The Gold Sovereign
It was a few months after I had arrived in Ferelden following a sort of unofficial exile from my native land of Antiva. I was attempting to eke out a living by going from table to table in the most popular taverns in Denerim making sketches of the patrons and being paid for them. In Antiva we often make sketches outside or even painted on easels in the public squares or wider streets but I soon noticed that the bad weather in Ferelden did not allow for this most of the year.
As in Antiva, there were also a few places that were out of bounds to the likes of me, the Gnawed Noble Tavern, despite it's almost ironic name being one. I attempted to draw a lady there and was soon approached by the owner, a woman who bore a very close resemblance to one of those snuffle-faced Marbari hounds so prized by Fereldans. I attempted to explain that I was no beggar but a skilled artist plying my honourable trade using lead and charcoal but she would have none of it, and I was told in no uncertain terms that if I did not leave and leave immediately, she would set the city guards on me.
Anyway, I was working one evening in The Mermaid and Anchor, one of the more popular taverns in the docks area, when two men sitting on a corner table near the bar set somewhat apart from the others who seemed to be taking an interest in what I was doing, caught my eye. I sashayed up to them in my flounced skirt with my sketch book at the ready, charcoal poised and my most ingratiating smile playing on my lips. As soon as I drew near someone from another table near by jumped up and tried to bar my path but one of the pair waved him away and he sat back down as quickly as he had gotten up. There was a spare seat at the table so I asked if I could sit down and the fair-haired one one nodded so I sat.
"Do either of you kind gentlemen wish me to draw your picture? I charge only one silver."
They both acceded and the fair-haired one who had hazel eyes, short but rather fastidiously arranged hair, reasonably regular features and a rather sensual mouth said
"Make sure you capture my profile accurately…"
I didn't quite understand the import of what he was saying but I thought he sounded rather boorish, so I decided to turn my attention to the other one who seemed far more amiable.
"With all due respect, ser, I would rather start with him" I said pointing to the dark one. "His colouring is better and his features are far more… Challenging…" It was true, his hair was smooth, shoulder-length and almost black, his mouth may have been slightly crooked but seemed made for smiling, and his eyes were dark and had some depth to them.
The fair-haired one appeared take offence. "I see," he said. A look that I couldn't quite decipher passed between the two.
"Although without a doubt you are extremely good looking, ser…" he actually preened as I said this, which made me like him a little less, "your countenance overall is somewhat… bland."
"Well there you go…" he remarked to the other one who by this time was grinning very appealingly from ear to ear.
So I commenced work on the sketch of the darker one and while I was drawing we chatted. They asked me where in Antiva I was from and how long I had been in Ferelden. The fair-haired one particularly wanted to know whether my skill was purely natural of whether I had received some kind of schooling. I explained I had been apprenticed at an early age to a royal court painter, making Maese Antonio sound far more impressive than he actually was. Although my faith in my former master's talent was unswerving, I knew from experience that people tended to value other things. The fair-haired one seemed very interested in my reply and asked me several follow-up questions, which should have struck me as strange.
In the space of about half an hour I managed to capture the darker one's likeness pretty well, I thought. In fact, it was probably the best portrait sketch I had executed in the last couple of weeks. I handed it to him and he asked me if I wanted a drink. I asked for a cup of red and in the blink of an eye it was placed before me. I took a sip and grimaced.
"What's up?" asked the fair-haired one.
"It's sour" I said, "well past its best."
"You should stick to the beer…"
I was appalled, "the beer?"
"Barbarous, I know, but better than mediocre wine…"
The fair-haired one was adamant that I should draw his right profile, this was a strange request, most people want a front view. I suggested to him that it was far from his best aspect, it made him look over-stern, but he insisted nonetheless.
While I was drawing he asked if I wanted a job.
"Not of the kind you have in mind." I replied.
This was rude, I know, but it seemed to me these two guys were on the town looking for a bit of fun and I thought I knew from past experience, although on the whole they seemed nice enough, the direction their thoughts and other parts were travelling in.
My reply seemed to amuse him, "do all Antivans have dirty minds?" he asked.
"Pray tell me how many Antivans you have known, ser?"
He leaned back and rested his chin on his hands, "a few, actually."
This rather surprised me, he did not seem to be lying.
