DargonZine 26, Issue 1

Ol Tamboch Narhin, Thread 4: Shaping Moonglow

Yuli 16, 885 - Naia 16, 902


This entry is part 4 of 8 in the series Ol Tamboch Narhin

Art is the communication of an idea from one to another. Everyone creates art just by giving voice to their own thoughts, though few see simple conversation in that light.

Art requires inspiration, and that can come from anywhere: the song of a bird, the sparkle of light reflected from water, the scent of fresh-baked bread, the fruity taste of a well-fermented wine, the silky feel of the fur of a kitten.

The forms that inspiration takes can vary greatly: the well-blended perfume that draws forth the memory of kitten fur, the painting that evokes sparkling wine, the accomplished melody that elicits warm bread, the etched stone that seems to be flashing water, or the pattern of a tapestry representing bird-flight.

This new thread of our tapestry is woven in near the point we left Aidona’s, back in the years just prior to the Great Houses War, right here in Dargon, and we will follow it across quite a few years before it ends.

 

Bowen strode around and around the upright, irregular pillar of grey stone, hammer and chisel in hand. She stared at the blank faces as she passed, but she was looking beneath those mottled and uneven surfaces for what was within the material.

Shapes moved inside the lump of rock that Baron Norian, her patron, wanted carved into a statue for his formal gardens. Baron Norian hadn’t specified any individual as the subject, or even as much as a pose, which was the best kind of commission to Bowen’s way of thinking. The baron wanted a dignified statue that personified wise nobility. Some might have found those instructions maddeningly vague, but Bowen was happy to take on the challenge.

The shapes Bowen saw changed constantly, moving within the pillar this way and that, taking up distinctive postures, occupying different volumes of space. She slowed her circuit, taking a step and pausing, taking another step, waiting for the right vision to come to her: the right pose, the right face, the right combination of elements to fulfill the baron’s remit. When she wasn’t given too many details, she found it much easier to identify the best result, and she was confident that she would be able to start working today. When the client wanted a statue of a specific person, with a certain pose and particular clothing, she sometimes spent sennights searching for that impression within a piece of stone.

The sun moved in the sky as the day progressed, its light advancing across Bowen’s workshop floor where it shone in through the wide-open doors. A surprise visit from the quarrymaster’s wife, Aidona, had caused her to start late, but she had been searching for her subject within the stone since before third bell that morning. Shortly after sixth bell, though, she found it. Smiling, full of confidence, Bowen moved forward, placed her chisel, drew back the mallet, and struck, knocking loose some dust and chips. The statue was well begun.

Bowen’s chisel moved and the mallet struck, and more dust rose in the Yuli stillness within her workshop. She worked carefully, but confidently, chipping away the pieces of stone that were not part of her vision of the finished product. She knew how trite that sounded even when just heard inside her own head, but for her it was true. The final form existed within the material before she ever laid tool to stone. What did not hold true for her was that there was only one possible result for any one piece of stone.

She remembered her apprenticeship with Teleis, and how her master had marveled at the degree of skill she’d had even at the beginning. Bowen wasn’t sure how much of her ability was skill, which implied a trained ability, and how much was natural talent, because she hadn’t ever really had to practice the carving part. Once she locked an image in her mind and in the stone, she never laid chisel or struck mallet in such a way as to destroy that final outcome. What she saw was always what she ended up with at the end of her hard work.

Bowen knew that she had a reputation as a great sculptor, and she was grateful that Teleis had never resented the way her talent had eclipsed his own, but had instead taken full credit for training her into her abilities. She had certainly learned a great deal from the man, and she was sorry that he had finally passed on. She missed his company as much as his tutelage.

Teleis had possessed a great talent himself. People said that a Teleis statue could be taken for a living person if glimpsed out of the corner of the eye. People also said that a Bowen statue was so close to life that it seemed to move in that same eye-corner view. She remembered well the young man who had come, asking to be apprenticed to her, who’d sworn that the vines she had sculpted into some of the plinths in the Court of Trees actually grew when no one was looking. She might well have taken the boy on if she’d been seeking to teach, but she didn’t yet feel she was ready.

