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Sapphira


by katiesheffield

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Sapphira sat huddled under an archway as the rain streamed down. The archway led to the closed door of some rich person's house, and didn't offer much protection from the rain. Sapphira knew it would be wise to find some other shelter, but she couldn't walk the short distance.

     Sapphira was a blue Xweetok. She had been given her name because her eyes looked like sapphires. At the moment they were closed, wishing the storm would be over, and she could begin the slow journey to find somewhere to sleep that night.

     Her back legs didn't work like they should, and this made her slow. In wet weather like now, they scarcely moved at all. She wasn't fast enough to keep up with the thieves, and this had made her an outcast from even their circle.

     She sneezed. Rain ran down her dirty coat and blinded her. Her legs were hurting again, and so out of habit she did what she always did when her life seemed hard.

     She dreamt about being someone else. Belonging to a family, and having good food to eat every night. And being able to run across the sweet green hills. Instinctively she raised her head and smiled. She could almost smell the grass, and see the ground fall away beneath her feet.

     The cold, rainy night was forgotten as her mind wove innumerable images of families and grassy hills and the warm sunshine. She could hear a friend calling her in for lunch... and the smell wafting out of a kitchen window. She had never eaten buttered toast, but the very thought of it sent shivers down her spine.

     Or was that the cold? The water running down her face tickled her nose, and she sneezed again. The happy dreams disappeared and she was left standing in a muddy street in the pouring rain with no food and nowhere to sleep.

     She sighed and shook her head in silent laughter. The rain was easing up now.

     "Come on, Sapphira," she chided herself with a smile. "It's fine and all to think about warm food and green hills and beds, but you have plenty of time to do that once you've found a place to sleep."

     She pulled herself to her feet and began a long and painful walk down the street and to an alley nearby where she knew there would be cardboard boxes she could hide in.

     As she neared the alley she looked across the street to where two small Wockies were making mud pies in the rain. Their mother would no doubt be furious when she saw the state they were in. She chuckled quietly. Life had been hard to her, but there were some things it could not take away. Her sense of humor was one of them.

     Entering the alley she curled up in a handy box and fell asleep instantly.

     Her sleep was disturbed by fevered dreams, and she woke up with a high temperature and a dry throat. Crawling out of a box she dazedly searched for water. The rain had ceased and the water had all run down the drains. It took her several long minutes to find a barrel that had collected water, and she took a few sips of that before collapsing on the road and losing consciousness.

     * * *

     She woke up slowly. Without opening her eyes she wondered how long she had been lying there. And where was 'there' anyway?

     With a start she realized she wasn't lying on the hard ground, but in a bed. Her eyes opened in shock.

     She was in a small, light blue room. It was sparingly furnished, but was comfortable and clean. In one corner stood a wardrobe. In another were a small table and a chair. Her bed - did she dare call it hers? - was standing against the back wall, with a bedside table. The blue curtains were drawn, so that the light wouldn't disturb her sleep.

     She tried to sit up, and with some difficulty managed. Her head swam. She closed her eyes and tried to work out what had happened. Vaguely, at the back of her memory, she heard a kind voice, but couldn't distinguish the words.

     Her mouth was dry. With relief she saw there was a glass of water on her bedside table. Eagerly she drank it, and set it down with a loud clink.

     From behind her door she heard sounds of life, and presently it opened to reveal a friendly looking elderly brown Lupe.

     "So, little one, you are awake at last. You must be hungry. I'll get you some food." With a smile he left again, and she heard him working in what must have been a kitchen.

     So this was her rescuer? He wasn't what she had expected, but he had very kind and serene eyes.

     Soon he came back with a tray containing a bowl of soup. Setting it down in her lap, he pulled up the chair and sat next to her bed.

     The smell of the food was tantalizing, but Sapphira didn't touch it. She couldn't help thinking this was some kind of mistake.

     "Who are you?" she mumbled finally.

     "My name is Lokhar. I am a doctor. And what shall I call you, little one?"

     She looked him up and down. A doctor? His coat was well kept, but not fussed over. His clothes were hardy and well worn. And his eyes... they had a very wise, calm look about them, as though nothing could surprise him. She felt she could trust him.

     "My name is Sapphira. How long have I been here?"

     "Two days and eighteen hours. Come now, Sapphira, eat."

     Almost three days! At last she tasted the soup. It was delicious. "How did I come here?"

     The Lupe sat back in his chair and sighed. "I was visiting some friends. On my way back I found you on the street. You were sick and underfed. As you didn't seem to have any owner, I thought it was best to take you home."

     "Thank you," she whispered. Already she had finished the soup. Lokhar took the bowl from her and refilled it.

     "It is a famous recipe that has been handed down through generations," he said with a smile as he came back. "Well known for giving a new lease of life to those who need it. Now, little one, tell me; do you have an owner?"

