Xan ran a finger over the glass of the pottery shop’s window, feeling its cool and uneven surface. On the other side rested the displayed items on shelves. Decorated Plates and bowls and an elaborately crafted pitcher and goblet set, painted with grape vines that started at the pitcher and wound across each goblet, marking them as a set. Xan’s grandmother had a set like that. Not identical, but close. He remembered drinking Go-jin juice out of them in the summer.
“See anything you like?” someone next to Xan asked. He turned to see Lee Bo’s smiling face.
“Bo!” He hugged the man. “How are you?” That was when Xan noticed his dark blue robes. “You are a candidate for Adept! Congratulations!”
Lee Bo flushed slightly at the compliment but projected pride. “Thank you. At the end of the cycle, I head out for the pilgrimage to the Temple.” An impish expression crept across his face. “We might even find a couple of strays.” He poked Xan lightly. “Speaking of strays”—Lee Bo looked around—“where is Cho?”
Xan shrugged. “He was helping Sue with something. Not sure what, though.” Xan looked back towards the dorms. “They should be here shortly. We start pottery today.”
Bo laughed at that. “Oh, you are in for a treat. Master Jug is very knowledgeable but has a wicked sense of humor. And a word of warning, if he hands you a piece of pottery, don’t take it.” He put a hand on Xan’s shoulder and lowered his voice to a conspiratorial whisper. “His hands are immune to temperature and he likes to hand pottery just out of the oven to students,” Bo finished with a smirk, then held up his left hand. “Took me a week to heal the burn.”
Xan was amazed. “Thank you for the warning.” Xan’s grandfather liked to play a similar prank with metal while blacksmithing. Though, no one got burned.
“I need to get going. Tell Cho I came by. I’ll try to meet you at the noodle shop later in the week.” And, with a wave, Lee Bo trotted off down the street. While Xan had his classmates, it was good to have a friend outside of class.
Xan watched him go until he disappeared into the morning traffic. Cho and Sue arrived shortly after from the opposite direction.
“You both just missed Lee Bo,” he told them. “He’s a candidate for Adept!”
The three spent a couple minutes catching up on Lee Bo then headed into the class to meet their new instructor. Inside the classroom there were a number of plain pine benches arrayed on one side of the workshop area. Perched on a stool on the far side of the workshop was an older man who looked to be in his late fifties, maybe early sixties, with salt and pepper short hair. The wood scraping on the tiled floor heralded students filling up the benches. Xan, Cho and Sue took a spot on the middle right row.
The instructor patiently waited for all the students to find a seat. Once the last was settled, he spoke, “Hello everyone. You may call me Master Jug.” He smiled at what Xan thought was an inside joke regarding his name. “And today, I am going to teach you all about pottery.”
He suddenly sat straight up. “Many look at pottery as making dishes or something to hold flowers you pick for your sweetheart. You couldn’t be more wrong. The reason you learn pottery last is this: We enhance pottery to keep herbs fresh, to keep the things you cook vital, and to hold the elixirs you make in alchemy. I will show you how to make containers that won’t break. Containers that will keep the contents potent. And the most important secret of pottery”—he adopted a serious expression for a moment—“Enchantments that make them easy to clean.” He half-giggled, half-cackled.
Xan exchanged a glace with Cho and Sue.
Master Jug continued, “There are three major types of pottery. Earthenware, Stoneware, and Porcelain. In your first year, you will work with earthenware. It is fairly easy to make and doesn’t require high temperatures. Normal earthenware can be brittle, but that’s where enhancing comes in. We use a twice fired process. First pass gets it hard, then you paint it with glaze, and the second fire sets the glyphs and glaze.” He looked at the Seekers. “Any questions so far?”
A small voice came from the side. “Pappa? Can I meet your friends?” Everyone turned as a small boy waddled into the shop. Xan was shocked to see that the boy was made of porcelain.
Master Jug moved quickly to the little figure and spoke kindly, “Ah, not now Shiwu. Go back to the shop and play with your animals.” He ushered the boy out of the shop. Xan thoughts warred between amazement and curiosity.
