DargonZine 11, Issue 7

For Bronna Part 1

Vibril 17, 1016 - Firil 7, 1016


This entry is part 1 of 2 in the series For Bronna

Dargon

Vibril 17, 1016

 

I drew my heavy cloak closer about myself against the cold Vibril weather and once again debated the wisdom of making this journey. Not because of the cold alone, either. The farther I traveled down Oaks Lane, the shabbier the houses got until I feared I would be wandering the warrens of the slums before I reached the Street of Painters.

 

And I worried for my safety, most of all. I was too used to the busier and better patrolled streets of the commerce district where my warehouses were, or even the neighborhood I lived in, full of tradesmen and merchants. There, where the houses looked cared for and neat, and the regular town guard patrol were well known faces. I was not dressed for this part of town. Though the clothes and jewelry I wore were only what any merchant of moderate standing would wear, I began to feel like I was wearing a duke’s ransom compared to those who walked Oaks with me.

But I had an errand I was already late in running and I knew that if I turned back to change, some minor problem or other would come up at work that would require my attention. I could just imagine runner after runner arriving at my front door with one trivial difficulty after another. Eventually I would succumb and head off to the warehouses — present me with a challenge, and I will chase after its solution until it is solved — and then I would end up putting off this journey again until it was too late.

 

I had directions as far as the Street of Painters, but no farther. That was the best that Carlide, one of my warehouse foremen, had been able to find out in the brief time between when I asked him to find the painter Iocasee and when I resolved the last problem keeping me at work this morning. Perhaps if Carlide’s runners had been faster …

 

Contrary to the promise of its name, Iocasee was one of only two painters on the Street of Painters. But it wasn’t his address that had recommended the man to me. Having seen examples of both his and Mawdrenas’ work in the homes of some of my friends, I found that I preferred Iocasee’s style. Don’t ask me why, I’m not a patron of the arts either by inclination or by lifestyle. The two paintings I own I purchased because I liked them. Not like those snobs in Old City, who buy art because it makes them look better in the eyes of their peers. Perhaps those Lords and Ladies could tell you what made a Mawdrenas painting different from an Iocasee painting. I can’t, except that I was willing to purchase the latter, and not the former.

 

Everyone on the Street of Painters knew Iocasee, and everyone felt the need to caution me about the artist. It seemed that Iocasee was special, different, fragile … someone to take care speaking to and dealing with. Everyone was determined to care for the man, to cushion him from everyday life as much as possible. I got the impression that they would have preferred he not have visitors at all, if that wasn’t completely contrary to his occupation as a portrait painter.

 

So I stood next to the blazing brazier on the corner of Oaks Lane and the almost-alley that was the Street of Painters and listened to the locals lesson me about their favorite artist for what seemed a bell or more. Some of these locals seemed well disposed to stay by the brazier until the sun went down, but others drifted past and joined in the conversation with the stranger — me — to much the same end as their fellows, which is to say that I heard the same warnings about the state of the painter I was here to see over and over and over again.

 

Eventually, one of the crowd of locals took pity on me and I ended up with better than directions: I got an escort. Rendon was the fellow’s name. As he led me down the clean — not a rat in sight — and cobbled lane between the close-leaning one-, and occasionally two-, storied buildings that lined it, he revealed that he was a framer by trade, as well as a next-door neighbor of Iocasee. By the time we reached our destination, we had haggled out the price of a frame for the commission I was about to make.

 

Iocasee’s place of business, as well as home, was of a piece with this not-quite-slum lane it was located in. Plain wattle and daub which was long overdue for a whitewashing comprised the front wall of the single-story building. A simple wooden door, with a bell-pull beside it and a small plaque with a faded picture of a paint brush on it were all the ornament that this facade possessed. Rendon reached around me and gave a gentle tug on the bell pull, smiling at me somewhat apologetically, as if he knew my thoughts about the humbleness of Iocasee’s lodgings. He gave my cloak and boots a glance — of a nicer cut and of more expensive fabric than his own basically homespun cape and breeches, they marked me as being of a class above his own common-laborer’s, even if not all that far above.

 

Before the awkwardness could settle deeper around us, a call of “Come in,” sounded and Rendon eased the door open and entered Iocasee’s studio home. I took a deep breath, suddenly concerned about the constantly repeated warnings of Iocasee’s “delicate” condition, whatever that meant. At least I wouldn’t be alone in there with this well-liked madman. Steeling myself for the business at hand, I followed my guide.

