A tale of artists, intrigue, and the magical renaissance

1.7 – Et vinum, et stellas {Stars and Wine}

It hadn’t been as unpleasant as she would’ve assumed, having dinner with a Rhetor. Even so Elena found a small measure of relief when she and Ele left the small pub. Pleasant though she seemed, Emerald was a Rhetor, and the other diners in the room had given Elena long and suspicious looks as she left. Emerald and Kelf were sleeping in the inn that night, so Elena and Ele left alone.

The moon was overhead as they left, so bright that it lit the streets on its own, but despite the late hour the street was still alive. Merchants who had been shouting their wares were now cleaning up their storefronts, or quietly talking to one another in the flickering lantern-light. Fewer horse-drawn carts rattled and rumbled down the streets, but there were more pages and messengers, silent and serious looking. The city of Milia didn’t sleep, it simply rested for a few hours.

Elena didn’t want to torture herself further by the reminder of what she had lost the day before, but her gaze was drawn to the tall building at the end of the street; Bernardo De Luca’s studio.

“We should write down every part of the tour we took, so we don’t forget a single detail.” She commented to Ele as they wandered down the street. The people talking and passing by didn’t pay them any mind, a benefit of this bigger town that Elena was beginning to enjoy. She liked talking to Ele without feeling like a freak.

“Why? All we did was saw how the privileged live, what’s the use of keeping a record of that?” Ele kicked at the ground with a petulant gesture that would’ve kicked up a cloud of dirt..

“We saw how the most revered artist in Milia keeps his studio running! That’s going to be useful information for when we’re running our own mercantile shop. Even before we start our shop we can still probably learn a lot about how Master Bernardo keeps such a huge place moving from day-to-day.”

“How his page and head housekeeper keep the studio moving from day-to-day, you mean. Pietro and Bea were the ones who we should be emulating, not Bernardo.”

“What’s gotten into you Ele?” Elena stopped beneath a lantern-post, leaning against the wooden pole and crossing her arms. “We’ve both always respected Master Bernardo, that’s why we’re here, why are you suddenly so moody?”

“Why aren’t you more moody?” Ele challenged. “I respected him when I thought he was a master instructor as well as a master artist, but he’s not. He doesn’t deserve the respect. He doesn’t train people up into the best artists, he only takes the best artists in the first place and then takes credit when they become famous.”

Elena was taken aback. She wasn’t used to Ele being so vehement, but she considered his argument..

“We don’t know all the circumstances. You think we could do better if we were in his place?”

Before Ele could answer, a cry arose from behind them, and she turned to observe Arturo stumbling towards her, his cheeks bright red, with Arta following behind with a look of mixed amusement and embarrassment.

“Halloo! It’s the Bernardo girl!” Arturo waved a large bottle genially towards them. “Told you she’d be here Arta.”

“Yes, yes you did, why don’t we go sit down with her for a bit?” Arta made herding motions until the man slumped to the ground at the foot of the lantern post, giving Elena a somewhat beleaguered smile.

“He didn’t handle the rejection quite as well as you seem to be doing.” She confided quietly.

“How else would you handle it?” Arturo was slumped down so far that he was more laying on the ground than sitting, but there was a wide smile on his face. “A little wine, a couple of fine looking ladies, a paper and some charcoal, stars in the sky, those are the ingredients to a fine night.”

“Oh Arturo,” Arta clucked before turning to Elena, “I’m sure he’ll apologize once he’s sobered up.” Elena didn’t mind, she was more concerned with what the sloshed artist was doing on the ground. He had pulled a crumpled piece of paper from the pouch at his side, and Elena recognized the sketch he had been working on earlier in Bernardo’s antechamber.

The grey tones were well-suited to the image; a small boat in a dark ocean, a few black gulls framed against rolling thunderclouds in a charcoal sky. The gulls were flapped their wings lazily, and the boat dipped up and down on the waves, moving across the paper.

“You’re an Artifex.” Elena sat in the dirt next to him, too fascinated by the rolling waves on the paper to care much about the dirt. “Why didn’t Pietro accept you? I thought he was only turning away people like me.”

“He wouldn’t say.” Although he smelled of liquor, Arturo didn’t slur his words at all. “Just that I wasn’t exactly what the Master was looking for. I suspect it was my clothes.”

“Why would your clothes matter?”

“He’s saying Pietro kicked him out because he’s not high-class enough.” Ele answered.

“Further proof that the venerable master doesn’t actually care about talent.” Arturo raised his bottle in a salute with a knowing smile.

