Text version

the comic's manuscript, without pictures

3. Eggshells

It was about seven thirty on Saturday morning when Adrien finished writing his letter to his mother. Holding the paper with both hands, he paced around the room as he read it one more time.

August 31st

Dear mom,
I have safely arrived at my destination, and I'm doing great. I'm sorry for not writing you any sooner - I have been here for five days, but today is the first time that I've had some time to spare to sit down and write. I hope you weren't too worried.

The journey went just fine, but not much happened while I was on the road, so I don't have much to write about it. Anyway, everything went as planned, and I arrived here last Monday, in the late afternoon. I was right about the sorcerer Valerion - he is a fun and cheerful person, and a great teacher, too. He is extremely knowledgeable, and his patience seems to be boundless. I am very glad to be working with him. The only thing that I wasn't expecting about him is that he's much younger than I would have ever thought. If I were to guess, I'd say he looks about 30. I would have never imagined that.

In any case, my apprenticeship is going very well; I'm already making progress, and I'm sure that today I know more than I did last week. I'm very pleased, I think I've done the right thing to come here. I won't bore you with the details, but I've been drawing lots of circles, enough to make my fingers hurt. No spells yet, but the sorcerer Valerion says that I should be able to move to working spells in the next couple of weeks, maybe even sooner. I don't want to jinx myself, but probably by my next letter I'll be there. At least, so I hope.

The place where I'm staying is a sort of tiny octagonal castle, complete with four little octagonal towers. And I have a whole tower as my private quarters! I'm still not sure how to thank my host for this. This whole place is amazing, mom; can you believe that in my bathroom there are enchanted laundry baskets that do the laundry for you? And that food is magically cooked in a kitchen underneath the main room and then teleported to the table? One day I'll learn how to do this sort of magic, too! I'll enchant our entire home, and then we'll never have to do chores again.

Overall, I am doing fine, and I am very happy. How are things there? What has happened in these days?
Oh, and - don't forget to give a hug to Giselle! I miss her very much.

With love,

Adrien placed the letter in the envelope and let out a long, warm sigh as he thought about home. While the comforts of Valerion's tower were far greater than anything he had ever wished for, he still couldn't help but feel the slightest bite of homesickness as his mind wandered to the image of his mother tending to the chicken coop. He smiled as he recognized that such nostalgia was only to be expected - after all, he had never been away from home for so long. But this feeling didn't change the fact that he was happy. He was finally living the great adventure that he had been planning for months, and he was enjoying every second of it. What he had written to his mother was true: for the first time in his life, he felt confident that this was it. He had been greatly enjoying each practice session, and each day he couldn't wait to do more. To understand through action - this was a completely new frame of mind to him, and one that he would have never imagined would resonate so much with his personality. He used to think that there was no better way to learn than by reading books in bed; comfortable on his belly, his shirt wrinkled against the mattress, his back sheltered by the warmth of the blankets - a pleasure always linear, always controlled, always the same - and he would love it, and he would devour his books with enthusiasm. However, the practice tower was something else entirely. It was a place much unlike his old bedroom - it was a place of changes and disorder. When he'd set foot within those walls, something new would happen; and when he'd descend the spiral staircase back to the main room, he'd find himself drained, yet full of echoes, full of new thoughts ripening within him. He found himself craving that thrill, that displacement, that loss of safety. And he couldn't wait to see the fruits that this new beginning would bear.

Holding his letter with both hands, still deep in thought, Adrien left the room and went downstairs. He slowly pushed the wooden door open; he spotted Valerion - relaxedly sitting on an armchair, reading a book. Upon seeing Adrien, he sat up, put a finger to mark his spot between the pages, and gently closed it.

"Good morning, Adrien", he said with a smile.

Adrien walked towards the armchair at the opposite side of the table and placed himself in it. "Good morning - I hope I'm not too late".

"Not at all, not at all", he replied. "I was quite engrossed in my reading, anyway". He carefully spun the book around his finger to show the cover to Adrien: it was a small, thick, dark purple book bearing an embossed illustration of a star. Above the picture, the title read "Red Sirius".

