Story for the Day: Portrait of a High Lord
I'm still in the middle of rewrites. I had to write this or I couldn't continue.
Portrait of a High Lord
|Kai Linaa's portrait of Alasdair.|
Kai Linaa had finished the portrait of King Alasdair by the early afternoon, and once she had done, the parchment was carefully taken to Tomas and Shayne where the two labourers would create a backing and suitable frame for the drawing. It was to be hung in the gallery amidst all the other likenesses of Frewyn’s past kings and queens, and though Kai Linaa protested, claiming her attempts to capture Alasdair’s agreeable person and handsome features were meager at best, Tomas and Shayne negated any refutation that Kai Linaa might conjure. They gloried in creating a setting for the piece and would not allow so noble a task to be taken from them by Kai Linaa’s thoughts of insufficiency.
She had thought to practice drawing Carrigh when she observed High Lord Dobhin walking from the barracks to the soldier’s mess. She said her hellos to him as he passed, but an idea soon entered her mind that once was there would not be removed. Perhaps if she was to draw him instead of the queen at present she would exercise her abilities without having to disrupt either part of the royal couple. She decided against it, however, and returned to her place at the table when the commander and Dobhin entered the kitchen together.
“Your friend Dobhin has just seen his majesty’s portrait being taken to the yeoman’s quarter,” the commander said with an arch grin. “You realize you cannot have a portrait of a king without one of a high lord to complement it.”
Kai Linaa hardly knew what to say. She wished to have Dobhin sit for her but was made to understand that the portrait was meant to be a travesty toward Alasdair. It was true that the king had made her suffer all the agitation of a royal artisan without experiencing half of its pleasures but this did not warrant such a mockery as the commander was suggesting. She was pressed to say no until Dobhin flashed his brilliant smile at her. All of her reserve on the subject was done away and Kai Linaa consented to the task of taking the High Lord’s portrait.
He sat with her at the table, and the experience was so completely different than it had been with Alasdair as to make her wonder how two men of equal birth and similar upbringing could act in so divergent a manner. Where Alasdair was fastidious, Dobhin was lenient, and the High Lord did little more than sit in his chair and smile for the entire affair. He gave her no instruction, no direction to follow, told her nothing of what features to pronounce and which side of his face was to be lit by the sun. Drawing Dobhin was a pleasure, and Kai Linaa delighted in his kindly company, making various sketches and retaking him from several angles until evening came.
Court was adjourned for the day and, being anxious to have Carrigh’s picture drawn while Kai Linaa was yet at the table, Alasdair hurried to his wife’s workplace to fetch her for her turn at sitting. Upon reaching the tailor, however, Alasdair found that Carrigh had gone on an errand to retrieve some materials for a new gown and would not return to the keep for at least another hour. He smiled to himself as he went to the kitchen, thinking of his excellent creature for a wife, but when he reached his destination, he saw Dobhin and Kai Linaa sitting together: they were speaking and laughing together, and doing everything that recommended the contrary to her purpose. In Alasdair’s estimation, artistry required silence and reflection and here were an artist and High Lord holding high revel while she was holding her implements in hand. He regarded their meeting with a flat look, and Alasdair felt the jealousy of the situation begin to rise within him. He went to the table and interrupted their enjoyment by asking Kai Linaa if she would be inclined to draw himself and the queen a few hours hence. Of course he was obliged, but Alasdair could not rejoice at her kindness when seeing the portrait of High Lord Dobhin that Kai Linaa has just finished.
It was all excellence and perfection, just as the subject himself: the unexceptionable smile, the striking features, the confidence of air was all conveyed in the lines and the style of drawing. Alasdair’s image had been well done but this likeness was faultless. It was enough that Dobhin was wealthier, better-looking, more admired, more accomplished, more courageous, more diplomatic and more estimable than Alasdair. It was enough that he had been promoted countless times for his achievements throughout the kingdom and wore his livery with unabashed complacence. It was enough that Dobhin had every advantage of birth, rank and situation to recommend him, and it was all done without effort. His perfection was inborn while Alasdair’s was worked at. He was altogether too exemplary, and all of his impeccable qualities were captured with equal aptness.
Alasdair stood behind Kai Linaa and stared at the portrait in bitter infuriation. His fists shook, his shoulders tensed, and his mouth pursed to silence the outburst of hatred he had been suppressing for the past few minutes. He was joined by the commander, who just emerged from the larder with her dinner in hand came to see the finished image and give her opinion. She said nothing, however, and only smiled at Alasdair’s crimsoned countenance.
“I’m thoroughly convinced that being a model is the greatest occupation in the world,” Dobhin said with all his usual superiority and good spirits. “To be kept and glimpsed at by a beautiful woman for hours is the only way to pass an afternoon.”
Kai Linaa giggled and blushed but quieted when she saw Alasdair’s fists tighten and his knuckles pale.
“Come now, Brennin,” Dobhin said, leaning back in his chair. “Do tell me how it looks.”
Alasdair grumbled a few words together, from which could only be deciphered the word nice.
“Nice?” Dobhin exclaimed. He stood from his chair and went to see what the king had deemed nice. “This is not nice, Brennin. This is splendid,” Dobhin said, patting Alasdair on the back. “Madam Kai Linaa, your skill has done me an immeasurable credit.”
Kai Linaa could not help the flushing of her cheeks. She had been used to compliments from her mate but not from one so far removed in acquaintance from herself. She knew his remarks were ingenuous and were therefore pleasantly beguiling. She succumbed to embarrassed smiles and did her utmost to hide her happiness from Alasdair.
He had only received the comment of how difficult he was to draw and here was the High Lord just as he always was portrayed: perfect without ever having need to exert himself. Dobhin had only to admire the portrait while it was Alasdair’s occupation to sulk and be miserable, but even in his dour state, Alasdair did notice that the commander said nothing. She did not even so much as smirk, and he was soon being taken into the main hall by her, leaving the High Lord to fawn over his own image.
“Being Frewyn’s greatest king is so small a feat in comparison with being an everything else,” the commander said to Alasdair once they were clear of the kitchen.
He ignored her conjecture and muttered, “Why must he always ruin everything?”
“He has not yet ruined your wife. If you must have everything as a matter of winning and losing, I believe you won on that account.”
Alasdair sighed. He was angry at being envious of someone who had no intention of disparaging him, and though Dobhin was all perfection, Alasdair was forced to admit that perhaps he was so because he did not care to try. It was his easy temper that offended him most, and Alasdair acknowledged that his indignity was mostly of his own creation.
The commander placed a hand on her friend’s shoulder and whispered, “If it is any consolation you have a lovely curl in your hair today.”
Alasdair half-smiled and shook his head at her.
She invited him to dinner in the commons until Carrigh should return, but upon entering the main room of the commander’s residence, she told Alasdair that the idea of Dobhin’s portrait had been her own design. “I thought to have it hung right outside your chambers so that you may look at it every morning and pine over how horrid it is that you were not born Dobhin Reghan, High Lord of Farriage.”
Alasdair, though disconcerted, understood her intimation and resolved that in time he would learn not to be resentful of someone whose life he had no wish to live. He had all the blessings of an intimate friend, stunning wife and beloved kingdom, and these were things which upon close examination Alasdair realized his rival might never attain. The High Lord could keep his portrait, for the flawlessness of existence was all Alasdair’s at present.