Text version

the comic's manuscript, without pictures

1. The letter, the tower, and the sorcerer

The wind of the high plains swept Adrien's long hair over his eyes - yet again. This was starting to get annoying, he thought. He shifted his hair behind his ears and kept walking on his path. All considered, he smiled, the weather wasn't really that bad. The sky was mostly clear, and it was a little bit colder than what he would have liked, but in no way terrible. In fact, most would have called this an excellent day for traveling, and laughed at anyone who said otherwise and called them a wimpy something or other. There is your adventure, Adrien said to himself, amused; there is your adventure, in which the weather is mostly unworthy of note, the road is straightforward, and so far the biggest challenge has been the wind tossing your hair around.

It had been a week and a day since he had left his home, and, all in all, he couldn't have been happier. He was about to meet his new mentor and immerse himself in the study of magic; few prospects could be more exciting than that. But even more than the obvious, what pleased Adrien was the fact that things were starting to look up for him.

Becoming a sorcerer's apprentice was far from being Adrien's lifelong ambition. In fact, it was a path that he would have never expected to take - as strange as it sounds, it had been the last of a series of last choices. To begin with, he was well aware that he was rather late to start - Adrien had turned 23 that year, and he knew of full-fledged sorcerers younger than himself. Although he had always been interested in magic and he had amassed a small collection of books about the topic through the years, the extent of his knowledge remained that of a dabbler. He had tried his hand at a few simple spells - with varying results. He knew that, without experience and without a guide, his skills would not progress beyond that - he knew barely enough to call himself a magical practictioner, and he was far from making a living at it. As all of his previous endeavours had failed, there was nothing stopping him from taking a new path in life; and so, he made his decision. He would leave his home and go study with a sorcerer of renown, and eventually become a sorcerer himself.

In the following weeks, Adrien plotted his course of action with feverish drive. He asked anyone he knew for any information on the living masters that had written his favorite books and treatises - wanting to know who they were, where they lived, and if they were looking for an assistant. He had hastily written to some of them only to learn that they had died of old age a few months before, or to be simply rejected ("but best of luck to you"). Even though Adrien was starting to get discouraged, he went on and decided to write to another author whose work he knew: a sorcerer by the name of Valerion who specialized in the magic of shapes. The sorcerer Valerion had designed spells of sheer beauty, done groundbreaking work in the field of magical intelligence, and had written several books and treatises of note. While Adrien appreciated his work, the truth was that he wouldn't have chosen Valerion as his first pick of a master to learn from - his ideas were brilliant, but Adrien thought his style a bit too mystical and esoteric for his tastes. But since he had already received several rejection letters and his skin was starting to become thin, he wanted to try once more - before fear swallowed his plans alive. And so, he spent a few days writing and rewriting his letter to the sorcerer Valerion before sealing it in a frail envelope and sending it his way.

Four weeks later, Adrien received a response to his letter written in a fine, elegant handwriting; it was a long letter of heartfelt, enthusiastic praise that made him feel somewhat ashamed that he had written to Valerion as his last choice. In any case, it was a yes. The two weeks of preparation for the trip were filled with excitement, but also with the doubts and fears that accompany such great changes. In that time, Adrien thought that he had gone through every possible worry that the human mind can experience. Through this mist, Adrien kept cheering himself up with two thoughts: that, at least in his letter, his future mentor sounded like a pleasant and cordial person; and that, if this endeavor were to fail as well, he always had a home to return to and start over again.

Now his journey towards the sorcerer's tower was reaching its conclusion, and Adrien thought that, unless something incredible happened right then, he wouldn't have much to write to his mother. He smiled a little as he imagined a letter describing the exact way in which his hair kept being pushed in his eyes, and his mother's reply as something like, "I told you that you should have cut your hair before leaving!".

*****

After some more uneventful walking, Adrien noticed the plains around him crease into a series of small, rocky hills; some were wild and covered in trees, and some seemed to have little settlements on the top - a few scruffy houses on each hill that looked as if they had been brought there by the wind, like tumbleweed. Valerion's letter told Adrien to follow the path through one such village named Falderdeen; his destination would be two hills ahead. "You will not have any trouble finding it, I am certain", Valerion had written. Sure enough, standing in the village square in the daze of the high noon sun, Adrien could see Valerion's residence: a small stone tower atop a hill, lonely among the trees.

