Eyes: dark brown
Adopted by: Ravenna Ravenna (painter, specialist in oil, watercolour, acrylics, etc)
Broad-shouldered, medium build
George did not have many memories of childhood. They were dull and shadowed, veiled by layers of oppression and everyday drudgery. After all, what sort of memories could you get from the work-house? He was small, dark-haired, useful for a ton of irregular and unwanted activities, but expendable in the long-run. Thus, he kept no real memories until the very day a richly-attired gentleman stopped by the door.
The gentleman was Fabien Ravenna, a famed artist who painted religious scenes at cathedrals and basilicas, and decorated noblemen houses with mythological or fantastical scenes. He was George's saviour. George looked into his face for the first time and saw a smile, and then the beautifully shaped-hands of the artist (which were ringed and stained by oil-paint.) He wanted to kiss those fingers like he'd kissed the hands of the white-robed priest at service. And for the rest of his life, he would cherish the first memory of his new Master: those artist's hands.
That afternoon, Master Ravenna took George back to his house where servants scrubbed him from head to toe, gave him a new set of clothes, and sat him before the most beautiful and luxurious meal he'd ever seen. Plates of fruit, porridge, sweet cake, even half a chicken were set before him, tempting as any still-life. As George devoured hungrily, the Master seated himself before the boy and studied him carefully.
"How old are you, child?"
A lock of hair fell across George's face. Unruly black hair. "Eight, sir."
"Eight? Why, you barely look five."
"I'm small for my age, sir. That's why."
"Do you know why I hired you?"
"Because you felt sorry and wanted to do a charitable thing, sir."
Too late, he realized he should've shut up. But the Master laughed instead, burst into a deep, booming guffaw that shook his greying beard.
"I swear I'll be a hardworking boy! I'll do anything you ask, I'll-"
"Hush, child." Suddenly, the Master's hands were on his shoulders, and he looked straight into the boy's eyes with his clear, spectacled ones. George thought he looked like an owl, even more fascinating. "I'm only going to ask one thing of you. One thing. That is this: I want you to see."
Before George knew it, the Master swung up from his chair, graceful, trailing a whisk of embroidered robe and more paint-smell (it seemed the whole house had always smelled, and would always smell, like egg tempera, primers, cleaners, and so forth…) and to the window. George had no choice to follow. The Master took him by the hand and swung him up, onto the cushioned seating in front of the great latticed window. Outside, the spires of the city flared in the late-afternoon sky, and the sky ran like a bowl of blue, like they were caught inside the sphere of a marble. It hurt to look at the sun.
"Look outside, child. What do you see?"
"Buildings, sir. They look like – building blocks, don't you think? I used to have toys like that. – Sir!"
Another laugh. "In my house, boy, you may address me as Master Fabien, though you will be my apprentice, and not my slave. And yes, they look like building blocks. I will teach you to draw them on paper first, and later, to paint them. If you've seen the paintings on the Eastern wall of the Church of the Lady Aves, that is what I will teach you. You will see the world with new colours, new textures, new sights. Do you understand, child?"
Etchings, paintings, sculptures, clay, houses, patrons, life.
"Master, here is my newest painting!"
George swung back from the canvas, with all the agility and excitement of young apprentice-men. His apron was spattered with paint, which smeared over his face and still-messy hair (it never stayed still, and he liked to grow it long anyways.)
Ravenna nodded with his characteristic mellowness. "Tell me, boy, what did you see?"
I'm not a boy anymore, George frowned. But Master Ravenna was absentminded like that. "It's a draft of the commission requested by Lord Carwen, Master. In here, I've … suddenly, he realized something was wrong. He stepped up to the Master, realized, how frail he looked now beneath the same heavy robes he'd worn for the last ten years.
"Is there something wrong?"
Of course, he didn't mean that. He was struggling with something.
"It's a fine painting, George. One of your better works. I could use a little more shadow in the Madonna, as you can see here, the lighting around her face is not quite right. The Madonna is always surrounded by an immaculate light stemming from baby Jesus. And over here, the textures on the colonnade – somewhat rough. Remember, every form, every substance has to show shape and matter…I would still, however, make some more changes…here, the stars on baby Jesus' robe does nothing for the image, though the composition is quite strong, quite-"
But you're lying, Master. Just circling around empty words.
So George put his hands on the Master's shoulders, even though he was the paint-stained one now, and looked into his Master's eyes.
I'm so sorry if I don't understand.
"George, there is nothing to understand. There's only – one thing."
"Then let me see it." Let me understand.
