“How much did you say?” he asked.
When Zylos heard the whopping amount that he will be paid for his work, it was difficult for him to believe that he had heard it right.
“A hundred thousand Stellars”, came the reply.
Zylos was the most renowned painter in town – earning his living by drawing portraits for elites. It was the country of Origiana in its late 1500s, ruled by Queen Ina.
There were various tales that spoke of Queen Ina’s rise from a being a singer in the court to becoming the queen. She was married to prince Tyzar who went on to become the king. Upon his untimely demise, the baton was passed onto her – She became the ruler.
The minister of the state was at the door of Zylos with an offer. A portrait of Queen Ina had to be painted and he would be paid a huge amount in return.
“Zylos! Would you agree to paint the picture of her highness, Queen Ina?” the minister asked.
The assignment was not something that would demand much of his effort. The money that he would be getting in return would would help him lead a life- lead by the rich.
He accepted it.
“But there’s a condition”, said the minister.
Zylos threw a questioning look at him.
“You can’t paint the picture in her presence”, he said.
“Then?” asked Zylos.
“You cannot expect her to warm her seat and pose, while you paint her. We would allow you to attend the court proceedings and you could stay there for half an hour. We would allow your visit every day until you are done”.
“So you want me to memorize her face and continue the drawing once I am back home?” asked Zylos. Artistic genius that he was, drawing from memory wasn’t something that bothered him.
‘It might take some time, but not forever’, he thought.
“That shouldn’t be difficult. Could be a matter of weeks”, he gave his nod.
The minister smiled at him- “The queen will have a look at the painting. She would expect the portrait to match her beauty – every contours on face intact. Any flaw that she finds in it and you will not be paid for your work”.
“So the money…” Zylos paused.
“You will be paid after your work!” the minister smiled.
Queen Ina was perhaps the most beautiful woman on the earth – at least amongst those women whom Zylos had seen.
Every day he spent twenty minutes in the court looking at her – paying attention to every minute detail on her face. He was not allowed to carry any drawing material to the court, hence all his observations had to stay in his mind until he returned home.
Once home, he would quickly try to put those details on canvas. He would spend hours on every line that he drew and every stroke that he made.
Every day he would wake up early in the morning and stare at the canvas until it would be time to rush to court. In the court he would then spend time in identifying those details on her face that deviated from his painting.
Weeks rolled and then months, but the painting wasn’t complete. Ones which were complete didn’t appear perfect to him and he had them thrown away only to start with a new canvas.
He tried to distance himself from others. He stopped talking to those around. He kept thinking about Queen Ina’s face all the while.
One day it occurred to Zylos – ‘My wife is also beautiful. She might be someone who is serving as my distraction. While I draw Queen Ina, it must be my wife’s face that is invading my memory every now and then’.
The moment that thought crossed his mind, he started avoiding his wife. He stopped looking at her, with a fear that it would influence his painting. He burnt all his wife’s portraits.
A year passed by!
Her husband’s behavior started bothering her. She turned ill and one day she passed away. However, her desertion had little impact on Zylos. He continued painting the portrait – all day and all night.
Few more years passed by and Zylos was yet to paint a portrait that satisfied him. He kept visiting the court and the minister kept enquiring about the progress. The desire to paint a perfect portrait had turned into an obsession!
The neighboring kingdom Vyzan had declared a war on Origiana. The battle was fought. After four weeks of war Origiana lost.
Brave lady that she was, Queen Ina was one amongst those countless warriors who had lost their lives in the war. Every royal belongings including the palace was destroyed.
The king of Vyzan took over Origiana.
Few more years passed by.
Now Zylos had turned old and was in his fifties – leading a lonely life.
One day a carriage stopped by his hut. A bald man of almost his age stepped out of the carriage. His attire and the badge that he wore, suggested that he was a senior official in the court of Vyzan.
“Is this the place where Zylos, the painter lives?” the bald man asked.
