A tale of artists, intrigue, and the magical renaissance

3.4 – Venditio et Esus {Selling and Dining}

“All of our pieces are unique, Mister Lanzetta, but some pieces are more rare than others.” Dolce turned the small stone statue over in her hands, strategically covering the chip in its bottom as she displayed it from its more flattering sides, “this one, for instance was carved by one of our artists who primarily works with marble, but as you can see, this piece is made of granite.”

“And…that makes it worth more?” the man bit his lip and furrowed his brow, splitting his attention between the stone rabbit and the girl who displayed it.

“Well, it depends,” Dolce mused, “if our artist becomes famous for working in marble, an early work in a different stone might be hard to sell, since not enough buyers would have the money to pay you for it.” The man’s eyebrows shot up, and Dolce shrugged, “I have to be honest with you, sir, it’s a gamble. Buying a piece that becomes worth too much can sometimes be just as bad as buying a piece that’s worth too little.”

Elena knew just as well as Dolce that the sale had already been made. A few more minutes of haggling and hedging on his part, a few more shamelessly unsubtle comments from Dolce, and in the space of a half hour Mister Lanzetta strode from the storefront with the statue in hand.

Elena checked her list for the next item to wrap up, and began moving around the tiny shop to find it.

Little wooden jewelry box, little wooden jewelry box, she thought to herself, running her hand across shelves as she made a slow circuit.

“I can hear the sound of your judgment from here,” Dolce remarked from the counter.

“What? Judgment?” Elena half-turned, startled.

“You don’t like me lying to customers or spinning tales about the merchandise, I can tell.”

“No, I don’t mind…I mean, it would be nicer if we could tell the truth and just sell what we sell, but you all do so much better than me when it’s your turn to run the counter…I get that sometimes it’s for the greater good of the studio.”

“Wow,” Dolce leaned back and folded her arms, eyebrows raised, “there might be some hope for you, Elena, even if you can’t lie worth a damn. You were never such a pragmatist that you’d have admitted even that much when you first came here. What changed?”

“The jewelry box is in the display over there,” Ele pointed and Elena turned to casually survey the shop. Then, as if she had seen it on her own, she crossed to pick up the little box.

“Have I mentioned what a bad liar you are?” Dolce grinned, “even when you’re just trying to hide when you’re listening to your Echo.”

“What do you mean? I wasn’t-”

“You always get a vague, innocent look on your face, and you nod as if you’re listening but don’t answer questions. It’s okay to talk to him, I don’t mind.”

“I’m sorry. I just don’t want to be rude, I feel bad leaving you out of conversations.”

“Maybe you should just recount everything your Echo says, kind of like a translator.”

“I…I suppose I could do that-”

“Oh my god, Elena, I was joking. You need to learn to say ‘no’ when people tell you to do dumb things.”

“No!”

“Har har. Now don’t try to change the subject, Elena. You’ve become more pragmatic, what’s started to corrupt your pure little core? Tell me so I can do more of it. Ooh, is it that hunky Saggitari you started dating when you came here? Has he been corrupting you this whole time and you haven’t shared the juicy details?”

“I don’t even know what you mean by that,” Elena said, blushing furiously, “and no, that’s not it. I don’t really know what’s changed, exactly. Figuring out my Storm has helped me feel less useless, maybe that’s made me more practical about things.”

The two girls sat in silence, Dolce pulling out the book she read when the store was quiet, idly turning the pages while Elena carefully wrapping the wooden jewelry box in cloth to be shipped to its buyer. After she crossed the jewelry box off of the list she looked around for something else to do.

The small shop was built off of a wing of the Studio, and opened onto the Street of Grey Artisans under a merchant’s sign. It was usually quiet, which was pleasant in some ways but not very exciting. The trickle of profit in reselling art, both their own and other studios’, made it too valuable to close.

“Try the Studios again, if you’re bored,” Ele said from his perch at the window where he watched the street. Elena frowned, but turned to the shelf to her left. Little wooden models of each of the eight studios of Milia sat in a neat row on the shelf, low enough that they would be out of sight of the casual customer, but still technically for sale. The very sight of them made Elena feel helpless and frustrated, but she wouldn’t get any closer to figuring out how to use them by brooding.

