Previous Challenge Entry (Level 4 – Masters)
Topic: ACCIDENTS WILL HAPPEN (04/13/17)
TITLE: More Beautiful
By Jan Ackerson
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Finally, taking a deep breath, she reached inside and carefully withdrew each item. Dishes, cups, bowls--each one was perfectly lovely, with the decorative touches LinSu had developed during her apprenticeship, marking the work as her own. She pulled out the vase last of all, hardly daring to look, steadying her hands lest their trembling cause her to drop her masterwork.
It, too, was perfect.
Not trusting the servant girl to carry the items back for glazing, she made several trips, cradling the pieces to her chest in twos and threes, wrapped in soft cloth.
And now the process began anew--the delicate glazing of each item, in LinSu's distinctive patterns, under the master's silent eye. He had never spoken a word to her, instructing her for three years by means of gestures, demonstrations, and facial expressions—mostly of disapproval.
Once again, LinSu's talent paid off. The collection was stunning--perfect for the Princess Kana--and the pieces were transported carefully to the palace, where LinSu displayed them on a table draped with a silk cloth.
She had turned her back to the table for one second--perhaps two--when she heard the skittering of tiny rodent's feet and a feline hiss. She whirled about just in time to see a cat leap for the scampering mouse, snagging a claw on the silk and sending LinSu's exquisite vase to the floor. The sound of the vase hitting marble was the exact same sound as that of LinSu's breaking heart.
Shoulders slumped, she took the shattered pieces of the vase back to her workroom, looking dully around for anything she could use to mend it. Shrugging, she took up a pot of lacquer and some gold flakes and started to reassemble the vase. When she finished, it was covered with irregular rivers of gold, one stream along each crack.
The next day, Princess Kana was to marry the heir to the throne. They had never met, of course--that would come as the climax to a day of ceremony and ritual. Accompanied by trumpets, the king walked the length of the great hall, examining the dowry gifts. LinSu's ceramics were near the front, where the veiled princess waited. The king stopped mid-stride and examined the gold-mended vase, wearing an inscrutable expression. Then he set it down and took one step toward the princess. With a quick flip of his hand, he lifted her veil.
Her face was pitted and scarred--she'd been victim to some horrible disease. The king took a quick step back, staring. Princess Kana met his eyes; hers were an unnatural soft gold, a lingering after-effect of the plague. They were quite beautiful--but the king released the veil and whirled around, picking up LinSu's vase.
"No damaged thing will be found in my son's house," he said, brandishing the vase. LinSu gasped; it appeared that he was about to dash it to the ground, but he merely set it on the table and strode out of the hall.
The princess's attendants hurried to her, but they were stopped by a man who darted out from the draperies. The heir to the throne knelt and took the princess's hands. He whispered in her ear, but LinSu heard: "You are lovely, my queen," he said. He took the vase and placed it in the princess's trembling hands. "See this? It is more beautiful for having been broken. We will be married--if you will have me."
Behind her, LinSu's master spoke, the first of his words that she'd ever heard. "The vase is as beautiful as its creator, apprentice. I am no longer your master. I hope that I may be ... something more." He took her hands and turned them palm up, tracing with his thumb the fine lines of gold that filled the calluses of her work.
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