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Master and Apprentice

No, I pleaded silently. Anyone but him. No good would come of this, I was sure. I looked into his deep brown eyes, seeing what every other girl in the world saw – and more. And I was ashamed. Why wouldn’t I be, when they take the one mistake I’ve made, the one most embarrassing event of my life – and throw it ruthlessly in my face? I already knew what they thought of me: the late-bloomer, who still didn’t know what her strength was, after four years of training and waiting, patient waiting. And they paired me with him: figured himself out early on, the youngest apprentice, guard, and now, master, in the history of the Gatekeepers. It was more than coincidence – this was cruelty. Even Nitya, my best friend, soul sister, didn’t – couldn’t – wouldn’t understand me…
“Preeta,” they tell me. Who? I’m not sure. Some voice, one of Them. “You are to be apprenticed to Pushkar…”
“A-app-apprenticed?” I manage. “Are you sure? I don’t know my-”
“Yes,” They interrupt. “We are sure.” They recite the rules, as if I haven’t known them for ages. As if I haven’t spent every night memorizing what they say at every Ceremony.
I make an attempt at confiding in Nitya, who has had a hand in the goings-on. I know she meant well, but it just backfired on all of us, didn’t it?
“I thought you wanted this!” Nitya exclaims. “Preeta, don’t be a hypocrite. I can’t bear it.”
“No…” Silently, I walk away from her. From everything. He is everything to me, now. Has to be that way.
***
A dark summer night. A young girl, eager to learn the secrets of her trade, follows the gifted boy to his hiding place.
“What are you-” She begins.
“Shh!” He gestures her downward, to hide, glancing upward.
She looks up too, quickly rolling out of the way as she realizes that she owes him her life now. The dragon lands right where she was moments before; it crushes the reeds around the pool as effortlessly as it would have crushed her.
He warns her away, but her curiosity is aroused. What hidden lessons is he learning? She must know. Perhaps it will help her in her search for knowledge. Already, they have declared her to be the latest start in the history of the Gatekeepers.
She gasps as the most beautiful woman she has ever seen descends from the saddle of the dragon, and suddenly Preeta is aware of what a crime it is to saddle such a dignified creature…
***
“Hello,” I say shyly, tucking a hair away behind my ear. Perhaps…
He is not fooled. “Long time no see, Preeta.” Grinning, he takes my hand and leads me up a steep ledge. We climb for a while, I stumbling, he sure-footed, as small rocks and pebbles find their way through my feet. I nearly fall a couple of times – but he catches me. That’s more than once that you owe him your life, now. I chide myself. You can’t let yourself be in his debt this way…
And then we arrive. It is just as I remember it, from eight years ago. The same pool, the same reeds…
***
Preeta is thrown up against a wall. The beautiful woman comes close – too close – and honeyed words are whispered in her ear. Don’t tell the Elders, don’t tell the Elders… Preeta knows that what she heard that night could land them all in mortal danger. She needs to tell the Elders. She knows it. She nods meekly to the lady, lying through her teeth and feeling ashamed for it.
That night, she makes her way to the fateful chamber, when:
“Wait!” He comes running out from behind a pillar.
“Were you waiting for me?” The thought of it sends tingles up her spine.
“Maybe.” Looking down, he shuffles his feet. “Yeah, I was. Look,” and here, he pleads with his eyes, an intensity that Preeta has never yet seen in any of her seven-year old peers, least of all herself. “Don’t tell them. They won’t believe you. You know that, don’t you?”
“I have to, you don’t understand…” She pushes him aside, and he gives no resistance. Then, her fatal mistake – she looks back. She sees the expression he is giving her, falls for it, and knows that even though she has already knocked on the door, she cannot – will not – follow through.
***
“So, the official training begins tomorrow. You have one day to-”
“Say goodbye to all those I won’t see for the next two years – that is to say, everyone.” I finish his sentences. This isn’t how it’s supposed to be. They’re only rules, I tell myself. It’s no wonder that you know them by heart. I can’t help but count the times so far I’ve been able to do it, disregarding rules. Seven times, in four hours. It’s a little too much. I don’t like it. At all. I cannot betray any emotion. He cannot know that he still affects me the way he did back then…
“Preeta!” Laughs. He’s on the ground. Why is he rolling around in the ferns? My thoughts are getting more and more disjointed. I can’t stand this anymore.
“Hmm…oh, sorry!” I smile, hugging my knees even closer to my chest. “What?”
“Nothing, you just were…never mind.” Begins to pick at a blade of grass.
I focus on the grass. Long. Overgrown. Not mowed. Green. Turning into yellow... “What?”
“Okay, you know what? Just go. You’re so distracted. Who is it?” Teases. “I won’t follow you when you give him your farewell, I promise.”
Of course. Romance. The staple of any normal teenage girl’s life. And I am so far from normal, it’s not even worth laughing about.
***
He grabs her hand. “Wait.”
She looks back, pauses.
“Thank you.” He squeezes hard, once, and walks away. She waits until he is gone from sight, then opens up her palm. It’s a flower – a lily-o’-the-valley, her favorite. And wound around it is a gold likeness of one, a pendant on a slender chain. How did he know it was her flower? She looks up at the direction he left, wondering…
She doesn’t see him again. Until…
***
I finger the lily-o’-the-valley pendant that has lain around my neck for eight years now. I don’t know why I still keep it. I guess it gives me solace, in a funny, twisted sort of way: once upon a time, I did something important for someone important. Of course, the “something important” involved a little bit of lying, and a lot of things that felt wrong. And of course, the “someone important” obviously didn’t care for me as much as I once cared for him.
But the days of caring are far past. Now, he is my master, and I am his apprentice. There is no way around it.
He holds out his hand for me, stepping through the door.
Taking a breath, I look at the peaceful world around me. Is this what I want? I think to myself, but my hand is already in his, my foot already through the door – and I am gone, with him and yet alone, entering into a bond that will last all eternity.





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This article has 4 comments. Post your own now!

freepeople22 said...
Jun. 13, 2010 at 1:01 pm
This has great potential to be part of a longer story, or a book. After each set of astericks I imagined a new scene, which could imply a new chapter. It is a very interesting plot idea for sure!
 
dancer13 This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. replied...
Jun. 13, 2010 at 8:34 pm
haha thanks! It actually is part of a novel. :) It's kind of an odd situation - I've been working with the same characters and an evolving plotline since, pretty much, third grade. I'm a ninth grader now. o.O I really need to write the novel. And not just excerpts!!! Thanks, though. I really, really, appreciate it.
 
Inquirer said...
Apr. 17, 2010 at 8:58 pm
The story is pretty great but maybe a bit more realism would help balance out the more mysterious aspects.
 
dancer13 This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. replied...
Jun. 12, 2010 at 4:39 pm

hmm. will work on it.

thanks!

 
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