"Do you need any help? Are you lost?", he heard someone shout.

Adrien noticed a stout old lady waving at him from the door of one of the few buildings huddled around the empty square. The wooden sign above the door read "Anne's Tavern", and sported an illustration of a woman with a generous figure raising a foaming tankard. Although the lady in the sign seemed an eternity younger than the old lady under the sign, Adrien thought the two did definitely share some overall resemblance.

"Oh, I'm not lost, but thank you - I am quite thirsty", Adrien said as he walked towards the woman.

"Come in then", she replied with a broad smile, "I'm sure we have anything you need, darling".

Adrien had to bend a little to pass through the door. The inside of the tavern was small, old, dim and battered; it had a few wooden tables with mismatched chairs, some of them bare and some of them decorated with embroidered cushions. The walls were lined with glasses, jars and bottles containing different amounts of spirits, but all looking like they hadn't been touched in decades. Everything smelled like old rose perfume.

Adrien, the only customer at that time, waited in front of the counter as the lady cheerfully poured him a large glass of cold water. "Have you been traveling for long, dear?".

"Yes -- it's been eight days on the road", Adrien replied. The old lady passed him a full glass of water with a little bit of ice in it; he thanked her with a nod of his head.

"My, my", the woman murmured as she stared at Adrien gulping down the water. "Are you going much further?".

He swallowed the last of the water and put the glass down on the shaggy wooden counter. "No -- no, I have almost arrived", he said.

The old lady furrowed her brow. "May I ask you where are you going?".

Adrien's eyes widened, and he pondered for a moment whether it was a good idea to reveal his destination; then he decided to speak. "Just two hills away, to --".

"To the tower?".

"Yes", he said. "Why?".

The old lady seemed somewhat stunned for a moment; then she smiled again. "Oh, nothing", she said, "it's just unusual".

"Unusual?". Adrien could feel his hands turning sweaty with apprehension.

"Well, yes - it doesn't happen very often that someone goes to the sorcerer's tower", she said, looking down at the glass. She lifted her gaze and saw Adrien's worried expression; then she laughed heartily. "Oh dear, don't make that face! You shouldn't be afraid of Valerion. He's very nice, very polite... He's just -- we don't see much of him. He likes his privacy, I guess. Why, here in town, we've been wondering what does he even eat, since he comes here so rarely and never seems to buy much".

Her answer gave a bit of relief to Adrien; he thought that it would make nothing but sense that Valerion would be rarely seen in the village - as a master sorcerer, he probably got his food through some magical means, and he probably had other channels through which he gathered his supplies - besides, he doubted there would be much of use to him to be found in such a tiny village. As to why he would have few guests, Adrien imagined it would be easier for Valerion to meet his colleagues at magical conferences held elsewhere than for his colleagues to come visit him in his remote residence, days away from the nearest city. However, he didn't feel like explaining much of this to the old lady, so he chose to smile and say softly, "Maybe he grows his own food with the help of magic?".

"That might be it", she said, seemingly satisfied. She then looked at Adrien, who still had a somewhat worried expression on his face, and quickly added: "Darling, sorry, I didn't mean to scare you - as I said, although we don't see much of him, he really doesn't seem like a bad sort".

She refilled Adrien's glass, and he drank a second time. The water tasted a bit stale, he thought, but nothing worth complaining about. His eyes fixated on a bottle half-filled with a deep amber liquor, then lost focus. In spite of the tavern lady's efforts, he was still somewhat worried by what he had just heard. The conversation had just brought to the foreground of his mind the worry that had been hounding him for weeks: that his enterprise had been a mistake. After all, the sorcerer Valerion was a stranger to him. All he knew about him was his work, plus the one letter he had received in response to his; he didn't sound like a bad person in writing, but what if he had misjudged him? Or, what if he simply wasn't someone he'd want as a mentor?

