THE PAINTING

A SANTHARIAN FAIRY-TALE

 
Master Tribell's Miraculous Narrations   
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Introduction. While her three peasant brothers work the lands, Wyelda is weak and fragile, suffering from heaves, the notorious strangling disease. All she can do is sit back on her rocking chair and paint occasionally. She might not bring the family through the winter with her artistic streak, but her painting speaks to the heart.

 

here once were four peasant siblings, three brothers and their sister, Wyelda, and they lived in a farmhouse they had inherited from their elders.

The three young men altogether were strong, diligent and never would you see any of them idle, they were always toiling in the one way or the other. Throughout the year you could see them incessantly ploughing, lumbering, loading, transporting, building, fixing, feeding and slaughtering livestock and in between all the farm work they were still busy with discussing what they might do next, and when. They never ran out of work.

Their sister, Wyelda, however was not only younger than her brothers, she was also weak and fragile, for she was sick and always had been that way. Heaves was what she was suffering from, the notorious strangling disease, so the healers had told them. Which meant that Wyelda had troubles breathing and therefore she hardly ever left the farmstead; if she only walked for a little while, she became easily exhausted and soon needed rest again. There was really very little she could do to help the others, so severe was her illness, that even the mindsmoothers had already given up on her. So while her siblings were out and about doing all kinds of hard work under the sun, Wyelda could only attend to a few minor chores in and around the house and thus spent most of her time in a rocking chair on the porch, watching listlessly as her brothers worked. Sometimes she cooked for them, but even this she found arduous and wearisome and it happened at times that she couldn’t even finish a meal she had begun fixing. So was her whole life: melancholy, uneventful and bland.

Because it had always been that way and there was nothing that anyone knew of that would make their sister any better, her brothers accepted her the way she was, for she was family. Sometimes they would jokingly say to her: “What a life you have, sister! While you were sleeping all day we’ve been out in the woods! First we cut down the trees, then removed all the branches one by one, dragged the cleared logs out of the underbrush onto the dirt road, loaded them on the cart, drove them home, chopped each single log into ped long pieces and then stacked them all up nicely in the shed. Ah, all that work your dear hard working brothers have done, just so that Your Highness might have it nice and cozy at the hearth sitting in her rocking chair when it is winter time!”

To that their sister smiled. She was very weak, but she smiled nevertheless when she heard her brothers complain to her that way, for words like these chased away her sadness. Wyelda knew her brothers well and therefore she also was aware that it never occurred to them to really offend her. Saying things like these was their boyish attempt to play with her, to tease, show that they cared for her, and they did well with it, because it helped lift her spirits.

“Well,” she once replied then, no less quick-wittedly. “Rest assured, I appreciate all your laboring, my boys! Let it be known that the princess is very thankful, but please convey as well that she’s a bit short on gold at the moment to pay for the suffered hardships!” Then she added: “But while you were busy trying to keep me warm just one single winter, I’ve worked on something that will warm your hearts for much, much longer!” And she showed them a painting she had begun with a farmstead on it, the fields and the woods made the background, some cattle and a couple of hens were on it as well – and three working men. Painting was one of the few things Wyelda managed to do without straining herself too much, and she enjoyed it quite a bit. Her brothers used to call her “Our little Clyothea” after the famous paintress the Santhran had engaged a while ago at his New-Santhalan palace to paint the king and his whole family. Well, truth be told, Wyelda was not quite the artist that the famous Clyothea was, but working on the painting got her mind off other things, and that was the important part. She got so completely immersed in the process of getting a tiny detail right that she briefly forgot everything else, and that included the ever present pain that she felt.

Every now and then similar conversations like the one just mentioned would occur. The brothers would tell their sister about their day’s work, like the tilling of the field: “Thank the Gods that the spring sun already made the soil dry and warm enough, so that we could go ahead already,” they would report to her. “Today we’ve done all the shoveling, the picking, the hoeing, the raking, and soon we may seed the potatoes and the corn! It’s going to be a promising year!”

