A turn of the wheel of time, the seasons came around full circle to the abundant sound of birdsong. For the first time since building my residence beside Central Park, I realized how much I enjoyed the outdoors. Winter had been a whirlwind of concerts for the first year of the Music Hall, I found myself tethered to the building, caught up in the excitement of the season. The construction of the hall had indeed coaxed me into the company of the human race. However there had been a certain isolation lent to me through my duties. With the commencement of the winter concert season, there was no escaping the flurry of the world I had spent my life hiding from. As the Symphony Societies first chair violinist, there was an endless series of rehearsals to prepare for the festivities. I confess to being a little surprised there had been no competition for the position. I had arrived as Damrosch had requested, played for him my audition piece, a little composition I had been working on. Immediately upon withdrawing my bow from the strings, I turned to find the other violinists setting their bows aside in concession. After that, if it wasn't a Symphony rehearsal I was attending or an event I was planning, then I could be found in the recital hall giving vocal lessons to the Oratorio Society. Never was I more content then when Christine stood beside my piano. She had joined the society in the summer when I had recovered enough for my stubborn pride to refuse the vast majority of her help. Since the end of summer, rarely was I at home. Save for those nights when we curled up beside my hearth where I would tutor young Charles in music. She had stayed.

This day was beautiful, the sky a wondrous shade of azure interrupted only by the occasional cloud. Central Park was crowded with patrons of all ages. The stately elders mingled in the shade on benches, simply enjoying the air. Families spread out on picnic blankets along the banks of the pond. Children pulled toy boats on strings along the bank, or tossed bread to the ducks floating further out. In the distance, the joyful cries of the children on the carousel danced in the air. Casting my eyes to the wide open sky, I caught a glimpse of the brightly colored kite Charles and I had made this morning. As we launched it into the air for the maiden flight, the wonder in his eyes when I insisted the simple structure would sustain flight would forever be with me. It was still airborne.

With my Stradivarius in hand, the branches of a sturdy oak cradled me. I proceeded from the second movement of Vivaldi's La primavera into the more active third movement. I felt like a bird trilling in the lush new growth of the year, lending my song to the beauty of this world. I no longer shunned the light of day. The sun shown down upon me through the leaves. Around the base of the tree Faust flicked his tail leisurely as he grazed while a lazy breeze caught my cloak and stirred it.

Couples out for a stroll wandered vaguely in the direction of my tree, curious eyes glancing into the branches at what must have been a strange sight. A masked man sitting on the branch of a tree dressed for a concert and delivering on his violin to nobody in particular. Smiling! I was truly smiling. There was no malice in my mood, no anger or fear directed at the world it had taken me a lifetime to even begin to embrace.

"Look dear, it's that man from the Music Hall we heard at the concert last week." A lady beneath a parasol inquired to her companion. "What was his name?"

The gentleman gazed up. "Why yes it is. Monsieur Erik I believe is what I heard Mister Damrosch address him. Is that right, good sir?"

Without even pausing so much as a half beat as I continued to play, I nodded down. "How very perceptive, I am astonished you recalled something as trivial as a simple name."

The couple paused below the tree, the gentleman chuckled politely. "Your performances are truly remarkable, how could one not retain the name of such a commanding presence?"

My bow moved as I simply felt the music Vivaldi composed in days gone by, not a single thought was required to produce the golden notes. By his expression, the man's eyes looked up at me and saw not the mask, but the man behind it. The public mob that I had dreaded would come to assault me, to see the monstrous sight the mask hid, never came. Instead, concert after concert I found the public embracing the talents I laid bare for them upon the stage. Patrons were eager to converse with me and inquire about how I came to such skill. Only rarely did the question of the mask surface. Deep inside me, my gut still turned each time, despite the graceful replies I had practiced to extract myself from answering. "The music is the important part, ever-more-so than the instrument it comes from. If I leave you departing from the hall moved to your core by the notes I have played to the heights of euphoria or the depths of utter despair, then I shall have fulfilled my role as a simple musician."

"Simple?" He flicked a hand up at me as he studied the intricate pattern of the bow across the strings. "Simple musician is hardly the term I would employ to describe you."