Adrien took in a deep breath, trying to keep his fears at bay. He chose to focus on another thought instead: that the townsfolk had no ill feelings towards the sorcerer. That's better than he had expected; he thought that, living in such a rural place, surely the people in the villages nearby would be wary of the sorcerer's presence, and probably blamed him for anything from dandruff to lightning strikes. Instead, judging from the way the lady had been talking, the people of Falderdeen seemed to have no complaints about him, even if he barely interacted with them. That must be a good sign, Adrien thought; maybe Valerion was just that likeable of a person, and he'd have no trouble as his apprentice. He placed a weak smile on his face, and his eyes focused again on the face of the old woman in front of him.

"More water?", she asked.

"Maybe", Adrien said. "Yes, I think so".

"Don't worry, have another glass", the lady smiled as she poured water, "You don't have to drink it all at once".

"Thank you very much", Adrien nodded. He picked up the glass again, and took a sip. The lady had been looking at him with her face tilted. "Are you maybe a colleague of the sorcerer?", she then said.

"Ah -- ah, no, not at all", Adrien chuckled.

"A merchant?".

"Actually" - he paused, confirming with himself that he wanted to continue - "actually, I'm -- I'm going there for an apprenticeship".

"Oh!", the lady exclaimed, "an apprenticeship! How wonderful!". She clapped her hands together. "How wonderful, how wonderful", she repeated to herself. "So you'll be learning magic?".

"Yes -- hopefully", Adrien said.

"How wonderful", the lady smiled. "It's always nice to learn something new. What's your name, dear?".

"I'm Adrien".

"And I'm Anne", the woman said, and Adrien shook her hand. "I'm sure you had guessed already, though", she added with a giggle. "How long will you be staying at the tower?".

"I'm not sure", Adrien said. "Maybe one year, or something like that".

"So you'll be far from home for a long time", Anne said. "If you need anything here, come talk to me. We don't have much, but I know where everything is, so don't be shy".

"Thank you very much", Adrien smiled. He took a few coins out of his pocket and paid for the water. "I think I should be going, though...".

"Oh, yes, of course, don't waste any time - you still have to walk quite a bit!".

"Thank you very much for the water".

"No problem, darling", Anne said. "Again, if you need anything here, talk to me".

"Thank you very much", Adrien nodded. "I will".

"Goodbye, and see you soon. Good luck with your apprenticeship! And, oh my, you're by far the most beautiful customer I've had the pleasure to serve in a long while", she said with one more broad smile.

Adrien chuckled. "Oh, I am sure you say that to everyone", he said in jest as he headed outside.

"Beautiful and smart! Be still, my heart!". The old lady clutched her chest in a dramatic fashion, and laughed heartily. "Good luck, and have a good day, dear".

Adrien put himself back on the path with a smile. All in all, he found himself glad to have had that conversation.

*****

It was a little before sunset when Adrien finally reached the tower. He hadn't noticed from afar, but up close he realized that it was built somewhat like a miniature castle, with a central body surrounded by four little towers, each with its little pointed roof. Parts of the building were wrapped by ivy, especially around the large wooden door - giving it the impression of a manicured arch while being most likely the result of serendipity. Adrien stood in front of the door for a while, buying time to work up the courage to knock. He didn't want to admit it to himself, but he was feeling quite anxious. This was it. He was finally going to meet Valerion and become his apprentice. He felt a little ill in the stomach; he knew that it was just natural that he'd be feeling this way, but that didn't make him any less apprehensive. This was such a turning point, and he was far too aware of that.

He took in a deep breath, collected his thoughts, then knocked three times.

He waited, his heart beating too loud. He rehearsed his part: "Good evening, sir, I am Adrien, the new apprentice, it's a honor to meet you"...

At last, there was a crunch coming from the inside, and the hinge screeched as the wooden door was opened wide. There he was, the sorcerer Valerion.

"Oh! I take you must be Adrien, yes? The apprentice! Welcome, welcome. Please, come in".