Bowen enjoyed her fame, and she enjoyed the money her fame helped bring. Most of all, though, she enjoyed her work, and would have continued at it without gold or recognition.

 

***

 

When the sun sank below the tops of the buildings surrounding Bowen’s workshop in Dargon’s Old Town, the sculptor put her tools away. Her particular skill allowed her to work by candle or lantern, but she only did so when speed was critical, and Baron Norian wasn’t expecting his statue for a few months.

Bowen cleaned herself off and went into her house. After eating a brief meal of bread, cheese, and smoked meat, and reminding herself to go to the market tomorrow, she fetched her gift from Aidona from the cabinet where she had stowed it.

She carried the large, rainbow-hued stone over to a table and sat down in front of it. She just stared at the virietallo at first, marveling at its size, the slow, tangled movement of colors within it, the beauty of it. She was honored to have the opportunity to turn it into something even more beautiful.

Bowen finally reached out and ran her hands over the stone, feeling its silky smoothness even as her fingers traced out the lumps and bumps that marred the evenness of its surface. She looked into the stone in the way she had, wondering what kinds of shapes she would find. She searched, seeing only the moving ribbons of color. She stared, and saw nothing more. She tried harder, attempting to ignore the floating hues, but there was nothing else within.

She pushed the stone away and sat back, disturbed. Bowen had never encountered anything like that before. Normally, she could find images within the smallest pebble, and as her masterwork she had used specially hardened pins to carve a bird in a tree out of a flake of flint.

She reached out to the virietallo, but drew her hand back without touching it. Trying to distract herself, she remembered that this house had once been host to another large piece of moonglow, though not nearly of a size with this one. Teleis had created a presentation plate for Duke Anton, given to him when he had received his coronet from the king. Bowen hadn’t yet been Teleis’ apprentice, but her master had told her about crafting the plate. Moonglow, he’d said, was shaped by polishing, not by chiseling. Of course, fine work, including polishing, was part of every sculpture Bowen did, but creating an entire piece just by rubbing sounded like an exciting challenge. She glanced into the virietallo, saw nothing, and thought that it wouldn’t be the only challenge working with this rock.

 

***

 

A month later, Bowen again cleaned herself up after a day’s work on Baron Norian’s commission. The statue was beginning to take shape. The rough outline of the figure stood in her workshop, much of the waste chipped away. She knew that there were still sennights of coarse work to do, and more than a month of fine detail work after that, but she was satisfied with her progress.

The virietallo, on the other hand, continued resisting her efforts to see potential forms within it. Bowen was sure that she would eventually find what she needed, and she certainly had the time. She walked into her house and sat at the writing desk, perusing the half-finished bid letter she had been working on the previous evening. While there was still some sun to enhance the lantern she wrote by, she picked up her quill, dipped it in ink, and finished the letter.

After sanding the parchment and letting the ink dry a little more, she rolled the letter and slipped it into a scroll tube. A quick drop of wax sealed the tube closed, and she set it with the half-dozen others that she would have delivered to the messengers in the morning. She had already sent out about half of the letters she intended to, setting the bidding process for the moonglow in motion. She sent individually-worded messages to the contacts she had inherited from Teleis and those she had gained through her own talent, and she was now working on less personalized letters to other markets she thought would be interested. In each, she gave a vague description of the medium, knowing that virietallo was so rare that letting the world know about the pillar she now possessed would probably render all existing moonglow jewelry nearly worthless. The results of her work were for some private collector somewhere who could appreciate it, be circumspect about it, and, most importantly, pay for it. She had set the asking price very high, knowing that it would be negotiated down yet still leaving her a substantial fee in the end.

It would take time for the bid request to reach the farthest extents of the continent where the countries and kingdoms had been established longer and were richer, and more time for the offers to return: time Bowen would use to find what she needed within Aidona’s virietallo.

