Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Korm's Master (Part Five)

In the meantime, he attended to Belmok's needs. In the better moments, for instance, when he was putting fifty years of disarranged books in order or sorting ancient files, he was quite content. At other times, such as when he was clipping the old Morg's ancient gnarled toenails, he felt that the whole arrangement was a fiendish plan, perhaps by the old Master, perhaps by the whole world, to humiliate him. In the evenings, chores done, he retired to his little room, and read his way through borrowed volumes in search of an area in which to master.

Now and then he stumbled across a promising idea and took it to Belmok, only to be told that Old That had done it recently or Young This was already deep into the subject. Every once in a while Korm got the feeling that the fat old Morg desperately wanted to suggest something, but he knew that the rules dictated that the student must find his own subject. According to the etiquette, he couldn't even point out a book where such an idea might be found. At his lowest points Korm was tempted to just grab some niggling subject like 'Soup Spoons in the Sagas,' but self-respect, not to mention respect for the discipline, always pulled him back.

Still, the young Morg wasn't isolated from where inspirations might occur. His legwork often led him into mindwork, either in Belmok's library or his personal papers. His memory improved, as what notes he made had to be written on whatever scrounged scraps of paper he could find. He started to develop quite good organizational skills, and the ability to grasp the substance of a page, often at first glance. And then there were the tutorials, when students would meet with the old Master to air out their ideas in progress or read drafts of their papers. It was an education in itself to hear Belmok picking holes in arguments here and asking for clarification there. But these meetings never sparked an original idea for a thesis.

What it did spark was a crush. A young student, Gulda, was preparing the first new translation of "Karn and the Lost Nine Hundred" in over two thousand years. She came to read it to Belmok, to have him check her work for historical accuracy. The saga, while quite beautiful in the ancient tongue, was proving a little difficult to wrestle into modern language. While Korm sat in the corner trying to get a shine on an old silver award plaque, Belmok lay back in his chair, eyes closed, and listened intently as she read.

"Karn, bitter with sibling rivalry,
Sits brooding in gloomy reverie,
Thinking of evil treachery.

"Old Mog, our ancient ancestry,
Comes and greets him pleasantly.
'Good my son, and how are ye?'

"'And why, sir, ask thou thus of me?
I am as well as I may be.'
But Mog gazed on him thoughtfully."

And so on and on, for ninety-nine drasty verses. But Korm heard only those first few lines as he automatically polished the tarnished silver. Instead he was entranced by her light grey eyes, her shy manner, and the silky shining underdown of her throat that rippled as she chanted her deplorable efforts at poetic translation. After Belmok had given the girl his critique and shown her out the door, he complimented Korm on the gleam he had been able to put on the old trophy.

For a while after that the young Morg forgot his quest for academic achievement, and could only moon about Gulda. He flapped and floundered around her for days. When he went out on an errand, he searched the crowd for her brown robe and grey sash. Whenever she came by Belmok's office to read revisions, he found an excuse to be working there. At night, by the light of the brass lamp in his little room, he gabbled about his feelings to the impassive stuffed owl and wrote verses that he never worked up the nerve to give her.

That stopped at the end of summer, when he discovered that she was walking out with Drigg, a burly young Morg who wore the black belt of a student of law. Discouraged, Korm put his poetry away, and when it was found a hundred and fifty years later, it was marveled that he had ever written in verse, and that it had been so bad.

(To Be Continued...)

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