 

The studio space I walked into took up what looked like most of the house. A large fireplace took up the center of the far wall, flanked by two doors. The walls were whitewashed plaster in better condition than the exterior of the dwelling, and the floor was made of a light colored wood, somewhat worn but clean. The room seemed filled with light, what with those reflective surfaces, but something bothered me about that. I realized after a moment that there were no windows in the walls. There hadn’t been any piercing the front facade; the walls to either side abutted the neighbors’ houses; and the back wall was not even an exterior wall. No candles or lanterns were lit in the medium-sized room, and the fireplace couldn’t possibly provide that much illumination. So where was it coming from?

 

I looked around curiously, and finally looked up. The ceiling was very gently sloped and came to a peak two thirds of the way through the room, which meant that the chimney exited the roof on the rear slope. And set into the front slope of the ceiling were two large windows, extravagantly closed with thick, wavy glass. I was sure that such glazing was a rarity in this part of town, where waxed parchment was more likely to cover a window opening if anything covered it at all. A lord’s ransom, perhaps, but more than necessary in a space like this: after all, you needed light to paint by, didn’t you? I remembered that Giesele, my late wife, used to only do her needlework in the sunroom in full daylight, and I knew that reading my ledgers by candlelight on cloudy days was a strain that usually made my head ache. With a little sigh at the memory of my dear, departed wife, I continued to look around.

 

Even without the expensive ceiling windows, it was obvious that an artist worked here. The trappings of a studio were everywhere: easels against every wall, paintings hanging up, standing on the floor, stacked in a corner, even some on easels in semi-completed states. There was a rack of shelves as tall as I against one wall, filled with row after row of small jars with daubs of different colored paint on their sides. The scent of brush cleaner and paint pervaded the space, adding to the ambience.

 

A simple wooden table was positioned against the far wall, between fireplace and one of the doors. A man sat at the end of the table nearest the warmth of the fire with his back toward us. He was looking at a book opened before him, and didn’t acknowledge our presence for a moment or two. Then he closed his book and, before turning around, said, “Thank you, Bronna. Welcome, Rendon! And who have you brought to me today?”

 

How strange! How had he known who had entered his studio? Then I noticed the glass chimney on the lamp in front of him on the table, and realized that he must have seen our reflection in that surface.

 

But why would he thank Bronna? How did he know my daughter’s nickname?

 

He turned around then, stood, and walked toward his neighbor, arm outstretched in greeting. Iocasee looked about 35 or 40, brown hair just beginning to grey, slight age lines in his face. He was average height, and somewhat slight of build. His face looked pleasant enough, no scars, not ugly to my sight, but there might have been something about those eyes — something haunted about them, perhaps? Or was that just my imagination?

 

He wore a close-fitting tunic beneath a loose sleeveless robe that had three pockets running up it on each side of the front opening. His leggings looked worn but comfortable, and he wore soft-soled shoes that made no sound on the wooden floor. He had paint all over his hands, but the rest of him was perfectly neat. He reached Rendon and they clasped forearms, then both turned toward me.

 

“Please let me introduce Percantlin, owner of the Fifth I merchant house,” Rendon said. “Percantlin, this is Iocasee, painter of portraits.”

 

Iocasee extended his arm. “Welcome to my studio, Merchant Percantlin,” he said. And then with a glance at my clothing he continued, “I see that the Fifth I still does well for itself, eh? So, what have you sought me out for then?”

 

There certainly didn’t seem much wrong with this pleasant man, aside from that strange greeting. I collected my thoughts, and informed him of my errand.

 

“I thought to commission a portrait from you, good painter, having seen and liked your work in the houses of some of my friends. My daughter is getting married in Firil and I thought to give her a portrait of myself as she and her new husband will be leaving Dargon so that he can take a job as chief clerk for Duke Kiliaen. Something to remember me by when she’s so far from home.”

 

“A new commission, eh? Well, as you can see, I have a few pieces to finish, but all are in the last stages and none are required immediately. Come, have a seat at the desk and we can discuss the fine points. Bronna, could you go get us some tea?”

 

Well, he wasn’t talking about my daughter Bronna, because she wasn’t with me. I looked around the room but there were only the three of us occupied here. I was about to ask about it when Rendon put his hand on my arm and when I looked to him, he frowned and shook his head. I remembered the comments and warnings, and closed my mouth again, nodding to him that I understood.

