Author's Note: This is a single piece, introspective, starring Artemus. Focused on Garrett, set during The Dark Project.
I see Artemus as being the closest Garrett's ever had to family, and I wanted to play around with that relationship. Slight liberties were taken in this endeavor, as I like to think of Thief as a game that allows you to fill in the blanks as you please. The only real timeline tweak I've made is having Garrett inducted a bit younger than the intro sketch suggests, but not by much (assuming that canonically he enters the Keepers in his preteens).
Thanks for reading!
The essence of balance is detachment. To embrace a cause, to grow fond or spiteful, is loss of balance – after which, no action can be trusted. Our burden is not for the dependant of spirit.
- Mayar, Third Keeper
The hardest thing Artemus had ever done – and would continue to do throughout the murky course of his life – was watch Garrett fall.
When the thief was a boy, nothing more than that, his mentor had watched him put one foot through a rotted training bridge and plunge toward the courtyard stone. He remembered most the crunch of bad wood. He remembered it – waiting for that sickly sound of small bones snapping on rock face – remembered the way air rushed down windpipe and into stomach. He remembered how quickly his indifference had turned to the odd, strangled pitch of his voice shouting for help; how easily Garrett's broken ankle could have been his neck; how both of these stern, patient hands persisted to shake, even after Isolde had applied a healing rune and carried the child off to their infirmary. He remembered how the breath stuck there somewhere between his lungs, and he did not think to let it out until hours later.
On that day, Artemus learned what it is to be a parent.
When master found a jump his apprentice could not quite make – a challenge that Garrett did not hurtle over, haughty and indignant as was his brand in those adolescent days – Artemus devised a different way to educate. "You should never approach a drop with abandon," he had said, watching his boy lose that bristling nerve of his skitter short on the edge of a rain-slick rooftop, feeling indecision beneath a smoggy purple sky. Fog made the world feel heavy and slow. "First, you must study it. You must understand what it will demand of you. For you cannot trust wet shingles not to give, but you can trust in your knowledge. Trust that your body has been taught what to do. And once you have studied, calculated, imagined it from every angle – then abandon is the only way to leap." And the Keeper remembered how grim-faced Garrett, hood and dark hair dripping, squared himself, breathed, and jumped. On that day, Artemus learned a new kind of triumph: what it is to have a father's pride.
And on that precipitous day when their young acolyte, passionate and promising, shoved off his cowl and left the Order what now seems like decades ago, the old Keeper learned betrayal.
There were so many things about which he was wrong. Misplaced goals, misplaced perfectionism, misplaced self-interest and the pervasive false belief that fate is a manmade ship. These are the misplaced qualities from which rebellion is made. It was a premature, ill-founded, juvenile no. It was the worst mistake a smart boy like this one could make with his future – the squandering of certainty to tangle into fights he cannot win. It was selfish and short-sighted. It was fool-headed. So many sharp words Artemus could have said to such an almost-man, ego swimming in his nascent talents; so many heartfelt pieces of advice he might have offered. And yet he watched – watched, in silence, and gave the thief's angry words no response. He watched as Garrett – so immature, so brazenly sure of being unseen – crept from the dormitory one night, stole a coin purse from his master's room, then slipped out a glassless window, leaving only traces of shadow and the dust whorls in compact, focused, hateful bootprints.
He was so much better than all the rest. Some might disagree, but Artemus has always seen that, has always noticed what Garrett might have been. When others slammed their tomes shut in frustration, his acolyte –who'd been illiterate when they'd found him – filled another lantern and poured on. When others grew stringy and tired and buckled, limping to their beds, he would remain in the yards, on his post, standing perfectly still for hours. He could vanish in a heartbeat and rematerialize in the worst or best places. He had no time for sleepiness or the faults of human bodies. Maybe this is part of why Garrett always falls so spectacularly – or maybe it is just a convenient excuse, because Artemus, you know, understands the reality of questioning "fate" better than he'd ever share with a child.
