Shane still had the saddlebags in his lap and he wondered what the stallion was getting at when he dumped them there. obviously, it had something to do with the staff he had found.
The first thing to catch his eye when he looked in the bags was the “Apprentice’s Hand Guide – Volume 1″ he decided it was as good an answer as any as he began to read the incredible greeting written on the first page.
“Greetings and felicitations young man,” it said, “and welcome to the enchanting world of sorcery. This book was written especially for students of the art of white magic. This book will help you make the transition to sorcerer’s apprentice from a Huckleberry. Sorcerer’s apprentice’s do not choose their vocation. They are either chosen by it, or not at all. You out of all people have been singled out by fate for the rare opportunity and privilege of being trained in the magical arts and to become one of us.
Shane lowered the book as he let the gravity of the words sink in. “A sorcerer? Me?” Is this some kind of joke?” he wondered aloud as he read on.
“Only to a sanctioned apprentice may this book be given. The bearer of this tome is bound to protect it with his life lest it falls into the hands of any mortal.
Shane might have been uneducated but he was not a complete idiot. Not so much of one that he could not figure out that he’d been had by Choralys The White. For whatever the reason, the wizard had seen something in him that prompted him to set him up for what amounted to a scholarship to wizard college.
At first, he was a bit miffed at the old wizard’s deception but as he continued reading Shane had to admit that he was interested in this much more than he was the prospect of tending a bunch of dumb old sheep for the rest of his life with Amber Lynn.
If the truth were told he was sick of smelling them all the time as it was. Thus, Shane found himself standing at a crossroad in his life with a huge decision to make.
He could go back to Kilcairn and marry one of the girls in the village, build a dusty cottage up in the high valley and raise flocks of children and sheep. Just like his parents had. Or be taught to be a wizard with Sheldrake the Elder and live a life full of excitement and adventures.
He would learn to make cool fireworks, turn lead into gold, people into iguana’s and fight dragons. He would lead kings into great battles and have a totally cool laboratory like the one Choralys had but with less tendency to blow up, and other great wizardly stuff like that.
Shane decided he was going to have to think that one over for a bit. He wondered if it said anything about staffs in there as he began leafing through the guide book again. He finally found what he was looking for in the back of the book on page 220. it read.
“Every newly frocked sorcerer is allowed to carry a staff of power upon which he shall set his own fragment of the Orleanstone. This is the symbol of the wizard’s station in life and the center, but not the source of his power. An apprentice may also carry a staff but may not except in extreme circumstances involving great need use it for his own purposes.”
“Well that is just great,” Shane sighed as he put the book back in its place,” but it doesn’t tell me how to make it work, so what use is it to me?”
Just as he was about to toss more wood on the inferno he already had going, Shane felt hot breath blowing on the back of his neck. He dropped the stick of firewood and leaped to his feet to face the intruder. The ironwood staff was in his hands at the ready. He was expecting to see the grinning face of a Dire wolf. Instead, all he saw was a huge black warhorse with two laughing black eyes and a big grin full of teeth.
“Jeez! You scared half the life out of me Star!” he cried lowering the staff. “Are we back to stay or did you come back just to scare the pants off of me before you run off again?”
No answer. The stallion just stood there looking at him with that knowing look horses are born with.
“I see how it is,” Shane said, “did you at least hear my apology as you were running away?”
A shake of his head told Shane he had not heard him. It was a horse-faced lie but who was going to tell on him?
“Well you were right and I know I was wrong and I am very sincerely sorry for it, Star. Do you forgive me?” Shane asked hopefully. The stallion answered with a single nod of his head.”
“So, we’re good now?
A nod. Shane was encouraged now.
“You’re not really going to make me walk all day tomorrow, are you old pal?” he asked hopefully.
An emphatic series of nods was emphasized by the horse grin and a ringing laugh. Yes. It was the sound of Shane’s hopes being dashed to pieces.
As Shane sat there listening to it fading into the night he sighed and said, “Stupid horses anyway,” a bit too loudly for his own good. It was picked up by sharp equine ears.
Just like that Shane St. Cloud cast his die with fate and had chosen the fork that would take him to Darvonshire. He knew now he could not go home to Kilcairn, to a life for which he found he no longer had the stomach for living. Not in light of the exciting new life he had been offered. They would go North first thing in the morning.
Shane was up at first light despite the heavy blanket that had been pulled up over his head during the night. He didn’t need crystal balls to tell him who had done it either. After he had washed himself up in a nearby creek, Shane ate a quick breakfast of hard biscuits, soft cheese, and some cured bacon. To the stallion he gave a lump of sugar that he had been saving, for a bribe.
What he was hoping for was that either the horse had forgotten the deal from the night before, or he had forgiven him and was willing to forget. But after Shane had broken campthen saddled and packed Dark Star he discovered that he was wrong on both counts.
Whenever Shane put, or attempt to put his foot in the stirrup the stallion would simply side step away from him so that his leg would not reach it any more. When he tried again, same thing. He had learned his lesson from the night before though and he held onto the reins tightly so that the horse couldn’t run away again. He tried to mount up a dozen times but every time he did Dark Star would simply move away from him again.
First he tried growling and snarling at him and when that didn’t work on the beast he decided to change his tactics. He tried begging and pleading instead and to his great pleasure, not to mention surprise, it actually worked,
“Ha, ha! Sucker!” he said to himself; ever mindful of the horses sharp hearing. He put his foot in the stirrup and swung up into the saddle . He clucked twice, flipped the reins and told Dark Star “Lets gbe on our way Star we have a long way to go.”
