The Hero's Apprentice

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Ch. 3 Trees and Numbers

Princess Drey loathed being on the throne in the stead of her parents who were touring the kingdom as they periodically did to make sure things were prospering. Sometimes they settled for messengers, but they felt it was important to be among the people to show that they were not above the people. They also knew how important it was to take risks for the people. Nobody would follow a leader into battle who didn’t wield a sword themselves. So while King Yur and Queen Lain were off on their clean sweeping, Drey had to deal with any and all disturbances that would arise. Not that she minded, but that was just it. Things never happened when her parents left. Cro the castle wizard was her only company excluding the servants and knights who simply performed their routine tasks and performances. Drey wanted a chance to be something other than an icon. A mere symbol of the realm. And the only time that ever occurred was when she met with regional leaders at feasts and when a neighboring kingdom visited to discuss trade terms and potential political unification. Drey despised these as well because she was not a voice to be heard. She was just there to watch, until she was the oldest person there. It frustrated her that people had to be a certain age, or rant for a very long time before people listened to them. Drey was counting the tiles on the main hall floor when the garrison appeared with Rye and some guy who she couldn’t really figure out. The captain of the guard informed her that a new face had appeared in the village, but how or why he was here had something to do with Rye. Drey soon realized that this might be the only time anything happened in the castle that she would have sole influence and say in. Drey was nervous, mostly because Rye and this man were looking at her with admiration. Why? Were they afraid she’d have them beheaded? Well no because Ando was peaceful precisely because the punishment was exile if you caused enough trouble. Drey decided to ask Rye first and then see if the visitor would talk.

“Rye! To what do I owe the pleasure?”

Rye almost didn’t respond. Not only had the princess finally spoken to him, but this might actually develop into a real conversation. If that happens, you can rest assured my poor victim that I’ll thank you on any terms you name. Rye sighed with relief and finally spoke.

“I seem to have summoned this man from one of the unknown worlds. Furthermore, he does not speak Andoish, or any language within a stars distance if I had to guess. I will need time to return him home, but for the present I need time to replenish my strength, and think we should entertain our guest in any way you feel he deserves to be treated.”

Drey relished Rye’s words. Not only was this not a problem that would go away with a simple order. But it would tarry for some time. A week or two since Drey knew the limits of Rye and Cros’ powers. With their combined power they could certainly return this fellow home. But it would take research and then there was the bigger question as to what kind of world he came from. He had stories no doubt, a lot since he was grown. That was the problem though cause her next question addressed to the guy went unanswered. Rye motioned for him to talk, introducing himself as an example.

“Walter, Walter Redd.”

The stranger bowed, Drey introduced herself next. He repeated it, then faced Rye, and repeated his name with a bow. Drey started to get excited because at least for the next few days she would have something to supervise. First the visitor needed a place to stay. The palace was off limits otherwise the entire castle would get out of sync. Better to keep him close, but also at a distance.

“Rye!”

“Yes princess?”

“Walter as he is called will be your responsibility for the time being until I can speak with him. So for now try and teach him about Ando. And learn if there are spells to enable communication. Cro will research here and you will research on your own.”

Rye gulped because such a request had never been made. Both for him to supervise someone, and to learn a spell that would enable communication. But he would treat it as all other tasks. He would complete it. And more earnestly because the princess had requested it. The king and queen thanked through the treasury. The princess might have words for him. And even if not, there would be other trips to see the princess until he got this Walter back to his land of changing runes.

Walter had been fairly quiet up to this point. Only understanding the mention of his name while trying tirelessly to guess the meaning of the other words. Walter made up his mind that he would save the princess Drey and wizard Rye the trouble. He would learn this language, if only to answer their questions, and get through the whole new host of problems he realized were about to he his. He needed a place to sleep, and some food and water. Walter was slightly concerned for his health because he had no idea where this was, let alone if the same laws applied here as in his home world. More importantly Walter needed, wanted to know if Rye was the real deal magician he was still praying he was. Even if he refused to teach him, he would watch, he would figure out some break through at least, and even if it took a million years for the next one. At least he would’ve gotten further than all those phony street performers who pretended to bend spoons with their minds, and faked ESP and speaking to the dead. On that hopeful thought, Walter gestured to Rye for food, water, and mimed sleep. The princess snickered at the sign language, but that just made Walter smile even more. Just wait your majesty. I want to talk to you, just be patient, the girls in my world wont talk to me in my native tongue. But I may never get a shot like this again, so I’ve got to learn at least one sentence to tell you before I go, if I go.

As Rye led Walter Redd to his house, he contemplated the turn of events. The duels would have to wait. Rye would be hitting his books, and probably some other books if he was going to get anywhere. Not to mention he would need a good week to be at his full strength again. In the meantime he would have limited magic and spells he could cast. Cro the castle wizard had chastised Rye for using too much magic, but assured Rye he would be on extra alert should anything happen before he replenished. Rye was about to mention Walters’ big secret but was hushed by Cro through a tongue binding. Rye understood, it was punishment for his immature prank he had tried to pull, and was Cros’ way of saying that he knew what Rye was talking about.