To which the ailing sister replied: “That’s a great thing to hear, for we will need the food – and the gold as well we’ll make with the crops to get through the year!” And she kissed each of her brothers for the hard work they had been doing while she herself had been bound to her chair.

One of the brothers then asked: “And while we’ve been sweating all day long, what has our illustrious princess been up to? Did she put on one fancy dress after the other and all her jewelry and watch herself for hours in the mirror from all sides?”

“But of course that’s exactly what I did!” she answered. “And how beautiful I looked – you should have seen me! The fairest in all Santharian lands! If a prince had been to pass by the window and would have spotted me in such an elegant gown he’d have taken me right with him!”

“He sure would have!” the brothers agreed.

Then Wyelda said: “Oh, and once I was through with trying on all these beautiful dresses I worked a little more on my painting, you know. I guess it is coming along nicely!”

“It sure does, our little Clyothea!” another brother nodded. There were a couple more pigs now to be seen on the picture, and the features of one of the brothers were already clearly visible. The one who was depicted liked what he saw very much on the painting, and he told his sister so. “You made me better looking and more hard working than I’ve ever really been,” he chuckled. “If you continue painting us that way, the Santhran himself might want to send for this picture, for he surely likes to have a thing like this in his palace as well. There is everything at one glance to be seen: The wonderful landscapes that Santharia has, and also the hard work of the simple folk, his subjects, that work these lands. Isn't it beautiful? – Ah, I bet some day we’ll sell it for lots and lots of gold and will never have to worry about the next harvest or collecting wood for winter, and we'll have to thank you for that, sister!”

“Exactly,” Wyelda said and laughed. “That’s what I told you, isn’t it? You’re just working to make do from one year to the next, while what I work on is something that will last for life! That’s the difference between us, the hard workers on the one hand and me, who swings the paintbrush and paints them to enshrine such a moment for eternity!” So Wyelda said and everyone had a hearty laugh and was merry.

So the spring passed, then summer came, and autumn. Sadly, the sister’s illness went from bad to worse with every change of the season; eventually she had to stay in bed all day to conserve the little strength she still had in herself. Passing Clouds saw several healers arrive at the farmstead, but they all shook their heads and predicted that the bitter outcome was only a matter of time. Prayers were the only thing they could suggest. Still Wyelda joked and laughed the best she could, for she didn’t want to become too much of a burden for the others, who tended her so well despite the dire prospects. She knew that she wouldn’t last much longer.

So it came that once the winter’s frost had the farmstead in its firm grip, the brothers found their sister motionless in her bed one morning. She lay there right next to the warm hearth, cuddled in a blanket, and seemed so innocent as they looked at her, finally released maybe. The brothers had tried everything to make her last days comfortable, but in the end her heavy breathing had just stopped. The Gods had taken her back. Maybe they had other plans for her, they comforted themselves.

“You know,” one of the brothers remarked after they had kissed her good-bye on her deathbed. “I just thought about what she said: That we’re only working from season to season to make ends meet. However, the wood we’ve collected all summer at least has kept her warm until the very end. So the work we did lasted more than a few seasons, for her it lasted the whole lifetime.”

The other brothers nodded solemnly, and they wept, for they had loved her sister very much.

Wyelda hadn’t finished her painting completely when her casket was carried away and handed over to the cold, frozen winter earth. She had painted everything she had seen from her window, though – the fields, the woods, the livestock, her hard working brothers – and she had also planned to add herself once everything else was done: the painter, sitting in her rocking chair, looking out at the fields. However, she had only sketched the chair when the Gods had reclaimed her soul, and the emptiness of that spot on the canvass weighed heavily on each of the brothers’ heart when they looked at it from now on. To preserve the memory of their sister they asked the carpenter to frame the picture, and then they put it up on the wall next to the hearth where she had lain when she had died. From time to time they would look at the painting and think about her beloved sister, the would-be princess.

