Even though it had not yet been a day since the gentleman had commissioned the painting, I called him as soon as I woke up. The money he offered for it (and I was sure I would receive) was of no importance in this case. It was true that I could use some, but I had no great need for it and the inspiration he'd given me was its own reward. In the morning the painting looked perfect to me. The last time I'd painted with such clarity was more than two years ago in much different circumstances.
The castle painting still hangs in the guest-room.
It was late afternoon, after a shower, food and some wrapping material, by the time I arrived at his house. The man, as impeccably dressed as always, greeted me at the door with a slight look of surprise. He had not expected me to come back to quickly, of course, but he wanted to see what I had made. Since it was still light enough, we went into the living-room where there was plenty of sunlight shining in. The furniture there looked old but not worn, it had been incredibly well-kept and looked comfortable and solid. A single carpet lined the floor and caused a dark-red glow to reflect from the sunlight. We didn't sit down just yet.
"May I do the honors?"
I smiled. "Of course."
With a bit of theatrical flair, he took the painting and unwrapped it.
The best compliment an artist can have on any painting is not the oohs or aahs of admiration, nor the flood of words that some people utter, but rather the silence, the complete absence of any response other than quiet staring. Expressions can vary, from interested to disgusted, from calm to annoyed. If someone is taking the time to absorb what the artist has made, the goal is achieved, no matter what the opinion of the work is. The man stared, a soft smile on his lips, his eyes going all over the painting to take it all in.
"Marvelous." He whispered softly.
I let things be for him to speak on his own terms.
"Did you paint this last night?"
I nodded. "Yes, the image was so vivid that I couldn't ignore it. I only slept early this morning."
He smiled back at me. "I see, very, very well done. You're definitely getting a bonus for this one. But, if I may ask, why a wolf?"
A question I had asked myself as well. One couldn't quite say that the wolf was seen as the standard hunter of the wild. Eagle, lion, snakes and more were seen as much more dangerous. But for some reason they lacked the simplicity that I needed, the sense of honor in my gut. There had been something else as well, but harder to place.
"It felt like the right being. Powerful, at home in the forest. It would be a good opponent for a boar."
"Well, wolves tend to avoid boars unless they really need to. A single wolf would have a lot of trouble with a boar."
"I'm not sure, it just felt like it had to be a proper victory, not a meaningless battle."
"That it is." He looked at the painting again. "I can tell you put a lot of detail in it, quite impressive." There was a glint in his eyes. "I suppose you were the right choice after all."
I bowed. "Thank you. I'm glad you like it."
He walked away to one of the cabinets and opened it to retrieve a decanter and two glasses. The smell of the red liquid he poured was dark, warm and sweet. He offered me a glass which I, hesitantly, took. I wasn't too keen on drinking alcohol, but a single glass was okay and it smelled really good once I held it in my hands. Cinnamon, pepper and other spices mixed with a much sweeter smell than expected from red wine. It was warm too, almost hot but definitely drinkable.
"To this beautiful painting and your skills." He lifted his glass in the air before he took a drink.
It was impolite to refuse.
The wine was very, very tasty. The spices, grapes and heat mixed together like a warm cloud in my head. Almost immediately it made me feel slightly lightheaded without being annoying. As if the damp of alcohol floated to my brain. Soon I took another sip, and a few more. It only served to make me feel dizzier, more than it should even. The room was wavering, or perhaps it was my eyes, sounds starting to get muffled, colors fading.
The man took the glass from my hands while I swayed badly, there was a smile on his lips. "You have earned my gift."
The last I remembered was a sharp pain in my arm, oddly disconcerting, before my consciousness had faded away. Then there was only darkness.