Story of the Apprentice and his Tunic (book)
The Story of the Apprentice and his Tunic
As told by Brukkel
It is said that once, a very long time ago, when Elanthia was very young, before even the seven races knew much of one another, there lived a young man. His name was Xoren Aarathel and his story has been passed from father to son in my family for so many generations that it seems older than the moons themselves. There can be no doubt the story has changed as it has been recreated by each teller, the exploits exaggerated and the details elaborated, but this is the story as it was told to me by my father.
Xoren lived in a small village nestled below the hills, far away from the nearest town. He lived alone with his father, the village's carpenter. His mother had died when he was a mere infant; the only image of her he had was in a small portrait hanging over the mantle in his cabin. His brother too had left years ago, off to the nearest town like so many of the young men of the village, seeking a life of adventure as members of one guild or another. Xoren, though, had little interest in the stories his friends told around the fire late at night: stories of brave warriors and powerful wizards, of evil monsters and treasure troves spilling over with gold. He spent his spare time split between learning the craft of his father and courting the love of a young lady of his village, whose name has been lost in time. He desired nothing more than the friendship of his fellow villagers, a cabin of his own, and the love of his lady to share his days with. One day, however, his dreams and desires came to an abrupt halt.
That day, an old and mysterious Moon Mage came to the village. His hair had been bleached white by time, his frame so bent that it hardly seemed possible he could stand, even with the aid of the gnarled staff he leaned against.
Yet his eyes burned bright with a fierce power, and the few who dared even meet his gaze soon dropped their heads in humility and respect, and, yes, fear. For though he spoke with a quiet voice, his tone was that of a man accustomed to leading others and having things done his way, without hesitation or question. Nor did it help that the villagers, having no Wizards or Moon Mages amongst them, brooked within their hearts a general fear of all magic, even if they scoffed at "finger wagglers" in the safe light of day. The elder of the village hurriedly donned his good shirt and rushed out to meet the old Moon Mage. But the old Mage hardly said a word, and only arranged for a room in the elder's cabin, no doubt greatly disappointing the audience of unseen eyes behind the windows who had hoped the old Mage was quickly passing through the village.
When news of the old Mage's arrival reached Xoren's cabin, his father's face turned grim. He put his tools aside and turned to Xoren. He spoke so softly he could hardly be heard, and he said "Xoren my son, you must pack your belongings, for tomorrow you shall leave with this Mage". He picked up his tools and resumed his work, his eyes blank and his ears deaf to Xoren's constant questions. That night Xoren snuck out of his cabin and met with his love. He told her of his father's words, his heart heavy with the prospect of leaving the village and the life he had envisioned, and even heavier at leaving her. Amongst the many kisses they exchanged that night, they each swore an undying love to one another, and he promised to return as soon as he possibly could.
At first light the next morning, the old Mage appeared at Xoren's cabin. His father looked at him with a gentle smile and placed a kiss upon his forehead. "You have been a good son, Xoren, all a father could ask for, and more.
Now you must be brave, and go where you are called. Look for the good in others, and never doubt that I love you, son." They embraced one last time, and Xoren left with the old Mage.
Little is known of this part of Xoren's life, and one can only imagine the many questions running through Xoren's mind. "Who is this old Mage? How did my father know he was here for me? What does he want with me?", he must have asked himself. What is known is that Xoren and the old Mage eventually made it to a town, and Xoren became the old Mage's apprentice. The old Mage was a guild leader in this town and had many pupils, though of all his pupils, he worked Xoren the hardest.
And though at first Xoren was more miserable than he had ever been before in his life, in time the bustling activity of the town caught his interest, and the lessons of the old Mage filled him with wonder, and there seemed more things to do in a day than could be possibly done in a week, so that his days passed quickly with barely a moment to
dwell on the village and the love he had left behind. In the quiet of each night, though, he would find himself thinking of his lady, picturing her in his arms, almost feeling her touch, holding her close if only in his mind.
But during the days he worked hard. The old Mage taught him the secrets of Lunar Magic, how to harness the magic power about him, how to perceive the magics of psychic projection, transduction, moonlight manipulation, and perception, how to focus his concentration on the magical patterns in a runestone and wield the rune's magic. As time went on he learned how to manipulate the shadows about him, how to focus the very beams from the moons into pools at his feet, and much, much more. Xoren soon found that he had a new love, a love for magic. And his aptness for discovering its mysteries and harnessing its powers was matched only by the old Mage's persistence in relentlessly driving Xoren further and further and never allowing him more than a moment's rest. Every day it seemed to Xoren that the old Mage was trying to instill a lifetime of learning and wisdom into him all within that same day.