 

Rendon said, “Why don’t I help you with that, Bronna?” He didn’t look anywhere in particular as he said that, but then he looked at me and continued, “Percantlin, why don’t you go have a seat, and we’ll be right back with the tea?” He gave me a little shove toward the desk and headed for one of the doors in the back wall.

 

I went uncertainly over to the table that Iocasee had been sitting at and settled into one of the chairs there. I stared as Iocasee casually came over and took his seat again — so this was what a madman looked like? I grew progressively more uneasy. This man had serious delusions; how was I to treat him? What if he did something crazy right in front of me? Then again, he already had, talking to the air as if to a friend. Would I be able to spend enough time in this man’s company to get a portrait done? I liked his work, but was a bridal gift worth this?

 

Iocasee was fiddling with some papers, trying to neaten up the table top in front of him. Then he opened his book again, and I noticed that it was a calendar. He must keep track of his projects in there. I almost began to feel better — I used a similar kind of time-ledger in my business every day — but then realized that the normal activities we shared only made him seem even stranger to me.

 

Iocasee turned to me and started, “Now, tell –” and I almost yelped in surprise. Oh no, where was Rendon? I wasn’t nearly ready to deal with Iocasee by myself. What if I said the wrong thing? What if I upset him? What … what … ?

 

I was rescued by Rendon’s reappearance, just in time. He carried a wooden tray laden with two stoneware mugs and a nice stoneware pot with steam coming from its spout. He set it down between Iocasee and me and then dashed back into the kitchen. Fortunately, he was back before I could panic again, a third mug in his hand. As he went to lean against the front door, he said, “Cas, Bronna said she’d be tidying things up in the kitchen for a bit. Straight?”

 

Iocasee nodded, and finished pouring the tea into the two mugs on the tray. He set the pot down, and picked up one of the mugs, blowing on it a little before sipping. He smiled at the taste, and then turned his hazel-eyed gaze back to me. “As I was saying, tell me about this portrait? How large would you want it to be? And when do you need it?”

 

I picked up my mug and took a sip to give myself time to recover from my nervousness. Despite the steam coming from the spout, the tea was just pleasantly hot, and it was quite a good blend. Finally, I felt ready to talk to Iocasee. I decided to treat him like just another client for the moment — Rendon was there to catch any mistakes I might make, or so I hoped.

 

“Let me see … size … I was thinking normal size would be fine. Like the others here, which are about what, two and a half bars by five bars? Oh, sorry, bars is a shipping standard measurement. How to translate that? Ah … how about 9 hands by 18 hands?”

 

Iocasee nodded and said, “Fine, fine. How long before your daughter’s nuptials?”

 

“Kalibriona and Tanjural will be wedded on Firil 8th. We have about seven sennights to get the portrait finished. Is that enough time?”

 

“Hmmm. Well, it can be if you have the time to sit for me once every four days or so. It’s the light — there just isn’t that much of it in these winter months, don’t you know. If we finish by the second of Firil, then the paints should be dry enough to deliver it by the seventh. Acceptable? Good. Now, about the price.”

 

The haggling over price took longer. Not that I thought that Iocasee was not worth his initial offer, but I *am* a merchant, and I did not come to own the Fifth I by spending money extravagantly. Finally, though, we agreed upon a price that I think we were both happy with. He rummaged around in the papers on his desk and came up with a very simple contract. He filled in the appropriate items — portrait, 9 by 18, 7th Firil, the price — and signed it. I signed in my place, even though I would have liked a few more provisions, like an acceptability clause. But that was probably just the merchant in me. I only had seven sennights to get this portrait for Bronna done, and I liked Iocasee’s work enough that I wasn’t — truly — worried.

 

We both rose and clasped arms. As I turned toward the door, he said, “Are you free tomorrow for your first sitting? The sooner we get started, the more likely we are to be finished in time.”

 

“Absolutely. What time? Right, the earlier the better. I probably shouldn’t even go into work — it can be impossible to keep appointments once I get caught up in that daily routine. I’ll be here at about third bell. See you then.”

 

I smiled, pleased by the success of my venture, as I made ready to leave. Rendon strode over to set his mug on the tray, but since I was standing by the door he didn’t offer to return it to the kitchen. I opened the door and stepped out but before I took a second step I heard Iocasee call out, “Bronna, dear, do you know where the number 3 yellow paint is? I need to put some highlights onto Santriciel’s portrait, and I just cannot find my number 3 yellow!”

