Oneshot, reposted with a couple of error corrections for your reading pleasure.

Written for pool 15, prompt 3:
Historical fiction. Take a time period or historical event, like the French Revolution, or Showa or Meiji era Japan, or the War of the Roses, or the Roaring Twenties, and so on, and write about it with a Nasu-setting spin. Draw from what you know of the existing setting, like the magi or the Church or Apostles or demon hunters. Historical figures are fine so long as they appear as themselves, rather than as Heroic Spirits or within the context of a Grail War. OCs are fine too.


‘You are late.’

A voice like birdsong, he heard her before he saw her. The bright sunlight of the late autumn morning cut shadows sharp as knives, her dark figure obscured by them in the quiet courtyard, leaning onto the thick corner pillar as if she were one with the stonework.

He was not quite late, and she was not angry. He could see that in the way her eyes crinkled. She was glad to see him. And he was glad to see her.

‘I couldn’t let a day this beautiful pass me by, my lady. My eyes might be getting old but they can still seek out beauty wherever it might be hiding,’ he paused for a small bow in her direction. ‘Dark courtyards included.’

And the day truly was shaping up into something beautiful. He wore thicker stockings than usual, and the lingering cold of the night made him cling onto his cloak, but the soft sunlight felt good on his skin, as if it were seeping into his old bones, invigorating him. Along the smooth, gradually climbing road to the hilltop palace, he stopped at few points to close his eyes and turn his face towards the sun. It struck him how much of his life was spent moving away from the light, filtering it, shading it, understanding it. Something about meeting her tinged his day with nostalgia, and he was not a man prone to bouts of nostalgia.

‘Age dulled the edge off of many of our gifts, but I am delighted to see that your gift for simultaneously insulting and complimenting me is not one of them.’ She moved to him, light on her feet, and returned the bow, dark hair cascading past her shoulders.

’It’s good to see you, old friend.’

She looked happy, at peace. A woman of the world. Her smile seemed to come to her easier than ever, tensing her features just slightly before stretching them. He was awash with pride, and the nostalgia he felt before diffused into the crisp, clean air, like the warm backing sound of a lute following a pleasant conversation.

‘It is good to see you too, Lisa.’

A swallow streamed across the courtyard-framed patch of blue above.

* * *

He remembered that summer quite clearly. It was an unbearably hot one, so much that the city council passed restrictions on water from the city’s many fountains, and lines had formed across piazzas and through streets, people queueing up with buckets and barrels. He had to push his way through them on his way to the workshop, and on busy days he’d forgo washing his hands after work entirely, making his way from one errand to another with rolled up sleeves and arms covered up the the elbows in marble dust and plaster. The sight made the bored and sheltered city girls swoon.

He was a young man then. Young, handsome, ambitious. It had been two years since he’d arrived to Florence to work and study in old man Andrea’s workshop. Eleven years since his mother died, and he appeared with nothing but a trunk of peasant clothes and a sketchbook at the doors of a stranger - his father.

His father was not a bad man. He’d always remember the childlike amazement in the old man’s eyes when he first sifted through that sketchbook. He was a lover of the arts, and quickly set him up with an apprentice spot in one of the city’s most respected workshops, where he’d learn to see, and measure, and paint, and sculpt. He let him stay in his home, among his trueborn children. He provided, sometimes even affection in the form of an awkward pat on the head when he’d draw something beautiful, or was notified that he was making good progress in his studies. He had, in all things, been treated fairly by the man.

But all the same, he preferred it here. A stranger once is a stranger always, and he never felt at home there, not truly. The humble servant quarters where he and the other apprentice boys lived were closer to the memories he had of the house of his mother than the lavish rooms of his father’s house could ever be, closer to home. It was also here that he first met her, returning from doling out samples around the city on a hot afternoon. Or was it getting pigments? He’d just become senior enough to be allowed to buy those for the workshop.

The neighborhood had recently experienced an influx of new citizenry, mostly newly rich traders or the newly impoverished nobles from the province. The family that had taken up residence not long ago in the house next to the workshop was, he suspected, of the latter sort, if the sad state of disrepair the house remained in was any indication. The building was a small, unremarkable thing, a story shorter than the handsome townhouse that housed his master’s residence and workshop, its layout unfortunately orienting the best rooms to Master Andrea’s service courtyard, no doubt bringing the rent price even further down. He’d expected it to be torn down and replaced with something more becoming before they had moved in, bringing with them a throng of tiny, loud children. At least the street’s atmosphere was more lively now.