“Arturo, why don’t you share your wine now that you have another human to share it with.” Arta suggested, settling down crosslegged next to him. Ele sat down as well, the group forming a small circle beneath the lamp.

“Arta thinks I can’t handle my liquor.” Arturo grunted, using his finger to smudge the hard edges around the clouds.

“Arta thinks you’re going to get hit with the full effects of that in about ten minutes.” Arta pursed her lips and pulled the paintbrush from behind her ear, dragging the handle across the ground in precise lines absentmindedly. “And then pass out in a gutter, and I’ll be stuck within a hundred yards of a filthy gutter for the entire night until you wake up.”

“Arta worries too much.” Arturo grinned, but passed the bottle to Elena who took a sniff and then blinked. “Eh, try some. Won’t kill you. Neither of us have to be anywhere in the morning anyways, fellow reject.” Elena took a sip, and it burned on the way down, but it was sweet and cool.

“Have you always been able to make the pictures move like that?” She asked, starting to pass the bottle to Arta before she remembered that the girl was an Echo. Arturo shook his head without looking up from the drawing.

“Can’t even always make them move now. It’s the artists’ curse.”

“What do you mean?”

“Artifexes and Caeletors are similar in a lot of ways, the Storm touched them and made them artists. Every other type of Touched, you try to use the Storm, and you either get it right, or you know you messed up somewhere. Hell, the fighters, Saggitari and Lanisti, can’t mess it up. But for an artist? Sometimes it just doesn’t work. Sometimes a picture just lays there flat on a page. Sometimes a statue just stays a hunk of marble. Lifeless. I can never tell if my power will work until it actually starts working.”

Despite the good natured smile on his face, Elena could sense the bitterness in his voice, and she didn’t press. She leaned back and watched him work, trying to take in the technique as he worked in silence.

The four of them sat in silence for a long time, the only sound the vague buzzing of insects and the muted and quiet bustle of the city around them. It was quite nice, just relaxing, out on her own and without her mother around. Occasionally she took another sip of the wine. With each sip, the sweet tang of it was more pronounced than the bitter alcoholic sting, and she found herself enjoying it more and more.

“What are your plans, now that being a garzoni to De Luca is off the table?” Ele asked, less concerned with Arturo’s painting. He was watching Arta’s hand motions, the doodles inscrutable since her paintbrush didn’t actually make marks in the ground.

“Damnit, I was just about to say how nice it was to be able to just enjoy the silence.” Arturo grumbled. “Between Arta and Isadora I never have a moment’s peace.”

“Isadora, that other girl who was there wiv you?” Elena recalled, slurring slightly. “Is she…is she…” her mouth felt a little dry, and she took another drink of the sweet wine, ignoring Ele’s concerned look. He was already moody anyways, he couldn’t blame her for enjoying herself. “She came wiv you didn’t she? Is she a garzona of Master Bernardo?”

“Isadora is an garzona for Master Omerto DaRose, on the Street of Green Artisans. We’ve known each other since we were children, Master Omerto will take me on if she vouches for me. I’m sure she’ll be very happy, she was really hurt when I chose to supplicate to Master Bernardo.”

“But she went wiv you anyways? Tha’s th’ sweetest thing in the world! Not approving, but still going with you to wish you luck on your…on your….” Elena’s head was admittedly a bit fuzzy, but she knew she could find the right phrasing if she thought about it. “On your day of days.” She finished emphatically. That sounded about right, didn’t it? Judging from the appalled look on Ele’s face and the grin that Arta hid behind a hand, apparently it wasn’t. Elena blushed and took another sip of the wine.

Arturo held his drawing at arm’s length, looking it over with a critical eye. As far as she could tell it was absolutely beautiful, and so realistic in its motions that the rolling ship on the angry sea threatened to make her seasick. She turned away quickly, but the sudden motion destroyed what balance she had. She slumped backwards to stare up at the stars in the night sky.

Elena realized belatedly that she had laid her head in Arturo’s lap, but he didn’t seem to mind, and his leg was quite comfortable. In that moment, everything seemed perfect, especially the heavy slosh of the bottle that promised much more wine.

“What was’t you said?” She asked. “Stars inna sky an’ good company an’ paper an’ tha’s all you need t’be happy?”

“Something like that.” Arturo’s smile was so charming when it was upside-down. Was seeing it upside-down what made it so charming? That would be odd, if all men smiled better upside-down. But what did she know about men after all? What did she know about friends and smiles and charming Artifexes with comfortable legs? Elena took another pull of her drink as she mused.

