• Daniela Sylmae

The Tale of Maxine's Academy of Artisanal Magic | Tankards & Tales Ep. 4

This is a transcript of Tankards & Tales Episode 4. If you would like to listen to the story as you read along, you can find the podcast episode here.

Our tale begins with a spirited Rayne Riddlewood sprinting down the streets of her small village of Beltou to catch the last train out for Frénau.

Owls hoot the last warning for passengers to board the train, the station under the light of the two moons overhead. Rayne’s heeled boots clack against the cobblestone paths, the sound startling nearby stray cats and leprechauns.

Globules of lights float around the alleyways, bobbing about like apples in a barrel full of water. The streets smell of fresh rain mixed with spilled potions, but the air is fresh as Rayne hurries toward the station’s entrance, the gust of air tangling up her fading rose-colored hair.

Rayne bolts through the door, knocking over two witches along with their briefcases and their broomsticks.

“Sorry! I’m late! I’m sorry!” With a flick of her wrist, she levitates their belongings off the ground and into their hands. Though the two witches have a stern tsk tsk on their lips, they offer her a polite nod of the head and go on their way.

Heading straight to the platform, ticket already in her belt pouch, Rayne zooms past the other wizards and witches that populated the station.

Now, in the approaching hours of night, mops are dancing about on their own across the glossy floors of the train station, cleaning up the various coffee stains and ink bottle spills passengers left behind. She pounds down the steps toward her platform, giant candles lighting up the corridors within alcoves embedded in bricked walls. Speedy as a sprite on a mission, Rayne leaps into the train just as the doors are closing. She lands on her feet, and she makes it on the train that now blows its departure whistle and moves south on its tracks toward Frénau.

With a sigh of relief, she plops onto an empty seat, pulling off her brick-red pointy hat and putting it on her lap. She adjusts the two white feathers poking out, her two reminders of the farm she was leaving behind. She blinks away a few tears as she remembers her friends and family waving goodbye, her unicorn in the background giving her a wink of farewell.

Rayne was a girl born and raised in a rural village where the most exciting thing that happened was a traveling troupe of performers visiting for the summer, or perhaps a rare exotic pet merchant rolling by. This move to the big city of Frénau, this was a whole new world for Rayne. A chapter in her life she never thought she’d reach in life. Most born in the far-off villages never leave, except for the few who do.

And Rayne wanted to be one of those few.

She reaches into her satchel and pulls out her sketchbook. Watercolor blotches stain the pages of her creations. Sketches of landscapes of castles, dungeons, cities, and enchanted forests, each detailed to even the smallest potted fern on a windowsill. As she flips through, she finds the empty pages near the end, still waiting for her inspired touch. Still, she frowns as she glances through them. They’re nothing compared to the artwork displayed on museum walls. Those pieces of art, framed in ornate gold, they all have movement.

Not just the illusion of movement that one appreciates when seeing an impressionist painting. The prized artwork of the land is one made by the artists who have the magic to make their artwork move.

In the piece Autumn’s Welcome by Ethel Moriarty, you can see the falling leaves of autumn, the brilliant oranges, reds, and yellows of the season dancing with one another in a never-ending choreography.

In Tierney Delacroix’s artwork called An Alchemist’s Lab, bubbles of gentle, pastel colors float out from the meticulously detailed cauldrons. There’s a flicker of a candle not seen on the canvas reflected in the glow on the side of the cauldrons, the subtle flicker adding a breath of life to the creation.

And in the piece simply titled Ocean by Xantha Stone, you can see the brushstrokes of the vast ocean glide across the canvas over and over again, the ocean’s waves moving, and a whale, at any given moment, will splash out of the water, the hidden creation unveiling itself before your very eyes.

Imagine, strolling leisurly through a museum where every painting was a moving picture that still managed to capture the emotions of a singular moment an artist hopes to convey. These are the artists that are remembered for they mastered a rare magic that only a handful of artists are compelled to study.

Among these artists is Rayne’s greatest idol: a man whose portrait was taped to the very back of her beloved sketchbook. His name is Nicholas Nox, and his specialty is landscapes.