Dolce watched over her book as Elena set the model of Studio De Luca down on the counter.

“We usually don’t mess with De Luca,” Dolce said, “if you’re trying to come up with plans for them. You’ll have a hard time convincing the others to raid them.”

“I just want my Storm to work, I’ll worry about coming up with plans later,” Elena narrowed her eyes and stared at the model, trying to summon her Storm.

This model is my model, this is my Studio. It’s a representation of MY Studio. Studio-De-Luca-Lucciano. Not a single spark of Storm assisted her.

“It’s alright, just stay calm and focus,” Ele said quietly. “You’ve done this before, so you know it’s possible. Focus on a question about the Studio, remember that you built it with your own two hands.”

Elena took a deep breath and tried again.

This belongs to me. I built this, I made this. My studio, so how should I run it? Mine mine mine mine MINE. I cut the wood, I fit the pieces together, I drew the designs and cut them out with a knife. She ran her fingers over the tiny little embellishments she had painstakingly carved into the wooden walls of the Studio De Luca model, the windows and the texture of the roof. I nicked myself when I made this window, I BLED to make this my own.

Her Storm snapped into focus, buzzing in her fingertips as if tiny lightning bolts were arcing from them to the edges and corners of the model. It was exactly 1.5 hands tall, its weakest connection was in the corner where one of the wooden tabs had cracked, and there was a knot on the left wall was the studio’s strongest point.

“It only works on the model,” Elena sighed, “it’s not going through to the Studio itself.”

Your studio,” Ele emphasised.

“My studio. My studio needs food, so to accomplish that I should…I would…ugh, I don’t know.” Elena slumped on the counter, her face level with the little studio. “Why can’t I break into this studio!” She groaned.

“Probably because it’s way too small,” Niccolo said from the doorway, “you should try breaking into studios your own size.”

“Niccolo!” Half of the frustration that had been building in Elena melted away at the very sight of him, and she ran to wrap her arms around him.

“Hello there, Saggitari,” Dolce said.

“Hi there, Mortalis,” Niccolo returned Elena’s hug with arms that felt safe and firm.

“There’s no need to be insulting,” Dolce wrinkled her nose at him, “especially when I was just saying nice things about you.”

“Oh? What sort of nice things?” Niccolo didn’t show any sign of letting Elena go, and she was just fine with that.

“We were talking about how you should keep corrupting our sweet friend Elena. She was sharing all the juicy details about how she wants to be corrupted-”

“I didn’t know you planned on coming by today,” Elena hastily interrupted, “you’ve been so busy at the Studio I feel like I haven’t seen you in weeks!”

“I didn’t realize that I’d be coming by myself,” Niccolo finally let her go and showed her the leather canvas carrier he carried, “but Studio De Luca had some paintings to sell, and I volunteered to bring it over.”

“Oh…” Elena said, disappointed.

“Ooh, rookie move, Saggitari,” Dolce said, “you should’ve pretended that catching a glimpse of her sweet face was the only reason you came by.”

“Well, I also thought I’d ask Elena to come to Marchelli’s for lunch, does that make up for it?” Niccolo said

“I’d love to, Niccolo,” Elena shifted uncomfortably, shooting a glance at Dolce. When she was a De Luca garzona she had barely thought of the cost of eating out on the Studio’s coin, but these days she was painfully aware of how much it cost for even the most basic food deliveries, “but I don’t know if I should…”

“I’ll pay.”

Elena blushed at how easily Niccolo had guessed the cause of her reservations, but in spite of herself, she smiled.

 

*

 

It smelled as good as she had remembered it, the scent a blend of savory meats mixed with various spices Elena couldn’t identify. She gave Niccolo’s arm an appreciative squeeze, and he smiled down at her in return. When her stomach growled, Niccolo raised an eyebrow.

“Do you not eat breakfast at Studio DaRose?” He asked.