 

***

 

Bowen stood in her workshop and watched the wagon rumble through one of the open doorways and into her courtyard, its bed loaded with two large panther statues that she had just finished working on. The panthers had a long way to go before they reached their new home in Redcrosse, and Bowen wished them well.

The wagon trundled out of the courtyard gates, and she followed its path so that she could close them. When she reached the street-side gate, there was a messenger standing there. She recognized Garven, and smiled as the young man walked over to her with a scroll tube in hand.

“Greetings, Mistress Bowen,” the messenger said. “Another successful commission, I see! I only wish I could afford to put one of your statues in my house, as it would increase the value of the whole block!”

Bowen grinned at the flattery, and said, “I could always use a handsome man around the house, Garven, and I’m sure you could work off my fees in a decade or so.”

Garven laughed at the tease, but Bowen also noticed that he posed a little for her as he handed her the scroll tube. “Let me think on that tempting offer, Mistress, and meanwhile, here’s another delivery for you.”

Bowen took the tube and slipped him a handsome tip. She said, “Don’t wait too long, Garven. You’re not the only pretty pair of legs delivering me scroll tubes, you know.”

They both laughed, and Garven saluted her before turning and walking away down the street. Bowen closed her gates and went back into her workshop, where her next commission was still just a chipped block of stone. She opened the tube and withdrew the letter within. As she read it, her smile turned into a worried frown. The letter was a response to her bid request on the virietallo, as was most of her correspondence of late. So far, they had all been much like this one: specific subject requests at a price that was laughably low even given her inflated initial asking price.

She left the workshop, walked through the house and into her bedroom where she kept the moonglow. She opened the cabinet doors and stared at the rainbow-colored pillar within. She tried to summon up images of the frog the letter had asked for within the stone but nothing came. She tried to imagine the frog sitting there, or in mid-leap, legs outstretched, or walking along the ground, but no pictures formed, no outlines flickered, she saw nothing but slowly moving ribbons of color inside the moonglow. Just as it had been for the last year.

Bowen closed the cabinet and walked back out to her front room. As she tossed the letter on the pile of rejects, she consoled herself with the thought that she would never have accepted that low a fee in any case. She had hoped that, perhaps with some specific subject in mind, she would be able to draw forth something from within the virietallo, but that hadn’t been the case so far. Still, there were plenty of bid letters yet in circulation.

She sighed and almost sat down before she noticed the stone dust on her hands. She looked at her robe, and then around the room where she had walked, and saw the mess she had left by not cleaning off first. She sighed again, and went back to her workshop, leaving the sweeping for later.

 

***

 

Eighteen months later, Bowen sat in her workshop in front of a fist-sized chunk of stone, the waste from another project. There were four blocks of stone representing four waiting commissions around the walls, but instead of working on them she was preparing an experiment.

The offers for the virietallo sculpture were still coming in from far and wide as the original bid letters were responded to as well as passed on to others that the original recipients knew might be interested. No offer had yet reached what she thought the value of the final product would be, which was just as well, as she still could not find a subject within the moonglow.

In contrast, the rock in front of her teemed with images, each one chasing the next from view. Reclining people, leaping dogs, swimming fish, soaring birds, blooming flowers, serene landscapes, storm-tossed waterscapes: there was no limit to the range she could see within that small chunk.

Bowen had to concentrate hard not to select a single image as she set her chisel to the rock. She focused her mind on carving a rabbit, and before the images could shift to that subject, she hit the chisel with her mallet.

The mallet struck, the chisel bit, and the rock fragmented into rubble, no piece bigger than the nail of her smallest finger. With a little cry, Bowen dropped her tools, bolted upright, and ran from the one thing she had never had to confront before: failure.

