THE APPRENTICE-BOOK1-THE CALLING – CHAPTERS 11 – 12

CHAPTER ELEVEN

Shane decided not to tell his parents he was leaving because he knew his mother would make a big scene. Which naturally she would have had she but known. His Mother would never approve of him working for a wizard for four years, especially not one so far away. Instead, he left a note for them saying he would be back in four years and that Tayvian would be happy to explain it all to them in his absence. He said nothing of his destination.

He had already packed a rucksack for himself filled with sturdy traveling clothes, a new pair of boots, food, and 10 gold crowns from his savings. Just in case. His bedroll was made up of two heavy wool blankets, and a ground cloth that doubled as a tent in the event an emergency shelter was needed, or it should rain along the way.

As he was packing some food in the saddlebags, Shane noticed the book that Sheldrake had sent along with the letter, and scrolls. He took it out and dusted the ancient cover off and saw that it probably had not been read or even opened in ages. The writing on the cover was badly faded and written in an ancient stylized form that was seldom seen anymore.

It was difficult for Shane to read the characters in the feeble glow of the lamp there in the barn, but after holding it closer to the lamp, he was able to decipher the title. The Apprentice’s Hand Guide Volume, One. It read. “Interesting,” he said to himself as he put it back in the saddlebag. He would read it on his way to Darvonshire.

Once everything was packed and ready to go, Shane saddled the black stallion who stood placidly by munching on an apple that Shane had brought out for him as an offering of friendship. Obviously, the horse was either a super intelligent member of his kind or he was enchanted by some magical means. Either way, Shane deduced correctly that it would not be a good idea to get on his bad side or make an enemy of him. According to a neighbor, Darvonshire was approximately 120 leagues to the Northeast. IWell on the other side of the Theiron Mountains. The very same mountains which, Choralys had told him the dragon called Morloch The Terrible lived. Traveling 360 miles or more through dragon country can be a long dangerous walk so Shane figured it would be best to stay on Star’s good side. At least for the duration of the trip.

By the time his mother’s roosters woke the sun up for the day both horse and rider were a long way from home, and well on their way to Darvonshire. The warhorse had a smooth easy gate that he could maintain all day long and he ate up the miles. By late that first afternoon, Shane found himself once more on the verge of Mayrewood looking in.

Now that he was 16 and a man he thought the forbidding woods should not look as scary as they still did. But now that the wizard Mayrethane was no longer there to maintain the natural order of the ancient forest it had become even darker and more sinister than ever before.

Rather than make camp there, Shane decided to press on to Choralys’s house now a tomb and make camp there the first night out. Unfortunately, he lost his way and by the time he got his bearings again so he made camp that night in a small glade that looked very familiar to him and for good reason. It did not take long for him to realize that was because it was the same place he had met Choralys The White.

Since the moon was waning and past half full he need not worry about Morloch swooping down and carrying away himself or the horse. He wished that Tayvian could have shared this adventure with him but they had spoken all of their last goodbyes at Shane’s birthday party.

“You should have been here with us about five years ago on this very spot, Star. My best friend, Tayvian and I hiked all the way here from Kilcairn to find a wizard named Choralys The White,”

The black stallion’s ears perked up at the sound of his new rider’s voice and seemed to catch every word without showing it. The grass in the glen was long and sweet and Dark Star munched great bunches of it at a time while Shane told him all about that fateful night. Even though he was alone this trip, Shane did not feel it necessary to keep a fire going all night as they had before. Especially not with the stallion there to stand guard for him.

He knew that nothing was going to sneak up on the old warhorse. Not even in the dark. He laid his blankets out beside the old fire ring and in minutes he was sound asleep and snoring like a buzz saw.

To his credit, Dark Star tried rolling the kid over a few times in an effort to make him stop. The incessant racket coming from the kid was keeping him awake, but rolling it didn’t help any. Finally Star had enough and he pulled a heavy blanket over Shane’s head with his teeth, then went over to the farthest side of the glade to try and get some sleep.

When the morning sun in all its glory found Shane the next morning it was already past 9 o’clock. Usually, he was awake at the first light of day but with the blanket over his head, he had not seen the light and he had slept in. Shane was puzzled at first, but the tell-tale horse tracks beside his bed told the story better than words could ever do. They lead unerringly to the black stallion who was contentedly munching on sweetgrass 20 feet away.

“You are a very odd character indeed, Sir horse,” he said as he stood and stretched the kinks out of his bones and faced the new day. The stallion, for his part, rolled his big black eyes and kept his thoughts to himself.

Dark Star had already made up his mind that next time it happened he was going to carry the boy over to the nearest creek and drop him in it head first. Perhaps that would cure whatever was ailing him.

