Painted Serenity Death

Posted: February 26, 2014 in Fantasy, Fiction
Tags: , , , ,

This week’s Chuck Wendig Challenge. I made a habit of doing a lot of these last year, and all more or less within spec. I’ve taken a looser approach, having skipped several this year already. This one clocks in at over 2k words, but I’m still pretty happy with how it came out. Happy enough to christen this blog with it anyway.

Painted Serenity Death

Ismael dipped his brush into the inkpot and was just starting a fine line across the porcelain mask when the door to his shop opened.  He cleared his throat and his apprentice darted up from where he was mixing paints, bowing as he walked.

“Good masters, good masters,” Artur said, “come I, come in.” Ismael looked up from the mask long enough to see who entered, catching their reflection in the sliver of mirror set above his workspace. A richly dressed man, fine in an ermine lined coat, the hilt of his sword gilded, and a thumb sized jewel hanging from a heavy silver chain around his neck. His tricorn hat dripped water onto the floor, and his moustaches drooped wetly, both a product of the spring rains currently besieging the city. Behind him was a manservant, similarly dressed, though otherwise unarmed. He stood like a soldier, legs braced apart, and he looked around the shop, noting any exits. Hardly a typical servant then.

“Can I offer you some refreshment? Coffee? Chocolate?” Artur asked.

“Is this Ismael the mask-makers shop?” the richly dressed man asked.

“It is,” Artur said. “As you can well see, my master creates some of the most stunning masks in all of-”

“I didn’t come to speak to the apprentice, boy,” the man said, tugging off his gloves, placing them in his belt. “Where is your master?”

“Ah, that is-”

Ismael scowled down at the mask, finished the line he was working on, and stood up. “I am the one you seek, fine master,” he said, offering a perfunctory bow. The bodyguard scowled, used to his master receiving more deference than this common craftsman was offering. “May I inquire as to the nature of this visit? I can’t recall the last time the Lord Mayor’s seneschal ran his own errands, and certainly not to such a humble shop such as mine. So, what does Afonso Peixoto require?”

The seneschal stared down at Ismael, his brow furrowing. “You are Ismael? I expected-”

“Someone younger? Perhaps taller? Perhaps someone with two arms?” Ismael interrupted, a half-smile crossing his face. “Does it matter what you expected? You can see for yourself the work that I do, the quality of my craftsmanship. All you see displayed is on offer, though a man of your stature perhaps requires a piece crafted to more exact specifications.”

“Hmm. Yes. I am after something rather special,” Peixoto replied. He looked over the masks on display in their azures, vermilions, verdants, and tangerines. Each was richly decorated with gems and feathers, all prepared for the carnival season to come. “You are truly skilled at your craft.”

Ismael inclined his head at the compliment. “Thank you for your compliment. But I still don’t understand why you are here?”

“I understand you are familiar with the construction of death masks,” Peixoto said.

Ismael narrowed his eyes. “There is not much call for those,” he said. “An archaic custom, much fallen out of favor.”

Peixoto smiled, thin lips pressed up slightly at the corners. His green eyes were hard as emeralds. “I am a bit of a traditionalist.”

“Of course,” Ismael murmured. “Artur, I need you to go down to Bieto’s. He was to get some more of the indigo I required.”

“Really, Master? I checked yesterday and we had-“

“Are you questioning me, Artur?” Ismael asked, his voice quiet and soft as silk.

“No, Master. I’ll go right now, Master.”

Once Artur departed, Ismael turned back to Peixoto. “You must excuse my apprentice. His impertinence remains the biggest stumbling block to his success, and there are certain conversations he’s not yet prepared to hear.” He wiped his hand on his apron. “May I inquire as to whom the death mask is for?”

“Vitor Montecalvo. Do you know him?” Peixoto asked.

“I’ve heard the name, enough to know there’s a younger and an older. The older is the Captain of the City Watch, isn’t he?”

Peixoto nodded. “You are well informed for a simple craftsmen.”

Ismael shrugged in response. “It behooves even simple craftsmen to stay informed.”

“Indeed. I am referring to the younger. Do you know anything about him other than the name?”

