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A Garden to My Muse

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Deep water in the distant lake glistened with each sun-beam that shone down upon it, casting a golden hue upon the water’s murky surface. Though Lakeside Village was not particularly known for its scenic nature — it had always been a fishing town, first and foremost, not a tourist location by any means — Galatea still found beauty in its brownish-green waters. Most of all, she enjoyed the sporadic glinting of silvery scales breaching the surface of the serene waters, as the occasional flair of a rare fish leaped into the air, and caught her observant gaze. Between that and the gorgeous sunset, the young woman’s artistic brain had been turning ceaselessly. It was no beach, no perfect place for a picnic, or for a romantic outing at all, really. But it was home to the one her mind couldn’t let go of, and therefore, it too was part of her beauty.

The lovely young lady, Galatea Claude, had found herself a muse.

She knew as well as any good, self-respecting artist that tragedy was one of the most powerful forms of inspiration. Lakeside Village had once been a prosperous town, and now it was little more than a dilapidated site in which strange games of cat and mouse were played. Still, she supposed the place was better off than many of the others at which those matches were played, and she found the gentle ripple of the water to be more than inspirational. No, Galatea had not come to Lakeside Village today for a match. Rather, she'd found it her new favorite place to work on her craft, looking out at the water, with its forlorn murkiness, and picturing her beloved muse swimming beneath those mysterious waves.

She sat out on an aged dock, the decaying wood creaking and cracking beneath the wheels of her firm chair, but Miss Claude was hardly caring of the potential danger; her work, her passion, was far more important. So, she stared at the water for a long time, whittling away masterfully at a small slab of marble that sat neatly on her chair's tray. For a time in the past, she had only ever crafted works that resembled herself. But… ever since she first laid her dark eyes on the mysterious and tragic lady of the lake, her mind had become swamped with unyielding inspiration. Humming thoughtful tunes to herself as she worked, chisel in hand with masterful precision that could only belong to a Claude, she let her work sweep her away just as the waves swept at the muddy shoreline.

What once would have formed into her own face, or something similar, slowly made itself into the picturesque shape of a beautiful, mature-looking young woman's delicate features. It was that face, that elegant face, that left the sculptor's lips upturned into a small smile, her heart beating quicker as her creation shaped itself to resemble that wonderful face. Detailing it with the accuracy and precision of a skilled artisan, she used her expert sculpting tools to take what was once a mere rectangular stone, and carve out of it a bust that resembled the person whom she longed most to see again, the woman's face long since committed to Galatea's memory.
Graceful — that was the word that came into the young woman's mind as she worked; she was always searching the water's depths, eagle-eyes scanning for any hint of imperfection in her delicate sculpture.

It was as relaxing as it was engrossing, to watch vague features form into something elegant and familiar. A woman who spent her days below the depths of perplexing waves, who did not speak, merely hummed or sang wordless, hoarse and beautiful songs — her muse was much akin to the sirens of mythology, too fictitious and lovely to be real. And yet, her artistic eyes were never mistaken, and Galatea was certain of all that she’d seen. The woman named Grace was not a folk-tale told to children in distant lands. Rather, she was very much a real person, and very much was Galatea’s secretive muse. Unknown to the woman of the waves, this was not the sculptor’s only art-piece based around her, nor would it be the last. Galatea had already filled a garden on the manor’s edge full of statues and busts depicting the goddess-esque form of The Naiad.

It was, however, notable in Galatea’s sharp mind that Grace was likely someone apprehensive about deification. Though they were not yet as close as the sculptor would have longed to be, she knew enough about the young woman to know that such a status was… a touchy subject. Though she resembled something from mythology, it was clear that Grace was no goddess, no deity, no parable’s protagonist. She was simply a young woman who had faced a great misfortune, due to that same misconception. So Galatea was careful; she could create elegant sculptures of a nymph-like woman, depicting her as the opulent and shining girl she was… but never would Galatea call the woman more than a muse. At least, in terms of such mythological titles.