“I forgot to this morning,” Elena admitted, “I was trying to work out a new weapon for Dolce to use, and we don’t ever eat at regular times so it’s easy to forget.”

“How do you all know when the next meal will be then? Does Master DaRose go ‘round and gather you all up to eat together?”

“The DaRose garzoni have a much less structured life than De Luca garzoni. They don’t ever really eat together.”

“‘They’? Don’t you mean ‘we’?”

Elena blinked, but before she could think over the question a waitress approached where they stood at the door.

“Hello Niccolo, always good to see you here again!” she said brightly, “how many will there be for you today? Just the two of you?”

“There will be five total,” Niccolo replied, “all Stormtouched, so ten seats if you could.”

“Actually…” Nicci broke in, “I think Ele and I are going to go for a walk, we have some…things…that we want to discuss. So you’ll only need eight seats.”

The pair of them had been talking quietly, lagging a few footsteps behind the others, for the entire trip from Studio DaRose to the restaurant, so Elena wasn’t sure what more they would have to talk about.

“It’s not going to be just us?” Elena asked Niccolo as the waitress ushered them to the same large seat by the window that they had sat at the first time she had visited. Sliding into the seat across from Niccolo, she tried to brush aside the nagging doubts in her mind.

“I invited the De Luca garzoni as well,” Niccolo said. “None of them have seen you in a few weeks, and we all miss you.”

“Oh…okay. Although I’m not sure I believe that Leanarda and Lorenzo miss me.”

“Lorenzo is hard to gauge, I’ll admit, but Leanarda isn’t so bad, Elena, really. She talks about you all the time.”

“Talks about me…with you?” Elena blurted before she could stop herself.

“She doesn’t say anything bad, don’t worry,” Niccolo chuckled, clearly missing the point of her concern. “Honestly, I think you two could become friends if you gave her a chance.”

“Who’s giving whom a chance?” Leanarda asked. Elena looked at the white furs at the cuffs of the girl’s coat, in the white and deep yellow colors of Studio De Luca, and immediately felt underdressed. “No, don’t tell me, I can tell by the way Cog is blushing that it’s me.” The Artifex smiled and slipped into the seat next to Niccolo, “it’s good to see you Cog, it’s been a while.”

“Hello Leanarda,” Elena said. She could put her finger on any one detail that was bothering her, but the entire situation made her feel awkward and self-conscious and uncomfortable.

“Where is Leo? And the others?” Niccolo leaned back in his chair, as at-ease as he ever was.

“Leo saw Nicci and Ele down the street, so he went to join them. I don’t know if he’ll be welcome; they seemed in the midst of a pretty deep discussion. Lorenzo refused to budge because he is on the verge of yet another breakthrough, and Frederica has to deal with Freja. Pietro has issued another one of his ultimatums.”

Niccolo threw his head back and laughed, and an ugly cold feeling knotted up in the pit of Elena’s stomach.

“Pietro has been giving ultimatums?”

“Oh, that’s right you wouldn’t know, Cog,” Leanarda said, “Pietro has been trying to train Freja to help with the some of the administrative duties. The poor thing means well but she’s like a puppy; so easily distractible by the slightest thing. Pietro has decided that the best method of dealing with his troubles is to make broad and sweeping declarations and ultimatums to anyone who will listen, and Frederica has been taking it on herself to calm him.”

“That sounds like a lot of patience, for Frederica.”

“Without a doubt,” Leanarda said.

“Pompous little Pietro,” Niccolo smiled.

“‘Like a herd of elephants!’” Leanarda said with an impression of the stone boy, and the pair of them chuckled together again. Elena clenched her fists beneath the table, but she barely knew why the situation upset her so much.

“Excuse me, Miss Lucciano?” Elena had been so intent on Niccolo and Leanarda that she hadn’t even noticed the woman approach until she laid a hand on Elena’s shoulder, “could I talk to you for a moment? Just over there?”