“Elena, don’t drink that so fast.” Ele warned, his brow furroed in concern. “You’re really not handling it very well.”

“Bu’ ‘s nice.” Elena managed.

“Nice it is, but you’ve hogged enough of my wine for one night.” Arturo teased, taking the bottle from her grasp with little resistance. She pouted, but managed to forget about the wine after a few moments of staring at the stars. A thought suddenly occurred to her, and she took some time to figure out how to say it before speaking.

“Wish I had somfin’ like that tho. Like Is’dora.” Elena mused aloud. “You’re nice Ele, didn’ mean you’re not nice, I just wish…I wish I had friends li’ tha’.”

“It’s funny hearing her talk all sloshed with her proper lady accent.” Arturo said to the Arta, grinning down at the girl on his lap. “I could be your friend, Elena.” He looked almost affectionate, brushing away a strand of her hair from her face.

“Sss…sss…sank yew.” Elena replied with dignity.

“Perhaps even more.”

“You’ll want to watch yourself there, Rizzo.” Ele said quietly, and Elena turned to look at him with surprise. Was ‘Rizzo’ Arturo’s last name? She barely remembered when they met, but it was awfully rude of Ele to be so formal when they had just been discussing being friends. Arturo shook his head.

“I didn’t mean to give the wrong impression. I like you, and I’d be happy to call you a friend. I’d also be happy…but that’s for later, when we have less alcohol in us. I’m a little affected by the drink, but I really do mean it. Is that good enough for you, Echo lad?” Arturo held out an unsteady hand to shake, and Ele sighed and pretended to take it, their hands moving through each other in a phaux-shake. “I like your Storm friend, I do. And I’ll bet Isadora and I could convince Master DaRose to take her on as well.”

“And would that little favor come with a cost to her?” Elena’s eyes widened at how sharp Ele’s tone was. Arturo must’ve heard it too, as he leaned back suddenly, and Elena was disappointed in a way she couldn’t quite articulate. She tried her best, both to convey how she felt and to calm the situation down, to ease whatever Ele’s worries were and to let Arturo know that he shouldn’t feel unwelcome by them.

“Stenshun. Tensioninin…in…in…in th’whatsit. In th’air. Lotta tenhs’n…um…don’…don’ make th’ awkw’rd tension-”

Arta interrupted by murmuring something. It was such a nice voice, Elena was glad that Arta was going to be her friend. Arturo was her friend too but in a different way because he was so comfortable to lay on…but he was standing up now, and Elena grumbled. Ele was saying other things, and Arta and Arturo were talking back. At least Ele didn’t seem so angry anymore. Arta must’ve figured out a way to tell them what Elena was trying to say.

They walked down the street together, four friends talking, giggling and laughing. Well, Arta Ele and Arturo doing most of the talking, Elena doing most of the giggling and laughing. She saw the marble boy yelling at them before the others did, and she was worried they’d gone too far, but when she tried to turn and run the others just held her steady.

A nice cool room, a cup of something that tasted minty and sweet, although not as sweet as the fruit wine. Where was the fruit wine? The marble boy must’ve taken it, because he was trying to talk but Arturo was yelling angrily. Pietro, that was the marble boy’s name. He didn’t seem to be very impressed with Arturo. Arta said something to Ele, and then they left, leaving her alone with just Ele and Pietro for company. They didn’t talk to each other, which Elena found quite a shame.

She wasn’t quite sure how much later, but there were others in the room now. An old lady, and also an old man in an orange robe. He was looking at her with such disdain that for a moment it sobered her up, long enough at least to recognize the room as Pietro’s office, and the old lady as the head housekeeper. Everything got all blurry after that. Ele was talking to both of the old people, and Elena was sure he had everything well under control.


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5 responses

  1. Mian

    Last bit of this chapter is really aggravating, btw.


    2014-07-10 at 2:55 pm

  2. Panster

    Extremely aggravating bit of chapter. Sounds like she’s close to getting what she wanted after all, but her drunkenness is screwing it up.

    Good writing, though — dislike Arturo with a passion right now haha (hopefully that was your goal)


    2014-07-11 at 9:24 am

  3. Ele’s argument doesn’t make sense. First he says Pietro is taking the most talented and claiming credit when they succeed, then later says he “doesn’t care about talent.” He contradicts himself, and it seems out-of-character.

    Also, “three friends?” I’m pretty sure there are four of them.


    2014-09-06 at 11:52 pm

    • I’m not entirely sure, but I think I meant for Arturo to be saying that second line…either way excellent catch on both counts. Thanks!


      2014-09-08 at 12:12 am

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