River fingers the note he gave her, stepping carefully against the thick snow coating every corner of the place in a crust of crunchy frost.
‘Hang ten at the unicorn; the fiddler’s still on the roof.’
She smiles, cocking her head a little as she reaches for the door and pulls it open.
“I thought you didn’t play anymore...” she says, idly brushing off her purple gloves as she lets another smile curtain her features.
No answer, but a scrap of Hanzi paper seal flaps free of the building’s bricking and swoops against her cheek.
She smiles again, and looks inside before stepping up the one little wooden step and in through the entryway.
Glancing up out of habit, she spies a coats rack near the edge of the left-opening door; long, wooden... a nice smooth cherry, liquid and dark against the pale grey of the inside walls.
Thirteen steel hooks.
She counts them.
There is a black undertaker’s cravat hanging on the first one. A well-loved fur with a dark collar on the second. The third bears an opera jacket... the fourth, a 20-foot long scarf with seven stripes, and a velvet fedora with a painter’s pin.
River Song knows where this is going. She guessed the riddle several months ago.
Her softly rooting fingers cling to every inhabitant of the long two-by-four piece of carved and polished wood skewered with hooks. And as she gentles each guest with fingertips, nails and nose, she continues the count.
Fifth hook... it holds a stylized Victorian cricketer’s kit, all buttercream and lines of 70’s orange. And those horrendous striped trousers... ah.
Six holds a rainbow-patch coat that seems high on some kind of illegal substance.
The seventh hook sports a sweater with question marks, an umbrella. A panama.
The eighth bears a velvet waistcoat; there is a pocket watch hanging over top of it, tarnished and broken. The lovely face, it seemed, suffered a peculiar crack and stopped ticking a long time ago, at three o’clock.
There is a black leather jacket partially dangling off the ninth hook. It’s slightly burnt.
River reaches for the tenth, locked into the pattern now as she digs in her pocket for the capsule.
Once it’s in her hand again, she clicks it open. The hollow little silvery pill pops like a gelatin tablet, revealing two halves and a tiny violin.
The violin grows in her hands, sliding up and out and in and through in effigy, the love child of a wooden kinoko puzzle and a kinetic sculptor.
The ancient, smooth wood cracks and pulls, diving out of itself to re-carve its bridge.
Strings twang in exhausting cacophony, screeching like monstrous angels the size of small pin heads.
The Unicorn seems to shiver under the call of the untwisting fiddle, shaking nearer. Crawling away.
Hovering in limbo.
Beams crack and squeal like pirouetting trees before the foreboding march of timber harvesters.
Tumblers dance on shelves, evoking the silence found only in the shattering of glass.
Finally, the vital, sentient instrument is alive again.
River sets the Violin, Kaku Inko, to her nostrils and draws in the lush, seasoned nasality of its presence.
There is a sweet and feral touch to the blush of some old woods, and the Violin bears up this standard like no other Earthly creature of hew and turn.
She takes the bridge end, then grabs the velvety cravat eyeing her with its diamond pin from the eighth hook.
Her fingers weave the jewel-pinned, olive brown succulence of tied silk under the strings of the Violin, wrapping the scroll, neck and pegs for several seconds before letting go and stepping back to admire her work.
“That should do,” she says, looking on the only window of the Unicorn.
It’s stained glass, lead-lined. Eloquent. Pre-Raphaelite, probably, judging by the sheer amount of blue and red, white, and yellow.
The namesake beast out of Physiologus kneels in the lap of a coin-haired maid, its body drawn in long, lean cuts of cream and white.
The girlish figure is full, shaped by an array of silvery pearl hues and gold-etched misgivings. The face looks suspiciously like River’s own.
River bends to touch her fingers to the glass animal, fixing the subtle colors of him with a discerning eye.
Her fingertips trace the soft swirl of beard at his long equine chin and find a surprising bit of purple folding there, hidden behind the cool yellow daisy dangling from the woman’s upraised hand, the head sticking nonchalantly out of the unicorn’s noble and nibbling maw.
“You and your bowties, Sweetie,” River Song murmurs as she applies her cherry red lips to the window, then leaves the way she came, with the fine old glass wearing a full and juicy carnival apple kiss upon her timely departure, “... good night.”