So it was only the gentle lapping of the waves and the ambience of the quiet village that kept her company as she worked, all her focus poured into the realistic bust until it was almost an image of perfection. Though it was only marble, the woman’s coiled, messy braid looked as if she were truly swimming under the waves, the stationary stone hair appearing as if it were moving alongside the shoreline’s deep-green seagrass. Interlocking calcite crystals formed into a finished product that perfectly resembled the naiad’s face and upper body, marbled lips upturned into a melancholy but beautiful smile. It was strange, how the sculpture managed to be so accurate to life, and yet so attuned to Galatea’s own vision of the world.

Galatea could only sigh deeply as she let her dark eyes roam over her finished creation. She remembered a time in the past when she’d been allowed to sculpt very little, and it made her happy to know that Oletus Manor had given her a chance to create once more — and not only that, but to find inspiration again. She wondered if the manor had given Grace that same sort of second chance, or if the naiad felt trapped in such an odd place. Maybe it wasn’t polite of her to assume things, and the last thing she wanted to do was put words into Grace’s mouth; though it never spoke, it was already so misunderstood.

Galatea wanted to think that she could, perhaps, understand it. But she wasn’t foolish, and the last thing she wanted to do was play into other’s fears or make them feel trapped. She knew as well as anyone that it was a hard life to live, being misunderstood by those around you.

Her family, for instance, had never understood her rather extreme passion for sculpting — or at least, if they had at one point, they stopped doing so eventually. The moment that they ceased to understand, was the moment she had known that it would be up to her to carve her own path into the world. She let out another deep sigh, leaning forward in her chair to touch her forehead to the lifeless bust.

“Did your family let you drown like mine watched me fall?” she spoke quietly, her lips trembling with unpleasant memories, “I wonder, though, if you can hear them too? Do you hear the fish in the same way I hear the stones? Do they tell you vivid stories too?”

Though she received no response from the marble against her forehead, the young woman still couldn’t help but smile, laughing gently to herself. She pulled slowly away from the bust, before raising a shaky hand to cup the delicate stone face’s cheek. Maybe her father had always been right — perhaps she really was insane.

“My father thought I was ill, and sent me away,” the sculptor admitted softly to the statue, “He didn’t understand the true nature of art. He didn’t understand how beautiful it could be.”

A gentle but sudden splashing noise from somewhere in the lake tore the young woman from her melancholy, her stiff body jumping slightly as she let out a small sputtering noise in shock. Quickly, her dark eyes scanned the surface of the waves, searching for the source of the sound, but she found nothing but ripples and bubbles that quickly subsided, leaving her alone once again. Merely a silvery fish jumping out of the water again, her mind was quick to reason. Though she couldn’t help but feel as if she wasn’t truly alone, as if marbled eyes were trained on her from somewhere beneath the surface of the muddy Lakeside water…

Oh, that’s right — the statue. How could she have been so silly? She wasn’t alone after all.

———

Oletus Manor was an… interesting place when it came to its upkeep. Though its survivor residents were generally more limited in their movements and available spaces, the hunters were typically more free to move about the manor as they pleased. Galatea was, however, a somewhat special case. Even though she certainly was not alone in her artistic nature, given that the manor was home to many artists, she was the only one of the bunch confident enough to approach the intimidating gamekeeper, Bane Perez, and ask the forest warden earnestly for permission to have an outdoor workspace. (Though… Edgar had certainly tried to follow suit, but his demanding tone had not gone over as well as Galatea’s good natured and honest one).

Despite the warden’s usual stern trust issues, Galatea had promised to preserve the natural space, suggesting it be near water, and that she would not remove any wildlife that decided to make a home upon her statues. Although she, and her perfection-loving heart, disliked the idea of her work being soiled, she knew that promising such a thing would win Bane over, and that it would be a much-needed challenge to create works that went hand-in-hand with the natural environment. Needless to say, somehow, she managed to win-over Bane’s strict heart.

“Only for you, Galatea,” he’d said, his gruff voice sighing deeply. She could sympathize with his issues of trust; she was certain that they all could, and that was why she was exceptionally careful not to break his faith in her.

So, it was by a lake — clearer than Lakeside's muddy, fishing waters — that Galatea’s statue garden was erected.

Though the area was relatively small, taken up mostly by natural life that she wasn’t keen on disrupting, lest she face Bane’s wrath, the creative and clever sculptor had quickly figured out countless ways to make the most of it. In her mind, like an architect, she created a blueprint — though it wasn’t long before she’d already strayed from it, constantly crafting better, brighter plans for the space that was now her canvas.

