Light, as bright as the day filled the sky, a single fear filled yelled was heard then the sound of braking branches and a soft thud. The light disappeared just as quickly as it had appeared. Edmond jumped up from his sleeping roll and rushed outside, he didn’t know what had just happened, but it certainly wasn’t normal, it certainly wasn’t good. He saw Charles, lying still at the base of the oak tree, broken branches about him on the ground. He rushed to him, yelling for help. Charles didn’t move a muscle as Edmond straightened him out upon the ground. Fear seized him as he reached for a small mirror and held it under Charles nose.
Fog. Breath. Edmond sighed in relief and gave another yell for help. “Althalos! This boy needs you! Althalos!” One of the young servants with the caravan rushed off towards Althalos’ tent, yelling for him to come and help the child.
A moment later Althalos was out of his tent, rushing towards the boy, moving with a grace that belied both his age and his urgency. “What happened?” He asked as he knelt down beside the child, “Just a fall?” His eye’s lost their focus as he looked at the boy; his will searching for the child’s injuries.
“I don’t know Master, there was a bright flash of light, very bright, then I heard him call out.”
“Mirabelle!” Althalos called out, his concentration still upon the boy.
“Yes master?” came Mirabelle’s quick reply.
“Take a few men with you and check the area for anything strange or out of place, I don’t know what happened but I don’t want to be caught unaware.”
“Yes master!” Mirabelle quickly selected five men, those that were nearest to her and moved away, giving orders quickly and with well-practiced ease.
The crowd was still around the boy, the other master mages, Richard, William and Geoffrey, began to push their way through the gathering concern and irritation on their faces. “What’s the problem Althalos?” Richard, the eldest of the mages, asked, “What is all the fuss about? Will he be alright?”
“Yes, Richard, the boy will live, his head took a knock, but I’ve already taken measure to prevent any long term damage. That however is not the true issue at hand.”
Richard, who had began to turn away stopped, sighed and asked, “Then what is?”
“The boy’s face is burned, quite severely.”
Geoffrey was the first to respond, “What?”
“Edmond said there was a bright flash of light then the boy fell, I don’t know what that light was but it left its mark on the child. I don’t believe it will be a problem, simply looks like a very bad sun burn but something very strange happened here and I for one would like to know what it was.”
“Agreed,” Geoffrey said quickly, “does the boy need any further help from you now Althalos?”
“I want to stay until he wakes up, but that shouldn’t be very long, I sent Mirabelle out with a group to see if there was anyone around that shouldn’t be.”
Geoffrey nodded, “Good, William, Richard, let us go to my tent, Althalos meet us there when you can.”
The smell of flowers was the first thing that Charles noticed as he awoke after his fall. The sunburned flesh on his face was the second. Charles opened his eye’s slowly and blackness filled his vision.
“Charles, how are you feeling?” Althalos’ voice was strong but tired.
“My face burns… I can’t see.” Charles reached around, grabbing onto the blankets that covered him. “Why can’t I see?”
“I’ve cast a spell to bend the light away from your eyes, they took quite a beating from whatever happened out there. Do you remember what happened Charles?”
“I just climbed the tree, I wanted… I wanted to reach the stars…” Charles was embarrassed, he didn’t want to remember his weakness, his fear, he was supposed to be strong, he didn’t have a mother to look after him any more.
“Did you hear anything, see anything strange?”
Charles shook his head, the all encompassing darkness pressed upon his mind, a stark contrast to the moment before he crashed down through the tree branches. His back hurt, his right arm ached. “When can I see again?”
“Soon I hope Charles, I have done what I can to speed your recovery but your eyes need darkness for now so that they can heal properly, its still night child, sleep now, the day will hopefully bring light to both your eyes and what happened this night.”
“Yes… who are you?”
Althalos smiled down at Charles unseeing eyes, “I am Althalos, we met at your interview, remember child?”