After a breakfast of biscuits and cold salt mutton, Shane saddled the stallion and he followed his memory to the low hillside where the wizard had met his sudden end. Shane was able to smell the truth of it it long before he saw the site. The ashes from the wizard’s house and the brush fire hat had ignited by the cataclysmic explosion. Luckily the fire had not spread to the surrounding forest and its stands of flammable virgin timber.

Some traveling storyteller’s still swear the sky suddenly turned dark over the little valley and a heavy rain began pouring down from a cloudless sky. Putting out the blaze before it could take on a life of its own, and possibly destroy Mayrewood.

The horse could smell the ruins and the lingering odor of violent death that still lay upon the surrounding glade and the mouth of the cave. He was a warhorse and a blooded veteran of many historic battlefields for the sake of men and their wars so he did not shy away but walked straight to it fearlessly.

Shane stopped him as soon as they cleared the trees and he sat there surveying the scene of destruction. He had already accepted the fact of the wizard’s passing away. But being there now and seeing the ultra-violence that hadtaken place there made his heart grow heavy.

The Huntsman that had brought them the news was a brave enough soul but he was as superstitious as anyone caould be. He had left the area untouched and in a big hurry. Nobody else had been there since, except fora family of pack rats who carried away bits of colored glass and other tidbits pack rats find so appealing, it was unchanged.

Shane dismounted and dropped Star’s reins while he wandered around the clearing, looking through the wreckage of what had once been the sorcerers home. He bent down every now and again to pick up the shattered remains of a stuffed raccoon and the remnants or a shredded book.

A thousand or more pages of ancient parchments still littered the trees, but the area in front of the cave entrance looked like a giant had sneezed into a respectable pile of confetti. That was now the extent of their usefulness as documents. The wizard’s library had been part of the front of the house so when the energy from the explosion came out of the mouth of the cave it was forcibly channeled into the small opening. The force more than doubled inits intensity as it tore through the front of the house obliterating it instantly.

He glanced at the scorched and blasted entrance to the cave from time to time but kept his distance from it. He wandered around the clearing picking bouquets of Blue Bells, Daisies, Daffodils, Buttercups, Violets, Primrose, Morning Glories, and Marigolds. Some were growing and blooming all around the foundation of the house where Mayrethane had planted them many years before. When Shane felt he had picked enough he laid the bouquet at the base of the debris that sealed the cave.

Then he laid out stones in the shape of a cross to mark the site as a grave. He hoped the wizard’s tomb would be respected by future generations and not be dug up by treasure hunters or tomb raiders. When he was finished laying out the marker, Shane took his cap off and said a few words over the grave for the old man’s soul. That done, Shane stood there for a while longer studying the site.

A slight breeze ran through the low grass and stirred the brightly colored petals of the bouquet and it struck a sad chord deep within him. He choked on an involuntary sob of grief for the wise old man who had saved his life and set his feet on the path he now traveled toward his destiny. He shed no tears but his heart was heavy, like an anchor in his chest that drug it down threatening to sink his spirits.

Just then his dark mood was broken by an even darker horse who had come up behind him. Star nudged the boy softly with his nose and gave a low nicker. When Shane didn’t notice him he nudged him a little harder and Shane pulled himself together again.

“Yeah, I know Star. We’re leaving in just a minute. I just had to say goodbye first,” he said patting the stallion on his forehead affectionately.

The warhorse had seen his share of funerals in his day as well. Some of which were held on battlefields where war-scarred veterans had cried like babies over the bodies of their brother’s slain in battle. It was always worse when the dead person was a relative. Dark Star understood this well.

Shane knelt down and placed his hand on the stones at the mouth of the tomb and said, “Goodbye, Choralys The White. Rest in peace. He stood and went to mount Star and took one last look around from the saddle before turning the stallion back towards the trail that would take then North.

CHAPTER TWELVE

As Star wheeled around though, something gleaming high in a treetop caught Shanes eye. He pulled up on the reins and stopped the horse where he was. Whatever it was that he had seen it was no longer visible from that angle.

“Turn back the other way slowly for me Star. I saw something shining in the trees. The enchanted stallion had seen the gleam in the tree too. He slowly turned back towards it until he could see it again and stopped before Shane told him to.

“There it is!” he said pointing to the shining thing in the tree, he fixed the spot in his mind. The sun was shining through something in the branches of a huge Oak tree. As Shane watched the breeze stirred the branches and set off a brilliant flash of color that ran through the full spectrum of the rainbow.

Dark Star turned to look at his rider as though to ask what it could be.

“Whatever it is Star,” Shane told the stallion, ”It is not any cheap piece of glass.”