Her first statue in the garden had been of the naiad, Grace.

It was a large, central piece that consisted of the young woman’s full body, carved into a smooth limestone base. Galatea remembered that piece fondly; it had been the first time she’d sculpted her muse, and since then, she had hardly slept due to the flowing inspiration that followed its creation. It was the only piece in the garden that she has gotten the elusive woman to pose for, taking her by her webbed hands and leading her to sit upon one of the manor’s more expensive-looking chairs. Though the pair didn’t speak at all, as Galatea quickly learned that the woman was mute, the sculptor couldn’t help but feel as if they’d bonded during that instance. It had become the basis for all the other sculptures in her garden, inspiring an entire series based solely on the nymph-like woman.

The day following that instance, Galatea had awoken bright and early, brimming with passion. Though she had raced to find her muse across the manor, Grace had seemingly gone away for the day, and the sculptor was forced to instead reference the statue she had made the day prior. It seemed to her that this trend of inspiration would not quickly suffice, after a week had passed, and she’d added multiple sculptures of the naiad in varying shapes and sizes across the garden. Some depicted the woman in her natural state, while others painted her as a mermaid-esque sea dweller, or a roman beauty donning an elegant bathrobe.

Truly, Galatea Claude had found her new muse. Every day that she was free, she would come to the garden to plan or construct a new masterpiece, though after a while, she’d begun making strenuous and out-of-the-way trips to Lakeside Village to create smaller pieces as well. Though she couldn’t lug such huge pieces of stone around for day-trips without troubling some of the other hunters (even if she knew that the sweet Mr. Beck would have been more than happy to help her), she enjoyed the change of atmosphere when it could be afforded for smaller busts or figurines. She knew that the place was significant to Grace, and she could feel that bittersweetness too, whenever she worked there. It once must have been a lovely place, she felt, and it was a shame that it had fallen into such disrepair. And yet, knowing the nature of its people, she wasn’t entirely upset about its destruction, either.

So, after another sunset out on the docks of Lakeside Village, Galatea had finally returned back home – if one could call Oletus Manor home – with a finished, beautiful bust of Grace sitting neatly upon her chair’s tray. Such things were typical for her, and the other hunters paid her little mind as she slipped her chair snuggly between them, heading eagerly out to the place she knew housed her rather daunting collection of recent works.

It was a bit far out from the manor itself, but Galatea never minded, even if the wooded path there was somewhat uneven, making it a bit of a bumper ride than she would have preferred. Still, the sculptor was not a complainer, and rather, her mind was more focused on figuring out where would be an ideal location for the newest addition to her series. Perhaps, near the half-body marble beauty of the naiad that depicted her holding a small jug of water, that local birds had taken a liking to for their evening baths. Or perhaps, it would be better suited next to some of the more similar busts, right next to the one showcasing her in the form of a mythological siren, of which Galatea was so reminded of whenever she saw the silent woman passing her by. She wondered — if Grace was alike to the siren, could herself possibly be considered akin to the gorgon, capturing anyone who struck her fancy in stone.

Such strange lines of thoughts were something her father would have probably deemed childish, though she remembered studying various mythos when she first learned to sculpt, and the young woman couldn’t help but be drawn back to some of her earliest inspirations. It was almost freeing, to create for herself, and to create based on her own idyllic inspiration. Still, she reminded herself constantly, that Grace was only another woman. A beautiful, elegant, mature woman, whom she couldn’t seem to get out of her racing mind, but another woman nonetheless. And it was only inspiration, an appreciation for beauty, and their distant friendliness that drove her admiration. Or at least, that’s what she would continue to tell herself.

As she finally came upon her beloved statue garden, Galatea couldn’t help but upturn her lips into a gentle smile. The trickling of familiar water met her ears, and her onyx eyes quickly took in the sight of her dearest collection. Smiling softly, she led herself over to where she’d finally settled on placing the bust, and unloaded the marble statue from her tray carefully onto its new home – a small stone wall that housed a number of similar, smaller busts and figurines. She let out a soft sigh she hadn’t even realized she’d been holding in, scooting slowly backwards to admire the row of tasteful sculptures.

