The Master's Apprentice
The island Lupe’s brows furrowed in concentration as he carefully guided his small knife over the tiny chunk of wood. The wind swept over him, bringing with it an almost tangible smog like mist which swirled in his sluggish mind. A new sweat broke out along his forehead, the sweltering atmosphere doing nothing but tiring him. His paw clutching the knife trembled slightly.
“Focus now, young Jasper,” an elder Kougra cautioned him, his eyes cautiously following the jerky movements of his apprentice’s large paws. The Kougra, whose name was Titem, was a renowned artist amongst the Islanders. His art was sought after by many, from Neopia Central all the way to Shenkuu. In addition, he had been invited to and had helped in the building of Altador’s finest castles. Jasper was his only apprentice and though his skill was considerably different, Titem could see the potential for greatness in the swift motion of the Lupe’s paws, in the flare of determination ever flickering in the young pet’s eyes each day that he came to his master for his art lessons.
The island Kougra settled back into his seat, sipping his iced tea as Jasper continued to laboriously chop away at the wood. His eyes slid to Jasper’s small table and noticed that like every time, Jasper’s glass of iced tea was always full – that Lupe never rested or soothed his parched throat without being prompted. Even if Mystery Island was falling to pieces beneath his feet, Titem doubted that Jasper would have hindered his work.
“Jasper, come rest in the shade,” Titem suggested gently. “You will achieve nothing if you overexert yourself in this stifling heat.”
Jasper instantly obeyed, dropping both the block of wood and knife he used to cut the wood on the bench. He immediately set to work brushing off all the wood shavings into the nearby rubbish bin. Titem felt his lips tug up at the Lupe’s obsession with order. “Come now, Jasper. The wood shavings won’t go anywhere, I assure you. You can continue sweeping them later.”
“Yes, Master,” Jasper replied with a flush, plopping himself into the spare seat. The burning in his throat became painfully apparent when he noticed the condensation beading on his sweating cup of iced tear. Lunging for the glass, Jasper drained it in two long draughts before trying in vain to stop the eruption of his suddenly rather violent chokes.
Titem laughed good-naturedly, thudding Jasper on the back. Once the Lupe’s coughing spasm had ended, Titem resumed his talk. “I was watching you earlier, Jasper. Your technique and attention to detail is superb.”
Jasper blushed, grinning coyly at the praise.
Then Titem frowned. “Yet still, you are unable to perfect carving a replica of my own totem.” The Kougra gestured vaguely towards his own mini wooden statue of a mazzew; his totem.
Jasper’s smile faltered. “I’m sorry, Master,” he mumbled, abashed, ducking his head. “My ability to copy your technique eludes me.”
It was true. For the past five months, Titem had been teaching Jasper how to carve wooden totems or statues. Each one, Jasper had been unable to complete with satisfactory results. It had gotten to the point that Titem provided Jasper with at least twenty spare wood blocks each lesson and Jasper had lost count of the number of times he had started on a new piece. It was probably a good thing that he lived in Mystery Island so wood was in abundance. It was considered tradition here, for all Islanders to be able to make Mystery Island’s highly sought totems.
“Young one, I am not berating you,” Titem explained fondly. “Without failing, there cannot be success. What I am saying, though, is for you not to try copy my technique but to use your own.”
“But what IS my technique?”
The wise Kougra nodded at the half completed totem. “Go find it.”
Jasper inclined his head and hurried towards his abandoned art. Sliding his paw into the now familiar grooves of the knife’s handle, he picked up the block of wood in his other and bowed over his work, the smiling mazzew of his master’s totem watching him through its wooden eyes.
“I fail you again, Master,” Jasper sighed as he cleared away the remains of his wooden block. His master was also picking up the debris and was pressing them into Jasper’s paw. The piece that just landed in his paw was of the mazzew’s smiling, mocking face. Jasper flipped it over in disgust. “Master?”
Titem considered for a moment. “Yes, you fail me.”
Surprised by his master’s response, Jasper dropped the piece of wood he was clutching and looked at his master forlornly, a stinging hurt puncturing his heart. His master looked straight at him, eyes unwavering. Another wooden chunk made its way into Jasper’s outstretched paw.
“Yes, you fail me,” his Master repeated, the words like daggers. “You fail me by saying that exact statement. In fact, you fail yourself. How can you ever dream of succeeding if you continuously degrade yourself? You owe us both an apology,” Titem finished, dusting off his paws. He turned slowly towards his hut, beckoning Jasper to follow.
Grudgingly, Jasper dumped the pieces in the bin and trekked after his master. He cleared his throat uneasily before saying, “I apologize for my thoughtless words, Master.”
His master turned his eyes on Jasper, unsatisfied. Jasper could see the stubborn defiance there, knowing that he would have to make a fool of himself. He sighed.
“And I apologize to myself for my thoughtless words.”