"Well, perhaps, then, I should suggest that it is your fellow Fereldans who have dirty minds. You have no idea the amount of invitations to "pass the time" I have had to turn down in the short period I have been in your country…"
He did not appear to take what I said seriously but remarked, "I am almost pleased to hear that… Nothing like Fereldan hospitality, eh Lawler?"
The darker one limited himself to shaking his head and smiling quietly.
"Well, to be fair," he added, "Fereldans do have a rather blunt and unrefined approach to these things and you are not altogether unattractive."
I did not know whether to take this as a compliment or not, as he said it in quite an offhand manner.
By this time I was sensing that things were beginning to get a little awkward so having finished the fair-haired one's silhouette I asked them whether they liked their pictures as a way of encouraging them to pay up and allow me to move on. They both agreed that they did and I was heartened to see the fair-haired one reach towards his purse.
I should have suspected that it would not be quite so easy.
"Before you go," he said, "I have a question…" He placed a gold sovereign on the table in front of him, "Do you think your profile is better than this one?"
"I don't well understand what you are asking, ser…" I replied.
He laid the sketch I had just done of him next to the coin. "It's simple enough," he said, "which is the better?" There was some amusement in his hazel eyes.
I looked dutifully at the sovereign and then at my sketch and may have glanced up at him, I did note that they looked somewhat similar but my mind refused to take on board the implications behind the resemblance. I fell back on my practical knowledge.
"Well they are both executed in different mediums. Whereas the coin no doubt has been cold struck using a die that could be somewhat worn due to repeated striking and the image on the coin itself may also have been eroded due to its use…"
He interrupted me, "not this one," he said cockily tapping the coin itself on the table before him, "not this one, but address the question…"
"I think I prefer my sketch, even just because it is shaper" I said.
"So do I," he replied. "About this job… I think you should re-consider. There may be more in it for you where that one came from."
"But you only owe me two silver…" I said plaintively, since for the last three days I had had to go to bed without supper, "and you must be aware that I would not carry about my person enough silver to give you change. At the moment 98 silver is a considerable amount to me…" in a last sally of vanity, I added, "although of course I have known better times…"
"Of course you have," he concurred effortlessly. "Now," he said, "just write your address on the back of the card here and you can keep the sovereign." He said turning over his picture.
"But why do you want my address?"
"For this job…"
I was about to open my mouth and tell him where he could put his job when the darker one intervened.
"Look, wench…" a most unfortunate beginning, he saw me bristle. "I am sorry, but what I was going to say is that he is not going to assault or seduce you… but should he do so… I will take it out on him…"
The fair-haired one cut in, "Lawler, I can make no such promise in respect of the second thing. I mean look at her, she is incredibly gorgeous and completely my type…" and he made a noise at the back of his throat.
I got up ready to walk away from the pair and forego my hard-earned silvers and any hope of supper for the fourth day in a row, when Lawler, who seemed to have exhausted his font of patience, turned to the fair-haired one and said,"Alistair Theirin, you should be ashamed of yourself. I know you like to joke that you were brought up by dogs…"
"Flying dogs," interjected Alistair, "from the Anderfals…" he grinned in my direction.
"... but that is no reason to behave like one. Stop teasing the lady. She is a stranger in our land and incapable of distinguishing a pleb from a delinquent prince, you should be ashamed of yourself."
Alistair looked slightly peeved, but he seemed to recover quickly when he glanced over at me.
"You can pick your jaw off the floor now…" he said. I slumped back down in the chair in front of him, not trusting myself to do or say much else at that point.
"They do things differently in Antiva, don't they?" He asked and then added rather quickly, "I apologise." I nodded.
"I am interested in your skills. Bring me a sample of your work… What is your name by the way?"
"That's very pretty… I live in that big place a few streets down…" he waved in the general direction. "Don't ask for me, by all accounts they'll give you no end of hassle at the gates, especially since you're an elf… Ask for Lawler here… Say you're his personal friend," and he looked at Lawler raising his eyebrows, Lawler growled something under his breath, "and he'll get you to me… If you're lucky."
Never make things too easy. That could be my personal motto. I got up again and looking straight at him said, "I abide by what I said earlier about your features…" He shrugged.
I picked up the coin from the table, and, just for show, dropped it into my bodice and added, "We'll see…"
As I walked away from the table wiggling my derriere a little more than I usually did, I overheard Alistair say to Lawler, "Cheeky… I like that."