Canvas

Canvas

A Story by DryBones
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Teaser scene from my novel. (It is the opening scene so never fear!)

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Kafele Roshan Ayaan Silver-bones stumbled over my threshold on a day practically bristling with heat. At the time, she was known only as Roshan. She tumbled inside, a mess of dirt and sand, making quite the ruckus as she coughed up a lung before speaking. To say I was surprised to see her was an understatement; my estate is quite in the middle of Desert’s wilds, although my wife and I can walk to the oceanside cliffs to the east in little time at all. I started to my feet, watching my grimy, wind-blown guest look up at me with desperation.

            “Oh, good sir,” she rasped, her voice hoarse, “can I beg some water from you? My skin is empty, and I have a long way to go.” She held up a pathetically small and sadly worn little water skin, and I was more than willing to oblige the poor thing.

            “This way, my daughter,” I said, guiding her to the courtyard of my villa. There was the quiet murmur of voices and laughter from my servants and their families, milling about leisurely in the quiet, hot afternoon. I could already smell the meat cooking for dinner, the aroma floating to my nostrils from the kitchens.

            I snapped my fingers at my servants, instructing them to tend to the young woman. She bowed gracefully to both, thanking them profusely as they filled her skin from the handpump near the palm trees and then filling a tankard for her to drink at once. I stayed in the shade as she settled herself onto a bench with a groan, taking a moment to evaluate my visitor. Catching sight of the longbow strapped to her back, I stepped forward into the sun " spirits help us, but it was brutal that day! " and sat beside her, asking, “I can’t help but notice your weapon. Are you a Legionnaire; to be so deep in the Wilds by yourself?”

            Her shoulders stiffened. She shook her head, taking another long draught from her tankard before replying. “No, Master, I am a Royal Courier.” She swiped at a dribble of water running down her chin, leaving a streak in her dirt-covered face. “We find that there are times we need the… authority a longbow brings, so all couriers are skilled with them.” A hint of a smile curled at her mouth, and I couldn’t help but notice how oddly her muscles worked to form that expression. She couldn’t have smiled often, for it to look so very much like a grimace.

            I couldn’t blame my young guest for that. To be such a young woman working as a royal courier, she must not have a great deal to smile about. My heart ached for her. “Do you have your own steed, my daughter?”

            “Yes, Master, I do,” she said, pride glowing in her dark eyes. “I saved my wages to buy him myself, just a few months ago now.” The sun gleamed on her midnight-black skin as she bent to fix her bootlace. “He was a nasty colt to begin with, sir,” she admitted, turning to glance at me with that almost-smile.

            “Did you break him yourself?”

            Roshan " though I did not know her name at the time " set her tankard on the bench at her side and went to work peeling off her headwrap, grimacing as she shook the dirt of its folds. I got a clear view of her face then, and it was all I could do not to suck a breath in through my teeth.

            I have… a unique skill set that allows me to see potential in others. Often, when I receive a revelation about someone, my ears start to burn. There are others signs, too, like a surety that settles down in my gut, but my ears are usually my go-to guideposts. Well, one look at Roshan’s unveiled face and they were positively on fire. She had an honest, diamond-shaped face, large, clear black eyes and skin so dark it seemed to be velvet. Her hair was short when she visited me, but a massive, daunting mane of black curls nonetheless. I was an old man, to say the least, when Roshan visited my home, but she was shorter and wirier than even I. It was doubtful she ate enough.

            “I did break him,” she said, grinning now. The expression still seemed strained and bit unnatural, but it was genuine and her teeth were white and straight. Her canines were slightly pointed even then. “I named him Adder for the scar he gave me,” she chuckled drily, gesturing to the long, silvery line running down her face.

            “That is quite the accomplishment, nonetheless,” I insisted. “We do not breed stallions to be docile in the Desert.” She snorted in acknowledgement, examining her hands. I tilted my head, scratching my beard as I watched her. “And while you know it is no small feat, I daresay you are not satisfied.”

            Her black eyes shot up to meet mine, guarded now. “How do you mean?”

            “You aren’t content, are you? There’s something more you want than to spend your life a courier with a stallion and a longbow for company.”

            Her mouth opened and closed. I watched her eyes as she chose her next words, marveling at the cautious way she had. “You speak truth,” she admitted, then sighed. “I have always dreamed of becoming a Legionnaire; ever since I was a little girl.” Roshan ran a hand over her curls, sadness in her eyes now. Her eyes were the most expressive part of her; the rest of her body she kept tightly controlled. “Unfortunately, the Artist has not chosen me to receive one of his magical tattoos.” She frowned now. “Actually, Master, I heard recently that people are starting to think the Artist dead.”

            I guffawed a little too loudly at that. Dead? People were thinking me dead? I snorted to myself, crossing my arms over my chest. Roshan’s piercing look, however, impelled me to clear my clear my throat and change the subject. “Perhaps,” I offered, returning to our train of thought a moment before, “your true purpose has not been revealed to you yet. Perhaps you need only to wait a little longer and Destiny will overtake you, hmm?”

            She did not respond, eyes veiled; but I swear by the Great Spirits her thoughts and her heart pleaded that I had spoken truth. And for good reason " she was nearly at the end of her rope.

            When I met Roshan, she was an orphan of some seven odd years, her age about eighteen. She was used to looking out for herself and tending to her own needs, learning early on that dreams were insufficient breadwinners. Roshan had sold herself to the sovereign’s service as a courier, enduring the brutal conditions couriers often faced and having to work twice as hard just to keep herself alive. Couriers were not the most well-mannered men, to say the least, and Roshan had learned quickly how to survive: do her own work, never ask for help, keep her mouth shut and become very skilled at physical defense. At this point in her life, Roshan had barely any money, no prospects, and no one who cared whether she lived or died, so long as her messages were delivered.