He had not wanted to watch. He wanted to spring from his bed, nightrobes and all, slap the boy's face and spill all that malicious stolen gold. "Did you really think you could sneak about beneath my sight? Everything you know – everything that you believe makes you great – I have taught you," he could have scolded for the insult of that treachery. He wanted to twist one of those large, red ears, shove him in a basement cell and triple-bolt the door. "Do you not realize I will always know where you are? If this is the life you so prize, spoiled child, discover first what a prison feels like," he could have scalded, and left him there without light or sound for a week. He wanted – because he was younger, then, and stronger than this graying old sentinel he'd become – to lock both arms around his pupil, pin down the spiteful fists, hold him tightly there until something like sense trickled in. "This is for your own good," he could have said – could have been the disciplinarian, the guardian, the voice of wisdom and pulled him back. "You may hate me now, but one day you'll see. You'll see that we are right about this; that our protection is the best place for you; that everything I have done was for your sake. And you will understand me when this has passed."
Watching is a Keeper's everything. But doing so – taking quiet, neutral stock as Garrett struck out a radical course to ruin his own life – was the singular most difficult trial Artemus had faced. It was a trial that stretched throughout their years, and it never got easier, no matter how many times the thief set out to destroy himself.
And for all that – for the hatefulness, the toxic words, the sense of having been discarded by a pupil who had gained everything from him – this wizening Keeper still looked at Garrett-the-man and saw Garrett-the-child, a boy who tied tunics backwards, lost tiny left shoes, misspelled p-r-o-p-h-e-s-e-e, and, to this very day, chews on his cheek in the City dark.
Artemus has always had many duties; he had never learned what it was to be needed until a child came into his life.
When he left them, there was talk – as Garrett must've known there would be – of deploying Enforcers, soldiers who would cut their renegade brother down without effort. Artemus argued against it in council. There was soon after a ridiculous fight with that petty lord, Ramirez. Artemus relied on the knowledge he'd taught his student how to survive. There was the headstrong breach of Cragscleft– a brass-and-cog place that, with one misplaced step, could have sneezed poor Garrett out as tar. Artemus held his breath. And behind that half-cocked break-in, there was a sloppy attempt on the thief's behalf to find a new mentor in Cutty, a man of no conscience or consequence, who would fail him as surely as the material wealth Garrett needed to believe could free him would never do so. Artemus hoped he would someday learn to see.
Time and time again, Artemus watched. He gave space. He let go. But he never stopped Garrett, because it was not his right – and now, looking into the hollowed truth of what had come, Artemus could not decide if this staunch inaction was a kind of wisdom at all.
And so, knowing of his own choices, it pains him doubly here: watching the thief lilting when he walks, tripping over the citadel floors, and bleeding, slowly, through the matted wrap of bandages across his hurt child's face.
When the Order discovered Garrett's latest folly – this entanglement with one eccentric man and a green-hearted woman who were more than their faces had shown – they responded with haste. Artemus insisted himself onto that team. He remembered how his pulse had raced, how his boots had moved with no resistance through the weed-eaten hallways of the Trickster's manor. He had forgotten entirely about Gadwall and Thorsen beside him. And he forgot everything else, too, when they broke a locked door and found the thief there – ash-pale, slick with blood, crumpled, delirious, under a knot of hissing vines. They had cut him free with pocket knives. Garrett woke screaming. Horrible, watery, madcap nonsense, spat out like sand between gasps – he nearly stuck a dagger into Artemus's underarm before recognizing the Keeper's face, his weak chin and hoary gaze. He grabbed a hold of the cowl around it and wrinkled. He gibbered something inaudible about witches and shook. And he fainted, terror dissolving all his pretty grudges, and the old master clutched his fallen charge much like he had after that courtyard tumble many years ago.
And when he took the boy's cheeks in his hands, wiped away the gore with his sleeve, and stared, pallid, at the cavernous socket—
Artemus learned dismay.
It was not his fault, what happened to Garrett. This much was clear immediately – even then – and it still is now – regardless of whatever emotions that swollen, scarred flesh and those black lids had elicited beneath the low lights of this place that had so long been Artemus's home. So the Keeper was not sure why he felt such a need to apologize. Perhaps it was only a stirring of old, dry guilt, like resurfacing sediment from the bottom of a pool, things that would soon settle again. Perhaps it was a lack of knowing anything else to feel. Perhaps it was because, in lieu of any real comforts, Artemus held a torn fistful of cape to the thief's wounds as they picked him up from Constantine's floor. "Since you left us," he had said, and had noticed the red of fresh blood on his hands, and he had murmured: "You are stone rolling downhill."