"I require no recognition." A small bird released her song to the wind before alighting into the air beside me. "Does the songbird require a grand gala audience to sing?" I shrugged, still unrelenting in lending voice to my Stradivarius. "The music is of itself a reward. Lavish praise has an odd effect on an artist. Tends to stagnate the performance, strangle the growth from achieving its true height."

"Is that why you're up in a tree, Erik dear?" Dappled in the light shining through the tree's leaves, Christine was a sight to behold. Attired in a light spring dress of the softest green she was simply angelic, an amused smile spread across her face. "I follow a kite string to find Charles, for you I have but to follow a musical strain."

Reaching the end of the piece, I drew the bow from the strings and laughed quietly. "Only fitting to perform Vivaldi's tribute to Spring in a tree. I should suggest just such a thing to Damrosch for this next season."

Christine positively chortled. "An entire orchestra up in a tree? Erik, I do believe that would take a lot of coaxing to get the cellists into the branches." Beside her the couple exchanged perplexed glances at the unusual idea before silently moving on their way.

Sliding down to the ground, I shrugged, my hands weaving images for her on the gentle breeze. "Not a real tree like this one. Do not be ridiculous. Just imagine a forest upon the stage that changes with the seasons, reflective of each subtle shift. The rain might be a little troublesome, but I am sure with enough thought … "

A hand rested on my shoulder, I turned to find Christine smiling fondly up at me. "Will you ever crest the mountain of your creativity?"

"No." I replied honestly. "There is always one more idea, one more project, one more height to strive for. Evermore something I must achieve."

She sighed, running a gentle hand through her wayward hair. "Never resting even when you should be."

"Rest? What is that?" She caught the subtle shift in my tone that hinted at humor. "My dear, you worry too much. This is nothing new. I have always been driven by a great desire to create and tinker with things. Inactivity is something altogether foreign." I moved towards Faust lifting my hand in a gesture that caused Christine to pause. She had admired my horse from the moment I had introduced her to him. It took no words for her to express to me that she believed Faust would not carry her. I had yet to openly ask her to trust my word on this. Placing my hands about her waist, I smiled. "I want to show you something, Faust will carry us there faster." Her eyes cast a little doubt as I lifted her up onto his bare back before I hefted myself up behind her. My arms rested on either side of her. I could feel her tension slowly relaxing as I guided the large horse through the park at a leisurely pace. Beneath us Faust's powerful muscles flexed sending a cascade of shimmering light across his deep black coat. I could feel his every breath, sense his every motion. Before me, as Christine leaned back against my chest cradled in my embrace I felt her easing into the calm cadence of the horse's leisurely stride.

Aided by the height of my Arabian, she reached up and picked a small bloom from a tree. She studied it as she remarked, "I know, you're restless even at night. I may begin slipping something into your evening drink so I might get some sleep."

Raising my eyebrows, I leaned forward to afford her a glimpse of my fond glare. "Have you not learned how unwise that is from Nadir's experience."

"Speaking of him." She looked sidelong up to me. "Don't you think you have withheld his whiskey long enough? It has nearly been a year, Erik."

With a short laugh, I shook my head. "If the man is not resourceful enough to have solved his problem in all this time, he does not truly need it." Releasing the rein I only secured lightly, I held up a staying hand. "Now my dear, he forced me to break my vice and I have held true to that since. I swear I shall continue to, for I never in all my days desire to endure that hell again. Nadir will be fine without the whiskey, it is doing the man some good."

"Good?" She protested playfully. "He's moping."

"That would be Nadir for you." I shrugged.

"Erik, have a little pity for him. After all, he did a masterful job resetting your arm."

I withheld my answer, instead nudging Faust into a faster stride around the trail by the pond.

Reaching the northern bank of the pond some distance from the main activity, I drew Faust to a halt and helped Christine down from his strong back. "That is indeed true. There was no need to re-break the bone for it to have healed straight, which I am grateful for. What would you have me do?"

"Get him some more of his favorite whiskey." She winked.

A slow smile crept onto my face. "If he desires it that much he should request it himself. What did he give you to ask that?"

