The Hero's Apprentice

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Ch. 5 Story Telling

Princess Drey should have been in the dinning hall at the palace, but was outside instead. She wanted to be as ready as possible for two reasons. One, if her parents the king and queen arrived today they would usurp all her claims to this incident, and she’d have to count the tiles all over again. Two, she was hoping with all earnestly that Walter would have some exciting stories about his strange land to tell. She also hoped that Rye or Cro would be able to relay what Walter was saying. She had looked at the runes Cro had showed her, and was intrigued that Cro reported that Walter claimed to be learning their language. Drey was flattered that this strange old man would be so willing to learn. But she also had to be observant. Ando was a land of wizards and relatively peaceful. In the past wizards had violated the rules and caused factions and wars in the land. The last of the orange and yellow classed wizards had bound each others magic and where they were imprisoned was yet to be found out. Cro had been young at the time, and one of his many responsibilities was to locate the missing warlocks who had served with courage to bring balance back to the land. He spoke fondly of one of his masters and said it was his lifes’ ambition to locate him, free him from his binding if that’s what had become of him. That story was reverenced in Ando. The biggest discussion it gave rise to was whether or not there was a red class wizard at one point.

It had been years, and the stories kept changing, and fewer and fewer witnesses existed to clarify the truth and write it down. Cro himself was one of the few elderly who remained, who could at least lay claim to have being there. Cro had confessed everything to the princess. About Walters’ sleeping power, and how Cro suspected that he might very well reach the class of yellow or orange if properly trained. Drey inquired if Cro had any plans to use the man for finding his master. Cro confessed a desire, but assured the princess that he’d perform all the duties she required of him. Such were the lessons he had learned from his master, and should he betray his masters’ teachings, he would have no hope of eventually reaching an answer as to how to find the man that had saved his life. Drey wanted to know more of that story, but Cro told her he had promised not to reveal that until he found his master. Then there would be two voices to clarify the truth, and bring some of it back.

There was no way Walter would know that legend, but at least today Drew told herself that maybe something of that sort had happened in the history of Walters’ people. Drey scanned the horizon, just hoping that they’d arrive thirty minutes, no fifteen at least before her parents got back. Cro came out to wait with her, only it wasn’t a long wait. Obviously the headmaster had sensed the timing of the arrival of his pupil and his pupils’ student. Drey suddenly realized that there was no menu prepared, and Cro instinctively said he’d take care of it. Drey wanted to rebuke Cro for reading her thoughts. But Cro never lied, and rarely kept secrets. Those were the things that let you know who your friends were. Cro had confessed his intentions, Drey had yet to follow suit. Maybe if Rye opened up she’d have the courage to do it too. And this Walter, he would certainly open up. Or this entire afternoon would be a waste, just another dream the princess had had that would be dashed to pieces. The princess scanned again, this time she could see the green and purple specks in the distance. The green was no doubt Rye. All the other wizards of Ryes’ class level only wore their tunics at the academy. Rye was an on call wizard, and so he had to be easy to find. What better way than to stick out like a sore thumb. Drey naturally assumed the purple speck was Walter. She would’ve stayed to greet them, but realized how nervous she was getting and instructed the guards at the castle doors to allow them in and escort them to the dinning hall. The knights bowed in affirmation and Drey rushed back inside. She was about to ask Cro what they would be eating but decided against it. At least the meal would be a surprise should it turn out that Rye had learned nothing, and Walter couldn’t think of any good stories.

To Dreys’ surprise the dinning hall was finely prepared, Cro assured her it would be a fine meal. The knights’ would simply have their hands full the rest of the day catching dinner should the king and queen arrive since he had pretty much emptied the kitchen for the occasion. Drey seated herself at the head, and Cro sat to her left. Rye and Walter would soon be here since the clanking of the knights’ armor was getting louder. Drey silently prayed that nothing would interrupt the meal. For once she wanted something less predictable, and memorable. When she caught sight of the young man in a sleeveless purple robe, she almost screamed, but Walter had spoken just a little bit early before the first gust of air could escape from her.