Adrien gasped. "Oh -- is it about the whole Sirius color discrepancy --?".

"Yes", Valerion smiled. "It is a collection of different theories about the issue. Some of them more farfetched than others, in my opinion; nevertheless, a very interesting read".

"I bet", Adrien said, full of enthusiasm. "In fact, when you're done reading it, could I borrow it?".

"Of course", Valerion said, placing the book down on his legs once more. "So, you are interested in astronomy?".

Adrien leaned back on his armchair and slightly cocked his head. "Why, are there even people who aren't?".

"You'd be surprised".

"Then they must not be very interesting people", Adrien said with a weak shrug.

Valerion burst into laughter. "Oh -- that's -- I can't say I disagree", he said, still chuckling. He moved his fingers and, from one of the shelves in the room, there came flying a smooth wooden bookmark, its tip carved with an intricate pattern of hexagons and circles intertwined. Valerion opened the book again and placed it between the pages, then closed it and set it on the table in front of him, slightly to his left. He leaned back in his armchair, an air of contentedness on his face. As if prickled, he sat up again: "Ah -- would you like to have breakfast?".

"Oh, yes, please -- thank you".

"Bread and jam?", Valerion asked, his eyes narrowed in a smile.

"Actually", Adrien said, "could I -- could I ask for scrambled eggs, today?".

"Of course. Tired of the sour cherry jam?".

"Oh -- no, no, no -- that's not it", Adrien said, shaking his head so energetically that he almost whipped his own cheeks with his hair. "It's just -- well -- I just finished writing a letter to my mother, and -- I -- I was just thinking about -- about Giselle, my favorite hen", he said, looking down at the side of the letter where he had written his home address.

He looked up, and saw Valerion's expression change to something between a smile of endearment and a frown of faint sadness. "That is a very cute name for a hen", he said softly.

"Thank you", Adrien said, looking off to the side. "I'd often go check on her in the morning, get her egg, and cook it for breakfast", he said in a low voice.

Valerion smiled. "If you want scrambled eggs, I can get that. I know they won't be as good, but --".

"No, no -- ah -- I know they will be great -- and it's not like -- it's just --".

"It's alright; I understand", Valerion said, soothingly. "It's just natural; you are very far from home. I hope the distance does not give you too much pain".

"It's really -- it's really not that bad", Adrien stammered. "I am very glad to be here, really. I'm sorry; I greatly appreciate everything you've been doing for me, and --".

"You don't have to apologize", Valerion said. "I am not offended; I completely understand. You said you finished your letter, correct?".

"Yes", Adrien said, showing the envelope. "Could I ask you to send it?".

"Of course", Valerion said. He waved his hand around; the letter slipped out of Adrien's hands and floated towards one of the bookshelves. A wooden box located on the bottom level suddenly flipped its lid open and the letter fell inside, making no sound; then the box closed itself shut. Adrien turned towards Valerion with his mouth open, speechless.

"The box contains a portal to the post office in the village", Valerion said with a smile. "It took me a while to convince them, but eventually they understood that dealing with a little bit of magic was undoubtedly the better option compared to having to send their people all the way up here. They made me sign a lot of waivers, though", he added with a chuckle.

Adrien grinned. "That's amazing", he commented.

"Isn't it?", Valerion said with a smile. "Ah -- you still want the scrambled eggs?".

"Oh! -- yes, please. Thank you".


The sorcerer Valerion finally turned around from the wall covered in circles; to Adrien's relief, his smile was broad and clear. "Not bad, not bad at all", he said, accompanying his words with a slow nod, "your improvement is evident. Well done".

Adrien smiled and lowered his head, slightly flustered. "Thank you", he said. "So... what's the bad news?", he added with a faint chuckle in the back of his voice.

"Oh, there is no bad news - just --".

"-- I knew it! --".

"-- That you tend to make your circles too small", Valerion said, smiling with his eyes. "Don't worry, it is a common mistake, especially for beginners", he continued, "as it is usually caused by self-consciousness, nervousness, and the like. Look" - he gestured at the lines on the wall, slowly moving one hand from left to right - "the circles you drew in the beginning are much smaller than the later ones".