It was a poor comment, a castigation, uttered thoughtlessly and in bad taste, and yet the words themselves were true. Murderers, wildmen, sylvans, thieves and the Keepers that chased after them: objects-in-motion, gaining momentum towards devastation. These are the most basic of energies.
Stones rolling downhill.
There had been hindsight: if we had been faster; come sooner; if I hadn't waited for the council's permission. Naturally, hindsight serves no purpose. Of regrets, the Keeper would say only this: that were time as fluid as some of their Order believes, he would gladly fumble darkly – less one eye – in the thief's place.
Artemus has no sons; his love, stymied as it is, must satisfy itself with Garrett.
And such defeat to watch there, in the way the thief rose the next afternoon – in how gingerly he dressed, how he touched dazedly at the gauze upon his cheek with shaking fingers. He was oddly sedate while remaking the thin, uncomfortable dormitory bed Isolde had ushered him to. He was strangely soft, demure, muted – as though Garrett could remember, though he surely could not have, the way they'd slung his limp legs over their shoulders like carting a dead man, his arms lolling, his boot heel hitting Artemus in the back. "No Keeper is he. I will not place him our private rooms. Let him lie with the apprentices," Orland had said, unable to keep the lathe of dismissal from his cool, arched voice. Those spectacles, covered in thumbprints and glistening beneath candelabra light, were watching, too. They watched Artemus. They waited for their old colleague, covered in the boy's blood, to protest. And so Artemus shut his open mouth. "Lest we let injuries and misfortunes make us forget our chosen place."
He was not content merely to observe, Aretmus. He had not been so in a very long time. But this is his place – his place in all things, from glyphs and politics to impetuous boys with ambition that burned their chance at peace away.
"Your judgment is biased," Orland would say whenever the thief came up in discussion. That Artemus knew Garrett best – that he could still, though bitterly and briefly, persuade their deserter to speak with him – these things did not apparently matter. "Your opinion is noted, but opinions cannot be trusted when the subject is too close."
Because Artemus could not kneel at that bedside and hold Garrett, he returned to his quarters, and held those red-sodden robes to his chest. And this is where a father's failings echo, reaching back ten years, faulty and illogical logic: I should have, I should have, I should have.
Should have what? Who can know?
Orland's advice was cruel, perhaps, but so it is that truths are often cruelties. Do not draw too near to what concerns you. It is a wise way to live. But it is not the only way to live, nor is it everything, Artemus thinks, because he ever felt this way for Garrett – this worry, this disappointment, this anger, this love – no matter how far his boy was from him. He wondered if he was the only one amongst them who did not hate this coal-eyed child they had recruited from an unkind street. He wondered if he was the only one who bothered looking past the thorny exterior, the protective pride, the occasional ghoulish behavior, the conceit that armored up a fragile sense of self-worth. He wondered if he was the only one who saw it all.
And all at once – with the sight of that tender red emptiness inside an eye – Artemus forgave.
"My boy," he had sobbed, tired, tearless, standing over a wash basin late into the night, trying to weep because it suddenly seemed all his fault, squeezing the blood out of Garrett's gloves. "My boy, my boy, my poor boy."
When the thief wakes alone in the cramped apprentice bunkroom, there is no one there to help him rise.
Artemus has learned about being a parent, such as it is. He has learned that prudent guardians cannot rush to heel; the risk of insult to both parties is too great. So when the paled thief leaves his cot, clothes himself charily, cups the gauze on his face with a mute, half-cognizant sort of despair, his mentor does not coddle. There is only a soft creaking of door hinges as he slides from the vacant dormitory door late into that bleak next day. Artemus's heart jumps with more dread than hope. The old Keeper sits by a bookshelf just outside, forcing himself to read (pretend to read, at any rate) an Imbris Analects transcript, his peripherals betraying the yellowed pages. Garrett's footsteps are inaudible against smashed blue rugs, his shadow slight. It does not matter. These letters may as well be chicken scratch. Artemus makes no sense of them at all.