"Nothing." Suddenly she glanced away from me, like a child caught in the act. At the last moment I detected the grin on her face right before she began to laugh. "He just begged me almost on bended knee to get you to relent."

Reaching over, I took her hands in mine. "I have far better things to do than indulge that old goat. Besides, over the years, living up to his promises became quite burdensome. It seems only right that a little inconvenience come his way."

She shook her head. "Living up to his promises made you a better man. While I found it amusing he begged me to request it of you, I do think it would be a nice gesture from you." When I failed to reply immediately she narrowed her eyes. "Erik."

"What?" My hands rubbed together impatiently. I cast her a nervous glance before snapping. "I will not make such a promise now."

Her right hand came up and traced the line of my chin. "But you will consider it."

I sighed. "You are indulging an old man's vice. One that he could obtain on his own with sufficient effort if he were simply wise enough to follow the paper trail in the ledger he once stole from me."

"I just want to see him happy, like you have been lately." Our eyes gazed back out across the water. "I've never seen you so contented. Honestly, there was a time I thought that impo … ssible." Her voice trailed off as she lifted her left hand, staring in wonder at the glimmer issuing from the ring that had appeared there.

Nervously, I glanced to the side. Did she know what it meant? The ring was a custom setting I had painstakingly worked myself while she slept. The hardest part had been measuring her ring finger without her knowing what I had been up to. The diamond was not the largest, smaller than the gaudy bauble she had previously worn. The difference lay in the quality of the gem and the deep garnets that surrounded the setting. The purity of the gems were the highest I had in my personal collection. This ring had been the better part of the nights when I should have been sleeping during the winter months. In her silent gape-jawed expression, as the light of the sun shown off the jewels, I could not read her answer.

Tentatively I remarked. "You do not have to say yes … "

"Erik … " She was breathless, her eyes still staring in disbelief at the ring I had employed my prestidigitation to deliver. "You have to ask the question before it can be answered."

It dawned on me, that was generally how these things were done. Right? "Christine Daae … " For a year she had remained by choice at my side, my heart thrummed in my chest uncertain even still of her answer. Living in my house was one thing … "will you honor me by becoming my wife?"

Hardly had the words been spoken before I found her draped around me, her tears falling on my neck. "Do you know how long I have been waiting for you to ask me, my Angel?" I was about to reply when she lifted her head and locked my lips in a kiss. Sinking into it, I held her tightly, never wanting to let go of this feeling of completeness. So warm, so welcoming, so sweet. As she withdrew to once more gaze up at me, her eyes shimmered with tears of joy.

I let my fingers tangle in her hair. "Christine, I just wanted to give you enough time. I wanted you to be certain this is what you really wanted."

"Erik." She laid her head on my chest. "Since the day I first heard your voice this is all I ever wanted.

"Then." I closed my eyes and held her tightly, knowing for a fact that this time no poison of my power had colored her response. Nothing I had done had tainted her inner desire. This was truly her choice. "I shall be yours."

THE END- to be continued in "Gilded Cage for a Nightingale", the THIRD of FIVE already written Nightingale Odyssey novels. "Shadowcrest's Hammer", the first in the series, is also available on this site.

This novel required extensive research into the Victorian era and incorporated a lot of the true history of Manhattan and what will be known as Carnegie Hall (renamed the second year of operation from the Music Hall as the first name identified it more with vaudeville which hurt the reputation.) Facts about the hall were researched and verified with the Carnegie Hall Museum through email-this included the unusual reason for there only being one wing originally-the pipe organ location, the speeches and locations of the historic figures. Andrew Carnegie, Walter Damrosch, Tuthill, Louis Carnegie, Tchaikovsky, are all historic figures-they are used fictionally with as much effort as possible to adhere to their real personalities. This is a blend of fact and fiction. I accessed old street maps and followed name changes in an effort to only reference landmarks and streets as they would be known at this time. For the nights of grand opening I hunted down the reviews in the newspapers (where the speeches came from) and even accessed the weather reports for those days. All music was checked to be certain it was published and available in 1891. Even the block where Erik's mansion was built was technically vacant in 1891-leaving it open to my fic-story. I hope that enjoyed reading this and will follow me through the entire series to its completion-three more novels to go.