Charles nodded weakly, his neck extracted its revenge on him for attempting to move it. “Yes master, I do remember, thank you.”
Althalos nodded, then stood, looked at Edmond who was nearby speaking with Mirabelle, “Edmond, the boy is awake now, he’ll need sleep but wake him every few hours to make sure that he’s still alright. If he won’t wake come and get me immediately.” Althalos looked to Mirabelle even as Edmond responded in the affirmative, “Thank you again Mirabelle for letting the boy sleep in your bed roll, did we ever find his things?”
“No master, he never sleeps in the tent, so I’m sure we just over looked them.” Edmond responded.
“I don’t know, surely nothing attacked him for his supplies, the child is too poor to have anything worth stealing.” Concern filled Mirabelle’s voice as she gazed protectively at the small child.
“We’ll look for it come morning, the child will likely know where it is, or at least, where it was.” With that Althalos turned to leave the large tent, over his shoulder he bid farewell as he hurried towards Geoffrey’s tent.
“Well Althalos, did we learn anything from the boy?” Geoffrey’s asked before Althalos had finished entering the tent.
“No, nothing useful. The boy said that he wanted to reach the stars so he climbed the tree. He didn’t notice whoever or whatever caused the light or his burns.”
“Is it possible that the boy did this himself?” William asked softly, his small frame hiding beneath a large bulky cape wrapped around his body.
The other three mages looked at him, skepticism etched on their faces. “Possible? Perhaps. Likely? No.” Richard was the first to respond.
“I don’t see how William, he’s just a child that kind of light couldn’t have been collected by someone without training, even then it would be incredibly difficult.” Geoffrey added to Richard’s response.
“Indeed, but he was reaching for the stars, maybe he found one.” Williams voice was calm and soft, his eye’s following the grain of the staff in his hands.
“An untrained child?”
“Do you have another explanation?”
“Perhaps some crazed mage attacked the boy.”
“A strange but natural occurrence?”
“Enough!” Geoffrey’s voice was filled with irritation, “There is no point to this, we do not and can not know what happened, we’ll keep a larger than normal watch for the next week when we are due to be back at the Guild. Althalos look after the child until he is well. We leave on dawn tomorrow; let us all get some sleep. We’ll speak on the matter to the council when we have the chance. Good night everyone, may the morning find us all well.”
“Let me have a look at you child.” Althalos’ strong voice came from the omnipresent darkness around Charles, Charles felt hand’s press onto his shoulders and push him back so he was once again laying down in the bedroll, the smell of sweet flowers filling his nose. After a moment Althalos’ voice came to him again, “Yes, it looks like your eye’s will be fine, always better to be safe than risk permanent injury!”
With a thought from Althalos the seemingly bright predawn light assaulted Charles’ eyes. Charles quickly shut his eyes again, the light striking at his formerly fully dilated pupils. Charles rubbed his eyes with his right arm as he pushed himself up with his left, he slowly opened one eye, than the other and looked around him. Everyone was starting to get up and the noise was slowly growing in the large tent as everyone prepared to leave. Althalos had already stood up and was talking with Edmond and Mirabelle, Mirabelle was watching Charles worry showing in her young and beautiful face.
Charles muscles ached, his back and neck protested every move that he made and a large bruise darkened his right arm. He stretched his arms above his head, ignoring the pain; he had been through far worse in his short life. He stood up quickly, blackness closing around his vision as the blood rushed from his head, ignoring the disappearing darkness he made his way towards the tent flap.
“Charles!” Charles turned back towards Edmond, “We couldn’t find your things last night, do you remember where you left them?”
“I was about to go get them.” Charles said as Mirabelle and Edmond made their way towards him. “Why?”
“Well since we still don’t really understand what happened last night we were just…” Mirabelle’s voice trailed off.
“We just wanted to make sure that everything is alright, mind if we come with you?” Edmond finished for her.
Charles shrugged and began to turn away “Sure.”