But – because the Keeper knows better than anyone how it now sits between them – he does not hustle up to lend assistance when the thief totters. He does not comment about how, with every other step, his student slopes jaggedly to the left. He does not even race over to pick up the candlestick Garrett accidentally knocks from its glass cup when his missing hemisphere of vision fails to note an end table. He remains motionless. He stares unseeing into his book. And he counts the seconds it takes for a stumble, a misgiving, a surrender.
A hood cannot hide the mess he has made of his existence. Anger cannot hide the wordless fear that shakes him cold when Garrett wakes to find he can no longer walk in a straight line.
The thief, now so muffled and displaced in a half-blind Earth, does not even leave their lounge before his boot catches a cobble corner and he falls.
Artemus has no active recollection of making this decision, but somehow he is standing, and then he is seizing fistfuls of Garrett's shirt and holding back before his outstretched palms can hit the floor.
"Stay here for a while," a good father might beseech. "There is no need to move on just yet. You have been badly wounded; you need to rest. Wait until you regain yourself."
But instead – because he is not a father, and Garrett acts as though he is no man's son – the Keeper hefts his old charge back upright, a passionless, smooth motion, deceptive power in thinning arms. There is nothing said apart from: "You will get nowhere like this."
Artemus would have liked to ask: why a thief? The simple explanation is that thief is an easy choice for a youth on his own with the skills Garrett, but the Keeper believes there must be more to it. Perhaps this life is an attempt to force choice upon a world so many have told him is dictated by fate. Perhaps it is a means of insisting upon control, chaos, and freedom in measure. Or, perhaps, this is one man's skewed sense of justice: to have, one must deserve. Garrett began as a poor child, an orphan, victimized by circumstance – but in all he does, he strives to be the best.
There is no tug-of-war today – this thief, this boy, does not have the strength of will to glare with one dark eye.
Artemus does not allow Garrett's commonplace animosity to bother him. The Keeper rolls some broken wax sticks out of their way, clearing the course, kicking them beneath the modest cluster of chairs he'd just left. No one loiters here in midday to scold him for it. The scribes are all in their libraries; the students are at their lecture halls; the trainers have reported for duty beneath a damp September sky. There is only one pupil here, a harried Initiate with frizzled fair hair and the premature wrinkles of future historians; she scurries over just long enough to pick up the broken ceramic and candle halves, then departs, toting her books beneath one arm. They are left to fight in peace.
Artemus does not want to fight. Arguably, he never does fight – but this matters little to an exile committed to his banishment. Garrett insists he is a man and needs no aid. He hates that it takes only looking into this Keeper's glassy face to see a boy reflected back.
"Let me help you," the teacher does not say, but his eyes must – because the student slides one foot unsurely backwards, detaches himself, and grumbles: "I don't want your help."
"Then you will fumble in the dark," Atremus warns. And because Garrett will not listen, he does.
The Keeper returns to his cushioned seat. He picks up the discarded tome, place forgotten. And he alternates between reading and staring through ink for two hours – as the one-eyed thief, frustration growing, attempts to right himself again. No ground is gained in this unsteady time. His helplessness wears a thin cloak of fury; he skids, misjudges, falters again and again throughout this practice yard in miniature. Artemus starts out observing through irritated, calculating glances. He ends drowning himself in dense paragraphs to escape this harrowing. It is something painful, seeing Garrett – a precise, well-trained tool – flounder like a newborn foal. So much tutelage, dissolving; so many weeks, months, years that seem erased. It is like an arrow to the lung. It makes him feel very heavy. It makes him feel incredibly, irrevocably old.
Artemus has no sons – when he is gone to dust, there will be nothing left of his legacy in this world but Garrett.
And when he cannot bear it anymore, the Keeper stands up.
