Portrait of a Young Woman

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This is a creative work set in the world of Elanthia, attributed to its original author(s). It does not necessarily represent the official lore of GemStone IV.

Title: Portrait of a Young Woman

Author: player of Alvyara

Something wasn't right. Her eyes swept over the scene before her; then she examined it again, more minutely. Her reflection in the mirror - the angle wasn't right - it was distorted, as if the mirror were turned an eighth-turn from where it really was. Alvyara's breath caught, and a deep cold gripped her stomach.

No. No.

She struggled to draw in a breath. Mother Imaera, her mind pleaded reflexively. What came from her mouth was far less virtuous. She snatched up the palette knife, carving immediately into the half-congealed oils.

"Alvy. Alvy! What are you doing?"

"I have to fix it."

"What's wrong? What happened? Stop!"

"The reflection's all wrong." When he grabbed her shoulder, she gave him a look, then continued scraping at the canvas. "It's completely impossible. It looks nothing like reality."

"Stop. Alvy. The show is in two days. You need to finish it."

"Davin, I can't submit it like this!"

Davin stood, setting aside the lute on which he'd been picking out a new melody, and came to place both his hands on her shoulders. "Just stop for a minute. You keep doing this. Are you sure something is wrong with it? It looks fine to me. Really."

She shook her head, continuing to scrape until the reflection had become faint, smudged. Then she soaked a cloth with linseed oil and rubbed at the canvas, erasing the image further. She tossed the cloth to the floor and dropped her head into her paint-smeared hands. It was the most important art project she'd ever been a part of - fifty portraits, solicited from fifty artists across three valleys - and it was becoming a disaster.

The canvas, her self-portrait, stood nearly complete: a woman, undressing, seen from behind, her gown already slipped from her shoulders. Her head was bowed, and a lone curl of hair had sprung free from her carefully wound bun, lying agleam against her long neck in the glow of a candle. The sharp angle of the light emphasized her leanness; it illuminated the shoulder blades, the arcs of her ribs under her skin, the bump at the base of her neck. To her left was the smudge, the absence, of the mirror that would have reflected her half-shadowed face and the hint of her breasts beneath the descending gown.

"You've got two days," Davin repeated. "Why do this to yourself?"

Alvy lifted her gaze. Her cheeks were flushed. She shook her head vigorously, and a pale blonde lock of hair like that in the painting slipped from her headscarf to curl against her ear. "It doesn't matter, it's already done. I can't submit something I know isn't right. I've got time."

Davin let out a sigh. "Fine. Fine." He turned and went to the open window, where he stood for a long minute looking out on the parched trees around the studio, and the half-hidden dwellings among their branches where other residents sweltered in the Phoenatos heat.

"Davin?" Her call produced no response from him. His head was tilted down, as if he were watching the foot traffic on the path far below. "Davin. Are you all right?"

A long pause. Then he spoke without turning around. "Just worried about my grandfather, I suppose."

She rose immediately, coming to embrace him. "I'm sorry," she murmured against his hair. "I'm sure he'll recover. He's strong." She smoothed Davin's hair, then took his face in her hands and gently turned it toward her. His look was doleful, and he wouldn't meet her eyes.

"You care about him so much, I know. I'm sure he feels it." Davin nodded silently. She scanned his face, feeling a flicker of pure, sweet love for the man, his attachment to his family. The singer was beautiful in both mind and body, as well as his voice; in body certainly, with his honey-colored curls and bright green eyes, his smattering of freckles, the lean muscles, the scar on his brow that made him look like a tough. But he wasn't, oh, he wasn't at all. And to hear him sing...

She pulled him to her and met his lips with a soft kiss, then another. Something in her was always stirred by his vulnerability; she wanted to find each spot that needed healing, make a balm of her kisses. Her lips brushed his again, and then the corner of his mouth and his cheek. She slid her arms around to his back and stroked gently, pulling him against her until she heard him sigh. Then she kissed her way to his ear, and murmured, "Let me take some weight off your shoulders."

He tensed slightly in her arms. "Your painting," he said quietly.

She frowned at the painting for a moment, then turned back to take his earlobe between her teeth. "I have to wait for that patch to dry now. Come, it'll be all right." Her hands were already tugging at his shirt, exposing the warm skin beneath. She drew his earlobe between her lips and he let out a throatier sigh, his hands coming up to her hips, sliding over the cotton of her skirt as they stroked downward. She nodded slightly and her kisses grew more heated; she pressed her lips to his neck, and felt a flush of triumph as he sagged against her.