The voice he heard calling his name from the shaded loggia belonged to a young woman, likely a less tiny and less loud older sibling to those children. She had something of his, she said. She was veiled, dressed too darkly and too thickly for the weather, and all he could see of her was a glint of the setting sun reflecting in her eyes and a mane of coal black hair streamed along by the hot afternoon breeze. In her hands she held a bird, a clockwork toy he had made for practice on his off hours and left for the neighboring children to play with.

‘My little brother took it,’ She explained in an apologetic tone. ‘Stuffed it into his pocket and broke it.’

She stringed one apology after another. Her family was a poor, he’d gathered, but honest lot. He insisted it was all well and good, the birds were just tin, something he made for practice to train his hands and sharpen his eyes, but she insisted paying off the damages. He couldn’t, wouldn’t take her money, and after some back-and-forth their conversation turned into a full-blown argument, even drawing out some servants and apprentice boys into the courtyard to witness the spectacle when she started to yell at him for trying to walk away. And she could yell. Like the fishwives by the river, uncaring of how appropriate it was or how she’ll be seen. Not a sheltered noble daughter at all. He was impressed, even. There was no polite way of getting out of this.

‘I don’t want your money, I don’t need it.’ He said, barely hiding the mix of amusement and annoyance in his voice. ‘What could you have then that I could possibly want?’

He heard a small huff of air, imagining the grin breaking up under her veil rather than seeing it.

‘Water? This house’s well is not rationed, and we have more than enough to spare. You look like you need it.’ She said, alluding to his dusty hands.Unless you prefer to walk around like that, young master? Since you artists are so eager to disregard rules of society and politeness and...not stinking in public. If that is the case I shall desist at once, and run back indoors before the stench rises up to me.’


‘A pitcher of water will suffice.’

The glint in her eyes was that of gloating over his defeat. ‘I’ll send a servant with it to you post haste then, Master...Oh, I didn’t ask for your name.’

He bowed, the way he’d seen dancers do. ‘Just Leonardo is fine. I am messere Verrocchio’s apprentice here, before I am my father’s son.’

‘I am but my father’s daughter here. He is Gherardini, and I am Lisa.’


It became a ritual of theirs. For the remainder of that summer, he would return to the workshop, and she would be up in the loggia, robed and veiled, and they’d trade some pleasant barbs, she’d send a servant to him with a pitcher of water, rinse and repeat. They soon started talking afterwards too, longer and longer. She impressed him with her ability to follow his mind and carry herself admirably in almost every bout of verbal sparring they had, at least until he began to actually try, of course. He impressed her with his fresh and direct wit, so unlike the perfumed and starched up noble youth she was usually exposed to. The wide-eyed, healthy soul of a peasant boy tempered with the elegance of Florentine intellectual gentry. They became odd, but fast friends.

But she’d never leave her perch up in the loggia, he’d never ask to be invited up, and for a long time both were fine keeping the composition just as it was. Until the day came that the Gherardini could no longer afford the last of their servants.

That day was particularly hellish. He spent it chiseling, and was up to his neck in fine dust and sweat and God knows what else. He spent the entire day relishing in the thought of getting to wash up, maybe even have a drink of the cold water from the Gherardini well, but when he rushed to meet her at the usual spot and time, she seemed almost dejected to lay eyes on him.

‘Forgive me, but something came up, and I cannot send a pitcher for you today.’

‘Is something not right with the well?’

‘Not...exactly,’ She said grimly. ‘It just happens that I have no way to send it to you. Throwing it down doesn’t seem like an option.’

He was not a rude person, and he knew when to not push and persist, usually. But he really needed that water.

‘Your ladyship, I might actually stink right now, but if you let me get to your well and wash myself not only will I no longer stink, but will also be forever in your debt. I can even fix that bird for your little brother, if you’ll allow.’

She relented. He was let in by one of her younger sisters, led into the courtyard and the well and, when he was done, into the pleasant shade of the loggia. She was there, sitting in an armchair facing the almond trees. The bird was on a stool next to her. She was no longer wearing her veil.

‘I trust that you now see exactly why I kept our meetings at a distance.’ She said, mirthless.

Her face was covered in puckered scarring, the skin of her cheeks and neck bearing evidence of many rips and lesions, cuts and sutures. The eyes that reflected sunlight so brightly were clouded over with cataracts. Her legs, tucked away under a thin blanket, looked limp and lifeless, like a ragdoll’s.