Garrett is like a lynx with a broken leg. He understands what has happened to him only in the rudimentary sense, but his mind will not analyze it; there is a more pressing need to survive. Press on, move, grit harder – perhaps you will walk through it, force healing, make what hobbles you cease to exist. And even with a mouth soured by this new patina of guilt and aggravation, Artemus can sympathize. For those like them, for lives cut from shadowy places, this is more than a skill. It is purpose, worth, necessity. Balance – for him philosophical; for the thief physical – is the cornerstone of existence. Every joint and trapping of the boy swears this. A bent knee shows exhaustion. A weak stance, dependent on the walls and furnishings of this untrafficked reading room, reveals weaknesses that cannot be ignored. Wiry fingers clench a banister until they drain white through those same fingerless gloves Artemus has only just washed, patted dry, left at the foot of his bed. You cannot see the bandages beneath that drape of hood. He dips his chin and breathes through clenched, antagonistic teeth. For Garrett, this recess – looking beaten, biting down on nothing until his jaw burns – may as well be crying. Perhaps he grinds his teeth so that he does not have to.
"What is it you are trying to do?" Artemus asks, voice strangely clear in the high ceilings and the obvious hurt.
It seems like a simple question. But it isn't, Garrett supposes, and he's too furious to figure it out right now. He does not lift his head to look at the Keeper. He sucks a sharp, cold, spiteful intake of air to spit it out again. The pain must be debilitating. His nose is running, Artemus can see; the rage must exit somewhere, and so does here. "What the hell does it look like?"
This teacher is tolerant. His posture is unexpressive and eerie. That is a mark of Keepers. They never slouch, stalk, skulk. They do not bend halfway over a railing and cuss vainly when their feet will not lay flat upon foreign terrain. "It looks as though you are leaving us," he notes, curt and bland. "But you must refind your balance first."
Garrett's answer is a mouthful of excess saliva huffed out on the floor.
"You may not be approaching your target from the best angle."
"I'm doing fine," is his rebuff – acidic, brittle, but enough of both to show he doesn't truly believe this. The boy visibly considers forcing himself to shove past this old man, this haunt, this reminder of a bygone era he'd rather not revisit. But he is not sure he has the fortitude for it. There have been so many attempts, so many bite-sized struggles to correct what has been taken from him. Failure has always been too much for Garrett to cope. He will crumble if he trips again.
"Ah. Either you are going about it the wrong way, then, or you're missing much more than something to fill a socket."
"What do you want? What do you want, old man? Is there something, or are you just here to taunt me? You taught me better? You told me so?" the thief snarls; he lashes out, trying to wound, but falls short. His claws are dull. He knows Artemus better than that. Then, a forfeit: "Go away."
"No," Artemus says. "I won't."
Garrett says nothing. He does not disagree.
"You have lost an eye, thief," the Keeper tells him, out loud, unhindering, unable to be cringed from. Now it exists in the open between them. It cannot be walked through. The ducts, having nothing to anchor them, ooze uselessly within the void beside his sharp nose. "Your perspective has been altered. You cannot regain it – not as it was – but that does not mean everything else about you is changed. You have another eye to see with. Why try to look through what is no longer there?"
Garrett whips up his face only long enough to sear Artemus with a contemptuous gaze for this cheap logic. One slate iris slices. Its redness conveys much the tongue does not. "You're talking in riddles. I hate that about you people. You always talk in these stupid—"
"Do you think you have doomed your vocation, Garrett?"
He is silent. It is a thought he does not want to permit.
"You have not, if so. You fall because you compensate for something you have lost."
Impatience. Garrett's first shortcoming has always been his fine, impatient mind. "How does this—"
"I am about to show you. Stand up. Properly. Face me," he instructs – and, proving there is still some sliver of student left inside him, the thief does. His face is a mess of vehemence, humiliation, bloody cotton. Pus and aimless tears give the inner layers a seething, brownish hue. It is difficult to see. But Artemus looks. "You have lost nothing that you need. It is all still there; the world is still what it has always been. So there is nothing to relearn, Garrett. Here. I will make it clear for you."
The Keeper extends his palm – long, flat, perfectly halted fingers on a master craftsman's hand. Wrist bones have begun to protrude beneath shriveling skin. The younger "master" – for that is how he fashions himself – watches, wary, resentful, curious. "When your mind expects to see things around you in a certain way," Artemus begins, and slowly draws his arm in front of Garrett's keen left cheek, advancing to his sightless right. The single eye follows as far as it can. "It attempts to correct your body even when there is no correcting to be done. That is why you favor this side. Look."