Adrien, however, didn't move. As much as he had spent days planning his actions for this important moment, there he was, unable to say anything, completely dumbstruck.

The thing is, he had imagined that the door would open, and out would come Valerion, an ancient tortoise of a wizard with spots on his pale face, a long beard, a wise smile, and hands like a geographical map - with some room in his mind for a few variations on the theme, but nothing radically different than that. Certainly, what he hadn't expected at all was that the door would open, and out would come Valerion: elegant, fit, dark-skinned, of unclear age but nowhere close to being old, with a shaven face, black hair and black eyes, and an air of intensity about him. The only thing that the real Valerion shared with the construct of Adrien's imagination was the smile, but even that was different - yes, it was the gentle, compassionate smile of his theoretical grandfather figure, but there was more to it than just that; it was also a cheerful, lively, even somewhat impudent grin - which didn't quite speak of conventional wisdom to him.

Adrien realized that he must have been standing there for quite a while, and tried to fill the silence: "Oh -- it's a honor to meet you -- good evening". This wasn't going quite as planned, but the sorcerer Valerion smiled at him all the same, and ushered him in.

"You must be quite tired from your journey", Valerion commented, walking briskly in front of Adrien, the turquoise hem of his dark robe trailing behind him on the stone floor.

They had reached a large octagonal room revolving around a cheery fireplace. Several red armchairs were scattered around, some facing the fire, some facing the windows; the tall stone walls were covered with bookshelves, tapestries, and other wonderful things. Adrien looked around the room in astonishment; he had rarely seen so many beautiful things in the same place. Even the floor was beautiful - it was covered in tiles bearing elaborate geometric designs, and the tiles themselves were covered with all manner of splendid carpets.

"Please, sit down", Valerion said, gesturing to one of the armchairs. Adrien bowed his head and thanked him, then carefully seated himself. He was very glad to have finally reached his destination, but other things were about to start now. The sorcerer sat in another armchair, directly facing him, with a table between them; he crossed his legs and dropped his forearms on the armrests, which made Adrien take note of the fact that his hands were covered by elegant black gloves.

"Feel free to sit as comfortably as you wish", Valerion added. Adrien immediately tried to lean back in response; the armchair was really very comfortable, but he was feeling too anxious to relax. Nevertheless, he tried his best to look calm; he took a deep breath, focused on the warmth of the fireplace, and smiled.

"Good", Valerion said, smiling in his turn. "Here we are. First and foremost, welcome. I am so very glad to meet you. I am sure you are awfully tired and hungry, so - what would you like for dinner?".

"I'm... not sure", Adrien mumbled. "I could eat about anything, I think".

"Of course, of course. Let's see, would you like... what about... frittata? Asparagus, maybe?".

"Yes, that would be great - but -- oh -- maybe not asparagus, but --".

"Artichoke?".

"That would be good".

"Then artichoke frittata it is", Valerion smiled. He waved his right hand; a full place-setting, an entire pitcher of water, an already-filled glass, and a warm, steaming frittata on an elegant plate all appeared on the table in front of Adrien, who tried his best to keep his eyes from falling out of their sockets. He picked up the fork and turned it around. "What about you, sir?".

"I suppose I could have some of that, too". He sat up, waved his hand again, and there was a piece of frittata on a plate in front of him. "Please, enjoy your food", he said, and started eating. Adrien cut a piece off his frittata, and tried it out; it was warm and flavorful, and as much as a good share of his appreciation had to do with the fact that he was so hungry, he was also sure that the food was quite good in itself. He had wolfed down the entire thing before Valerion had even finished his single slice. "Oh, I'm sorry - I ate so fast --".

"Of course you did, you had such a journey! Really, don't be sorry. I am nothing but glad that you enjoyed it". Valerion leaned back in his armchair, and smiled. "So", he continued, "as we have already discussed by correspondence, I am nothing but glad to hear of your interest in the arcane arts, and I am nothing but glad to offer my assistance in your learning. Your foundations are solid, and, with constant effort, I have no doubt that you'll be able to bring theory into practice in due time".