The stallion was inclined to agree even though he didn’t fully understand it. He started walking toward the Oak without having to be told. The lowest branch of the old tree was well above Shane’s head but by standing on Dark Star’s back he was able to reach it and pulled himself up into the tree. He sat on the branch for a moment as he tried to see whatthe shny thing was but from beneath all of those branches, he saw nothing but limbs and leaves.

He stood up carefully hanging on to the branches and making sure he had good footing and began to climb. The higher he climbed the thinner the branches got. Soon they were almost too thin to support his weight and the object was still 10′ feet above his head and out away from the trunk in branches that would not support his weight.

He knew a tumble through the branches was likely to result in his death but curiosity had a grip on him. He was determined to keep climbing until he found out what was up there. even if he could not get it down, he just had to know what it was.

A few more minutes of climbing brought Shane up to where he thought he should be able to see what he was after so he looked up. What he saw sent an electric shock through his body. On the day of the explosion Choralys had his staff leaning in the corner by the door in its accustomed place. There it was always handy if he needed to go outdoors or use it to contact one of the brothers of his order.

When the front of the wizard’s house had disintegrated under the force of the blast the staff which was as hard as steel was not destroyed but was blown high into the branches of the old Oak tree. To anyone standing below the staff looked like any other branch and the stone head was all but invisible among the leaves. From 8 feet away there was no mistaking what it was.

“Star!” he hollered down to the stallion” I don’t believe this! It’s Chorlays’s staff!” And it’s not broken either!” he added. From far below his feet Shane heard the stallion whinnying.

” I’m going to try to get it down so you might want to move away from the tree just in case it falls,” He said. Shane looked down to see if Dark Star had heard him but the stallion had already stepped well away from the tree. Shane could see him munching on red clover well clear of the drop zone. “ “Pfh..”Shane snorted out loud, “Must be nice being a horse,”

The stallion raised his head and looked him in the eye as he nodded, He whinnied once and then resumed grazing in one swift movement. He told himself to remember to watch what he said aloud around the horse from now on.

The branch he was on was thin and the uppermost branches were swaying in the wind although it was only a slight breeze. Shane was not scared of heights, he just had a healthy respect for gravity and pain.

As his father had once told him , it’s not the fall that kills you it’s the sudden stop. Gravity can ruin your whole day. Even so, Shane had no intention of leaving without that staff if he had to chop the tree down to get it.

He tried edging out further on the limb but it began to crack. He tried to reach it from there but he was still 4 feet short of the goal. He tried to shake it loose but it was wedged into the forks of two branches. This was why the wind had so far failed to dislodge it.

Either, Shane would have to break the branches holding it or try to knock it loose. Spying a long-dead limb he broke it loose and stripped the leaves from it. It was still too short but he eased out on the branch to the breaking point and reached up again. It was tricky to do holding on while trying to knock the staff loose with the stick but he managed to work himself into a position where he could get a good whack at it.

His first few swings were nothing to brag about but a solid connection on the heel moved it which gave him confidence. Shane thought if he could flip the one end up it should fall to the ground and he could grab it in midair. Simple as that. He edged out a little farther and shoved his stick into the center of the staff just behind the Orleanstone. It worked perfectly and the staff dropped right into his hand.

Shane was proud of himself until he realized he was no longer hanging on and was falling. To Shane’s credit, he held onto the staff. Had he not he would have gone all the way but he caught himself quickly and found himself hanging from the staff and 2 feet above the next branch down.

He stepped up onto the next highest branch and regained his footing. Carrying the staff down was out of the question so he dropped it to the ground through a hole in the branches. It fell straight as an arrow and buried itself 10 inches deep into the soft soil like a spear.

It was a piece of cake for Shane to climb down then. He called for Dark Star to come back so he could climb down onto his back when he got to the lowest branch again. Easing himself back into the saddle, Shane pulled the staff out of the ground then he held it up for a closer inspection.

It was completely unscathed by the explosion. The golden heel and the Orleanstone, “It’s a lucky thing we found this, Star,” he said hefting the weight of it, “We cannot just leave it lying around for anyone to pick up and do Heaven knows what with. I think I should take it to Darvonshire and give it to Sheldrake. He can decide what to do with it,”

The stallion seemed to agree.

Shane rode the rest of the day with the staff laying across his lap or with the gold heel standing in the stirrups. Night fell before they reached the north side of Mayrewood but they were close. Another half days ride would put the dense trees behind them. They spent the third night away from Kilcairn in open country.

Shane heard a pack of wolves roaming the forest that night but they did not venture anywhere near the staff of Mayrethane. They were not of a mind to attack a young man and a healthy war horse anyway. The moon was still 14 days from full so they had no reason to worry about having to deal with their friendly neighborhood dragon either.

