin playing his violin while Karman sang. Some nights they would wander off to the river and sit under the weeping arms of a willow. Antonin spoke of all the wonders he had seen in his travels, while Karman dreamed of what magic the world beyond her village held. Finally, it was time for the caravan to move on. Antonin decided to meet her the day before they were to leave and ask her father if they could marry. And if he said no, they would elope. They were certain upon their return to the village married, he would have to accept it. They were young and inexperienced in the ways of jealous fathers and village prejudice.
Vladnew was not impressed that Antonin could play the violin, and in fact, was outraged that they had been seeing each other each night. Karman tried to assure her father the Roma had been kind to her. But he would not listen. Now, torn between the pain she was causing her father and the love she felt for Antonin, Karman felt confused. Her father refused their marriage and told him if he ever came near his daughter again he would have him arrested and hanged as a thief, though all Antonin ever stole was Karman’s heart. He must leave her house forever.
Vladnew stood guard over her door all night and watched out the front window the next morning as the caravan rolled by. Karman stood at her bedroom window upstairs and cried as Antonin’s wagon passed her house.
Days turned into weeks and Karman became weaker and weaker, her heart and spirit broken. Vladnew didn’t know what to do for his daughter. Though he had denied her marriage, he had only tried to protect her. The violin he was making would not yield to his master touch and produced only melancholy sounds. He begged her to sing for him again as she once had, but it was no use. There was no more music in her soul. It had stolen away on a brightly colored wagon.
One evening as Karman looked through her bedroom window at the star-filled night sky, she made a wish. A powerful wish.
The next morning there was a knock on the front door, and Vladnew appeared from his bedroom. He wondered why Karman was not up preparing breakfast as he passed the kitchen. Perhaps it was her melancholy mood, he thought. When he opened the door, there stood Antonin.
“What is it you want?” Vladnew asked.
“I must see your daughter. I can’t live without her, sir. I will work for you for the rest of my life, learning to make violins. Just please let me marry Karman.” Tears fell from his eyes.
Vladnew exhaled, breathing out all that was left of his anger. “My daughter has not had one happy thought since you left, and in fact, has been in ill health.” He paused and looked up the stairs toward her room. “I will allow you to marry if you agree to live here and not take her away from me. I could not bear to lose her. She is all I have.”
“Yes, oh yes,” Antonin said.
“It is agreed then?” Vladnew said.
“Yes, I promise.”
“Come in, and I will call her.”
Vladnew went upstairs to Karman’s room to call her, but when he opened the door she was not there. Her bed was unmade and lying on her pillow was a violin. It was golden brown. He picked it up and took it downstairs.
“What a beautiful violin,” Antonin said. “Is it your work?”
“No. I have never seen it before. Karman is gone. I found this lying on her pillow.”
“Gone?” Antonin cried.
He ran up the stairs to her room, but she was not there. Antonin ran back downstairs and out of the house, calling her name. He looked for her in the chicken house and the small barn. He wandered through the woods that surrounded her house. She was nowhere to be found. When he returned to the house, Vladnew was sitting at the table with the violin in his arms.
“I can’t find her. Where would she have gone?” Antonin asked.
Vladnew stood and held out the violin. “I have always thought I lived in a world without magic. Even when I would play the violin and my sweet Karman would sing, though I loved it, I did not recognize it for what it was.”
Vladnew moved close to Antonin and placed the violin in his hands. He took a bow from the shelf and said, “Take this and play.”
“Take this bow and play the violin,” Vladnew said.
“But how can you think of playing when Karman is missing?” Antonin asked.
“I think when you play this violin you will find her.”
Antonin tucked the violin under his chin, closed his eyes, and gently drew the bow across the strings. A sweet melody was released from the violin and filled the room. They both recognized the voice.
“Karman Eternus,” Antonin whispered, caressing the violin as he played.
And she sang.
Terri Hale is a writer and trainer for Young Life Europe, an international youth organization. She lives in north Texas and Scotland. Her interests include family, travel, books, all things enchanted, and chocolate, lots and lots of chocolate. Her novel The Stone Manor is available on Amazon and B&N.
Artwork: Christian Schloe, Sonata