The Hermit was nonplussed to see him. He sat cross-legged and didn't look up from his fireplace as he spoke, "Playing hooky again, I see. What was your name again? Never mind, it's not important."
"It's not?" the Boy asked, tilting his head with curiosity.
"Names are only titles arbitrarily given to us by others," the Hermit said with a sniff. He poked at the flames with a stick before finally looking up
but at the orange sky, not at the Boy. "I can't say I blame you for skipping school on a day like this. Southern Gallifrey does not see many beautiful days this time of the year." Thick clouds drifted across the midday sun, shielding them from its heat. Today was a casual day suited for leisure, not tedious, rigorous studies.
The Boy stole a good look at the Hermit, who had just regenerated a few days ago. The old man had a fresh, youthful face that belied his hundreds of years of age. His soft, rounded features seemed like the face of a baby and an old man simultaneously. But his new appearance did not hide the pools of ancient wisdom lingering behind his eyes. The Boy, conversely, was only seventy years of age and looked it (by the standards of his species).
"Really, I climbed all this way to see you and you wish to talk about the weather?" the Boy asked crossly.
"Your impatience will be your undoing if you don't learn to master it," the Hermit stated as he pulled a pot out of the fire. Regeneration had not affected his personality much; the old man still had the same aura of serenity that commanded respect. He was in control of himself and his surroundings and he knew it. Steam arose when he carefully raised the lid and revealed several roasted fruits. "Have one."
The Boy selected a particularly plump fruit and sat down across the fire from the Hermit. He fussed with his robes to make sure they wouldn't tear or get the red earth stained into the goldenrod weave. His parents were going to find out about his delinquent antics anyway, but it would be even worse for him if ruined clothing was added to his sins. Such impractical, silly garments, robes were. He hated them.
The two ate in silence for a while, the only sound by the final dying crackles of the small fire and the occasional whisper of wind. The Boy knew why. The Time Lords labeled the Hermit an eccentric, a rogue. But the Boy knew the truth: the Hermit was truly a genius. He saw the faults in the Time Lords' society and had chosen to impose exile upon himself. He lived in squalor on Mount Cadon, under a crude shed built into the side of the mountain when he could have enjoyed a cozy house in the capital city. But here he lived free.
"I take it you want another story," the Hermit finally declared.
"Very well. Would you like to hear more of the Fendahl?"
"No, no!" the Boy objected. He would not admit that those stories had given him nightmares, so instead he asked: "Tell me more about the Dark Times."
"The days of Rassilon and Omega?"
"And the Other," the Boy added.
"Little is known about the Other, not even his true name. But as I said
names are not important. You hail from the house of Lungbarrow, do you not?"
"No reason," the Hermit answered, but the Boy knew there was a reason. The Hermit never asked questions for something as banal as idle curiosity; any questions he asked were tactical. Nevertheless, the Boy did not pry. When it was relevant, the Hermit would reveal his thoughts.
"Then I will tell you about the greatest war the Time Lords have ever fought, when Rassilon was young."
The Hermit shook his head. "No, these beings were far more malevolent and deadly than even the Sontarans. In the vaguest dawn of our recorded times, the universe was beset by giant vampiric beings. No one knows where they came from, but they appeared in such great numbers that they swarmed the entire cosmos. Our ancestors were forced to choose between letting these creatures live or preserving the lives of every other living creature, a decision that was both easy and gravely hard."
"What do you mean?" the Boy asked.
"Because it was a matter of killing. Even if the cause is 'righteous,' one should only kill as a last resort. Remember that, boy, and pray that you are never faced with such a conundrum. The war between the Time Lords and the vampires was so long and so bloody that it left our people sickened of violence forever. But we still have the capability lurking within us." The Hermit paused, allowing his words to sink in. Another vital lesson for the Boy to absorb, hidden within the story.
The Hermit returned to his narrative. "Eventually the Time Lords prevailed, and killed every vampire
"Save one the King Vampire himself. He just vanished. Poof. To this day no one knows what happened to him. Rassilon decreed that should any Time Lord ever find the last vampire, he must do everything in his power to destroy it and prevent the swarm from rising again."
"Were they really so dangerous?"
"It is said that one alone was so powerful that he could suck the life from an entire planet."
"Really?" the Boy asked, his voice dripping with pessimism. "One could suck the life from an entire planet?"
"Hush, now," the Hermit scolded. "There are other ways of looking at life. You must keep an open mind, Boy."
"But that defies the known laws of the universe!"
"Even the Time Lords don't know everything. My boy, the moment we learn everything is the moment that all wonder is lost, and without wonder then life is not worth living."
The Boy snorted. "That's preposterous."
"Is it?" the Hermit asked. "You snuck away from school, an establishment of facts, to come hear a story from an 'eccentric' old man."
The Boy shot him a cynical frown. "And do you expect me to believe this story?"
"Believe it or not - that is your choice. Anyone can know things, my boy. There is no joy in that. Our culture worships knowledge and yet they feel little joy. A truly wise man knows to rely on the one thing greater than knowledge."
"And what's that?"
The Hermit leaned towards him. Without conscious thought, the Boy mimicked the old man's gesture. The two sat almost nose to nose over the warmth of the diminishing embers.
"Faith in what?"
"Faith in oneself. Faith that there are greater things out there just waiting for you to discover. The search for knowledge is always admirable, but you must have faith that your journey will never come to an end, even if you think it has!"
The Boy was taken aback. "What journey?"
"Every man has a journey. But you
you have the look of the wanderer in your eyes. I have not seen that in many a generation. You will not be content to stay on Gallifrey forever, will you?"
The Boy remained quiet for a while before drawing himself up and brushing the dust off his robe. The hermit was right about him, though he would not give the old man the satisfaction of knowing something the Boy had only just begun to realize for himself. "Maybe not," he said. "You will just have to wait and see, won't you?"
The Hermit laughed. His voice echoed across the jagged ledges around them, and its echoes surrounded the Boy. When his laughter subsided, the old man smiled with mirth. "That's the spirit!"