Yes, poor sweet boy. Let me take care of you. As she explored her way over his skin - and found the edge of his shirt and tugged upward, exposing more to explore - she was gratified to feel him relax further. Yes, she could make him feel better. It was her gift, her power - and she never felt more powerful than when she was able to make a man let down his guard, open up to her...

"Alvy -" Suddenly he was pushing her back. His face was hard to read. As he opened his mouth to speak again, she pressed a finger to his lips. She stroked over his arms, to soothe him; then, unable to stay herself, over his abdomen, and further. Was it a terrible thing to do this to a man who was grieving? She wanted only for him to feel as good as he deserved... Kissing him again, she drew him to the hammock in the corner, her bed when she worked late. She let herself down into the folds of fabric and he hesitated for only a moment, then eased in after her. In their dim cocoon her hands found more of his skin, and his her own, and there they renewed their intimacy, the whisper of their rushed breaths filling the small space.

When it was over she felt her body relax deeply, sinking into the hammock. The press of the fabric squeezed them tightly together. Every part of her felt good, contented and comfortable, despite the heat of the day. She stroked his hair, brushed a lock from his eyes. "Thank you," she whispered. "I can't even describe how it felt."

He chuckled. "It happened fast," he said.

She put an arm around him, and then the other, slipping it under his neck, then crossed a leg over his own, wrapping him him completely in her warmth. The light that penetrated the hammock was tinted green, shading their skin in the hues of the forest. She gazed into his eyes for a moment. Then she kissed him, smiling. "You're incredible, do you know that? I mean you're really very good at that." She was blushing. Her body still hummed with pleasure, which only sweetened as she continued to gaze into his eyes. They were so tender; different from most men's. She clutched him even tighter, her chest pressed to his. This was the part she liked best, more even than the physical pleasure of the act. It was as if the boundaries between them had dissolved for a brief, blissful moment in time, one she wished could continue indefinitely.

"You can go visit him again, if you need," she whispered, kissing his ear. "Your grandfather. I'll come with you this time. I can cook for the both of you, take care of things while you look after him."

He shook his head quickly. "No. You don't have to do that." He covered her lips with a kiss, silencing her, then let his head down.

They lay like that for a long while, until he shifted restlessly in her embracing limbs.

"What's wrong?" she said immediately.

He remained silent, still, for another moment. Then he mumbled something she didn't quite hear.


"I can't breathe," he said.

"I'm sorry!" she said, untangling her limbs from his and pulling back enough to see his face. "I'm sorry, Davin. You poor thing." She kissed his forehead, reaching out to stroke his hair again.

"Alvy," he said quietly.

She felt herself tense. "What, love? What's wrong?"

"I have to go to work."

"I thought you said they didn't need you tonight!"

He was already sitting up, pushing himself out of the hammock, leaving her to sway there. Her eyes followed him as he stepped to the basin and washed himself. She half-sat up again, brows knitting. "When are you going to be done?" she asked softly.

"I don't know."

"Can't you please stay? We're having such a good time. Come here. I'll go and tell them you're sick and come right back." She began to sit up.

"I've been away too much lately. I don't want to get fired." He pulled on his breeches, shirt and doublet, looking as handsome as ever, but he wasn't smiling.

She slumped back into the fabric, staring up at the ceiling. The hammock's slight sway made his eyes come into view and disappear, over and over. "All right," she said quietly. "I'll probably be up when you get back. I need to work, anyway."

He finished dressing, grabbed his lute by the neck and slipped through the flap without saying another word to her. She heard his feet descending the stairs, then nothing more. She turned her head to glance at the painting, feeling a sudden surge of resentment towards it. It was another half-hour before she got up.

The light had turned orange, and it now slanted to wash half her canvas in golden hues. She shifted it out of the sunbeam, then sat down on the stool, touching the erased spot with her fingertips to see if the oil had dried. Cleaning her brushes, she set in to re-create the lines of the mirror's frame, how the candlelight just touched the strips of wood. As the orange rectangle now illuminating the wall diminished to a bar, then a sliver, the prickle of unease in her stomach grew. Davin. She'd upset him, somehow, said or done something to offend him, or tug the curtain of grief down again. He was angry with her, she feared.

