Writ In Stone
This story is set in the Spring of 1998.
"Well, so far this has been fun, but unproductive," sighed How. "I haven't seen anything I can afford which I want, and vice versa."
"Sorry, How," said Tina, squeezing his arm. "When I saw that notice in the paper about an artist's estate having a sale I thought you might be able to pick up some stuff cheap."
"Yeah, well, not your fault," said How, grinning, and squeezing her back. "The add didn't say the stuff had just been sitting for fifteen years where he left it when he died, while the family feuded over who got what. At least I got to see where Henry LaFoyle lived and worked."
They were heading back to the main house from the artist's workshop, along a walkway made of fieldstones. While a recent attempt had been made at cleaning and cutting and pruning and trimming, the property still looked as if it was going to seed. How rather liked the effect.
"Too bad we can't afford the whole place," he sighed, quietly.
He glanced back down at the walkway, and stooped dead in his tracks, catching Tina by surprise.
"It's a Solnhofen stone! They don't make these any more! And it's huge!"
"How bent over and began prying at the edges of a walkway stone with his fingers.
"Okay, but you still..." began Tina.
"It's a stone used in lithographic printing," said How, as he gently flipped the stone over. He began examining the underside, with eyes and fingers, and probably other senses. "This is the best type, quarried in Solnhofen, Bavaria. They aren't quarried any more. Not sure why; they may have just run out of the good stuff. Anyway, this must be twenty or more years old. I mean it must have been out here for that long. No telling how old it is. Properly cared for they last just about forever, and LaFoyle started with lithography back in the Twenties. He must have needed a stone for the walkway, and this just happened to fit, and since he wasn't doing lithography any more he just plopped it in place."
How's activities had attracted the attention of one of the sale attendants.
"May I help you?" the bright young woman asked, trying not to look baffled by How's bizarre behavior.
"Everything goes, right?" said How. He tapped the stone. "How much for this?"
"Why, uh, I..." the woman's smile slipped a bit.
"How about five bucks?" asked Tina.
There was some confusion, and then some bickering, but soon the proud owners of a platter-sized flat rock were driving away from the country estate in their car.
"But why do you want this?" demanded Tina, momentarily taking her eyes off the road to glance at How, who was cuddling the stone like a kid with a new plushie.
"Hey, it was cheap," said How, with a careless shrug.
"That's not what I meant, and you know it."
"Okay, okay," the kitsune replied, grinning. "One of my upcoming course projects is to do something in a medium I don't normally use. I figure this will do."
"So this will be like sculpture," said Tina, reaching out to feel the smooth, slick surface, "only a lot flatter."
"No!" exclaimed How, scandalized. "You draw on this with a special crayon. The surface will be prepared so that the part covered in crayon holds ink while the rest repels it."
"Oh!" said Tina, in sudden realization. "So it's like a hand-drawn printing press plate."
"Just about," confirmed How absently, again lost in admiring the grain of his acquisition.
Back home How wasted no time in cleaning the stone and then inspecting it on their kitchen table.
"Well, the print side was down and is actually in pretty good shape. It'll have to be reconditioned, of course, but I don't think it needs regrinding." He frowned. "The back is a bit worn, though, and may have to be recut to fit the press."
"How did you know what it was?" asked Tina. "It just looked like a rock to me, and nobody else spotted it."
"My teacher had one in class once," How explained, absently. "It was about two-thirds this size, and a prized possession."
He looked up at her and grinned.
"You always said you'd only pose for me for something special," How announced. "Well, this is going to be something special."
"Why do I have the feeling I'm going to spend a lot of time naked in your art den?" muttered Tina.
* * *
Tina, wearing only the sheers from an old set of curtains draped over her shoulders and arms, held the pose as How sketched. He worked quickly, but even so Tina was grateful when he let her relax. She was in superb physical condition, but just holding her arms out like that for so long was still a strain. She already knew that professional models earned their fees; this just reinforced that knowledge. Absently gathering the filmy material around her, Tina stepped over to see what her lover had drawn.
She briefly skritched him between his foxy ears as he held up the sketchbook, tails wagging in satisfaction.
"Hey! I look pregnant!" said Tina, surprised. "Really pregnant."
"Well, yeah," said How, smiling with deep affection at the sketch. "I told you the title: Mother With Child."
"I thought you meant a woman with a toddler," said Tina. "Well, that explains why you had me holding my hands like that."
"You want me to change it?" asked How, anxiously.
"No, How, that's fine," said Tina, gazing at the image.
"I mean, I could put on a different face, or..."
"No," said Tina, a bit dreamily. "I like this."
"You really want kids, don't you?" said How. "Well, we could have one now. Financially, we're in pretty good shape, and even though we're both still in school and you want to go to the Olympics we could manage..."
He went silent as Tina put a finger to his lips.
"How, I'm the one who planned this out, remember?" said Tina. She removed her finger and replaced it briefly with her lips. "There's plenty of time for children, after all that's done. After we both graduate, I'm through with the Olympics, and we're set up to earn a living, we can get married and have a whole pack of kids."
