MARROW: CHAPTER FOUR, SCENE ONE
SECTION ONE: THE BUTTERFLY HOUSE
In the Fifth Era of the Paltran Emperors
WHAT OCCURRED AT THE SEASIDE VILLA?
The Third Day of Autumn, Year Forty of the Fifth Era of Paltran Emperors
I PACED back and forth in the Yellow House lounge. Viscaria — not yet an uzņika, but old enough to try — sat across from me on a gold-threaded divan, feet soaking in tub filled with saltwater and a cup of poppy wine in hand.
My supposed seventeenth birthday loomed ahead in the unknown fog of next month. I had no offers of patronage in hand. House guests loved me, but not enough. A few individuals had taken a liking to me, but not enough. Never enough.
I wasn’t enough.
Thoughts of Alyssum and the others snapped at my ankles like a pack of feral dogs. By the Artist’s grace, five new girls had come this year. Two managed to hold on long enough to attend their first lessons. I had to set an example. I had to make it work.
“Well, what about Jokuslovas Aimaj Persis? He seems to like me well enough,” I said.
Viscaria twisted her lips into a sympathetic smile, shaking her head. “He supports two girls at the launnal in Prusi. I’d be amazed if he has anything left in his coffers.”
“What about Serkun Gedinas’ brother? Lady Iris only has the most laudatory things to say of the family.”
“Who, Markas?” Viscaria laughed. “He’s so… young. Almost too young. I don’t think he’s even married yet.”
I stopped pacing and sank into my favourite chair, a plump little pouf upholstered in green. My knee bounced a thousand spans a moment as I shifted side to side, unable to find a comfortable position.
Viscaria sipped her wine. “I suppose it couldn’t hurt to try, if all else fails. I can all but promise his parents won’t let him sign any contract of patronage until he’s found a wife, so you may find yourself paddling upstream with a sieve if you try to snag him. Although…” She shifted. Water sloshed around in the tub. “Most Örösi men aren’t in a rush to find an uzņika, even if they’re from the mainland. We aren’t as desirable here. Why pay an exorbitant fee to hire a living work of art when you could simply trot down to the nearest theatre and take your pick of the actresses?”
I sighed. Asking another uzņika for information about their patron was… improper, verging on insult, but it might have been my only chance. “Doesn’t Esteras have any brothers, nephews, cousins, friends?”
“All of them are either too young, have Örösi wives that don’t tolerate us, or already employ an uzņika.” She took another sip. “I know he’s good friends with the Unkreis family’s eldest son, but they’re away in Maj Sutki until next Summer.”
I groaned. The delicacy and dire importance of the situation utterly infuriated me. Most girls who toed this close to the deadline without a patron never found one. The Collegium refused to extend the deadline no matter the circumstance. Earlier in the year the darling of Gilori’s launnal was dismissed simply because her contract of patronage was delivered to the wrong office. Misunderstanding, miscommunication, a simple mistake — even sabotage was met with no mercy. Our launnal was lucky to have girls who got along so well.
“Oh, I know,” Viscaria said. “Glaunas Aimaj Voignovus. He’s very shy, but I’ve seen him watch you metalweave from afar many times. He’s young — almost as young as Markas, but I know for certain he’s married.” She took a sip. “What with the war ongoing in Kandrisev and everything, it would be very clever to pair with an ore baron, especially given your talents. The coin will flow as long as the blood does, and you’ll have an endless stock of sculpting materials to boot.”
It made sense. It all made sense. But I couldn’t just ask him to offer me patronage. That wasn’t how this worked. The patron made the offer, never the aizņika. Doing something so brash would embarrass him and humiliate me. Regardless, I could not quit. I had spent too much time, too much money that wasn’t mine, and far too many tears on achieving the title of uzņika to lay down and perish here so close to the finish line. If I found a patron before the deadline, I would become an uzņika without a doubt. Artis said so himself. Rutgita even thought so.
