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Arc 1.5

“The Good Queen” had been received quite well these past few months. So had “Her Husband” and “Her Child.” Tristan still did not know what strange muse had possessed him that he was making an entire series on her. He often did paint memories of his previous lives. Sometimes, he even displayed them for public viewing. But it was of lives and worlds he was fond of. And he certainly wasn’t fond of the four years he spent pretending to be an arrogant psychopathic tyrant. But since the day he took over for Tristan, since the day he decided to paint in his own style, her last vision stood out to him. She had surprised him then. Had thought of her as too good a woman for someone like his host. He could count the times they spoke to each other while he stayed there in one hand. He had even assumed that she looked down on the King. But the end showed differently. It was her life and her choice. But he still found it a pity that she had granted her heart to someone undeserving.

As he looked over the display, Tristan smiled. His previous host would have been enraged at the paintings. To have been reduced from the centrepiece of a kingdom to the Queen’s obviously lacking lover. “The Good Queen” was one of his better portraits. There she stood, regal and dignified, navy blue dress and white cloak shying under the freezing wind as she looked over her kingdom. “Her Husband,” in comparison, showed a man a few years her elder, drinking wine in his bedchambers as he prepared for sleep. “Her Child,” showed a young boy, with his mother’s black hair and his father’s blue eyes, pouting as he tried to read a book much too advanced for him. The Prince had been very young when he had arrived, and he had kept his interactions with him limited to his studies. Even then, he had planned to leave, and he wished not to leave for that child memories of the man that was not his father, and even less of the worthless father the King had been.

“They are extraordinary,” a familiar voice roused him from his thoughts.

“Is that so?” he smiled. Brigitte Pruitt was a sponsor of the Gallery and visited quite often. He had met her at the entrance when he was investigating his patron, and she had become a fan of Tristan Lewis’ work ever since the introduction of “The Good Queen.”

“Alone, each is a splendid piece but together... they are extraordinary. Marvellous even,” she continued. She had always been rather free with her praise, at least in their short acquaintanceship. But from the way the Gallery’s curator had looked at her every time she complimented it, back when “The Good Queen” was first displayed, she might as well have sprouted flowers on the spot.

“Thank you,” he smiled modestly. He would be able to show confidence and even arrogance, only once he reached the international stage. That was still a long way off. For now, he was simply a budding artist whose experiment with a new style became much better-received than expected.

“Could we expect any new additions to the series?”

He had actually thought about adding to it, perhaps a few more pieces of her quarters, her maids and staff. But these three were enough. These were the significant people in her life. More would be superfluous.

“No. There would be no meaning otherwise.”

“I see,” she said in the tone of someone who did not, in fact, see. But she didn’t become discouraged by it, instead she went on to ask something that he had been expecting since he learned of her name. “Would you be open to discussing more of your work over coffee? Or tea? There’s a lovely café just around the corner.”

Tristan, of course, accepted and her general demeanour brightened quite obviously right after. He wanted to laugh. What was she, a puppy?

The café was small but quaint, obviously styled with an artistic touch and the gallery’s visitors in mind.

The tea was okay, the dessert better and the conversation smooth. In the two hours they spent there, they spoke altogether of three topics: his work, his art, his paintings. Basically, they talked of nothing more than what she had suggested in the beginning. Every question or sentence of his that moved beyond that was manoeuvred swiftly and decisively back onto safe waters.

By the end, he had enjoyed it a great deal, but he was surprised to see how she hadn’t been bored beyond her tears. She was informed, cultured and seemed to love every word that came out of his mouth, but she was no artist. Her appreciation for art was learned, not felt or experienced. If his guess was correct, she was more patient than he had imagined, even with three months of casual acquaintance behind them.

Just as he waited for her to continue further, she stood up. “Thank you very much for this. I don’t often get to spend such time relaxing, especially when it comes to my favourite passion. I’ll have to go now, however. A prior meeting awaits.”

He stood up less confidently. “Ah yes, of course. I hope we can do this again sometime.”

She smiled and nodded, picked up her coat and purse and then left.

He sat down, glaring at her back as she exited. Was he wrong? Was she not his patron/stalker? She was a Pruitt, an old powerful family. She had the wealth and means to finance an enterprise such as that of his patron and keep her identity secret. She obviously loved the arts, and was a sponsor and/or shareholder for many of the businesses that displayed his work and the work of other artists under his patron’s employ. She was single, and seemed obsessed with his paintings, which could easily translate to him. It was a perfect conclusion really.

But she left. Here he was, outwardly open and willing, had even freaking hinted a few times, only to be rejected, moved back onto the safe topic of his work, and then left at a romantic café, as if this was a... a chaperoned first date?!

Where was the perverseness, the sick intentions, the hidden peeping?

Instead, he had spent two hours at a place she had invited him, eating food that she recommended within his price range, talking about a subject he much loved and then left with a promise for a next time? He had been waiting months to meet his stalker, not the perfect gentlemen —uh, perfect lady.

He picked up his own coat. He needed to drink.

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