THE SKY WAS BURNING a brilliant blue without a cloud in sight. The long walkway was surrounded by the green-tinged ocean water that flooded the streets every time it rained.
The City-State of Euphius was an ocean city; it relied on traffic from other city-ports and lands to make its money. The soil was too harsh to grow anything due to it being made up of mostly sand and rock. And when the city flooded with sea water so did the planting fields. Therefore the people had placed the houses on stilts to keep them above water level. This flooding had destroyed many a crop before the farmers decided to try a new profession: fishing. When the farmers transferred to fishing they found that the sea could be a harsh mistress depending on her mood. At times she was as dainty as the Princess and at other's she was as vicious as the Empress. The Eurivica Sea was the warmest of the three seas: Cesisan Sea which bordered on Aniatea, Urand, Helvonum and the island Sibesul; and the Oseos Sea which bordered Aniatea, Ferruara, the Manea Islands and the large island Euranthus. It was in these waters that the most beautiful and often times the tastiest and very poisonous fish swam. The people soon learned that the brighter the fish the more poisonous it was. It was into this world that Ohiel was born. He was the oldest child due to the fact that three of his older sisters and two of his older brothers had died at a young age with either childhood illnesses or in work accidents. So by mere chance he was left as the oldest child with six younger siblings. They went in this order: Aedai, Yeniat, Heliattan, Meilyns, Iasui, and Duldra. Yeniat, the middle son, helped out their father on the fishing boat. Duldra was only a baby so he was unable to help out in any case. The four girls attended to their sick mother and worked in the house. Aedai, the eldest of the girls was in charge of cooking and Heliattan maintained the cleanliness of the house. Meilyns worked on fixing and repairing the things that often broke inside and outside the house. Lastly was Iasui who kept up the small garden that had very little growing. Iasui mostly planted herbs and spices that could survive in any condition and sold them at the market for bronze pieces. Sometimes she'd trade them for other vegetables and fruit. Ohiel's job was to run the house and the fishing business down by the docks. It was here that he often stared out into the wide and vast sea and imagined what it would be like to live beneath those waters. Because sitting in the fishing store was often boring and fruitless (there was not a lot of business to this port) and daydreaming could only last so long, Ohiel took to sketching the sea and the surrounding areas. He quickly grew in ability. By the time he was twelve he had other villagers commissioning him to paint their portraits for the most part. These commissions were often trades or barters for items and food. Occasionally they'd ask him to paint an important object or a nice looking landscape to hang up in their home. Much of the villagers trading took place in the pub or inn where Ohiel's paintings were hanging. Businessmen and traders as well as sailors saw these paintings hanging on the wall and inquired as to who was painting them.
The innkeeper told them that, "He's our pride and joy. He's a genius." And sent them on to Ohiel who would show them samples of his work and once they agreed upon a price Ohiel would paint their desired image and get paid upon the delivery of the item.
Sometimes he was cheated out of the money or barter when sailors or tradesmen left or died but at these times when his family complained he said, "It was practice for next time. Next time I will be even better."
It was when he was fifteen that he got his big break.
It was a rainy day, so rainy in fact that the boats couldn't launch due to the fact that even if a hand was waved in front of their faces they couldn't see it, since the fog had also rolled in.
That was the day his father and younger brother didn't go out into their boat and instead slept in, soaking up the sleep while the girls cooked and washed bedding and clothes. Ohiel was at the window watching the rain pour down and sketching what it looked like strolling down the panes of glass.
His sister Aedai questioned him, "Why do you find it so interesting? It looks just like water to me."
And he replied the same as always, "Each drop is unique; different. The rain is like people, intriguing."
Aedai shook her head and left to finish the cooking. It was by mere chance (as many things are) that Aedai found she was missing some supplies for that night's dinner and asked Ohiel to run to the inn.
"Ohiel, brother dear, would you mind running to the Inn and asking Mrs. Johvannsen for some more onions? Tell her that we'll repay her when we get our next batch of herbs in."