“Princess Drey.”

He bowed as he had before. Rye followed suit, annoyed that Walter had presumed to speak first, and irritated that he hadn’t done it himself. Cro sensed the atmosphere and assumed the part of getting things comfortable.

“It seems you boys have had a productive morning. Please sit down and enjoy some bread and cheese. The main course will arrive momentarily.”

Walter took his time, but Rye hastily seated himself as if it would make up for being second to address the princess. Walter didn’t notice it for some time but the princess was staring at him. The stare befuddled Walter cause he couldn’t tell if she was frightened at his new appearance, or looking at someone she knew intimately. Walter was about to clarify the circumstances when Rye ended the scene by beginning his own topic.

“Cro decided this would be compensation for our inconvenience until we can get him home. So do not worry princess, it is Walter to be sure, and we will discuss the runes of his land if you’d like over the course of the meal.”

Walter smiled and nodded to play along with the act. Cro nodded as well, and the princess seemed to be less burdened with whatever it was she was feeling. Walter produced the orb and would’ve used it had it not floated back to Cro. He threw it up in the air, touched it to the princess’ forehead and it returned to Walter who caught it at the speed of a baseball pitch.

“Are you comfortable Walter?”

Walter eagerly nodded, he was hesitant to speak because he wanted to know the reason behind Dreys’ stare. He decided against it but then got stopped by another message.

“Only you can hear my thoughts. I will speak to Rye and Cro in our language. They can’t hear what I’m saying now. After the meal I will speak to you in private. For now please eat and I will communicate anything important said by Rye and Cro. Do you understand?”

Walter understood, this was a business meal, and he was the next appointment after this meeting with Cro and Rye. Walter wished he knew more words, but the less he understood, the more pressure and motivation there would be to learn. At the same time though he would have a private chat afterwards. He just wished he knew what it was about. Didn’t matter, at least not yet. Walter buttered a piece of bread and began chewing. Followed by an enormous gulp of water. The cheese tasted funny, but Walter was too hungry to care. He did care for the meat that was brought out a moment later. Walter wanted to say it was Peking duck, but it was much larger. Peking ostrich perhaps? Walter thought it was delicious and the only complaint was he’d like something sweeter to drink.

In an instant, the water pouring down Walters’ throat began tasting like Root Beer. Walter almost went into shock and the table shook with his twitching. For a moment Cro, Rye, and Drey stopped their conversation and looked up. Walter began coughing, pounding his chest to make it look like he was choking. He raised an arm to assure he was ok. But then Princess Drey lifted her own goblet to her face, and reenacted the very thing Walter had done. Rye and Cro eyed their cups filled with the brownish bubbling liquid. At this point Walter was no longer excluded from the table. Drey demanded the name of the beverage and Walter found himself talking about drinks of all things. The billiard sized orb was in the centre as Walter answered the questions of Rye and Cro, but mostly Drey. They stayed on the Root Beer topic for a long time, because Rye finally spilled the beans about Walter mastering the listening stage of magic in a single day. Cro clamped Walters’ shoulder, and confirmed that the magic was spinning very fast. Rye feigned ignorance and asked how Walter could turn water into an unknown drink. In other words, he had created a spell on the spot. The answer was obvious of course. Walter didn’t know the spell, but so much magic at his disposal was making the spell occur. He was using more than was necessary to do such a meaningless spell. But the words Root and Beer wanted to be manifested, even if it meant harnessing enough energy to do it on a whim. Rye didn’t mention the fish Walter had enchanted. That would simply get Cro to assume a supervising role. Cro did spend a good while putting limiters on Walter. Spells that would channel the magic in ways that were easy to predict and maintain. A healing charm that would use Walters’ magic to heal his body and nearby things like people and plants. A restoration spell that would mend his clothes and any tools he came in contact with. And finally a barrier that would only activate if Walter got too excited and would subdue him long enough for Cro and Rye to perform more charms in the future. Hopefully Walter would never get that much of his magic to leak out.

