The Soothsayer's Dog

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Other  |  House: Booksie Classic
The last moments in the life of an old friend.

Submitted: June 27, 2007

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Submitted: June 27, 2007

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The Soothsayer's Dog

 

"There is nothing I can do about it, you know."

The old man sat, bent and hunched like an old, weather-whipped tree, his iron-grey beard tossed wildly by the breeze, cross-legged at the very edge of the craggy, sand colored bluff. His shack was nearby, sheltered in the woods, built into a cave back down towards the village, but he cared nothing for it now. The ocean stretched on forever before him, blue-green and wild.

The view was spoiled by the thick bar of grey storm clouds creeping slowly over the horizon, black as night.

He heard the soft, nasally whimper of his constant companion, the only reply to his statement.

The Soothsayer, blind as the day he was born, reached out a knarled hand, his fingers like knotty twigs, and sought out the source of the noise.

With practiced ease, the pained hand came to rest on the head of his faithful friend. Beneath his palm, the skin as thin as fine parchment, he could feel the course prickle of the short fur, and the smooth slip of the soft skin beneath.

The contours of the dog's face were well worn into his memory, captured through years of curious exploration in his youth, his seeking fingers discovering every feature one by one, the fine brow, the delicate muzzle, the large eyes, and the ears like fine silk. The animal had been one of fine bone and muscle when they had met, wound tense and capable from years of self-reliance.

But now, he was as old and weak as his master.

Beneath the wizened palm, the dog was trembling.

The Soothsayer would never forget the day they had met.

It had been a fine day, full of sunshine and good cheer. There had been merchants in and out of the village all morning and the creak and rumble of their wheels had been a constant background noise. He could taste the dust that hung thick in the air from all the movement, and he could smell the animals and the people as they bustled about in the marketplace, shouting and braying and screaming as they went about their private lives on a market day.

A young boy had been sent to fetch him in the early afternoon, and he was led to the village square.

The headman brought out the finest cow of the season. Even then he could not see, the Soothsayer had long ago learned to use his hands as his eyes, and as he dragged his palms along the face and the neck and the sides of the animal, he could feel the glossy coat and the firm muscle beneath taunt, even skin. Its breaths were deep, its heartbeats even.

It had no idea that it was about to die.

The bull took the Soothsayer's knife with grace, and did not protest as it's blood was spilled on the ground as a sacrifice to the gods, brayed once, only once, as it's throat was cut and it's midsection opened for the Soothsayer's inspection.

The old man could still remember the visceral smell that filled the air, carried by the blood and the organs as they spilled out onto the dust at his feet. He could still remember the slip of the intestines and the liver beneath his fingers as he carefully inspected them both, his learned hands memorizing and inspecting every bump, every depression, every cranny of the beast's innards. He had always felt far closer to the animal that was about to die, especially now, as it lay on the ground, having been slaughtered for the sake of others by no choice of it's own. By the fact that it was a simpler, weaker creature, it was subject to the whims of those vicious animals that were it's masters. And now, the humans were eager to know what their future held.

And so the cow would die.

After the reading of the entrails was finished, and the Soothsayer had proclaimed the intentions of the gods to the eager crowd, the animal was prepared into a mighty feast, of which the Soothsayer always partook with joy. It was a celebration to honor the animal's sacrifice, so that it might not have died in vain. Every piece of the slain beast was cooked.

It was then that the dog came to him. Still young and strong, the Soothsayer could tell that it had been a proud beast, needing no one, scavenging on the streets it's entire life. But that day, the heady scents of the fresh blood on the ground and the rich scent of roasting meat had called the animal back towards the center of town, and at the insistence of it's empty belly, the animal was forced to swallow the pride that had kept it alive since it's birth.

It had been a free thing, a wild thing. And the Soothsayer could sense its despair as the young dog bumped against his leg, desperate for some small morsel to eat.

They shared his portion that day, the dog and the Soothsayer both.  And that was not to be their last meeting.

