A gold-rimmed door was the final turn in the palace maze before the room began. Her dark fingers clutching the pale silver doorknob, the girl crept through the looming entryway. Since arriving in the mansion and being fitted with mended clothing, she had heard passing whispers from fellow servants to the aristocratic Isabella d'Este, etching the glorious Studiolo into her imagination. This sight, however, was more a sculpture than an etching.
Despite the magnificence of the Studiolo, the weak evening sunlight bathed only an ornate wooden desk set against a wall, leaving the remainder of the room under a veiled shadow. Papers set upon the desk glowed a warm orange where foreign black writing did not conceal its luminence. The approaching nighttime had a way of concealing what it wanted to hide, and highlighting what should be seen. She watched as the ink blotched under her gentle, curious touch.
Against all concealing intentions of the setting sun, the girl stepped into the thin shadows and admired a collection of artworks through shadow-strained eyes. A marble bust gazed limply back at her, an unknown history hidden behind stoney confines not too dissimilar from the small granite shackles that had held her captive under watchful, wealthy eyes craving the newest possessions; a boat of foreigners bringing her into this unfamiliar European city.
These foreigners, too, seemed to have a history of their own. Paint behind an engraved bronze frame held people in a celebration, dancing beneath a rocky archway upon which stood two figures; a man in armour and a fair woman entwined in nothing but an orange ribbon. "How might it feel to be inside such a painting," she thought, "with invitation to such extravagant parties, and a chance to watch history play out before one's very eyes?" Perhaps it would be entertaining for a while, but at some point the vibrant colours must become grey as the subject realises they're trapped behind a mesh of paint that so effectively glorifies their captivity.
The walls were decorated with many dishes that seemed unfit for food, their stories implicitly too valuable to be silenced. She didn't know where these stories came from or or what they meant, but the golden halos, flying horses and fashionably dressed people spelled to the girl even with a background completely disconnected from European culture that they represented ancient divinities with no remaining purpose but to be displayed and admired by people like her, fascinated by the d'Este Studiolo and its priceless collections.
A voice sounded from the hallway, accompanied by a face peering through the doorway, youthful and dark, making his scars all the more visible. He had arrived together with the girl, but had not been so lucky to be rescued at a mere and helpless nine summers old, as had she. Whispering in the most familiar of tongues, he beckoned her out and lead her with his boney hand to the grand staircase; it, too, was another masterpiece the girl had examined on her path through the mansion's maze. The display of artworks and items from collections was not limited to the mere enormous Studiolo, but spilled out into the very wood of the railings, forming carvings of yet more gracious figures.
The girl's reluctance to leave such a beautiful place was no match for the urgency in the eyes and actions of the older servant.
An expansive dining table held twenty fair aristocrats in a close embrace, and eight wooden carvings in the confines of its legs. The girl had not seen such a collection of expectant, curious eyes in many weeks, and instinctively swung around, her eyes searching for the boy who had dragged her here, his familiar scars nowhere in the poorly lit corner from which they entered. Perhaps he didn't want to be seen by the guests, but had that been the case, would he not have offered the shy girl the relief of hiding, too?
She didn't know who these people were, or what they intended. The sight of a woman, the most extravagantly decorated of all her company, gesturing for the girl to unsheathe herself from her armour of darkness, startled her weak, tired mind. The nineteen remaining faces allowed their gaze to follow the pointed hand, and upon the girl's revelation, morphed first into expressions of shock, before relaxing as though they were being introduced to a perfectly groomed pup or a tenderly adorable babe.
This was the first time a pale person had not been fearful of the girl. They'd been noticeably cautious around her family and first friends, including the scarred boy, but because of a lone girl of such small frame, there was no reason to fret. Maybe the false danger that they somehow sensed among the rest of her people had been mitigated due to her unthreatening figure, while the scars on her brother's face had to be hidden. She had been selected for this very situation, they had picked the best artwork from a gallery.
Honour coursed through her being, and she kept up her pace towards the table, ecstatic to be finally valued, to be finally chosen for something. A net of arms extended towards her, grasping for a touch of her unwoven hair, feeling for the warmth of her coal-coloured skin, catching the threads of her newly knotted clothing. Their fingers brushed her, smudging the honour in her veins with a fresh epiphany, the way touching fresh ink had blotched the pristine writing upon the paper earlier, in the Studiolo. They had picked the best artwork from a gallery.
Author Notes: This is a slightly old piece I wrote in May 2019. It wasn't a free writing experience, but rather an assignment for my literature class, where we had to focus on a historical figure. Don't consider this to be what I usually write. Nevertheless, I'd love some feedback :)