The Smallest of Details
Or, the Anti-'Focus'
K. Ryan, 2006.
Part Two: Sketches and Inks
"It's…beautiful. I don't know how you managed it. I…"
Daine isn't a hesitant girl. I'd never seen her stumble over anything, in that lilting soft voice of hers. Seeing her look up at me with wide eyes, stammering as her hands twisted together almost worried me, but I smiled. "You like it, then."
"I just told you I did!" That was more like it, along with the little stamp of the foot I think she hardly noticed.
"That you did," I said. "And repetition is by nature tedious."
Daine laughed. "Now you sound like Numair," she said.
I shrugged. "Not quite so old, I hope."
Daine's expression turned thoughtful. Her hands relaxed. "He's old? Well, I suppose he is." She laughed again, the movement of her head making a long, smoky curl fall across her face. She made a small, irritated sound and pushed it aside. "I've just never thought of him that way. What I want to know is how you got Cloud so fair—I thought you were the clerk, not an artist. And how'd you know it was my birthday anyway?"
I grinned at her. Couldn't help it. "That's a lot of questions," I said, and some silly bit of recklessness (or was it a reckless bit of silliness?) had me give a shaky copy of a court-bow and hold out my arm. "Walk with me?"
Daine sniffed, but she was smiling a little. "Male gallantriness," she said. "It's all very silly. Like your 'prettiest savior' piece." She didn't take my arm. I wasn't expecting her to.
"I get paid to copy down only the truth. And 'Gallantriness,'" I told her, "is not a word."
"And you'd know that," she said, taking a step forward and beckoning for me to follow her. I did, of course.
"I would," I said. "It's also why I know it's your birthday. There are no secrets from a man who writes things down."
Daine, fed up with her disobedient curls, pulled her hair-tie out, shaking her head inelegantly and then dragging her hair back again. It looked painful. She seemed to have no idea I was there, watching her. It was rather mesmerizing. "You should get paid for drawing," she said.
I blushed. "I…dabble," I managed. "I'm no Volney Rain."
This drew a lightening-quick grin from her; lightening-bright, too, in her eyes. "Anyone who can hold a brush thinks they're Volney Rain," she said, tone affectionate as she spoke of Corus' legendry old artist, someone it was reputed she had become quite thick with. "That is, until they meet him."
"And then they don't want to be him," I laughed. "Your pony I drew from some distance. She doesn't seem overly fond of strangers, and I'm afraid I don't love you enough yet to endure injury and scarring from her rather sizable teeth." Someone entirely foreign had taken over my mouth, but Daine didn't seem to have noticed. She was scowling.
"Cloud needs to stop with that," she muttered. "I'm not on my own in the wilds any longer."
"Ah," I said. "But mothers never stop thinking their child is out somewhere in the wilds, thrown to wolves. Your Cloud looks like she has a fairly maternal kick."
This, she did hear. There was a sudden look of pain that contorted her face, and made me feel like the biggest idiot that ever lived. I looked away, blushing again.
"I've offended you. I'm sorry."
"No!" she said, too fast. "It's nothing. " She laid a hand on my arm, and I faced her again. She looked up at me, embarrassed and concerned. "I'll talk to Cloud. She'll be nice to you."
The blush was still there, hot on the back of my neck. I laughed a little. "Thank you," I said, and my voice cracked a little, which made me blush more. Deciding to speak again after that was difficult. "It's an honour, I'm sure. Fel… felicitations, Daine"
We spoke more after that. Nothing much, still mainly hallway crossings. I had work, so did she, and it was strange, how much I was aware of Master Salmalìn's presence after she had touched me that once on the arm. He was always there. Laughing and lecturing; an impeccably dressed, very tall shadow. If I had been Daine, I would have found it cloying, but she never seemed to notice. She'd walk with me sometimes, and we'd talk about nothing in particular. I found it fascinating, the way she'd refer to animals she knew, mute friends and confidantes who, it seemed, were not so mute. It was hard to take her seriously, but she demanded it all the same.
It was especially hard when wolves came, and she said she was traipsing off to Dunlath with only her teacher and these feral creatures for company, because they'd asked her.
I didn't tell her I'd miss her when she was one, but still…perhaps she knew. She could get inside the minds of other animals, after all.