He tossed again, finally grumbling enough that he stirred his companion, who murmured something as she turned in her sleep, red curls falling to cover her breast, the moonlight giving her bronzed flesh a pale luster. Slowly, the old man uncoiled himself from the blankets and stood, grabbing his bulky purple robe from the chair and pulling it about his shoulders. He took a step away, then turned to gaze upon his partner again before leaning over and kissing her forhead. Walking out the door, he glanced to the corner, at the smaller bed with the child in it, the spitting image of her mother but for the straightness of her red tresses, and the black streaks from her temples. Smiling, he decended the stairs, stepping over the dogs at the bottom and made for the kitchen.
“Aye, y’ managed a gorgeous pair o’ lasses thar’, didn’t y’ Ash?” he muttered to himself as he filled a kettle with water to put over the glowing embers of the fireplace. “Ne’er did y’ deserve ’em, tha’s for sure, Y’ laird has smiled down upon y’.”
Sitting in his armchair stiffly, he put his feet up on the stool and stared at the end table next to him. It was littered with the tools of his crafts: an amulet suspended in a decanter of holy wine, a small notebook with a record of the books in the shop he was sitting in, a prayerbook, a few vials of ink with quills beside them, and a two faced coin, all strewn atop of a much larger tome.
“It’s been a while since y’ wrote in tha’ yin” he thought, “Y’ hae nae had th’ muse… Or y’ hae been ignorin’ her voice. A priest should be listenin’ tae the voices in his heid, an’ the calls tae his work. Hae y’ been tae busy, Ash? Or are y’ avoidin’ the calls tae delve deeper intae y’ soul?”
“I nae know… but it’s been tae laing. Th’ moon is full an’ the fire warm. T’nicht, let m’ Laird and his mistress inspire,” he said, answering his internal monologue and chastisement aloud, and began moving the objects aside or into the drawer below, releasing the old book from its prison of clutter.
Looking to the bookshelves across the room, he murmured a moments prayer, floating his set of coloured pencils towords him. Once just out of his reach, the kettle whistled, and the wooden box went crashing to the floor, scattering the hardened pigments. “Jus’ like a first year aspirant, y’ auld fool,” he chastised himself, as he rose and poured a mug of tea.
Setting the mug next to the book on the table, he gathered up the pencils and sat again, opening the book, and flipping thru the pages, most covered in layers of writing in a variety of colours. Had anyone but he opened it, they would have been hard pressed to understand much, with the changes in language, colours, and direction of writing shifting from page to page. Toward the back, he opened to a page devoid of the normal scrawls, it seemingly giving him as blank a stare as he was to it. This book comprised most of his life. The Good, The Bad, his pains and pleasures, all laid out in ways that only he could make sense. There weren’t many blank pages, or even blank sections of pages. Over two centuries of thoughts and drawings sat between the worn, leather covers.
Breaking his gaze, he took a drink of tea, and sighed, the hot infusion calming his senses. Putting the mug down again, he pulled a grey pencil from the box, and began to sketch.
At first, nothing took shape but the moon. The moonlight shone upon his pages, and his Laird’s power and muse came with the light. Looking out the window again, the moon was tinted. A bloodmoon. Some would say it a portent of evil things to come, but not Ash. The red tint to the Mother of Night gave him power. It was those precious few evenings when he was released from the mundane chores of the moment, and his spirit could soar in search of the penultimate, ineffable truths.
He looked back down at his page, to find he had continued his sketching. The shape of a woman stood before the moon, and he had switched colours, bringing tonight’s burnishing to the celestial body on the page, and the figure of the woman who couldn’t be more celestial if she’d been crafted by the gods. Slowly letting his hand take control again, the cloak about the woman’s shoulders began to take shape.
“Y’ asked for th’ muse, an it seems y’ll hae her, auld man,” Ash murmured, and continued, the lithe form of his modeless figure more distinct as he did so.
Smudging and blending the colours with his left hand, and drawing with his right, he took a drink of now cold tea, mindlessly calling upon another moments prayer to do so. His thoughts everywhere and nowhere, wandering the night and his paths of travel through the years, he at last brought a face to his subject.
Setting down his pencil, he flexed his hand, not realising how cramped it had become, and stared down at his creation. It was a muse staring back at him, but not the one he’d assumed.
Long fingers came down from his shoulders, and entwined themselves in the hair of his scarred chest. “Who is tha’, melamin?” came the soft voice of his partner, who had risen unnoticed to the priest.
It was only at her voice that he realised the sun was streaming through the other windows at the front of the shop, the moonlights spell was broken, and the magic of reverie released him.
Picture courtesy of Luis Royo