Rhiadi 4

Rhiadi sat at her rough wooden bench some weeks later, stunned at what had happened. Looking around, she might still be in her tower room; too hot in the summer and too cold in the winter, but overlooking the Eastern Sea with birdsong in the eaves. The stairs had been rickety and full of bent nails, and sometimes the whole building seemed to sway with the wind. She had felt like a bird in a high nest away from everything, safe because of the dangerous inaccessibility of her home.

Now she walked up smooth granite steps to her solid tower, but somehow the magic of the royal court had transported every other article of her life to the round room at the very top of the Eastern Tower of the palace. Here it was hard to tell that there was a busy castle below her. Her spacious windows faced the sea and the wild cliffs that stretched northward from Ameer City.

A breathless gasp sounded behind her and she smiled fondly at the sound.

“Oh… oh my dear Rhia, must you live up so many stairs? I wear corsets, you know! One can’t breathe!” She pressed her hand to her side dramatically as she panted from her climb.

“Surely, my Anna, you must be fit from chasing the merry Queen at all hours? Some stairs should not wind you.” She turned her body on the bench and leaned on one bare arm, admiring the aesthetic of her dear friend. Anna was always dressed in the latest fashion with colors to compliment her cinnamon hair and milk-white skin. Rhiadi loved to look at her, and to feel her soft warmth.

“Now, Rhia, it’s certainly not that hard of a job to do, you know. She does love being that lioness! One can’t dress and wait on a big cat!” The petite woman dropped herself on a stool just by the doorway and looked around. “Goodness, Rhia, I didn’t even look around to sit! It is exactly where it’s always been, right here by the door! However did they manage?”

“You know the ways of court magic better than I,” Rhiadi turned back to her workbench and sat still, her hands motionless in her lap.

She heard Anna rise and the rustle of her skirts as she came up to rest a small hand on her friend’s shoulder.

“Rhia, whatever is the matter?”

Rhiadi shook her head. “Everything is exactly where I left it last, and yet my mind is far away. I cannot create today.”

Anna gave her shoulder a squeeze, “Well nobody said you couldn’t have a settling-in period! Goodness, I forgot what I came to tell you! It’s so exciting I’m not sure how it slipped my mind. Do guess what news I brought you!”

Rhiadi closed her eyes and smiled down at her lap. “Anna, you know I never guess.”

There was a giggle, “No, but you did smile, Rhia darling. I’ll tell you. There is to be an official messenger arriving tonight!”

The soft brown curls which cascaded past her friend’s pale hand shook with the negating motion of her head. “What is exciting about a messenger? I am sure many come to and from the palace.”

Another giggle issued forth, and Anna leaned in to whisper, “It is a Hivvin, darling!”

Rhiadi sat up straight, and turned to look in Anna’s green eyes, “A Hivvin?” She found she could hardly breathe. She, who was so fascinated with all things feathered, would be able to see a Hivvin? Even as far back from the dais as she would be, she would still be able to see one. It was the chance of a lifetime for someone of Rhiadi’s background.

Anna’s other hand reached to cup Rhiadi’s slender face gently. “Oh yes, Rhiadi. You will see it. I will make sure that you meet it.”

Rhiadi 3

Clothed now, Rhiadi nervously waited for her turn before the King. The box under her arm had grown heavy with the time she had stood in the anteroom, but she refused to let anyone else handle it. Her other hand picked nervously at miniscule pieces of lint embedded in the skirt of her dress. It was her best one, reserved for special occasions. Anna would have let her borrow one of her gowns, but the two women were so different in height it would have looked ridiculous. Rhiadi smiled at the thought of her dear friend’s generosity. They were an unusual pair in many respects.

Her sensuous turn of thought was arrested by the opening of the massive door before her, and a kid-gloved hand waving her in. She straightened her back, trying to feel at ease in both the airy palace and her restrictive – but required – clothing.

The high-class voice announced her efficiently, “Mistress Rhiadi Feysguir, Craftswoman!” As her name rang through the domed hall, Rhiadi strode forward, head high and hands tight on her precious cargo. She stopped at the bottom step and gave a deep curtsey, careful to keep the box at her side level. She straightened herself and waited, staring with determination at the king’s velveted knee.

“Mistress Rhiadi Feysguir, we have been told that you are a craftswoman who excels all others.” The King’s voice was not unkind, and Rhiadi ventured to raise her eyes to his face, which matched his voice perfectly. His skin was golden, as was the hair that flowed around his face, around the long pointed ears they all had, and down to his shoulders in lustrous waves like a lion’s mane. His broad chest was swathed in deep red velvet embroidered with gold and copper vines, and his eyes sparkled darkly. She was immediately attracted to his outward beauty and his inner confidence, and blushed at the thought.

Clearing her throat, she answered, “Your Majesty, I am but a maker of small things, an artist of form. I bring you a sample of my work as a gift,” here she held the cloth-wrapped box slightly toward him, but looked around uncertainly.

The king waved a page over, but Rhiadi recoiled slightly from him as he reached for her treasure.

“Are you having second thoughts, my dear?” The low-pitched feminine tone brought Rhiadi’s attention to the occupied throne beside the king. The woman there was just as stunning as her husband, with sleek golden waves longer and more tame than the man’s mane, lighter skin, and bright blue eyes which twinkled despite their intensely focused gaze. Rhiadi felt an attraction to her, as well. She loved all things which were beautiful enough to strike the heart with longing.

“No, your Majesty, I apologize. My work is delicate and I … I … ” She stammered to a stop.

“You do not trust our page.” The king grinned as she ducked her head, embarrassed to hear it put so bluntly. “Very well. You may approach, but unveil the thing first that we may know it is as you say it is.”