 

All that time arranging the commission had distanced Iocasee’s madness from my mind, and it was startling to hear evidence of it again like that. A chill ran up my spine at the thought of spending just the next day sitting for him, not to mention the next seven sennights of subsequent sittings. How would I manage it?

 

Rendon bumping into me got me moving again, albeit unsteadily. He supported me while I got my legs back under me, and then said, “I’ll stand you for a drink if you’ll do the same. I think you could use something bracing, and maybe a little more of the ‘over the fence’ on Cas.”

 

My nod got Rendon to lead the way to the local corner tavern, which was two blocks away, in the middle of another narrow lane, and as far as I could tell unnamed. I was distracted enough to follow him through the door with only a cut in half metal mug on it without a worry about what kind of clientele might be within. I needn’t have worried in any case — the few patrons were only interested in gossiping among themselves and consuming the surprisingly potable ale that Rendon informed me was brewed in the basement.

 

I settled into the comfortable dimness and found myself feeling almost more at home than in the bar I frequented after work. I took some time to calm down, and I had put myself outside of half a tankard of that house ale before I finally said to Rendon, “So, ah, about Iocasee …”

 

“You mean, ‘about Bronna’ don’t ya?” he asked. Shaking his head, he took a pull from his tankard before continuing, “A sad story, that is. But ya should … na, ya must know it, as ya’re to be sittin’ for him an’ all.

 

“Righty, ah. Now, Iocasee was always strange, ya know, even before Bronna. Easily upset, would fly into rages, or betimes go dancing down the street in his underclothes. But he painted good, an’ we as live on Painters figured we needed some painters to earn our address. And what was better’n a crazy painter, huh? Lots of stories ’round the beer, right?

 

“And then *she* happened. Bronna was Cas’s first real love, his only one ‘sfar as he ever told me. She wasn’t a local. She didn’t look or dress or act like one of us, but it weren’t long before she fit herself in here on Painters, and we all treated her like family. She was beautiful! Long red hair, like fire sometimes; pale skin — whatever her trade had been before she came to Painters it hadn’t involved much time out doors. The shape of her face, her body: she looked like a sculpture of a goddess. Just as soon as Cas set eyes on her he said he just *had* to paint her. It wasn’t until that portrait was about half done that he realized that she was a person as well as a perfect model. They courted swift, and soon she was spending more time at his studio than in her own house.

 

“She was good for him. She was like all the parts of Cas that he’d been missing. He stopped bein’ so touchy, so absent-minded, so strange. And his painting got better, too. She loved him back, no doubt no doubt, but she didn’t need him like he needed her. And that need put a strain on her, like clampin’ a frame too tight can warp the wood instead of just holding it until the glue dries.

 

“Mayhap she was too free a spirit to be happy as part of that kind of couple. He tied her down with his needs, trapped her on Painters. She got unhappy eventually, only he never saw. Never noticed her mood, never noticed her start to drift away.

 

“One day — pert near 10 years ago, less a month or so it was — she walked out of his house, out of Painters, and eventually out of Dargon. Let me tell you, that was a hard time on Painters. He fair destroyed his studio with his disbelieving rage, and then he almost killed himself with weeping. The hardest-hearted mercenary would have wept to hear him cry at his loss, once he knew of it.

 

“Something had to give, and in the end, ’twas his mind. At first, he was sure she had died, and he mourned her for months. There’s a small stone in Commoner’s Field that he made hers — its inscription had almost totally worn away. He spent more time there than his studio even after we all repaired it for him. We were all worried for his health, but couldn’t do a thing to bring him out of his grieving.

 

“I’ve no idea why, but one day he didn’t go to Commoner’s Field. Lettie was the first to visit him, and she told the rest of us that Cas was back to painting like before, but he acted like Bronna was still there. He talked to her, he asked her to do things — the months since she’d left just seemed to have never happened.

 

“For a while, that was even worse than him thinkin’ her dead. He just refused to believe she was gone and so she must still be with him. He wouldn’t listen to truth from anyone, and nothing could prove to him that Bronna was not in the room or the house at all times. He might ask her to fix him a meal, and when it didn’t appear he would make some excuse — she needed a rest, or she’d gone shopping. There seemed to be nothing that he couldn’t explain, nothing that could convince him that he was alone in his home.

