“I’d wish for some potatoes right now,” Colin said simply, his words coming out with a listless sincerity.
“I’d wish for them right now.”
He stood by a barrel and looked down at his foot. Wendahl leaned on the side of the building in the dusty alley, chewing on a piece of wheat stalk.
“I’ve got enough coppers left for at least a moon’s tide, maybe,” Wendahl said placidly.
The alley was barren, more of a dirt patch than anything else, and a hot, summering wind kicked the dust around into little swirls that chased each other and then went back where they came from.
Colin sort of shuffled along aimlessly, kicking the alley dirt into a puff. Somewhere off in the distance, the shout of someone giving orders to a horse was heard. Wendahl chewed satisfactorily and looked around a bit. Ever since the harvest began, he had been kicked out of Cralth’s field, and was looking forward to doing something else, whatever that might possibly be.
He stepped along past the building and stopped, breathing in the lifting warmth of the breezes. There were a few little clouds, but mostly nothing… He continued along, lazily stepping, and by and by Colin followed.
They found themselves outside a dark entranceway, where a gust of heat flowed out sometimes.
“Hey, Derrick,” Wendahl called, going in.
It was brutally hot inside the blacksmith’s shop, and even the shadows seemed to seethe with a dark heat. The profound clang of weight against weight was heard, and then again, a glancing blow. Slowly, his eyes became aware of a sweating figure, and a bright glow. There was also a furnace that boiled over with rage as the glowing object entered it again.
“I can’t talk now, John says so,” the figure said, and there was a trace of a wide smile.
It was his good friend, the plain, ordinary boy. Colin came and gaped at the ringing of the iron, and they watched from a distance as he hammered at a small bar. Small pieces came off, little afterthoughts of the heavy blows. “You never thought I’d do an honest job, did you, Wendahl?”
Wendahl shrugged, and spoke up –
“Sometimes everyone must resort to honesty to stay alive.”
Colin gave a sad laugh, and they stood watching, the steady working of the boy being the only noise in the room. Soon it was getting unmerciful inside, and after bading a quick goodbye, Colin and Wendahl escaped out through the bright doorway to the coolness of summer.
Everything felt fresh and bright after being inside the smithy. Wordlessly, they continued up the street, letting a wisp of wind dry the new sweat on their foreheads. The sun was tilted a bit in the sky, and a patch of half-shade fell sharply across where they walked. Up ahead, there was a cart in the street, loaded up with some bales of straw. It was lying unhitched in the dirt, and as they passed it, a portly villager came out, busily carrying some mended sacks. He said nothing, and they continued on their way.
They came to a busier part of town, and stood now and then, watching the noise and bustle that went on. There was no hurry, and none was wanted. It was as if the breezy winds of summer blew all time away, so that they need not worry about wasting it. Finally, Colin suggested in a few small words that they visit the Black Mongrel.
It was not as loud as at night in the Black Mongrel, and they went up to the counter after entering. The servingman loomed behind it, a grease smeared apron around him.
“Hey! A potato for my friend here,” Wendahl said to the oblivious servingman, putting a few coppers onto the wooden counter.
“Where’s your other friend,” the servingman asked without interest, staring at Wendahl for a moment.
Then he went to the back of the tavern and returned, carrying a thick hide sack. He set it unceremoniously on the counter and words came out of his mouth.
“The old man with the eye patch says to give this to you. He will be gone for a while.”
The large servingman paused, looking somewhat strangely at Wendahl. Then, he shoveled out a grudging phrase from his mouth, “he says use it well”, and turned around to work on something.
Wendahl pulled the drawstrings loose on the sack, and reached in carefully. He felt something cold and sharp, and pulled his hand out. Trying again, he felt a leather-wrapped handle and slowly pulled out a long dagger, quite a bit used but freshly sharpened. He held it up a bit, but was unused to holding it and quickly dropped it on the counter with a clatter. Someone in the back of the room laughed hilariously and said something about cutting off a toe, but then all was just noise again. Colin looked over, and smiled wanly.
Quickly he made his way outside, and tried swinging it a little. The blade was heavy, heavier than he imagined, and he quickly realized that perhaps the laughing jokester had actually lost a toe once. The first excitement he had felt was a bit rebuked as he actually held it and saw the keen edge of the blade, so eager to cut anything it touched.
Quickly, he decided to put it away until later. He tried putting it under his belt, and the hilt sat snugly against his waist, if a bit tightly.
Swiftly he came through the streets of the city now, the sword hanging swaggishly on his belt, his feet fit for a king’s carpet. It was almost noon, and the air was light with summer warmth and the noise of many people, flocking in different places and making noise, while here and there chickens would come cluttering across the dust of the street and children ducked behind their father’s cart.
But no one stopped to look at the dusty boy with an old, gifted dagger at his side, walking along down the middle of the houses.
Now he came up through a wider street into a higher part of town, where the houses were larger and more elegant, and only a few people were out, who turned to look at the boy who came walking past their house, his feet clamping steadily on the harder paving stones here.
He came through a few of these streets and went on, stopping to have a quick wash in a fountain. Now he came to a long avenue, near even larger houses, some with a bit of gardening in front. He walked on as if he knew the way by heart. There was an old friend of his father’s who lived here, someone who had been kind to him before. Wendahl smoothed out his chestnut hair in what he thought was a proper manner and stepped politely to the door.
He peered in and could not see anyone. Walking through the entry room, he made his way to the back room where his father’s friend sometimes had worked.
The back room was a jumble of empty picture frames and hanging brushes of all sizes and types. The thick odor of paints and wood shavings was everywhere, and seemed to carry a lingering trace of many hours of masterful labor that had gone on there.
