Il Dottore

Il Dottore never changed.

Il Dottore always strode into the amphitheater, dusty black robes swirling about him, never looking to right or left. He landed at the lectern like a swooping hawk, turned piercing eyes to survey the students seated in the tiers.

Il Dottore commanded silence with that glare and not one of the students assembled there dared break the stillness.

Il Dottore had a sonorous voice, deep and booming, which resonated as much in the hearer’s chest and bones as their ears.

Il Dottore’s words commanded an unwavering attention as he spoke, and afterwards, no student could remember exactly which words, which phrases, he had uttered, only their deep and sage meaning.

Il Dottore lectured on philosophy. Il Dottore lectured on nature. Il Dottore lectured on the essence of life itself. His lectures were renowned throughout all the lands for their wisdom and profundity. Hard men had been known to weep. Delicate women had been known to realize their hidden anger, spending the balance of their days fighting injustice. Parents of fallen children found comfort, the guilty repented, the corrupt recompensed their ill gains, all at a word or two from Il Dottore.

None knew where Il Dottore resided. None knew of his family or history. None ever saw him in the streets, coming or going from the University grounds. Nothing of all was known of Il Dottore but this: that at eleven o’clock in the morning on every day save Feast Days, Il Dottore appeared in the oldest amphitheater to speak for two hours, revealing the secrets and mysteries of creation.

And that there was always an apple.

Every day before Il Dottore appeared, before the doors of the amphitheater were opened to the students, one perfect apple balanced on the edge of the lectern. It was a different apple every day, each one a perfect specimen of its variety. Magnificat apples were bright red and large as a man’s two fists. Ambrose apples were small and wine-dark. The apple known as Mucheron was green with brown mottling, and emitted a powerful perfume. Maiden’s Delight were pale and sweet, with blushing cheeks. Il Dottore never regarded the apple until after he had ceased speaking, upon which he would seize the apple in hands like talons and pace back out of the hall. The students would always sit quietly for long moments after he had gone, as tradition demanded, before breaking like surf into sursurration and movement.

Il Dottore never seemed to age, never faltered, never altered. There were none now living who could clearly remember a time before Il Dottore had come to the University, or why. Long nights were spent in every student pub and coffee house debating, arguing, wondering. Who was Il Dottore? Where had he come from? What was the source of his wisdom? What were the extent of his no doubt considerable powers?

Until one day there was no apple.

The students took their places in silence, waited in silence, stared in silence at the place where the apple was not. There had always been an apple. There must always be an apple. Runners were sent with whispered instructions, to the Provost, to the Dean, to the fruit and vegetable markets. Surely an apple could be found?

Until it was too late, and Il Dottore once again strode into the amphitheater, turned to address the steep ranks of students crowded onto the risers—and halted. Eyes glittering, he too stared at where the apple was not.

Then he threw open his arms, sleeves unfurling like great black wings, and uttered a cry so loud and piercing that it shattered the glass dome above. The students ducked under their tables away from the falling glass as an immense black shape leapt up and away.

In many foreign lands, they say, an apple a day keeps Il Dottore away.

Away from what? And why?

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