Months later, the Soothsayer found himself walking through the town on some errand that he could not remember, it was not important, there were hundreds of it's kind before it and hundreds more to come. But what made this one spectacular was the broken and bleeding animal he had discovered, the dog that had been clipped by a careless cart and had been left to drag itself into the gutter to await death.

The Soothsayer was alerted by only the faintest of whines, and he knew the animal at once by the shape of the head, and by the pride that drove it to bite at his hand, even as he attempted to stem the flow of lifeblood seeping from the animal back to the earth, from whence it came.

Dust to dust, but not yet.

Touched by some supernatural concern, the Soothsayer was finally able to bundle up the animal in his cloak and carry it back to his shack, his home in the woods. There, with his herbs and his medicines and his reverent prayers, he was able to nurse the dog back to life.

The dog left him soon after his recovery, once his belly was full and his aches had been relieved. But that was not the last the Soothsayer had seen of him.

The first time his fingers had come across a bad omen from the gods, in the entrails of a sheep, the village was ready to cast him out. They were ready to kill him for his words.

But as the villagers drew closer and closer, and as their cries turned darker and darker and darker, over it all, the Soothsayer could hear the low growl of a dog.

Out of an alley came his old acquaintance, hackles raised, on stick legs tense with muscle, his string fangs bared at the crowd. His eyes were clear and brown, he was not a mad beast, but the villagers were stopped in their tracks.

He was allowed to live, but was never welcomed within the confines of the town ever again.

And so the two retired together to the forest, living and working together to stave off the loneliness. The Soothsayer had no wife, no parents and no children; he had only himself and the ghosts of the animals he had slain. The dog had no one. The dog had never had anyone.

And they taught each other and they learned from each other, each one bringing to the friendship what the other could not. The dog would be the eyes; the Soothsayer would be the tongue. Each contributed in their own way, not so much as crutches for each other, but more along the lines that together, they were a whole. They became as one being: inseparable, through good times and bad, sickness and in health.

Until now.

The dog was dying.

They had lived a long time together. Both had become grizzled and grey, both their arthritic joints creaked painfully with every move, but it was the dog that first took ill.

It began with wheezing, rattling breaths that rumbled in the animal's chest, them moved to watery mucus and milky cataracts in the eyes, nervous trembling, loss of appetite. He would lie still for days and could barely be coaxed to move.

Desperate, the Soothsayer turned back to his forgotten art, trapping the beasts of the wild and opening them up, searching their innards desperately for some hint, some clue as to save his best and only friend. He begged and pleaded that the gods be merciful, but each liver and intestine and heart told him the same story, animal after animal after animal.

There is nothing you can do. Such is the natural order of things.

He could hear the dog behind him now, fighting for every breath. Every breath of wind brought the impending storm closer and closer, the rain inevitable.

"I'm sorry, old friend," The Soothsayer's creaking voice was thick with emotion. He could feel hot rivulets of tears searing down his thin face into his beard, mixing with the rain that was beginning to fall. Thunder rumbled deeply in the distance. "I'm so sorry."

The storm had finally come upon them. Lightening flashed through a dark sky, thick sheets of rain poured down in torrents, soaking the two old friends to the marrow. Over the whine and roar on the wind, the Soothsayer could feel the dog make it's trembling way onto it's belly, resting his fine head on it's master's knee.

Closing his eyes, the dog sighed deeply, releasing his last breath into the storm.

Sobbing, broken, and feeling as if he had been torn in two, the old Soothsayer could not leave. His shaking hand continued to stroke the fine brow of his faithful friend, running once more over each contour that had been burned into his mind. He would not leave. He would not leave. There was nowhere to go.

The storm raged with an intensity that the villagers had not seen for years. The waves that were sent crashing into the cliffs were a constant background noise to the rumble and crack of the thunder. It seemed as if the whole world were lost in a fit of violent mourning for days.

But when nature had finally exhausted her grief and the sky finally cleared, it was the headman's son that discovered the bodies at the top of the highest bluff:

The old Soothsayer, curled lovingly around his true friend, both returning to earth.


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