"Keep your arms up," Albert reminded her, and she brought her mind
back into Nimue. I am a magical
nymph, she told herself. I am enslaving an ancient wizard. I
do not wish to work on a farm again.
Her raw lungs and full bladder only increased in discomfort, but she
stood steadfast and focused on Alberts hands as they performed their
infinitely delicate work, drawing her. He
had beautiful fingers, long and bony, with a rainbow of paint always under the
nails, and to Famkes mind they produced wonders.
They had drawn her as an earthly Valkyrie, in a cloak made of swans
feathers (and nothing else); painted her as a nearly naked Gunnlod, the
loveliest of the primordial Norse giants, watching over the three kettles of
wisdom in a deep deep cave (Albert seemed to be very fond of caves).
And now this Nimue, a wizards lover, who could be from Scandinavia but
would be of great interest to the English critics who could make Alberts
fortune. Famke had never heard of
Merlin or of Nimue, but Albert was teaching her a great deal about the mythology
of her people. He liked to set her
lessons from the travelers guidebooks scattered over the mantel.
"Maidens blood," Albert said, repeating.
He picked up a dry brush and ran it over the sketched Nimue.
Famke watched from the corner of one wide eye as the charcoal lines
blurred, and in blurring, came to a more vivid sense of life.
It never failed to fascinate her, this transformation from paper and coal
into human figure. Her
She maintained the pose until, some minutes later, Albert opened a few
tubes of paint and splotched a page with shades of weak blue and stark white,
marking out the rhythm of color. It
was clear there was to be a lot of ice.
With this, Albert nodded to her; she was through.
Famke stepped off the little platform, looking askance at the pillows
shed been posing with; she and Albert did not have many, and she knew they
wouldnt be sleeping with these until the painting was finished or abandoned.
They must keep their pose, too.
"What shall I call this one?" Albert asked conversationally as he
mixed a thin, bright red. "The
Revenge of Nimue . . . The Ravishment of Merlin . . . "
Famke took the chamberpot from under the bed and, at last, went to a
corner to relieve herself. Albert
could go on in this vein for hours, and he usually chose the most descriptive
and least pronounceable title possible ("The
Violated Nimue, Enraged, Casting Spells Over Merlins Prison") for works
he would eventually disown. Very
little of Albert Castles labor seemed to yield the results he desired, what
he saw in his minda pantheon of celestial nymphs and robust goddesses, all
with Famkes white skin and wild hair, demonstrating the myths of power and
betrayal that had moved him ever since he opened his first book of poetry.
He expected perfection and disappointed himself each time he picked up
pencil or brush; and each time, the gesture grew in importance:
His father had sworn to support Albert only up to his twenty-fifth
birthday, which would come on the first day of April.
If Albert did not manage to produce a salable painting in that time, he
would have to join his fathers pencil-manufacturing company.
But before any painting was half done, he deemed it unsatisfactory; he
broke them all over his knee or tore them to bits, then took off at a run
through the streets to purge his frustration.
Even now Albert picked up a heel of their morning bread and rubbed it
over half the sketched page, erasing some mistake.
The one scrap that Famke had managed to preserve hung in a dark corner
above their washtub, where he would be least tempted to destroy it.
This was the first sketch he had ever made of her, and Famke looked up at
it as she relieved herself:a farm
girl, a tender of geese and pigs, with the cap pushed back on her head and a
butterfly light in her eyes. Every
detail was perfect; it was Famke exactly as she wished to see herself in those
days, and it had taken him only an hour to complete.
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