 

“So, we all adapted. We all felt for him — he hadn’t done anything wrong, and he was still our painter. We started to pamper him, to help him with his delusions — cooking for him at times, doing his shopping, making sure his clients understood about his condition. Well, maybe you could say we didn’t really help him, that his state just isn’t healthy. But if you’d seen him just after Bronna left …”

 

Dargon

Vibril 18, 1016

 

I arrived at Iocasee’s door the next morning without a guide. The dress finery I wore — suitable for a formal portrait — was hidden beneath a more workmanlike cloak, so that I caught no undue attention from those who walked Oaks and Painters. I had even worn inconspicuous jewelry for the trip — I would have to remember to change my ear and finger jewelry before Iocasee started to paint.

 

Third bell was ringing out from a nearby tower, and yet I still stood in front of the door marked with the artist’s brush. I had hoped to have more time to work up my courage before the bells rang, intending that Iocasee find me punctual. But first, my feet had led me down their normal path to my place of work without my even realizing it until I was three streets past the turn toward this side of town. And then, I had been walking rather more slowly than normal as my mind tried to think up some suitable solution to the Iocasee problem.

 

Not the problem of sitting for a portrait in front of him, but the problem of his delusions. The man made me uneasy, and the prospect of day after day of constant unease was not something I was looking forward to. So I decided that I would simply remove the source of my unease by curing Iocasee of his delusions.

 

I had put my mind to it the night before, and had reasoned it all out. Iocasee’s delusions were not something he had been born with, nor was it a matter of some kind of unalterable physical deformity, which meant that the man could be cured and all I had to do was determine how. My options were many: Convince him that Bronna was not present? Bring someone else for him to meet? Find Bronna and get her to enlighten him? So many choices, and each with their special difficulties. I almost felt like I had been presented with a thorny delivery problem at my desk, or some kind of stocking issue at one of the warehouses. And I knew that even if by the remotest chance I did not succeed in my quest, I would at least keep my mind occupied with the attempt.

 

But I also knew it took knowledge to meet any challenge, and I had only met Iocasee yesterday. I would be sitting for him regularly for the next seven sennights, so I resolved to gather more information before attempting any of my possible remedies.

 

But to do that, I actually had to enter Iocasee’s studio. Taking one more deep breath, I reached out and pulled the bell cord. When the voice called out, I opened the door and went in.

 

***

 

“He’ll be here soon, love.”

 

“I know, Bronna. Is the brace ready? Where are my fine brushes? Did you remember to fill the pitchers this time?”

 

Iocasee busied himself getting everything ready for Merchant Percantlin’s first sitting. The canvas was on an easel, gessoed and ready. The posing brace was set up in the center of the arc of sunlight from one of the ceiling windows. His paints were all where they belonged in the rack, and his brushes were also, except … ah, there were the fines. He picked up the handful of narrow-bristled brushes and set them into their proper place. Everything where it belonged, well positioned so as to be easy to get to. And the comforts for his client?

 

“The pitchers are full, Cas. I made sure this time.”

 

“Thanks, Bronna. I’m sorry, I’m just nervous. Percantlin is head of Fifth I — his patronage can only be good for us, my love. More commissions from wealthy merchants — someday, it will be a lord ringing our bell! So everything has to be perfect; he has to see me as organized, a professional, …”

 

“I know, Cas, I know. And you are a professional. He wouldn’t have come to you if he didn’t like your work. So relax. You know you paint better when you’re relaxed.”

 

Iocasee smiled, and returned to puttering with his paints and palette, brushes and rags. The bell jangled, and he called out “Come in.”

 

“Dear, Merchant Percantlin is here.”

 

Iocasee, his back to the door but with a clear reflection before him in the side of one of the paint jars, said, “Thank you, Bronna. Would you please make yourself comfortable, Merchant Percantlin? I just want to get this particular shade mixed before we begin. You can hang your cloak on the pegs beside the door. There’s water and some weak ale in the pitchers on the table over there.”

 

***

 

I looked around, nervousness under control so far, despite Iocasee mentioning his Bronna already. I slipped my cloak off and hung it on one of the pegs by the door, and then walked over to the table with the pitchers on it. I wasn’t thirsty yet, but I poured a mug full of water for later.

 

Iocasee was still mixing, so I exchanged my traveling jewelry for those I wanted in the portrait. Ear and finger jewelry were exchanged for flashier and more costly pieces. The two chains I wore about my neck had been hidden by the cloak and so didn’t need exchanging. Same for the two badges that hung from my belt. I retrieved my flop hat from my belt and brushed out the red velvet a little before setting it on my head.

