"ZAK! ZAK! Come on! We've gotta go on the hunt!"
"Just a minute!" Today was the day. His 16th birthday! Zak was finally coming into his own! He got to go hunt in the Darken Woods. The other boys in his village told of geese the size of eagles, giant boars and frightening monsters. Zak always wanted to catch one of the massive geese. He liked eating goose.
He grabbed his bow and arrow. He had been practicing every day just for this event. He ran out of his room and joined his older brother.Ethan was 20 and was considered the best hunter of July Village. And the best older brother too. "I'm ready!"
"Not yet!" a voice said.
"Oh, yeah. Mom."
"Aren't you forgetting something?"
"G'bye mom! I promise I'll bring back a giant goose for dinner!" His mother laughed. "I'll be waiting. You father would be so proud of you today."
"I know mom. I have to go! See you later!" He ran out the door. "So..have you been practicing?" his brother asked.
"Yes! I'm so ready!"
"Have you seen the forest before?"
"Well.it's giant. You can feel the evil oozing from its trees. Roars of monsters and..."
"Come on, Ethan. Those are the same stories we were told when we were younger.they don't scare me!"
"Not even...the warlocks?"
"You don't know what a warlock is? It's like a male witch."
"Oh.like a wizard!"
"No, wizards are good. Why do you think every village has one?" "Oh. So it's an evil wizard."
"Exactly. They say if one finds you, you'll never return. Remember when we ran one out of town?"
"Yeah, yeah. Whatever. Stop tryin' to scare me. I'm not ten."
"Hey! Ethan!" his friends waved them over. "Ya ready?"
"Yup! Zak here's gonna bag us a goose."
"Great! Let's head out then."
They walked for about an hour before "Guys..is it really so far away?"
"Zak, if it were closer, the monsters would attack the village."
"God, your brother is so whiny."
"Hey, leave him alone. You weren't any better."
"We're here." They stood at the edge of a massive wall of trees. Dark, scary trees. Zak could feel the evil oozing from them and hear the roars of monsters and.he shook his head. Ethan was getting to him again. "Well, are you going to stay out here or come in?"
"Out. I'm gonna try my new thing!"
"Yeah! I attached strings to my arrows so that I can pull the goose back and not have to go looking for it." He smiled.
Ethan laughed. "Ok. We'll meet you out here. We've got to go get some boar."
"Right." Zak sat and waited. And waited. And waited. The suddenly a goose! It was gigantic! Bigger than an eagle! As it spread its wings over the trees, he quickly drew his bow and took aim. "Gotcha!" He shot the arrow and prayed. DIRECT HIT! He felt for the string and grabbed it. He started to pull...but forgot about gravity. The bird was falling so fast that the string slipped out of his hands and dissapeared into the forest. He had to go in now. Cautiously he took his steps into the darkness. He calculated where in the forest the arrow would have landed. Pretty deep. He choked up and went in. It was scary. It was the scarriest forest ever!!! He started to jog as he swore he heard a howl. Suddenly a clearing. It seemed akward. A small house was in the clearing. Who'd want to live here, Zak thought. But.it was where the arrow and bird landed.but where was it? Obviously it had to be somewhere.
"Looking for something?" a calm smooth voice purred. He looked at the doorway of the house. In it was a man, who looked to be in his twenties. Well groomed, well spoken with long black hair tied away from his face, glasses, and a dark robe. He waved an impaled giant goose in Zak's direction. Zak blushed. Something about him. "I must say it scared the holy hell out of me when it crashed through my roof...when asking the powers that be for wisdom it's kind of frigtening when they send you a dead goose through the roof. Much less a dead goose with an arrow in it."
All Zak did was nod. Who was this person? He approached Zak. "Well..what have we here? Hmm.16 year old from July, I presume. Then this definatly must be yours. Aren't the brightest of the bunch are we? String is much too light. Twine might have worked."
Zak made a huffy noise. He couldn't bring himself to do much else.
"Not talkative are you.Oh! How rude of me! I'm Morgan Harpsbeak. And you are?"
"Zak...Zak Tobias."
"Well, Zak...make yourself at home."
"Well I can't possibly let you leave, can I? Not now that you know I'm here."
"What?! Why?"
"Hmm? Can't you tell? I'm a warlock?"
Zak reached for his dagger. Morgan glared. The dagger flew from Zak's hand into a tree.
"Oh, please. I'm not going to hurt you or eat you or anything. It's just that if you went back and told the village about me, they'd come barraging in with their torches and pitchforks and that would intterupt reading time. Plus, it gets awful lonely here. So unless you want to wander the woods for eternity, I suggest you come inside."
Zak considered the options and followed Morgan. He was sad. His brother and mother would never see him again. All because of his ambition.