‘You’ll understand that I’d hide being a leper.’ She said, confirming his suspicions. ‘The doctors say the worst is over, but I’d still appreciate if you kept your distance. I cannot guarantee I’m safe to be around.’

He was mistaken. There was no evidence of any sort of emotion in her voice. As she went on to talk about her affliction all he could hear was concise, cold laying out of facts, as if she were a physician herself, and talking about a patient she had no more than a professional concern for. She was afflicted as a child, and barely survived. She could barely see, and had to avoid direct sunlight, so dusk was the only time of day she was allowed to sit outside, and even then only in the shaded loggia. The chair she sat in was wheeled, as her legs were of little use in standing without support and of no use for walking. Her family had to move to the city for the doctors, and funds were not good. He could deduce the rest himself.

‘It doesn’t hurt. Nothing does, to be exact, so I have to be very careful with everything I do.’

He didn’t know what to say. Instead he sat on the bench by the door and started working on the bird that was waiting for him. She watched him work.

‘I understand if you no longer want to associate with me. I’ll only, beg of you to keep this to yourself. Me being inside the city walls is against the law.’

‘It’s an illness, not a curse, Lisa. It has nothing to do with our friendship.’

‘Thank you.’ He heard the surprise and relief in her voice, and her attempt to hide them. She had to do this many times before, he could tell.

The break was simple enough to fix. A quick analysis of the inner structure revealed a gear had bent and fallen out of alignment. There was no way any amount of rough handling could have caused such an internal deformity, it was most likely due his own oversight. He quickly and discretely conjured up a small field of intense heat inside the toy, adjusted the gear shape, and pushed everything back into place. The tiny automaton instantly whirred into life and jumped onto its small filigree feet in his lap.

‘Good news,’ He announced, and placed the bird on the floor. ‘It was an internal break, and unless your brother is a genius artificer as well, there is no way he could’ve caused such a tiny deformity.’

She watched in marvel as the tin animal waddled its way diagonally across the loggia and to a spot by her feet. She picked it up and put it into her lap, where it instantly settled and started going through the motions of preening its metal feathers.

‘Then you have to pay me back all that water, young master.’ She said with a smile. ‘How do you do this? It has no spring to wind, or at least none I can see.’

‘Secrets of the trade, my lady.’

‘It’s a kingfisher, right? I only ever saw one, when I was a child.’

‘Enamel is still above my income level, so this one didn’t get the essential blue. But yes, good eye.’

The bird in her lap had tucked its head under a wing, as if to sleep, but the sounds of children’s playful screaming and laughter coming from the courtyards below kicked it back into its default state of alert. The minuscule glass beads of its eyes darted around, and its beak opened a few times to form soundless calls.

‘You really like birds, don’t you, Leonardo? It’s all you ever make.’ She said, stoking the creature’s tiny head with a gloved fingertip.

‘I cannot imagine not being obsessed with all of God’s flying creatures. And unlike insects, birds are the children of both worlds.’

‘Both worlds?’

‘The earth and the sky. A creature like a butterfly, or a bee, even seeing them resting on a leaf is like seeing a piece of the sky forcefully grounded. But until a bird takes flight, it belongs to the ground. What makes it fly is not the ethereal fluttering of winds but some precise, robust mechanism within it. One day I will crack that mechanism.’

‘And what? Make yourself fly?’

‘Not just myself, but the whole of humanity. There is so much of the world we have yet to see.’

She pondered for a moment. ‘The gods cast their rage onto Daedalus and his son, for the insolence of wanting to go near them. Maybe man cannot fly for good reason - he is not meant for the sky.’

‘Man is destined to have everything, as long as he can imagine it and draw it into existence. That is what I believe.’

‘You truly are something, young master Leonardo! You will do the house of your father very proud one day.’

‘If I don’t do the house of humankind proud, I will know that I have wasted my potential.’

She laughed, but there was no malice in it. The sound of playing children and the bustle of the city evening came to his ears, as if filtered by the almonds and the sleepy air of the loggia. This was her life, her vantage point. The hands that played with the bird were thin as twigs, tremors going through them at the slightest exertion. He looked down on his own, strong and nimble, aching for work and challenge.

‘I know you will. Maybe my purpose here is scolding you if I ever see you squandering that God-given potential like you young country boys apprenticing in the big city are wont to do. Well, at least as much as I can from this chair right here.’

‘I have no doubt in my mind that you’ll perform that duty like no one else could.’ He said, smiling.