 

Feeling fit to attend a reception held by Duke Clifton himself, I was ready to be painted. Fortunately for my retreating nervousness, Iocasee chose that moment to finish his mixing and he turned to me and said, “Ah, Merchant Percantlin. You look magnificent! Such a fine outfit, and that color suits you perfectly. I’m certain this will be a very special painting for your daughter.

 

“I’m sure you are ready to begin, but I thought we should work out some further details before we get too involved. Many people don’t realize it, but background and setting are almost as important as the subject himself in a portrait. Did you have anything in mind?”

 

I have to admit that I hadn’t even considered a background, or lighting, or any of the things that Iocasee and I went over for the next bell. He certainly impressed me with the thought and detail that went into a painting. He even showed me what he meant on the pieces laying around his studio — how lighting could affect the mood of even a portrait; how elements in the background could highlight features, or accent accomplishments. It was all so complex!

 

But we worked it all out to his satisfaction — all I could do was trust that his ideas would work! And then, while we were working out just what exactly should be on the desk that he wanted to use to represent my job, it happened.

 

***

 

“Ledgers, inkwells, pens. What else? Coins? That would be good. Do you usually have a coin box on your desk? Probably not, probably not … but we can use some artistic license here, it will be a good effect. Now, how much and what kind? Maybe …”

 

“Cas, you are wasting the light, dear. You have fortnights to work out these kinds of details, and candlelight works just as well to haggle them by. Why don’t you drag that table over and set it up behind the posing brace to stand in for Percantlin’s desk, and start to work?”

 

 

“Now, how much and what kind? Maybe …” I watched Iocasee scribble away, taking down his thoughts and my few additions. And then, he just stopped in the middle of a thought, his head cocked as though he were listening to something. The silence stretched, and my stomach began to knot as I got an inkling of what was happening.

 

Finally, Iocasee chuckled, breaking the silence. He said, “You’re right, Bronna, I am wasting sunlight. Merchant Percantlin, my love Bronna speaks sense, does she not? Why don’t we get started?”

 

He stood and took his notes over to the table by his easel. Then he came back over and stood at one end of the guest table. He looked at me like he expected something of me, and I realized that the conversation that he had heard and I had not had involved us doing something. I panicked, but only briefly. He lifted the end of the table and gave me a “Well?” look, and I quickly — well, not quickly but I did catch on eventually — moved over and picked up the other end. I did my best to follow him without knowing where we were going, but it didn’t take very long before I grasped what we were doing — this table could be used as the desk we had been discussing, so we were positioning it behind the posing brace. By the time I had deduced that, the table was in place, but at least I had figured it out. Maybe I would be able to function in Iocasee’s presence after all.

 

The painter next adjusted the posing brace, positioning the wooden ‘arms’ just so and tightening the bolts that would keep those ‘arms’ in place. After stepping back to view the whole tableau, he asked me to take my position in front of the brace. He went around behind me to adjust the main part of the brace, the two hands wide vertical piece that would provide a surface for me to lean against. A narrow shelf was adjusted into position so that I could very nearly sit on it as I leaned against the vertical board. As Iocasee moved my arms into position atop and against the ‘arms’ of the brace, I mused about how silly and awkward I felt. Others who had experienced the brace while posing for portraits had commented to me about these feelings, but no one had refused its use, and I could understand why: spending bell after bell standing perfectly still while an artist worked sounded excruciatingly painful!

 

It wasn’t until Iocasee began fastening the clamps against my arms that I realized something about the brace: I would be not only supported and braced by it, held in one position so that the painter wouldn’t have to worry about me changing position as I got tired, or fidgeting as I got bored, but I would also be effectively imprisoned by the device! Trapped in a studio with a madman! What if he got violent? What if he forgot about me at the end of the day? What if he expected his imaginary Bronna to let me go?

 

I struggled as the last clamp was fastened in place, and found that the arm that Iocasee was clamping slid easily out of the three clamps that held that arm against the brace’s ‘arm’. Iocasee said, “I’m sorry, did I tighten that one too tight?”

 

I just shook my head and fumbled for a lie. “No, no you didn’t. It was just … ah … nerves, I guess. Sorry.” I slid my arm back into the clamps, and tested the other arm just to be sure. The clamps gently kept my arms in the position that the brace’s arms had been posed in, but they didn’t bind me to them. I wasn’t a prisoner. My heart stopped its frantic pounding as my nervousness receded again.