He has a preference for human settlements: small coastal cities, beloved metropolises, humble villages, and the like. What he loved most about them, and what Rayne admired most about his work, were the details of human life that populated these areas. The movement he brings to life in his art is always in the smallest details: a cat scrounging through a dumpster in an alley, a silhouette of dwarves returning on a narrow path from the mines in the background, the steam coming off a cup of tea from a coffee shop… Little things that require the observer to come in a little closer to the canvas to get a good look, but from far away, as you take in the painting as a whole, you realize you are bird flying overhead, wondering about the lifestyle of the wingless, featherless creatures down below. Nicholas Nox played with perspective in a clever way that Rayne could only ever wish to do.

Since the itch of an artist hit Rayne at a young age, and she began to learn about Nicholas Nox and other renowned artists, she knew she wanted to have the gift they had. She wanted to bring her own artwork to life and play with perspective as Nicholas Nox did. Some artists are born with the gift, like Nicholas Nox, but like any trade, it can be learned, though it is a challenge.

Rayne looks back to her sketchbook and flips to the front page. There, in her clumsy writing of when she was a child, written out is the enchantment used for those who do not have the gift. The spell is one that is taught to beginners of the art, but only after they’ve become masters of art itself, from its history to its various mediums, for it is an advanced enchantment spell. Some spend their entire lives trying to master that form of magic but never find success even with the spell. That very thought discouraged Rayne, but her mother, the supportive woman, encouraged her to follow her dreams and to give it the best chance she’s got. Otherwise, she may forever regret not trying. So, that very night, Rayne applied to the school that trained all the well-known artists of the land, including Nicholas Nox himself.

Maxine's Academy of Artisanal Magic.

That is the university that awaits Rayne as she sits on that train, passing by the long farmlands of the outer edges of the land, hills rolling past the windows, dragons dotting the sky every few hours. The train passes by a few other villages that mark the path toward the great city of Frénau, each as small as Rayne’s very own Beltou.

Rayne doodled a sketch or two, read a book, and napped during the 12-hour ride… Soothing and gentle the train ride that eventually brought her to the city that housed Maxine's Academy of Artisanal Magic.

As the violet hues of twilight paint the skies, the arched bridges between the tall towers of Frénau cast their shadows on the train as it enters the great city. The towers are spread across the metropolis like a crowded chess board, each with the pride of the marked age on the stone of the towers. Every tower has spires sprouting out from the sides like thick tree branches. The glass of the various windows across the city are all stained glass with extraordinary colors painting reflective rainbows over the cobblestone paths. On the paths, folks, tall and small, wander about, their robes brushing against the cobblestones.

Subtle chatter accompanies the air throughout the day, the streets busy with city folk. Bats and owls glide over their heads as cats, horses, and ponies accompany them by their sides. Every few blocks, a flash of green would pass through the windows: parks of the natural world are hidden gems in the city. The busy sounds of Frénau are hushed in the city parks, where you can find wizards testing new spells, writers drafting a tome of history, young witches riding broomsticks for the first time, children playing with Magic cards. Frénau is a sight to behold, and a terror to navigate for fresh eyes, such as those of Rayne Riddlewood who now had her own eyes glued to a map, trying to find her way to the Academy’s campus.

Figuring out the maze took some time, but eventually, Rayne found herself at the great stone walls of Maxine's Academy of Artisanal Magic. Heading through the large open archway, the black iron gates wide open, she took her first steps onto campus.

Rayne’s eyes teared up a bit at the sight of the castle. Ancient and classic, the castle structure, with towers and spires and bridges and arches, all adorning the central tower which holds the flag of Maxine's Academy of Artisanal Magic, a vibrant violet color with a golden star in the center. Two wide green fields cover the expansive space in front of the grand staircase leading to the central tower. To the left, fairy garden cities spread across the field with toadstool buildings and small ponds. A few paths meant for the human scholars divide the cities, and the fairies fly around with miniature books and scrolls in hand. To the right, the field is reserved for students. Witches and wizards lounge around on picnic blankets, occasionally picking up a wand to cast a simple spell. Some students are practicing their lutes or their lyres, the sound soothing to the ears of passersby. A few sit on their own, textbook open and eyes glued to the pages, studying.