“Sorry, where were we? Ah yes. Earthenware. We are going to make a pottery project in the class. Initially you will work on your piece. Then you will make a set that will be sold in the shop.” He moved over and took his seat again. “Now, you are thinking ‘What could I possibly work on?’ Well, let me ask you this, who all ate at Mister Ping’s noodle shop this morning?” Most of the students raised their hands. “Have you ever noticed that your noodles never get cold? We made the bowls he uses.” Master Jug leaned back with his arms across his chest, a satisfied expression on his face.
The Seekers murmured amongst themselves.
Xan had to admit he didn’t realize the noodles never got cold. They never lasted long enough to get cold.
Master Jug tapped a small wooden rod against a terra cotta flower pot. The tink-tink-tink got everyone’s attention. “Alright. Settle down. We are going to go through the process to make a flowerpot. I know it isn’t as elegant as a noodle bowl, but just as useful, and your grandmother will appreciate a flowerpot that grows bigger whatever she puts in it.” Pangs of loss tore through Xan at the thought of his grandmother. Sue put a hand on his arm and gave him a reassuring squeeze.
Master Jug got up and moved to the workbench that had clay on it. “There are three ways to work the clay. First is to mold it. That is the most difficult in my opinion. I know many people like this method. However, it isn’t for me. The second method is slip casting. I like that method as it doesn’t require skill.” He looked at them pointedly. “This will be where you will get the most consistent results.” He pointed to the round table next to him. “This is a pottery wheel. It is hard in the beginning to use and every item you throw—the term we use for creating pottery on a wheel—on it will be better than the previous one you made as your skill improves. Personally, I like it the best.”
He sat at the wheel on a lower stool so the first-years could see what he was doing. He placed a lump of clay on the center of the wheel, then with his right foot, he pumped the petal repeatedly, each push spun the round section of the top of the table a little more. Once Master Jug got the table spinning at a speed he liked, he dipped his fingers into a bowl of water. “Okay, I’m going to talk you through how to do this, just as I am doing it. Don’t worry, I’ll talk each of you through it your first time too.” He grinned, then set to work.
His shoulders slumped forward and his fingers deftly moved across the surface of the wet clay, leaving grooves here, stretching bits of clay there. It was like watching a dance. Three minutes later he had a clay pot that was the twin of the terra cotta pot on his desk. Xan was both impressed and a little nervous.
Master Jug pointed at Kai Jin, “You, can you grab one of the lumps of clay from the side there and bring it up here? You can go first.” Xan was relieved to not be the first this time.
With patient coaching, Master Jug got each of the students to create a pot. There was only one catastrophe when Lee Chao sneezed while making the walls of the pot and completely deformed it. Master Jug serenely handed him another lump to start over.
After his turn, Xan marveled at what he had created. Master Jug called out to the class, “Use a stylus to make your mark on the pot. Just lightly. Once you’ve done that, take it to one of the workstations and put it on the table there. Now, at each workstation, you will find another lump of clay and there is a wheel for each of you. Do it again. Make another pot. When you are done, get my attention and I’ll check your work. Begin!”
A moment of panic rippled through Xan. How can I do this without coaching? He took a deep breath to calm down and whispered to himself, “You got this.” He took the clay and just like he did with guidance, he made a pot. After a few minutes of steady work and diligent concentration, he finished his piece and quickly got Master Jug’s attention.
“Good Job,” Master Jug said, nodding sagely as he regarded the little pot. “Make your mark on the second pot.” He moved off to another student. Xan felt good with his accomplishment. Maybe this won’t be so bad?
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- Colorado Springs, Colorado, USA
I’ve been in Colorado since I was a young teenager. I live in the foothills of Pikes Peak with my wife, two children and various dogs and cats. I have a crazy technology background having founded several tech companies centering around human machine interfaces before I discovered a passion for writing.
When I’m not slinging the ink and trying to get paid to fabricate tales that entertain, I like to shoot competitively, drink craft beer, ride motorcycles and play games with friends.