Star was grazing on stalks of clover close by while Shane reclined on his saddle, using it as a kind of couch with his bedroll for a ground cloth. In his hands, he held the old staff and he was studying it from top to bottom. Choralys had carried the staff for so long that its power had slowed his aging process to a crawl. He looked to be 80 but he was over 400-years-old.

Over the span of those years, the oils from his hands and the abrasion of handling left it with a smooth ebony sheen but not a single scratch nor scar gave testament to all of the battles it had been carried through.

Shane held the stone up and looked through it at the firelight. He was amazed by the way the crystal fragmented light into rainbows. He thought if he looked close enough he might see the source of its power but since the wizard who wields it is that source the only thing he saw was his own eyeball looking back at him from a thousand facets.

“It’s a shame that, his library was destroyed, you know it, Star,” he said regretfully as he set the staff aside and laid back on his couch to watch the flames dancing in the fire. “I’ll bet you one of those old books could have told us how the staff works, I’ll wager you can do all sorts of great stuff with one if you know how to make it work.”

The black stallion had stopped eating in mid-graze and had clover stems sticking out of the corners of his mouth. He was staring at Shane like he had turned into an ogre right in front of him.

Shane felt the weight of that stare and he demanded to know why.

“Why I pray you’ll tell me, are you looking at me like that? Like I just turned into an ogre clover face? Don’t you know how to chew your food?” he asked.

Star tossed his head and made a big show of chewing on the cud in his mouth but his eyes were locked on Shane’s.

“That’s really an attractive quality for you Star, but why are you staring at me like that? Am I turning into a werewolf? Is there a huge bug climbing up my arm? Am I missing something here?”

The stallion snorted and nodded his head. Yes.

“What? show me what it is if you can!” Shane pleaded but Star just looked at him blankly for a minute longer before he shook his head slowly. He was just starting to realize he was going to have to get used to carrying around Kilcairn’s village idiot for the duration of the trip whether he liked it or not.

He walked over to the saddlebags, picked them up in his teeth and threw them in Shane’s lap with a flip of his head. And none too gently either.

“Hey! Watch it you walking hairball. You would do well to keep in mind that I can sell you to a glue maker for 5 crowns and walk to Darvonshire from there.” he warned the stallion. But, instead of showing contrition for his insolence, the warhorse bared his big white teeth at Shane in a huge horse grin and shook his head vigorously.

“Oh no you can’t,” his whinny seemed to say.

“Oh yes I can mister know-it-all smarty horse,” Shane insisted. Again the Stallion grinned and shook his head. He laughed thesame horse laugh he had ddirected at Amber Lynn when she fell in this manure. Clearly, he disagreed.

“Oh, so you don’t think I can, is that it?” Shane could hardly believe he was sitting in Mayrewood arguing with a horse. He decided he’d be damned if he was going to lose that argument either.

Dark Star gave him another toothy grin and shook his head so vigorously that his mane flew all around his head and neck. His thoughts on the subject could not have been made any clearer.

“Is that what you think is it? You bloody overgrown lawnmower!”

Star had no idea what a bloody overgrown lawnmower was but that didn’t stop him from nodding his head anyway.

‘Ha! I’d love to see one good reason why I, your new master, cannot sell you to the glue-maker if I choose to, Just give me one good reason and I’ll not only apologize to you, I’ll even walk all day tomorrow and give you a day off from carrying me. Do you understand those words that came out of my mouth, Star?”

The stallion grinned then and nodded his head, yes.

“I wish you would stop that grinning, Star. You are really starting to creep me out,”

A shake of his head and another grin. Nope.

“Do we have a deal or not? And if I win you have to stop that inane grinning too. Deal?”

A nod and a grin. Yes.

“Alright then show me one reason why I can’t sell you to the glue man,” Shane said defiantly.

That said, Dark star reared up on his hind legs, raised his head to the sky and neighed loud enough that it echoed throughout the close circle of trees. As his front feet touched the ground he wheeled around and his long tail slapped a stinging blow across Shane’s face and open mouth.

With that now familiar horse laugh ringing in his “new master’s’ ears, The stallion ran off into the darkness and off through the trees until not even his hoof beats could be heard any longer. There was absolutely nothing Shane could do to stop him but sit there staring at the empty place where his horse should be and wonder if he was coming back any time soon. Either way, it meant he was going to have to apologize to a horse, it was very unlikely he was ever going to hear the end of it. He was going to have a very long walk tomorrow too..

“If it makes any difference, I’m sorry Star,” he yelled after the horse but whether he heard him or not was yet to be seen.

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