When the sun dipped behind the peaks far to the west, the room took on the dim shades of evening. Alvy couldn't focus. She decided she wouldn't be able to finish painting until she could find him, apologize for what she must have done. She set her brushes aside and pulled her cloak around her shoulders, stepping through the flap into the cooling night. A few stars were out. Her sandals clicked on the stairs that were grafted in a spiral around the old modwir tree, and she passed dwellings in which families were preparing dinner.

The night was moonless and it was dark on the forest floor, but she knew the path by heart. When it began to turn downhill she put out her hand for the worn railing, following it until she saw the lights of the tavern ahead. The establishment huddled at the base of another broad modwir; warm lantern-glow spilled from its windows, and she could already hear the jumbled conversations of the patrons.

She paused at the door, looking up. More dwellings clung to the side of the great tree, spiraling upward, beyond where her eyes could follow. Most contained families, whether cooking or reading stories or saying their prayers - all of whom, she imagined now, were having a more successful evening than she. She opened the tavern door and stepped in.

It took her eyes a minute to adjust, but there it all was, no different from how she knew it: there was the bar, following the contour of the tree; the little round tables, a star-shaped lantern above each; there, the handful of regulars talking loudly in the corner. What she didn't see was Davin, nor did she hear his voice.

One of the serving girls saw her and approached. It was the young one, Yamira - the soft-faced girl who looked like she was about fourteen. "Come for Davin?" she asked.

"Yes, is he in back?"

Yamira nodded, giving Alvy a friendly pat on the arm. "He's just taking a break. Go on." The girl grinned before turning back to the bar.

Her stomach still unsettled, Alvy pushed through the swinging door beside the bar, and one of the two old cooks looked up, giving her a distracted nod. She spared him a smile, then passed into the back and opened another door into the little room where the staff took their meals. It took her a moment to comprehend what she saw in the corner: a woman with her blouse tugged down to the point of indecency, with a man's honey-hued head pressed against her neck. Alvyara must have made a sound, because he turned, and his mouth dropped open.

"Alvy -"

She spun around and exited, slamming the door behind her. Before she was halfway through the kitchen he had caught up and grabbed her arm. She shook him off.

"Get away from me, you lying cheater," she hissed.

"It was stupid, it was a mistake," he stammered. "I wasn't thinking, it just happened, I promise! It was very stupid. I -"

"You're right! It was!" She was raising her voice now, and she could feel the flush coming to her cheeks. She felt hot, hot as a furnace. She was half-aware that the cooks had frozen now and were looking at them. "How long have you been seeing her? Have you been with her every night?"

He shook his head quickly.

"Well?" A sick, nauseous wave roiled over here, melding with the heat in her stomach. "All those times you went away... Davin?"

He raised his hands in front of him, as if to fend her off. "I love you. You know I love you. I just... I feel like I'm suffocating. You -"

She snatched a pewter salt cellar from the counter next to her and hurled it. He ducked, but not in time, and it caught the side of his head. "Don't you put this on me!" she yelled. "I did everything for you! I was there for you when Vandria left you, I helped you stop drinking. I supported you when you hurt your arm and couldn't play. I paid for everything when you were broke! And now you do this to me?" She was blind with rage; she grabbed the next thing she saw, a bottle of cooking wine, and raised it. "Get out of here before I kill you."

He stared at her, his eyes wide. "I work here!"

She hurled the wine. It caught him on the shoulder, then shattered against the floorboards. "Is your grandfather even sick?" she screamed, tears in her voice. He had turned already, was going down the hall, pausing only to snatch his lute from a hook before exiting through the back door.

The cooks looked warily at her. One went quietly to get a mop, sweeping the shattered glass into a pile. Aside from the fire and the spit of pheasants roating above it, the kitchen was silent; there was no sign of the woman Davin had been with.

"I'm sorry," she mumbled to the men, and pushed as quickly as she dared into the dining room and out the front door. The urge to run after him was so strong it made her sick, but she kept to the path, not pausing until she was back in her studio. Then she slumped into the hammock and cried.

She had tried to work, but it was difficult to care about the art show now. She had cried all night, then seethed all morning, afire with hatred, dreaming up all the things she would say to him if she could have relived the night before: that he had shown himself the worst kind of man; that he didn't deserve her. She would sit at her stool intending to paint and then find herself on her feet and pacing, muttering to herself.

By afternoon she was spent, and only wanted him back. He was spineless and a fool, but also so sweet, so charming and funny. He would have made such a caring father. He was a beautiful boy, and they had loved each other. Just a thought of the freckles that adorned his shoulders prompted tears to spring to her eyes. Her body missed his grievously.

