A tale of artists, intrigue, and the magical renaissance

2.3 – Ientaculum {Breaking Fast}

“The kitchens are cooler than I remember them from the tour.”

“Well, it is the morning. They probably heat up over the course of the day.”

Elena and Ele stood in the doorway, watching the coordinated chaos of the two cooks within. Behind them, the wispy girl who had volunteered and her Echo watched over their shoulders.

“You’ve been here before? I thought you only got here today.” Leanarda said. Before either of them could answer, one of the cooks pointed a wire whisk at the group in the door.

“Which of you is garzoni who helps us for next few months?”

“That’s me.” Elena replied. “And this is…Leanarda, right?” She asked.

“Leanarda and Leo.” Leanarda nodded.

“We never learn names until the fodder leave.” The other cook briskly passed them two small wooden bowls and a glass bottle of cream. “Whip until it is a foam. Whisks on the wall behind you. Please to stay out of underfoot.”

Elena couldn’t quite place the cook’s accent, but his instructions were at least clear. Elena and Leanarda found small stools in the corner, split the cream between them, and began whisking. Ele leaned against the wall with arms folded, watching the kitchen, and as if taking his cue Leanarda’s Echo waited in silence as well, sitting cross-legged on the floor next to Leanarda.

The two cooks moved with the ease of dancers, and Elena was so fascinated watching them that she had to remind herself to keep whisking. The one who had given them the bowls was skinny with long grey hair, the other a fat bald man, but despite their complete differences they coordinated as if they had practiced for years.

They ducked around each other, passing items and mixing ingredients. At one point the fat man tossed a heavy cast-iron skillet across the room, without word or warning, and the older cook snatched it from the air and placed it on the stone stovetop.

“You said your name was Elena?” Leanarda prodded.

“Oh, yes I’m Elena and this is Ele. Thank you for helping me today, by the way. I know you didn’t have to do that.”

“It’s alright, it was an excuse to get out of that room. We don’t really have anything to do yet, so the three of us provisional garzoni were just sort of sitting around awkwardly. Besides, it can’t hurt to help out a fellow garzona.” Leanarda flashed a quick smile.

“I got the impression that most of our fellow garzoni would disagree.” Elena murmured. “The full garzoni all seemed a little…moody, didn’t they? Like they were angry at me.”

“Can you blame them? Four of us are going to be turned out into the streets in a few months, that doesn’t exactly engender a helpful community spirit.”

“Isn’t this place supposed to be about art? About learning to make things of beauty?”

“Can’t learn if you’re not here. When it comes down to it, one more garzona means one more person they have to fight to keep their place.”

“But I don’t want to fight anyone!” Elena said with surprise.

“They’ll fight you, though.” They had been talking quietly, but Leanarda lowered her voice further. “Listen, Elena, I know you have to have dreams of being a wonderful Artifex or Caeletor or…” She paused to let Elena supply the word, but Elena blushed and kept silent. Leanarda continued unabated. “The rest dream too. If they have to take you down to reach their dreams they’re not going to play nice, they’ll do it in an instant.”

“Why are you telling us this?” Ele challenged. “If you’re so sure it’ll be ruthless here then why warn us?”

“Because maybe fighting isn’t the best way to get ahead.” Elena got the impression that Leanarda was choosing her words very carefully. “Instead of tearing each other down, a few of us could work together. Lift each other up. I’ve tried the ‘enemies’ thing, allies is easier.”

Elena considered the implied offer for a few minutes, while Leanarda lapsed into silence. She hated that her simple presence in the studio had earned her seven new rivals, and she couldn’t deny the idea of…what exactly? Friends? Allies?

“Right now you’re wondering whether or not you can trust me.” Leanarda guessed.

“Sort of. I guess I’m wondering what exactly you’re offering here.”

“Nothing sinister. I get the feeling there are going to be a lot of opportunities to screw each other over while we’re here. You and I could agree to not take those opportunities. Maybe keep other people from taking those opportunities.”

“I think that’s the strangest way I’ve ever been asked to be friends.”

Leanarda grinned.

I’m wondering whether or not we can trust you.” Ele broke in. “You were a supplicant, this is your first day here, but you seem to have given this an awful lot of thought. No offense intended, but it makes you sound a little manipulative.”

“I am manipulative.” Leanarda leaned forward so she could address both Elena and Ele. “A lot manipulative. I’m also a little egotistical, too prideful, and I hold grudges for longer than is healthy. But I don’t try to deny who I am, and I don’t lie to get what I want when the truth will work.”

“And you think the truth will work here?”

“Elena doesn’t seem like the type of girl who would like the nastiness of tearing people down. Maybe I’m wrong about her, but if I’m not it means they’re going to eat her alive. I’m offering her a…an alliance, I guess. She doesn’t need to play nasty, and I’ll look out for her. All I’m asking is that she watches my back in return.”

“I would do that for you without the speech.” Elena broke in. “Who wouldn’t speak up if they saw someone doing something nasty? You didn’t need to convince me to look out for you, all you needed to do was ask.”