Walter wanted to know about spinning energy and what he could do to help, but Rye assured him that they had everything under control, and patience was the key. Cro then uttered what Rye had purposefully just tried to avoid, service. Rye was barely able to contain himself this time. Why did Cro so eagerly teach this newcomer? It was two days and already this guy who had never traveled in the wilderness, learned to meditate for hours, or even just stare at a sunset was doing what had taken Rye half a year. It took most wizards a few years to learn the first two steps. Rye had done it in six months, that’s why he was gifted. This secret might be kept safe between the four of them. But eventually Walter would draw attention. His magic would get him noticed, and all that would do is hasten his learning, and then he could ask every wizard at the academy his questions. Rye knew he had to take control of this situation fast or Cro would be teaching him the third step before the sun rose tomorrow morning. Rye had to be convincing though, or Cro would take this new prodigy under his wing and than Rye wouldn’t have any reason to stick around.

“Doing good deeds helps the magic find ways to manifest itself. It also enables you to find where your magic has its limits. Different deeds require different elements and rules. But the more you serve, the more clear the needs and ingredients become.”

Rye hated every spat he had just spoken because he then realized he had unintentionally given away the third level, elements. No big deal, those could be anything as far as Walter was concerned. And there were several of them, so even if Walter figured out one, he’d still have a good long time figuring out the others. Too bad for Rye, Walter asked a question that let him know that it wouldn’t be very long at all.

“Are water, fire, earth, and air some of these elements?”

Yes was the reply Cro gave, and he even went as far as to add some others. Shadow, time, light, why not tell him all ten? Well Rye knew there were more, but all wizards got taught the seven basic ones. After that it was a matter of combining them and figuring out the infinite number of other ones out there. Walter seemed to be content for the moment.

“What about the letters, runes, and stuff?”

“That wont happen until you can speak a little my lad.”

Cro had actually bought Rye some time. What luck. Walter would have to choose what project to invest in. His training, which would involve listening, service, and possibly the elements. But how could he balance that against learning the runes of Ando? Every child in Ando had to learn the runes before enrolling in the academy. How was Walter gonna learn the basic words when he didn’t know more than ten words at present? That was the sweet problem. Walter could theoretically use his own language, or he could use Andoish. Problem was it would take twice as long if he tried to use them both. Rye had had to fight off wizards from neighboring realms at times. They had languages similar to Andoish so it took some doing, but eventually he figured out the words and could undo or reverse their spells. Walter posed a huge threat. He had a language all his own, at least as long as he didn’t teach it to anyone else. Add Andoish to it and he could create spells that could take very long to break. No, they would be unbreakable because no one would have enough knowledge to decipher the runes. The codex Walter had given them would make trial and error attempts possible. But then Walter could just make up new spells, and they’d be back to the countless exhaustive hours of trying to reverse what took Walter only moments to do.

Rye realized he would have to spend the entire night thinking up some plan to keep Walter at bay. Some spell that Walter wouldn’t detect. No, that Cro wouldn’t detect. Something to keep him one step behind Rye at all times. It was too risky to let Walter keep learning at this pace, he had a ways to go, but he’d surpass Rye if he wasn’t stopped while he was still a sprout. Soon he’d be a strangling vine that would keep growing. Rye realized that he had to be cautious every moment of the day. Any more slip ups and Walter would accidentally turn him into a mouse or something that didn’t even move. Rye excused himself from the meal saying he was going to cook up some charms to help protect the village since Walter was gonna start doing service and good deeds soon. That seemed to satisfy Cro and the princess. It would be a shame to miss story time with Walter. But Rye figured he’d just go on another mind trip tonight after Cro brought Walter home. Home, to a house Rye was about to rig with more magic than he had ever dared used. So Rye would lose a days worth of meditation. Small price to pay if it slowed down Walter the way it should. Walter would be confused, unfocused while in the house. He’d learn one less thing a day than he could, and that added up to break throughs that wouldn’t occur as soon as they could in a more appealing environment. Rye walked home cheerfully, and began casting spells on the path Walter would certainly take back.