     "No."

     "Family?"

     "No."

     "Friends or relations?"

     "No."

     "Well, it seems you shall stay here until some arrangement can be made. I don't expect you to get up yet; stay in bed for another day at least to get your strength back; but when you do feel strong enough to get up, there are some clothes in that wardrobe that I think will fit you. They are my sister's, but don't tell her that." He showed a smile. "I have work that needs to be done, and I must leave you. If you need anything, call."

     He turned to go, but something was nagging at the back of her mind. On impulse she opened her mouth and burst out.

     "Sir? I-I can't walk."

     He looked back at her calmly. "Yes, child. I know. I saw that when I found you in the streets. I am a doctor, and I know your lameness need not be permanent. I will see what I can do for you."

     "Thank you, sir." A shiver of hope shot through her body like fire.

     "It's Lokhar." With a final smile he left Sapphira alone to her thoughts.

     She gazed down at where her feet were under the blankets, the new and bright hope rising up inside of her. She might be able to run on the fields after all! She had landed on her feet this time, at least. Lokhar seemed kind and compassionate. But, once she was better, where would she go? Maybe, if the Lupe could help her to walk, she could have a proper job, like other Neopets.

     Exhausted already, she put the empty bowl down and slipped into a blissful sleep full of promising dreams.

     * * *

     The next day when she woke up, she found Lokhar had left another bowl of soup on her bedside table.

     From the kitchen she could hear an argument. That must have been what had woken her up, she realized. One of the voices; the quieter one; was Lokhar. A woman's voice was much louder, and Sapphira didn't recognize it.

     Suddenly the door was thrown open and an angry Ixi walked in. Her face was heavily covered with make-up, and had a very proud expression. Her clothes were adorned with frills, and Sapphira thought she could smell an expensive brand of perfume.

     The Ixi glared at her for a second, and turned on Lokhar, who had followed her into the room, wearing a very dissatisfied expression on his face.

     "How could you do this?" she shrieked. "My own brother brings a tramp into my house while I'm on holiday!"

     "Anina..."

     "Don't 'Anina' me!"

     "She had nowhere else to stay."

     "I don't care if she was dying! She doesn't belong in this house, and she must leave. Now."

     Lokhar was looking angry now, an expression Sapphira thought couldn't exist on his calm, unassuming face. "She cannot walk, Anina. She will not leave while I have any say in the matter."

     The Ixi called Anina waved her arms around furiously. "She is a tramp, and a thief, I am sure. She doesn't belong here." She glared at Lokhar. "Either she goes, or I go."

     Lokhar smiled easily. "I completely understand, Anina, dear. You'll visit, won't you?"

     The Ixi stared at him for a second, her mouth wide open, and then with a furious huff and a toss of her hair stormed out of the room.

     Somewhere outside they heard a door slam.

     Lokhar turned to Sapphira with a wry smile. "Despite all appearances, that was not a tornado. Merely my sister." Sapphira gaped at him in confusion. He turned and left the room. "I must go now; there are patients to see."

     Sapphira's mind was whirling as she hastily ate her breakfast. She felt better than yesterday, and got out of bed. To her surprise, the Xweetok's back legs held her weight, and she took a few uneasy steps to the wardrobe. She selected a neat, serviceable dress, and got changed from her old, tatty garments into it.

     It had taken her a while, but she had done it, she mused happily. On the table was a comb, and she quickly smoothed her hair. She could at least do her host the honor of looking presentable. Exiting her room, she went in search of Lokhar. Her mind was buzzing with more questions than it had room to hold, and they were all clamoring for answers immediately.

     The rest of the house was similar to her room. Plainly furnished, but neat and tidy. It wasn't large, and soon she found Lokhar in a room that opened into the street. It must have been his clinic, because the walls were lined with shelves containing almost every medicine known in Neopia. In the center of the room was a table, and sitting on the table was a young Yurble.

     Hesitating in the doorway, and as yet unseen, Sapphira decided to stay hidden and watch.

     Lokhar was talking to a Yurble mother, who was standing near by, holding a baby in her arms. Her clothes were ragged, her hair done up simply, and her feet were bare.

     "Give him some of this," Lokhar was saying. "He will soon be better." He handed her a jar of green pills.

     The Yurble's face shone with thankfulness. She reached into a pocket and brought out a small bag. Emptying the few coins that were in it onto the table, she looked at Lokhar hopefully.

     "Will that be enough?"

     Lokhar scarcely glanced at the coins, and pushed them back to the Yurble. "Keep it."

     It took her a second to realize what he had said, and then tears of gratitude shone in her eyes. "Thank you, sir. Thank you and bless you."

     Taking her money and her children, the Yurble left. An Elephante peasant entered, limping on a badly cut leg.

