The Master has been a Mirecourt luthier as long as Élinda can remember. The Master—that’s what everyone calls him, even those who look decades older than him—came, occasionally, to drop pearls of wisdom upon aspiring luthiers when Élinda was a student in École Nationale de Lutherie, working for her DMA, and, before that, her CAP and BT. But the first memories come from earlier; even when Élinda was a child toddling after her father (whose life’s work is luthiere as well), the whispers about the Master and the rare glimpses of him were a part of her life.
There are stories, among the luthiers, that, long ago, the Master had been a famous musician; that, if not for the scars on his hands (which did not, however, prevent him from crafting instruments in a way no other could imitate) he would have won fame and renown all over the world.
He is old, everyone says. He’s been a luthier past living memory, and that brings its own stories, more fanciful, now; tales of families passing down traditions to sons who look eerily like their fathers, of strange spells and witchcraft.
And then there are the whispers, the folktales reserved for children; that he was there when Mirecourt’s proud traditions began with the legendary old master Tywersus, that he is an immortal (“Like those in Le Seigneur des anneaux,” one of her playmates had explained wisely), that he is a banished god wandering the world creating music.
These rumors, Élinda knows, are utter fabrication, but now, standing in front of the door of the Master’s workshop, she can’t help but remember them as she knocks softly.
“Come in,” a voice calls, more melodious than she remembers it to be.
She does, slowly.
The workshop is like all workshops; well-organized, tools hanging on the walls, neat racks of equipment, current projects laid out carefully on clean surfaces.
She takes in these details, then turns to the Master.
He looks young, maybe ten or fifteen years older than herself, and his long black hair covers his ears. There is a look of another world about him—
But no; her mind is being too fanciful. Élinda endeavors to push these thoughts away as she bows her head. “Master.”
The Master laughs. “No need to be so formal, child. After all, you will be apprenticed to me for the next few years.”
Apprenticed to the Master. Élinda still can’t believe that he chose her, of all people, that he saw the violin she made and considered it good enough to take her on as apprentice. “I...”
“Names, then,” the Master says. “I don’t intend to call you ‘child’ forever, and though the fact that everyone calls me ‘The Master’ is flattering, if not exactly a truthful epithet, it’s a name that won’t last daily wear and tear.”
“I...” Élinda swallows, and somehow find her voice. “I’m Élinda.”
“Élinda?” The Master smiles, but his eyes grow opaque for a moment (or is it simply the light?). “I knew someone whose name was very like yours, once, a long time ago.” He’s silent, for a moment. Then he appears to shake himself out of his reverie. “You may call me Mae.”
“It’s not a traditional male name, I know.” The Master—Élinda might, one day, be able to call him Mae, but she’ll never think of him as that, she knows—grins wryly. “And it’s not my birth name, but it reminds me, again, of someone I used to know. Besides which, I love the connotations.”
“I, uh.” Fool, Élinda screams at herself. He’ll think you’re useless and send you away. Say something! But her voice seems to be stuck to her throat, again.
The Master, mercifully, doesn’t laugh. Instead, he says, “Don’t be nervous, please. I don’t bite, whatever they’ve told you.”
Élinda manages a shaky laugh. This is silly. She’s seen him, heard him talk before. Why would she get suddenly star-struck?
“I know!” The Master’s eyes brighten. “How about we go and get something to eat? It’ll help—food always does.”
Élinda finds herself nodding. The Master moves towards the door, and beckons her to follow.