It became all the more obvious when Cro showed up at Rye’s front door right after sundown. Walter had just finished eating and was motioning for something to write with when the knock came. Rye motioned for Walter to be quiet. And Walter complied. Anything to get this show on the road. Cro talked for what seemed an eternity with Rye. Walter hated being ignorant. Finally he broke the silence after raising his hand till he needed the other to hold it up. Cro and Rye just looked at him. Then the old wizard pulled something out of his robe. A crystal ball, it was Walter’s first guess. Only it was about the size of an eight ball on a pool table. Cro motioned for Walter’s hand, and had it rest on the orb. The bearded, yellow clothed mage then put his own on top. Rye was dressed in green and followed suit. Walter got the shock of his life.

“Evening Walter Redd.”

Walter shouted for joy mentally, but then got shocked even more.

“You are intrigued by this.”

“Yes, and will you please...”

He was cut off before he could finish.

“Yes, Rye and I will teach you the mystic arts.”

Walter could not contain himself. He hugged the old man, who seemed nearly overwhelmed by the gesture.

“You have potential my lad.”

“Hardly, I can’t hide a coin in my other hand.”

“Come with me.”

The trio reached the forest near Ryes’ house. Walter was so excited he started to hiccup. Cro and Rye looked and then continued the march. Walter trying to hold his breathe to resume his normal breathing again. Walter was booming with questions. In school nobody ever talked or asked questions. Walter never understood this. They just nodded to everything the teacher said, not questioning it or even caring if it was true or not. But Walter cared, he would not sleep tonight, because he was already certain that if he got a tenth part of what he wanted to learn at this point, he’d be bushed for sure the next day. Cro stopped at the base of a fairly young tree. Almost certainly a mere fifteen to twenty years old. Walter anticipated something, and even if it was some lame training like breathing or standing at attention for a year he’d do it. He couldn’t think of any time in history that would rival what he was about to do with the rest of his life, whether it was five seconds or five decades. Cro fetched up the orb out of his robe again and beckoned Walter to grasp it again. This time Rye just observed. In truth, Rye was excited too. He knew that Cro was going to do something very risky, not as risky as his little prank that had got them to this point. But something that would forever resolve the question in his mind and in his fellow wizard. Could the powers this man possessed be channeled in this world?

So far this Walter Redd had exhibited no special abilities that would make him stand out in this world. Just an exterior voice and wardrobe that would only really warrant a brief stare or raised eyebrow. The tree was a good place to start though. Trees were among the oldest things alive in Ando, and they were teaming with life and knowledge. Rye himself wore green to remind him of the grass that had first spoke to him about being willing to bend. And not complaining because obstacles to growth kept showing up. Plants were endurance incarnate. They grew in deserts and in thick forests. Taking in their surroundings and transforming them into life. If this Walter Redd could learn this from a sapling, then the trees would speak to him, share their power with him. And if he were pure in the mind and heart, perhaps they would even let him use them from time to time.

Cro did the honors and instructed Walter to place his palm against the trunk of the tree. Walter expected to be made a fool of. But he would endure it, he wanted to learn, and he just wanted a chance. Even if this tree was the one he had to beg for assistance. It was more than anyone had ever done for him. The next moment Walter felt strange. The sensation was unfamiliar. He felt like energy was being taken from him, but at the same time he felt new energy, different energy flowing into him. He clung to the tree hoping that it was possibly some awakening of some sort. That’s when Walter realized he was leaning against the tree. But that was impossible, his entire hand could wrap around the trunk. In the stead of the sapling stood a tree three times taller and three times thicker. What had just happened? Walter spoke, then gasped at what he had heard. It was an old voice, although technically a young voice as well. His voice back from being just out of high school. His voice had been much lower before that moment, now it was higher. Walter looked down at his hands and then it became no dispute. His hands and skin were without a single wrinkle or portion lacking the elasticity of collagen. Walter was speechless for a moment then asked his first question.

“How am I young again?”

“The tree wanted the energy you’ve accumulated for itself, and so it gave you another energy to make the exchange fair. You are both more whole now. The tree is closer to the sun, and you are back in the prime of youth.”

’Do I have to give it back someday?”

“The tree will trade everything it has, and will expect you to do the same. Should you want energy of whatever sort, be ready to give an equal energy of value back.”

“So basically have everything by sharing everything.”

“I see your mind has not been reduced to a sprout.”

“Walter then asked his next question.”

“I didn’t do anything though, how?”

He was cut off again, but that was fine, he had just added twenty years to his lifespan.

“I was just seeing if your power can be used. Some powers can change form quickly and often. Others are slow and do not change form so much as accumulate over time and eventually cause change. You will learn gradually what elements you command quickly, and which ones will take you till my age to get acquainted with. Already a sapling took hold of one of your energies. Now that you are at prime, the other trees will leave you alone. Wouldn’t want a toddler on our hands anyway. And that was just a drop of your power. The rest is still waiting to be invested, converted, or used in a constructive way.”

