Themed Word List: Fist, Jab, Knuckle, Spirit, Fighter, Rhythm.
"If you will kindly disrobe, we can get started," Tolchek said. Nastinka clutched at the neck of her peasant dress and a small shiver of fear ran through her. "Well?" Tolchek demanded, "Do you want to earn the five rubles or not?" Nastinka could only nod her head dumbly as she fumbled with the tiny buttons. In a moment, she was as naked as the day she was born. Tolchek smiled approvingly. "Now please, sit on the stool and turn your head to the light. Nyet, nyet, that won't do. Bend your head down a bit, as if you are gazing into a pool of water. Yes, that's nice. Now lean on this arm and reach out with the other as if you are going to touch the surface of the water. Good. Now hold very still."
Tolchek turned to his easel and his charcoal began to fly across the page in an easy rhythm, sketching, shading, his eyes lost to the sight of the beautiful young girl in front of him. For him, she was just a thing, a vehicle for his art. She had all the allure of a bowl of fruit or cut flowers on a tablecloth. There was no person in front of him, gifted with warm blood, with dreams of her own, or even a mortal spirit. She was just a piece to be copied and that was all.
"Damn!" Tolchek swore and tossed down his charcoal in disgust. "Your legs are all wrong! You are not sitting at a spinning wheel or churning butter! You are gazing lovingly at your own reflection you simple country bumpkin! Wait just a moment..." Tolchek hurried to move a threadbare sofa from a corner of the studio into the light. Then he carefully rearranged her on it so that the light fell just so, but he never touched her. He would not let his hand stray even a little close to her. Tolchek had learned from his master that one should never touch a model, no matter how much easier it is to pose them that way. "This girl is just another ignorant peasant," Tolchek thought, "she is probably used to the rough hands of men, and no doubt she has her wanton ways, but it would never do for her to say that I even brushed against her cheek or my budding reputation would be lost. Should that happen, I would never find another model after her and I shall be forced to do more landscapes and die in ignominy like so many before me. Nyet, this will be my masterpiece and will get me an introduction into the court of the Czar!"
Now Tolchek changed from charcoal to paint and his brush moved like a fast flowing stream. His brush would dab, then swirl, only to return from another trip to his palette to jab at the painting. Sweat formed on his brow and lip as he worked himself into the fever that was his art. So consumed by his fervor was he that he never noticed that the door of his studio had been thrown open by great force to admit a giant kodiak of a man.
"Tolchek, you he-goat! I have come to take your life for violating my wife!" the huge man bellowed and beat his fists about his chest.
Tolchek looked up in utter surprise, as if the whole of the Czar's army had arrived on his doorstep. "Do I know you?" he asked softly.
"I am Mikal Egor Sergei Timur Markastrova and I will kill you now, you lecherous fool!" the long knife in his hand seemed to punctuate every word.
Tolchek narrowed his eyes and wiped a smear of paint from his knuckle absentmindedly on his breeches as he looked over the newcomer. "Good God nyet!" Nastinka screamed, "Mikal, I was only earning money so we could keep the farm! He never touched me, I swear by the Holy Mother! Oh please..." and her sobs went unheeded as she buried her face into her hands, unable to look at the coming tragedy that was about to unfold before her.
Tolchek stroked his beard for a moment as the giant gathered his rage. "Could you take a half step closer?" was all he managed to say. Mikal lunged forward, brandishing the knife with all the menace of Cain. Flecks of foam dripped from the corners of his mouth. "Hold right there!" Tolchek exclaimed as his hand reach once again for the charcoal.
"I will cut you into little bits and feed you to my hounds, you bastard son of a whore!" Mikal swore.
"Fine, fine," Tolchek muttered, "just do it after I'm done. For now, hold still you oaf!" Tolchek grimaced as his hand moved at lightening speed. He bit his lower lip as he put on the finishing touches. "There," he smiled, "now you may deliver the killing blow, but before you do, you must promise me that this picture will find it's way to Sergei Onamatov in Kiev, and know that you have slain the greatest artist ever born and an innocent man!" and with that, he threw down his brush and palette, closed his eyes and presented his chest to receive the gleaming blade.
Mikal knitted his thick brows and walked forward to where the painter stood. With one massive paw, he shoved the painter aside and looked at the canvas. His face changed from blood red heat to the calm of a summer breeze with glacial slowness but eventually he turned to Tolchek, and instead of offering him cold steel, he offered his hand. "I am no aristocrat," Mikal began, "but you have painted my Nastinka as the Madonna herself and for that I am truly grateful. And this big man in the background, is that me?" he asked in a small voice of wonder. "Do I truly look like that?"
Tolchek smiled, "You look exactly like that and if you will stand where you were before, you will look even better." The morning worked it's way into the afternoon and the three of them hardly noticed as Tolchek labored with the ardour of a zealot. At three, he slumped onto the stool and prepared tea with thick slices of course, dark bread.
"You know Tolchek, I came here today to slit your throat. I am glad to be slicing bread instead. You are not the bad man I thought you were. For that, I am glad," Mikal said as he brushed the crumbs from his long, unruly beard.
"I too am glad Mikal. I have my life and my masterpiece, but without you, I would have neither. I am an artist and without art, I have no life, while you sir, are a fighter who will never rest without your lover, much like Vulcan without his Venus. Come, I have a little vodka left. Let us toast our success and to your ten rubles!" Tolchek raised a half empty bottle.
""Nyet," Nastinka replied, "The bargain was for five rubles and five alone," she said adamantly.
Tolchek smiled broadly as he filled their glasses to the brim, "Ah but you have forgotten my dear, it was five rubles for each model and today I have had two!"