"You're an awful good shot. Right on the heart. Perfect." Morgan said, examining the bird. He motioned to a chair. "Sit. I'll cook it up for us. I'm hungry as I'm sure you are. Water?"
Morgan produced a chalice of water from his hand. Zak reluctantly accepted. He hadn't had anything to drink. Morgan leaned in to Zak. "Grey."
"Excuse me?"
"You have grey eyes. Odd for someone from July. Mostly brown and green from there. Grey's a rarity. Quite beautiful, actually." Did he just call Zak beautiful? What a weird person. Strange that he was so comfortable around him. It was then Zak's curiousity got the best of him. What color were Morgan's eyes? He looked. Purple. A deep, mystifying purple.
"Boring purple!" Morgan said with a smile.
"Boring!? I've never seen anyone with purple eyes."
"Oh, they're very common in my family."
"...are you evil?"
Morgan blinked. His cheeks puffed up like a chipmunk's before he burst into laughter. He wiped a laughter tear from his eye. "Well, I suppose there is some evil on our side of the magic coin, but I hardly have those tendancies. No one really is evil...well maybe a few. They sure do ruin our reputation. And then there was the wizard propoganda."
"Wizard propaganda?" Zak asked. Morgan was actually quite fun to talk to.
"Well, there was one group of us that wanted to be called warlocks, another sorcerors and then there were the wizards. They thought is should be wizard and only wizard and so, started to spread nasty little rumors like we're evil ans such."
"But the part about me never going back home is true."
"Only because I would be killed and that's inconvieniet. If I'd done something, well yes, but I'm innocent... and very, very lonely. Well, I'd better go and cook that goose. Feel free to look around." With that he took the goose into what appeared to be the kitchen.
Zak's stomach growled. He was starving. He sipped his water and looked around. He walked into a room filled to the ceiling with books and suddenly wished he could read better. What kind of books would someone studying magic read? He took one off the shelf. "The", "of" and "Birds" were the only words he could make out of the cover.
"You...can't read. Can you?" He heard Morgan's voice say, almost solmnly from the doorway.
"No," he replyed. "Not well. Only small words on signs and such."
"That's the problem with the village of July. They train all the boys to be hunters. None of them can. well...what words can you read off that cover." "
The...of...and Birds."
"Well you got birds. You're fairly advanced for the level of education you received. I'll have to teach you then."
"Teach me?"
"To read. You're curious about the books aren't you?"
Morgan took the book from his hand. "The Many Uses of and Types of Birds and Feathers. This would be good to start with. You being interested in birds an all."
"How did you know?"
"A hunch. It's one of the words you can read and you had to hunt that goose..obviously an intrest of yours. Gregory!"
"Gregory?" A shining black raven flew in through the doorway and perched on Morgan's arm. "This is Gregory. A pet of sorts." The bird made a squwaking sound. "Gregory, this is Zak." Morgan motioned for Zak to approach the bird. The bird looked as though he was examining Zak's every movement.
"Hello, Gregory," Zak said, very nervous. He reached out his hand and petted Gregory's wing. The softest feathers he had ever felt. "You're a beautiful bird, Gregory. He must take good care of you."
"Thank you," Morgan said with a smile. "He doesn't seem to think so, I'm afraid."
Zak blushed as he realized he had said that thought out loud.
"Gregory likes you. He's rather finicky. Normally doesn't like anyone. Pecked at me when I first got him." Gregory squwaked. "Yes you did. I bled!"
"No, I'm not exaggerating! Look! The scar's still there!"
"Squwak squwak!"
"Well, no of course I didn't heal it. I don't do that kind of thing."
"Um, excuse me."
"You can understand him?"
"Yes. Can't you?"
"No. I'm an ordinary person, remember?"
"I keep forgetting." Morgan held his palm out to Zak. He mumbled something incomprehensible to Zak and the palm started to glow. Then suddenly stopped. Morgan smiled. "That should help."
"I can't believe you're giving him magic."
"Quiet, Gregory. He's living here now, so a little would help out."
"He should earn it."
"Not like anything you have to say is of any importance."
"It is too!"
"I want food. Feed me feed me feed me! You're a horible warlock! Feed me feed me feed me! I hate you! Feed me feed me feed me!"
Zak started laughing. "What do you think is so funny."
Zak answered honestly. "You're grumpy for a bird."
Morgan started laughing.
"If it weren't for your glasses, Morgan, I'd peck your eyes out."
"Ah, but that's why they're there."
"No, It's because you're blind as a bat without them."
"Bats aren't blind."
"Well you're as blind as a blind thing without them."
"I can see! Just...not well."
"And...this is your pet," Zak said.
"Notice I said of sorts. I heal his wing, give him food and he just stays around. Annoying, isn't it? It's why I'm glad you're around. He was my only company for a while."
"I'm tired." With that, Gregory flew away.
"So did you really give me magic?"