Rhiadi quirked one side of her mouth wryly; he had insinuated that if she didn’t trust his page, he had the right not to trust her. That was fair. She unwrapped the cloth and handed that to the patiently waiting boy, then ascended the stairs of the dais, glass side facing their Majesties. At the top, she sank to one knee, resting the diorama on her other one, head bent.

While her eyes roamed the smooth whorls of wood grain before her, she heard a slow intake of breath.

“Why, Liauron, this is incredible! Look, every hair on my body is correct, and you can see where I have stepped upon the grass, where it is springing up again!”

“Dain, that is my Dain! Down to the chestnut on his hind hoof!” She felt his movement and looked up to find the king’s face a mere foot from her own, examining closely the scene in the box she held. She could feel his breath on her hands, and her own came faster. “How did you do it? Magic?”

She shook her head emphatically, “No, sire! I use no magic in the making of the models. They are by my own hands.”

The king turned to his wife, “Illia, this woman’s talent is extraordinary! We simply must keep her in the palace.”

Rhiadi gasped, and the two rulers glanced at her, identical expressions of bland curiosity on their faces. “Oh, your Majesties, I couldn’t! I mean, I do appreciate the offer, really, but my workshop is my home. It is where I am … most comfortable. Where I can create! It is … quiet there.” She desperately didn’t want to offend her king and queen, because the thought of royal commissions was too good to want to jeopardize, but she was horrified to think of being kept in the palace, away from the natural world that inspired her, and provided many of her materials.

The queen waved the page over again, and the kind smile she gave Rhiadi assured her that her work would be in safe hands. The craftswoman relinquished her hold and watched a piece of her heart walk away, to be placed on a marble table draped with gold-embroidered lace.

Rhiadi 2 (adult theme)

“Oh, Rhia, it’s exquisite! His Majesty will be so pleased!” The lovely cinnamon-haired woman clapped her delicate hands together with delight, her dark eyes shining. Silver bangles which hung from the points of her long ears tinkled merrily with the movement as she bent toward the box her friend had showed her.

Behind a glass pane set in a light colored hardwood frame was a marvelous hunting scene. The miniature figures were carved from various shades of animal horn and bone, and perfectly mimicked the skin tones of the people they portrayed. The king was casting the eagle to the sky, and the green of his gauntlet was marred by tiny talon marks. His horse was tossing its head away from the motion, slivers of white showing around his eyes. The queen crouched, ready to run after the prey the eagle was sent to harry. The fur on her bunched haunches bristled golden, and her red-headed maid stood back holding another horse and the queen’s cloak and crown. Other figures were visible through the trees, each as exquisite as the last.

“Why, Rhia, there’s even a bit of mud on my little skirt! How clever of you. You know that’s why I hate to go on the hunting parties.” Her little pink lips pouted prettily.

Rhiadi smiled at her petite friend and covered her finished work with a dark blue cloth. “Anna, you are a wonder. In all my years of making these, this is the first time I will have made one for royalty. I owe you a debt. This will be my chance to be noticed.”

“Oh, Rhia, dear friend, it was the least I could do! And anyway, I don’t understand why you haven’t approached the court before. Your talent is prodigious! You could command any price.” Her embroidered surcotte brushed the floor and her friend’s bare feet as her hand rested on Rhiadi’s bare arm. The work apron the artist wore in her studio had been discarded, and her naked height dwarfed the clothed maidservant so close beside her.

Rhiadi’s slender fingers caressed Anna’s cheek tenderly. “You know I could not approach the court a commoner as I am. Your influence there has been able to grant me a patron which otherwise I could not have had. You have given me so much, and I have no way to repay it.”

Anna’s eyelashes fluttered delicately above her suddenly flushed cheeks. “Rhia,” she whispered, “You repay me in other ways.”

Their lips met gently as Rhiadi bent herself forward, her soft breasts hanging heavy against the rich fabric that kept Anna’s contained.

Rhiadi 1

Rhiadi looked up from her work for a moment and gazed out at the azure sky. Her fingers stilled on the clean-papered surface beneath them as her mind wandered. Bits of feather scattered around her dreaming hands as they curled around the tiny figure she had been working on a moment before.

The eagle crouched in the middle of takeoff, muscles tensed, eyes intensely forward, concentrating on the feeling of leaping from its perch. The detail was exquisite, perfect even through the magnifying glass she used when creating her miniatures. Even the golden eyes – beads of perfect pale amber – seemed to hold an intelligence despite the cold, unliving material they were made from.

The woman’s own eyes were pale green; in the light from the window they took on a silvery cast. Her face was highlighted with milk and shadowed with cream. The tips of her long pointed ears were translucent, and delicately pierced with golden baubles. A wisp of pale brown hair had escaped the carefully pinned up style that she used while working, and lay indolently beside her high cheekbone. It drifted away as she tilted her head, musing.

She had always been fascinated with birds. They, and the Hivvin who resembled them, were the only creatures who truly flew in the skies above their world. It had always occurred to her as strange that her kind, the tall and slender Aelden, could shift their forms into any number of animals who could walk or crawl upon the ground, climb trees or leap long distances, but not a single one could become a bird who could take to wing and soar among the clouds. That talent was either lost to them, or had never been available.

She let her breath escape in a slow, controlled sigh. It would not do to scatter her materials at this late stage, where only a few fragments of feather remained to glue onto the bird’s form. She turned again to the model, one graceful three-fingered hand absently pushing the errant lock of hair behind her ear as the other picked up a tiny barb with her silver tweezers and resumed the meticulous process of gluing together the eagle’s joyously erect crest.

A shaft of sunlight illuminated the dust drifting lazily behind the curve of her naked back, which was crossed by the ties of the fine apron she wore as her only attire. Around her in the relative gloom, scenes of fancy in various stages of completion rested in anticipation of her delicate touch.