Elizaveta Héderváry stared out her window, down to the street. They were back again. The two boys.
Every afternoon, they would appear on that street corner, dressed in clean but warn clothes . One had fly-away brown hair and glasses-He played the violin. The other was strange looking, with pearly white hair. He danced to the tunes the first one played. They were there every day without fail, except when there was a lot of snow on the ground. Always, the violin's case was open in front of them, to tempt passersby to toss in a coin or two.
They couldn't be much older than herself, she decided. She wondered what their story was, because such fascinating boys must have one.
It took her months, but she finally worked up the nerve to walk passed them and toss a few coins into the violin case. When she had, the Musician had not stopped playing or even opened his eyes. He must have heard the 'chink!' of the money though, because he smiled. It was a nice smile, she decided. The Dancer, on the other hand, had turned to her and given an elaborate bow.
"Thank you, kind lady!" he had called, then gone on with his dance. She had blushed and hurried away.
This had started a bit of a routine. At least once a week, she would make a point of passing them and giving them money. The Musician would smile and the Dancer would bow. Perhaps that would have continued for months, years even, had it not been for an incident that happened in November.
She had been walking home later than normal, because the seamstress had been busy and had taken longer than she thought. And, quite by accident, she had stumbled on her two favorite street performers.
The Musician had been on the ground, glasses knocked askew and holding the violin case like a life line. The Dancer stood in front of him in a fighting stance, and just passed the boy was a dark, intimidating figure.
"Give me it." the figure demanded.
"No! It's not yours! We need it!"
"I'll take it, then."
"I'll fight you!"
"Shut up specks, I'm handling it!"
"Like you handled the last one? All that got you was bruises!"
"As if you're much use in these kinds of situations!"
The figure had taken a step closer, and Dancer put up his fists, and she had chosen that moment to reveal herself.
"What's going on here?" she asked, holding her head high like the aristocrat she was.
The stranger glanced up. "Just taking care of some street rats, Ma'am."
The two boys looked at her in shock. Musician scrambled to his feet, still holding the case tight.
"Stop it." she said calmly.
The stranger looked at her, then smirked. "Why should I?"
She pulled herself up to her full height and looked down at him, though she was still shorter. "I am the Lady Elizaveta Héderváry, and I command you to leave them alone immediately."
There was a moment when all four parties did nothing, considering their options. The stranger- do I risk the wrath of a Héderváry? The boys- That girl is a Héderváry? And Elizaveta- I really, really hope this works...
At last, the man snorted. "Whatever. They're not worth it." and vanished from the ally.
Elizaveta stared at the boys. The boys stared back. Then Musician darted forward and grabbed Dancer's wrist, and they both began to flee.
"Wait!" she cried.
They halted, looking back at her warily.
She asked, "Can I have your names?"
They glanced at one another, and then Dancer grinned. "I'm Gilbert." he pointed. "And that there's Roderich."
And then they dashed off together into the night.
That began what Elizaveta called 'The Question Game.' Life went back to normal and the two continued to preform, with once change. As she passed and tossed them a coin, she would call out a question and hope for an answer.
"Are you two brothers?"
"Oh, heavens no. Friends, if that."
"How old are you?"
"Both 17, Lady."
"Why do you play here?"
She never got an answer to that one.
What she did next was very, very un-ladylike and rude. If her mother ever found out, she would most likely be sent away to boarding school or something of the sort. But she had been quite the tom boy as a child, so it shouldn't be such a big shock to anyone. What her dear mother didn't know wouldn't hurt her, right?
She followed the two boys home.
She watched from her window, as she often did, as they counted their earnings for the day and packed up. Then she slipped out of her house unnoticed and trailed after them.
They went first to a local bakery, where the owner greeted them like old friends. They used all the money to buy two loaves of bread. They left with a 'goodbye' and continued on, talking quietly as they went. They walked for a long time, until they were in a decidedly 'not nice' part of the city. They stopped in front of a beaten down old tenant house.
The door was flung open from the inside and a small blond boy launched himself into Dancer-Gilberts arms. He laughed fondly.
"Of course we're back." he said. "We always come back."
Two other blond children (a boy and a...Girl, if the ribbon in her hair was any indication. Really, that haircut...) came out of the house. The boy glared with sharp green eyes in a way that seemed almost affectionate, and the girl tugged Musician-Roderich's hand. He held up the bread and they smiled happily, and then they went inside.
Elizaveta went home. In the morning, she hugged her mom harder then she normally would.
Over the winter, she fell ill.
It was a tedious sort of sickness that gave low fever and coughs and made her tired. In other conditions, the doctor said, it might be dangerous, but as long as she stayed inside and warm she would be fine in a month or so. Still, in the late afternoons, she would drag herself to the window seat and watch the street performers.
In mid-December, she noticed that the melody's would sometimes slow as the boy named Roderich struggled to hold in coughs. Gilbert looked at him with occasional concern.
Stay inside and stay warm.
The next week, the music stopped twice so he could cough into his arm, being careful to avoid the violin and bow. He needed them to play, and they didn't have the funds to fix them is they broke.
Stay inside and stay warm.
And then one day, the coughing didn't stop. He fell to his knees, hacking, body vibrating, deep and guttural sounds being dragged up from deep in his lungs. His glasses hung crooked, like that night in the ally, and still he didn't stop. Gilbert's dance steps halted, and he sank down next to his friend, held him until the awful coughing subsided a bit. He hauled the other to his feet, grabbed the violin, and rushed away, panic in his strange red eyes.
Stay inside and stay warm.
They didn't come back the next day.
Or the day after that.
Or the day after that.
Or for the rest of the winter.
When the snow melted, she insisted to her parents that she simply needed to get out of the house, that yes, she was fine, she didn't feel sick at all anymore.
She walked to the rundown old tenement she had seen the boys enter all those months ago. It was empty. The windows were boarded up, the door was chained shut, and a 'do not enter' sign was posted.
"Excuse me!" she called to passing child. "What happened to the family? The one who lived in that house?"
He blinked up at her. "They're gone, miss."
She froze. "Gone?"
The child nodded. "This winter was bad. They're all gone."
"...Oh." said Elizaveta. "Oh."
She walked home in a daze, mind buzzing.
She thought of dancing clogs and violin bows.
She thought of eating bread you spent all day working for.
She thought of a little girl with a too-short haircut that someone had gone to the trouble of tying a ribbon in.
She thought of boys who glared for no reason.
She thought of the 'chink!' of coins hitting the bottom of a case.
Of little blond boys who missed their big brothers when they were gone.
Of dirty, taped glasses and glinting red eyes, small smiles of gratitude and the grand 'Thank you, kind lady!'
About a strange family she had barley gotten a glance at before they were gone.
But most of all, she thought about sweet violin music, the sound of dancing feet and the two boys who made them.
Elizaveta Héderváry got home, sat on her window seat, and looked at the empty street corner below.