Behind the right field, there was a small cottage that sat underneath a long arched bridge overhead that connected the center tower to another part of the castle. A curtain of leafy vines cascades from the bottom of the bridge, revealing only half of the cottage that sits underneath, but it made Rayne’s heart flutter, for she knew in an instant what it was.

La Galerie. The renowned gallery of Maxine's Academy of Artisanal Magic where the artwork of great alumni hang forever.

La Galerie has a reputation of housing the artwork of the artists whose names go down in history, including that of Nicholas Nox. It is the dream of any artist in the academy to have art on the walls of the gallery.

As Rayne approaches La Galerie, she smiles knowing that though the cottage is small, there is an enchantment in the interior, creating nearly endless floors to hold all the artwork with a spiral staircase going through the center.

Behind the cottage, there is a tall hill that leads up to the building for the art department. Alongside the department, there is a small café where artists drink coffee and eat dessert, a charming silhouette of Frénau in the background.

Amid exploration, one should always find time to embrace it, to submerge yourself in the memory and to appreciate the moment. And that is what Rayne Riddlewood did as she enjoyed a quick meal at the cafe. She has an eager grin, hands pressed together under her chin, as she watches a green scaled dragon, wrapped around the arm of a friendly waiter, breathe its blue fire across a crème brûlée, torching it to perfection.

And it was an unforgettable crème brûlée.

Her arrival is a smooth affair. She finds her dorm, meets her roommate, a girl studying herbology, gets her schedule, organizes her books, sleeps under the glow of the two moons overhead, and wakes up with plenty of time to get to her first class: Fundamentals of Mystical Colors.

It is an intimate classroom with around 15 students or so filling in before the clock strikes. On the walls, there are shelves and shelves of paint. Glass vials and bottles in all sorts of sizes and shapes--skinny and tall, short and round, hourglass and pyramid-like--all filled with various colors and shades in liquid form. All are locked behind glass cabinet doors, but there is a bit of a gleam across all the different paints, so a sort of shimmer reflects against the glass, adding a shine over the walls of the room.

Students take a seat at the numerous large workstations that have tables, easels, palettes, brushes, graphite pencils and kneaded erasers. Rayne takes her seat at a station near the window where she has a view of the city and, if she stands up and cranes her neck a bit, she can see La Galerie at the bottom of the hill.

Within a few moments, the professor walks in. She’s a petite woman with a small nose and wide round gold-rimmed glasses. Her wild brown hair reaches the back of her ankles, a natural mantle against her back. She strolls in with a small treasure chest in her arms.

“Good morning, mes artists! I am Professor Papier. Welcome to Fundamentals of Mystical Colors. In this class, you will learn the basics of color theory, medium, style, and you will begin taking your first steps in becoming a novice of art maneuvering.

“If you are not born with the gift, I warn you, it will take some time before you are able to make your paint move on the canvas, let alone for eternity. For some, it takes years. But with that, I’ll also offer this. Some of you in this room may be born with the gift and just not know it yet. It can be a discovered talent that just needs a little push to surface. I hope, if that is the case for at least one of you, that I will be that little push.

“The gift can be triggered by almost anything really, so long as there is intense emotion involved, for that is what art is all about: emotion. A eureka moment, a time of sorrow, a blissful encounter, an intense connection… any moment of potent emotion can bring out the gift.

“Now, I wanted to start off the semester with showing you what you are working towards. An important element of art maneuvering is the creation of one’s own paint. You will learn in this class how to mix colors to create your own paint. Art maneuvering requires a deep-set connection with the materials you are using, and that, of course, includes your paint. So, I thought I’d inspire you all with a few samples of paint from great artists and alumni of the Academy.”

Professor Papier wiggles her fingers in front of the small treasure chest she brought in. A loud click echoes throughout the room as it unlocks. Out she pulls a small skinny vial of cobalt blue paint.

“This here is the first blue paint Xantha Stone ever produced. As I’m sure you all know, she is known for her use of blues in her paintings. This vial, and all the other vials I’ll show you from this chest, are prized treasures of the Academy.”

Professor Papier pulls out another vial, this one large and round, filled with a brilliant orange shade of paint. “Ethel Moriarty, best known for her interpretations of the seasons, and beloved student of mine.”