By evening she was numb, and she sat before the canvas with brush in hand, gazing at the blank spot. Her arm felt very heavy. Increasingly, the same unsettled feeling she'd had the night before was growing in her abdomen - the feeling that things were very wrong, that it was her fault. And then she was pulling the scarf off her hair and shaking it out, loosening the ties on her blouse to expose a bit more of her skin, and retrieving all the rings and bangles she'd pocketed in preparation for painting and sliding them back on. Finally, she touched a finger to the red paint on her palette and rubbed it over her lower lip, glancing once into the mirror. Then she left.

Her heart was pounding when she pushed open the tavern door. Her eyes immediately sought the corner where Davin often played, but the figure that her gaze met was a stranger. Her heart twisted in confusion. It was a tall, limber man, leaning unconcerned against the hearth, plucking a mandolin.

"Alvy!" whispered a voice. It was Yamira. The girl took her arm and drew her to an alcove with a single table, motioning for her to sit and scooting in after her. "They fired Davin. And Sasantra. He's never coming back here."

Her chest went cold. She froze, unable to come up with a pithy phrase that might make it seem like she was gratified, or all right in any way.

"Are you well?" said the girl. "No, you're not. You stay here, I'll get you some soup."

When Yamira departed, Alvy allowed her gaze to drift. The man who wasn't Davin now wandered the room, strumming a quiet melody. And then - by the bar, the other servers were huddled, shooting her an occasional glare. Yamira returned and slid beside her once more, pushing a bowl of soup and a tankard of ale at her. "I know," she whispered, glancing at the servers. "I'm sorry. A couple of them were good friends with Sasantra."

"Thank you," said Alvy, quietly. She couldn't imagine putting anything in her stomach.

Yamira kissed her cheek. "I have to check on an order. Stay for a moment." She gave her hand a squeeze before disappearing into the kitchen.

Alvy sighed. She met the gaze of the other servers the next time they looked her way, lifting her chin with a hint of pride she didn't feel; then she brought the ale to her lips, feigning a nonchalant sip. Then she took a real sip, and another. She was halfway through the tankard when she realized the minstrel was approaching her, still playing softly. She dropped her gaze back to the ale, irritation pricking her.

"Are you all alone tonight, Lady?"

Damn it all. She lifted her head, ready to give him a curt response; but his face was kind, not cocky. She sighed and, finally, nodded.

"I'm sorry," he said quietly. "I've got to tune this thing a bit better, and you have the only empty seat in the house. May I...?"

She chuckled. "I don't think I'm going to be very good company, tonight."

He raised an eyebrow at that, then nodded, understanding in his eyes, and bent his head to his instrument.

Alvyara gazed at the bubbles in her ale for a long time before she let her eyes lift. The man was absorbed in his task, his brow furrowed in concentration. Her mind went unbidden to the day she first met Davin, here in this room, and how completely charming he'd been...

"What's your name?" she said quietly.

He smiled without looking up. His face had an exotic cast to it, half-elven perhaps, with broad features and deep blue eyes. "Lorvannen. You?"

"Alvyara." She watched his fingers; they made practiced movments, almost sensuous, as they danced over the pegs. Her own fingers drifted to the top of her bodice, playing with the fabric. He looked up, finally, and she saw his eyes dart briefly to where her hand lay. She felt the presence of that old power, the ability to make a man feel, and wondered what it would be like with this particular man - what fun they might have, how he might comfort her in her grief; what he smelled like; how he kissed. A part of her wanted it badly. But he was rising, and with an affable nod he returned to roaming the room, strumming softly.

She bowed her head. Her tankard was empty, somehow. When a white-clad arm reached to remove it she looked up, expecting Yamira, but it was one of the other servers. The woman made eye contact with Alvyara long enough to mouth the word "whore," unmistakably, before jerking the tankard away.

Alvyara rose. She kept her head high as she stepped to the door, even managing a casual glance toward Lorvannen, who did not look up. But her ears burned, and rage and shame accompanied her on the dark walk back to the studio, where the unfinished canvas received her glower of resentment. She wanted to upend it, overturn everything, reset it all back to a time before she knew he had cheated on her. But the show was tomorrow, and already it was almost midnight.

