A tale of artists, intrigue, and the magical renaissance

2.1 – Lux Diei {Light of a New Day}

Elena wasn’t entirely sure which woke her up, the roiling in her stomach and throat, the ridiculously bright light, the piercing headache, or the crashing and clattering that seemed to come from all around her. She tumbled out of bed without opening her eyes, and the second she hit the ground her stomach lurched and she knew she was going to throw up.

Elena knew she couldn’t vomit on her mother’s things; even with all of the distractions around her she knew she couldn’t afford whatever punishment her mother would devise for that mistake. Taking a deep breath she opened an eye a crack, regretting it as the light to slammed into the back of her head. There was a water closet adjoining the room, and although she questioned for a moment how a tiny inn like this could afford a water closet, she wouldn’t look a gift horse in the mouth right now.

It was like torture, but eventually her stomach had emptied its contents into the bowl on the floor, and though her head felt even worse, her insides felt marginally better. Her eyes still clamped shut, she groped around blindly until she found the heavy lever set in the floor, and pulled. A rush of water flew through the bowl’s bottom, carrying the refuse away, and Elena leaned her head against the cool metal of the bowl.

“Thank the Lord for whatever Machinator invented the water closet, and thank the Storm for touching him.” She moaned with a tongue that felt somehow thick.

“They’d probably thank you to keep their names off of your liquor-coated tongue.” Ele said from behind her, and Elena groaned and hauled herself to her feet, braving the light and opening her eyes again so that she could find the washbasin.

“Alright…starting to come back to my senses. I’m fairly sure this isn’t the inn, but I don’t remember what happened after meeting Arturo and Arta.” She admitted, splashing her face with cold water and finding things only marginally improved. “Did I check into another one? How did I afford it?”

Ele was giving her a smug look and not answering, which meant that he was in one of his moods again.

Is he ever not in one of his moods? The thought reminded Elena of a blurry memory of the night before. “I remember you telling me to stop drinking the wine, you said I wasn’t handling it well. What happened afterward?” Of all the noises around her, Ele’s voice was the only sound that didn’t make her wince in pain.

“Let’s see…you kept drinking that wine, even though I told you not to. I think we can both see that I was right.” Ele was standing in the doorway with a smug look on his face, and Elena glared at him through eyes that she knew were baggy. She didn’t give him the opportunity to gloat further, making a shooing motion as she walked through him back into the room. If he insisted on being unhelpful, she could figure it out on her own.

It was a brighter room than normal, because the walls and floor were made of white marble that reflected the morning sun’s rays of light, through a window in the stone. Behind her, Ele continued.

“Your new ‘friend’ Arturo started to make advances, attempted to take advantage of you when you were drunk.”

“I’m not listening to you, I’m figuring it out on my own thank you.” Elena raised her chin haughtily as she looked around the room. “Besides, that’s ridiculous, I would’ve remembered that. He was a little…familiar…but so was I, it was just the wine.”

“Don’t make that nose-in-the-air face, you look like your mother when you make that face. So Arturo did help guide you down the street, since you couldn’t walk on your own, because you kept drinking that wine even though I told you not to.”

“Almost as if he’s a perfect gentleman who just happened to have a little too much wine.” Elena ignored the dig as she looked around for her effects. As expected, her things weren’t in the room, but on the small wooden table by the plush bed lay a neatly folded set of white clothes.

“Yes, Arta said it was just the wine too. I still think don’t think I’d be comfortable around him if it wasn’t for the influence Arta had over him, and I certainly wouldn’t be comfortable with him being around you. You humans and your alcohol.”

“Ele, please, can you just tell me where I am?”

“Oh that’s right, you probably don’t remember since you drank all that wine, even though I told you-”

“Ele!”

“You’re in a small room off of Master De Luca’s student dormitory. The dorm is broken up into several small rooms like this. This one is reserved for the lowest of his garzoni.”

“This is the room of his lowest garzoni?” Elena blinked. “But it’s so beautiful! I can’t even imagine what the more advanced…wait…” Slowly and painfully, Elena’s mind began to catch up to the wide grin on Ele’s face. “…Ele…why am I in a small room off of Master De Luca’s et cetera et cetera?”

“Oh, that’s right, you don’t even know.” Ele examined his nails, a completely unnecessary gesture since they didn’t gather dirt, break, or grow. Perhaps sensing her agitation he dropped the farce. “You’re here because, as of last night, you Miss Elena Lucciano are Master De Luca’s lowest garzona.”

