There were four master mages with the caravan that had stopped for a night in Charles’ village. Every three years a caravan would go to all of the hamlets, towns, and cities within the Kingdom of Goulan. All of the powerful kings established a mage guild; the benefits of a mage guild to a King were many. Mages offered assistance in war, in construction of castles and churches, and in the study of the natural world. All children between the ages of four and eight were invited to appear before the mages in an attempt to convince them that they might make a good mage apprentice.
“Will is what makes magic works,” Charles had been informed the previous day when he had appeared before the mages, “Your will. You must bend the world to your will; the world doesn’t like being bent. Why do you think you can bend the world?”
“Well, I might not be able to right now but maybe its like a stick, if you can’t break it, you just need to get stronger. I can be as strong as any man, I just need to keep working.”
“Are you happy, here, in this village?” another of the mages had asked him.
“I enjoy working in the fields with the men, and my mother always makes the best soup even if we don’t have much to eat. My father always worries about the rain, but I work, play and trust that it’ll all work out.”
The questions had continued for what seemed to Charles to be forever, though it had only been about fifteen or twenty minutes. Each question had been designed to test a child’s happiness and confidence. Children given to melancholy can’t focus their minds, can’t move the world to their will. In order to be a mage and to work magic a child had to believe that they could do it. Children needed to have the right disposition for training to have any chance of becoming a mage.
“Charles!” The elder mage called out “Come over here boy!”
Charles picked up the sack that his mother and father had packed for him and ran over to the mage a smile was pasted on his face. The eldest mage among the master mages was a tall man with short cut white hair. His face was lined and weathered, a scar cut its way through his skin, from some where under his hair to the middle of his right cheek. He had a booming voice and, despite his age, was still alert and full of vigor.
“This is Edmond, he is a journeyman mage, he is assisting on this trip by taking charge of some of the boys and girls that we are gathering. He will be your mentor until we reach Thorngar Keep. Mind him well, he can either teach and mentor you on this journey or he can send you home should he have reason to believe that you won’t be anything but a nuisance.” With that the mage turned and left Charles in Edmond’s keeping.
Edmond smiled down at Charles, “It’s a pleasure Charles, you’ll mostly have to take care of yourself, but I’m here if you have questions or need help with something. Food will be provided of course and there’s a large tent that you’ll be expected to help set up and is available for you to sleep in should you choose to. Everything else is up to you, I do hope that our time together is enjoyable!”
The caravan moved from village to town and from town to city. Charles who had only left his small hamlet to go to the near by town had no idea that the world was so large. The roads, made of stone by ancient engineers, stretched on as far as his eyes could see. He traveled in awe of every new place he saw and every new person he met. At each stop he was given free reign to move about as he desired. To explore each new place making new friends and learning more about how people, in all their myriad forms lived.
Some of the stops were short, as the stop in his hamlet had been, just a single day. Other stops lasted for a week as more and more children were brought before the master mages that had interviewed Charles. All Charles had to spend however were the handful of coins that his parents had given him as he left and he treasured those coins far more than he did anything that they could buy. He spent his time playing games with local children and looking at the many items for sale in the larger towns and cities.
Once a day Edmond would gather all of the children together and begin some basic instruction and show off some of the things he was capable of doing. Charles often found himself to be under whelmed. Edmond’s tricks were simple feats, he could always make the same number come up on a dice; he could slow down a ball that was thrown at him so it would fall to the ground before it struck him.
In the stories that Charles had heard he was told of throwing fire and flying through the air. “What about the stories of Alister or Drakul, the epic battles where a single spell could destroy hundreds of men!” Charles exclaimed after a lesson, “Aren’t we going to learn how to do that? I want to learn to throw fire, to fly!”
“Most of those stories are just that young Charles, stories. With magic you can bend the world; you cannot break it. How would you throw fire, what would it burn? Let me show you a trick.” Edmond bent down, picked up some dried leaves, fallen from the now nearly bare trees around them. “I can make heat, but fire is different from heat, fire needs something to burn, air doesn’t burn.” Edmond concentrated for an instant, his body relaxing his eyes glazing over his energy focused on that one dried leaf that he held. The leaf started to smoke; small flames appeared around its edges. Edmond relaxed, smiling softly, “that is harder than it looks, heat is very hard to gather and even harder to create.”
Edmond handed the still smoldering leaf to Charles, “You see Charles I created heat, once I had gathered the heat together and concentrated it enough the leaf caught on fire; if your hand had been there it would have blistered, the most powerful of mages can cause a persons clothes to catch fire using this method. However, throwing something like that doesn’t work; the air around us gets in the way. Heat and cold want to disperse to fill up the world; it is a constant struggle to separate the hot from the cold to get it focused enough. Magic cannot change the rules that nature has given us, we can manipulate the structure of the world, and some times bend rules, but never can we break them. Magic is subtle, you may think it trivial to stop a ball thrown at me from striking, but a great mage can still a hundred arrows, saving countless lives and that Charles can turn the course of a battle just as surely as killing.”
Dusk came and night settled over the world as Charles watched the stars emerge from the gathering darkness. He sat under a large oak tree, its branches bare and cold. He felt alone, the stories that he had heard since he was born, of great mages changing the world, all distorted, all exaggerated. He didn’t know what he was going to become, he couldn’t be Drakul, not the Drakul that he had heard about in so many stories. That person did not and could not exist. He missed his mother, his father, his brothers, his home, his friends, and his village. A single tear crept down his cheek, frustration filled him; he couldn’t turn to his mother for comfort. He brought his knees up and his head down, balling up, hiding from the world, another tear escaped his eyes, rolling slowing down his face.
“No.” He said to himself, then more firmly, “No!”
He raised his head, his eyes catching a star, hidden by the branches, hidden deep within the sky. He stood up, his eyes fixed upon that distant point. His left hand found a branch, and then his right followed. He pulled himself up, higher and higher into the three. Stopping on each branch to find that star again, to memorize its exact position so that he could find it once he reached the next branch. he got to the top of the tree, the branch bending beneath his weight, but he didn't care, he gazed intently upon the star, willing it, demanding that it be next to him, allow him to hold it.