But Xoren's time was not all spent learning the mysteries of magic. He made many friends during this time, young men such as himself, from many guilds and many walks of life. He learned how to maneuver in armor and how to wield a sword. And thanks to the many small skirmishes he found himself in, defending the town against the raiding parties that would sometimes assail it, he learned how to dress a field wound and how to take orders from others, and in time, even how to give orders. It was truly an exciting time for Xoren, and he made the most of every moment. It did not seem like such a very long time, though it was years rather than months, before Xoren was playing the role of teacher to his fellow guild members more often than that of pupil.
One day the old Mage called Xoren into his office. He gestured Xoren to a chair, though he would not sit himself. A smile passed fleetingly on the old man's lips, and he hesitated for a moment before speaking. "You have learned much in your time here, Xoren" he said, "and I have not much more to teach you. The time has come when your fate is once again in your own hands, and you must choose your own path." The old Mage paused a moment, looking thoughtfully at Xoren. "I am old, and I tire of my duties. This town could use one such as yourself to take over the guild, and lead it's members to greater heights. You are not quite ready for this yet, but in time you could be, with my help." At that the old man stopped and looked expectantly at Xoren.
Xoren trembled as he grasped the enormity of the old Mage's words. "I am deeply honored by your words, Sir, and shall always be grateful for the many wonders that you have shown to me, and the many memories I shall always carry dear to me that I would not have known had it not been for your kindness, but if my fate is truly my own, then I choose to return to my village, and resume my life there." The old Mage's face swelled with rage and his words stung at Xoren like a swarm of hornets.
"What? You would turn your back on your brethren? Turn your back on me?" But before Xoren could even speak, the rage in the old man's face dissapated, and a calmness swept over his features like a breeze. "But of course, you never asked to come here, did you? You are not like me, Xoren, but you are your own man, and that I respect. You have conducted yourself well, and done all I asked. Your path is yours to follow, now go." With a wave of his hand, he dismissed Xoren. Xoren stood up, bowed, and headed for the door. He hesitated at the door, and even before he could turn to ask the burning question racing through his mind once again, as it had done so many times earlier, he heard the old Mage's voice at his back, "You wish to know why I traveled to your village that day, and chose you to be my apprentice, don't you?"
Xoren froze for a moment at these words, then turned slowly around. He nodded, and waited for the old Mage to speak again. "Your father came to this town once, though I doubt very much he has ever told you of that part of his life", said the old Mage. "He brought his wife and small child with him, to start a new life for his family, one that he hoped would be far better than the life the village he came from could offer. But this town can be cruel to newcomers, and he soon found himself deeply in debt to the wrong sort of people. His very life was in danger, as were the lives of his wife and child." The old Mage paused for a moment, resting his weight on his staff, then continued.
"I met your father at this time, and soon learned of his tale of woe. I wish I could say his tale moved me, and I offered to help him out of the kindness of my heart, but that would be a lie." The old Mage stood silent a moment, and then said quietly, "I am a powerful man, Xoren, with many strengths and even a few virtues, but compassion is not one of them. I offered to help your father, but only because I, too, was in need of help. My wife had died in labor, leaving me a small infant to care for. I had never been much of a husband, too busy in my quest for power to care much for anything, or anyone, else." The old Mage stared down at his staff, and continued.
"The prospect of raising a small child overwhelmed me, and to make matters worse, in my quest for power I had made many enemies. Enemies who dared not attack me directly, but who would not think twice of harming my child at the first opportunity." The old Mage lifted his gaze and looked directly at Xoren. "And so I helped your father, paying off his debts and making sure that he would no longer be harassed by the scum that had taken advantage of him. In return, your father agreed to move back to his village, taking my son with him and raising him as his own. I told myself that this was best for all, that my son would grow up safe and happy, with a father who would care for him as I could not, and a mother too. I could not know, of course, that the woman you have always thought of as your mother did not have long for this world, either."