She wondered if one day, she could perhaps get her hands on some sort of more radiant and expensive stone to carve into Grace’s likeness; ideally something that mimicked her lovely pale blue skin and flowing teal hair. A turquoise-colored gem, perhaps, though Galatea had never worked with such a rich material before, favoring the more traditional marble and limestone. Still, she couldn’t help but hum a tiny and playful tune, thinking about all the other ways she could capture the naiad’s beauty eternally.

But as much as it pained her never ceasing mind to admit it, it had gotten to be too late for Galatea to continue working, and so, stretching her stiff body as much as her paralyzed limbs would allow, she took one last look at the dark lake that now shone reflections of stars upon its serene surface. Then, she turned back to her vibrant garden full of her muse’s likeness.

“Goodnight, Grace,” she spoke in a tired mumble, staring at none of the statues in particular, for she loved them all equally, “Tell your friends beneath the water goodnight for me, too.”

It was then she heard another distant splash, mimicking the one that had startled her at Lakeside Village hours earlier. Curious, she quickly adjusted her chair to face the lake’s edge more efficiently, leading herself over to its shoreline. She cast her gaze outwards, noticing the small ripples of where something had been above the surface moments before, and without thinking, she hastily called out to it.

“Hello?” she spoke quietly, her lips parted slightly in anticipation, “Are you there?”

She had a faint idea of what – or rather, who – it could have been, though she wasn’t sure if it was merely her mind imposing upon reality that which she’d been dwelling on for the entire day. Nevertheless, she waited patiently, eyes cast to the water. Seconds ticked away into a long, slow minute, and Galatea nearly considered heading back to the manor, before timidly, a teal face peaked itself above the dimly lit water, dark eyes staring back at the sculptor with intrigue.

“Grace…” Galatea exclaimed in a short gasp, her voice barely above a whisper.

Though the woman didn’t say anything in response, she moved her head to indicate that she had heard the sculptor, before her dark eyes peered apprehensively to Galatea’s left. Following the trail of the naiad’s gaze, the young woman found herself eyeing one of her own statues, depicting the woman as a gorgeous mythological mermaid.

Almost sheepishly, Galatea turned herself to face her muse, voice suddenly a bit hoarse. She was prideful of her work, and never once doubted herself or her ability to create, but seeing the uncertain look upon Grace’s face made her suddenly worry that she had somehow upset the woman. It was probably just as she had thought earlier — the woman hated to be deified.

“It’s not…” Galatea started to speak, though she wasn’t entirely sure where her words were going. Almost dumbly, and unlike her usual composed self, all she managed to get out was a small, “You’re very pretty to sculpt.”

The sculptor felt her face flush a bit when Grace merely raised a webbed hand to her mouth, covering a small smile. It was so similar to how Galatea always chiseled away at marble lips to create that same image, and yet it felt infinitely more radiant to view it in reality. She forced herself to focus, to clear her mind and commit it to memory, before it was gone again moments later, replaced with a delicate expression of neutrality.

Were Galatea not already partly paralyzed, she was almost certain her body would have frozen up the moment she watched Grace emerge more fully from the water, drifting slowly over to sit herself upon a wide, flat rock near the lake’s edge. Water droplets glistened on her pale skin in the moon’s dim light, making the naiad appear as if she were glowing. From there, the woman mirrored something from a famous painting, and Galatea longed to capture that moment too in stone. Unfortunately, she didn’t have a piece of marble with her, not even a small chunk, or even a simple sketchbook to jot the image down for later — so she praised herself then for her impressive memory.

Galatea had always been fond of sculpting mature, elegant pieces of beautiful women. It wasn’t until lately that she’d realized there may have, perhaps, been a bit more to it than that.

“I hope it’s not… strange,” she mumbled softly, gaze trained onto Grace’s deep eyes. From here, she could see how the woman’s ebony optics were filled with no malice, only curiosity, and Galatea couldn’t help but draw in a nervous breath. It was unlike her to be so intimidated by others, let alone a muse, but something about Grace was different from herself or the other models she had created works based-on in the past. Tentatively, she continued her thought, picking her next words carefully, “I… want to be closer with you, Grace. Is that alright?”

