Master Craftsman’s Apology

Madalena Daleziou

July 21st 2023
Carving stone in a traditional way, craftsmanship detail, shaping the stone

Listen; it was never my plan to slit his throat.

This is my apprentice we’re talking about. I’d handpicked him; a rose among weeds. Is it my fault that he grew and sharpened his thorns into fangs, to bite the hand that lifted him from the gutter?

I treated him like a son. My humble abode was his own. The spare teacup and the blanket by the door both bore his name. I taught him not to carve marble, but to caress it; to immortalize beauty under his chisel.

When I decided to travel South—my heart stirred by primordial whispers of adorned columns and Grecian goddesses—I only left because my workshop was safe in his hands. I knew that he would do justice to the labour of love I left behind: a village chapel, God-touched. I would add the final brush strokes upon my return.

Ten years passed. Travel roads betrayed me. Highwaymen, rebellions, famines, do I need to recount them? I never regretted a thing, mind you. But see, it pierced my heart to walk into the ancient temples, to find them ruined, pillaged, victim to ones who tried to vanquish not just idolaters, but their memory, not just the people, but their country, their ancient songs—

I’m no craven. It takes more than noseless sculptures to break me. They’re beautiful in their way, even with the sapphires and emeralds of their eyes long-stolen. It only unsettled me to see them so silent, proud in their brokenness, with stubborn grass thriving amidst the cracks. I have pride of my own, for my prized craft. And these artworks of old refused to yield under my hammer and chisel.

I wasn’t defeated. Years simply dug my visage the way my subtle tools bring dear faces to life. I longed for home’s green embrace to soothe my old bones. Unbendable as the foreign marble was, it had taught me a few tricks that I was glad to take back. A decade’s learning would be a fine addition to the chapel. Surely, I thought, that apprentice of mine would be done with the dull bits by the time I returned.

Now, imagine what it felt like to tread familiar paths again, and find that the chapel was stale news. Long-completed, but not forgotten, for, really, the lad was a prodigy. Where others carved, he caressed.

He’d had a dream, he claimed. God, or some green man, sang to him of vines around the columns, of marble roses, each petal formed perfectly, life-like, up to the last thorn and leaf vein. He was but a servant, he said. A translator of the gods. But come on. Are you trying to tell me that thirst for glory had nothing to do with it? You should’ve seen him. Proud as a peacock with a smile that could made mists disperse.

Don’t take me wrong. It gave me no small satisfaction to see passers-by stop and shake his hand. I’d taught him everything he knew, after all. And isn’t a master’s fondest wish that his student might surpass him? I’d simply hoped he would do so after my death. Plenty of time then for him to gorge his spoonful of glory.

Tell me, what you would have done in my place? I’d become the village’s old joke, and that only if they were inclined to spare me a though at all. But him? They saved him the seat of honour on their Sunday table and never stopped to think that the chapel was supposed to be the capstone of my career.

Still. I never meant to slit his throat. It was the wine, perhaps. It was a bad moment. I’m no villain. I wouldn’t even sever a rose without good reason, let alone a throat. But you see, the lad was driving me out of business. Or do you blame an old man for considering his retirement?

They did. They fell on me like flies on honey.

Now, I never said I deserved no punishment. The knife was mine. I painted his marble roses with his own blood. And wasn’t that pretty to behold? But I’d never meant for it to go this far. I merely wished to add the signature he had denied me, and there was no ink nearby. They should have killed me. But this? Who deserves this?

They gleaned my soul before hanging me. His apprentices (for he had taken three, as if I’d released him from his own apprenticeship) crafted my coarse likeness on a column at the back. Not even the front where visitors can behold who first conceived the roof above their heads. They burnt incense at midnight and chanted to the moon ray that found its way through the stained glass. The green man carved on the arcade, reigning above it all, smiled nightmarishly. And listened.

I’ve been in this marble prison since. An eternity of looking at marble vines and roses; at my apprentice’s glory that was mine by right.

See? I was right. I always knew some dark magic must be behind it all. He was good, handpicked, but such talent—something unnatural was at hand. You sneer and call me a murderer, but I dare you to tell me you would have done otherwise. Travellers swarm to look at his vines, awe-struck. They forget that the one who picked him up from the gutter and taught him all he knew is right at the back. Immortalised the wrong way, waiting for the laurel of glory he was denied.  

Madalena Daleziou is a Greek writer, academic, and content creator, living in Glasgow, where she studied an MLitt in fantasy literature. Her work has previously appeared or is forthcoming in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, The Deadlands, the other side of hope, and Lucent Dreaming. She can most often be found in a bookshop, or behind a keyboard, writing stories with too many ghosts

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