Leanarda stared at her for a moment, clearly dumbfounded.

“Well if that’s the case, I’m glad I got to you first.” She muttered, turning back to her bowl. “You’ll need someone looking after you with that kind of naive attitude.”

“Is good for now. Tomorrow you will make more help.” The older cook was suddenly in front of them, taking the wooden bowls out of their hands. Elena hadn’t even noticed that she had whipped her cream into stiff foamy peaks. “You go wash, meet others at table. Master De Luca does not like for garzoni being late.”

 


 

 

“I don’t like that woman.” Ele had been silent after Leanarda and Elena parted ways to wash up, but he broke the silence with a sour expression.

“Are you back to being all moody?” Elena looked up from the washbasin for a towel, and Ele pointed.

“It’s not moodiness, it’s caution. You’re always so trusting of everyone, I’m the one who has to keep an eye out. Remember Pasaulo?”

“Let’s not talk about Pasaulo.” Elena mumbled, her stomach lurching at the thought. “Do you remember where the dining room is?”

Ele led the way, still talking. He spoke quietly, clearly becoming more comfortable with the thought that others might be listening now.

“I’m always wary of people who have to tell you upfront how trustworthy they are. I’m also nervous around people who feel the need to point out how much you need them. There are a bunch of reasons I don’t like Leanarda, and allying with her makes me worry for you.”

“What is there to worry about?” Elena couldn’t seem to muster up half the amount of concern that Ele had. The open nature of the windows in the hallway was letting the morning’s light in, casting blues and whites onto the walls. Despite the hard road ahead of her, for now at least she was a garzona to Bernardo De Luca; on the path to everything she had wanted.

“Have you not been listening to what I’ve been saying?”

“I mean, so what if you don’t trust her? I wasn’t planning on doing anything nasty, not to anyone. So all this means is that she knows I won’t do anything nasty; I don’t have to change my plan at all.”

“Maybe knowing is enough to take advantage of you.” Ele said darkly.

“Are you sure you don’t like her because she’s so much like you Ele?” Elena teased. “Maybe you’re jealous because you’re not the only one who thinks I’m too naive and wants to look out for me anymore.”

“It’s through here.”

Somewhere in the studio, a bell began chiming the hour as Elena swung the heavy door open. The room was dominated by two very long tables of a dark wood. At one table sat the garzoni with Master De Luca at the head, at the other Bea presided over the Echoes. Every single seat was occupied except for Elena’s and Ele’s.

“Don’t worry, you haven’t officially arrived late.” Master De Luca said over the bell chimes with a friendly smile. “My timepieces are exact,” Although his smile didn’t change, the entire room seemed to drop by a few degrees, “which means you have until the clock has finished ringing.” Elena hurried to her seat, sitting down just as the last stroke of the bell ended.

“I have so little time with my garzoni.” Master De Luca spoke as if he were beginning a speech, each work clear and crisp. The cooks entered with large wooden platters filled with eggs and ham, and loaves of bread so fresh that they still steamed as he continued. “My work in the Milian court takes me away from my little studio for days at a time, and when I return the work that has accumulated takes up all of my attention. I probably interact less with my garzoni than any other master in this city.”

He seemed a little sad, staring at his plate as the cooks served him. Frederica, Carlo, Vittoria and Niccolo, the four garzoni who had been in the studio for some time, began digging into their food with relish, and the new garzoni hesitantly followed their example.

“Please, eat, I don’t worry about manners here.” Master De Luca came out of his stupor with a weary wave. “In the studio, meals are the only place we care more about function than form.” The smell of the eggs and ham made Elena’s stomach lurch with the memory of the wine from the night before, but she couldn’t deny she was hungry. “Miss Lucciano, you in particular will enjoy the hot drink.” De Luca lifted his own small wooden cup in indication. “It’s quite good for the morning after a night of drunkenness.”

The excitement Elena felt that he remembered her name was quickly squashed by shame. The other garzoni were all focused on her, and she looked down at her plate, preferring to imagine their looks of contempt rather than face them.

“Master De Luca, doesn’t the studio have very strict rules on drinking?” Elena would’ve thought Frederica was asking the question innocently, if not the smug tilt in the corner of the brunette’s smile. It was quite clear that she knew exactly what she was doing.

Note to self; Frederica is not my friend. Elena thought. If what Leanarda had said was true and there really were garzoni out to get her, she would have to start keeping track of who was who. She glanced at the other table, trying to identify which echo belonged to her. The man at the Echo’s table looked so similar to Frederica that they might’ve been siblings, and he was smiling at her as if he had heard the snide comment.

“Yes, very strict rules,” Master De Luca agreed, “but I’m sure little Elena will have more control of herself now that she is one of us. Mella, I must say that in my long life I have never encountered an Artifex who used your particular medium. What was it you called your tools?” The topic change was jarring, suddenly losing interest in Elena and moving on to his next target.

