The painter’s daughter

The Faylin Valley began with stroke of violet, the perfect sky. It might not be the truth, for the truth was that the sky was dull and blue, but that didn’t concern Tully so much. If kings and queens could be rid of every imperfection, the sky would receive such treatment too. Everything was beautiful once Tully had put down his brush, and the valley would be no exception.

Next were deep charcoal stains, outlines of the jagged cliffs. They rose slightly higher to Tully’s left, and were sharper to his right. He gave the extra height to the right hand cliffs on his painting, for the jagged edges made them look like weapons, and weapons were most magnificent when they were held up high.

The water would be next, that gentle drifting green, but Tully didn’t have time even to mix the colours, for footsteps approached, and Tully was not a social man. “Who walks this land?” he called, listening to the half-hearted echo of his voice.

“A familiar face” a woman’s voice called back.

Tully smiled. “I have a rather poor memory when it comes to faces, I’m afraid.”

“Well then, you’d better hope you remember mine.”

The woman had made her way to the top of Tully’s hill, and when he saw her, his smile only grew. “You’ve been away too long” he told her, and it was true. She had been far and wide, and her cloak had an abundance of unseen fabrics stitched into messy patchwork, even more so than last time.

“I couldn’t wait to find you” she said once she had sat down. The grass beneath them smelt fresh, felt wet. The previous night’s rainfall had brought mixed blessings, it seemed.

“You could have” Tully replied, reaching out his hand to take hers. “I would have been home in a few hours.”

“And I would have been gone. Don’t be so foolish, father. It’s a good thing Mertyl’s still around to tell me where you’ve wandered off too. We’d be forever missing one another if it wasn’t for her.”

Tully looked away from her face, then, turned back to the valley. It hurt to see her, for she had that same dark hair, those same small eyes. She might have grown, and she might call herself a woman now, but she was still young and foolish and, most of all, a child somewhere behind it all. But the eyes through which Tully gazed had grown tired with age. He was old and foolish, and most of all, boring. A nice hill was all he needed to be happy, something he knew Lilly would never be content with. So off she would go on her little adventures, and home she would ride, for a day or two. Tully looked to the valley, because once Lilly had gone, the valley would still be there, just the same, just as calm, just as boring.

“How are things with Mertyl?” she asked, once the silence had gone on too long.

“They’re good” Tully said. He didn’t think he was lying, but it still felt somehow false. Perhaps it was a half-truth, then, like one of his paintings.

“Are you sure? She seemed lonely.”

Her words bit at him like a chill in the air. He couldn’t quite admit to himself why; all he knew was that his stomach felt knotted and his heart somehow loose, like it might fall out should he move too fast. “I always say she can join me when I paint” he explained.

“I’m not accusing you of anything.”

“I know.” He paused. “But I do invite her.”

She smiled at this, and shook her head gently. “We all know you don’t really mean it. Mother knew it, I know it. You like to be alone when you paint.”

He didn’t know what to say to this, because it was true, wasn’t it? The scene ahead, whatever it may be, was what needed his attention when a brush was in his hand. Attention he was more than willing to give it, in return for the peace and quiet of his created little worlds.

“Father” Lilly said, once the sun began to fall and cast it’s golden light across the valley. “You have painted kings and queens, you have painted criminals, and half the wonders of the world. You have even painted monsters, though of course they were for stories. But you have never painted me.” Tully closed his eyes, and let out a long, heavy sigh. He got to his feet, slowly, painfully. He took his canvas, barely begun, and held it beneath an arm, while he began to unfold his easel. “Father” Lilly said, still sitting. “I’m not staying for long. I must leave before dark, my boat sets sail in two days. We have to talk to each other, father. We can’t just smile and part ways.”

“Then let’s talk” Tully said, heading down the hill. “Let’s talk about your adventures, your expeditions.”

Lilly had finally gotten to her feet, jogged a little to catch up. “I know you hate hearing about it. I know you wish I would stay home.”

“I wish for you to be happy, nothing more.”

“Don’t lie to me, father.”

Tully stopped, just for a moment. He put his easel down, leaning against it like a crutch. Lilly stepped closer, placed a hand on his back.  “We can slow” she said, careful and calm.

“I’m fine” Tully grunted, heaving himself up and marching forwards again.

“Father. Father, slow down.”

Tully turned to her. “I’m okay, Lilly. Let’s just get home. We can talk by a nice warm fire. About anything you want.”

“Let’s talk out here.”

“Lilly.”

“Let’s talk out here, just the two of us.”

Tully sighed, but he was tired, and he didn’t have the energy to fight. He slumped slowly to the ground, sitting on the rough carving of a footpath that rose up and over the hill. “Where has your ship taken you of late?” he began, but Lilly just shook her head and kicked at some loose mud on the ground.

“Father.”

“I’m interested” he said, firmly. “Truly.” He felt that knot in his stomach again, though less so than before. Lilly regarded him for a moment, then sat down, watching him even as he turned so as not to look at her.

“I’m here.” She said it coldly, even though she hadn’t meant to. “Right this moment, anyway. Let’s just talk. Please. I don’t want every visit home to be like this. I want us to be a family again. I want us to be friends.” She paused, looked up to the sky, darker now. “Father. Just tell me, honestly. Would you rather I stayed away?”

“No” he said, quickly. The sharpness of it surprised even him. “Of course not, Lilly.”

But the problem still remained, whatever it was. It sat there, a shadow crouched between them, invisible, but as solid as anything else in the world. The problem that had been with them ever since she first set foot on that ship, so many years ago.

“I’m tired of us” she said. Tully glanced at her, confused, but she said nothing more.

They sat together for longer than they spoke, and watched all the colours of the sunset. It was a beautiful thing, even Lilly could see, and she began to understand why her father had painted this same place so many times. It was, she supposed, because it wasn’t one place at all, but infinite, depending on the mood of the sky, and the temper of the sea. It was a beautiful scene, even if it was a boring one.

“You did nothing wrong” Tully murmured, suddenly.

“So you always say.”

He paused, raised his head, and looked at Lilly once again. Really looked at her, for what felt like the first time in years. She seemed old. Her lips were dry and pale. Her eyes were deep and full of feeling. Her hands he took in his and squeezed tight now, feeling them really and truly. They were warm, and she smelled of the sea.

“I just want you to be happy” he said. She pulled her hands away. “Lilly” he pleaded, nearly a whisper.

She looked to him, and her face was on the edge of tears. She didn’t know why, she never did understand. “I have to go” she said.  The wind carried her words up and over the hill, down through the valley, deep into the murky green water below. She got to her feet and felt her cloak brush warm against her back. She looked to her father, and she opened her mouth to say something more. Her words were lost to the storm of the sea.

 

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