The professor then pulls out a short vial that is shaped like a cube with rounded edges. Inside, it holds a shimmery white. “This here belonged to Nicholas Nox. He uses this color for the fine details of his creations. It’s a signature color of his that can be found in all of his works.”

Rayne’s vision blurs, focusing only on the bottle of shimmery white paint. A lightbulb goes off in her head. She falls into a trance, captivated by the treasure made by the very hands of the artist she so admired. All sounds and visuals around her go dark as she follows that bottle’s journey from the hands of Professor Papier to its home back in the treasure chest. When the chest is locked back up, that is when Rayne comes back to, her flawless plan formulated in her mind.

The class lasts for another two hours with students taking notes of their first lesson on color theory. Rayne’s hand jots down her notes, but every once in a while, her eyes dart to the far right of the room where the cupboard holds the treasure chest which holds the shimmery white paint of Nicholas Nox.

Eventually, the class begins their first project. Each student, with their own easel, begins painting. Rayne, using her sketchbook as inspiration, starts painting a busy street of Frénau, with Maxine’s Academy of Artisanal Magic in the background and a crème brûlée in the foreground being torched by a green-scaled dragon that was wrapped on a waiter’s arm.

Despite having a paintbrush and a work in progress in front of her, she is still distracted by that treasure chest in the cupboard. It becomes a rhythm for her eyes. Cupboard, clock, canvas, cupboard, clock, canvas, again and again and again until those two magical words lifted the spell.

“Class dismissed!”

Students clear out the classroom as Professor Papier pulls out other texts for the following course.

Rayne lifts her hand. “Professor? Would it be alright if I stay here until your next class? I’m finding myself very inspired, and I don’t want to lose the momentum.”

“Of course not, dear. I’m just stepping out to grab some lunch before the next class, but I’ll be back before it starts. Feel free to leave at any time.” And with that, Professor Papier leaves.

Rayne waits a moment, idly adding shade to a green topiary in her nameless piece of art. A few minutes pass by as she waits for that possible moment where Professor Papier returns in search of a forgotten item. After a few minutes, Rayne is satisfied that the moment will never come.

Once again, the thoughts of her trance come rushing in. Professor Papier had said, “The gift can be triggered by almost anything, so long as there is intense emotion involved, for that is what art is all about: emotion. A eureka moment, a time of sorrow, a blissful encounter, an intense connection… any moment of potent emotion can bring out the gift.”

Rayne looks over her artwork. The watercolors blending in with one another in a mesmerizing combination, turning an ordinary street into a daydream. Her longing eyes stare at the blue flames that she painted out of the green-scaled dragon’s breath, the illusion of movement in the watercolors, but motionless nonetheless.

Here she is, Rayne Riddlewood, her first day of classes in the academy of her dreams, with a piece of art reflecting the emotional memory of her arrival…

All it can take, should Rayne Riddlewood be the one with the gift, is an intense connection, and what better connection is there than her paintbrush gliding over her canvas with the signature paint of Nicholas Nox himself.

The corner of her lip lifts as she eyes the cupboard. Her mind is made up.

She strides over to the cupboard, pulling with her a small stool. Her brown boots step onto the stool, bringing herself to eye level with the treasure chest, hidden behind the glass cupboard. With a shaky yet determined breath, she opens the cupboard and pulls out the treasure chest.

It’s a heavy little thing, she realizes as she brings it back to her work station. Still, there it is, and there’s no reason to turn back. Her mind is running wild with excitement, her heart prancing with joy, her fingers fidgety with jitters, her forehead getting a bit sweaty… and so when she lifts her hands to cast a spell to unlock the chest, her hand motions are too exaggerated.

Slam! The cupboard doors slam open, every single one in the entire classroom, causing a thunderous clash to pulsate through the room. Rayne shrieks at the sound, her heart jumping into her throat. She stares with horror at all the cupboard doors open in the room, all the bottles and vials of paint exposed, though still in their safe dwellings. For a moment, Rayne is ready to run. Her hands ready to grab her things, close all the doors, and sprint out of the room… but her eyes glance over to the small treasure chest, now open.

And of course, there was her paintbrush, right next to the chest, encouraging her to give it a try.