The old Mage's voice faltered, but he continued, shakily. "I have never stopped thinking of you, Xoren, and I have always loved you in my own way. I do not know what I had hoped would happen by bringing you back to this town, back into my life. I suppose I had hoped to regain the son I gave up, to in some way make up for the mistakes I made long ago. But while your love for magic may come from me, your compassion for others and your dreams for the future come from the man who raised you, the man who is the father I never was."
Xoren stood speechless, overwhelmed with what he had just heard. He felt his soul torn as a thousand emotions welled up within him all at once. The old Mage gazed at Xoren fondly, and said "I cannot ask for your forgiveness yet, my son, but I do hope that in time you may understand that I did what I did not just for myself, but for you as well. You have chosen a path different than the one I had hoped for, but a path that is no less noble. Return now to your village and the life I have taken you away from, but please, visit me when you can, and continue your learning in Magic. You have a great gift, one that should not be thrown away. And before you leave, I have something for you. I had hoped to give this to you on the day you took over my position as guild leader in this town, but now will have to do." The old Mage walked over to a closet and removed a flowing, knee-length tunic. The tunic seemed to shimmer, even in the dim light that filtered into the room from the setting sun.
"I may not have always been there for you, Xoren, but I have always held you in my thoughts, and this tunic flows from those same thoughts. I have been fortunate to know many powerful people, people who haved owed my a favor from time to time." The old Mage smiled, obviously pleased with himself. "This tunic was woven by one of the most gifted elves, blessed by one of the most powerful clerics, and is unlike any you shall ever see. I am told it will protect the wearer from any physical harm, so long as it is worn. I give it now to you."
It is said that at first Xoren refused the gift, wanting nothing from the father who had abandoned him. But Xoren did not leave for his village that evening. He stayed a few days longer, learning more of his birth father and the history of his family. And when he did leave for his village, the tunic went with him.
The years following this were filled with the ordinary events that make life so extraordinary. Xoren returned to his village, married the same young lady who had filled his thoughts during his years as an apprentice, and started a family of his own. He helped the man he had grown up knowing as his father with his carpentry, and soon was doing almost all of the work himself. He continued to practice his magic when he could, and visited the old Mage from time to time, though the visits grew more infrequent as the years passed as his responsibilities in the village grew. And that is how he would have lived his life, peacefully and happily on into old age, had it not been for the great war that soon ravaged the land.
While Xoren's village was too small and out of the way to be in much danger, the town of his father was not. And although he hated to leave the happy life he now enjoyed, Xoren felt duty bound, and with a promise to return, and a tear in his eye, he set out to war. He joined his father on the battle fields, and it is said that he fought valiantly. Many tales were told of how he and his father turned the light of the moons into lethal beams that incinerated the leaders of their foes, and as to how they hurled, without ever touching them, the weapons from the ground to slice their foes in two. Even more amazingly, it is said that as Xoren stood upon the battle fields, no spear, no arrow, no blade forged of mortals, could harm him, as he was protected by a great magic. Though none but he and his father knew it was the magic of his tunic which saved him from all but nicks and bruises.
The war lasted many months, with many brave men slaughtered on both sides, before it was finally decided in one great battle far from the town Xoren's father called home. And though Xoren's side won the battle and the war, it was a costly victory. Many of the friends Xoren had made long ago were killed in the battle, and the band of men returning home to the town was much smaller than the band of men that had set out.
Still, Xoren and his companions were glad the war was finally over, and their thoughts began to return to the lives they had left behind. But, just over a day's journey from the town, on a path now called the Path of Sorrow, they were ambushed. At first light, as the men were gathering their gear and preparing to leave their encampment, the air was suddenly filled with arrows. Xoren stared in horror as he saw an arrow lodge itself firmly into his father's chest. Without regard for his own safety, he removed his tunic and wrapped it around his father. As he tended his father's wound, vulnerable at last without his tunic, an arrow lodged itself deeply into his neck, and he was mortally wounded. The first sight that Xoren's father saw as he regained conciousness was the sight of his son laying beside him, lifeless. And though the ambushers were soon hunted down and executed, this did not ease the old Mage's grief.
The old Mage brought Xoren's body back to the village. He dressed Xoren in his field armor and the tunic he had given Xoren so many years ago, and, in a ceremony befitting an honored warrior, released Xoren's soul to the gods in a great bonfire.