The black stallion just gave him a dirty look and snorted loudly through his nostrils before he put his head down to graze on some of the sweet grass bunched so abundantly around his front feet.
No matter how hard shane tried pulling on the reins, no matter how much he begged and pleaded, no matter what he promised to do. Nothing. All day long Shane pleaded his case from every angle imaginable but the stallion refused to budge even one inch unless it was so that he could reach a new grazing spot where he stopped in his tracks again.
“Fine, grass breath!” Shane finally said, “Two can play that game you know. You can either carry me like you’re supposed to or we can stay right here and do this all day long. But you will give in before I do. That I can assure you.” he vowed.
And so it was that they camped in the same glade for 2 days in a row. Shane stuck to his guns up until about 4:30 that evening. Then he started to get a little stiff and sore from sitting in the saddle all day. Right about that time the sound of the creek running close by reminded him that he had not had a nature break all day, while the stallion had no such problems.
Finally, Shane gave up and dismounted just before sunset. By then it was much too late for him to try and find another campsite before dark so they stayed right where they were. Dark Star had gotten his day off just as they had agreed.
When Shane rolled up in his blankets for the night he thought he had said it inwardly to himself as he dozed off to sleep, but he actually said out loud. Had someone else been lying next to him, they would have hardly been able to hear what he had said.
But when Shane mumbled “Stupid horse,” and began to snore loudly, the ears of a certain enchanted equine with a bad attitude, perked up. Shane could not see the way his big black eyes gleamed wickedly in the moonlight.
That night Shane had a very strange dream. He dreamed that he was sleeping next to a big black horse. The same black horse that, for some reason kept stealing his covers in the middle of the night. He recognized Dark Star in his dream and he told him groggily to go get his own blankets.
Then he started dreaming that he was floating through the night sky. He could see the moon and the stars above him as he slept. Then he dreamed that he was floating over a tiny river and imagined that he could hear the sounds of the running water. It sounded as if it was below him. The sound was coming from somewhere far below.
Then in the wink of an eye Shane snapped awake as he began to fall into the water of a very cold creek. Shane landed in the water with a great splash and woke up instantly. He was thrashing around in the water like a beached salmon and sputtering, “What the! Who? Wha?!” he yelled out in the darkness.
He thought at first that he was under attack and came up swinging at thin air. It didn’t take a catapult scientist to figure out what the distinct clop, clop clopping of horse’s hooves meant. They were going away from him leaving a harsh, braying horse laugh coming out of the distant darkness until it faded from Shane’s hearing.
When Shane finally located his britches again, about 30 yards downstream, they were covered with mud and moss. He found his shirt 50 yards further down. They were also covered with mossy slimymud. One stocking he found only 6 feet from his shirt , but the other one he almost never found. Until that is, he decided to backtrack the hoof prints leading up stream. He found the missing sock in a pool full of tadpoles. Many of them had already moved into the sock through a hole in the toe.
The entire time, Shane was muttering to himself about horse meat and barbeque, and could be heard talking loudly about the relatively low intelligence of horses. Luckily the owner of the perky ears was nowhere around just then or it is very likely there would have been real trouble for Shane that night.
As it was they both ended up staying there until almost 10 am waiting for Shane’s fine washables to dry in front of the fire before they could break camp and head North again. Star showed back up around 9 and they rode the entire day in complete silence. Meaning Shane did not speak a single to the stallion all day long. That’s how mad he was.
Dark Star for his part could not have cared any less had he tried. He was stepping smartly and enjoyed not having to listen to his rider yammer on to himself, or to him either. His long stride and easy pace ate up the miles, and soon they were leaving Mayrewood far behind them. Now they were out on the rolling plains where they could see the Thieron Mountain range 40 leagues ahead.
They stopped and Shane made camp before nightfall in a tiny copse that had a rill of water running through it, and plenty of good grass and firewood. After dinner Shane got out the letter from Choralys and read it by the light of the fire then he re-read the scroll that had come from Sheldrake. Finally he pulled the Apprentices Handguide out of the saddlebags and took a closer look through it. He was looking for more information on magic staffs but all he found was the one entry.
After he had put the book away again, Shane leaned back on his saddle and watched the stars overhead. Choralys had said they could tell him exactly where he was, and tell him the time if he only knew how to read them. He thought about his mother and his father and how they must have reacted when, Tayvian told them why he had had to leave home and go running off to Darvonshire on the spur of the moment.
He said his prayers that God would protect them both and everyone else, and protect him from the whims of stupid horses. He climbed under his blankets and in minutes, Shane was snoring.
That night he had another strange dream. Only this time, Shane dreamed that he was an inchworm. Crawling slowly along the ground, inch by inch. Since he didn’t get dropped into any creeks however he slept on like he had been all night long. Loudly. When he woke up first thing the next morning he discovered that his blanket had been pulled up over his head again.
He could hear the song birds singing in the treetops. The funny thing was they sounded as though they were far away instead of all around him like they should have been.
Shane sat up and rubbed the sleep out of his eyes as the blanket covering his head fell away. When he opened them he discovered that he had been dragged across the ground in his blankets out onto the bare prairie about 100 feet away from the edge of the copse where they had made camp. And , as usual, four very large hoof prints lead to, and away from the scene of the crime.
Shane thought about exacting his revenge on the stallion, but then again he thought, how exactly does one go about getting revenge on a horse? much less an enchanted one?
“You’re not funny you know!” He yelled aloud and just then a loud whinny, one that sounded an awful lot like a horses version of laughter, came floating back tohim from the trees. Dark Star had different ideas about that, it seemed.