 

***

 

Bowen answered the rattle of her doorknocker. Garven stood there, a surprised look on his face. He said, “That was quick, Mistress Bowen. I guess you weren’t in your workshop.” She saw him squint, trying to penetrate the dimness of her front room, though it was the middle of a beautiful spring day on the other side of her door. He continued, “So, you weren’t working again, then? Well, no matter. I have another delivery for you.” He held out a scroll tube, which she took. He squinted harder, and said, “Are you … ? I mean, is everything all right, Mistress? You look, ah, not yourself.”

Bowen didn’t feel like herself. In the fifteen months since that first attempt at carving without a subject, she had been slowly drawing away from her work. She hadn’t lifted her tools in months, hadn’t even walked into her workshop in three sennights. The virietallo still refused to give up its secrets, and that was affecting her entire life.

She said, “I’m just feeling a little … unwell, Garven. It’s nothing; it will pass. Thank you for your concern, though.”

“I, ah, I could summon a healer, if you –”

“No, no, that won’t be necessary. Really, thank you, and I’ll be fine.” Bowen shut the door to cut off the messenger’s continuing kindness, not feeling worthy of the man’s feelings. She looked at the scroll tube in her hand as she walked through the darkened room, debating whether to open it or not. It was a commission of some kind, and she had no real desire to work on anything, but she wasn’t so far gone into her growing despair that she wouldn’t at least read the thing.

Bowen took herself to the threshold of her workshop, where there was plenty of light if little happiness for her. She opened the tube, spilled out the letter, and began reading.

When she finished it, she read it twice more before turning back to the darkness of her front room. The letter was an offer for the virietallo sculpture, and it was the best one she had yet received. The signature read ‘Socir Maenilun’, which meant nothing to her. It offered a price that was near what she had originally proposed, and it left the subject of the sculpture in her hands. The writer was eager to own an ‘absolutely unique Bowen’. It was the perfect commission, and it only made her sadder.

Bowen knew that she wasn’t going to get a better offer, but she didn’t think that she would be able to accept it. In almost four years of trying, she could still only see color ribbons within the moonglow pillar and she knew that she couldn’t shape stone she couldn’t see an image within. After that first failure, she had tried again many times, and had destroyed her material every single time. She was ready to give up ever being able to shape Aidona’s gift.

She found herself in front of the cabinet in her bedroom. Bowen opened the doors and removed the moonglow, carrying it over to the bench she usually studied the stone from. She settled herself in front of the pillar and stared at it. Nothing. She gripped it and glared harder, refusing to blink until she finally saw something, but all she ended up with was aching eyes and the start of a headache.

She sighed and slumped forward, resting her head against the stone. It was no use, she couldn’t find the images the virietallo hid, and without images, she couldn’t shape the stone. She was going to fail Aidona’s expectations, fail Teleis’ training, fail her own knowledge of her abilities. Failure had never been part of Bowen’s world, yet now she could see nothing else. She might as well give it all up, for all it mattered any more.

Bowen let her mind go blank. Slowly, she became aware of colors moving in her mind. Shifting ribbons of many different colors, just like within the moonglow. With the colors came understanding, and in that interval she knew what to do.

She lifted her head and opened her eyes. She looked into the stone, and did not find failure when she saw no shifting images in there. Bowen realized that the stone knew what it wanted to be, and with her aid it could. Constant, careful polishing would achieve that, eventually.

Smiling for the first time in months, Bowen stood. She had to write a letter accepting the latest commission offer, and then she had some polishing to do. First, though, she had to stop wallowing in failure and open those shutters to the beautiful sunshine outside.

 

***

 

Bowen waved farewell to Aidona and closed the door. She couldn’t help but feel elated by the gift she had just given her friend. Two days previously, she had taken delivery of a wooden crate which turned out to be filled with gold coins of a strange minting. The scroll that had come with the crate revealed that it was half-payment from the Socir (she had learned that the word was a title in the small country at the bottom of the continent from whence the offer, and the gold, had come) Maenilun for the moonglow sculpture. Bowen had decided long ago to give half of her commission to Aidona for giving her the virietallo. After all, Bowen would get plenty of gold as well as all of the recognition for the sculpture. No one ever made much of the person who supplied the raw material and since the final product wasn’t going to be displayed for all to see, it was even more unlikely that Aidona would be given renown for finding such a huge moonglow stone.

