There were times in which the man feels old, and perhaps there are times in which the man may look old to certain observers. The truth is, however, he is not old, nor is his appearance fixed. In fact, he’s not exactly a man at all, since he wasn’t born and doesn’t die and his house is in a place outside of time.
He goes not by a name but a title – he is called simply the Steward. He lives in a house outside of time, and within that house outside of time is a grand hall with a grand table. His eternal, cyclical task is simple, though by no means is it easy. His sole responsibility is maintenance – to keep the lights on, to ensure the door is open to any who seek entrance, to keep the table set, the food hot, and to maintain certain spiritual conditions that make all of the rest possible.
In the latter regard, some of his routine piety and ritual is reminiscent of a strange class of monk, although he has a family and lacks what we might commonly think of as a typically monastic existence. From his house and his great hall outside of time, he connects with the experiences that comprise the lives of regular human individuals on earth and within time. His sphere of influence, within some, occupies a small and rarely noticed part of their minds that is constantly and unobtrusively running in the background. This requires the Steward to keep a few figurative fingertips within “normal” time, something that has the consequence of forcing him to experience changes in the repeating cycles and patterns of the universe – if not exactly the precise sequence of events that we experience as time.
The reason his simple duty isn’t easy is because there are phases and eras within which keeping the lights on and the table set are not as simple as they sound. In particular, there’s a part in the pageant where things really fall apart for a while.
It starts off slowly, though he’s been going around the block for enough of an eternal stint that he picks up on the signs immediately. Every person with whom he is connected has a slate, whether large or small, of guests who are invited to the banquet at any time or even for all times. These guests themselves are no more actual humans than the Steward is, but are the specific aspects that exist outside of time, sort of eternal mirror images of people we know who live or have lived as parts of our lives either in the past, present, future, or some combination of the three. Each guest has a different role and has been invited for a different purpose. None of these details matter in particular to the Steward, since they aren’t really his concern, but they matter a great deal to the person for whom these eternal mirrors exist in that little background space in their mind – and occasionally break their way into the foreground.
Sometimes, certain groups of guests share a particular purpose, forming in their timeless archetypal way a council or league, or in certain stronger cases a tribe or a clan, real or imagined. Sometimes, the table outside of time is kept fresh for these groups more so than those other single invitees. Invitations are rarely revoked by the host (though it happens), but the Steward’s chaos almost always begins with cancelations issued by the guests, cancelations mainly issued from within time, from events happening in real life. Relationship changes, geographic separations, growing apart, open opposition, and, most often and most tragically, not from rejection but from indifference – all these form the basis for such cancelations.
The bad news starts to come in. One person is definitely not coming, now more.
Eventually, a couple of RSVP regrets will arrive from very significant invitees, perhaps integral members of a certain council, conspiracy, committee, or even the ultimate clan itself. Though the Steward himself remains objective and is not personally affected by any disappointment, the environment and conditions of the hall in his house outside of time will change accordingly, and this is outside of his control. The lights might flicker and dim, the table settings grow ragged, uneven, and disorganized. The food might get cold or, worse, start rotting a little. The Steward does what he can to keep things the way they’re supposed to be – it’s his duty, after all – but there’s nothing he can do, and he knows it. Things are about to get worse.
As the disappointments mount, any defenses ordinarily at the Steward’s disposal are stripped or weakened, until a band of marauders inevitably smashes the door down and proceeds to ransack the house outside of time, overturning the table, extinguishing the torches, ravaging the food (and especially the drink) and maybe even setting a few fires. In the grand scheme of things, their appearance is but a blip in the vastness of eternity, but when they leave, utter destruction is left in their wake. In that moment, not a historical or sequential date but an epochal phase, the banquet is canceled. Within time, to the individual person being linked to the Steward, crisis has taken hold and the foundations of their life have been shaken and perhaps shattered. After all, this happens to everyone from time to time, doesn’t it? The person is left with the space running in the back of their mind, but it’s empty and void, and perceptively so.
As this wake of devastation comes to pass, however, it is now that the Steward regains the ability to shape the house and the hall, and he slowly begins to rebuild. First, he repairs the door and relights the outside threshold. This way, even if nothing else is set right, anyone who wishes to come is able to find their way and enter. He then gets busy procuring and preparing new feasts, constructing a new table, and fashioning new cutlery. All the while reconstruction is going on, new invites are going out. Some of them are repeats, reaffirming to previous invitees that the banquet is still on, that a place is still being saved for them at the long table, whether or not they will ever be able to come. Some are challenges issued to those who previously declined, testing the strength and sincerity of their previous denial. If the regrets are repeated, the new and repaired banquet hall will no longer reserve a seat for those who again have canceled. But what’s more, in recognition of the new era and the changes which have occurred in the human life going on in the world, brand new people are asked to come by.
It is in this moment in the cycle that old councils and confederations, once scattered, might come back around to break bread again – not in the same way as before, likely not with fully the same group, but in spirit an old union can be resumed.
“Hey, let’s get the old gang back together, shall we?”
Yes, we shall – or so we hope. As always, our Steward is impartial and indifferent to specifics, but his duty and role exist specifically to foster the eternal continuity and reunion of the right comrades and loved ones and walking companions. Sometimes the possible outcomes relate to actual events happening to a person within time, but many times the reunions and conventions exist purely in spirit – and within the Steward’s house outside of time, if in no other place in the universe, that which exists purely in spirit is just as tangible and measurable as anything we think of as “real.”
In the aspect of ourselves that the Steward keeps as safe as he can, all of that stuff we imagine about all those people, all that stuff is real.
The Steward makes sure we can have our parties with the part of ourselves that exists in his world and the part of all the people we know that exists there, too. He keeps the whole thing going, even though he knows it’s inevitable that trusted and valued people are going to bail and Germanic wildmen are sure to wreck the place again. If we put things in grand perspective, the inevitable marauding is just as okay for us as it is for our impartial Steward – if only we understand that it is only after the brigands finish their destruction and move on that we can renovate our house outside of time and get ourselves a better banquet table and a better overall party than we would have had before.
The Steward, who we may think of as old but who thinks of himself usually as eternally middle-aged, knows how to get it done. That’s his job.