‘My legacy will be making sure these mechanical wings keep soaring into the skies, huh.’ She said, idly examining the birds artificial feathers. ‘ It has a good ring to it, almost theatrical.’

He couldn’t help but think how unfair it was. That fate had taken two bright, kindred spirits, and put them in such disparate vessels.

‘My birds can’t fly. Yet.’

‘They can walk. That’s already something to envy, isn’t it?’

They could walk, he thought.

The kingfisher adjusted its wings and hopped onto the balustrade. The whirring sound of the movement lodged a thought into his mind, in that corner where foolish ideas usually go, never to leave until they make themselves a reality.


Making a body isn’t difficult, when one knows what they’re doing. And if sleepless nights spent in mortuaries and physicians' offices taught him anything, it was how the precise and robust groundwalking mechanism of the human body came together and functioned. Many more nights like that were next, sneaking into monastery libraries and poring over tomes and grimoires. The techniques of it were nothing that wasn’t used before, if mostly only in much cruder forms.

He read about the throne menagerie of Solomon, the timekeeping gears and steam machines of Archimedes, the wind machine of Hero. A mechanism is always, at its core, simple, and needs fuel. To mock Daedalus, he chose the sun. The sketches left by de Honnecourt taught him how to attune the machine’s inner workings to utilize nourishment from it.

A single nail ruined the bronze giant of Crete. Might attracts resistance, delicacy distributes weaknesses evenly. Forces must be distributed with that delicacy in mind, so no move is ever overdone or wasted. Like a finely crafted musical instrument, everything has to sing in harmony.

He made several dolls to practice the mechanisms of movement. He clad them in Sforza armor and sold them to entertain nobles, the funds helping him to acquire tomes from faraway lands. It’d usually take him a day or two to master the various foreign tongues in which they were written.

He discovered that the orientals long ago removed the need for gears and springs; their dolls given life by flux of opposing forces through simple elements, the principles thereupon established similar to the flow of humors. Similar but not alike. He devised a special diet to stabilize and clean the system by encouraging select alchemical processes.

The voice was another mechanism, for which he had to turn to the same Daedalus he had mocked for guidance. The pure quicksilver the ancient master had used for his soldiers gave them voices strong like howling winds, but tempered with silver and quartz dust the sound became bright and clear, like the tinkling of tiny bells on a housecat’s collar.

The work, of course, took years. During which he moved out of his master’s workshop and into his own, became more and more sought after, was hounded by commissions. They gave him the funds he needed, and his work in turn gave him insight into mysteries higher than the reach of any other artisan available. And higher mysteries paid well. Even the work he went over absentmindedly and left unfinished made his name respected and revered. It’s not that he didn’t enjoy it. He just cared too much about what he was trying to make for Lisa.

They continued their friendship, although their meetings became less and less frequent as time went on. Two of her siblings had married, and her family entered more prosperous times. She was happy for them, he knew, but as the world around her grew and became less insular, so did her pain.They’d talk about everything and anything, but he hesitated in telling her what he was doing.

He asked her one day, in some unrelated conversations, if she truly believed only humans had souls.

‘God gives souls, doesn’t he? If he chose to give it to a mouse or a turtledove, who are men to say that he did not, and single themselves out?’

The doll moved, danced, ran, obeyed simple commands. It was functioning perfectly. The only thing, and the most important thing that remained was making it beautiful. A vessel fitting for the mind that will, hopefully, soon inhabit it. He’d make it look like she would, were she given the chance to become a young woman in full health, but there was not much to go by but scars. Giving her a fashionable face of the day felt indescribably crass. He tried, looked everywhere, tried to capture an image of her spirit, from the way she talked, how she laughed, from the faces of her mother and her brothers and sisters, from the birds and the petals of the blooming almond trees, the colour of the sky at dusk. Nothing felt fitting or appropriate.

The answer to that last question came to him unexpectedly, at a banquet he was invited to by some trade guild or other. There had been a young man there, a sculptor he knew to be of some renown, but would only later commit the name of to his memory. Someone asked the sculptor, perhaps deliberately within his earshot, some trivial question about sculpture and painting. It was clear he held the latter to great contempt, and as his mood visibly darkened and his curt tirade went on, he said something. There is no process of creating beauty, merely giving the chance for what is already there to expose itself to the world.

The Saracen grimoires said something along those lines, he remembered. That the body is merely a vessel, given shape by the breath of divine life within, and men do not only see what exists but also the essence that the spirit gives to form. The riddle should answer itself, and the final piece clicked into place.