“A few rumors is all. A skilled swordsman, some say even to rival his father when he was in his prime. Has an eye for the ladies, and perhaps the men if the more salacious gossip is to believed. A frequent patron of the theatre, though more to be seen than for any appreciation of art. He’s said to have killed at least three people in duels, though there is no firm evidence of that, and even if there was, his father is the Captain of the Watch.”

Peixoto snorted. “I should put you on my payroll,” he said. “You can up the number to five killed in duels, another one that will never walk again, and a seventh who would be well-advised to wear one of your masks for the rest of his life. He also has aspirations beyond his station, having been caught with the daughter of the Lord Mayor on more than one occasion. Unchaperoned.”

“She’s what sixteen? I can appreciate the Lord Mayor’s apprehension,” Ismael murmured. “The Montecalvo’s aren’t quite nobility, are they?”

Peixoto smirked. “You begin to approach the nature of the problem. A pregnancy would complicate the matter, especially as the Lord Mayor has plans for his daughter already. If something did occur, and Vitor claimed it as his own…”

“Politics bore me,” Ismael said. “I understand the nature of the problem, and I understand what you want me to do. It is best we keep the conversation to that alone.”

“I have additional intelligence you may find useful,” Peixoto said.

“Doubtful. You do not know my methods, nor do I trust yours. There is only the matter of price.”

“We are prepared to offer you-“

“Five hundred.” Ismael said. “Paid in full and before the deed is done. Young Montecalvo will receive his death mask within two weeks. The money is to be deposited with Peredo’s Counting House. The account is under the name Artur Corado.”

“Your apprentice?”

“It is a useful fiction,” Ismael responded.

“Five hundred though.” Peixoto coughed. “That is quite an extraordinary sum.”

“It is an extraordinary thing you ask me to do, Afonso Peixoto. You know my reputation, or you would not be here. I do not haggle, even when it comes to my more common masks. You want to pay for lesser craftsmanship, you run the risk of shoddy work.”

“I see. It will take some time to arrange for the funds,” he said.

Ismael turned back to the mask he was working on. “That is not my concern,” he remarked, picking up his brush and going back to work. “I will begin once payment is made and not before. I trust you can see yourself out?”

“Of course. Good day Maestro Ismael.”

“Good day, Seneschal .”

*****

Vitor stumbled out into the street with his friends, all laughing and slapping each other on the back.

“What a play!” he declared before swigging from a bottle and passing it to his companion, Nicolau.

Nicolau, a small, rat-faced man took a much smaller draught. “If you say so, Vitor. I always have trouble following these comedies. Give me a good tragedy every day.”

“Heh,” answered Aleixo, snatching the vessel from Nicolau. “Does it matter what they said? The lead actress certainly had the right attributes.” He cupped his hands in front of his chest to an exaggerated degree, lest his companions have any doubt as to his meaning.

Vitor clucked his tongue sharply. “Gentlemen, gentlemen. Please, show some class.” He smiled. “Though I wouldn’t mind resting my head on those pillows come night.”

Nicolau punched Vitor lightly in the arm. “Knowing you, you would do more than rest,” he said, thrusting his hips forward in a lewd display.

Vitor smacked him across the back of his head. “Hush you! This is why you struggle with women, Nicolau, always failing to keep your baser instincts in check.”

Alexio snorted. “Unlike you, Vitor? What will you do if you succeed in courting the young Rosalía? Give up on actresses entirely?”

“I should think not,” Vitor said, placing a hand on his chest. “A man is entitled to a mistress or two, isn’t he?”

“Your father certainly seems to think so,” Nicolau replied.

“What. Did. You. Say?” Vitor said, his voice dropping to a low, calm tone, each word like a dagger thrust, and all humor gone. His hand dropped to the sword at his belt.

“N-nothing, Vitor. Just a bit of a joke, and in bad taste,” his friend responded, his tongue stumbling over the apology.

“Best be sure to watch your words in the future, Nicolau,” Vitor replied. “Especially regarding my father.”

“Of course, Vitor. I spoke without thinking. It was the drink, not me.”

“Hmmph.  My father says it is in drink we often reveal our true selves. Do you agree?”