She glances at the door, awaiting an angry Professor Papier to come in after hearing all the sudden ruckus in her classroom. She waits another short minute until she’s sure Professor Papier won’t come.

Gingerly, she reaches into the chest and pulls out the white paint of Nicholas Nox. Tingles run down her spine as she touches the glass, and as she observes the shimmer that compliments the white pigment, her heart melts with admiration.

She glances at her own work, her eyes darting to those blue flames she painted that are torching the dessert on the table.

The corner of her lips lifts once more, and she springs to action. She uncorks the paint and places it on the table. She dips her paintbrush into the bottle, so that only the tip is coated with the paint. She looks at her sketchbook, the first page of which has the enchantment spell used for art maneuvering, The highly advanced spell that put Rayne off from applying to the Academy for so long.

The white-tipped paint brush in her hand, however, inspires her. For a single second, she can feel her heart flutter with discovering the gift within her, that perhaps she doesn’t need the enchantment spell after all, but if she does, it is there for her.

With all that reassurance, she leans forward and presses the tip of the paintbrush to her creation. The white pigment melts onto the canvas as though it belongs there. The shine of the pigment adds a whole new dimension to the highlights that she adds to the blue fire. An involuntary smile paints itself onto Rayne Riddlewood’s face.

A few more brushstrokes here and there until she is pleased with her work. She lets the paint settle as she cleans up the paintbrush and corks up the paint of Nicholas Nox, placing the bottle back into the treasure chest.

When she glances back, her smile falls. The paint isn’t moving. She touches it with her hand, the canvas coarse under her fingertips. She closes her eyes, concentrating on the movement she wishes to see in the creation. She fuels herself up with the overwhelming fervor of the moment.

Still. Nothing.

Disappointed but not dissuaded, Rayne reaches out for her notebook. Using all the skills she learned in her grade school years, she reads the incantation. Her pronunciation of the ancient language is impeccable. Her cadence is perfect, and her energy is present.

She lingers on the last word, willing the energy of the spell to connect with the painting. She opens one eye and peeks at the artwork. It is still. Unmoving.

She pouts, huffing in frustration. She shakes her head, clears her throat and lifts her sketchbook. She repeats the incantation, louder this time. She focuses intently, and she even reaches to touch the canvas to add a touch component to the spell, but when she peeks with one eye open once again, she sees the same disappointing result. An unmoving painting.

She stomps her foot in frustration, her pout now a scowl.

Her eyes look back to the treasure chest. She yanks out the bottle of Nicholas Nox paint and holds it in a tight grasp. Eyes closed, she lifts her chin to the air and repeats the enchantment spell. As the words come out, she can feel a warmth emanating from the bottle in her hands.

She speaks louder. The bottle starts to vibrate against her fingers.

She speaks even louder. The bottle jerks around, but her hands keep it still. She focuses her mind’s eye on the paint inside as she finishes the spell as loudly as she possibly can.

The last word escapes her throat. The sound hangs in the air, enchanting Rayne herself with its power. Rayne allows herself to close her eyes to feel the tantalizing promise as the sound falls to silence…

Boom! An explosion erupts in the room. Rayne ducks under her arms as an explosion of colors falls onto her. All the paint from every single bottle of the room gushes out into the air, creating a geyser of paint that coats the entire room in an array of colors, including Rayne Riddlewood. Had the cupboard doors been shut, perhaps the damage would have been contained, but seeing as all were open, all the paint burst out from their bottles and fell onto the ground.

Mouth agape, Rayne straightens herself up, now drenched in heavy liquid from head to toe. Periwinkle, violet, fuchsia, and nutmeg blend into a strange combination on her person, and with her rose-colored hair, Rayne appears to be the embodiment of an art student.

“Well, that’s one way to get lost in the art.” Professor Papier looks at Rayne in her now fully-painted classroom, arms crossed but her eyes have a twinkle of mischief that match perfectly with her poorly-hidden grin.

Face now red with embarrassment, the color adding to the palette that is her body, Rayne takes a quick glance at her painting. Ruined with splattered paint, it’s lucky the blue flames were spared, but looking at those blue flames, Rayne got her answer.

The blue flames did not move, and so the spell did not work.

Poor Rayne Riddlewood bursts into tears and without a second thought, she runs out of the room, not caring how ridiculous she looks.