Though no sound left her throat, the naiad parted her lips slightly, as if to speak words that weren’t there. And somehow, Galatea was almost certain she could understand them. The beautiful woman was not upset with her, rather, she was flattered.

The sculptor could feel her heart begin to soar as Grace’s lips turned up into a gentle, understanding smile once again. Almost without thinking, she guided her chair closer to the rock on which the woman sat, its wheels leaving a pale imprint in the soft dirt by the shoreline. She couldn’t help but raise out a shaky hand towards her muse, as if she wasn’t sure that the stunning naiad was real anymore, before hesitantly catching teal webbed fingers in her own slim palm.

Like before, when Galatea had slowly guided her to pose for the first of many statues, the pair were connected physically, leaving the sculptor to question the nature of their relationship. It shouldn’t have felt as intimate as it did, and yet, the pair didn’t need words to understand that this was a comfortable thing. A few moments passed in silence, the pair looking out to the star-dotted pool of water with mute amenity, hand in hand.

Galatea forced herself to still as much as possible, her breathing slowed in the heat of the calm moment. She feared that movement would somehow break the spell that had been cast over them, and so the pair remained still for an unknown amount of time — it felt like hours had passed, but the sculptor was sure it had only been a mere few minutes.

It was the naiad who was the first to move again. Slowly, she peeled her hand away from the sculptor’s at last, and Galatea had to fight with herself not to chase after its surprising warmth, despite Grace’s cool and damp skin.

But then, the naiad reached up to her teal hair, untying her messy and loose braid with careful precision, and letting her water-logged hair fall flat upon her back, before eyeing Galatea with a somewhat abashed gaze. Tucking a strand of her cerulean hair behind a finned ear, Grace slowly raised her hand to give the sculptor a small band that had been in her hair before. Taking it with interest, the sculptor couldn’t help but smile gently as the young woman in front of her turned her back towards Galatea’s chair, allowing her to reach out and run lithe fingers through blue-green locks. It was almost unreal to the sculptor, to feel the naiad’s soft, damp hair in her own hands — it smelled like freshwater and water lilies.

The naiad couldn’t help but shut her eyes in contentedness as she felt petite hands running through her wavy strands, letting out a soft sigh in delight. It has been a long time since she’d last trusted another with this level of closeness, but the sculptor was someone she was beginning to place her confidence in, and it felt lovely to be near to another person again. Though she held the fish dear, growing up playing with them in the waters of her home at Lakeside, there was a certain humanity that she felt she lacked, and it was simpler to find it when looking to someone like Galatea.

She, like many in the manor, found it hard to put her faith in others… but it was just as the sculptor had admitted before, a sentiment that Grace shared — she longed to be closer with Galatea as well.

After a moment, the artist’s hands ceased to play with Grace’s hair, and the naiad hesitated for a moment, thinking that perhaps their intimacy was finished. But then, she felt the gentle tug of steady hands braiding her hair once more, replicating the beautiful braid she always kept it in, only neater.

“I used to braid doll’s hair, when my father would buy them for me as a child,” Galatea mused, her lips pursed into a focused smile, as nimble hands, skilled at their craft, began to weave teal strands together, “You have pretty hair. Thank you for letting me play with it.”

Completely black eyes then turned up to look at the moon, full, shining in the sky above them, as Galatea let the finished braid go, the hair seeming to float as it laid neatly upon Grace’s back once more.

“Thank you for coming to see me, as well,” she sighed, unable to tear her eyes away from the pale moon. Although the heavenly body shone brighter than she ever could, its ashen face reminded her somehow of her own, and she wondered if one day, she could perhaps carve something out of the moon itself. She let out a low murmur, face flushed with more than simple inspiration, “I think that… you might be more than just a muse to me. But still, I can’t help but want to sculpt you even more…”

A gentle huff from beside her answered fondly, the naiad’s eyes also trained on the night sky above them. Aside from their gentle breathing and the languid ripple of the nearby lake, the world around them was silent for a long, serene moment.

Then, a quiet giggle broke the silence, as Grace turned back to the sculptor with a wide grin, her visible eye upturned in glee. Though she could not speak, Galatea was almost sure she could see the hushed words that her lips mouthed silently in response.

‘I like your sculptures a lot, they’re very pretty. So… I think I would like that very much, Galatea. Thank you.’