Yvonne swept the stone chimney with careful, methodical strokes of her broom. The motion was nearly meditative as the bristles drew faint lines in the grey ash. Her shoulders ached, but she pushed the discomfort out of her head. The fireplace hadn’t been swept in what appeared to be months and she couldn’t have the room clogging with smoke due to ashes. The composer who lived in the room was far too brilliant to lose a life to choking and smoke inhalation. He had music to write that would last through the ages.
Andre, the Master’s personal assistant ran up the stairs and paid her no attention. He went in to the bedroom, found what he was looking for and returned back to his hurried and purposeful gait, nearly knocking Yvonne over. He gave her a sneer as he sidestepped her presence and continued gracefully down to the first floor.
That was one of the setbacks of working in different versions of reality. In this Vienna, men commanded a certain ability when it came to manipulating sound. Women were considered second class because they couldn’t. It had taken her a while to land a maid’s job that would act as cover in such a prestigious house. A job in service was the only available work for women. After spending so much time in this world, she wondered if given the chance, women could prove they did have the same magical abilities as their male counterparts; but society and the established ruling power had convinced them otherwise. Sadly, she wasn’t here to raise the status of all women. She was here to save the life the reputation of only one.
She checked her pocket watch. She calculated the routine of her employer and knew she had roughly a half an hour before he would leave to take his late night supper in his room. She’d been watching Beethoven for months and learned his habits; from early morning practice of various instruments to late night dinners; eating whilst he composed, followed by a walk in the moonlight and more composing at bedtime.
She had half of an hour enter his bedroom, steal the opera he had been secretly composing and leave the village. Simple. ‘Right,’ she thought.
Yvonne stood upright and stretched the aching muscles in her lower back. After this mission, she certainly had far more respect for Europe’s service class. Being an agent for the orchestra meant she had to take on various roles in society, no matter the year or version of reality she’d entered. While she much preferred the clothes of upper class women, posing as a servant and making herself invisible to most people worked much better.
For months, she had worked as Beethoven’s house maid, cleaning out his fireplace, scrubbing his floors and helpfully carrying his dinner tray to him in the evening for the old cook. All the while, she watched and waited until she found what the Orchestra had sent her to find. History, or at least the several versions of reality she had studied, found that just before Beethoven had fallen ill towards the end of his life, he had written an opera entitled, “My Immortal Beloved.” In those versions of history, the score of the opera was found; revealing the true identity of Beethoven’s one, true love. The end result was that the woman’s life, an important figure in history, was ruined by intrusion and unceasing scandal.
In a few other worlds in time, where the manuscript of the opera had been lost, the identity of his love had remained secret and she had gone one to make significant contributions to the political stability of all of Europe. Sometimes, it was unfathomable how one piece of music could change the world and all of history. As an Agent, Yvonne had been given the heavy burden of finding the earliest time that Beethoven had taken to writing the piece, stealing it and returning it to the archives of the Orchestra. She could set history strait for the better, at least in this world.
As she returned the broom and shovel to the mantel, she was sure to go over her back up story in her head in the event she was caught. She mentally noted all of the windows and doors within walking (or running) distance from Beethoven’s bedroom in the event that she needed a quick escape. She walked calmly and confidently to the hall and slipped into his room, holding her breath, she waited and listened. She was safe for the moment.
Beethoven and his assistant were still working away downstairs. The upstairs bedroom chamber and dining room remained silent as the tomb. Yvonne tiptoed her way to Beethoven’s desk and scanned the scrolled pages for the opera. She flipped through invitations for appearances at royal court, requests for apprenticeships from students all over Europe and notes in a leather bound book that looked like a personal diary.
‘Wait,’ thought Yvonne. ‘If all those pages hadn’t been his diary that he was working on while he laid in bed at night, then,’ she thought it through. ‘Of course! What better way for a great composer to dream of his lover than to write her an opera from his very own bed.’
Yvonne stepped lightly and quickly across the stone floor to the bed Beethoven’s personal assistant had made early that morning. She pulled back the covers slightly. No sign of the piece. She pulled down the stack of pillows. She saw nothing until she noticed the metal tip of a quill glimmer in the candle light from under the last pillow. With it was a large scroll of parchment, a second quill and a bottle of ink with a large cork sticking out of the top. She let herself breathe a short sigh of relief at the discovery.
She tucked the scroll into the slightly loosened bodice of her dress and covered the edges of the parchment with the lace from her blouse. Her mind snapped to procedures for leaving but her heart pulled at her, making her take notice. She looked longingly for a moment at the place where Beethoven had poured his heart out to a love that, up until now, he had painfully yet protectively kept secret. He would hold the hearts and minds of millions of people in the future, captivating them and putting them under his musical spell. As an Agent for the Orchestra, she had the advantage of wielding her own kind of magic.