A smile stretched on Titem’s face as he led Jasper into his small hut. It was relatively homey, with all sorts of artistic trinkets occupying most of the space. Near the back of the hut was a large canvas, about the size of three adult Lupes, which rested against the far wall. Blank. This observation disturbed Jasper.
“Master, will you not be participating in the Annual Arts Tournament?” he asked his master.
The old master sighed and ran a paw wearily over his face, his eyes glue to the blank canvas just as Jasper’s were. “No, I doubt I will enter this year.”
“Why is that?”
“There just isn’t enough time,” the master explained. “You cannot push something like this. It must come from the heart. Rushing does nothing but lessen the importance – art is a tedious skill, not speed.”
Jasper bowed his head. “If I am taking too much of your time, Master-”
“No,” the master interrupted, waving a paw. “I am more than happy to teach you the fine arts. I see tremendous potential in you.”
Despite knowing the conversation was about his master, Jasper couldn’t help but respond to his master’s praise. “But how? I can’t even cut a block of wood correctly!”
The Kougra smiled. “Time.”
Jasper shook his head. “Master, you still haven’t told me why you will not be participating,” he reminded Titem. “There has not been a single competition which has not seen your prize winning entries.”
The Annual Arts Tournament was considered one of the most prestigious, the fact only amplified as it was hosted in Mystery Island. Since his career as a budding artist started, Titem had entered each year, always capturing the crowds with his first place entries. A competition without an entry from someone as great as his master seemed like an impossible concept to Jasper, unfathomable. Jasper worded his opinion.
At that, Titem snorted. “I suppose it would be correct to say that my path has ended,” he concluded. “I just cannot find enough inspiration to please the changing crowds. Neopia is a very hard place to impress.”
“Your artwork always pleases me,” Jasper said softly.
Titem clasped Jasper’s shoulder, smiling warmly. “That is why I always make sure they do.”
Jasper wandered aimlessly back home, thinking of ways to find inspiration for his master. He felt ridiculously guilty despite his master’s denials. He briefly wondered why he couldn’t cut the totems. Almost anyone in Mystery Island could. Even a baby Buzz could cut better than him! He sighed, so wrapped up in his thoughts that he didn’t realize he had walked straight into the centre of the island stores.
“Would you like some seasonal fruit?” a voice called out.
“Come buy your fresh fish here! All fresh!” another yelled.
He ignored them, walking briskly through the packed stalls. A small stand at the back caught his attention, the store’s goods proudly on display. He walked over to it.
“Would you like to buy this preserved tagobo fruit? It’s symbolic for luck,” the vendor babbled, holding up a beautifully preserved tagobo. Too beautiful. Should he buy it and give his master luck in finding his inspiration?
“It must come from the heart...” his master’s words rang loudly in his ears. Surely then, neopoints couldn’t buy luck. With his throat closing up, Jasper shook his head and walked away. It was only when he was sitting in his neohome that he started formulating a plan. It would be considerably hard but worth it. A smile crept onto his face.
Leaping off his seat, he dashed towards the island stores, hoping that they weren’t closed for the day.
“Why is your blade so blunt?” his master asked suspiciously as Jasper sharpened it against a rock after their lesson. “Your blade rarely requires sharpening until you have gone through fifteen blocks of wood,” he commented.
“Perhaps I have,” Jasper answered with a shrug.
Titem shook his head. “No, you have used two today. Your handiwork has improved dramatically since your last lesson. I am impressed.”
Jasper smiled warmly, the sun feeling particularly good. “It came from the heart,” he answered truthfully.
“It did,” Titem agreed with a smile. “Your work is much better.”
Jasper glanced at his master’s blank canvas. “I can’t say the same about yours,” he said. “But I think I can help.” He dug into his backpack and pulled out a small, wrapped package. The foil used to wrap the present glistened in the sun.
“What is it?” Titem asked with a frown, taking the package.
Jasper grinned mischievously, already walking out the door. “If I can do it, so can you.”
A few weeks later, Titem was walking up to the podium to accept his prize for his winning artwork “The Master’s Apprentice”. Word had spread of this magnificent piece and Neopians all over the world came to see it. The picture depicted a weathered island Kougra, gently carving and shaping a young island Lupe from a block of wood who in turn, was carving a mazzew from yet another block. All three were swamped in a sea of wood shavings. His attention to detail was exceptional – down to the last bead of condensation on the tall glasses of iced tea in the picture’s background.
Pets gushed over the artwork, demanding photos, autographs and explanations from this famous Neopian artist. They all admired the handiwork and craft of the image, blown away by the perfect replication of life, of the beauty of the image itself. Yet what no one but Titem and perhaps Jasper knew, was that the inspiration for such a major piece was tucked neatly into Titem’s pocket.
A small and elaborate wooden totem of a tagobo fruit.