The Acolyte paused
in his assent of Taron Hill to pull back his hood and mop the sweat
from his brow. A carriage from Kadenbite had dropped him at the
foot of the hill in the shade of a stand of trees but soon enough
he’d had to leave to the shade and continue on. He'd shouldered
his pack of supplies and began the climb up the rough dirt path as
the carriage clattered back to the city. It had seemed a simple
matter at the time but the Acolyte, who had lived the last few
seasons behind the cool walls of the Ministry of Science, had rarely
ventured into the field. He slid his delicate glasses back on and
glanced up at the tower on the hill.
The up glowed a warm orange that silhouetted the tower and the two shapes that stood atop it. Both shadows stood unmoving, watching the Acolyte's progress. In his nervousness, he sensed that they were judging him, waiting for him to finally collapse in the high grass. With a grunt of determination, he pulled his hood lower to shade his eyes and started walking again.
The halls where he studied were cooled with great fans and he thought of them whirring overhead as, instead, he swatted at invisible, buzzing things that swirled at him under his hood. At the Ministry they'd be getting ready for lunch and he envisioned the sweating pitchers of water sitting on the tables, the hum of conversation among the other acolytes and a plate of green salad. His stomach grumbled and he cursed himself for thinking such tempting thoughts.
Halfway up the hill, a rusting gate hung from one broken hinge to a stone post. A sign nailed to the post warned of dire consequences to any trespassers. The Acolyte paused to lean against the post and sip from the warm water skin that hung beneath his robes. From the modest elevation he could see the spires of the Kadenbite, in the distance and the drifting shapes of several airships. Farms dotted the land between the city and the hill. Dry throat relieved, he started walking again.
Krith Bascot watched the Acolyte from the top of the tower. In one hand he held the letter the Ministry had sent him just the day before, alerting him of the imminent arrival. He had envisioned a full deployment of acolytes and master teachers, a golden airship that would hover ominously over his home and the full derision of the Ministry. The sight of the lone acolyte stepping out of the carriage had been almost disheartening, a statement of dismissal by the Ministry of Science for his pamphlets.
The yellow robed Acolyte wound his way along the overgrown greenery, picking up his pace as he reached the terraced garden. Past the bubbling fountain he found the brick path led to a small green door with a bright brass knob in its center. He reached out to pull on the bell-chain that dangled next to it but the door swung open before he could.
A man stood there who the Acolyte recognized as Krith Bascot from the fuzzy image in his file. Krith was unsmiling as he studied the Acolyte, taking note of the honorific embellishments on the Acolyte's robe. Intimidated, the Acolyte waited for the legendary and heretical Krith to speak first.
“And who might you be?”
“I am Deev Rudtag,” he pulled back his yellow hood and produced papers from a hidden pocket. “I am an acolyte at the Ministry of Science, sent here by order of the Council.”
Krith ignored the proffered papers. “I know who sent you, Acolyte. I was not told to expect a guest till just yesterday.”
“My apologies, Master Bascot, I merely do as the Ministry directs me,” he shifted uncomfortably, wondering if he was to be turned away.
Krith fished a pocket watch from his waistcoat and seemed to ponder it for far too long. At last he snapped the cover shut and sighed. “I suppose you best come in then, Acolyte.” He pocketed the timepiece and turned, heading into the house. “Why of the world did you come in the back way, Acolyte?”
Deez ducked his head and stepped through the round doorway. “The back way, Master Bascot? I was unaware I had done so, the carriage driver dropped me off according to the directions from the Ministry.”
“That explains much, the Ministry often seems to get things backwards. Did they tell you how long you were to be “assigned” to me?”
“No, Master Bascot.”
The room to which the door had opened was just a back hall, crowded with boots and overcoats and gardening tools. They passed through a small kitchen and into a short hallway. Stairs at one end led both up and down but Krith moved the opposite way and into a room flooded with light. The Acolyte followed, nervously eyeing the bric-a-brac that cluttered the walls.
The front room looked out across world, farms and villages stretching off to the distance. The curtains had been pulled and the view looked like an oil-painted landscape. Krith was already pouring two glasses when the Acolyte stepped in.