Fireflies traced patterns through the twilight, adding a visual counterpoint to the omnipresent buzz of cicadas. Alvyara hung back at the edge of the wide veranda wrapping the tree and watched couples and families file into the gallery. The place was beautiful; she had been here only once before, two years ago, and if anything it was prettier than she remembered. Globes of light hung from grafted branched that had been trained into arcs, and blooming deep violet orchids clung here and there. Leaning on a railing, she looked down. Visitors were still trickling in, making their way up the great spiral stair. To either side of them, three hundred feet of fireflies below her may as well have been stars.

She scanned the people making their way in. There was a little boy off to the right of her, picking shreds of wood from the rail and tossing them over the edge. He was a quiet one, introspective, watching keenly as each bit of pulp drifted down, and she observed him with a wistful pain in her heart. Finally his parents finished chatting with their companions and ushered him away, entering the gallery with the last of the stragglers; all but Alvy herself.

She waited.

When she heard steps on the planks behind her she recognized their cadence instantly, instinctively. Turning, she ran forward and embraced her little brother tightly, her cheek to his. He laughed.

"You got my letter!" she cried.

He nodded, then smiled. "I wouldn't have missed it for the world. You're a big deal, now."

She chuckled. "You've come a long way. Thank you." She brushed his silver-blonde sheen of hair aside and fingered one of the arrowhead-marked silver buttons on his coat. He was in his dress uniform, crisp maroon and white, all sharp angles and polished accents, and looking far more regal than a rank-and-file guardsman had a right to. "Apparently you're a big deal too. Do you want me to stay far away from you, so people don't think I'm your girlfriend?"

He flashed a white grin in return. "Let's go see your painting, shall we?" he said, holding out his arm to her.

Alvy's smile faded. "I'm so sorry, Laz. There is no painting. I couldn't get it finished. The only reason I'm here right now is so I can see you."

He shrugged. "Let's go get drunk and enjoy ourselves, then." His arm was still out to her, smile still on his face.

She shook her head. "I can't. I can't bear to go in there. Everyone is expecting me to have something, and I've got nothing. I'm ashamed."

Lazaryth cocked his head, his brow furrowing. "Just tell them you didn't get it done in time. Who cares? I've never finished anything in my life."

She barked a wry laugh. "I'm aware."

"It's all right, you don't have to go in. Want me to get us some wine?"

She nodded, and he vanished into the gallery. Fifteen long minutes later, he was at her side with a flute of champagne in each hand.

"Make some friends in there?" she asked.

"Mm," he said. "Maybe. Come on, let's sit and have a little party to ourselves." She took offering, and he clinked his glass against hers.

She told him about Davin then, crying despite herself, and he put his arm around her and listened without judgment. And then another round of champagne was required, and a toast to being rid of cheating bastards, and a few more tears.

"Do you want me to beat him blue for you?" he said. "I will."

She shook her head, laughing. "No! Just you being here is enough. Thank you," she said softly. "Oh, Lazaryth. Why do men always cheat on me?"

He set down his champagne and gave her a long look, and she knew he was actually thinking. "That's what men do," he said.

She shook her head vigorously in denial. "I hope you don't believe that."

"You've always tried to get what you want by giving, rather than by taking," he said quietly. "Is it working?"

"I can't make a man marry me. He has to want it."

Her brother shrugged. "And when you get it, what then? What happens to you then?"

She sighed, and he stood abruptly. "Come on. Let's go in. Where's the harm?" And he held out his arm once more.

Alvyara chuckled and wiped her eyes. "You just want to get back to whoever you promised to return to 'in just a moment,'" she said, and he grinned. But she grasped his arm and let him lead her into the bright hall, leaving the fireflies to themselves.

It was very late when she arrived at the home she shared with her parents, but a light was still burning. She stepped in to see her mother curled in a chair with a sheet of music, humming to herself. The woman didn't seem to notice her for some moments; then she looked up, smiling absently, her familiar beauty luminous despite the clear weariness in her features.

"Did you see him?" said her mother.

"Lazaryth? Yes, he came. It was nice to see him."

"I wish he would have stopped by to see us as well. I miss him so much. My baby." She looked very like him - the vivid blue eyes, the gold-touched tan - but she had nothing of her brother's focus. "He could have come by, even for a little bit!"

"He had to go back to the barracks, mum."

Her mother sighed, taking up her music and beginning to hum once more.

"Is dad asleep?"

"I don't know, darling. Go check on him."