Yvonne pulled at the chain tied up around her neck revealing an ancient amulet nestled under the fabric to the bodice of her dress. The green stone had been ornately carved to form two symbols. A treble clef and the seal of eternity intertwined. As she held it in the palm of her hand, she hummed quietly, directing the tiny points of light from the amulet to Beethoven’s bed. Closing her eyes, she imagined the composer, sick with grief and a broken heart, falling into a deep sleep where music inside his head brought him solace, despite losing his tome to his Immortal Beloved.
The sound of steps coming up the hall broke Yvonne from her spell. She spun around to take a better listen. A small crash near her feet made her jump. Beethoven and his assistant heard the crash as well. Their footsteps on the stairs quickened as they ran up towards the bedroom. In her clumsiness, Yvonne had knocked over the glass bottle of ink that had been hidden under the pillow. Her back story certainly wouldn’t work now. With few options left, Yvonne hiked up the layers of her dress and petticoat and leapt from the second story window to the courtyard below.
Landing in a hedge of prickly holly bushes, there was no time to curse her luck. Someone from the staff would be there in seconds. Running to the stables, she heard Beethoven’s assistant yell from the window, “The master’s work has been stolen!” Delivery men with carts of produce and wood cutters ran towards the window as Yvonne walked, invisibly towards the stables.
Yvonne breathed a sigh of relief. Pretending to fetch water in a pail for washing the stoop, she was invisible to most of the servants gathering in the courtyard. She cringed as a group of stable boys ran in and called out to her. “You! There is a thief on the grounds. Have you seen anyone come this way?”
“It’s nearly evening, my lords. I’ve been here pumping water in the dark. I’ve seen no one,” she lied.
A young man, older than the teenagers and clearly the leader stepped forward and held his torch higher, glimpsing into her bucket. He eyed her suspiciously. “What you plannin’ to wash at this time of night then?” he cocked his head, questioningly.
“Not that any of you ever pay me any mind,” she spat back. “You lot, always sneaking into the kitchen for scraps and tracking god knows what all over the stoop. The Master’s assistant stepped in the remains of your boots twice this week and I’m the once catching hell for it!”
He handed the torch to the boy standing closest to him and walked towards Yvonne. His grin was malicious and made her nervous. “Actually,” he cooed, “I have noticed you.”
It may have been dark, but Yvonne could see his hooded eyes. Her heart raced and her face flushed with anger. As he took a step closer, she tightened her grip on the rope of the wooden bucket, partially filled with water. She let him get closer, her stomach turning as she waited for her one shot.
As he reached out to touch her, she swung the bucket from out of the darkness and hit him on the side of the head. One more swing as she ran made the boys in the group jump back. The boy holding the torch lost his footing and fell backwards. Yvonne saw a flash from the torch to the hay in the barn. The distraction gave her enough of an opening to make run for the forest.
As the boys scrambled to get to their feet, she threw the bucket at them, pulled her dress up to her calves and ran as fast as she could towards the nearly pitch black tree line of the forest. Behind her, she could hear the assistant still shouting from the windows of the house, “There! Stop her! She’s got the manuscript!”
‘What an idiot. He’s still shouting orders from the safety of the house? Come and get the opera for yourself if it means so much to you and your master,’ Yvonne thought angrily.
She soon realized how wrong she’d been for thinking it. Nearly to the trees, she could hear a low rumble, like distant, rolling thunder. The deep, monotone bass grew louder with each, frantic step she took. By the time she reached the low lying ferns of the forest, the sound shook the ground and vibrated under her feet. Yvonne struggled to keep running. The sound rose up from the ground creating a shimmering wall of sound that blocked Yvonne’s path to the heart of the forest.
The wall of sound was thick. It was simultaneously solid and moving. Unfortunately, it was also impenetrable. She might try to go around it, if only there was time. It was unlikely she’d find the edges and escape before the mob was on her. Better to just face the creator of the wall.
Leaping gracefully from the branch of a tree, Andre landed on his feet like a cat with his arms outstretched. ‘What on earth?’ Yvonne struggled to make sense of this magic. ‘Where is the sound coming from?’ She squinted as the clouds overhead passed slowly. In the faint moonlight, she could make out the ghostly silhouettes of a dozen men playing cellos. The translucent cello section played with increased vigor as Andre conducted them.
The throng of staff and merchants from the courtyard would be on her in moments. She closed her eyes and held her amulet in her hand. She visualized her reservoir of music projecting from it and piercing the wall like a sword. The wall merely absorbed her attack. There was no breaking through the wall of sound. Instead, she’d have to fight the source.