“Forgive my brusque manner, Acolyte, I know that it is not you that chose to be “assigned” to me.” He handed one glass then seated himself in an overstuffed chair next to a table piled with a mountain of books. “Sit and refresh yourself.”
The water was cold and the Acolyte could not stop himself from draining the glass. He sat on a hard stool opposite Krith, feeling uncomfortably inadequate for the task he had been assigned.
Other acolytes at the Ministry had roused him late in the night and hurried him down to the lower chambers of the great hall. In the deserted library, he'd met with the Head Master Tegan and Councilor Dorjul and they quickly explained his assignment, handing him a thick file to read on his carriage ride. A million questions formed on his tongue but he had barely time to pose any before they sent him back to the dormitory to gather his belongings.
“So, why you, Acolyte?” Krith asked.
“To be honest, Master Bascot, I do not know the answer to that. I was only summoned last night to be here and have very little formal knowledge in your proposals.”
“I assume the Ministry has supplied you with thorough file on my writings and lectures.”
Deev stood, pulled the file from the document pocket on his pants and held it out for Krith to take. .
“Bah!” Krith waved his hands in mock disgust. “I've no need to read their opinions of me. They've expressed them to me far too many times.” He refilled the Acolyte's glass and motioned for him to sit back down. “I am much more interested in you, Acolyte. I must admit I am a bit disappointed that the Head Master did not deign to come here himself.”
“Oh, I'm sure Head Master Tegan meant no insult, Master Bascot. He treats all gentlemen equally.”
“Is that what I am, Acolyte, a gentleman? I'm certain your Head Master does not consider me so.”
The Acolyte fidgeted. The master teachers at the Ministry were the only men of status that he had shared more than a few words with and they treated all acolytes with an aloof camaraderie. Outside of the lecture halls there was an obvious division between the upper and lower classes and acolytes would never be so forward as to flog about the rumors between men of the upper class.
“Don't let it worry you so, Acolyte. I may be a land owner, a member of their club but I am about as welcome as you are in their ranks. There is a certain level of uniformity that I never found within myself in order to fit in. Perhaps they sent you out here because you are a bit of a rebel?”
“Hardly Master Bascot. I seek to join them as much as my birthright will allow.”
“How so, Master Bascot?”
“A pity, Acolyte, because you have so much more of an advantage than any of them.”
Deev furrowed his brow trying to decipher the statement that seemed to contradict itself. He had no land, no wealth, none of the trappings of status. The doors that he most desired to open would remain closed to him no matter what accomplishments he might attain.
“You are puzzled by my words? It is indeed a confusing statement, Acolyte. One which I myself did not understand until I spent a short amount of time at the Ministry.” Krith leaned forward and spun the glass on it's edge, watching as it made faster and smaller circles. “I'm sure my file contains quite a report on the few years I spent in study. Not many men of means come to the Ministry to spend time as Acolytes.”
“Indeed not, Master Bascot. My family works a small bit of land close to the world wall to the east.”
“That would be for Lord Duke Ikran?”
“He and I came to the Ministry at the same time. He chose to accept the title of Master Teacher without putting in the actual study and I thought I would actually earn it but, alas, was not to be.” For a moment Krith was lost in the remembering. A bell from somewhere in the house chimed and he came back to the present. “You must forgive me, Acolyte, I rarely have visitors from the Ministry other than a Head Master or a member of the Council.”
“No need to apologize, Master Bascot, I am here simply to observe and provide the Ministry a clearer understanding of your research.”
“Feel free to call yourself a spy, Acolyte. I know that I shall refer to you as such. Oh, don't be offended, we both know that the Ministry does not approve of my theories and wishes nothing more than to derail my proposal before the Council.”
Deev blushed in embarrassment at the truth of his statement.
“We will discuss this later, though,” Krith rose and held out his hand to the Acolyte. “I'm sure you are hungry from your overnight journey. You'll find your room at the top of the stairs, once you have shaken the dust from your bones meet me in kitchen.”
Deev shook the offered hand and felt the callouses of a working man, not the softness he observed on the hands of the Master Teachers. So much of the last day had been like nothing he had experienced before and it left his head spinning. As he opened the door to his room, he could already feel that the dust had been left at the backdoor of this new existence.