Elena staggered against the wall. She stared at her partner’s face, hesitant to even believe him.

“Is…is it true?” She whispered, staring into his eyes. “I swear to the Lord Ele if you’re lying I’ll find a way to hurt you.”

“I’m not lying, believe it or not. Pietro found you drunk and stumbling outside of the studio and took you in to meet Master Bernardo himself. You made…well…an impression.”

“Oh my God.” Elena buried her face in her hands. “Oh my God and by all the Holy Saints what have I done? He met me when I was drunk? But he still…”

“He still took you on, although I convinced him to let you sleep it off before you discussed anything officially with him. He told me to let you know you are to change into the uniform and meet him in his study when you woke up.”

“And you kept me here yammering this whole time?” Elena shrieked.

 


 

The uniform was a simple white cotton tunic and loose white pants, all of it modest and plain, but it might as well have been spun of gold for how it made Elena feel. She stood outside of the office, waiting for an answer to her knock, as directed by one of the more helpful servants in the kitchens outside of the room.

It was still “the” room, not “her” room. It was all so sudden and out of the blue, and Elena’s stomach was in a knot waiting for the other shoe to drop. Less than twenty four hours ago she had been leaving this very studio with tears in her eyes, trying to ignore her mother’s angry comments of worth.

“Where is my mother? What has she said about all of this?” Elena remembered suddenly.

“She’s still back at the inn, as far as I know.” Ele replied. “Wondering if she went too far in sending her daughter out on her own, if there’s any hint of motherly affection in her reptilian heart.”

Elena didn’t share Ele’s glee, but before she could worry too much an aged voice called “come in,” and she swung the door open to enter Master Bernardo De Luca’s private study.

She noticed absolutely nothing about the room she stood in. There were walls, and she was pretty sure a floor and a desk, but leaning over the desk was a man whose presence wiped away any other feature of the room. In another context, Master De Luca wouldn’t have the kind of presence that would arrest one’s attention, but here and now he was all Elena could see.

He was a rather elderly man, with a long and neatly trimmed beard that reached to his stomach and wisps of white hair that framed a stern face. His clothes were almost as simple as hers; his pants were black, his simple tunic was embellished by a light jacket of deep orange, and he wore a loose cap on his head. On the table in front of him was a small set of blueprints, architectural designs scrawled across sheafs of parchment.

Elena clasped her hands in front of her respectfully, holding her feet together and waiting with a bowed head for her superior to speak. In her head she thanked her mother for all of the lessons on etiquette.

“She has a courtly manner about her, now that she’s not half-drowned in wine.” Master Bernardo’s voice was dry, the remains of a rich baritone rasping a little with age. “It suits her, but I can’t imagine where she got it from.”

“Pietro says that her mother insists the Luccianos are very well considered in the upper echelons of Carpi politics.” Elena was surprised to notice there was someone else in the room, the head housekeeper Bea who had given her a tour the day before. Master Bernardo had taken up too much of her attention to spare much.

“Yes, and knowing Carpi I’m forced to wonder again, where did she learn courtly manners?” Master Bernardo chuckled and waved a hand in dismissal over the blueprints. He walked around the desk and sat, clasping his hands and fixing Elena with an intent look. “Now girl, are you completely sobered up?”

Elena was so excited she could barely get the words out.

“Yes sir, very much so sir.” He was talking to her, Master Bernardo De Luca was actually taking time out of his schedule to talk to her!

“I doubt you remember much of last night, but suffice to say you are quite lucky that you came so highly recommended. While you are in my household, you’ll not touch alcohol, nor recreational drugs. I trust that will be acceptable?”

“Of course sir.” Elena blushed, grateful that Ele had at least stayed quiet. Someone had recommended her? She barely knew anyone in the city, let alone someone who could sway the opinion of Master De Luca.

“Good. Sit down, if you please.”

Elena was glad she had thrown up earlier, so there was no chance that her body would betray her in the tension of the moment. Her head still pounded, and the light was still too bright, but she hardly noticed. Sitting down almost gingerly across from the Master, she finally met his eyes. They were rather disappointing, a colourless grey instead of the vibrant colors she had imagined, but they narrowed as if he could read the thoughts in her head.