Walter would’ve gone with Rye but Drey asked him to stay a while and finish answering her questions. Walter tried to talk about interesting things, but was finding more and more that they weren’t. Eventually Walter found himself telling Drey fairy tales, stories he’d heard as a child. Ones that he said never happened anymore, and that there was no visible evidence that they had ever happened. Surprisingly, this was not so boring to Drey. Walter expected it to be since her world was obviously full of these sort of things. But it turned out that Drey told him about the disappearances of their best wizards, how Cro was the last true wizard in the realm. That Rye and the academy wizards were only a fraction as powerful, and fewer and fewer people were studying the arts because the great wizards had vanished. Possibly destroyed by their own enchantments. This did manage to get Walter to tell them about Hiroshima and a few other war stories that rivaled this so called wizard war. Cro and Drey were terrified by the story. But relieved when Walter told them that the people in his world refrained from using these weapons now because they would mean the end of life. While this served to make the great wizards absence a possible blessing. Drey and Cro reminded Walter that magic had many virtuous uses, and that was why they were so eager to not lose the precious gems that it could bring by continuing to protect the realm. Walter agreed with that, the fact that magic had claimed existence in his time at one point was something he wanted answers to. Maybe that was what was happening in this world. Magic was being replaced by a new energy that was easier to manifest to the needs of the people. Cro consented this possibility, but Drey dismissed it and on that note asked Cro to teach Walter as much as possible, if only so Walter could help preserve it a little longer, if not help restore it.

Walter was flattered, but assured Drey he was no prodigy, and even if he was, he would never attempt to do anything he wasn’t sure of the consequences. Cro was about to take Walter home when Drey requested that Walter see her in her private chamber. Walter said she ought to have a guard or usher of some sort, but the princess was eager. Walter was scared that she was gonna throw him in the dungeon or something for being a potential hazard on her kingdom. Cro said he would wait for Walters’ return. And with that Walter found himself half amused and half scared that this girl has aggressively dragging him out of the dinning hall, up a flight of stairs and into a bedroom.

Walters’ dating life had been anything but normal. The truth was Walter had had a dozen girls that he had felt some genuine interest in trying to know and be reliable to. Most wouldn’t have anything to do with him. Others wouldn’t bother to learn his name. All of them except one hadn’t even agreed to go on a second date with him. Through all of it, Walter had suffered terribly because he had no clue why it was happening, what he had done wrong, and what attribute was so prevalent in other guys that they kept having success where he always failed. Worst part of it all was Walter had dates arranged for him by roommates, associates, friends, relatives, all of these were wrong even with the gamble that they might land him with someone of a nicer disposition than all the fish he had chased after. Walters’ social skills came from books, videogames, and movies. Artificial simulations that made it look like it was easy and that it all boiled down to choice, desire, and willingness to get along. That was a nice ideal worldview. But Walter knew that personalities changed, grudges died hard, and that people were cruel and judged you by outer appearances every chance they got cause it was easier to think you were right and have outward evidence. Than to believe till it hurt and ached all over. In the stories people found ways to cope with each other, usually after being through a lot. But Walter had no such history with anyone, and he certainly had tried to see things from others’ perspectives, do things on their terms. The feeling just wasn’t mutual. Walter was constantly a target, victim, and scapegoat at school, work, and even with his own family. It was like the whole world was in on something that Walter was clueless about, and powerless to do anything about. So whatever happened, Walter was sure that even in this new world, there was still bound to be a measure of that same rotten luck. That track record that was for most of the world, the solid evidence that Walter was for whatever reason not datable, a waste of time, and not someone who even deserved to be spat at or punished. Even that would feel better to Walter because it was better to be needed for something than to not be needed at all.