Holding the green stone in her hand, she started to sing. As she did so, she mentally summoned the good, living things that inhabited the forest to hear her plea. The first to answer was the wind. He joined her with his howl. The trees joined in, shaking their limbs and offering some of their leaves. The wind scooped them up and began to dance to the cadence of Yvonne’s song. She stood tall, taking deep, long breaths and projecting her voice, envisioning that all of Venice might hear her.
The leaf-dense wind blew against Andre. The edges of the dry leaves whipped at his fingers, gouging them and making them bleed. He gritted his teeth, holding on to a tree trunk with one hand as he fought to conduct the wall of bellowing cellos with the other. Soon, the rocks answered her call and gave themselves to the wind. Andre fell to the forest floor as rocks pelted his head and face, one after the other. The wall broke with a monstrous deflation of sound; as if the entire bass section had been sucked into a vacuum. Yvonne jumped to her feet at the first opportunity and ran as the tunnel of wind surrounded her with protection. The portal back to the orchestra was more difficult to find in the dark of night. She summoned the wind to change course, hoping that her pursuers might follow it.
In the moments of stillness that followed, Yvonne’s eyes searched for the marker. Clutching the opera manuscript at her chest, she dodged trees and searched frantically. She caught a glimpse of flickering gold as the clouds broke away from the moon. Her amulet began to pull towards the secret door that opened to the Orchestra.
As the sliver of light grew to a doorway, a voice called out to her from behind. “I only wanted to show her how much I truly love her.” It was Beethoven. His face was sweaty from the chase. He was out of breath and he gasped as if to have a moment to plead his case. Yvonne took one step closer to the door but hesitated. Beethoven held himself up with one hand against a tree. Leaves were intwined in his already wild hair. She loved his music but there was no way to explain to the great man. Yvonne set one foot over the portal threshold and stopped as he spoke again.
“Please! It means nothing to you,” he insisted. “It means everything to the woman I love!”
She looked at him with gentle eyes. “I know. But this opera will only ruin her life. I’m sorry. You just have to trust me.” Yvonne forced herself to go through the door and heard the familiar crack of the portal sealing off the world behind her. She slumped to the floor and leaned her head back on the solid door of the Orchestra and closed her eyes.
“If only I could make him understand,” she thought to herself.
“Some assignments are tougher than the rest.”
Yvonne’s eyes sprang open. “Maestro, Sir. I’m sorry I didn’t see you there. I mean..” Yvonne stammered. The Orchestra’s conductor, Maestro Genoa offered her his hand. She took it and stood, nearly to attention. “I have the opera right here, Sir.” Awkwardly, she pulled the paper scrolls from the casement of her blouse and handed it, sheepishly to him.
“No need,” said the Maestro. “Just turn it in to the archives on your way back to your quarters.” Yvonne relaxed slightly and nodded. “I only came to find you to see if you are available this afternoon? I know you must be tired. Once you’ve had a rest, please send a messenger for me. I want to talk with you.” He gave her a smile and didn’t wait for a reply.
Yvonne stood without moving for several long minutes. The Maestro, the conductor was the highest ranking member of the entire orchestra. In the career of an agent, maybe one was fortunate enough to meet him once, maybe twice in if they were lucky. Now, Yvonne was going to meet with him twice in once day? Possible reasons for wanting a meeting with her burst into her head like fireworks. The possibilities were too many to even consider. Now that she was in her own world, she realized how very tired she was. Time travel was funny that way.
A bundle of flying chaos made of strings, wires and piano pegs that somehow formed the cutest little mechanical bird made its way to Yvonne. Half flying, half tumbling through the air, Pizz collided with Yvonne’s shoulder and clung to the strands of her long hair. He shook his stringy feathers and cocked his head. “Chim chim, you’re home!” chirped the little bird. He nestled himself into her hair and nuzzled her neck. It tickled, making her giggle.
“Yes, Pizz. I’m home. But there’s no time for cuddling today. The Maestro is coming for a visit this afternoon. Better tell Leg and Stack to get our place ready.”
Pizz ruffled and shook his whole body, making him look like he’d just been zapped with electricity. “Chim, chim, Ma, Ma, Maestro? See us?!” Pizz squinted his eyes suspiciously. “Chim, chim, what did Yvonne break?”
“I didn’t break anything, Pizz. Now go ahead and tell the others. I’ll be there in a few minutes.”
Pizz leapt off her shoulder and nearly hit the floor before the momentum of his tumble flying lifted him above the heads of the bustling music hall. She smiled as she watched her little bird flit his way back to her apartment.
“I didn’t break anything,” she told herself. “Nothing but Beethoven’s heart.”