Though it was again nearly midnight, Alvy noticed that dinner's aftermath was still out; dishes littered with scraps covered the table, and a pot of sauce still hung over the fire's cinders. Suppressing her irritation, she set about tidying up. Her mother hadn't asked about the show, about whether she'd won anything, or seen any old friends. She'd remind her tomorrow, if she felt like it. Now, she felt a weariness of her own come upon her.

When she had finished in the kitchen she took a candle to the back room her father used as his studio, sweeping the taper in front of her to see where she was going. There he was, slumped at his stool, head cradled in his arms. Asleep. An empty bottle of port sat to one side, and to the other -

She quickly snatched up his fallen pipe, sweeping the glowing embers to the floor and crushing them with the heel of her sandal. The sketches that had lain beneath the pipe were scorched, smoldering. She cursed quietly. He would set the entire place on fire someday if he kept drinking like this. Putting the candle down, she paused to simply breathe, letting her thumping heart slow. She bent to him.

"Dad," she murmured. "You have to go to bed."

It took him a moment to stir. "Alvyara?" He smiled.

"Yes. Who else?"

"I was just... resting a bit, before I finished up."

"You nearly set the house on fire, dad." She showed him his pipe. "Please, please don't smoke when you're a full bottle in."

He didn't respond, but sat up, taking her hand and giving it a squeeze. His light brown hair was growing out, enough to trail over his ears. She saw herself in his face: the pale blue eyes, the long nose. And she saw his honest desire to please her, make her smile. She found herself smiling faintly back at him. "I'm going, I'm going," he was saying, rising and turning toward the doorway. The deep shadows by his eyes crinkled; he looked so much older than he was. "I hope the show went well, beautiful. I know you worked hard on that painting."

"I'll tell you all about it tomorrow," she said. "Go on."

"Thank you for waking me," he said quietly. He embraced her and she gripped him back, kissing his cheek.

"I'll always take care of you," she whispered. Even as she said it, she wondered if it were true. He slipped out, and she heard him and her mother sharing their good nights.

Alvy retrieved the candle, lifting it to shine its light on the sculpture that loomed above the table. Her father's latest work was a life-sized female figure in dark basalt, crouching on one knee to pour from an amphora. Her calves were beautifully defined, as was her simple gown; her arms were gorgeous in their proportions, but still needed some finishing work. So did the wavy hair that flowed to the woman's waist. And the face. The face, she saw, remained a loosely shaped oval of rock, its features blank and unknown, missing.

She sighed. As far as she could tell, no work had been done on the sculpture since she'd last been home. No work had been done in a year or more, she knew, and then it had only been some detailing on the hair. He hadn't been productive in any meaningful way for a very long time.

She turned suddenly, leaving the room and reaching for her cloak.

"I'm going back to the studio," she said.

Her mother inclined her head absently, accepting her kiss on the cheek without looking up. "That's fine, dear. Thank you for looking after your father."

Alvyara rolled her eyes, then stepped out to descend the long set of stairs to the forest floor. The stars she could glimpse through the tree boughs were bright overhead, nearly blue-seeming; there was still no moon. She took in a deep breath of cool air.

Back in her studio, she set the candle on the little table and pulled the mirror closer to her, studying her face in the half-light. And then she began.

She worked through the night. It was slow work; the reflection was the most essential part of the painting, and she cared as much as ever for the perfection of what she depicted. She worked in minute increments, blocking out the tilt of her head, the lines of her neck and exposed shoulders, the drape of her gown as the self-portrait version of her shrugged the fabric down. Then she took a brush and began on the large patches of shadow on the side opposite the candle, then the swaths of light on the near side: her cheek, her chin, the side of her neck, her near shoulder and the contour of her concealed breast.

Though again and again she entertained the urge to lie down and sleep, she stayed at the canvas. Occasionally her eyes would land on something that reminded her of Davin. There were tears; at other times, thoughts of Lorvannen. Then the dawn sun began to color the room in grey - but the work she had most needed the candlelight for was done.

Alvyara scrutinized the painting. The lines of her face in the mirror's reflection seemed accurate this time, their angles true. It was her. She saw her father's eyes and nose in her features, her mother's pale wild hair... the little cleft in the chin that she and Lazaryth shared. The dark shadows under her eyes were her own, born of the last two days' restlessness and grief; there were the long lashes, framing her downward glance, and the slightly parted lips, as if she were caught at the brink of a sigh. The portrait spoke plainly of vulnerability, but also of persisting beauty. None of the people she had wanted to make proud would see it - not Davin, not her artist friends, not her brother. But she had painted something true, and it was hers.