“Pencil, Master De Luca. It’s like charcoal in many ways, but I have more control over the finer lines.” Mella spoke through a mouthful of food. She sat across from Elena, and her shocks of red hair bounced whenever she moved her head, and clearly had no problems following his command to not worry about manners. “I haven’t met any other Artifexes like me either, that probably makes me more valuable.” Mella managed to give a charming smile with a mouthful of food, and Master De Luca smiled back in response.

“It’s a good talent, to know your own worth.” He nodded. “I’ve had garzoni in the past who steadfastly refused to acknowledge their value, and there are few things more frustrating.”

“What’s wrong with a student who doesn’t know their own worth?” Elena asked. The rest of the garzoni were silent, but if was true that Master De Luca had so little time, Elena wanted to take advantage of all that she could. The Master didn’t seem to mind.

“An artist who does not know his or her own worth is an artist who is not willing to fight for themselves when it comes down to the bone. One can’t be truly cutthroat if one isn’t sure, without the slightest fraction of a doubt, that one deserves to be at the top.”

Surely an artist can be both nice and famous. Elena frowned to herself, but took a bite instead of arguing. Master De Luca had far more experience than her, so perhaps she would understand his advice when she was further along. The hot drink was strong and a little bitter, but the cooks had put dollops of the whipped cream into it, and it softened and sweetened the taste pleasantly.

“What would become of a garzona who wasn’t cutthroat, Master De Luca?” Frederica played with the food on her plate, stirring her fork around the eggs and staring at them with a half-smile playing about her face. “What if they were timid and shy and easy to pick on?”

What is her problem? Elena didn’t bother trying to hide her glare. How could I have possibly offended her already, when I haven’t even spoken two sentences to her?

“Hmm.” If Master De Luca noticed that Frederica was singling Elena out, he gave no indication, thoughtfully chewing a bite of bread before he answered. “I’ve seen many artists of that nature come and go, rise and fall. They tend to follow the same pattern; they meander on their way, slowly gaining in fame and fortune, until they run into someone willing to be aggressive or merciless. At that point, they fall to that someone, and the merciless artist is the one who is remembered. I wouldn’t worry too much about it Frederica; you hardly have a problem in the area of being shy or timid.”

“What about the rest of you?” He turned his attention nearer to the middle of the table. “It seems I’ve got a quiet batch of supplicants this year; I’ve not heard a word from some of you. Lorenzo, you’re a new face here, would you say you’re one of the tame artists or one of the cut-throat?”

“I don’t think I would ever cut someone’s throat.” The pretty garzoni tossed his long hair over one shoulder as he mused. “I think that’s against Milian laws.” A short silence marked this profound statement as the entire table stared at him. Elena tried to figure out if she had missed some intricate wordplay or cleverness in his answer. It seemed that Master De Luca was doing the same thing, because he didn’t move on to anyone else, merely fixed the boy with a thoughtful air as he ate his breakfast.

The room was quiet enough that Elena could hear the soft murmurs from the other table where the Echoes sat. None of them had food, but It appeared that they were having a much more friendly and interesting discussion. Some of them were smiling, Bea was gesturing animatedly with her hands. Even Ele seemed engaged in the conversation.

Elena’s observation was broken by a sound from the doorway; a cough so measured and precise that it could only be artificial. Pietro looked subdued, his face even more childlike now that it held the expression of a small child about to be punished.

“Master Bernardo, I’m sorry to interrupt.” He didn’t seem reassured when Master De Luca waved him on. “Sir, there is someone at the door demanding to speak with your garzona.”

“Pietro, I would have thought you were capable of taking a message, or scheduling a meeting, or perhaps even approaching the garzona in question some time when we are not occupied with a meal.” Master De Luca’s voice was even, but the marble boy flinched. “Perhaps I was wrong.”

“It just seemed important sir. It’s Miss Elena’s mother.”

 


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6 responses

  1. Zeuseus

    I noticed your spelling of Leonarda/Leanarda’s name jumps about. I assume it’s meant to be Leonarda

    Like

    2014-07-21 at 12:03 am

    • Nope, it’s supposed to be Leanarda. Wow, I really did jump around on the spelling over the past two chapters didn’t I? Thanks for the catch Zeuseus!

      Like

      2014-07-21 at 6:28 am

  2. Right…welp…my instincts proven correct. You’re a pretty solid writer, but this is shaping up into a story I don’t have much interest in…I’d have preferred she went the ‘finds out her dream wasn’t a dream and finds the real dream somewhere unexpected’ route. Since, you couldn’t pay me to stay in that place.

    Like

    2014-09-01 at 10:20 pm

    • It’s certainly not for everyone (I’d be quite arrogant if I thought it was!), so I definitely understand. Thanks for giving it a try!

      Like

      2014-09-03 at 11:49 pm

  3. Marisa

    I’m loving it so far.

    Like

    2014-12-25 at 10:26 pm

  4. Oh God, Joanna’s back. But since it seems like this place will make it harder for her to get to Elena, it’s soooo gooood that Frederica’s there to grab the bitch mantle. (Frederica, I don’t like you.)

    Like

    2015-04-13 at 2:47 pm

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