The Seer

Here’s another response to a writing prompt online. The prompt was just this picture with the text, “He’s a character in your new novel. Tell us about him.” Below is what I wrote.

The seer stepped from the trunk of an unnaturally large oak situated in the deepest, thickest part of the forest, just as those who came before him. There was no door in the trunk. The was no cleft. One moment, he was part of the tree. The next, he was standing barefoot on the carpet of moss surrounding the giant Sentinel of Seers, as the oak was dubbed.

Seers had no names. None were needed. There was only one seer in existence at any one time, so they were just greeted and referred to as seers. The tree watched them, as seers watched everything else. The Sentinel of Seers gave seers strength and wisdom, keeping them connected through the soil of the forest floor. Seers were always barefoot, their toes connecting them to the life-giving Sentinel. People who watched seers walk swore that tiny roots were attached to the soles of their feet, writhing and twisting through the moss and undergrowth and into the soil, disconnecting and connecting again with each step.

The seers could only travel as far as the Sentinel allowed, which was defined by the edges of the forest. To the east and south was the sea. To the north and west were mountains. The wedge of green that was home to the seers had its shoulders tucked neatly against the towering and rocky peaks. The ocean lapped at its feet.

The people lived between these boundaries, fishing at the shoreline, gathering fruits from the land, and building their homes in the lower branches of the trees. They were small people, merely two feet tall on average, and equipped with spindly, yet surprisingly strong, arms and legs that allowed them to climb the trees and traverse the length and breadth of the forest, only rarely touching the ground.

They even fished from the branches, perching themselves on boughs that extended over the water’s edge, dipping hooked and baited lines into the water, hoping a trout or catfish would end up on their menu.

Time on the ground had to be kept at a minimum because the ground was the home of death in the form of jewel-colored lizards that were more like tiny dragons than salamanders or skinks. They were fast, stealthy, and always hungry. A forest-dweller who tarried on the ground for more than a few steps would invariably end up as lunch for one of these beasts.

The people looked to the seer to help. If a seer was in sight, no lizards would be around. Lizards feared seers, a fact the people quickly learned and never forgot, even as generations passed. The trouble was that seers began to fade the moment they left the bark of the Sentinel. Each day, they withered a little more, until at last they fell and crumbled into dry twigs on the forest floor. The Sentinel would, of course, produce a new seer, but there would sometimes be days between the demise of an old seer and the emergence of a new one. These days were perilous for the people, and many would be lost.

This new seer was different, however. The difference was subtle, yet unmistakable. His steps were more deliberate. His direction more defined. He didn’t wander randomly, as all previous seers had. He had purpose, a job to do, a mission to perform. The people watched. Some were fearful that the new seer’s odd behavior was a harbinger of terrible times. Perhaps the Sentinel was dying. Maybe no more seers would come. Could it be that the time of the forest people was at an end?

Some of the people insisted that the new seer was no different than the last, or any previous ones, for that matter. They claimed the differences were imaginary, products of imaginations tormented and twisted by the ever-present peril of the ground-based terrors bent on killing and eating the people. Others within the population declared that people who felt this way were simply denying the presence of a very real and dangerous threat to their survival.

The debate went on until something extraordinary happened to the seer. His plodding steps took him halfway from the center of forest where the Sentinel stood toward the sea. Suddenly, he stopped. One sinewy arm stretched forth, seemingly pointing toward the horizon. As the people watched from the branches of trees surrounding the seer, a green tendril extended from the seer’s first finger. It twisted and turned in a corkscrew fashion until finally bending its path toward the ground. Reaching the soil, the tendril bored its way into the ground, churning small bits of dirt and leaf litter into the air. The seer himself remained motionless and silent.

Once rooted, the tendril thickened, becoming more like a stick than a shoot. Small stems began to appear all along its length, giving it more and more thickness and definition. The shape of a foot and toes formed on the ground where the tendril had rooted. Soon, it was unmistakable that it had grown into a full leg, and it didn’t stop there. A thick torso grew, followed by another leg. The fingertip of the seer grew a mirror finger, hand, and arm that attached to the torso. Finally, another arm, shoulders, a neck, and a head appeared. Where one seer had been, now there were two.

The seers’ fingertips separated. The first seer took a step backward. The second one suddenly sprouted leaves from his head. Leaves became branches, branches became boughs. In a matter of minutes, the second seer had transformed into a tree nearly identical to the Sentinel of Seers. The second seer blended into the bark and disappeared, but only for a moment. A breeze from the sea tousled the new tree’s coiffure. The second seer reemerged.

Sitting in the branches, witnessing the birth of a new protector, the people were astonished. One, tugging at the sleeve of his neighbor’s tunic, said, “Isn’t it wonderful? Now we have a second seer to protect us. Maybe now there will be no times when we are without a seer in the forest.”
Shrugging, his neighbor squinted, curled his lip, and said, “Sure, but now we have to come up with names for them.”

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