"You're right", Adrien recognized, his head tilted, "I was a bit tense this morning". He walked towards the wall to examine his own work, comparing one circle to the other with his fingers. "Yeah, that one is almost a full span bigger than the first", he commented quietly. He chuckled; then his smile faded away, and he stood still as he stared through the wall, the sound of the gears turning in his head almost audible in the sharp silence of the stone walls.

"Um - excuse me, Valerion, I was just thinking - I am sure I have heard of sorcerers drawing spells on their hands; if these circles I drew here are too small, how did they...?".

"Oh, yes - that is a more advanced use of magic", Valerion said as he found his chair again. He adjusted his robe as he placed himself in the seat.

"So bigger circles are easier than smaller circles? I would have never guessed", Adrien remarked, slightly raising his shoulders.

"No, no - it's not that bigger circles are easier; it's that...it is easier to channel magic through shapes that are proportional to the body of the caster, since the motions required to draw them are simple and natural", Valerion explained.

Adrien listened in silence; then, he nodded emphatically, and smiled. "That makes sense. So, let me see...". He extended his right arm, then quickly described a wide circle in the air, its contour delimited by his fingertips. "Would this work?".

"Yes", Valerion smiled, "a circle of roughly the same radius as your arm would work well for a beginner".

"I see", Adrien nodded again. "Can I try some more?".

"Of course -- do you need more chalk?".

"Yes, please - thank you", Adrien said. He walked towards Valerion and picked up a fresh stick of chalk from his hand; he bowed slightly to thank him once more, then turned around and walked towards the wall, a determined smile on his face. He stretched his right arm and placed the tip of the chalk on the wall, as high as he could reach. He stood still for a few seconds, then his brow seemed to twitch; he lifted the tip of the chalk from the wall and lowered his arm. He shifted around and placed himself in profile, his right shoulder facing the wall, then turned his head towards it to aim his chalk high once more.

"Oh, I see", Valerion said, a smile in his tone, "yes, that is a good technique; see if you are more comfortable this way".

"I'm not sure if this will work -- but --".

"Try, try".

Adrien nodded in agreement, smiled, and closed his eyes. He breathed out, then in. In a precise motion, fast yet steady, he drew a circle. He opened his eyes; a gasp of delight escaped him - this circle was by far the best he had drawn yet, he thought.

"Good!", Valerion commented, clapping his hands together. "Very good, Adrien".

"I think I find it easier this way!", Adrien said, his voice quivering with excitement. "That -- that felt much better! Can I try again?".

"Please, do", the sorcerer Valerion said, smiling proud. Adrien laughed, ecstatic; he moved further to the right, and drew another circle, then one more, with the same rapturous glee of a child who had just found out how to spin a top or how to blow bubbles. He turned around, a wide smile on his face; he saw that smile mirrored on Valerion's face, too.

"When you get into it, you get into it completely", he gently said.

Adrien chuckled, feeling his cheeks flush. He noticed: even though his candid exposure had left him flustered, he found himself absolutely unapologetic in his joy as he reveled in the wonder of discovery. He loved this happiness, he recognized.

"That is very good", he heard Valerion continue. "I'd say that there is nothing as important to a sorcerer than the ability to channel all of their being towards their task, and you definitely have it, Adrien - you definitely do", he said with a broad smile, his hands on his knees.

Laughing, Adrien moved his hair in front of his face, trying to conceal his redness. "Ah -- aw -- too many compliments, sir".

"Sir!", Valerion exclaimed.

"Sorry, your majesty", Adrien laughed.

The sorcerer Valerion laughed with him; then he continued, his tone calm. "Anyway, I'm sorry; I didn't know there was a shortage".

"A shortage of what?".

"A shortage of compliments", Valerion replied with a grin.

Adrien burst into a snorting, discomposed sort of laughter. "You hadn't heard?", he said between one giggle and the other, "There's a town where they have become so rare -- where they have become so rare, they are no longer complimentary; you now have to... pay the compliments".