Like lightning, an idea struck.
“Artis,” I confidently said.
Viscara nearly choked on her wine. “Artis? That would be the most gauche mistake I think you’ve ever made. He can’t offer you patronage. He might as well have melded your soul together himself as far as the law is concerned. I wouldn’t even mention his name in proximity to patronage — to anyone.”
“No, Viscaria — listen. You saw how many friends he brought to my debut. All of them have long since returned to Maj Melidi, obviously, but surely one of them had notions of patronage. If I ask Artis, he may be able to put ideas in heads, money into hands… I’m a stream of income for him he no doubt wants to keep. How many other metalweavers have you met, let alone an uzņika who can do that? Crass as it sounds, it’s true — I make him a lot of money. Surely he knows someone looking to make a connection.”
She snorted. “Are you prepared to leave Örös and finish your studies in a Melidan launnal to be near your Melidan patron?”
As I opened my mouth to protest, she cut me off. “No. Think carefully before you answer that. You think life in an Örösi launnal is hard? Try a mainland house with twenty perfect icons of Brisian virtue and beauty all competing for attention, all of whom will have blue blood, may I remind, and all of whom have lived in the Empire since birth. Half of them will be from noble families, and if you think the Lady of the House won’t keep that in mind when she chooses who to give the most effort, you’re naïve beyond rescue. Not to mention the fact that the sabotage and patron-stealing we face is child’s play compared to what some of those women are capable of.”
“Well then what can I do?” I shouted. “I can’t leave the launnal so I can’t ask him on my own. Lady Pearl will never allow me to leave for this, your patron has no leads, Jokuslovas Aimaj Persis already pays for two, Markas Majai Julnis is too young, and Glaunas Aimaj Voignovus will never muster the gumption to speak to me!” I let my head fall into my hands. No matter how hard I tried, something went wrong. Always and without exception.
Viscaria set down her cup and stepped out of the soaking tub and patted dry her raw and bloodied feet in silence. I watched her. I knew I shouldn’t have shouted. She was not the source of my anguish. Yet, she could help if she wanted to. She was an uzņika and did not need Lady Pearl’s permission to leave the launnal. Another thing I could never ask.
“What is wrong with me?” I asked. Tears flooded my eyes. I sniffed, coughing as my throat filled with mucus.
Viscaria unrolled a linen bandage and began wrapping her toes and ankles. “There isn’t anything wrong with you. You’re almost… too unique,” she said.
I sobbed. “What does that even mean?”
“You asked earlier how many uzņika I know who can weave metal. None. I know none, and I bet nobody else does, either. It’s extremely intimidating to watch. It’s almost — ” She caught herself. “Don’t take this the wrong way. You know I love you as I do Belesha and Hawthorn and you know how beautiful I find your abilities. It’s also no help to you that Essencecasting isn’t well received in Örös. The fact is, your talent is almost un-uzņika-like. You weave these sculptures — magnificent, glorious sculptures — and can dance almost as well as me, but there’s something so messy about it that I think it puts potential patrons off. Not ‘gross’ messy, mind, just… intense. The passion you show is so unrestrained it threatens to overshadow, well, you.”
Me. I knew what she meant: how pretty I looked. No other uzņika wove metal and likewise no uzņika I knew of finished performances drenched in sweat, hair flung wildly out of place, smelling of brass and exhausted of being awake. That was one part of me I refused to mask. Messy. Intense. Passionate. Those were all the pieces of myself no amount of anxious Argita Nauve, simpering Anemone, or hopeful Juniper could conceal. I was proud of my chaos. If that made me unloveable, I didn’t want love. To become an uzņika was my only goal. I’d find a patron who appreciated all parts of me even if I had to go to Maj Melidi or beyond to find them.
“Thank you for your help,” I said curtly.
“Juniper, I wasn’t trying to — ”
I stalked off to work on my latest piece. I needed time to think.
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