Grime And Gold: the story of Albert the Janitor
A slaver ship bound for Stormport found him clinging to a floating bit of bark. Kurro, the slaver captain, had ordered him pulled aboard, thinking another body to replace one of those taken by sickness couldnâ€™t hurt. They were three days out, and already too much of his stock had been lost and fed to the waters.
When they pulled the boy aboard, Kurroâ€™s eyes appraised what he saw for only a moment, and then he spat upon the child. â€œGhut,â€ he said, and waved the deckhands to throw him back in. In Kurroâ€™s native tongue, â€œGhutâ€ was the word for chum. Bloody, chopped and dead fish bait. A boy so skinny, so ugly and already so close to deathâ€™s embrace wasnâ€™t worth the food it would take to keep him alive. He would claim nothing at the market.
Kurro didnâ€™t see it, but as he turned his back, the boy lifted his head. From a mouth parched by sun and salted water of the sea, the boy spat back. His head fell back to the boatâ€™s deck. He was already so weak that it was little more than a drool from swollen lips, but one of the deckhands saw it. He saw, too, the fierceness in the childâ€™s eyes even as life was struggling to still light them.
â€œIâ€™ll take him.â€ The deckhandâ€™s voice was surprisingly strong and sure of itself. Few spoke to Kurro, and a deckhand doing so could usually expect a swift blow from the ebony staff he carried.
Kurro turned to see the deckhand standing before him. He was older than most, from an island of jungle and darkness. His body was knotted, and bore the scars of duels and brawls survived.
â€œIâ€™ll feed him from my rations.â€
A stare that seemed to pin him stayed the slaver captainâ€™s hand. The others watched and â€“he thought-- saw his hesitation. He snorted and turned his back again. â€œSo be it. May you both starve slowly.â€
Dhatu was the deckhandâ€™s name, and that night and those that followed he gave his cot to the boy, choosing to sleep on the floor. He tended to him in the darkest hours, when the magic he used wouldnâ€™t be seen. Soon the boy was able to speak, and finally stand.
His story was a common one: a village on the edge of the ocean and the edge of survival, where a flood or a storm meant sickness or starvation or violent death. The boy, however, was not so common.
Heâ€™d heard the tales about the gods of the Realms, and especially the one that his parents worshipped, the God that was the Sun. Hearing this, and seeing the suffering around him after a particularly brutal storm, the boy had built himself a raft. He did it in secret, knowing his parents would stop him, collecting the longest pieces of bark he could find and using fibers from those same trees to bind them. And then he set out, to complain to the Sun God and make him witness the suffering he caused.
When the slaver ship found him and the boy looked up to see Kurro, his delirium told him that he had accomplished his task, completed his journey: this brutish face that spat on him was that of a God, and the boy spat back with what life he had left.
When Dhatu heard this, he laughed. â€œYou remind me of an old joke. Spit at the Gods, and it just falls back into your own face.â€ Then, looking the boy in the eyes, he said â€œThere are other ways.â€ And so began the boyâ€™s lessons.
Going by the name â€œGhut,â€ the boy worked when he was strong enough to, and Dhatu taught him in the small hours on those nights when the moon was absent or faint.
He taught him how to survive, first. Which meant teaching him the secret arts of fighting of Dhatuâ€™s own clan and island. He taught him the little bit of magic that was needed to stave off disease and cleanse even the shipâ€™s rancid food before he ate it. He taught the boy to hone that inner flame and channel the energy of his anger into true Intent.
Ghutâ€™s final lesson came two hard years later.
Dhatu cast a single gold coin into a huge barrel of chum and muck and rancid food. It was used for punishment on the ship. A rebellious worker or slave would be forced into it, often to drown.
Dhatu told the boy to get the coin out, knowing that he would have to submerge himself to do it. Ghut jumped in without hesitation, diving to its bottom and closing his hand on the sunlight metal. He came out covered in the disgusting mess. The gold in his slime-covered hand still shone brightly, even under the pale light of that nightâ€™s moon.
â€œGold does not tarnish, Ghut. It does not take on pollution, or rust. It stays pure and untouched, no matter where it is. And so it is with us. There is something in us that cannot be touched, even by the Gods.â€ He made a motion that encompassed the ship in its arc. â€œIt is here, in a captivity like this, that this truth can shine most brilliantly and free those few capable of hearing it.â€
He paused, waiting for understanding to show on Ghutâ€™s face before continuing.
â€œThis is my place to teach it. To the slaves and deckhands, the ones that are brought to me by fate. You have another place, and tomorrow you will begin looking for it. When we dock, walk away from this ship. I will make it so that you are not seen. Like a soul escaping its captors and returning home.â€
The ship docked at a city called Moorgate the next day, and Ghut walked freely from it. Out of compassion and a pity that Ghut was amused by, a Monk took him in, telling him that he needed only help keep the Guild clean to earn his keep and a warm, comfortable home. Ghut told the Monk that his name was â€œAlbert.â€ He had, by then, forgotten whatever name his parents had given him, and would no longer carry the name given by Kurro.
It was in the first few days of his tasks that Albert realized why he had been taken there. The monks were usually kind, usually humble and earnest in their disciplines. He saw spiritual masters and martial artists whose skills took his breath away just watching them. And yet, there was a self-satisfaction, a sense of righteousness and even arrogance that too often was as much a slavery and bond as was the slaver ship. It kept many from seeing the truth that Dhatu had shown him.
And so he worked more conspicuously than the others, making his presence known as he cleaned, the simple janitor and lowly deckhand. He reminded them in this way that their Guild, too, was a thing of this world. And this world was a thing of dirt and grime. He reminded them of this without saying a word.
To a few though, with a certain glint in their eye, that showed a certain possibility of Understanding something more, he would make a simple request: â€œHelp me, please.â€ Fewer still, who would take rag and water or broom and work beside him, began to understand.
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