 

Another fear I had been contemplating was making conversation with the painter. What if I said the wrong thing? My mind was full of Iocasee’s tragic story, and I worried that I would just blurt out something inappropriate at the wrong moment or something. But he was concentrating entirely too heavily to be interested in small talk, and so I stood — leaned, really — in silence as time passed. The brace was surprisingly comfortable for a contraption of wood and a few metal screws. Almost enough to lull me to sleep, if I was the type to nap before sixth bell. As it was, I spent a lot of time watching the large rectangles of sunlight move across the floor, once I had memorized the contents of the only portion of the studio that I could see thanks to the elements of the brace that kept my head in a single position. Finally, I took to mentally reviewing some of the problems at work to keep myself occupied. Boring was only a very faint description for t his posing stuff!

 

***

 

“Cas, dear.”

 

When he was painting, very little else existed for Iocasee, so he didn’t respond to Bronna at first.

 

“Honey, it’s sixth bell. Cas!”

 

Her voice finally penetrated his concentration. He stopped painting and turned toward the kitchen door. “What, dear?”

 

“It’s time you two took a break, Cas. Lunch is in the kitchen when you are ready. I’m going to the shops. See you later.”

 

***

 

“Bye, love.” Iocasee set down his palette and brush, took an appraising look at his canvas, and nodded. I assumed that his imaginary Bronna had interrupted him, and I wondered what she had told him.

 

He turned to me, smiling, and said, “You should thank my dear Bronna, Percantlin. Without her I would paint until the light failed totally.”

 

He strode toward me and I wondered whether I really should thank his imaginary love. I hesitated. He had said ‘bye’ to her after all, and I didn’t want to look the fool — not to mention injuring Iocasee’s ‘reality’ — by talking to thin air. But he didn’t look offended by my silence, so he must have been speaking rhetorically.

 

He helped me out of the brace carefully, so as not to upset any of its positioning, but also because I had been motionless for several bells and he knew better than I how difficult it sometimes is to resume movement after that. He helped me to a chair by the repositioned guest table and I took a long pull from the mug I had filled before the posing started. It was horribly lukewarm. I looked at the beads of moisture on the sides of the stoneware pitcher I had poured it from originally and realized that I should have waited to fill the mug.

 

Iocasee was walking toward the kitchen door, and he said, “Bronna has gone to the shops, but she left lunch in the kitchen. I’ll be right back with it.”

 

I heard him as I was pouring another, much cooler, mug of water, but I didn’t understand him fully until he was already back carrying a covered tray. Wait, now! How could the intangible Bronna have prepared us lunch?

 

He set the tray on the table and pulled up a chair for himself. Then he lifted the lid from the tray to reveal an assortment of cold meats and cheeses, along with slices of a couple of kinds of bread and a small stone jar that contained mustard. Ah! Mystery solved. This could very well have been prepared this morning, before I ever arrived, whether by a visiting neighbor or Iocasee himself didn’t really matter.

 

Slightly amazed again by how normal things could be in this mad painter’s house, I tucked into the quite filling meal.

 

***

 

Conversation over lunch was minimal — Iocasee wanted to get back to the painting. I asked him how it was going, and got a “Well, very well” that wasn’t elaborated on. I couldn’t come up with any more suitable pleasantries, so I endeavored to keep pace with the painter in devouring lunch and was soon settled comfortably against the posing brace again.

 

The rectangles of sunlight continued to move across the floor, Iocasee painted, and I leaned. In self defense, my mind was once again occupied with warehouse and shipping business — I found myself making rapid progress on several logistical problems I had been putting off dealing with at work.

 

It seemed sudden, but the boxes of light on the floor were just getting ready to slide past where I was posed to plunge me into the relative gloom of the rest of the studio when a noise came from the kitchen. The sudden breaking of the silence that had filled the studio for bell after bell was startling to both of us: I jerked an arm out of the clamps on the brace turning toward the sound, and I was sure that I heard Iocasee curse as his brush slipped when he flinched.

 

The kitchen door started to open, and I stared hard at it, nearly convinced that I was going to see Bronna by some means. Perhaps Iocasee’s madness was catching. Or maybe I had gone as insane as he from standing so idle for so long.

 

But it wasn’t Bronna who poked their head through the door, it was Rendon, looking sheepish. “Sorry, Cas — I hope I didn’t startle you two. Bronna asked me to help her bring the shopping back, and I tripped while I was helping her put stuff away.