            How she survived such a life, I could not imagine. But by the spirits, I was determined to do all within my power to make Roshan’s dreams come true.

            Running my fingers through my white beard, I asked calmly, “Is there anything more I can do for you, Courier?”

            She shook her head, a graceful, small movement, standing to her feet with barely more than a whisper of fabric. “You have given me a fighting chance to make it to Shifting Sands by tomorrow morning,” she smiled softly, “and I cannot thank you enough for shortening my journey so. I did not wish to stop at Windcurse Keep for the night.” She shuddered.

            I grinned behind my beard, rising to my feet. She did not realize the surprises I had in store for her, not yet. But she would not leave my house without receiving a gift from me. I led her the longer way through the villa, forcing her path through my tattooing room. I glanced over my shoulder at her, watching her eyes light up.

            “Are you a tattoo artist, Master?” she inquired, black eyes positively glittering.

            I had succeeded. “Why, yes, I am, my daughter.”

            She chewed her thin bottom lip, fingers working nervously. “May… May I ask for a few myself?”

            I half-bowed. “It would be my honor, lady. What do you have in mind?”

            She scratched her ear, smile sheepish. “Forgive me, Master, but there are specific things I have wanted tattooed for some years now. I can never find the time in Shifting Sands.”

            “Why are you apologizing, my daughter?”

            “Well,” her voice trailed off. “They are not the easiest designs, Master.”

            I puffed my chest out a bit. “I’ll have you know, my daughter, that I am the most skilled artist in a century. Tell, me, what are your ideas?”

            So she told me. Something akin to pride for the young woman bloomed in my chest " she was brave to ask for some of the designs she did. When she finished describing what she wanted to me, my ears burned anew. It was definite, then " she would receive tattoos of power this day. I called for my wife, Imogen, and she assisted me as I set to work on my young visitor.

            First, I set to work on her arms. On her left forearm, she had requested a simple, but dangerous-looking arrow. I used magical white ink so that the tattoo would be visible against her ebony skin. I gladly imbued that one with life, knowing it would give her some form of psychic abilities; I could not say what form precisely. She was completely still as I inked the thing from the pit of her elbow to her wrist, earning more respect from me. Roshan was brave, that was certain. Next came the most difficult bit. Roshan had asked for two different binding runes.

            “These two are personal,” she had said to me. “My father and mother used to tell me stories of the Great Spirits when they were alive. My favorite stories were about Elkür and the Reapers. Father had a tattoo around his wrist that read, “Friend of the Underworld.” He called it his good luck charm, should Death come knocking.” Her voice had grown even softer, barely above a whisper. “My whole family is dead now. I suppose that makes me a friend of Death, too.”

            “Do you know what they say about binding runes?” I had asked her. When Roshan shook her head in the negative, I said slowly, “It is said that binding runes seep deeply into your skin, reaching your very spirit. Once they are awakened, there is no way to predict what they have roped your soul into doing.”

            Roshan’s brows had knit softly in thought. “I take these binding runes with wisdom and protection in mind,” she returned after a moment. “I would have them, Master.”

            As I began with the powerful binding runes, I couldn’t help but marvel at her wisdom. There was an otherworldly aspect to my visitor, I knew then, and the binding runes were right. Determination to etch that tattoo perfectly supported me as the binding runes began to buck and battle against me, their ancient power threatening to blast my tool from my hand. She had asked, too, for the rune for sight to be tattooed onto each of her temples. Roshan grunted uncomfortably when I sketched those into her skin, but kept still. The tiny, detailed runes practically sang with power as they were corded together. I had to rest after wrestling those into place, my dear wife supplying both of us with food and drink.

            When my power returned to me, we began the last tattoo she had requested " one I was particularly excited to try my hand at. As the one and only Artist, all of my tattoos are… a different level of excellent, I suppose, but I enjoyed her last request. A beautiful, nearly tribal etching of a dragon in flight sprawled across her shoulder blades and black by the time I was finished, white ink shining in the lamplight. Life danced into that tattoo, hardly needing any guidance from me.

            My wife’s gift had slowed time for us, so when I had finished, the day had grown no older than when I had begun. Thoughtful of her visitor, I must say, who was anxious to be on her way, though exhaustion radiated from her. “There you are, child,” I murmured, sitting gratefully on a stool.

            Roshan bowed gracefully to me, the white bandages stark against her dark skin. “I cannot thank you enough, Master. They are exquisite.”

            I smiled at her. “I hope I will meet you again and see how they have protected you.”

            Roshan’s grin was a flash of white in her dark face. “I’m sure I’ll be stranded in the Wilds again soon, Master.”

            “May they serve you well,” I murmured, waving her out before she could begin to ask questions. My Imogen met her by her horse with food and other provisions ready for her. The arrow tattoo was the only one I could predict; there was no way to guess how the others would manifest themselves.

            Imogen re-entered the room, smiling at me. “Crafty old man,” she accused, eyes twinkling. I chucked and took her hand. “You chose your canvas well, Husband.”

            “Indeed,” I agreed with a bob of my head. The sound of hooves thundering away from the villa came to my ears, and I smiled anew. “Indeed, she will be worthy of the power she receives.”

           


© 2017 DryBones



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Added on October 7, 2017
Last Updated on October 7, 2017

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DryBones
DryBones

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"When I'm writing, it's the only time I don't feel like I should be doing something else." more..

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