“They can’t do this where I come from.”

“They can, it just is manifested a different way. A good example would be a ship. It’s true there are spells to command wind and waves, but a ship accomplishes the same feat by using the wind and waves. Sometimes you fight forces, other times you utilize them. Magic simply adheres to these two rules. Control the flow, conform to the flow. Most of us only excel at one or the other, mages strive to use both. Magic for the right occasion, and no magic when the balance is not there.”

“So there are places and circumstances where magic can be used, and places where it would just cause trouble.”

“You’re learning way too fast Walter Redd. I will have Rye be your teacher for now. Come and see me only in regards to questions that Rye is unable to answer for you. One more thing.”

“What master Cro?”

“Your bracelet please.”

“You mean my watch, it helps me reckon time.”

Cro was puzzled by this, as was Rye. Walter explained that his world had a twenty-four hour day, and 365 day year and how the watch simply told him when it was in reference to the year.

“So these runes are numbers, specifically the ones you use to keep history?”

“Yes, I was writing at the time I vanished and appeared here.”

“Ah! Then that is the answer to how you got here. Your runes, your language, something about it was magical, and Rye’s spell grabbed hold of it. I would imagine you have written quite a lot in your lifetime?”

“Yes, about this thick.”

“That’s a lot of energy. More than most spell books can boast. It just wanted a means of expression that would better fit the desires of its master. You are the master of these runes on your bracelet, and the ones you say you wrote back in your world. Those runes knew your desire, and simply bided their time until they could grant your request. They recognized Rye’s spell and knew it could take you to where you wanted. In a way you performed a very powerful spell over the years. While Rye did one quite instantaneous. It would explain why you have so much power still within you. You have labored in only one way. And that is why it took so long for this spell to happen. Rye and I will expand on this. You will learn haste as well as patience, cause you’ve already got that down. You’ll learn speed, and multiple routes to the same goal. You have a large store of magic. We’ll see if we can’t turn it into a host of tools, rather than just a raw, crude, simple one.”

“Do I have to return home?”

“I don’t know. That is an important question that needs answering. The magic you hold wanted this to happen. At the same time it was an accident on Rye’s part. I’m sure Rye will apologize to you for any inconveniences it may have for you and your world.”

“Not at all, even if you send me back, I now have twenty years of life I get to do over better this time.”

“This world has taken a liking to you already. That may be reason enough for you to tarry. But for now the princess has ordered research on the runes from your world. I would like you to teach them to Rye and myself.”

“Will you teach me yours?”

Cro was surprised at how quickly Walter as he now asked them to call him was trying to get comfortable in this world. Cro would have loved to spend the whole night talking about Walter’s world. But there were tasks that needed his attention. For now Rye would have to suffice. Cro handed the orb to Walter charging him to keep it safe and use it to communicate with Rye and others if the need came. Walter requested writing tools and a list of the runes of Ando so that he could learn to speak. When asked if it was also his intent to learn more magic, Walter smiled and confirmed the accusation. Walter hastily wrote down numbers zero through nine, and the twenty-six letters of the English alphabet. After explaining it was a ten based number system, and that this was just one of hundreds of languages. Cro assured him that it would be enough for now. He urged Walter to get some sleep. And added a few enchantments to the thirty-eight year old teenage boy. Just a few protections to allow the transition between worlds to be more snug, and a good long oath from Walter that he would not try and use magic until directed by Rye or Cro. Walter promised, and did so with his muscles tensing. He had never wanted to go to school so much in his life than in that moment. But that complaint would have to wait, cause no sooner had Cro excused himself to return to the palace, then Walter put his head to his elbow and fell asleep there at Rye’s table.

Rye had been the silent one now. And Rye was a little jealous so to speak. Not because this man had just received twenty plus years to his life. But now he had a treasure trove of magic that still had not been properly measured. Rye thought that perhaps there might be a way to extract it, or harness it from Walter. But that would require more research than he already had to do. It was fine Rye assured himself. Plenty of time now. Now the old bat can’t die within the next decade. Ryes’ biggest concern was what Cro would have in store for the man now turned boy once he completed the basic training. Rye would have to learn about this Walter character faster than Cro that was for sure. And most of all there were the mans’ eyes. He had seen the princess and was completely stricken with her. Rye chuckled to himself, he had home field advantage, and he had a grasp of the Ando language. Let this foreigner learn as much as he liked. He’d speak like a five year old to the princess and his big chance he thought he had would sink faster than the brick that fell from the top of the town well not five days ago. Still Rye was still for the most part excited. He had a student now. He would push him to learn. Maybe even hope secretly that he would catch up to Rye, if not so that for once in his boring life someone might actually keep him on his feet during a duel. That was Ryes’ goal for the time being. That and seize every chance to see Drey when she asked to see him and Walter and be up to speed on the status of the research and language.

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