Charles slept every night right at the base of the large tent, his bedroll and knapsack were as they had left them the night before pushed against the tent hidden from view by the tall grass. He went to them, Mirabelle and Edmond following close behind, picked them up and then looked askance at them.
“Well. Good.” Edmond said.
“I had better get my stuff together as well.” Mirabelle said as she quickly turned and walked away.
“What’s the matter?” Charles asked of Edmond as they began to walk back around towards the front of the tent.
“Whatever happened last night as everyone a bit spooked Charles, we don’t know what caused that bright flash of light or the burns on your face. It has everyone on edge.”
Charles shrugged his shoulders a bit, “I just wanted to hold the star.” His voice was quiet and embarrassed.
“If you caused whatever it was then you have nothing to be ashamed of, just to learn control. However, no one thinks that you could have caused this Charles; that is why we’re so worried. Don’t bother yourself with this though Charles, we’ll be back at the Guild soon, only a week left then you’ll be able to finally start your new life.”
The last week spent traveling was different for Charles. Edmond insisted that he sleep inside the tent and often accompanied Charles while he played with the local children that he met. Charles missed his former freedom, and never really understood what had changed that day. He didn’t think that Edmond knew what had changed. Charles still tried to meet all the children he could in the two remaining towns that they passed through, played as many games as he could. He was often asked about his sun burn, he would always just shrug and say that it was a magical experiment gone wrong.
His skin began to peel after a couple of days, life continued for him, this would be the end of his seventh summer. Soon he would be eight, but his life, his world was gone. He hadn’t made any friends with the handful of other children that had been selected by the master mages. All of them were from noble or merchant families. All of them could read, all of them looked down upon Charles. He didn’t care, he told himself. Every night he spent some time with Edmond, learning everything he could. While the other children laughed and joked around the fire he tried to learn how to clear his mind, Edmond called it meditation.
“Meditation is the beginning of magic for each mage. Your mind is always battling with itself. What is. What should be.” Edmond had told the students in one of their daily meetings, “Until you can clear your mind of what is you can not reform the world as it should be. You must believe that you can see every detail of that distant hut before you will be able to. To learn how to do this you must learn to clear your mind of everything, to learn mental discipline.”
Charles rested in his bedroll, his head against a feather filled pillow hand stitched by his mother, filled with feathers from the chickens that his village raised. He concentrated on his body, imagined that there wasn’t any flesh on his pinky toe, then on the next toe. Slowly his was able to envision his entire foot as if it had no flesh. He worked his way up his leg, imagining that the flesh was falling away. His mind couldn’t maintain the image of fleshlessness. The flesh would reappear in his mind upon his foot, he would then back up and reimagine the fleshless foot. Slowly, very slowly he was able to imagine more and more of his body as if it had no flesh upon it.
The final night before they reached Thorngar Keep, the home of the Mage Guild in the Kingdom of Goulan, Charles was finally able to envision his body as nothing but a skeleton. He looked at the construct in his mind, turned it about to look at it from every angle. Joy of accomplishment filled him, he opened his eyes, the other children were still laughing by the fire, though he didn’t hear them, Edmond was reading a large book, though he didn’t see him. He stood up, walked quietly towards the entrance of the tent. He looked up at the sky, clouds blocked the view of the stars. Light rain wetted the ground a cold wind blew out of the west. He looked up, gazing at the stars that couldn’t be seen, willed the clouds to not obscure his vision, willed himself to see.
Charles couldn’t see the clouds; the sky was filled with more stars than he had ever before seen. He gazed in wonder at that most exquisite sight.
Edmond’s touch upon his shoulder broke the state, the clouds returned; he felt the chill of the water against his flesh. “Are you okay Charles?”
Charles turned to face Edmond, a small smile appearing on his face, “The stars are beautiful tonight.” Charles then walked away, the smile not fading at all as he stripped off his wet clothes and curled up in his bedroll.