MARROW: CHAPTER THREE, SCENE THREE
SECTION ONE: THE BUTTERFLY HOUSE
In the Fifth Era of the Paltran Emperors
DESCRIBE YOUR RELATIONSHIP TO LADY VISCARIA.
The Sixty-Sixth Day of Spring, Year Thirty-Eight of the Fifth Era of Paltran Emperors
THE next three years were the best years of my life. Artistry became an addiction. Each lesson I attended left me craving more. More. I longed to dance like Viscaria. I yearned to sing like Alyssum and Hawthorn. To write poetry like Larkspur and give rousing speeches like Gardenia — both uzņika now, the latter since the thirty-ninth year and the former since Spring of the fortieth, though they chose to continue living at the Butterfly House into their twenties.
I studied each discipline Lady Pearl promised and more. Being that my talent laid in metalweaving, she hired an extraordinarily talented artisan, Gilgorys, to teach me something she was certain no uzņika had specialised in before: sculpture.
To my confusion, Gilgorys announced I was to begin learning with charcoal and parchment. After my regular lessons ended each evening, we sat in front of a statue somewhere within the launnal and sketched until we could no longer see the parchment. Sometimes, we focused on a specific portion of the sculpture: the face, the hair, the garb, the pose. Every time I showed him my work, he demanded finer detail. Keener attention. Better form. Other days he made me sketch as many statues as I could in as short a time as possible, forgetting all detail but the interplay between basic shapes.
I found myself drawn again and again to a particular statue in the rear of the Butterfly House: a figure of Lady Dahlia, an uzņika who died some fifty years before my birth. Her elegance left me awestruck. Despite being no less well-constructed than the others, something about her countenance seemed more dignified. She held in her left hand a spindle — a symbol of the Artisan — and in the right, a beggar’s bowl.
From my lessons with Lady Jasmine, our history tutor, I learned that Lady Dahlia was born the daughter of two slaves in Maj Qoda, later freed when their master died. According to Lady Jasmine, nobody thought she could become an uzņika. The debt she faced was enormous, many launnals refused to take in a former slave, and she had no inborn talents. Still, she persisted. Through sheer willpower, she achieved her goal and became an uzņika not one day later than she turned twenty-one — an early age to achieve that honour back then. Her talent, Lady Jasmine explained, laid in no discipline but discipline itself. That was what allowed her to eventually enjoy the exclusive patronage of Maj Qoda’s Patriarch — something no freedwoman had ever before achieved.
I often drew Lady Dahlia even when I could not reference her visage. What might her voice have sounded like? What interesting stories did she know? Would we have gotten along?
My fascination with her continued through late autumn of the thirty-eighth year. Gilgorys came to me as I sketched in front of her statue in the rear of the launnal, looked at my work, and said, “You are ready to move on.”
I bubbled with excitement. He led me to a small area near the Butterfly House’s back entrance which housed two tables, an assortment of tools, and… clay?
“I’m a metalweaver, not a landweaver,” I told him.
“And you are not yet a sculptress,” he replied.
We spent half the month on clay. I had to borrow an assortment of old tunicas from my sisters-in-learning to keep from staining everything else I owned. Once Gilgorys was satisfied with my grasp of basic technique, he allowed me to move on to wax, then wood, alabaster, and lastly, marble.
In all that time, the only occasions on which I used my Essence were at night, alone, deforming and reshaping the copper sphere I’d kept since my journey aboard the Swell Dancer. Gilgorys refused to let me so much as mention metalweaving in his presence, let alone attempt it. I didn’t understand why. Warping metal according to my will was nothing short of second nature. I didn't even have to touch the medium to shape it. Indeed, I was unlikely to need to use my hands for sculpting ever again if Gilgorys would just allow me the chance to show him my talent.
From the time I turned fourteen, Gilgorys only allowed me to work with stone and mediums I'd already trained with. I produced a new figurine every day. Each season he called on me to chisel a larger statue, which took far more time and planning than I ever would have thought.
Standing for so long each day and chisling solid stone — not to mention all the energy I exerted on other lessons — began to disturb my balance, which earned me no boon from our dance tutor, Lady Calla. I refused to let it stop me. More than anything, I wanted to sculpt metal. I wanted to make statues to rival the ones I saw around the launnal. I wanted to dance like Viscaria. I wanted to be an uzņika. To accomplish this, I had to meet Gilgorys’ demands and prove myself in daily studies. Progress became my singular goal. If I ached, I chewed beeswax to distract from the pain; when tired, I doused myself with cold water. If I wasn’t studying, I was sleeping. If I wasn’t sleeping, I worked.
