**Here’s a partial piece I’ve been playing with – hope you enjoy and always open to suggestions or criticisms**
Chapter One – Two Tables
Thinking back on the week, it was hard for her to identify that specific point in time when she’d decided to leave. Gorion had neither said nor done anything, at least overtly, to communicate his intentions in this regard. Still, for someone who knew the old man as well as her, the signs had been there. Understanding had slowly crept up on her, stalked her..transformed itself from suspicion to certitude in such a gradual way that there had been no real moment of realization. When Gorion had broached the subject last night, it had come to her almost as old news.
After their conversation, despite the lateness of the hour, she had insisted on making the hike out to Cullyn’s lodge. When she arrived, she had found him gone. Not surprising. He often hunted at night – sometimes with her, sometimes alone. No less painful, however, for it’s predictability. His absence tonight meant that far too many things would go unsaid. If Gorion had become the father of her she mind, Cullyn had been the teacher that most are never so lucky to find – the one tending to the health of her soul. Stepping into his home, letting herself fall into a seat at his table, she couldn’t help but think back on her time with the two of them and forward to a time when they would no longer be part of her days.
Gorion had found her at a very early age, about the time she had begun work in the Keep’s kitchens. She had been one of the many young girls charged with delivering meals to the scholars in residence. He had been one of those she’d called on. His was a small suite in one of the older and more remote sections of the Keep. He had no furniture to speak of – a table, two chairs, an old pallet – everything piled high with books, maps, scrolls, inks and quills.
He had always been pleasant with her, greeting her, acknowledging her presence in a way so many of the other scholars had not. It had unnerved her at first. Over time, however, his pleasantries and good-natured questions about life in the kitchens came to be expected and the two of them drifted into a comfortable and amiable pattern.
So much so that she had eventually found herself asking questions in return. In later years, they had laughed about her first simple inquiries into the state of the world outside the walls of the Keep, so full of misconception and half-truth. He would have had every right to meet these tangled queries with arrogant disdain, with pomposity or with amused patronizing silence. Instead, she remembered him responding with a gentle enthusiasm and a perpetual patience, always working to clear away misunderstandings, to disabuse her of suspicion and to move her towards a more active mental life.
And oh…how he had succeeded. Every scrap of information he managed to communicate and every silly notion he’d managed to disabuse had only created a greater awareness of her ignorance. Her visits became lengthier, her questions more focused, their dialogue more interactive. In the end, she left him with little alternative but to take responsibility for the process he’d started and he sought out Cook with the proposal that she learn to read and write. The request had been an unprecedented one for Cook, so totally outside of her experience that she assumed Gorion must be having a joke at someone else’s expense, most likely hers. He persisted, however, and, in the end, she had been given to Gorion as a student.
It was a day that stood out in her memory as a bright, shining line between all that had gone before and all that would come to be. She passed out of Cook’s world and into Gorion’s. He had had a corner of the suite cleared and a second small desk brought in. She had moved from the kitchens to the Apprentices’ Dormitory. She was still expected to fetch his meals. In addition, she took responsibility not only for cleaning the suite but for maintaining some semblance of order within his quarters. In return, he would devote the second half of the day to her instruction. Her evenings were spent with his books and maps and inks and quills.
For many years, this arrangement worked well for both of them. While she could lay no claim to brilliance, she did possess a lively intellect and an inquiring and adventurous spirit. She threw herself into the study of geography, history, literature and languages with a commitment that sometimes amazed her teacher. For his part, Gorion responded in kind and performed admirably as a teacher. He nurtured and supported her natural interests while pushing her to acquire a command of those subjects she found less engaging. At times she struggled…with his help she somehow, always overcame. Over time, he had helped her to understand that what he was giving her was not just knowledge but control…over herself…her surroundings…those around her. On the eve of her departure, she was sure that she would be walking into the world with an education superior to most others that she might encounter.
It was the first, but not the most important, of the two gifts he had given her. More valuable to her by far was the sense of belonging, of proper place, that had gradually come to her during their twenty odd years together. His world had been a familiar and stable place. It had also been one steeped in purpose and in principle. Wrapped within it, she grew, explored her capabilities and limitations, and developed a true sense of self.