"Well, sort of. I just put an enchantment on you so you could understand Gregory."
"You...aren't what I expected from a Warlock."
"You aren't what I expected from a boy from July."
"How do you know so much about July?"
"I used to live there."
"WHAT? Live there?"
"Yes. A while ago. When I was about 16, starting out on my own as well."
"How old are you?"
"Me? 22. I'm pretty young. Youngest of 5."
"I don't remember you. I would have been ten so I should."
"Hmm...Oh! That's right! I remember. I looked completely different! My hair was shorter and I changed my eye color to brown so the people wouldn't be suspicious of anything!" He laughed. "I went by the name of Michael. I didn't want to live alone like other warlocks. But..sure enough people got strange ideas. No one likes an outsider. Especially an outsider who's more intelligent than they and who keeps to himself."
"You kept to yourself?"
"In the evenings. I have to keep my magic up to par, you know. Eventually they found me out and I had to run into the woods here. Made a house and I've been here ever since. Sure you don't remember me?"
"Barely. I remember a mob of people going to the weird man's house."
".yes..that would be me."
"I liked Weird Man. He seemed nice."
"I know, I know."
"The goose is almost done."
"That was fast!"
"Magic. So much to learn for you." He left again to attend to the goose. Zak had to follow. The smell coming from the kitchen was wonderful. "I haven't had goose in a long time, much less someone to share it with. Can't feed it to Gregory." Zak peered in to see Morgan carving the fully cooked goose and putting pieces on separate plates. "This will feed us nicely for a few days. Here." He handed Zak a plate. "Eat." A table and chairs appeared out of nowhere.
"Hmmm? The table? Well, it takes up so much space."
Zak sat and began to eat. "Wow! This is delicious!" It was the most wonderful bit of food to ever pass through Zak's mouth.
"I'm glad." Zak was the first person Morgan had seen in about a year, outside of his family. He'd been desperate for someone. Anyone to share a part of his life with. He got bored so easily. And now Zak was here. Things seemed so much brighter now, and they'd only known each other for a little more than an hour. But they were so comfortable together. Or at least Morgan felt comfortable around Zak. He wasn't sure about Zak's feelings. He began to thank the powers that be for that goose. He then prayed Zak would be with him forever. Then he got a wonderful vision. He and Zak were in Morgan's bed. He was holding the younger in his arms and placing a soft kiss on his lips...Morgan shook off the vision as imagination or result of being alone too long. He was a young man as was Zak. That wasn't right. Two men couldn't be in love, could they? No, it didn't make sense. Perhaps he only wanted Zak as an apprentice.but that vision...it felt so exciting...so right.Morgan would just wait and see.
"Morgan...is something wrong?"
"Huh? No. Nothing. Just wondering if you'd like to study under me as an apprentice."
"What would I learn?"
"Reading, writing, potion making, perhaps a few simple spells. I'll teach you many things. It's up to you."
"I...I guess I'll try it."
"Wonderful! We'll start tomorrow then! You'll need to read first, so I'll start teaching you." They finished eating.
"Well, now what do I do."
"Well, you can wander the meadow, you can stare at the ceiling, talk to Gregory or you can come with me and look at the stars."
"But it's not dark out yet."
Morgan chuckled. He led Zak to a darkened room. "Look up," he said. Zak turned his head upwards. On the ceiling were more stars than he had ever seen. But they weren't painted. No, they twinkled as if they were real.
"Are they...real?"
"Yes and no. They really do exist, but these are just an image of them."
"They're beautiful."
"Aren't they? I come here all the time and look at them. The stars tell so many things."
"They do?"
"Yes." He pointed up. "See that star there? The bright one with the two little ones by it?"
"Yes. What about it?"
"That star is me. The little one to the left is Gregory. That one...is new. So, it's yours. It showed up yesterday. So now I know what it means. Moved from over there, actually."
"Wow...so each star is a person's life. And they tell the future?"
"You could say that, yes."
"You know them pretty well, don't you?"
"Not that many stars around us."
"Not that many people who care about what happens to me."
"You don't seem like that kind of person."
He chuckled. "That's nice of you to say that, but you barely know me."
"I'd like to."
"You're a good person...I can tell."
"Some don't think so. But oh well. Well...there's lots of time before evening. Why don't you go to the library and get that book for me. We'll start your lesson now."
"Ok." Zak left the star chamber and wandered back to the library. He found the book and flicked through it curiously. He closed it and looked out the window. "Really...what kind of person are you, Morgan." He walked slowly back to the star chamber where he was met with a warm smile. "Ready then?"
"Yes," he handed the book to Morgan.
"First off, do you know the alphabet."
"A..b..c..d..e..f..g..h..i..j..k..l..m..n..o..p..q..r..s..t..u..v..w..x..y.. z.I think that's all of it."