Elena ducked her head, feeling like a child. She knew she should be doing something, saying something, she should be trying to impress him or at least explain herself. Master De Luca finally broke the silence. “I am a man of directness Miss Lucciano, at least to those I don’t need something from. I tend towards brutal frankness, so you would be wise to expect and prepare for my frank opinion.” This was not at all what Elena expected, but before she could think of anything to say he was forging on.

“My frank opinion of you is that you should count yourself an incredibly lucky young woman to be sitting in that seat right now. My secretary Pietro determined that you were not fit to meet with me. You are a Fabera, one of the Touched which my studio never accepts. My own encounter with you last night gave me the impression that you were a drunk, a drooling idiot, who kept the company of the deplorable and the low.”

His words were like a slap in the face, and Elena didn’t know how to respond. Had he only brought her here to kick her out again? Tears welled in her eyes, but she bit her lip and kept them from flowing.

“To your great fortune, my own Echo is far more curious than I. Her curiosity was such that when you broke into my studio, she decided to observe you rather than throw you out as I would have.”

Elena almost jumped in her chair, her attention moving from De Luca to Bea…Master De Luca’s Echo. The elder woman nodded once, a faint smile playing around the corner of her lips.

“You said…housekeeper.” Elena floundered.

“What I actually said was that I keep the studio running when Master De Luca is locked up in his office.” Bea corrected. “Your observational skill was one of the reasons I recommended you, I certainly hope that wasn’t a fluke. I expect you to impress Master De Luca just as much as you impressed me.”

Elena hadn’t even known Echoes existed until yesterday, and she wasn’t entirely sure what to do with this new information. Did Bea automatically deserve the same respect and awe that Master De Luca inspired? Should she be starstruck that she’d met Bea? Frightened? Pleased? Unsure of what she should do, Elena simply nodded.

“She’s not a girl of many words, is she Bea?” Master Bernardo chuckled to his Echo.

“I’m sorry Master De Luca,” Elena gasped, tripping over her words in her haste to reassure him, “I just don’t know what to say and I’m so honored-”

“It was a compliment, child, don’t ruin it.” De Luca’s smile disappeared as he turned back to her. “Now, I obviously place a lot of faith in my Echo’s opinion, so it is enough to give you a place here for the very limited future. That being said, I should stress that you are on the very thinnest of ice when it comes to your place in this studio.”

“I understand that, Master, I’m just grateful for the chance.” Elena said honestly.

“I accept as many new supplicants into my studio as I wish every autumn, Lucciano.” Master De Luca continued as if she hadn’t spoken. “That being said, I’ve found that for my own sanity it works best if I only take on a certain number to become garzoni from that pool. Two months after the supplication date, I send all but four garzoni away.”

“How many supplicants did you take in this year Master?” Elena asked.

“You will make the fourth supplicant, if you join the studio. Today will start your probationary apprenticeship.” He held up a hand as if reading the hope in her eyes. “Please note, Miss Luciano, that I said I keep four garzoni. Four garzoni total, among both my current students and the new supplicants that were brought on yesterday. If you expect to keep your place here, you had better impress me more than my current garzoni do.”

Elena’s eyes widened, but she set her chin stubbornly.

“I will.” Of the eight in his studio, all she had to do was be better than four of them, two months from now. That was all that was standing between her and the dream she had held for most of her childhood.

“Your temerity is appreciated, though not altogether unprecedented.” Master De Luca’s voice was even more wry, though Elena wouldn’t have thought it possible. “You are not the first garzoni or garzona who have assured me they would win out, and if you fail to do so you won’t be the first to lie. Bea will go over the rest with you now, I must return to this.” He pulled the blueprints across the table to rest in his lap, dismissing her from his attention with a strangely practised ease.

“Master De Luca has already mentioned the ban on alcohol and drugs, and I don’t believe I need to tell you the penalty for being caught with them.” Bea picked up the conversation smoothly.

“I really don’t drink at all, that was just-”

“I’m glad to hear it. Now, as the newest and most green member of the household, you will rise early to help the cooks in the kitchen every morning. Every provisional garzoni helps in the kitchen, but it is the lowest who are given the more undesirable tasks of helping prepare breakfast.”

Elena nodded. Maybe Bea expected her to be offended by being assigned ‘low’ labor, but she was used to working in the kitchens. The Luccianos only had one chef, and Elena often sacrificed her free time to help the elderly woman. It let her keep her mother from flying into a rage with the poor overworked dear.

“Every day the full garzoni will ensure that Master Bernardo has the materials to carry out his work; it is the duty of the provisional garzoni, yourself included, to ensure the same for them.”