Not that she had ever, at least according to Gorion, had much work to do in this regard. He often commented on the fact that, even as a young one, she had seemed complete, centered to an almost unnatural degree. It had always been an article of faith for Gorion that people were always either more or less than what they seemed, that what shone through to the outside world was somehow not representative of what lay at the core, within the heart and soul. With her, he claimed, it was different; that she reflected a consistency, a unique balance between thought, feeling and deed. It had prompted Gorion to nickname her “Harmony” and to suggest from time to time that hers was one of the oldest souls he had ever touched.
Her relationship with Cullyn, though it had come to be every bit as important, was of an entirely different nature. No man for unnecessary sentiment, he had never referred to her as anything but “Nubbin”. She had met him for the first time when he had visited Gorion in his suite, to discuss Gorion’s request for assistance with a line of research he’d been pursuing. She’d sat at her desk and watched, observing him as he listened impassively to Gorion discuss the nature of his need. He wasn’t old but he was worn, like a good pair of leather boots that hadn’t been properly cared for, still serviceable and with many good years remaining but scuffed, dried and cracked. He had said almost nothing, asked no questions, but had ended the conversation with a brief statement of willingness to help, then quickly excused himself.
Several days afterwards, she and Gorion had walked out to his lodge, a solid but unassuming place he had built for himself about an hour’s walk from the walls of the Keep. Cullyn had met them at the door but had not asked them in. Gorion attempted to strike up a conversation but had not been able to push past Cullyn’s first few grudging pleasantries. Gorion eventually handed Cullyn a leather pouch – one she assumed had been filled with coin. As part of an equally forced farewell, Gorion had explained to Cullyn that she would thereafter be calling on him in his stead.
It had started simply, weekly visits at age seven to pick up parcels for Gorion. Now at 17, sitting in his chair and thinking back, she grinned at the memories of those initial visits. He would always be waiting for her, sitting on his stoop, usually at work on a shaft or repairing one of his bows. Always met with that simple greeting, “Hello Nubbin, what have you for me today?” She would pay him, thank him for whatever parcel he had prepared and be on her way. He would return to his work with a nod and a quick “Next week then, Nubbin.”
And so it had gone on for over six months, until she had arrived one afternoon to find him gone. She had walked around the lodge, looking for him but also allowing herself for the first time to examine the drying stands, the smoker, the racks of antlers hung under the eaves. To the rear of his lodge, she had found a covered work area. While it was currently open to the weather on all sides, she noticed that it had been constructed so as to allow wood panels to be hung as protection against inclement weather. Under the roof she found racks of tools for working wood, a number of oak and ash staves which had been laid out for curing, several bows in various stages of construction or repair. The scene somehow resonated with her and she couldn’t help but reach out to one of the bows. Not ornate, not by any stretch of the imagination, but beautiful nonetheless. The wood was smooth, carefully carved and formed, almost warm to the touch…and then he was there, a hand on her shoulder and a quick, “Careful Nubbin, not quite ready for that one yet.”
That was all. They had walked around to the front together, she had paid him and he had surrendered another wrapped bundle. She thanked him, as she always had and turned to begin the trip home. This time, however, he surprised her by saying “Tomorrow then, Nubbin.” She chose not to turn or acknowledge the break in their pattern but on her way home, but for the first time in over six months, chose to open the pouch he had provided. It was filled with sand…nothing more. That evening, Gorion had informed her that he would not be available for lessons the following afternoon and that she was free to use the time as she would. It was all he’d needed to say. She had understood and been delighted.
A new routine quickly developed that would bind them all for the better part of ten years. For the first four days of the week, she would work with Gorion, delving ever deeper into the realms of languages, geography, history, mathematics and alchemy. The final three days of the week were spent with Cullyn. It had started simply with short walks in the woods at his side. There had always been an objective…to harvest mushrooms, nuts, wild honey or tubers…to choose and cut the staves Cullyn used in his work…to clear and reset traps…to check trout lines. It was warm, wonderful, sunny work that she reveled in…seeming at first like a carefree vacation from her time laboring away at the desk in Gorion’s chamber. As her first days with Cullyn stretched into months, however, she grew to realize that he had become every bit as much a teacher as Gorion…the only difference being the classroom over which he presided and the style by which he shared what he knew.
His classroom was every part of the world not bound by walls. She went out with him every day…no matter the season or the weather…moving quietly at his side…struggling at times to stay apace…always alert and ready to receive those bits of woodcraft that he so casually dispensed.
TO BE CONTINUED…