I saw Prince Caspian the other day. Then I had art class. Thus, this little piece of randomness was spawned. Could be either book or movie verse, but is probably set some time after The Dawn Treader, or at least Prince Caspian. Reviews and critique are welcome. Enjoy!
Disclaimer: I don't own the Chronicles of Narnia or anyone else you might recognise (Owen is mine, as well as the obscure, probably non-existent marketplace).
The painting wasn't very big – about thirty by forty centimetres. He didn't consider it a masterpiece. A random stroke of inspiration, if he remembered correctly, spawned from boredom and frustration. This opinion wasn't just the brutal self-critique of a struggling artist. It was simply the truth.
It was a drizzly morning, the kind that made one feel miserable by oneself and claustrophobic around others. Sitting in his small, grimy corner of the marketplace, Owen was feeling a curious concoction of both emotions. Added to this were the occasional glances of passers-by, which were at worst dubious and at best indifferent, and the knowledge that he would most likely be going home empty handed tonight, and his mood was becoming darker by the minute.
Then she came.
Blue eyes honed in on The Painting from across a sea of people. He saw them widen briefly in astonishment before she disappeared entirely from his view. Then he blinked and, in what had to be a trick of his mind, she suddenly materialised in front of him.
Taken aback, Owen could only stare as she knelt down in front of the painting, gazing at it in awe and something akin to longing. She was a just a little girl, no older than twelve, garbed in a neat school uniform that was slightly too big. Her hair was pulled back into two strict braids, though a lax curl had somehow managed to escape its confines and struggled weakly in the cool breeze.
She looked like a normal school girl. But she didn't act at all like one. Most girls spared an appraising glance for his paintings as they passed by, but quickly scampered off at the sight of him. Her complete disregard of his presence and uninhibited fascination reminded him of a child much younger than she had to be – and yet, her face was full of solemn yearning that he only ever saw on elderly people or war veterans. She was a paradox.
It wasn't until her small hand began to reach for the picture that Owen felt compelled to intervene. "Can I help you there, Miss?"
The hand drew back abruptly. Looking startled and a little dazed, as though emerging from a dream, she looked over at him. An apologetic smile bloomed on her face. "Oh, I'm sorry," she said. "I just – I was distracted."
"I can see that," he replied, though not unkindly. For some reason, his bad mood had begun to dissipate slightly. "See something you like?"
Again her eyes were drawn back to the painting. "This painting is very beautiful," she said. "It rather reminds me of someone I know."
Owen raised an eyebrow. "Is that so? I daresay you have some strange friends then, Missy."
She gave a rueful smile that looked both distant and far too old. "Indeed."
Before he could say anything else, a new voice made itself known. "Lucy, would it really be so hard to warn a bloke before rushing off into the unknown?" The voice, as it turned out, belonged to a school boy who bore a distinct resemblance to Lucy, though he was clearly a couple of years older. "I swear, between you and Peter, there's enough reckless genes to get an entire family killed."
As he approached, his eyes slid from his sister to Owen, and fond exasperation was replaced with grave wariness, but not hostility. Owen, who'd been expecting something in the way of a typically snide, boyish comment towards him, was again struck by the unnatural maturity.
"Oh don't be silly, Edmund. You're still alive, aren't you?"
"So they tell me," he muttered, still eyeing Owen. "Now what's all the fuss about?"
In response, Lucy tugged on his hand excitably, drawing his attention down to the painting. "Look at this, Ed. It's Him!"
Owen didn't understand the reference, but watched with some interest as the boy's frown deepened in scrutiny. After a moment of silence he shook his head slowly. "Lu, that's just a lion."
Lucy shook her head adamantly. "It's not just a lion, Ed. Can't you see that?"
While Edmund continued to stare at the picture with a shadow of the same longing portrayed by his sister, Owen glanced at the work himself. It didn't look any more special than when he'd painted it – he certainly couldn't see why the animal should provoke such utter reverence in the girl's voice.
After a while, Edmund blinked and tilted his head slightly. Something seemed to shift in his dark eyes, a flicker of – triumph? Sadness? It was hard to tell. One hand twitched a bit, as though he too wanted to reach and sink his fingers into the painting itself, run them through the deep gold of the lion's mane. Bizarrely, Owen wasn't sure it would be entirely impossible for him to do just that.
Lucy still watched in anticipation, unable to hold her silence for long. "Well?"
Her brother, after another brief moment of contemplation, glanced at her and shrugged. "I dunno, maybe. But if you say you saw Him, then I believe you."
He wasn't just humouring her. Owen got the sudden impression that he wasn't watching two children interact, but adults who viewed each other with absolute trust and equality regardless of the age difference. There was something else too – not just maturity or respect, but a deep, almost other-worldly look in their eyes. He didn't know what to make of it, or indeed the mysterious He whom they spoke of with such wonder and love it almost made his heart ache. He was struck with the sudden, painful memory of his mother, who'd been a devout church-goer for years before the First War had stolen her husband and the Second had stolen her life. Owen couldn't help but wonder what she'd think of these two.
Edmund sighed and rolled his eyes, turning to face Owen with an overly-dramatised expression of weariness. "Alright. How much?"
As Lucy walked away moments later, one hand clutching the expense-free painting and the other wrapped securely around her brother's arm, she turned back for a moment. Owen caught a brief glimpse of her face, beaming in gratitude and happiness, before it disappeared into the crowd.
By the end of the day, he still hadn't made a single cent (for all their adult-ness, it would have felt both wrong and silly to take the two children's meagre allowance). And yet, Owen couldn't quite keep the ridiculous grin off his own face as he packed up the rest of his paintings and walked home in the wake of a clear gold sunset.