After I slipped off a stepstool one evening and cut my hand on a shard of rock, Viscaria forced me to return to Yellow House for the night. At moonset she found me beside my project again, chipping away at the black marble. Exasperatedly, she tossed me a small pouch filled with some light-brownish cubes.
“I didn’t want to give these to you." Annoyance ran deep in her voice.
“What’s this?” I asked.
“Poppy leaf tablets, but you cannot take too many at once or it will kill you.”
With the tablets’ help, all my aches were erased. I improved in all disciplines. Even Gilgorys seemed moved by my increased production. Despite their help, I was not in the business of tempting fate. I took no more than two per day — three if I found myself restless at night.
In autumn of the Fortieth Year of the Fifth Era, just five weeks before Artis estimated I was to turn sixteen, I completed what I considered to be my magnum opus: an enormous wreath of gladiolus, hellebore, and peach blossoms ensconcing a life-size uzņika whose face was concealed beneath the spread wings of a butterfly, all carved in black marble.
Everyone who lived or taught at the Butterfly House came to see it: Viscaria, Alyssum, Hawthorn, the new girls Artere Nauve and Artere Vou, Ladies Larkspur and Gardenia, Ladies Pearl and Amethyst, Ladies Iris, Primrose, Jasmine, Calla, Marigold, and Lotus.
They scrutinized it for ages. Every hmm and oh uttered sent a bolt of panic from my chest to my toes. Gilgorys stood off to the side, watching.
Finally, Lady Pearl broke her gaze and came to me. “Darling girl.” She smiled, teary-eyed. “I do believe you are a prodigy.”
One by one the others followed, gushing about each fold of her skirts, the way the butterflies seemed encased in stone, how subtly I captured the allure of the unknown. When their questions ceased, I cast a tentative glance at Gilgorys. He did not return my gaze. Panic raced through my heart. My eyes welled with tears. All this work. All this time, and still I wasn’t ready?
Then, he nodded.
I ran to him and wrapped my arms around his broad, bony shoulders.
“Thank you. Thank you so much,” I cried.
He hesitantly patted my back.
When first I laid hands on metal, I finally understood why Gilgorys forced me to learn to sculpt the mundane way. I didn’t have to think about how to form limbs or support a pose, nor how to evoke a particular theme or mood. I simply knew.
Yet, metal was not without its difficulties, none of which Gilgorys was equipped to help me overcome. Since I was no landweaver, I needed no Essence to sculpt stone or clay. That only required patience. If I wove for too long, it exhausted me. Every moment I spent weaving beyond that point ground away at my precision. Lifting became an exercise in futility unless the weight was light enough to raise by hand. Bending, twisting, plaiting, shaping — impossible.
I slept well past dawn every day that I refused to temper my usage. My movements were slow; my mind groggy. This did not impress my tutors or Lady Pearl no matter how refined my skill.
With every sculpting session my endurance increased, but never by enough. Beating the strain of weaving, I eventually realised, was a game of time management. I began each session with a plan. When I reached the end of the day’s schedule, I stopped, no matter how badly I wished to continue. My studies thanked me for it, though it took longer than others would have liked for me to adhere to my own restrictions.
A few weeks after my exhibition, Lady Pearl came to see me at Yellow House as I prepared for bed.
“I have an exciting message,” she said, pressing her lips together seemingly to keep the news from bursting forth.
“Oh?” I asked.
Releasing a peal of laughter, she said, “Your father has consented for you to become an aizņika the very day you turn sixteen. He’s heard all about your progress. And there’s more!” She rattled with excitement. “Serkun Artis, his wife, and Serkana Rutgita are sailing for Limhoriò tonight — along with a score of their closest friends!” She squealed.
It had been years since I'd last seen or heard from Artis. If Örös was his winter home, he must have exerted some effort to keep away from the launnal. Nevertheless, I felt a twinge of pride in knowing I had piqued his interest enough to make a special trip for me.
Lady Pearl continued, “They want to exhibit your work during your debut performance — and, can you believe it? Host an auction!"
“An auction?” Somehow, it never occurred to me that I might have to part with my work. I supposed it made sense; I had no doubt acquired the debt associated with hiring, feeding, boarding, and compensating Gilgorys along with purchasing the materials I’d used and wasted the last two years — in addition to that which I owed for regular lessons and living at the Butterfly House. “And the proceeds?” I asked.
“They’ll go towards repaying your standing debt, of course,” Lady Pearl replied. “Serkun Artis wants to pay down what he owes just as much as you do. Now — Lady Amethyst and I will handle all other preparations, including the commission of an appropriate costume. Viscaria will arrange your naming ceremony.” She put a hand on my shoulder. “You, darling, ought to begin planning your performance.”
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