The bedroom looked like every romance film Walter had watched, only it wasn’t so well lit. But of course, Hollywood couldn’t tell it as it was cause everything had to be accentuated. Walter almost wished it was a play or scene being acted out because if it was he’d have an easier time dealing with the rejection. Already this girl had invited him to lunch, and had actually shown an interest in something he had to say. Why weren’t all girls like that? It would solve so many of the worlds problems that stemmed from jilted moments, and simple misunderstandings that could’ve been something beautiful if people weren’t so selfish and stupid to think that everyone was a potential enemy before a potential friend. This scene was too good for Walter, it would alleviate so much pain, erase away every humiliating moment of his life. Make all his suffering not be in vain. Walter had been here two days now, and this would be the final scene before he woke up. He was sure of it, the fantasy that fixed everything would never occur. If it did it would be more unbelievable than anything, cause it would mean Walter had been right about what he wanted. And that the rest of the world had somehow settled for a less than perfect compromise. Relationships where it was toleration as much as it was love. Where not being alone was the sole reason for permitting all the evils that prevailed in dating life. Cheating, taking back the traitor, keeping score, and fighting over their own children in court if they married. How was that right in any universe? But Walter knew, social acceptance was the reigning trump card in the world he came from. Morality, true brotherhood, those were just pretty words that people weren’t willing to fight for cause it just hurt too much. Better to settle for something that at least gave the illusion of happiness. But that always hit a brick wall down the road. Walter knew or at least thought that way because he had yet to hear a story of two lovers who overcame everything to be happy regardless of circumstance or mishap. There was always an obstacle that beat the couple, usually death. One of them would lose faith, or one would go bad. It was the same story being told for another audience each time. You expected a happy ending, but come another generation later and you were right back to the hate and suffering that spawned the need for two such people to exist in order for the world to get back in some better direction. The world could be saved if two people learned to love each other. That was the lesson in all those things that had given Walter the pathetic, outdated, yet to work social and mental behavior he was about to use one last time.

Hang it all he thought. Fools don’t fall in love. The brave ones do. They can’t stand the idea of a one night stand, or something so wonderful ending. Who was the first pessimist? I’d sure like to beat some sense into him or her right now. So what if nothing happens? My whole life is one big failure anyway so what is one more? If I can’t make this person happy, no one can. They’ll just give her something inferior in every way to what I had in mind. And if it is better than mine, hallelujah, praise the Lord. Then I come out a wiser man and finally figure out what I’ve been doing so wrong all this time. I have twenty years to think about what happens after this moment. The last thing Walter thought before the princess finally spoke was why Rye wasn’t in the room. He found out the answer immediately.

“Walter, I knew you’d come back.”

Before Walter could reply Drey had pushed him against her bedroom wall and was sobbing into his robe that was taking in the tears. It was true Walter had come back to the castle. But the way she said it had made it clear that she meant he had been in Ando before. The reason Walter thought that was because she had just spoken in plain English. Walter realized the orb was still on the table where Cro was. She shouldn’t be able to speak at all. And yet Walter knew he had heard it. Walter had never comforted a girl outside his family before, so he kept his arms at his sides while Drey clung to him so tight Walter wanted to move his arms just to see if he could.

“Where did you learn my language?”

“From you my love.”

Walter wanted to stop the physiological response but he couldn’t. His eyes watered up instantly. Tears streamed down his eyes faster than he could blink. This was a spell, a trick of some sort. It had to be. But if so, why was his body so certain that it knew it was the truth? It was the same feeling as with all the other times. The desire for it to be real. So much so that when the answer was no, the loss of the potential friend, the should be soul mate was unbearable through out the night. Walter didn’t cry this time because he had lost one of them. This time the tears were the proof he had always wanted. Someone loved him. Somehow the impossible was possible. It was possible to love a nothing, and then it would be the same as loving everything.

“Drey, I don’t understand.”

“You came to me three years ago in disguise. You said the kingdom was in danger and that you would protect the realm even if you never saw me again. Cro knows the details, but back then you disappeared from time to time. Always returning to make sure I was safe. We went through so much, and you promised me the next time I saw you you’d not remember me and that I was to show you this.”