"Thank you, sir. I can only hope you are right", Adrien said, twitching his hands. "So... what should I do to begin?".

"Oh, nothing complicated - a few basic circles, to see your technique, and then we shall continue from there".

"Alright", Adrien replied, resolute, "where should I draw?".

To Adrien's surprise, Valerion burst into a hearty, cheerful laughter. "No!", he said, still chuckling, "Not now! You have barely had time to sit down! What am I, a slave-driver?".

Stammering and blushing, Adrien backpedaled. "I -- I am deeply sorry, I did not mean --".

"Don't worry, I can understand your eagerness to begin. I am absolutely glad to see such enthusiasm. Anyway, practice will start tomorrow, after you have had a good night's sleep. In fact, if tomorrow you are still tired from your journey, then we can wait until the day after. There is no rush", Valerion said with a smile.

"Thank you so much, sir".

"Ah... yes, and -- no 'sir', please", Valerion said in a low voice, with a dismissive gesture of his hand.

"No 'sir'? Then, what shall I call you? ...'Master'?".

"'Master'?!", Valerion repeated in a very amused tone; he then lost his composure into laughter again. He put both his hands on the armrests, and leaned forward. "So, you do think I am a slave-driver!".

"No! -- no, I -- oh -- I apologize --". Adrien felt quite flustered, but still couldn't help but chuckle at the situation.

Valerion got the last of his laughter out of him, and then continued calmly, but still with a somewhat contorted smile to his expression: "You don't need to call me anything. There is no need for needless formality, really".

"Oh -- that's good. Thank you -- um -- just, thank you, I guess".

"If you really insist, then let's make it 'your highness'. 'Thank you, your highness'. I could get used to that", Valerion said, deadpan. Then a snort escaped him.

Adrien smiled; in spite of his faux pas, he found himself more at ease than he had been at the beginning of the conversation. He still hadn't formed a full opinion of the sorcerer Valerion, but his first impression of him as a pleasant person had been absolutely confirmed. In fact, the sorcerer Valerion in the flesh seemed to be even cheerier than what Adrien had grasped of his character from the way he had written his letter. He was glad that this was the case; he liked Valerion's good-natured irreverence, and he had noted and appreciated his attempts to defuse the awkwardness of their first meeting. In light of the situation, Adrien decided that it was the case to loosen up a little, and play a bit as well.

"Ah -- not 'your royal majesty'? What about 'milord'?", he laughed.

"'Thank you, your royal majesty'. Hmm. That might be a bit too much. Now, 'milord' -- yes, why not -- please, could you try that?".

"Why, thank you so very much, milord", Adrien said, accompanying his words with an overemphatic bow.

The sorcerer Valerion burst into laughter again - a pleasant sort of laughter, not too loud, not too high or low in pitch, warm, never a cackle, that made Adrien want to laugh with him. "Oh! This is what having an apprentice is all about: to have someone who will call me 'milord'!".

They laughed together a little bit, and when Adrien had calmed down, he said, more seriously: "By the way, what are my duties here?".

"Duties?", Valerion repeated. "I haven't given much thought to that, and, frankly, I never need much help with anything; that's what magic is for. But, if that makes you feel any better, I will let you know whenever I need some help".

"Please, do. I'd hate to impose on your hospitality".

"Don't worry about that. As you can see, this tower is rather large for one anyway. I always thought it was such a waste of space... Ah -- speaking of which, I should show you around".

Valerion quickly lifted himself from the armchair, and Adrien followed suit. "This here is the main area - you'll dine and study here, so you'll be spending a lot of your time in this room".

"-- oh, that's great, it's such a beautiful room --".

"I am glad to hear that you like it. Then", the sorcerer Valerion gestured at four wooden doors around the room, "those are the doors to the four towers. The north one is the practice tower. The south one is currently used for storage of various apparatus - I don't recommend you go in there; it's quite messy. The east one is my private quarters, and the west one is yours".

"I have a whole tower?!", Adrien exclaimed. "Really? Are you sure I can have it?".