That night he wrote to her about the doll. He’d decided that it would be best that way, to lay out the facts and let her take her time deciding. And take her time she did, as the answer arrived a full month later. It was affirmative, and he didn’t think it appropriate to question it beyond that.

Scholars of the Kabbalah gave life to men of clay through words: Truth and the name of God. But the Maharal of Prague explained (and the secretive alchemists of the north, who specialised in forming artificial men and women of their own, seemed to confirm) that these words, and similar ritual practices of lifegiving, were merely a representation. What truly gives life to the lifeless is the suggestion of purpose that they impart - like an echo in a mountain valley, the meaning bounces off the metal and clay and glass, and becomes its own purpose.

The Maharal also gives insight into the transplantation of souls. It had been attempted, and succeeded, but the holy man saw it as heresy and chose not to elaborate beyond giving nods to scriptures of dark magic that explain more. He also warned that the one who brings life ties a part of his soul with his creation with a bond that cannot be severed, but this was nothing new. All magic carried a price, and the greater the miracle it accomplished is the greater the penalty is on the one bringing it into the world. It was an acceptable price, for getting this far.

In his old age now, he forgot the exact process of migrating her spirit into the doll. It was one of the very few episodes of his youth that he couldn’t remember in vivid detail, as if he was not meant to, and what he did was not to be repeated. Maybe he could recall it if he tried, but everything paled next to the memory of the light of life entering the doll’s lifeless eyes for the first time.

It took days, and was a gradual process. There was no sudden change, but instead a feeling of watching a tiny kitten growing into a cat day after day, as opposed to seeing it small and then grown. The simulacrum became the real thing with every infinitesimal particle of her essence, tiny miracles stringed one after the other. Everything sat into place, and when she woke up, it was as if she was only now waking up to her own body after a lifetime of dreaming. Still in that dreamlike haze, she thanked him with a few words. No tears. He would not be there when she finally, truly realized what had been done. The first thing she did was walk along the riverbank. He was told she arrived at her father’s house the evening of the next day, and although he never asked he amused himself by imagining what that return looked like. He thought of her outyelling the fishwives by the river and a deep feeling of satisfaction washed over him. It was to be, he’d later notice looking back at his life’s work, the only one he ever truly finished.

As per their agreement and the instructions given by records of a certain African shaman he managed to get a hold of, he burned her old body and kept the ashes. For many years to follow, he’d carry the urn in which they resided with him wherever he went. Fate willed it that life carried them in separate directions from that point onward, him to the thrones of the world’s powerful and her to the house of her husband. But during the dog days of every summer letters were exchanged between them without fail, sometimes carried on feather wings and other times mechanical ones.

Her last one invited him to meet her at Urbino. To his surprise, it was a commission request.


‘You know I don’t do this as often as I used to? I might have gotten a little rusty.’

‘You can still refuse.’

‘No. It was a surprise, that’s all.’

He laid out the brushes on a piece of cloth. She was sitting opposite to him, already set to pose before he got the chance to direct her himself. She knew how fussy he was about composition, and this was her idea of a practical joke. He was too old now to get upset over something like that the way he used to, though.

As she led him through the rooms he caught sight of himself in a mirror, walking after her. He looked old enough to be her grandfather now, even though she was his elder by two years. Her footsteps were a light dance next to the weary march of his. Turns out, the body he made for her was a perfect machine, perfect to the point of being an imperfect human being.

Looking at her now, the expanse of the cultivated countryside a backdrop for her solemnly posed figure, he could see it more clearly than ever before. It became obvious, after so many years, that her vessel was not a human body. Her eyes were the only thing that betrayed the age of her spirit. Knowing, motherly, tired.

‘This loggia here is much more impressive than that one, isn’t it?’

‘It is. Your friends have exceptional taste in picking locations.’

He gave a final look-over to the poplar panel he’d prepared, and secured it onto the easel.

‘I’m sorry, for not writing to you in a while. There was so much to do at home, with Francesco’s funeral, the inheritance, the children. It was all so exhausting.’

‘My condolences for your husband once again. I never met him, but you always spoke well of him.’

‘Thank you.’ She smiled faintly.

He began sizing her up, drawing a quick sketch with a piece of charcoal. The way she posed herself didn’t require any actual adjustments, to his surprise.

‘I realized I never asked you to paint anything for me before. I’d like my grandchildren to know what I looked like, at least. And to have a piece of your genius around, of course, or at least one I can openly brag about.’

‘Your grandchildren will be exceptionally lucky to see how your youth looked like in person, won’t they?’

