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Flashback story – Rites and Responsibilities

This is a story submitted as part of the Flashback week competition. It’s written by John Wilson, and is about a character from play-by-wiki game that grew out of an old World of Darkness Changeling game that has been ongoing for over a decade.

Rites and Responsibilities

“So, you are to be my replacement?”

Master Tyr looked down his hooked nose at the young troll stood before him. Even with the loose robes of an apprentice draped over her, it was easy to tell that his new student was slightly built. She bowed her head, letting her blonde hair fall loosely over her flat horns.

“Yes, Master Tyr.”

Tyr snorted and ran his hands through his moustache, coming it down the sides of his mouth until it merged with the white of his beard.

“And what qualifications do you have? What is it that makes you think that you can exercise wisdom?”

The young troll swallowed. She had not expected this reception from her new master. In fact, she wasn’t sure what she had expected him to do. Master Tyr was the oldest troll she knew, and she had never had any dealings with him beyond staring at his single broken horn as he cursed the youngsters in his way or officiated over some arcane point of lore.

“The elders told me I was to be your apprentice, master. They must have thought there was some good in me.”

“Really? And do you know how my successor is selected? The elders draw lots to see which of you cubs will earn the privilege of receiving the benefit of my knowledge. Unless they have been cheating and have sent me an idiot to punish me, you are merely lucky. Do you understand now?”

The young troll sniffed. He couldn’t tell whether she was crying or being indignant. He didn’t care which.

“Yes, Master Tyr.”

Master Tyr shook his head and hauled himself up to his feet, using his staff to steady himself. It had been many years since his bones had been free from aches and pains, and he knew that he would have to teach this child to take over from him. Yes, he could have protested to the elders, but they had followed the law when they had inflicted the girl on him. Master Tyr extended his right arm towards his new apprentice and tried to make his voice sound as disgusted as he could make it.

“Well, come with me. Take my arm – quickly now. Time does not wait for youth, no matter what opinions youth holds in its empty head. Come.”

He put his weight on the young troll’s arm and shuffled forward. She matched his pace, keeping in step with him. Good. If nothing else she would make a reliable companion. Tyr guided the pair of them across the snow-bound village towards the temple that was his home. Compared to the rest of the buildings in the village, it was a model of Spartan austerity. There were no carvings or decorations, no evergreen boughs draped across the lintel; just plain stone torn from the mountains above the village.

A few oil lamps flickered fitfully in their niches, barely lightening the darkness inside the building. The main chamber was just a hollow cube with a lectern at the far end. Ancient scrolls were rolled up and placed in slits in the wall, shielding them from the elements. Tyr made his way past the lectern towards a dark opening, then paused.

“Bring a lamp. I do not want you falling over yourself. It is bad enough that I must take you under my roof without you sprawling on my floor.”

The young troll obeyed, and returned obediently to Tyr’s side. She held out her arm for him to rest on, just like before. Tyr looked down at her.

“If you are going to be my apprentice, I need to be calling you by a name.”

“I am Second Sarsdttir, elder.”

Tyr laughed. Second was not sure what to make of this.

“No other name, then, second child?”

Second shook her head.

“No, master.”

“You do not even pretend to a name among your peers? Well, not one that you are prepared to admit to, eh? At least you have that much respect for tradition.”

Tyr made his way into the deeper darkness, into the labyrinth of the temple. He continued his lecture.

“If you are my student, then one day you will take my place. You must devote your life to the lore of our people. All that has been recorded, you will learn. All that is questioned, you will answer. You shall guide our people in their journey through this world.”

“It sounds like a heavy burden, elder.”

“It is. And it is one that you will have to bear alone.”

Second’s voice was very quiet.

“What do you mean ‘alone’?”

“You must show neither fear nor favour in your pronouncements. Our people will rely on you to guide them, and you must always be right. You must not allow anyone to tempt you from the true path. When our gods abandoned us, we had to rely upon our own strength and our own honour. Other people may have gods to follow. We do not. Do you understand, second daughter?”

Second hesitated, thinking over what she had heard. If she said yes to Master Tyr, then she would be accepting a future of lonely responsibility. If she said no, then she would be rejecting what fate had thrown at her. She decided to be truthful.

“I am not sure, master. I understand that we stand alone, but I am not sure that I understand what it will mean to me.”

Master Tyr stopped and pulled away from her. He looked curiously at Second, then gestured towards a bare room.

“You shall sleep there. I take it that you have your possessions?”

Second lifted a bag containing the measure of her life. It was small. Tyr nodded.

“Very well. Tomorrow you shall begin your duties.”

“I shall get to read the scrolls?”

Her voice was eager, almost hopeful. Master Tyr snorted in derision.

“No. Of course not. I take it you know how to use a broom?”

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