Many cycles later a lot had changed in the farmstead. Two of the three brothers had moved out eventually, and the eldest now owned the whole house; he was still working as well: on the fields, out in the woods, looking after his livestock. Maybe he wasn’t as agile anymore as back in the days when he had been with his brothers, but he still enjoyed the labor of working the lands. The old peasant now lived with his wife, who had born him three children, two daughters and a son, and there were also a couple of farmhands who made the place thrive. Life had been good to them. The peasant saw little reason to complain.

One day it happened that the baron and his daughter were passing the farmhouse in their carriage when a wheel broke and they had to ask the locals for help. The old peasant, who had seen the accident, immediately hurried to the site and offered the driver to repair the wheel in his workshop. As this would take a while, he invited the baron and his daughter in the meantime to have lunch at the farmhouse.

The peers accepted and so it came that baron and daughter tasted a hearty meal served by the peasant’s wife and spent a most enjoyable afternoon with the farmer’s family listening to many a refreshing story from old and young. The baron was full of praise about the food afterwards. As he was finally about to leave, he saw his daughter still standing next to the hearth, looking at a painting of three hard working peasants placed in a landscape that very much resembled the farmstead and its surroundings.

“Who would be the artist of this wonderful picture?” the young lady inquired, impressed by the skillful execution and the idyllic beauty of the scene. The painting might have been quite old by now and it showed in parts, but that only added to its fascination, the young lady found.

“Oh, this is the work of my sister,” the peasant answered. “It is the only painting she ever did, and she had been working on it for a very long time. Though sadly she passed away before she could finish it.”

“I’m sorry to hear about your sister. There’s no easy way to deal with a loss in the family,” the baron said. Then he stepped closer to inspect the picture further. “It looks quite finished to me however. What would you say is actually missing?”

The peasant got all teary eyed as he looked at the picture again after so many years. He glanced at the three men on it, his brothers and himself – how young they still looked back then! His eyes explored the endless details Wyelda had put into each single face, and he admired how meticulously she had tried to capture their movements – it was only a picture, but the figures on it seemed full of energy, so alive! How much love she had put into depicting the animals roaming the farmstead, the trees and the farmhouse, even the hills in the far distance, and how colorful, how magnificent, how captivating and hopeful it all seemed! Like a ray of sun that penetrated a cloudy sky the painting appeared, a glimmer of peacefulness from the past that still shone to this very day. The peasant was so enthralled all of a sudden by looking at the marvels he was rediscovering just now that he forgot the baron’s question altogether and had to ask him to repeat it again.

“What’s missing?” the baron asked once more. “That’s what I wanted to know. Looks all like a perfectly complete picture to me!”

The peasant wanted to point at the empty rocking chair, where his sister was meant to be seated, but then he reconsidered. She was all there in every tiny brushstroke he suddenly found, every fibre of her being. It didn’t matter that her fragile body couldn’t be seen on the picture, her spirit was still present, just like at the day she had added a brushstroke for the very last time.

“Oh, I guess you’re absolutely right there, baron,” the peasant finally said. “It is finished after all, I see that now.”
“Say,” the baron suggested. “It is such a wonderful picture, and I can see that it pleases my daughter so much to look at it – would you be willing to part with it perhaps?”

Which is when the peasant remembered: He and his brothers had jokingly bantered with his sister about selling the painting to the king. Wyelda was laughing back then, agreeing with the idea to get them through many a winter that way – and now all of a sudden the opportunity offered itself. As the brother thought about it, he could see his sister clearly before his mind’s eye, and he could even recall her exact words: “You’re just working to make do from one year to the next, while what I work on is something that will last for life!”

“No,” the peasant finally replied to the baron. “I fear, this painting is not for sale. Not for a hundred, nor for thousands and thousands of gold. Whatever wood I could buy with coins, it would only keep me warm in winter. This painting however warms my heart, and that lasts for life!”


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Fairy-tale written by by Artimidor Federkiel View Profile