She paused, as if uncertain how to put something into words. Or at least, appropriate words.

‘That’s the...other thing I asked you to come here for.’ She started, carefully.

‘I truly am exhausted. I’m an old woman, friend. I may not look the part because of your gift, but my spirit is old. I don’t think I have many more years left in me.’

He assumed that it might come to this. He could tell from the tone of her letters for years now, that she was getting fed up. Maybe the eternal youthfulness of her body made the burden of the years feel even heavier for her.

‘You said you could do it? End it?’

He understood it. But vanity got the better of him, as it often did. It didn’t feel right.

‘Are you certain, Lisa?’

‘Yes, completely. I watched my husband die, I watched two of my children die. In time, the rest will follow them. You will follow them. I won’t be able to handle that, I can’t.’

Never before had his death felt so close as at that moment. He couldn’t help but compare himself. His body was old and weak, but there was so much more he wanted to do in this life. It was if their positions from all those years ago had suddenly been switched.

No, he reminded himself. They were switched from the moment she opened her eyes in her current body. There was nothing he could do now but respect her wish.

He put down the charcoal, reached into his pack, and produced the urn. He set it onto the stool next to him.

‘Scattering it on consecrated ground should sever the link. You’re the one who has to do it, though, so I’ll ask you to take this.’

She inspected the urn from afar, calmly enough for someone looking at their own ashes. She nodded her head with determination. Her eyes seemed to get a bit brighter, but it might have just been the light.

‘I’ll be moving into a convent soon, to be with one of my girls. I can do it there.’

Businesslike. Not unlike any interaction they had regarding her body. She was still every bit the ill young woman from long ago in that regard, reciting physician’s opinions as if they were someone else’s business.

He went on with his work, having to go slowly and methodically through the initial steps he used to do without thinking, to not forget anything. It happened a lot to him recently. She sat through everything patiently and without moving, save for stealing a glance at the urn on the stool next to him, like stealing a glance of a forbidden lover. The bright day turned into a misty afternoon.

‘Do you remember when you asked me, all those years ago, if I believed all God’s creatures have a soul?’

‘I do, yes.’

He barely did.

‘I read something recently, in this one book my son brought from the Orient. There are people there, a lot of them in fact, who believe that one’s soul simply migrates into some other form of life upon their death. Which new form one gets is determined by how virtuous he or she was in this life.’

‘Reincarnation. Do you believe in it?’

She paused to think before answering.

‘I’m not entirely sold on it. But it does have a poetry to it, doesn’t it? And when I think about it, didn’t something like that already happen to me?’

‘So I got the be the one to judge your virtue then? The old unmarried artist who kept such a close friendship with you, a married woman, for all these years?’

Her composure was broken by a bout of laughter, as she no doubt reminisced about the rumor and gossip they’d been target to ever since they started interacting.

‘I’m sure a lot of those idiots still think you never married just so you could cavort freely with married women.’ She said, suppressing a few vestigial giggles and adjusting her veil.

‘That would be among the most sensible rumors I’ve heard being spread about myself, actually. The most outrageous ones are all true.’

‘So you do cavort with demons?’

‘In a sense.’

‘If we truly are born again when we die, you’ll still manage to charm your way into whichever form you desire for your next life, the most beautiful one no doubt. Probably charm your way to a handsome husband to be insufferable with there while you’re at it, too.’

‘Well, you’re the most beautiful thing I made, and therefore the most beautiful thing that exists. I’ll just pick yours.’

‘You have my blessing for it, Master Leonardo.’ She said, hand raised to her heart.

‘I hope I get to become a bird in the sky and never be bothered by husbands or children again for a change.’ She said, her expression betraying her thoughts. She was probably thinking about her family now, and an odd sort of smile took over her features. It was joy, regret, satisfaction, annoyance, all at once. A part of him was jealous then, of the small and simple life she had led, that could make all those emotions coexist. Jealous then, and never again.

Such thoughts were a waste of time, and he couldn’t afford to regret now. Not when the late afternoon was this beautiful, and the view so beautifully wrapped in mist and bathed in the kind of enigmatic light that only the tentative early springtime sun could give off. Not when his best friend, his greatest masterpiece, was sitting in front of him, waiting for him to make a lasting memory of the eternal woman she had chosen to make ephemeral. She looked happy. And for a moment he didn’t feel as old and as mortal, looking at her.

It felt like a good end. He filled himself with determination to capture that expression perfectly, and started painting.