Valerion groaned; then he laughed, his eyes hidden behind the palm of his hand in a show of amused embarrassment, until his laughter faded into a loud sigh. "Alright, it was great to meet you; now, I fear you must go. Your apprenticeship comes to an end here. Ah, and to think you showed such promise".

Adrien laughed, a bit ashamed but overall unrepentant. "I'm sorry - I'll do better next time".

"Please, don't!", Valerion said, outstretching his arm in a melodramatic gesture. Adrien giggled, then turned his head towards the wall and looked at his circles again. Euphoria aside, his last circles really were much better than the first ones, he remarked with a satisfied smile.

"So, do I continue?...".

"Yes", Valerion said. "My only suggestion right now is to keep your arm straighter as you draw".

"Oh. Alright", Adrien said. He reached the last free stretch of wall; he placed himself in position, drew a circle, then stepped to the right and drew one more, trying to keep his arm as straight as he could. "Is this better?", he asked.

"I think it is", Valerion answered. He leaned back against the chair. "If it's not impolite for me to ask - did you ever injure that arm?".

Adrien raised one eyebrow. "No -- not that I can think of -- not off the top of my head, at least".

"Ah -- I thought perhaps you were turning it against some sort of pain".

"It doesn't hurt, as far as I can tell", Adrien said, "Though, I wouldn't be surprised if it's something very old that I don't remember how I got", Adrien said, stroking his forearms. "I might have fallen out of a tree as a child and hit it. Actually, that sounds likely", he added with a chuckle. "I was quite -- quite unruly".

"You were?", Valerion asked, amused.

Adrien giggled. "I was constantly grounded. Even worse than that - my mom had to institute 'double groundings' to keep me under control. Of course, it didn't work", he said, laughing mischievously.

"Oh my", Valerion chuckled. "So, you would be grounded, and then manage to get yourself grounded again?".

"Yeah", he replied with a chortle. "But I took it as a challenge. So I would intentionally get myself grounded, and then see if I could get double-grounded and triple-grounded. Once I got quadruple-grounded; it made my entire week", he laughed, slightly red in the face.

Valerion laughed, covering his mouth with his hand in amused astonishment. "You were quite dedicated to troublemaking!".

"Yes, I was", Adrien giggled. "So I wouldn't be surprised if something did happen to that elbow".

"I see", Valerion nodded. "If that is the case, you will have to work with it - but, please, don't overexert it. Or maybe -- do you need a brace for it?".

"I -- I don't think so", Adrien said. "I think I'll be fine. But -- thank you so much for asking".

Valerion smiled and nodded. "Not a problem. Now - I think you have done enough for today; let's go to dinner, yes?".

"I -- I could continue".

"Oh, I know you could", Valerion said, "however, you shouldn't strain yourself. You have been doing great, Adrien - and you will do even better after a meal and a good night's sleep, wouldn't you say so?", he added with a smile of his eyes.

Adrien chuckled. "Yes - you're right. Alright".

With that, they left the practice tower and descended to the main hall, then seated themselves on the armchairs at the two ends of the table. The remnants of the setting sun were now giving way to thicker dusk; the sorcerer Valerion turned towards the fireplace, then waved one hand towards it to bring light to the room again. He sighed, then he sank deeper into the armchair, enjoying the warmth of the flames. He smiled contentedly, and Adrien felt that smile spread to his own cheeks.

"What would you like for dinner?", Valerion said.

"I don't know; what would you suggest?".

Valerion gazed upwards, in thought. "What about... what about mushroom risotto?".

"Oh, that would be amazing", Adrien sighed, a dreamy expression in his eyes.

Valerion smiled, then quickly drew a shape in the air with his fingers; now the table was set, and a generous portion of risotto occupied a plate in front of Adrien. "I hope you enjoy your dinner", he said as he poured himself a glass of white wine. "Ah -- would you like some?", he said, gesturing to the bottle with one finger.

"Oh, yes, thanks - just a little bit".

With a flicker of Valerion's hand, the bottle floated across the table to pour a small amount of wine into Adrien's glass, then landed again. Adrien outstretched his arm to pick up the glass and took a sip: it had a delicate, slightly astringent taste - it reminded him of the wild apples that he'd find in the woods around home. He then started eating his dinner; the rice was creamy, warm, and wonderful. He sighed, a smile on his face. "S- -- Valerion, I -- I wanted to thank you for all these amazing dinners; everything is always perfect".