Elena glanced across the table, but there was no point in refusing the woman when she didn’t know what to say to her old garzoni. Without saying a word she rose and followed the woman across the restaurant, into a corner away from the tables. Elena shot another look over her shoulder as they walked, noting with a frown that the two of them were continuing their discussion in quiet tones.

“I don’t know if you recall me, Miss Lucciano, but I have heard that you have connections in Studio DaRose,” the woman said. Elena wrested her attention away from the table and gave the woman her full attention for the first time. She had pale skin, green eyes, and jet black hair cropped short. Her smile was apologetic, but tilted up at one corner as if there was no way for her to hide its mischievous spark. Though there was something vaguely familiar about her, Elena couldn’t quite put her finger on why.

“I’m sorry, I don’t think I remember meeting you,” Elena said.

“Well, I suppose that’s neither here nor there. I’m looking for a job, Miss Luciano, any job will do really, and I was hoping I could find one at Studio DaRose.”

“I…I’m sorry, that’s not really up to me. That would be up to Master DaRose himself, but I’m pretty sure we can’t afford-”

“Oh but I think you’ll find that my offer is quite reasonable. I only want food and lodgings, nothing more. I don’t know that you could find better wages asked than that; even a slave would cost more up-front.”

Over her shoulder, Elena had noticed that Leanarda had placed a hand on Niccolo’s as they spoke, and she was having difficulty paying attention to what the woman was saying.

“I can tell you’re distracted right now,” the woman said, “perhaps it would be better if I returned with you to Studio DaRose and we could discuss it there?”

“Okay, we can do that,” Elena nodded, “let me go tell my old studiomates where I’m going.” She had lost her appetite at the prospect of spending an entire meal with Leanarda and Niccolo talking and laughing together. She would take the woman back to Studio DaRose, but first she would give Niccolo a piece of her mind. It was like Dolce had said; she had to start sticking up for herself. As she stalked back towards the table, Ele stepped through the door of Marchelli’s.

“Hey, Elena, we ran into Leo outside and he and Nicci are talking, I think that…” Ele trailed off as he looked past Elena, his mouth open mid-word.

“Hello Ele,” said the woman, smiling wide. Ele blinked again, his expression halfway between fear, joy, and worry.

“Emerald?”


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5 responses

  1. And the plot thickens. Who wants to bet that Elena and Leanarda will become best friends by the end of all this?

    Like

    2015-02-08 at 11:53 pm

    • AvidFan

      I’m gonna place my bet on her coming to dislike her, Niccolo will try to defend her, then he’ll end up cheating on her, but since he’s HER boyfriend, she will know, and she will snap. I am looking forward to her snapping. Perhaps we will get to see what the puzzle hides. >:)

      Liked by 1 person

      2015-02-09 at 10:29 am

  2. Unmaker

    Typos:

    judgement (twice)
    judgment

    Dolce grinned, “even
    Dolce grinned, “Even

    knicked
    nicked

    emphasised
    emphasized (unless using British spelling)

    Dolce said, “you
    Dolce said, “You

    De Luca gazona
    De Luca garzona

    Reaction:

    From my perspective, Leanarda is flirting with Niccolo and Niccolo is not noticing it. That makes Elena mad, which is a normal reaction, but I wonder why Elena isn’t mad at Leanarda also. Perhaps Elena’s possessive Storm is influencing her reaction because Elena considers Niccolo hers. However, being mad at Niccolo, if he is truly oblivious, is not the best way to deal with the situation. Oh well, if every character reacted to interpersonal relationships in a sane an sensible manner there would be much less story.

    Like

    2015-02-19 at 8:46 am

    • Thanks for the typo catches!

      Wow, that is a very interesting impression, a bit unintentional on my part! Was there something in particular that makes it seem like Elena isn’t bothered by Leanarda as well? That might be something I’ll have to fine-tune when I reach this chapter in the book editing…

      Like

      2015-02-19 at 3:15 pm

  3. Yeah, I mentioned I didn’t like Leanarda, right?

    Haaaaaaaate heeeeeeeerrrr.

    Like

    2015-04-20 at 3:48 pm

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