"Don't worry, it's nothing excessive. It's not as big as it sounds", Valerion laughed. He opened the door to the west tower, and gestured at Adrien to come in; after climbing up a narrow spiral staircase, they reached a second door, which Valerion pushed open.

"This will be your room".

To Adrien's surprise, the act of opening the door had caused several torches to light up in rapid succession all around the stone walls of the room. Amazed, he walked inside, and looked around. This room was also octagonal, but smaller - while still being at least twice the size of the bedroom he had back home. Compared to the room downstairs, this one was a lot less decorated - except for the torches, the walls were barren. It was furnished with a wardrobe, a dresser, a desk, a chair, and a bed - all made of a shiny, warm auburn wood; none of that splintery, musty, greyed wood that Adrien was far too familiar with - these were beautiful, well-crafted objects. Here too, the floor was covered in tiles with beautiful geometrical patterns - different than the ones downstairs. There was a small window on one of the eight walls; its curtains were patterned with a motif that resembled that of the tiles. On another wall, there was a door; Adrien walked towards it.

"That's the bathroom", Valerion said from behind him. They opened the door, and they climbed up one more staircase. The bathroom had torches that lit upon opening the door in the same manner as the room downstairs. Adrien gazed around at the various amenities; he took notice of the large oval bathtub that appeared to be quite comfortable. While he was looking around, Valerion walked in front of him and bent to open a little door under the sink. It contained two baskets, one light and one dark. "These are enchanted. Put any dirty laundry in the dark basket, and it will reappear in the light one - all clean and warm".

"That's amazing!...", Adrien gasped, "I can't wait to learn how to do things like that".

"You will!", Valerion smiled as he closed the cabinet.

"I wish I had this at home", Adrien sighed, "I always hated washing towels".

"You will learn, I promise. Such uses of magic are among the best ones, I believe", Valerion said, "after all, controlling the cosmos seems like a pitiful ambition in comparison to having an endless supply of warm towels, no?". He chuckled cheerfully.

Adrien beamed as Valerion left the bathroom and started descending back to the room. "Also", Valerion said, "you should try the bed. I hope it is comfortable for you".

"I'm sure it is".

"Please, go ahead and try it".

Adrien sat down on the side of the bed; it was obviously much nicer than anything he had ever had. "It is", he said, and smiled. He took in a deep breath, and looked around once more; he had rarely felt so warm and full of hope.

"Good", Valerion said. "Then, I should let you sleep. Oh -- I almost forgot to bring your bag up". He flicked his fingers, and Adrien's bag appeared, propped against one wall. "That should be all. Goodnight, then", Valerion said, and turned around to leave. Adrien stood up again, and walked quickly towards Valerion.

"Goodnight -- and -- thank you so very much -- I hardly know how to express my gratitude --".

"It's nothing, really", Valerion said with a smile. "I hope you have a good sleep".

"You too", Adrien said. Valerion smiled at him once more, then closed the door.

Adrien stood there for quite a good while, staring through the wooden door, collecting his thoughts. His cheeks were sore from how much he had been smiling. At last, he felt at ease about the choice he had made. As he opened up his bag and sorted his possessions, Adrien thought of the letter he'd be writing to his mother; "Dear mom", he rehearsed in his mind, "I have arrived at my destination, and I am doing great. The journey went just fine, I don't have much to say about it. I was right about the sorcerer Valerion - he is a fun and cheerful person, and I am sure I will enjoy my time here. I have a whole tower as my private quarters! I am still not quite sure how to thank him for that. This whole place is amazing, mom; my bathroom contains enchanted baskets that clean the laundry for you. Tomorrow I will have my first lesson". Adrien paused; he realized how excited he was about that prospect.

He put away the last of his things and walked upstairs to the bathroom. He kept rewriting his letter and smiling as he took off his clothes and filled the bathtub with hot water. He climbed inside, seated himself, and sighed; the water was warm and wonderful, and he was in such need of cleansing after his long journey.

As he lay down into the water, his racing thoughts about his whole adventure faded into a sense of calm and peace; all that was left was the awareness of how contented he was feeling, mixed with the enthusiasm of what would await for him in the coming day.