Drey reached into her bosom and produced a necklace. No! A ring on a chain, a class ring. Walter snatched it, but made sure not to yank Drew along with it. It was his, scratched, battered, and cankered with rust, but it was his high school graduation ring without a doubt. But that was also impossible. He hadn’t brought it with him. It was back home. Cleverly hidden in a drawer in a spot only he knew and could find. How was it here then? If what Drey said was true, then couldn’t this future Walter appear any minute now and assume his rightful place at her side. But what would that make him? A doppelganger? Always one minute behind his happier and better self who had him standing in the dust? But there was also the added hope that maybe there was another Drey. A Drey ahead of this one, or behind her? By seconds? By minutes? It was starting to make Walters’ head hurt. But she had said he wouldn’t remember. So this other Walter who knew Drey knew he would be here. But was he just a stand in until he got back? Walter didn’t like being his future selves’ chess piece so he urged Drey to tell him more. Drey kept it all gray. Only mentioning that the realm was in danger, the missing wizards were involved somehow, and that Walter had to go to Cro as quickly as he could to find out the rest of the quest that would be entrusted to him. Upon finishing Drey said one other thing.

“Walter you and I made a promise.”

“Your promise is with the other Walter then. And I have no right to have what is rightfully his.”

“No Walter, we promised that if you returned and you felt this was your first time here. That you returned to your youthful state and found yourself here in my chamber, we would get married on one condition. You must restore your ring to its original state.”

Walter was electrified with pressure. He’d never willfully performed magic yet. Cro and Rye had strictly forbidden it. The Root Beer had been unintentional. But it wasn’t really an accident cause Walter had desired it somewhere during the meal. This was a direct command to do a spell. Walter contemplated going to Cro first, but that would ruin this moment in ways that would bother Walter for all eternity. Walter extended his hand and Drey placed the ring and chain in his hand. Walter had no idea what to do. He wasn’t even sure that the future Walter had been decent enough to leave him a clue of some sort. Who cares? The only thing standing between him and Drey was making this ring brand spanking new. Cro had put charms on him to enable such an occurrence. But Walter decided to go a step ahead of that cliché version where someone else had set up everything for him. He’d try and transform it. A ring for a ring, couldn’t be that hard. Walter closed his eyes, listening to the ring and chain as they clinked and applied pressure to his hand. Walter didn’t know what to do next, but he envisioned the ring, then he envisioned another. The one he had conceived for that special person one day. Gold, engraved with words with meanings only known to him and her. Walter poured all his feelings into the thought. The love that had only grown stronger and purer each time it didn’t find a worthy recipient. Walter opened his eyes and there it was, the chain gone. Perfect as he had always envisioned it.

For a moment Walter feared he had made the mistake in not following the exact order, which was to restore the ring to its original form. It was no class ring. But Drey seemed to anticipate the thought and darted in.

“It looks the way it did three years ago.”

Walter realized that if that were true, then he was going to go home at some point, retrieve his class ring, give it to Drey, change it into his token of love and then as the magic left it, it was going to revert back to its class ring status. And then he would leave instructions to Drey to wait for him. But when was all this supposed to happen? Walter didn’t care that much, he just had one more question.

“Do I always restore the ring every time I come back?”

“Yes, and this time it will never diminish because it will forever be charged by you. Even if you are far away.”

“Drey! I wish I knew more about you.”

“You don’t have to know anything except that I love you. Believe that and everything else gets revealed down the way.”

Walter stared into her eyes and asked her the question he’d wanted to ask on the third date, the thing he wanted to propose each time but never knew enough about a girl to ever be permitted to ask.

“Drey! Will you believe that I love you too?”

“Only if you hurry and give me the only proof that is really needed.”

Walter thought she meant the ring, but that could wait. Walter pulled Drey close to him and then drew her in even closer. He kissed her a long while, and as it happened she let herself lean into him. They sunk to their knees and Walter was completely unaware of the wall he was against because he was so much more concerned that Drey was there. When they reached the floor, Drey looked up at Walter and he looked down at her. They were both in tears, and they both knew the other was beyond such trivial things as a few drops of water on the face. They embraced again, and Walter let his joy fill the entire room, then the castle, and then it continued onward, and it kept going.

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