The sculptor threw aside the chiseled bust of his commissioner. The duke would hate it. Shaking hands picked up the stone. Ah, it looked much better, with that curl missing. Now, it lacked that lively edge that made the duke seem an impetuous youth. Slowly, he carved the hair into something more refined, and the duke as he was now appeared. Absently, he wondered what had happened to change the lively young Achille into the stern man he was now.
Had his father finally beaten it out of him with fists and feet? Had he gotten a too-convincing tutor? Had one of his adventures in the desert gone bad? Perhaps, he just grew into it. With a sigh, the old man set aside the stern bust, made to join the library once Achille’s heir took over the duchy. He looked it in the eye. It held all of the life of the man– a relatively small amount, as it was.
Click. Click. Some noble’s boots approached. Quickly, the sculptor threw a cloth cover over the bust and set it aside as the noble arrived. He turned to look. Instead of a man, he saw a young woman wearing the common garb of many a commoner, save those boots. He looked her up and down, but couldn’t recognize her. “Can I help you?” he asked after several moments of awkward silence as she sized him up.
“I’d like to see some samples. I wish to commission you, if your quality is up to snuff.” Her manner of speech was unusual– a mix of common-speech and the distinct manner of nobility. Her tone softened and became more quiet. “I’ll pay handsomely, Horatio Scultore.” She tilted her head and waited.
Slowly, Horatio began to remove his cloth and leather covers, save the bust of Achille. The woman seemed impressed, and finally nodded. “Yes, I think you can manage this.” She took a deep breath. “I want you to, in secret, sculpt these five people together. I want it to be a foot tall.” She handed over a rolled-up painting, and he slowly unfurled it. It looked like a newly restored antique.
Horatio looked it over. “I can give it a shot, but I expect half payment up front, just like with everyone else.” He doubted she would be able to pay, if she wore such simple clothing. “I want seventy-five hundred up front, and another when I finish.”
The woman nodded. “That sounds fair. I’ll add thirty thousand extra if you finish by the duke’s birthday, and meet my expectations.” Her voice was cool, but sounded friendly enough.
The old sculptor frowned. “That’s quite soon. I’ll only have a few months.” He rubbed his chin. The extra coin was more than generous– it was an outright bribe. “I’ll do what I can.” He could barely contain the greed-filled smile that lit his face.
“I will have the stone brought here tomorrow morning. I expect excellence.” She paused a moment. “Also, do keep the project secret. I want nobody to know of it, and I will come with a servant to pick it up on the proper day. If it isn’t ready then, we will wait for your word. I want it done, even if it is late.” She hugged herself absently at the mention of having a servant.
He smiled. “I’ll have it ready by then.” he promised as she tossed him a filled purse. He dumped it onto a scale and marvelled. It was exactly seven thousand, five hundred of Saldecla’s gold coins. “I’ll have it ready for certain.” His eyes shone in the gold’s reflection.
Her tone became cold as she watched him rudely measure the gold in front of her. “Perhaps when I return for my sculpture, you will be less rude.” she chided with narrowed eyes.
Thoroughly chagrined, Horatio quickly bowed. “I’ll do my best, Miss. Forgive my rudeness. Only rarely is anyone so generous.” He swallowed his pride and forced a smile.
Seemingly satisfied, the woman left. A curl of red hair was visible under her turban, and he thought nothing of it.
The following months were filled with work. He spent little time among his family, but gave them most of the money and promised that they would become wealthy once he finished a project he couldn’t tell them about. They were suspicious, but trusted the head of their household as he worked days and nights, sleeping only when he could stay awake no longer. The money lasted well, even with unexpected purchases.
Horatio continued his work. A girl in armor appeared from the black granite, followed by a tall girl with glasses and a cold expression, who held a level-one flame spell book. Next to appear was a girl with an angelic face who seemed to hide behind her low-level book of healing magic. Finally, a young man with a bow and a cocky face appeared. At last, the leader of the group slowly appeared. He stood at the front, garbed in piecemeal armor that looked stolen from the barracks of an old Driazhek City armory. The boy at the front looked strong-willed and lively.
When the duke’s birthday arrived, the sculpture was complete, and the young woman arrived with a servant to pick it up. She inspected it carefully.
“Yes… this is worth the coin.” She nodded, and her servant handed a heavy sack of gold coins to Horatio before he carefully padded the sculpture and loaded it into a crate.
Horatio cleared his throat. “Please, be careful.” he urged with worry. Something about that sculpture being stuffed away, out of light and away from the vision of people, made his chest ache. “It’s delicate.” Worry made his voice shake.
The young woman blinked at the man, then smiled. “Don’t worry. We’ll be very careful. It’s a gift to someone I care about a lot.” She held her hand out. “I’ll need the painting back.”
The sculptor handed it over. “I’d like to see it, if it’s displayed publicly.” He wrung his hands together. He felt oddly attached to the sculpted children.
With a laugh, the young woman nodded. “I’m going to put it on display. I want the recipient to find it on his own.” She grinned, then snapped her fingers. “Well, off I go.” She waved as she followed her servant from the sculptor’s studio.