Short Story: Steward-Apprentice

“Bring the Seeker in.”

Fabric rustled and doors swung shut, their resonance heavy in distant, empty rooms. The Seeker entered, led forward by the Steward. The Seer sat in a corner, half-cloaked in shadow from the glowing machine beside him. Its warmth blanketed the room, thrum giving rhythm to thoughts and effect to the air over a distant, almost-whine reporting regularly all was well and normal.

The Seeker knelt honorably before the Seer, draped in tattered poverty, hands folded in his lap.

An edge of the Seer’s face visibly twitched. Whether from the light or dark side, it was impossible to tell. Perhaps even both, as if for that one instant, something embodied darkness and light.

“Kneel if you wish, but I require no such courtesy– Sazz!”

The Steward carried a chair from a corner. The Seeker took a seat. A long silence ensued. Tension mounting by the moment.

“Speak!” The Seer finally commanded.

The words spilled out in mortal terror, “Our youngest son is infirmed by fever. His cheeks are flushed. He can keep nothing inside him. What does not come out one end, leaves the other. For days, he has slept, weakening more and always sweating profusely. We have taken him to every healer from here to the Great-River–”

“Yet the fever persists,” the Seer inferred studiously, however distant his manner.

The Seeker affirmed with a nod.

“Sazz.”

The Seer’s indistinct face became more vague as the Steward disturbed the air. The latter needed no further instruction; long apprenticed in the Seer’s ways and rhythms, he understood his every wish and desire as if it were his own. They could communicate in the smallest of movements and gestures equally as well as if they were two halves of a whole.

The brief hint of a lean between Master and Student prompted the Seeker to lean too, so attuned was he to them. The three came nearer as if bowing. The hint of letters and numbers in glowing air behind the Seer was nearly indistinguishable, but hints inflected themselves behind closed eyes.

A slight gasp cut the air. The Seeker recoiled. Desperation and heartbreak flooded him at the blind-white eyes of the Seer:

All present knew the stories of Seers turned to evil by dark knowledge. Each one, blind. Seer and Sazz exchanged thoughts. This man knew the stories of the elder Seers, their greed and hate.

A slow chuckle built to a deep billowing laughter, startling the Seeker before flooding him with an infectious reassurance. A joy more warm than any before. The Seer handed Sazz’s bag over. The Steward’s eyes exploded before narrowing shrewdly. The Seer sensed it.

“Place this in his morning tea. One pinch a day. Every day. For one week. Return to me then.”

The Seeker hesitated. Seeing no further expectation from him. He stumbled to his feet and fled for his ailing son. Behind him, Sazz eyed the Seer who’d already withdrawn– as was their way during the transference of knowledge between Master and Student.

One week later, the man reappeared: His son had grown healthy again. The color had returned. The fever gone. Once more the boy’s appetite was healthy, his spirit that of a vibrant youth. Thus, once more the man knelt before the Seer.

Now though, he pressed himself at the floor. His upthrust hands presented the bag, nary a pinch more nor less than prescribed. Sazz, Steward and Apprentice, took and replaced the pouch with a tense week’s sigh of relief. Though it did not seem it at first, the air lightened severely.

“How young is the boy?” The Seer finally asked.

“Barely nine.”

“A ripe age for learning, wouldn’t you say, Sazz?”

A flicker of expertly controlled fear crossed the Steward’s face. All the same, the room felt it. As one felt the fear of possibility before excitement, the kind that made impromptu celebration not only possible, but acceptable.

“Bring the boy to me a week before and after his ninth birthday,” said the Seer. “You will leave the boy with Sazz at the door and await his return precisely one-hour later.”

Confusion and curiosity clung to the air, dispelled by a wave ushering Sazz and Seeker away.

The Seer called out, “And thank you for the return of my pouch. It is most precious.”

Sazz nodded reassurances to the Seeker and led him out.

The boy appeared midday the fifth; one week before his birthday. He said little, entering behind the Steward, whom made to close the door.

“Sazz, leave us,” the Seer commanded.

Sazz hesitated. There was a hope to argue, but the Seer had already begun ignoring him, focused instead on his pipe. He busied himself with it, his back to the boy, uncharacteristically shuffling about as if nervous. He was not.

The boy was.

Sazz left, reticently. The door shut. The Seer turned spryly as his age and mass allowed, surprising the boy with a hope that all was not as it seemed, but for the best of intentions. The alertness to the air only doubled the intended effect.

“Does your father smoke?” The Seer asked, stepping forward.

The boy’s eyes locked on his as soon as he turned. The stammer was expected, but gave the boy a way out. He judged then what he needed to.

“N-no,” he said, carefully scrutinizing the Seer.

“Good,” he said lively, striking a match on the desk between them. He puffed at his pipe with quick breaths and clouds of smoke, “Good. Good. Filthy habit. Never start. Never stop.”

“Is that what happened to your eyes? Smoking?”

“My eyes, yes. Smoking. No,” he said, in the most confusing way possible.

“What did, then?” The boy asked, understanding him all the same.

He cleared his throat, puffing deeply on his pipe for a moment. “What is your name?”

“Tiron. My dad says people that answer questions with questions are asses’ flies.”

“Is that what you think of me, Tiron?” The Seer asked with a deep look.

Tiron shrugged, “I don’t know. You do seem strange.”

“Strange, aye,” he said, distantly agreeing. “But is strange bad?”

He’d asked as if unsure of a fashion. Tiron shrugged again, “It’s just different, I guess.”

“Isn’t everything different, until you know it?”

“I suppose.”

“Then you may leave.”

Tiron stopped short.

In the same way that he dealt with all others, the Seer ignored the boy so belligerently he knew to leave. Sazz returned. Immediately. The meeting had taken all of five minutes.

“Deliver this to the boy on his ninth birthday. Ensure he alone reads it. Destroy it afterward.”

Skepticism and suspicion played over the Steward-Apprentice; by now, having long lost any hope of understanding the Seer’s interests in the boy. Lost in the wilderness of his own confusion and the seeming loss of his Master’s guidance, he could only await the passage of time.

On his ninth birthday, Tiron’s letter was delivered. He read it out of sight, then handed it to Sazz whom immediately, and regrettably, destroyed it. He saw none of its contents. Nor did Tiron’s father, the now increasingly perplexed and disquieted former-Seeker.

One week later the Steward awoke to find his master’s room empty, and set about a mental inventory to deduce the Seer’s intentions. He’d taken a few choice vials, herbs, and fresh notebooks; typical for long-walks.

But how long, if the boy was to arrive soon?

Morning came and went. The Steward-Apprentice fretted. Noon arrived bringing Tiron with it; boy of newly nine, and carrying an unmistakable pack long worn and weathered.

Sazz sensed the pack’s origins, where it had come from, why. Tiron’s letter confirmed it.

“You’re to read this while I put on tea,” Tiron said studiously. He comforted him, “Master Seer’s was longer.”

Sazz,

I was told only what I needed to know. We are to be master and student as you and Master Seer. He told me to write, “A plague had begun to take your mind. One of doubt.”

He said you must not let it take us as well. For we are the future. I am to replace you and you, he. In time, you’re to teach all you know. Through this, he’s to teach your final lesson; all things pass.

We won’t see him again.

Sazz’s face bluffed grief, was called, and lost.

Yet, he understood. Again, he trusted his Master’s strength; that one, final lesson. What it proved to be was the last thing he expected:Faith. The real kind, in others and oneself, in human feeling. He collapsed and wept, comforted by Tiron’s tea and his warm desire to fulfill his savior’s last wish.

With it, he ensured the teaching of Steward-Apprentice and Master Seer would cycle once more.

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