The man went to see the elder in a time of plenty. A time of food, wealth, life. A time that no longer needed him.
She lived in the desert, under that arid sun where the snakes lurched out from under the rocks. He was surprised at having to come so far at his age. No, he was a respected tradesman. A war veteran. An old man who shouldn’t need to respond to the call of an even older woman that lived in an even more isolated state than he did.
But Weq, for that was his name, came anyway. This was the elder. You came when the elder called you.
Still the soldier found himself hesitating before the sight of his summoner’s cracked adobe hut. The crumbling walls stood sentry over the small crop of milk weed that made the woman’s buisiness. Yet Weq’s dimming eyes were drawn towards a worm, squirming on the floor. Under that invasive, unrelenting light. Convulsing in the dirt - the wretched thing. The old man felt an unusual amount of sympathy for the fellow beast.
In the end, he did not need to open the panel door made from some foreign wood. It swung outwards as if by itself, revealing the age-stooped figure behind. The elder.
She grinned too widely.
“Glad you could make it.”
Weq decided that he did not want to move any closer. Not yet. He hailed her from a distance as if sizing up a dangerous animal. “You summoned me here, elder. What is it?”
Somehow the hag grinned wider.
“Don’t you fancy talking a little first? Some wise sounding chat always seems to go down well with the townsfolk.”
Weq looked to the sky. Away from that woman’s questioning glare and the worm’s death throws. “Time is running short. I am old,” he began, still keeping his eyes fixed firmly upwards. He continued with a bout of his old flair, “Let me alone or let me listen to what you called me here to say.”
The elder sighed, unconvincingly. It was about this point that she realised her fire had gone out. “You had better come inside,” she told Weq, now almost grudgingly as if it had been the veteran who had requested to brave the world to meet this mystic.
Inside the hut was worse than under the desert sun. The walls insulated the heat surprisingly well, succeeding in scorching anyone who was foolish enough to enter. Weq fought not to wince after noticing the elder’s apparent unawareness of the crippling heat. “That brings me on to my main point of interest,” the woman continued, rolling her words to see, presumably, how they felt to say to a real person. “You are getting old and need an apprentice.”
The old man was already shaking his head out of habit.
“I’ve told the townies about this… Not unless it is from my line and all my older siblings died young. I am the last.”
The elder gave him another of those questioning stares that made his skin churn like the worm outside. “I just prefer teaching family,” Weq defended himself with a well-versed voice, “stop asking about it.”
“But you are Weq Kentanan” the old woman pressed regardless, “you’ve been a soldier for over a dozen confirmed lifetimes, for a dozen different sides.”
The old man shrugged. “I can fight. So what?”
“So pass on the tradition. Defend the village, forge the strength of ages, you know what I mean.”
Weq shook his head again. And again; as if trying to convince himself of his conviction to be the last of the trade in those ancient valleys. The wrinkled elder looked him up and down, thinking carefully.
“What if,” she began slowly. Weq looked up, “I told you that there was an apprentice I found for you. She was going to be a huntress but would come round to the change.”
The silence persisted. Hovering over them like some hopeful vulture looking for an excuse to come down. Weq waited.
She is my daughter," the elder tried, “if that makes a difference to you.”
As good an excuse as any.
“All right,” Weq stood up, shaking the old woman’s hand with what he hoped was a show of reluctance, “Where is -”
“She’s waiting at your lodge.”
The elder smiled at his annoyed look. That had happened more quickly than he would have liked.
“And I hope you have as much fun teaching the girl as I did raising her,” she continued gleefully as the veteran was getting up to try and leave soundlessly.
Weq hesitated, again, for a moment at the door; before nodding his head to the woman in cautious farewell and stepping out into the sweltering cool of the desert.
It’s been only a few years since this all happened. The beginning of a long establishment, I hope, but well… I’m getting old. Time is flowing away. So with my last fleeting moments I write this story for those who come after. For you, I suppose. Did you guess it? Your’s sincerely, but not too sincerely:
- Yenud Kentanan; The Elder.