"You should really thank the kitchen, not me", Valerion smiled, playing with his fork.

Adrien laughed. "Oh -- alright, then. But -- it was you who enchanted the kitchen, no?".

"Yes, correct".

"Then -- then you -- you deserve some compliments, too", Adrien said, tilting his head.

Valerion took another sip of wine, then put down his glass, and giggled softly. "Weren't they endangered?".

A little laugh shook Adrien's shoulders; then his laugh cooled off to a smile, and he picked up his fork again to finish his dinner. His gaze wandered to the other end of the table; he noted that Valerion's portion was very small - about a third of his own, he presumed. He wondered how could he be satisfied with eating so little, especially so little of such good food, but he thought better than to ask. Soon, the dinner was over; Valerion drank the last of his wine, then sank in his armchair with a pleased expression on his face.

"Dessert?", he asked.

"Oh, yes, please", Adrien eagerly said. "What sort?".

"That was going to be my question", Valerion giggled. "What do you think about tiramisù?".

"I think that I want it", Adrien said with a chuckle.

Valerion laughed with him, then waved his hand once more: the table had been cleared of the empty plates, and now in front of each there was a piece of tiramisù on a small plate, accompanied by a little two-tined fork on an embroidered napkin. Adrien saw that this time Valerion's portion was about the same size as his. With a smile on his face, he picked up the fork and started taking apart the tiramisù.

"I have never seen you eat anything without enthusiasm, Adrien", Valerion commented, smiling. "Is there even any food you dislike?", he added with a laugh.

Adrien felt a wave of redness tinge his cheeks, and he chuckled. "I can't think of any, but -- but I'm sure there must be", he replied. He furrowed his brow as he tried to recall a food he couldn't stand; then his eyes went wide: "Oh! Licorice. I don't like it at all", he said. "People either love it or hate it, and, well -- I hate it".

"Really? I would say that I am indifferent to it", Valerion said as he placed one elbow on the table and an amused smile on his face.

"Oh -- well -- I stand corrected", Adrien said with a chuckle. "Anyway, I can't think of much else... Ah -- goat meat, maybe", he added.

Valerion smiled. "Then you don't need to worry about that, since I don't like it, either".

"Perfect", Adrien giggled. "But that's really it, I think. I -- I guess I like about everything", he said with a feeble laugh as he cut another piece of tiramisù.

"You are almost making it sound like a bad thing", Valerion commented.

"Well, some people would say it's... unsophisticated of me".

Valerion leaned back in his armchair, and laughed cheerfully. "Oh, so now enjoying the pleasures of life is 'unsophisticated'! I shall take note", he said as he brought another bite of tiramisù to his mouth, savoring it with his eyes closed. "Ah, how unsophisticated", he said with a sigh and a smile.

Adrien laughed in agreement as he finished his piece of tiramisù. "Right. Thank you so much for the dessert - it was fantastic".

"Do you want more?".

"No, but thank you very much - I would accept, but --".

"-- Enough unsophistication for today?", Valerion asked with a cheeky smile.

"Yeah", Adrien chuckled. He leaned backwards and allowed himself to relax a bit as he waited for Valerion to finish; his eyes wandered to his empty plate, and he found himself overcome by a wave of immense thankfulness for his host. "I -- I really don't know how to express my gratitude for -- for everything that you've been doing for me", Adrien muttered. "It's -- it's almost too much. How can I ever thank you?".

"You just did", Valerion gently said. "Please, don't worry. I am only glad to be of help".

Adrien smiled and nodded; at the other side of the table, Valerion waved his hand once more, and the table was cleared. He slowly stood up: "Now, I am sorry, but I must retreat to my tower --".

"Oh! Of course", Adrien exclaimed. He sprang up from the armchair and started walking towards the door to the west tower as Valerion went the opposite way. He turned around and bowed slightly. "Good night, then".

"Good night, Adrien".