And suddenly he was filled with longing. So, much, longing.
What did he remember next? Curtains, candles, crimson, a whirling world of movement and vibrancy like the paints he played with, but at the same time, not like them at all. This was a world of pure potency, violent splashes of purple and violet and deep vermilion, but not at all composed, not at all allegorical – pure impressionism. If such a word even existed.
And in the middle of all, a four-posted bed with columns carved into the design of Asian flowers, sheets of clearest white.
Whether or not he'd done this before did not seem to matter; the Master didn't care. All that mattered was now, the power of seeing. George was extra careful, and the Master was gentle – well what the hell? The Master gave him wine, and it sank like ecstasy down his throat as they touched, as they saw. Too much wine. Too much conversation…
And then afterwards, George was standing by the window, half-naked, sunlight pouring down his muscular back. The Master was still in bed, one hand propped over his pillow, the other on a glass of wine, watching again the man by the window. George wondered, bewildered, what the Master saw. (He was beginning to grow quite tall, and his chiselled cheeks and nose were like that of a man's, not a boy's.) He turned around to peer at his Master, whom George realized, still retained his looks, was still commendable. The wine in his glass looked dry and brittle.
How did that saying go? Lovers just want to make love with themselves.
"I am afraid I will never see again," Ravenna said. There were tears in his eyes. "The doctors say there are cataracts in my eyes, and that I'm going blind. The dim light is bad for me, the sunlight hurts, and I am supposed to ease off on work. Soon it will be darkness altogether."
"But you're not – that old. Forgive me. You still have strength to walk, to go riding. You-"
"Bah! What is age, George? I'll tell you one thing that truly matters, and that is this: Don't ever let the darkness take you. In shadow, there is always light. In evil, there is always good. Remember that, George, and remember that well. Write it in fire on your heart."
"Master," George whispered.
"Call me Fabien. Only that," he spoke almost abruptly as he pushed the pillows back and stood up to dress once more. "We have work to do. You still have to fix your Madonna."
"You don't love me," she pouted as she pulled herself up on the pillows, brushing back her long brown hair. "It's like as though you're not there, George, when I'm here with you. Can you tell me why?"
"Darling," and the words did not seem to have that much meaning, "I've always cared for you. Didn't I buy you a new gown recently? White silk with black accents, black sashes. I also got you that new petticoat…"
"I know. But. Look over here, Georgie. You don't see me the same way anymore."
Then what do you want? He wanted to say. But he had to please her, even as he absentmindedly teased the shift from her shoulders, as she always liked, and began to nibble the soft spot along the side of her neck. He could pretend she was, for a moment, interesting.
"It's just, George – you don't love me like the way you did, before we married. I know, deep inside, you care – somehow. We don't even have a Slave to help us around the house, or anything like that. It would be decent. Someone with an eye for colour… who could mix your paints, make my dresses. Someone who could dance and sing and conjure image-spells. And yet. Here we are, like peasants…"
"If you think about it, it's time we had a son. Don't you think-" here, she guided his hand to her smooth, slim little belly, still lacking, "You spend a bit too much time at that guild. Oh, I understand the necessity, being Guild Master and all, since the poor late Ravenna – God bless his soul – had to take it that way. But still. Sometimes-"
"Shh." He covered his hand over her mouth, a whisper. "No more talk. If it's a son you want, then it's a son you'll get."
Amy laughed, a giggle, as George withdrew his hand and tumbled her backwards into the wide, white bed. All along, the lit candle threw their shadows against the wall. But as George rediscovered her, his mind began to wander (as always), making love with someone not his wife.
To when his Master died.
The old man lay in bed, body wracked in suffering, his eyes long dimmed by disease. He could still see by the light of strong candles, but relied now on other senses.
Do this one last thing for me…
So George brought in one of his works-in-progress, a painting, this time of a scene in heaven. Already the canvas was filled with a multitude of angels, each bearing wings, shimmering robes, and waves of blond hair. Their faces were touched with emotion, a special trademark that George would later be known for in all his painted works. (No one painted emotion like he did, whether it be sorrow, confusion, elation… somehow, he knew just how to get to the depth of a person's thoughts.)
He knew the Master could see, sense something with a sixth sense. Because the Master moved his lips.
"Here I am."
"Is that really you?"
George nodded. Then, slowly, he unbuttoned his cumbersome, worn apprentice's coat. The fabric dropped to the ground almost like a snake. Next, his vest, and then, his worker's shirt. One by one he stripped the layers, neither shy nor teasing, only practiced and determined. Until at last, he was naked again before the canvas, which stood like a mirror to his heart.
