some bits from the beginning - Rough outlineish
Things are starting to form something. It's taken me long enough to figure out where I want to go with this, but here's a couple snippets from the beginning.
It was winter, the time of sleeping, of darkness, death, wind and cold, when they found Master Trecia's body. He had died in the night, sitting in his studio near the window and although he showed he'd been touched by the plague, the final stages were not apparent and when the priests arrived, they suspected another means of death.
He was, or had been, a robust man. A master of desire with few peers. He had been sought out by the low and the high for his services and was the rare artist that served his customers without prejudice. He had been temple taught and, although he had left the holy orders under mysterious circumstances, he still followed the priest's path and offered his tithe on holidays and his services to the temple when needed.
His personal life was still a mystery even to his apprentices. It was a riddle for them to whisper about in the night and pass on to the next generation as the torch was passed from journeyman to apprentice. He moved across borders and where he pleased as a priest would and there were many who asked him for the final offerings when they lay on their death beds.
Master Trecia's life had moved in powerful circles, but now that life had ended and it was up to his apprentices to write the Song of his life and move into to the next stage of their training. They were to write his Song and perform it for the temple feast in his honor. The Abbess herself had requested it and they dare not disobey.
The morning was cold and dreary as the apprentices to the Master Artist trudged up the stairwell to begin his final rites. They wrapped his body in linens and placed it on a burial board, although he would not be given to the earth until the rites had been completed later that day. Each of them had a duty that was performed with solemn grace and without the rivalry that was customary among them.
There were three of them, all boys. The master had been a detailed man and had insisted on teaching one gender at a time. First three maids and then three youths, alternating in five year spans. His methods did not change much, but he always had said that there was a separate energy found in the spirits of apprentices and it was his duty to keep that energy pure. A mixture of the male and female was for adulthood and he would not tamper with that as other masters and mistresses did.
Karn was the eldest of them and had been with the Master the longest. He had been a farmer's son, the eldest of eight children. His sandy blond hair and stocky frame spoke of a family that spent long hard days in the fields and hills working from sun up to sun down. He had been a bit too independent minded for his parents and they had gladly sent him off to the temple to be educated by the priests.
There he had met Joli, the youngest of the three by two years and a prodigy in the Art. He was the temple favorite and let everyone know it. It had been a shock to him when he had not recieved the same treatment after coming to Master Trecia's household to complete his training. It was good for him to have to prove himself, but it left him moody at best most of the time.
Ever had been a city bred boy. His mother lived above a moneychanger and made her living by serving in the household of a noble family. She had had not the time or expenses to care for him and so had left him to the gentle mercies of her sister who lived with a travelling merchant troupe. He had seen much in his short life so far and it seemed a blessing to him when the Artist of the troupe offered to show the curious boy some tricks of his trade one night and he had taken his hero worship and fascination to the temple to ask for training the next time they passed through his mother's home.
Before the priests were allowed into the room, the youngest of the three wiped the face of his master with a clean white cloth. He touched his master's fingertip with a small sharp blade, pressed the cloth against the drop of blood it left and placed the cloth neatly upon the nearby workbench. In less dire times, he would have kissed the dead lips and graced his master's passing, instead he kissed his forehead, touched the lips with his finger and hoped that it would do. There were many who had welcomed the dead in the old fashion of kissing the dead and sharing blood who had quickly gone to join them afterwards. He was careful not to add his name to their ranks.
The priests entered the room quietly, quickly and efficiently. They picked up the burial board and carried it downstairs for the rest of the household to view and bid farewell before placing it reverently upon the carriage outside and transport it to the great temple at the center of the city. Although there were many dead, it was the duty of the priests to pay their respects and finish the cycle of the earth by burying the remains and offering the spirit release. The priests took their duties deadly serious and would not break a vow by disrespecting the dead they cared for.
The streets were just awakening and more temple carriages were passing and stopping at each corner to retrieve the dead who had passed their song on to the living the night before. The plague was worsening, although among the city's nobles one would never be able to guess. The signs there were more carefully hidden and the subject was taboo.
All night, the nobles held their parties and masquerades and all day they took to their rest and on holy days they visited the dream dens and screamed their fears to the ether. Some of them visited more often and those were well known among the apprentices of Master Trecia.
As the priests walked in stately procession from the villa, one of these nobles stopped in front of the door. She made the priests wait, which was vexing to the priests, and asked loud, complaining questions to the house staff, which was vexing to the apprentices.
She left after having her say. She had wanted an appointment with the Master himself and it was a disappointment that she obviously will never have that privilege again. Her carriage left post haste, and the boys shared a sigh of relief that they would not have to stand in for the Master.
They had not yet begun grieving. That was for another time, for later when they were away from the crowds that were forming outside the villa and in friendly, undemanding company.
The kitchen was warm and the housestaff were preparing for the day. Ever came in after a long cleansing soak in the baths and moved closer to the central fire to warm himself. He stopped by a table on the way to the fire and picked up some fruit and cheese that were set out for latecomer's breakfasts.
The fire was comforting and the conversation of the housestaff was quieter than normal. A hush had settled across the household and many members had gone to the Temple to pay their respects to the dead of the past week and Master Trecia in particular. He was well respected, if not loved, by the household and his death left a deep lack in the daily routines of the others.
So many had died that year. Ever took his breakfast to the atrium and brushed his fingers down the names recorded on the columns around the room. There were more new ones than old, it seemed to him. Some of them he had barely had time to know before they succumbed to the sickness that spread through the city. Some of them had been friends and family to him. And even as he was numb from the passing of his Master, he had almost expected his death. What else could he have done in these strange times but expect the worst?