Wendahl walked through between everything, careful not to touch anything. His friend sat at a table, working on a length of wood industriously. He didn’t look up, and Wendahl continued on.
At the very far end of the room, there was a line of rather large paintings. They were freshly done, and lined up in a row, pictures of various someones sitting at chairs. Each one showed someone as if they were caught in a moment when they were not aware. They were not like the staid portraits he had seen so long ago in his parent’s house. Each painting had its own colors that seemed to come out of each of them as they sat there, as if the whole portrait room had been a part of their fleeting thoughts.
The first was extravagant, with many rosy, dainty hues. A young woman sat at a table, her hands folded demurely on her lap, looking at him with a royal bearing, but not haughty or without kindness, wearing a rose pink dress. On the table was a delicate white vase with roses in it. The colors were warm and light, and gently brushed onto the canvas.
The next painting was in varied shades of green, some deep hunting greens and festive ribbon greens, and yellow greens and cool bluish greens that all swirled together in the shadows and outlined a younger woman standing by a table covered with a fern.
She had a bow strung over her lush green dress, and had long black hair that was neatly combed but nonetheless still gave a hint of wildness in its curled ends.
The next two pictures were very much alike, they were done of what seemed to be the same, yellow-haired girl in a room with white furnishings. However, on one of them, there was a sweet, kind expression, and on the other, a silly giggle of mischief. The first wore a beautiful white, lacy gown, and a single lily sat on the table by her. The second wore a pretty yellow and white dress, and had a vase of tulips.
The next painting nearly took Wendahl’s breath away. Deep purples and heavenly violets mixed across the canvas, forming a picture of a beautiful girl, her long black hair painted across her shoulders with great detail. She wore a long, violet dress. She had a regal look and held her head up with a bearing that seemed to carry all the breeding of a hundred royal generations. The purple hues blended mysteriously around her, as if she was in a halo of royalty, and a vase of violets sat on the table beside her.
He turned to look for a moment at the last painting, and stopped. Something about it caught his eye after he glanced at it, and he wanted to know why. It showed a slightly younger girl, with pretty red hair, in a nice blue dress. She was sitting by a table with some cheerful red flowers, against some red and blue curtains. She looked rather ordinary, and wasn’t very princess-like at all, but had freckles on her cheeks like one of the village girls he had seen around town. Even so, her hair was painted brightly, and it seemed to burn with a fire that came from her very heart and lit up the whole painting with color.
She seemed to be trying to sit still for the portrait, but it looked like she must find it very boring, because she was laughing to herself about something. He found himself smiling about it too, even though he didn’t know what it could possibly be.
She didn’t seem as calm and demure as her sisters, but she couldn’t help it anymore than she could help having such fiery red hair, so she didn’t seem very rude either. What a strange girl she was! He wondered why she was looking down. She didn’t seem to be very shy, but maybe she thought she was ugly, and didn’t want to have a painting done. Really, she’s not ugly, he thought, actually, she’s actually a little pretty. I wonder if she likes being in such a rich family. It seems like she would find it very boring somehow. If only she would look up, I could tell what she was thinking. But of course she can’t look up, it’s only a painting. A painting. A sudden thought came to him. Even if this was a painting, somewhere this strange girl was real, living in a large house and with her many sisters. The thought filled him with a strange curiosity.
Wendahl turned around.
“Who is that girl?” he asked.
His friend didn’t even look around, but yelled, “Black hair, violet dress, proud expression? Oh, that’s Violet. Mm Hm. I knew you would ask! Just forget you ever saw her and you’ll be okay.”
“No, who is this?” he asked again.
“What? Who?” the friend said, and turned to look. “Oh, that’s Karen. She’s the youngest. Why do you ask?”
“The youngest what?”
“Of the royal family, of course.”
The Royal Family! The knife of curiosity turned in his stomach sevenfold, tightening into frustration. It may as well truly be only a painting. He turned to look at the painting again.
“Well you can’t watch those paintings all day, my dear lad, they’re due at the castle this evening. In truth, I just sent for some page boys and an escort.”
The painting sat there before him, and the girl continued to look down slightly, motionless and still. He stood before the picture dumbly, staring. He wanted to scream, but couldn’t, so he just stood there, unsure of what to do or where to go.
Inevitably, time did not stand still. There was a knock at the door, at the front of the house. Perhaps it was a visitor. The old artisan got up slowly and walked out of the room. Wendell heard the opening of a door, and several voices. Then footsteps came closer, and he looked around. Several pages came into the room, dressed in green outfits. Two of them went to the first painting, and very carefully eased it off the floor and started walking towards the doorway. Two others went to the second painting, and lifted it as well.
He began to feel like he should do something, but there was nothing that could be done. Stupidly he watched as the other paintings were carried away, until only the last one was left. He thought of yelling “Wait!” and coming up with some reason that the painting wasn’t finished, but it was finished. What a stupid thought. He thought of his new sword, but that was even stupider. Besides, he couldn’t even lift it properly, and he would just end up in the dungeon. However, the dungeon was below the castle, and if he could get out, then… what an idiotic thought!! Stupid plans like that could never help anything in a real situation.
It was pointless to even think about it anymore. Perhaps he should just do what his friend had said, and forget about it all. But he couldn’t. She was so different from any girl he had ever seen.
The thoughts went through his mind as he watched the painting carried from the room. At last it was empty, and he stood and looked at the wall where they had been just minutes before. His friend, the artist, came up and clapped him on the shoulder.
“Ah yes, Violet does that to everyone. You’ll get over her, my son,” he said comfortingly.
Wendell thought of saying something back, but any words spoken would be more than useless.
He came back through the streets now, the sword still hanging at his thigh, his steps steady but unhurried.