Shane decided not to tell his parents he was leaving because he knew his mother would make a big scene. She 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 that Tayvian would be happy to explain it all to them in his absence.

He had already packed a rucksack for himself filled with some decent traveling clothes, a sturdy pair of boots, food, and 10 gold crowns from his savings just in case. His bedroll was made up of two heavy woolen blankets and a ground cloth that could be used as a tent in the event emergency shelter was needed.

As he was packing 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. It looked as though it had not been read in ages. The writing on the cover was badly faded and written in an ancient style that was seldom seen anymore so it was difficult for Shane to read in the feeble glow of the lam in the barn. After some trial and error, he was able to decipher the title of the book. The Apprentice’s Hand Guide Volume, one it read. “Interesting,” he said to himself as he put it back in its place in the saddlebags. 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 super intelligent or it was enchanted by 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 his neighbor, Darvonshire lay approximately 120 leagues to the Northeast. It was well on the other side of the Theiron Mountains. The very same mountains which, Choralys had told him the dragon called Morloch The Terrible lived and hunted. 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.

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

Now that he was 16 and a man he thought the forbidding woods should not look as scary as they did anymore. 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. Tayvian and I hiked all the way here from Kilcairn to find the wizard named Choralys The White,”

The black stallion’s ears perked up at the sound of his new rider’s voice. The grass in the glen was long and sweet and he munched great bunches of it 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 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 because the racket was keeping him awake but it didn’t help any. Finally, he pulled a heavy blanket over Shane’s head with his teeth and went off to the farthest side of the glade to try and get some sleep.

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

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

He had already made his mind up 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 cold 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 it long before he saw the site. The ashes from Choralys’ house and the brush fire ignited by the cataclysmic explosion. Luckily the fire had not spread to the surrounding forest and its stands of flammable virgin timber.

Legend has it that the forest felt such a profound loss at the passing of Mayrethane that sky opened up and rain falling from a cloudless sky quenched the resulting fires before they could destroy the ancient trees and the life within their shade.

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

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

The Huntsman that had brought them the news was a brave enough soul but he was as superstitious as one can be and he had left the area untouched. Nobody else had been there since, and except for 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 of a shredded book.

Pages and pages of ancient parchments littered the trees still 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 paper. The wizard’s library had been part of the front room of the house so when the energy from the blast came out of the mouth of the cave it was forcibly channeled into the small opening so the force was more than doubled as it blew through the front of the house obliterating it instantly and entirely.

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. He hoped the wizard’s tomb would be respected by future generations and not dug up by treasure hunters or tomb raiders. When he was done laying out the marker Shane took his cap off and said a few words over the grave for the old man’s sou. That said 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 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 as 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 and 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 in arms slain in battle. It was always worse when the dead person was a relative. Star understood this.

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.

As Star wheeled around though, something gleamed and caught Shane’s eye. He pulled up on the reins and stopped him 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 doing that.

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 Star’s back he was able to reach it and pull himself up into the tree.

He sat on the branch for a moment as he tried to see what it 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 the 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 felt like he just had to know

. 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 and what he saw sent an electric shock through his body. The day of the blast 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 the Orleanstone 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 but the staff which was as hard as steel was not destroyed but 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 whinny and he said.

” 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 looked down to see if Dark Star had heard him but the stallion had already stepped 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, whinnied and then resumed grazing in one swift movement. He told himself to remember to watch what he said around the horse from now on. But not out loud.

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 an aversion to pain.

As his father had once told him about a lamb that had fallen to its death, 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 giving 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. He found himself hanging from the staff and 2 feet above the next branch down.

He stepped up onto the next highest one and regain 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 into the soft soil like a spear.

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

It was 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 and let him decide what to do with it,” The stallion agreed.

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 would spend 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 man and a healthy 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 like a kind of couch with his bedroll for a ground cloth. In his hands he held the old staff 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.

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 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 in in a million facets.

“It’s a shame that, Choralys’s 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 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 pray tell 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 a real attractive quality for you Star but why are you staring at me like that? Am I turning into a werewolf is there a 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 serving the village idiot for the duration 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. And none too gently either.

“Hey! Watch it you walking hairball. 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 as he 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 that same horsey laugh he had used on 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. No, he insisted.

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

Star had no idea what a bloody overgrown lawnmower was but that didn’t stop him from nodding his head yes 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 as they came out of my mouth, Star?”

The stallion grinned then and nodded his head, yes.

“I wish you would stop that grinning, 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 the close circle of trees. As his forefeet 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 master’s ears, Star ran off into the darkness behind 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, and he was going to have a very long walk tomorrow.

“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.

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 greeting 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 the plebeian student of the art of white magic in the hopes of making the transition to sorcerer’s apprentice from an everyday ordinary 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 a full sorcerer of our order.

Shane lowered the book as he let the words sink in.

“A sorcerer? Me?” he asked nobody.”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 are bound to protect it with all care lest it fall 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 would not figure out that he’d been had by Choralys. For whatever the reason, he 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 and just like their parents parents had. Or, he could go to Darvonshire and study to be a wizard with Sheldrake the Elder and live a lifetime 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.

He 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. Choralys’s 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 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. I was a horse-faced lie but who was around 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 the stallion who answered yes with a single nod of his head.”

“So we’re good now? A nod.

“You’re not really going to make me walk all day tomorrow, are you old pal?” An emphatic series of nods was emphasized by the grin and a ringing horse laugh. Yes.

as Shane listened to it fading into the night he sighed and said, “Stupid horses anyway,” a bit too loudly for his own good.

Just like that he cast his unconsciously die and chosen the fork in the road that would take him to Darvonshire instead of back home to Kilcairn and a life for which he found he now had no longer had the stomach for living in light of the life he had been offered.

ended at page 84