Rattling, the delicately carved bones fell on the table, rolling between goblets, silverware, platters and candles, coming to rest in a helter-skelter of meaning.
Milky white eyes were raised to meet brown ones across the room. The crone observed her young student, noting how he furiously blinked away tears of frustration and balled his hands in fists, opened them again, closed them again. Brow furrowing, he shook his head and glared at her.
Faintly, the crone felt a twinge of disappointment. He had not been ready after all. She sighed and gathered the bones into the intricately ornamented pouch they had come from, nimbly tucking it away in an inside pocket of her coarse robes.
"Branwen!" the boy shouted in agitation. "Why do you not give me more time? I could have..."
She met his gaze without flinching; he would learn patience and discipline in time. Until then, he would not be able to read the bones without being thoroughly confused by the double meanings and layered metaphors. It was an art that must be practiced long and hard to grasp, and even then, one could not master it entirely. The dishes on the table were part of the training, too. In addition to everything else, one had to learn to work one's way through all kinds of distractions - like a dinner setting.
Even though she knew it was hard for her pupil to believe, Branwen herself had studied this art for well over a decade before finally beginning to see and understand the smallest, most subtle signs that could alter the meaning and, most importantly, make sense of what was in the heart of the ambiguous message. Her own teacher had often wondered if it had been a mistake to take her in; yet when one day she turned to face him with a triumphant smile spreading over her dark features, he could feel relief in that she had only been slow to awaken.
However, the old woman suspected it would do any good to tell her young pupil this. He was stubborn, and defied every comparison between him and any other person; fiercely individual, he did everything he could to show his own worth.
She secretly entertained the thought that maybe this boy was a descendant of her sister, who had possessed very similar traits. She never asked, though, for it might have created complications neither of them wanted.
Branwen rarely thought about the time before her own training. There was nothing beautiful to remember.
Smiling wistfully, she stood up and walked to the boy. He stood, unmoving, his jaw stiff and the hard lines of his face still suggesting indignation and anger. The crone sighed, coming to a stop before him.
"Rest, Llew. It has been a long day. You have learned many things, and now it is time to reflect upon them in peace." She peered into his agitated eyes with a serious look in her own, and suppressed the amusement that rose from the ever so slight cringe he could not hold back.
The lack of colour in her irises had still not ceased to faze him. Branwen wondered how he would react when one day his own would begin to turn milky. No doubt his first feeling would be anger, mixed with confusion and even a sense of betrayal. Yet it was a sacrifice one must make. He would appear blind to the rest of the world, while in reality, he would see more than anyone.
It was why he had chosen this path in the first place, and she, in her own time; for the knowledge. The crone did not want to think about what some did with that power, and she did not want to think about what Llew would do with it. It was not for her to decide, and after he left, it was not to be her responsibility. She could only try to guide him.
"Do not be angry at yourself. You have done well today. Now, go. I will call you when it is time to eat supper."
Watching the boy slowly relax, resignation entering his eyes, she felt a pang of melancholy. She was his teacher, but he would not let her be his mentor. Not yet, perhaps not ever.
Branwen stood aside as he made his way to the door and stepped out. He never rested before evening; he always trained, hour after hour, until he was worn out. It somehow saddened her that he had chosen not only the path of a wiseman, but that of a warrior as well.
He indeed reminded her of her sister.
Turning to the stove, the crone contemplated her old, wrinkly hands for a long while before slowly beginning to prepare the meal. While working, she silently wondered whether one had to live for another three centuries in order to learn to mute one's feelings.
She suspected, though, that even her own mentor never quite got the hang of that.
Blessings of the muse
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