Allaigna’s Song: Overture
by JM Landels
Brothers, Sisters and Lullabies
If you walk down the grand staircase of Castle Osthegn, you will see a family portrait. It is placed across the landing from the wide steps so that your eye is drawn helplessly into the picture as you descend. Such is the skill of the Leisanmira painter that you are almost convinced the little girl on the right will jump out of the frame and take off pell-mell into the courtyard. And you can tell that is what she wanted to be doing when the image was painted.
The little girl was me.
There are other, more formal, paintings of my family members, individual and grouped, spread throughout the fortress. But the one at the bottom of the stairs is the only one that tells me a story. In this painting I am shown in my favourite red tunic of soft flannel – the one my nurse turned into handkerchiefs when I grew too large for it – and loose-fitting trousers, rolled to the calf above grubby bare feet. My mother’s arm is around me, her fingers creasing the cloth beneath my arm. It is a half-hearted grip, as if holding me still takes more effort than she can afford. Her eyes are tired and her skin pale. Wisps of curly blonde hair escape a hastily pinned coif, and the bodice of her dress is askew, barely containing blue-veined and swollen breasts.
The head of the family, Lord Osthegn, Allenis Andreg, Duke of Teillai and Warden of the Clearwater Plains, stands behind and to her right. A possessive arm rests on her shoulders; the other is proudly akimbo. He beams with joy, and this is the only portrait that paints him so. In truth, it is the happiest my three-year-old self ever saw him. The subject of his joy rests in Mother’s right arm, its bawling ruddy face showing a remarkable resemblance to the Duke already. I don’t know why the artist didn’t choose to portray the baby content at the breast or with an idiosyncratic smile as most painters would, but I’m glad he didn’t. This is how I remember my brother Allenry when he arrived to interrupt my life, and I appreciate the painting’s candour.
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