 

“Anyway, she wanted me to remind you that it is getting late and the good light is almost gone. She says you should let Percantlin go home to supper — he’s probably bored out of his mind from standing there so long.”

 

Iocasee was already wiping at the streak his slipped brush had made, and he said, “She’s right — it is getting late. And no, you didn’t startle us too much, Rendon. No harm done, eh Merchant Percantlin?”

 

I shook my head, bemused at Rendon’s ‘shopping’ reference. Iocasee had mentioned that Bronna had gone shopping, hadn’t he? How had Rendon known?

 

Putting that aside for the moment, I stepped out of the posing brace carefully. I was as stiff as before, and Rendon darted across the room to help me steady myself, so I didn’t fall and disturb the brace or hurt myself. I stretched stiff muscles, got my balance, and walked slowly over to where the painting rested. “Can I take a look, Iocasee?”

 

He had finished minimizing his mistake, and was busy wiping his brushes down and dropping them in a jar of really strong smelling stuff. He said, “Sure, sure. Just remember, it is only a beginning, though it *is* going well I think.”

 

The canvas looked like a charcoal sketch, but done in colors. Outlines everywhere, capturing details exactly. Me, my clothes, even my jewelry. The table was sketched in behind me, its top empty for now. I was both amazed at how little had actually been finished after all that sitting — nothing had been colored in, nothing looked “finished” really — and startled at how good even this preliminary sketching looked. I was sure that my Bronna would be proud to hang the finished product in her new home in Kiliaen.

 

“Amazing, Iocasee, just amazing,” I enthused.

 

He beamed, and said, “And if you like it now, you will love it in seven sennights!” I had to agree.

 

Rendon also approved, though he didn’t look as surprised as I had. He said, “How about another round before you head home, Cant?”

 

I said, “Sure,” and then automatically turned to the painter and said, “You’re welcome too, Iocasee. You’ve certainly earned a good stiff drink.”

 

I didn’t see Rendon’s head shaking an emphatic ‘No’ until I had already done the deed. Iocasee seemed to be mulling it over, and I could swear that he had decided to come when he turned toward the kitchen as if listening to someone speaking from there. He wore a rueful smile when he turned back, and he said, “I’d better help Bronna finish putting the groceries away. Maybe another time?

 

“Now, I’ll see you again in four days time. Same bell if you can. And think about bringing some stuff from your desk at work — it will help me fill in those details. I probably won’t need them next time, but soon. All right?”

 

Rendon had visibly sighed when Iocasee turned down my inadvertent invitation. I had a few questions for the helpful neighbor, so I retrieved my cloak, said farewell to Iocasee, and we left.

 

Back in the local bar, most of a tankard of that fine ale already gone, I began, “Ah, I wanted to ask a few things, Rendon, if I could. Like, Iocasee said at lunch that Bronna had gone shopping, and then you show up with groceries. How did you know that he had said that? Were you in the kitchen? Did you fix that lunch while I was posing?”

 

“No, no, tis simpler’n that, Cant. This is the day one of us always brings the shopping, that’s why he said Bronna had gone out. As for the lunch, I think Cas fixed it this morning. It was cold meat and bread, right? Easy for him to do, and I’ve seen him do things before, and then say Bronna did ‘em.”

 

I nodded. I should have thought that Iocasee’s food needs were resupplied regularly. And I had been right about the lunch, too. Probably. “Okay then, what about when I asked him here with us? You didn’t seem to think that was a good idea. Why?”

 

He took a drink, then said, “Ol’ Cas doesn’t do quite as well in strange parts as he does in his home. He doesn’t come out often — maybe twice a year, once on his birth day, and once on the anniversary of the day Bronna left him. That one he calls Bronna’s birthday, even though Bronna was born in Nober, and he celebrates it in Firil.

 

“But there’s always a large group of us with him, to keep him in the right frame of mind. I remember once in Yuli, his birthday, only three of us could make it out with him. I don’t know why, maybe there was too much of reality pressing in at him, but he reverted back to the ‘Bronna is dead’ times, and started weeping and wailing about how his life was over. The three of us had a troublesome time getting him back home, but once he was there, it was like everything was back to normal all at once. He went from despair to the happiness of celebrating his birthday just crossing over his threshold. Very, very strange, but you can see why I wasn’t eager for him to join us today.

 

“That studio is more than his livelihood, Cant. It’s his sanctuary, plain and simple.”

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