“You don’t have servants to buy materials?” Elena asked, surprised.

“Some materials must, of course, be purchased, but each artist has their own preferences, their own tastes. It’s far too much for an unskilled servant to keep track of, and it’s far more difficult for them to gauge the quality of the items they’re buying or making. Whenever possible we prefer to work with handmade material. You will be assigned a garzoni who will inform you what they expect, and you will be responsible for providing them. Some of them will be quite…” Bea seemed to search for the right words, “…particular about the materials they want, and the materials’ quality. Whatever standards they think need to be met, it is your responsibility to meet those standards, not theirs to lower them, am I understood?”

“Yes ma’am.” How much pride did the typical supplicant have, that Bea kept pausing like this, as if at any moment Elena would throw a tantrum and storm off? Who cared that she would have to keep the full garzoni stocked with supplies, if it meant she had a chance of becoming one of them?

“In addition to your duties to the chefs and the full garzoni, you will naturally be given instruction by Master De Luca himself.” Even though she already knew it, Elena’s heart leapt in her chest at the words. “He is frequently away from the studio, and even more frequently busy with his work, so at any time he summons you, you must be available.”

“Of course, any time of the day or night.” Elena murmured. Bea gave her a hard look, as if searching her eyes for some sign of sarcasm.

“Very well. Come with me, and I’ll introduce you to the other garzoni. If you will get the door please, I dislike passing through walls.”

“You can walk through walls?” Ele had been silent up until this point, and when Bea turned to give him a curious look it seemed like he wished he had remained so. Elena took advantage of the pause to rush over and swing the heavy door open in front of them.

“I think you will both learn quite a lot in your time here.” Bea said, and stepped through the open door without further comment.

“Why did you recommend me to Master De Luca, Mistress Bea?” Elena couldn’t help but ask as they made their way down one of the open hallways. “I mean, I’m very grateful, but I…I got the impression when you gave me the tour that I annoyed you.”

“And yet you kept on asking questions.” Bea flashed a brief smile over her shoulder. “I like a curious student, one who is just as passionate about learning as she is about knowing.”

“But how can you know something without learning it?” Elena shook her head. Bea’s answers were proving even more confusing than the questions they were asking.

“If you’re as observant as I’ve noted you to be, I have a feeling you’ll find that out quite quickly. This door, if you please.” Elena pushed the heavy door open, and Bea indicated that she should walk through. “Now to meet your fellow garzoni.”

 


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6 responses

  1. Well folks, here it is, the first chapter of the second arc. Since it’s up several hours early, it’s like a little bonus to those of you following the WP blog!

    A quick “welcome and hello” to my new readers coming in from topwebfiction.com, and a huge thank you to all of my lovely readers who voted for Twisted Cogs on that site!

    And another huge thank you to E.J., for your donation! The “Bonus Chapters” page has been updated!

    Like

    2014-07-13 at 1:36 pm

  2. I’m not even sure this was actually a windfall. It’s not a studio for…I’m going to say this wrong, Febari – so what good is his instructions supposed to do her? She’s in the wrong place – period. She’s a craftsman apprenticing to the world’s best painter/sculptor/artist because he’s the worlds best. He’s still of no use to her. She has such a rich fascination for the practical, for construction.

    Then again, there were those architectural plans. Perhaps it all hinges on what Bernando’s Touch is.

    Liked by 1 person

    2014-09-01 at 9:38 pm

    • All I can say without giving spoilers is that these are good questions. Elena, being a little naive, has not thought to ponder them.

      Liked by 1 person

      2014-09-03 at 11:48 pm

  3. “Walk through walls” and “walked through the open door” are close enough together to give the impression that she is passing through the door, which is open, but not actually crossing the threshold. Could be reworded.
    Otherwise, great chapter. Can’t say it was unexpected, but good nonetheless.

    Like

    2014-09-07 at 12:00 am

  4. Typo:

    Elena nodded. Maybe Bea expected her to be offended by being assigned ‘low’ labor, but she was used to working in the kitchens. The Luccianos only had one chef, and Elena often sacrificed her free time to help the elderly woman. It her keep her mother from flying into a rage with the poor overworked dear.
    ____________

    It kept her mother from flying-
    OR
    It tended to keep her mother from flying-
    OR
    *I dunno, you could probably phrase it better – In your own words, than I can.

    Like

    2015-08-09 at 3:22 am

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