     The day went on steadily, and Sapphira stayed hidden in the doorway, watching in fascination. If the patient could afford to pay, Lokhar charged them. If they couldn't, he gave them free treatment.

     At one point a fat Tuskaninny entered. Her clothes were adorned with jewels, and her expression was haughty.

     "I have heard you give good treatment cheaply." She sniffed. "I have a bad case of bubbles. Give me something to treat it."

     Lokhar turned away and began wiping one of his benches with an old cloth. "I will not treat you, ma'am. My treatment is solely for those who can't afford another doctor. You can."

     "Why, the insolence-!" she glowered, and tried a different tack. "I can pay you well."

     "Take your money somewhere where it is demanded. Now, if you will pardon me, I have other patients to see."

     After glaring at him furiously for a second, she left in a huff.

     Lokhar worked steadily past noon. He didn't stop for lunch. Sapphira stayed hidden in her nook behind the door, watching in fascination. At last, when the sun was getting low in the sky, the flow of patients stopped. Lokhar turned to Sapphira and beckoned her in.

     "You knew I was there?" She shyly walked out of the shadows.

     "Oh course." He smiled. "How about you help me get us some dinner?"

     As they chopped up vegetables Sapphira finally got the chance to ask him some questions. "Why didn't you treat that rich Tuskaninny?"

     "For the reason I told her. She could afford to go to a proper hospital. The people who come to see me can't."

     "Why do you treat the peasants? You - you can't make a lot of money from it."

     Lokhar smiled and threw a peeled potato into the big pot on the stove. "Life is hard, child. I know that as well as anyone. The least I can do is make it a bit easier for others."

     "Have you done this all your life?"

     "Yes. Ever since I graduated from medical school."

     Sapphira was silent as she chopped away at a carrot.

     "You have another question to ask, don't you, little one?"

     Her face colored. "Yes. Why me?" She paused, and she knew he knew she had not asked the entire question. "And why me over your sister?"

     The Lupe smiled calmly. He seemed to understand what she meant. "My sister is a fool. She lives only for parties and fashion and enjoyment. Those qualities, however, have opened the way for her to move in higher, more influential circles than myself. They have given her wealth and power, but it is the other qualities, such as kindness, thoughtfulness, compassion and hope, that are more important."

     "Why?"

     "Because they help other people."

     Sapphira paused, and wondered how to go on. "Sir? Lokhar?"

     "Yes, child?"

     "You still haven't answered the first part of my question."

     He smiled and stirred the pot of soup. "No, I didn't. Why you? Because you were the one who needed help. It is simply what I do."

     "Don't you ever dream of being someone else? Don't you want to do something different?"

     Lokhar thought for a moment. "Yes, I do. I have always wanted to be a pirate."

     Sapphira choked and nearly dropped a carrot. "A pirate!"

     He chuckled and added some spices to the soup. "Can't you imagine me with a patch-eye and a parrot?"

     Sapphira tried, and failed miserably. "No, sir." She grinned. "It's a good idea, though."

     "And now we must come to the subject of what will happen to you," he said suddenly.

     The smile disappeared from her face. "I really don't know. I don't have training in anything."

     "Always look to the positive side of things, my dear. You have the opportunity to choose your destination, and what you will do in your life, and where you will live. Many people your age would do anything for that choice."

     "But what are my choices? I'm not educated; I don't have any... well, not many friends. And I'm a cripple into the bargain."

     "We will come to the last issue you raised presently. But now I want to look at your choices. Like you said, you do not have many friends, and certainly no influential ones. You may not be educated, but I can already see you have a thirst for life. That will take you far." He smiled. "I would be able to find a good home for you to live in. You could have family, and grow up like any other pet. Or you could enter directly into a trade, and become an apprentice. I could no doubt help you there, too. Or..." He hesitated as if unsure how to continue.

     "Or?"

     "Or, I am currently looking for an assistant. The choice is yours."

     She already knew what she wanted to do. "Would you - would you take me on as an assistant?"

     Lokhar smiled suddenly. "I would be delighted, my dear. I am not rich, as I'm sure you have seen. All I can offer you is a home to live in and food to eat and an education."

     "That's all I want."

     "Very good." Lokhar tasted the soup, and nodded in satisfaction. "It's ready. Please set the table."

     He watched her as she scurried about, laying down spoons and bowls. "How are your legs, child?"

     She stopped suddenly, mid step. Looking down she realized the wonderful truth. They were still stiff, but they worked. Cautiously she bent them, and gave a small jump. Than she walked across the room. In the final test, she ran in a circle around the table, eyes sparkling. Coming back to Lokhar, she threw her arms around the elderly Lupe in gratitude.

     "They work! They work!" She danced a quick jig. "How did you do it?"

     Lokhar smiled and stroked his chin thoughtfully. "That soup has wonderful properties, my dear."

The End

 
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