The Seer

The Seer of Island #10 had said that he had never intended to provide answers to anyone, but that did not stop his reputation from growing.
From what his sister described, he had arrived on the island by makeshift raft, like many before him, seeking some of the ordnance rumored to have been stored there, but found the island deserted.
Unlike the others, however, he didn’t leave.
Instead, he dragged his raft and supplies to the center of the island, put up a crude lean-to, lighted a fire and fell into deep contemplation, staring into the flames, wondering what he could possibly do next.

The troubles had continued long after anyone had predicted; long after the ones who had started it had been killed.
Those who remained struggled each day to find food and protection from the destruction that moved like fire from town to town.
The seer had come looking for weapons, in the last place he knew to search, but found nothing, and at this moment he gave up – resigning himself to whatever circumstance he might encounter.
He still had his rifle, but no bullets. Still, he held it in his arm in the way one might hold a stuffed bear, watching the flames until even the embers turned black.

It was after nightfall on that first day when he heard a boat land on the east shore, and two pairs of feet approached. Two men began rummaging through the remains of the weapons shed that had long since crumbled, and the seer listened. Finally he announced, “You’ll find nothing there.” The two men jumped, and looked around for the source of the voice, eventually making out the figure of the old man in the moonlight, holding his rifle. They each took a step back and raised their hands. “We’re sorry. We thought this island was abandoned.” The seer smiled wanly and placed his rifle on the dirt beside him. “You’re safe here.”

The men looked at each other. The seer was not so very old, but he did have a white beard, and he was the oldest man the two men had ever seen. After months of paranoid flight from one place to the next, sanctuary was the last thing they expected to find. Finally, they lowered their hands and walked toward the old man, who gestured toward his dead campfire. “The fire burned bright, for longer than I had thought, then there were only cinders. But tomorrow I’ll make it right again.”

The two strangers sat down, staring at the old man. One of them stuttered, “What happens tomorrow?”
“Tomorrow is a new day. When the skies are dark, I can’t see where I’m going, but in the morning everything will be clear.”

The men smiled and relaxed. They didn’t know it, but they had needed hope more than they needed ammunition, and they both knew that the war was over. They timidly asked a few more questions, and received either silence or vague and ambiguous replies. However, they were so desperate for answers that they assumed they were simply not asking clear enough questions, or not wise enough to understand the answers. One of them said as much, and the old man replied, “If you do not understand the answer, you might try asking a different question.” They talked all night and when the sunlight broke over the horizon the seer looked up, stood, and said, “Ah, now we can begin.”
He stood, doing nothing, looking at the two men just long enough for them to understand that it was time to go.
They stood, and he reached down into his sack, pulling out a handful of dried beans. “I’m almost out.” The two men bowed and left for their raft.

That day, the seer spent the morning gathering wood for a fire, and pulled a few bits of trash from the water onto the shore. In the afternoon, a young woman punted a raft over to the island. The man watched her approach, smiling. When she got to his lean-to, she placed a sheet of paper on the dirt and spilled a handful of beans onto it.
“You have given us hope.”
The she sat and asked questions.

The next day four people came, and the next day eleven.

The man said, I think I have enough beans.
They asked, “What do you want?”
“Some fruit would be nice.”

The next day, 24 people came, bearing raisins, apples, and cherries for the man.
“Oh, this is too much. Please, help yourselves.”

One day, a man stayed behind and helped the man organize that day’s gifts.
“You need a better house.”
And the next day people brought stones. Together they built stone walls, forming the foundation for a house.
Within a week it was 10 feet tall.
That night, as the seer slept next to the building in his lean-to, it collapsed.
“To be strong, a foundation needs mortar.”
The next day, people brought sacks of concrete.
One guest brought a friend, who did not believe in the seer, but did know about masonry, and he directed the group into building a tower.
“It’s not tall enough!” Some said, and they built a second wall around the first, with archways and a second story.

Finally the tower stood taller than the trees and taller than any building for miles around. The old man looked up and smiled. “You are all capable of so much, when you work together.”

Then, fewer people began coming to the island. A vibrant town had re-emerged on either side of the river, and a woman began collecting gifts for the man on her porch, which faced the tower. Each day, she would take a few items for herself and send her son with the rest to the old man.

Now, few people from town ever visit the island, or leave gifts, but visitors from other towns have heard of the rumors of an old man in a tower on an island who can answer questions. And they come, sometimes two in a week, sometimes ten in a day. And they all bring gifts.