Everything had already been prepared. The paints were ground, the canvas primed, everything set in place. All he had to do was paint.
And that was what he did, as he danced before the canvas, a moving work of art (being perceived by a viewer, his beloved Master); but also completing a separate work of art (the canvas of angels). The logistics tickled him, pleasured him, reminded him of the tale about Narcissus. And he wondered what the Master thought as the morning light fell over his back, his buttocks, his grown man's face.
At that moment, he had not a care for the world.
If this is the last thing I can do. If –
Before he died, Master Ravenna took George's hand one last time and told him, Everything I have is yours now. Everything.
But you can't leave now, you can't-
Keep painting, my beautiful. The old man lay back, but with a smile. Even after I die.
The thief alighted before him, a thin creature with a cloak that was almost too big, and a crooked tricorn hat. He wore a half-mask and a dark handkerchief around his face, so his words were muffled, but he moved with a catlike quickness that was almost graceful. George thought, he could almost be a dancer, smooth and occasionally jarring. Except the thief whipped out a brandished gun and waved it harshly before him.
"Name yourself, sir, and don't be sly. I'm taking your carriage tonight, and those horses there, and who are you by trade?"
"My name is George Ravenna," there was almost some relief in saying his name, as some of the initial shock drained away. "I'm a painter by trade, former apprentice to the late Fabien Ravenna. I run the Painter's Guild now."
"Good evening, George. Rich bastard of a Guild's Master. I see your art's gotten you somewhere, hasn't it?" The thief grinned as he sized George up and down, eyeing the Guild Master's chain he wore, and which he'd forgotten even existed, and never bothered to remove. George was suddenly conscious of himself too. His clothes were all fine – a cloak of sable to protect against the cold, leathered boots, a hat – and well used. Amy always complained about his reluctance to replace old, worn clothes. "That chain there's not half-bad. I swear it's white-gold. Give it to me."
"I'm not giving it away," George said slowly, "Without good reason. And a scoundrel thief is no good reason."
"You calling me a scoundrel?!"
Wham! Suddenly, George felt the pain of a sledgehammer, a sudden force that nearly sent him reeling from a pain deep in his temples. Clutching his head, he staggered, and then, he saw-
But at the same time, not Amy. It couldn't be. Somewhere in his deep subconscious, he saw her thrown back over the kitchen table, her throat brutally slashed, a stream of blood pooling onto the ground below-
The vomit rose in his throat. And something like tears, too.
But this couldn't be. Wasn't he seeing a thief one moment, and then- No, he couldn't think. A laughter rang in the background, reverberating, ricocheting off ths insides of his mind.
But suddenly, something else flashed in him. He knew. It wasn't real. These were all visions, these were all- and he saw something else. He saw, through the blinding light and pain, something like the thoughts of the thief. A picture. He saw a woman, lodged within that thief's subconscious, perhaps the thief's mother.
It was as though his mind now wrestled with this potent force, or whatever it was that the thief was wedging into his mind.
"What are you doing?!" The thief suddenly bellowed. And George felt his mind snapping back to physical reality. "You can't-"
"Don't fuck with me!" George suddenly bellowed, and with all he could, wrested his mind from the thief's strange hold. And that sudden release was like falling off a great precipice.
The light died.
Suddenly, he was in the field again, with the same ratty thief pointing a gun to his head; as though nothing had happened at all.
"You have a mother," George said simply, almost stupidly. "And you don't want to hurt her. Run back to her."
"How do you know that!" The thief cried, equally stupefied.
"Leave me," George hissed. "Or you'll regret. If you – do that again – I'll – I'll kill your mother. It'll be her in the kitchen with a knife in her heart. You-"
Suddenly, the thief laughed. A light, lilting laughter that still unsettled him. He slid his gun back into his holster.
"By heavens, man, I was just having some fun with your thoughts. Just a little mindfucking. You can't change my thoughts. Only I can. Though you – you seem able to protect against me, somewhat… George. You loved your Master."
At that, George jumped back, at the memory stirred in him. He'd forgotton for awhile now.
"I have something you don't, just as you had something I didn't. But it's more than that." Suddenly the thief stepped close to George, shorter than he, the top of his tricorn hat reaching up to George's nose. His eyes were blue, livid. "I didn't say you had to trust me. I'm just suggesting an exchange, that's all, seeing as you interest me – somewhat. I like you." His voice lowered now, almost a whisper, a grin. "In fact, I like you so much, I'll let you have everything. I'll give you all."