She brushes past Professor Papier, ignoring the professor’s protests. She dashes out of the building, ignoring the students who are passing by. She tumbles down the hill, not caring where it leads her, and eventually, her flight of escape leads her to a small pond at the bottom of the hill in a park within the stone walls of Maxine’s Academy of Artisanal Magic.

She falls to the grass and holds onto a nearby tree for support, letting her tears flow freely. She doesn’t notice the painter that is adding details to his rendition of the pond on his canvas.

She doesn’t notice him until his handkerchief appears before her nose.

“For you, Madame,” he says as he offers the handkerchief.

She whispers a thank you as she takes it and cleans herself up. All the while, the painter keeps adding details to his work.

“Are you an artist?” He glances over to see her nodding her head. “Painter? Sculptor?”

“Painter,” she whimpers, “Watercolor.”

“Ah, as am I. I love watercolors. They mute harsh lines in a way that doesn’t erase them but softens them. It adds an ethereal nature to my landscapes that I find fascinating.”

A smile manages to break through Rayne’s tears. “That’s why I love the medium as well. It helps me create a dreamlike illusion to my work. Not that I’ll ever be as great as Nicholas Nox himself…” Her smile fades.

The painter stops. He turns his attention to her for once, blue eyes concentrating on the poor girl leaning against the tree. “You don’t want to be like him, Madame.”

“Why not?”

The painter laughs. “Well, he’s an old man who has already made his contribution to the art world. Art cannot stay stuck in the old ways forever. Art is a fluid movement of expression. If you aspire to be like another artist, all you are expressing is admiration. You’re ignoring your own emotions and robbing the world of the creations that can come from them. And he’s quite tired of the social pressures that come with that name. Nico is fine.” He winks at her.

And in that moment, Rayne Riddlewood realizes that her idol, Nicholas Nox, stands before her.

He then sits next to her and looks to the pond. “High society loves being the one to decide what fine art is and why. Art maneuvering is a delicate art and requires work, yes, but I find it to be quite distracting. People see the talent of the magic, not the message of the art. That is why I tend to keep my movements subtle in my work. Alone, each movement forces the viewer to pay attention to the details. Together, they force the viewer to take in the whole painting. And with all that, it’s my hope the viewer comes to an informed interpretation of my work, whatever it may be. Perhaps it will be your generation that will bring high society’s eye to the true meaning of art. But, that’s not something for your shoulders. All you have to worry about is painting.

“Paint whatever it is that compels you to pick up the paintbrush. Do it for your eyes alone. Don’t strive to be the best. Strive to make yourself proud.”

Tears fall again, but these are quiet tears. Rayne nods and her eyes speak enough gratitude that she doesn’t need to speak a word for Nicholas Nox to understand.

“What’s your name, Madame?”

“Rayne Riddlewood.”

He extends his hand. She places her hands in his, and he looks at her. “I look forward to the day I see the name Rayne Riddlewood on a piece of art out there in the world.”

Nicholas Nox escorts her back to the classroom of Professor Papier. The petit professor, wand out, is cleaning up the last of the mess, the splattered paint on Rayne’s creation.

“Madame Riddlewood! I’d hope to see you back here. My thanks, Nico.”

“Always a pleasure, Professor,” he says as he takes his leave, giving Rayne’s hand one last squeeze of encouragement.

“Well, Madame Riddlewood, you’ve really outdone yourself with this one.” Professor Papier looks over at the canvas.

Rayne’s delicate smile droops as she makes her way to her still painting. She hesitates in looking at it, but eventually she does, and a spark of life comes back to her eyes.

There, right in front of her, she sees her green-scaled dragon, wrapped around the arm of a waiter, breathing blue fire to torch the crème brûlée, and the blue fire moves as flames do.

It is a subtle movement, but it breathes life into her work, and though a younger Rayne Riddlewood would’ve wanted movement all over the canvas, this Rayne Riddlewood thought the subtle movement of the fire was the final touch needed for her creation.

For Rayne Riddlewood, it is a perfect work of art, and after adding her signature on the canvas, she names it, Unforgettable Memory.


Copyright ©️ 2020 Daniela Sylmae. All rights reserved.