Bowen had finished for the day in her workshop before Aidona’s visit, and now she retrieved the virietallo from its cabinet and got ready to work on it. The pillar had changed shape over the past four years with only her polishing to cause the transformation. The surface was much smoother than it had once been, and there was a clear narrowing about halfway up the stone. She still didn’t know what it was going to look like when it was done, but she still knew that there was a goal, and she began rubbing the moonglow with soft cloths in each hand, confident that she would reach that design eventually.

 

***

 

Bowen sat polishing the virietallo pillar as she did every night, sometimes for bells on end. She found herself getting lost in the colors that invaded her mind as she polished. She worked for half the night every once in a while, ending up just as rested the next morning as when she slept the whole night through.

The moonglow had a definite shape now. It looked like two globes, one on top of the other. Well, it looked like it would be, eventually. The destination was clear, but there was still plenty of detail work to do. When she thought about it, Bowen was slightly disappointed by the shape the stone had chosen for itself. There wasn’t a lot of challenge in creating a stone ball, and little more in creating one on top of the other. On the other hand, the moonglow seemed to become even more beautiful as she shaped it. The colors swirled more quickly, intertwining and knotting together, creating almost-patterns that sometimes caused her to just stare at it, following the flow, enraptured. When it came right down to it, there was little she could do but what the stone wanted.

Bowen decided to take a break, and after donning a cloak against the early Ober chill of that night in 897, she left her house for a brief stroll down to the Lighted Candle inn at the bottom of her street.

She walked into the tap room of the inn to encounter a great deal of noise. She turned to leave — the Candle didn’t usually attract a rowdy crowd, and this wasn’t the kind of evening Bowen wanted to spend — but then she began understand some of what was being said. She stepped away from the door and listened carefully, piecing together the information being shouted back and forth. What it came down to was as simple as it was chilling: Beinison had invaded Baranur over the succession problems left in the wake of King Stefan’s death. Baranur was at war.

 

Bowen sat in front of the virietallo, polishing absently. Her mind was occupied by much more important matters, namely the army that was at that moment ransacking the town on the eastern bank of the Coldwell River.

The war was going very badly for Baranur. For many of the four years since the beginning of the war, those loyal to the Tallirhan line had been fleeing the advancing tide of Empress Aendasia’s army and ending up in Dargon. Even the widowed Queen Dara was now in residence at Dargon Keep. About a month previous, with almost every loyal noble crowded into the Old City section of Dargon, Duke Northfield had led his army, under the flag of Empress Aendasia, his wife, against the unprotected half of the city. War had come right to her doorstep, and there was only a single wall between them and her.

Bowen intended to join the growing flood of people trying to work their way inside of the extra protection of the keep’s walls. Her fame would ease that passage, fortunately, as there wasn’t nearly enough room in there for everyone living on the west side of the river. The situation looked grim, for the usurping army, both Beinison troops and traitorous Baranurian deserters, was far larger than any force that Queen Dara could hope to field, but none of the loyalists, Bowen included, was ready to surrender.

Bowen looked at the moonglow sculpture and was sure that it was very close to completion. The two globes were perfectly round to her eye, and the line where they melded together was sharp and well delineated. Running her hands across the surface of the smooth stone revealed no bumps or gouges, nothing but a beautifully silky texture to match its exquisite looks.

She was resting for a moment, one hand on each of the two globes, when there was a distant crash from outside. Bowen jerked in surprise, her eyes looking toward the noise and seeing only her own shuttered windows, realizing that the siege of the Old City had begun. Then she noticed that her hands had changed position and she looked back at the statue. She gasped at what she saw: the virietallo had broken in two!