As Vitor spoke, he stumbled into a man walking briskly in the other direction. A low brimmed hat covered most of his face, and a cloak concealed his body. Vitor stumbled backwards, nearly falling down before regaining his balance.

“Idiot! Watch where you are going,” Vitor hissed. “Don’t you know to make way for your betters.”

“Of course,” the man replied. “Only I don’t see any betters of mine. Do you?”

“Insolent dog,” Vitor replied, clapping his hand to his sword. His friends moved away from the two men, forming a rough circle around them. They were in a side street, deserted and quiet. Faint illumination from the main thoroughfare cast deep shadows, making it impossible for Vitor to make out the man’s features.

“Think hard, friend,” the shadowy figure said. “There are consequences to drawing steel.”

Vitor chuckled as his blade cleared his sheath. “My father is Captain of the Watch, and there are three of us to your one. The only consequence will be the bill for cleaning my clothes of your blood.”

He struck hard, stabbing straight forward with his blade. The man spun, his cloak furling out and tangling the attack. Nicolau tried to draw his sword, but the man’s fist struck, catching him on the temple and dropping him to the cobblestones.

“Now there are two,” the man observed.  Alexio managed to draw his sword and he and Vitor moved to flank the man.

Vitor attacked first, his blade moving in a upward thrust toward the man’s head. The figure slipped to one side as he detached his cloak, whirling around to catch Alexio about the head. The weights sewn into the hem of the cloak smashed into Alexio’s face and he stumbled backward, clawing at garment. Vitor followed up the attack, bringing his sword down in a cut, but he was off-balance on the slick stones, and he stumbled.

“Too much time on the field and in the salon,” the figure murmured. He drew his own blade, torch light gleaming off the steel. Vitor smiled when he saw the man only had one arm, the other a stump at his shoulder. He drew the dagger he kept at his back, held it concealed behind him.

“You don’t have the advantage of surprise any more, cripple,” Vitor said. He feinted a few times, but his opponent didn’t respond. The next thrust was a committed attack, intended to get Vitor in close to his opponent.

The shadowy man parried and stepped aside, moving opposite from where Vitor held his dagger. Alexio managed to get his head clear of the coat just in time to receive a snap kick to the head, dropping him to the ground.

“Now it is just you and me,” the man said. “You should have brought more friends.”

“Who are you?” Vitor asked through clenched teeth.

The man thrust, and Vitor parried and moved, but there was no clang of steel on steel. The attack was a feint, and the man’s blade punched up through Vitor’s sternum, spearing his heart. He collapsed in a heap on the stones, blood spluttering from between his lips.

Ismael rolled him over, pulled a mask from the bag he wore on his belt. It was painted in simple colors, white and black, with bloody tears dripping down its cheeks. “I am your death, young man,” he said, placing the mask over Vitor’s face. He retrieved his cloak, and departed the alley as Vitor’s friends recovered their feet. Their screams of horror echoed through the night, chasing Ismael back into the shadows where he had come.

*****

Ismael opened the door to his apartment, stepped inside, and closed it. He held his hand up, smirked at the fact he was still shaking. Twenty years of this, and still he shook every time.

He made his way into the backroom, moved the cabinet out of the way. Behind it, a small hole had been cut in the wall, leading to a small room. He lit the devotional candles, casting light on the small altar and the plain mask set before it.

Kneeling before it, he made the requisite devotional gestures. “Our Lady of the Veils, I cast another soul into the darkness in your name. Guide this soul on his journey, may his death cause more good than harm, and shield your servant from the repercussions. Oh Lady of the Final Passage, I send you Vitor Montecalvo, a man of low birth but high ambition. Accept this sacrifice in your name, and spare me your glance for a few more years. I am but your humble servant, and should you call, know I will answer.”

Ismael, hidden priest of the forbidden Goddess of Death, snuffed the candles and sat in darkness, hoping and fearing to hear his goddess’ voice.

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Comments
  1. mercutio01 says:

    Nice! I really like this one.

  2. douglangille says:

    Well done, Matt. I think you need the 2000 words to do this justice. 🙂

  3. I agree with Doug, the 2000 words seems about right for this piece. It adds just enough depth for your characters.

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