The brush gently slid through dark canvas, the hand wielding it gracefully stroking and pushing the delicate tool, until another glistening white petal joins its sisters in a freshly painted white rose, blooming in all its glory in a pale hand, brought to life on canvas just yesterday.
A half smile and a squinting of intense green eyes followed as the holder of the brush inspected his creation and mixing another colour, white with a dash of blue, added a few droplets of dew on the rose he saw during this morning’s usual stroll.
“Perfection!” the painter proclaimed “this will be my best one yet!” as he brushed away a swirl of unwieldly chestnut hair, leaving a droplet of dew on his forehead.
“Fabo, you absolutely MUST show it to me!” a bell-like voice chimed from the very real woman, holding the real white rose, her almost loose smoky brown hair running along lines of pearls over gently blue dress with loosened corset and showed too much skin for a lady of her age and rank.
“Absolutely not, Patricia, my petal!” the painter jumped from behind the easel taller than himself and dropped the pallet and the brush on the messy desk next to it. Patricia took it as a sign she could move again and dropped the rose on her lap, lazily taking a glass of red wine and sipping from it, faking a disappointed sigh.
Patricia of Mengewalds – Meerhart was used to Fabo’s capricious nature. Being very particular in her own tastes and preferences, she tolerated young artist’s behaviour, something she does less and less to her entourage lately. Being over 40 years of age, well-kept, but not the most beautiful of the females in the former kingdom, though wealthy, mother of three strong sons and wife to a husband who found more interest in trees and money they can make than his own wife, Patricia long ago learned to find joys of life on her own. At first it was her sons that gave her a lot of laughs and happiness while they were growing up in Forest Lodge, but then came civil war and the boys were called to the army. It broke her heart, but she did not have much time for such sorrows, as the war meant panic and death and marauding, and when she found herself and her maids within the walls of the city on a losing side, they had to flee. After the dust settled, Meerharts rebuilt their property in the industrious city of Forest Lodge, but loosing war meant hardship, disease, poverty and lot of suffering, so Patricia, with the blessing from her husband, happily escaped to now independent Meerstrand from time to time, where arts, sciences, gallantry and appreciation for the aesthetics were now blooming, unhinged by barbaric suppression of the late Forsenite king, Magyla give him a good passing. Patricia often wondered why old gods would be angered by a painting hanging on someone’s wall or a statue of slick marble decorating a garden, neither did she understand the new craze about “The Four” supreme gods and where all that came from, but she learned to discretely worry about it as little as possible. After all, art patronage bought her not only joy to the eye and soul, but also warm bed at night.
“Just a peak?” she pursed her thin lips as much as they allowed, but Fabo – Fabian of Rholands, otherwise known to his patrons and students as Master Fabian – just winked at his loyal, capricious patron, who was just a few years younger than his own mother, but women ARE like a good wine, especially well kept ones, so he happily pranced over to her and kissed her warm hand, ignoring obviously visible age veins and reached for the rose Patricia dropped on her lap, inhaling vague fragrance it still held.
“My flower, this masterpiece will be unveiled in the Circle Gallery next month, you must wait!” Fabo plopped down next to her and hugged her shoulders, gently planting his lips on the pale neck Patricia was showing in faked disappointment “you know how much joy I find in seeing you pleasantly surprised, please, do not deny it, my sweet dandelion” Fabo was whispering gently now, making Patricia’s lips twitch in hidden smile.
Fabo could still smell yesterday’s expensive rosewater fragrance on Patricia’s neck and it made his stomach and lower regions warm up instantaneously. Fabian never considered himself a man for just one woman, for there were so many and so in love with his art (the vanity of being immortalised in a portrait, in Fabian’s opinion, was the sweetest lure one could find and he wouldn’t be honest with himself if he would say it wasn’t the reason he chose to become a master portraitist), but this one in particular – an elegant, intelligent matron with good tastes and fair share of experiences – lodged into his wide heart and Fabian could no longer say NO every time he would receive a letter with a faint fragrance of rosewater, written in delicate, slanted hand informing him when Lady Patricia will be in Meerstrand again. It also helped that she was the source of his inspiration (and income) and the canvas, left to dry in warm morning light, was surely going to be the most successful in his career yet.
“You are such a sweet-talking minx, Fabo, I should know better” Patricia sighed again in pretend disgruntlement and was just turning around to plant her thin lips on Fabian’s and maybe continue what they were doing last night, but a loud knock, coming from downstairs interrupted.
The lovers froze for merely a second before Patricia rushed herself behind the dressing curtain while Fabian stumbled around finding breeches and almost jumping into his pair of paint dripped moccasins, imported all the way from Free Lands across the sea, all the while screaming:
“Pik! The door, stall them! PIK! STALL!”
Down the stairs already stood Pik, a tall, scrawny elf with a slight hump in his back, which gave him the ever-present sense of humbleness, enforced by a pair of dark brown eyes in a pale face, framed by large eyebrows that naturally leaned downwards and the sight of burnt off ear tips made this young elf almost a symbol of elven state of being in Meerstrand: humble, silent, but effective servant to his master. Although born to serve, Pik considered himself lucky and liked working for Master Fabian, who, despite his eccentricities and seemingly insatiable taste for married or otherwise bonded women, was good to Pik, paid on time and well and never yelled or beat in anger. Now Pik, taken away from polishing the household silver in the kitchen for brunch time, fixed his linen jerkin that made his complexion seem even paler and opened the front door that was being relentlessly banged on.
“By the order of the most holy Fire Watcher Brenton, Master Painter Fabian of Rholands is hereby summoned for an appearance in the Fire Temple immediately!”
Five knights, covered from head to toe in red painted armour and only one showing his face as to read obscenely loud from the scroll in front of him – that was the scene Pik saw before himself once he pushed the door opened.
“Elf, call your master! We will be taking him directly to the Fire Temple.” the soldier barked the order before Pik could say anything. Knowing not to antagonise Fire Temple guards boiling in armour under early summer sun, Pik retreated inside and to his relief, saw Master Fabian moving downstairs with a great deal of questioning scepticism. Pik shrugged and Master Fabian gestured him towards upstairs with a sign known only to them two: make sure the guest leaves the house discretely.
“Knight-Protectors” Fabian appeared on the threshold in breeches, coloured moccasins, extremely paint-ridden jerkin and a dash of paint on his forehead “how may I be of service to the great Fire Watcher?” he added just a pinch of sarcasm in there, but immediately regretted it, as the knight that read the scroll pulled his face protection back on and barked another order as if from the bottom of the bucket:
“Holy Fire Watcher Brenton orders you present in the Fire Temple immediately. We will escort you now.”
“In which case, if gentlemen will be so kind as to wait, I will don something more appropriate for Fire Watcher’s eyes.”
“You will come with us now!” what seemed to be the commanding officer of the group roughly pulled him away from the door and in the middle of the Knight-Protectors “you can explain your inappropriate attire and request forgiveness to Agni directly.” Laughter from the bottom of five buckets roared into morning air, causing looks from people rushing about in the cobbled street.
Author’s note: Meerstrand is a fictional city I’ve created in my head, set in a fantasy world also created in my head. If you find any name, person or location familiar, it is only by chance. This world has little to do with the real one.
Picture credit: “Girl with dasy” by Alphonse Mucha, 1900. Currently displayed in Museum of Decorative arts in Prague.