Zylos took a moment and nodded.
“Are you the one who was working on the portrait of Queen Ina?” he asked.
“Yes”, said Zylos in a shaky voice.
There was a sharp change in the bald man’s expression. He was visibly excited. “Well. Do you still have any of her paintings”, the official asked, with a hint of anxiety in his voice.
Zylos didn’t reply. Instead, he took him inside and pointed at a huge pile of paintings – covered in dust.
He picked up a cloth and slowly started dusting them before arranging them on the floor one by one. Every picture in the pile was the portrait of Queen Ina! Painted with perfection!.
When the last piece was dusted and laid on the floor, the bald man stopped counting. There were around a thousand of them!
“Beautiful!” he exclaimed in a voice that choked.
Zylos responded with a forced smile on his tired face.
“Why have you painted so many of them, a thousand ?”, the bald man asked.
“I don’t know”, Zylos replied softly.
“I am buying them, all of them”, said the bald men- gently.
Zylos was taken aback by surprise.
“One million Stellars”, he said and held out a large leather pouch towards Zylos.
The artist was at loss of words. All his old memories rushed in. Tears rolled down his cheeks. With a shaky hand he touched the pouch and with the other he wiped his tears.
The bald man signaled his men and they started moving those paintings to his carriage.
When he was about to leave, Zylos asked the question that had made nest in him all this while.
“Why pay so much for her painting?” he asked.
The bald man stopped and turned around. He came closer to him and started speaking.
“I was born here and was in this town until I left this country at the age of seventeen. Until then I used to look at her daily, listen to her sing by the river bank, dreaming of my future with her and thinking of ways to talk to her and confess my love.
I left this country in a hope of making it rich and returning one day, being someone who could ask her hand in marriage at ease.
But I am returning now, after a gap of thirty years. So much has transpired in these thirty years- struggle, war, longings and at last a comfortable life.
My love towards her stayed persistent, but I couldn’t recollect her face anymore. I forgot how she used to look.
All these years I yearned to see her face and when I am here, she isn’t. She is not alive”, he stopped as his voice choked.
Pointing at the leather pouch in Zylos’ hand, he continued “This money is the least that I could pay you. The joy of seeing her face again and bringing alive her face that had faded away from my memory, is of worth beyond any measure”.
He silently thanked him and proceeded towards his carriage. When He was about to step into the vehicle, something struck him and he turned around.
“You live alone here. Aren’t you married?” he asked.
“My wife, she died years ago”, said Zylos.
“I am sorry”, the bald man apologized. “But you are an artist. You could draw her portrait and keep her alive”, he smiled.
Zylos didn’t respond and waited for him to leave.
Once his carriage left, he walked into his hut.He mounted a fresh canvas on the wooden easel and took out his brush.
He tried to recollect his wife’s face again- like he did every single day!
And as always, all that he could remember was – Queen Ina’s face!
(A writer hates it when he has to explain his story. Let’s see if you have understood the story right 🙂
If you don’t want me to spill it for you, stop reading this any further. Go back and give the story, a second read.
If you want me to explain it to you, then just think- why did he paint over a thousand portraits of the queen? Was he drawing them intentionally? And wasn’t he throwing away every picture that failed to satisfy him.
Did he continue to paint the Queen in spite of her death?
What were those last two lines in the story trying to convey?
If you still haven’t understood it right, try reading the story once again.
All that I was trying to tell is that there is a possibility that he had stopping painting the queen a long back. He must have been trying to paint his wife, because he had begun to miss her.
Sadly, he had forgotten his wife’s face. And whenever he tried to remember her face and paint her, all that came into his mind was the face of Queen Ina.
That’s how, a thousand pictures! At the end of the story, it was not Queen Ina’s face that fetched him the money. It was his honest attempt at painting his own wife’s picture.
I wanted to put across this point very subtly in the story and not describe it in detail.)
NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR:
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