With no warning, and with no apparent sympathy, the gradual back-and-forth movement transforms into a strike. Knuckles swing at the thief's unhurt half as though to clip his jaw. But before a punishing hit connects – when it moves past that invisible line where vision blinks to black – Artemus drops cold. This Garrett cannot see. The thief recoils for a blow that does not come.
The teacher folds his fingers into his hand and lets them fall. It is only a small lesson. They disappear beneath long sleeves. "Here is what happened. You perceived my hand with your present eye, falsely thought to know the arc, and assumed what the other would see. But you and I both know that assumption is not a component of balance." He offers no metaphors – there is no place in this reduced, practical relationship for proverbs or quotes from the ancient texts. "You did not try to consider all possibilities; your brain still tries to rely upon sight that is not there. You must tell it to stop. Judge your situation from what you know, not what you believe you ought to know, and the rest will fall into line."
"If it were that easy—" But, just as Garrett has his distilled insolence over these many years of running, Artemus has made an art form out of interrupting his disrespectful pupil. He does it for his own good, for brevity, and for the sake of not allowing an impertinent child's spines to hurt him anymore.
"Your mind does what it thinks it must," he explains. "It believes things that are not true out of a want to keep you safe. All you must do is accept the slant your life has taken. Learn to forget what your absent eye ought to see. Ignore what you feel there should be and focus your sight on what there is. You may discover that there is not so much missing from your picture, after all."
There is no need to repeat it. There is no need to hover and fling advice upon ears that dearly need it but a mouth that will never confess to this. Artemus picks up the abandoned book from his equally abandoned chair, slides it back into a shelf, and says nothing more. He does not bid him good evening or good luck. He leaves Garrett to regain his balance– humbled, bristling, invidious as ever. He walks away, a personal bravery that looks like uncaring, from everything that he rather wants to say.
That is the way it must be.
The thief does not return to bed that night. He walks the dim foyer, focused, downcast, unspoken, frightfully determined. Close end, far end, back and back again. You can hear the soles of his feet like clockwork. They are a steady metronome; they never cease.
In the morning – some hours later, when Artemus finds himself dumbly wandering towards that dormitory with two steaming coffee mugs in his hands, a kindness he already knows will be refused, but does anyway – Garrett has found his balance, and has left them.
The Order teaches this: balanced does not mean unchanging. To be rigid and resist change in want of stagnant constants reflects a human need for control. Every acolyte knows it is folly to believe you are in complete control. A thousand forces, some seen and some unseen, alter the course of each living thing. To deny this is not to stop it. So the answer is not pitching anchor and forsaking all, shutting eyes, plugging ears, for even solid walls are subject to the slow yawns of soil and rain. No, you see; as the winds shift the fishes in the sea, you must acknowledge these gusts that drive your life; you must face them fluidly, respond, adjust. You must move in new directions when they come to guide you. You must give this much to fate.
Prophecies preach what they will. Sometimes Artemus thinks Garrett is less of a catalyst and more of a key on a string. He twists in the draft. He tempts disaster willingly and with few lifelines. He scales barricades as they crumble down. He perceives intrigue, meddling, and manipulations, because as it is, he thinks the Keeper's goal is to maneuver him. He sees mistrust and derision where there is only an old father's duty to love.
But this shrewd father does not expect too much. Artemus has learned, beyond all else, restraint – how to travel on violent tides, and to accept the things you cannot change.
The thief learns quickly to see again. But there will, Artemus thinks, always be a blind spot between what Garrett thinks is true and what is.
Young fire, young rancor, young ambitions with no temperance. This young man may never learn how to accept help again – especially not from a furrowed, fading face in his past. The Thief believes he is singular. He chooses odium; he chooses to walk an old, cracked road on his own. But whether he denies or not – no matter if he believes, admits, wants it – this castoff boy is not, was not, will never be alone. When he roams astray, there are worried eyes watching. When he loses his path in the dark – for there is much of it in this morose corner of their world – there is a candle burning to mark the way he came. And when Garrett says leave, when he shouts his grudges, spurs pushed outward from within, there will always be one voice that does not throw them back.
When he trips, Artemus is there to catch him.
Garrett may not always see it.
But he always will.