Ohiel put down his notebook and picked up his jacket off the table as his mother walked into the room for her daily tea. She saw him getting ready to go out and asked him, "You're going out in this weather?"
"Aedai needs onions for the soup tonight. I'm to go to the inn and fetch them for her," he told his mother.
His mother shook her head and picked up a scarf from the table and wound it around his neck as he fasted his jacket. "Please be careful on your journey. It's very dark and hard to see anything."
Ohiel kissed her cheek gently and smiled, "Don't worry, Mother. I promise I'll come back to you in one piece."
His mother shook her head and sat down in the kitchen chair as he closed the door behind himself.
Once he was standing on the porch he saw the truth of his mother's words. It was a fierce storm, one that raged so badly that the water was raging up and down the street in copious amounts. When he was firmly planted on street level the water reached up to his thighs. He shivered in the cold rain and water as he did his best to slosh through the streets to the inn. Halfway there he had to take shelter under a roof for a few brief moments to compose himself before he set off again.
In the windows of the houses he could see bright fires lit and people sitting in chairs making small talk amongst themselves. He smiled at the docile scene and drew out his sketchbook, bending over it so it wouldn't get wet. He quickly sketched one such scene before moving on towards the inn.
When he reached the inn he pounded on the door for a good five minutes before someone let him in. Mrs. Johvannsen clucked in sympathy when she saw him. "What are you doing here Ohiel, don't tell me that you came all the way out here to deliver a painting to somebody?"
Ohiel shook his head because he had no breath yet with which to speak. Mrs. Johvannsen patiently waited until he was drying in front of the fireplace and sipping a warm cup of tea to inquire as to why he was out in the nasty weather.
"I'm sorry to bother you Mrs. Johvannsen. But Aedai said we needed onions and that you'd have them. She wondered if we could have them. Aedai also told me to tell you that you'd be paid in the herbs you like so much when we harvest them next."
Mrs. Johvannsen nodded. "I only have a small amount on me, but I can give you one or two."
"Two should do, thank you Mrs. Johvannsen."
"It's no problem Ohiel. You know how much I love your sister. She's a wonderful girl. I only hope that she gets married soon or she'll be too old to marry at all."
Ohiel smiled politely as he waited in the common room for Mrs. Johvannsen to come back. As he was waiting a handsome man came down from the stairs and stood looking at one of Ohiel's paintings in the room. He tilted his head this way and that as he studied it. After a bit he turned away from the painting and said to Ohiel, "I didn't know that you had a master painter living in this town. Who is he and do you think I can meet with him?"
Mrs. Johvannsen who was coming back from the inn's pantry laughed and remarked, "You've certainly met him and his name is Ohiel." She pointed to Ohiel who stood looking embarrassed. "He's our master painter."
The man raised his eyebrows as he studied Ohiel much like he'd studied the painting that hung on the wall behind him.
"You're certainly advanced. How old are you and who was your teacher?"
Ohiel shuffled his feet for a moment before answering rather quietly, "I'm fifteen and no one taught me, I'm self-taught."
If the man hadn't been surprised before he was certainly surprised now as his eyes had grown rather large. "Self-taught? Fifteen? That's just...unbelievable!"
The man walked over and held out his hand to Ohiel. "I'm Diar."
"The master painter of Dabrcis!" Ohiel cried out in surprise.
Diar smiled. "Yes, I'm him. Now, young man, how would you like to work in a real studio?"
Ohiel's eyes grew as wide as saucers as he contemplated the man's proposition.
"You don't have to decide now; you have three days before I leave for Olaea to catch a boat for Helvonum."
Ohiel gave him a shy smile as Diar shook his hand before heading back upstairs.
Mrs. Johvannsen patted his shoulder. "I think it'd be good if you went with him. He is considered one of the best. And I'm sure you'd get paid more for being an apprentice than your father makes in half a year." She pressed the onions into his hand. "Think hard about this, you may never have a chance like this again in your lifetime."
Ohiel felt his heart pounding as he raced home through the rain.
Now, what was he to do?