She looked more carefully, and realized that the stone had split, separating the two globes, but the break seemed just as sculpted as the rest of the object. She pushed the two globes apart, and a wedge-shaped piece of the upper globe remained attached to the lower globe while the rest of it slid away. She pulled the two spheres back into alignment and the new seam vanished, yet when she pushed again, the upper globe slid back once more, leaving that wedge of itself securely fastened to the bottom ball.

Bowen touched the flat faces of the wedge, and they were as smooth as the stone she had been rubbing and polishing for the past twelve years. She couldn’t doubt that this was part of the moonglow’s plan, and it certainly made the statue more interesting. She also couldn’t help but wonder if there was a reason for the shape the stone had chosen for itself.

 

***

 

Bowen stood on the eastern rampart of the wall around Dargon Keep and looked out over the Coldwell River, past the ruins of the eastern half of the city of Dargon, and to the light that was growing on the horizon. That light heralded the 16th day of Naia, 902, which marked six months since she had fled the attack on the Old City into the crowded safety of the keep.

The walls of the Old City had not been stout enough to keep out the Beinison invaders for very long, and by the end of Ober of 901, Duke Northfield had ranged his troops around Dargon Keep itself. Bowen knew that it had been the natural defenses of the crag of stone the keep was built upon as much as the man-made defenses that had thwarted assault after assault of those loyal to Empress Aendasia’s claim to the Baranurian throne.

The siege was not going well for the defenders, though the candle of hope had not yet been blown out. Short rations and overcrowding ate away at everyone’s tempers, and though the official word was that the siege would be relieved by the attack of some of Queen Dara’s troops that remained in the field, few believed that was possible. The keep still had stores for a little while more, so the situation was not dire, but Bowen couldn’t see a good ending to the whole matter.

She turned to her companion on the wall, the messenger Garven, and said, “Ready?” He nodded, and they both slipped over the side of the wall and began descending to the banks of the Coldwell.

There were guards atop the wall, but not many. There was so little land between the river and the cliff face that the enemy hadn’t bothered posting any soldiers there, and they didn’t have any war barges with which to cross the Coldwell in force anyway. Slinging rocks at the cliff was useless, so they didn’t waste resources doing that, either. Which made the eastern wall of Dargon Keep the best place for deserters to escape from, without actually endangering those they were leaving behind.

Bowen didn’t like to think of herself as a deserter, but she had to admit that she was. What she really wanted was to be safe, and Dargon Keep was not safe. She was not aiding in its defense, and in fact was slowly helping to erode its defense by eating her ration of food and occupying space within. She had spent six months trying to decide whether to stay until the end, or to get out while the opportunity still existed. She had discussed it with Garven, with whom she had taken to platonically sharing space, and they had both agreed that leaving was the proper thing to do.

The pair reached the ground, and Bowen watched Garven give the ropes they had used a twitch that caused them to come tumbling down, closing off any way back up the wall. Bowen followed Garven as he led the way along the bank toward the causeway, hearing the soft splashes of water rats getting out of their way.

Dawn was truly arriving as they reached the small docks that rested below Coldwell Heights, also built atop the same crag as the keep. The docks were broken, and the stairs up the cliff had been destroyed long before the eastern city had been invaded. Bowen drew up beside Garven and handed him a leather bag containing the lower sphere of the virietallo sculpture. She had the upper half in the same kind of bag slung over her shoulder.

“You know where you’re going, right?” she asked.

“I’ve got a very good memory, my dear Bowen,” answered Garven with a smile. “I’m going to get this into the hands of the Socir Maenilun as quickly as I’m able.”

“Do you really think that going by sea will work?”

“I have as much of a chance as you do overland. Don’t worry, Bowen,” Garven said seriously. “We’ll both make it through. I’ll be sure to have a fantastic reception planned for you when you arrive. Count on it!”

Bowen hugged Garven, who had been a good companion over the last six months. “Fare well,” she said, and turned away. She had a long way to go, and a series of difficult tasks to complete on the way, the first of which had to be the hardest: slipping through the lines of the besieging enemy. She knew she had best get started.

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