It had been Victoria who first heard the paintings.
She was only six at the time, a tiny beautiful nymph of a child, who would sit at his feet as he worked and watch with fascination the restoration process. He was only beginning to collect, then; he did not have the money to acquire many of the best paintings. But those he did have were hung in pride of place in their small house, and when she wasn't watching him Victoria would spend hours sitting in front of them, just staring. For all her enchanting personality she was a lonely little thing at times, and the paintings often seemed to be her very best friends.
On the day the paintings spoke, Archie had popped his head round the living room door to call her for supper and seen her standing very close to one, nose nearly touching the canvas. It was the painting of King Baxter, which had been one of the very first he'd bought, cheaply, from someone who didn't recognise its true worth. Frowning, he'd called to her.
"Don't touch, Victoria, you know you shouldn't touch."
She'd turned to him, her pixie face alight with pure pleasure.
"I'm not touching, daddy! He's talking to me!"
Archie had laughed, amused by the childish fantasy, and come over to her, stroking back a strand of light brown hair from her cheek.
"I'm sure he is, sweetie. What's he saying?"
"Listen for yourself," she'd said, sounding almost annoyed with him, and he'd turned in amused obedience to look at King Baxter-
-who'd winked at him.
It had been the start of an amazing time. They would go to art galleries together, and talk to the paintings, many of whom were amazed that they could be heard and understood. They would try their luck at museums as well, and found that even cave paintings from thousands of years ago would speak, albeit in an accent that was difficult to interpret. Archie kept the memories of those days close in his heart; special days shared with only his daughter, all the more precious because she was no longer around.
Later on, Victoria learned to draw. Archie, who was no mean artist himself, taught her realism; but she found much more pleasure in abstract, strong swirling lines that would more often than not come together to form a human face. Babbo was one such, the best she had ever produced. These paintings, however unreal the faces seemed, would often also come to life, whereas Archie's drawings, however detailed, never became more than mere pencil lines on paper.
It was part of her magic.
She was eighteen when she met the Thief. A boyfriend, brought home in triumph one day, the first she had ever had. Archie had disliked him on sight; he was a pale wraith with a narrow face and extraordinary eyes that were almost white, like a ghost. Archie could see nothing attractive in him, nothing at all. But she was devoted, and swiftly confided in her father the reason why.
"Oh, daddy, he can hear the paintings too!"
They had both looked long and hard for someone else who shared their talent, but no matter who they questioned-museum curators, artists, art collectors-none of them showed the tiniest indication. For Victoria, it was heaven to find someone who could. But Archie remained suspicious. He firmly believed that the ghostly young man had...ulterior motives.
And now he had been proved absolutely right.
He still felt the tears well up when he remembered Victoria's wedding day. But it wasn't from happiness. Far from it. How could he be happy when she was marrying the Thief? This was a girl who could have done so much better, immeasurably better. There had been a dozen young men, sweet of personality and handsome of face (not that that mattered, of course...), who would have married her like a shot give then chance, and she chose a man who looked like a ghost, and had the bitterest smile her father had ever seen. He predicted nothing but misery for his daughter who deserved so much better, and once again he had been proved absolutely right.
The man had become possessive and demanding, forcing her to paint more and more, becoming angry when what she produced wasn't up to standard. He was never violent, but his bitter sarcasm and cutting words were almost as bad. Victoria had filed for divorce, encouraged by Archie, but the man refused to leave her alone. He didn't seem interested in her, only in her paintings, which made Archie even more suspicious. After all, he thought with a father's righteous and slightly biased pride, Victoria was a very attractive girl.
And although her death had been deemed natural causes, to Archie's eyes there was absolutely nothing natural about it.
Hot anger coursed through his old frame, and he straightened up, eyes bright with the sudden fury. This man had stolen his daughter, and now he was trying to steal her memory away as well. Archie would not stand for that. Not at all. He would get the painting back if it was the last thing he did.
He fought down a sudden tide of defeatism. Something would surely turn up...
"Archie!" a voice suddenly called, in an all-too-familiar strong Scottish accent. Spinning round as fast as he old bones would allow, Archie found himself looking at Henry of Scotland, who was grinning like a loon and brandishing his claymore. Behind him, crammed into the painting's frame and spilling out into the two beside it (quite squashing out the painting's rightful occupants, two elegant Tudor ladies), was a jostling mass of painted figures, many of them heavily armed.
"I've got ye an army," Henry said cheerfully, waving an arm at the crowd. "Where would ye like 'em?"