"So, do you like it?" asked How, eagerly, after a moment's silence.
"I love it," said Tina. She gave a little laugh. "My dad's gonna freak, though, if he ever sees this. Bad enough that I'm mostly naked, but looking pregnant?!"
"He probably still thinks you're a virgin," How snickered.
"Well, not after that awkward talk he gave me last Christmas," said Tina, giggling. "He's finally realized I'm not a little girl any more; he's mentally upped my age to around 13."
They both had a good laugh at this, as How closed the sketchbook and put it on his drawing table.
"Actually, I'm surprised you didn't shift me to look pregnant, so you didn't have to guess what I'd look like."
"Gee, you're right," said How, mock innocently. "Do you think I should? It would certainly make for greater verisimilitude."
"No, How," said Tina, firmly.
"It wouldn't take much effort, and I'd be working on the existing sketch," How said, growing more animated as he thought about the idea. "You wouldn't be all swollen out and bloated with big, sagging breasts for long."
"No! Absolutely not!"
"I'd change you back," said How, plaintively.
Tina growled, and the next few minutes were spent in a play chase and wrestling match, which pretty much destroyed the sheers. Tina won, even though How went to fully fox form and hid under the couch.
" * * *
The days went quickly and smoothly as Spring moved toward Summer and the semester neared its end. How finished prepping his lithograph stone and drew his project on the surface, repeatedly explaining to Tina how careful he had to be.
"You see how I'm using this bridge? Touching the stone can put skin oils on the surface, or smudge the crayon, and both are bad."
"Yes, How," sighed Tina, rolling her eyes. "I know."
"You can't even breathe on it," said How, a slight tic manifesting in his right eyelid, his tails lashing. "The moisture takes out the stone's bite and the crayon just slides."
"How, take a time out," said Tina firmly.
Finally, the stone was ready for printing, and barely in time for the class project. How, Tina and the art instructor were in the printshop to watch the process. How fluttered around the presses as the printers ran the stone through, occasionally having to be gently but firmly restrained by Tina. The first proof out was perfect. How got an A on the project and the course. The print went on to become moderately successful, though only 100 were made, due to budgetary constraints. How thought about keeping the stone for future use, but decided that as much as he liked the results, too much work had been required to produce them. He sold the stone to his instructor. The proof was framed and hung prominently in their apartment, where it caused Tina a few embarrassing moments. The number one print was framed and sent to Tina's parents as a present.
" * * *
There was a quiet but firm knock. Professor Finlay glanced at the door and sighed.
"Enter," he called out, but not loudly. He never did anything loudly.
The door opened, and Finlay stared in astonishment as Luna entered.
"Welcome, welcome," he stammered, quickly rising as she stepped through the door. "Please, come in. Have a seat."
He hurried around his desk and presented her with the only guest chair not occupied by papers or books.
"Good evening, Professor," said the slightly distanced ljosalfar, as she sat her delicate-looking body in the seat. "I was here, visiting How and Tina and Teleomier, and thought that I would like to visit you, as well."
"Ah, I see," said Finlay. He wasn't one to fidget, but would have been doing so if he were. He didn't like visitors, especially unexpected visitors. Especially unexpected, powerful, unpredictable visitors.
"I also wanted to ask what you thought of young Tina," Luna continued. "She seems quite unusual, every bit the match for her kitsune mate."
"She is, indeed, incredible," said Professor Finlay, nodding and smiling. "Quite remarkable. A modern Atalanta."
"She is quite the wonder," agreed Luna. "Most humans would run screaming from many of the things she has seen, but she actually finds our kind fascinating. However, I don't understand why she hasn't been Accepted by the local Fey Council. For that matter, why hasn't How been awarded his fourth tail? They both more than deserve these recognitions."
"Humph," said the Professor, sourly. He understood, now, the real reason behind this visit. "Politics. Their recognition is being held back to avoid attracting attention, or angering those they've offended in some way."
"I wonder," said Luna, smiling mysteriously. "Maybe there's some way I can reward them for their helping me, without having to go through the local Council."
So, he was right. Luna wanted to repay them for their kindness and understanding while she had been under the influence of Janos. And was speaking with him about the matter because he was only on the periphery of the local fey society.
"Be careful," Finlay advised. "You are still unfamiliar with this world. With the best intentions, you could cause harm by acting through ignorance. Be certain that what you do for them is both something they truly want, and something which they can live with. And which won't attract undue attention."
"Oh, I'll think of something," was Luna's airy reply.
Which was exactly what Finlay was afraid of.
To get an idea of Luna's personality and mannerisms, think of the aging movie star character Carol Burnette portrayed in some of her comedy sketches. (Nora Desmond?)
Copyright 2000 Rodford Edmiston Smith, who can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Anyone who wishes to post this story or use it for anything except personal enjoyment must obtain the author's permission.