"Impressive! Very impressive indeed. But can you spell anything with them? How about your name?"
"Z.a..k. Yup."
"No C?"
"Nope! Mom always spelled it like that."
"I like it. It's different. Now," he produced a quill and paper. "Write it."
Zak scribbled something on the paper that slightly resembled what he had spelled. "Did I get it right?"
"Let's work on your handwriting, but yes. I'm very impressed. Try mine."
"How do you spell it?"
"I'll let you try it." Zak thought for a moment. Then drew out "Morgen" on the paper.
"Close. Very close."
"What did I miss."
"It's an a instead of an e. You see, the e makes the g make a j sound."
"It does?"
"Yes, so what you wrote would be pronounced Mor-jen. But what's weird is that it doesn't always."
"Why not?"
"It's a messed up language. You'll get it..Get! There's an example! Get is g-e-t. Get still has a hard g."
"This is confusing.can't you just work another enchantment or spell or something?"
"No. You're intelligent. You can do this. Personally, I think you can read just fine. You just don't think you can. Your mother taught you?"
"She says she taught me more than my brother. She said I was always interested in it. All the women can read and write. I was taught a little in school, but they mostly focused on my archery."
"That's the other thing. Archery."
"What about it?"
"Not many archers from July. Not good ones anyway. I want to see you shoot sometime."
"You're an archer too?"
"No. Just a fan. I like watching it. I also want to see how steady your hand is. Important in making potions."
"Want to see now? I could shoot something right now!"
"All right then, let's see." Zak was happy. He honestly didn't want to continue the reading lesson this evening. And as kind as Morgan was, he wanted to run. Perhaps he could find an opprotunity while the warlock's back was turned or something. "Let's go outside then." He followed Morgan out of the house. In the clearing, Morgan waved his hand. A target appeared on one of the trees. "Well? Go ahead."
"Easy." Zak stood farther back than necessary from the target. Morgan stood next to him studying his form. Zak released the arrow and it flew directly into the center of the target.
"Excellent! I've never seen such skill!" The embodiment of giddyness ran over to examine the arrow.
Zak took his opprotunity and slipped away into the dark forest. He started running through. "ZAK!" he heard his brother's voice calling in the distance. "ZAK! Where are you! ZAK?"
"Ethan!" He ran in the direction of the voice. His brother was looking for him. He could go home!
"ZAK!" The voice was coming from another direction now.
"Ethan?" Zak was confused. But decided to follow the voice. Closer and closer he got to it. Then he remembered Morgan's warning about wandering the forest for eternity. Had he enchanted it? Maybe there was some evil in him. But then Zak vividly saw Morgan's smile and the look of kindness in his eyes. He remembered how Morgan claimed to be lonely and that no one cared about him. And Zak wanted to read. He really did want to read every book in that library. But his home, his family.he heard Ethan's voice trailing away in the distance. "I'm sorry, Ethan." He turned around to see Morgan standing behind him, not looking at all pleased.
"I told you you couldn't leave."
"I-I'm sorry, Morgan."
"I can't trust you for a while, understand?"
"Yes." He instantly missed Morgan's smile. "Morgan.I."
"What is it?" he said gruffly.
"You.don't have any friends do you?"
"Are you mad at me?"
"Yes." Morgan was acting not at all like when they first met. He seemed short, cold and frightening. He turned and motioned for Zak to follow him.
"Morgan."Zak couldn't understand why he was tearing up only after spending a few hours with him. "I felt guilty after leaving. I remembered how alone you were and decided to turn back. I want to be..I want to be your friend."
Morgan stopped. "I can't have friends."
"Why not?"
Morgan turned to face Zak. His face was plastered with sadness. "No one loves me. My own family never even noticed I was there. The only place where I knew people ran me out of town. My own pet who I nursed back to health when he was an inch from death hates my every move! WHY DO YOU THINK I LIVE ALONE!? I AM ALONE!" He turned his head away. "I'll always be alone. No one wants me."
"I do. I want.I want to know you. I want to be your friend. I want.to stay with you. Morgan.I'm sorry for trying to run. Do you forgive me?"
"Zak...do you mean what you said?"
"Do you promise to never run again."
"I promise."
"I forgive you." Zak smiled at Morgan. The continued the walk back. Morgan laughed. "You know I would have forgiven you, no matter how angry I was.. I'm such a desperate person."
"But.thank you, Zak."
"Did you mean what you said about being alone?"
"Every word."
Zak walked faster so he was directly beside Morgan. "You aren't alone anymore," he said, taking Morgan's hand in a friendly sort of way. The touch in itself was, for lack of a better word, magic. Both stopped and looked into each other's eyes. Each knew the other was special. They were meant to meet each other. That had to be. They had just barely met and were so comfortable. They were meant to be together. Morgan desperatly needed Zak. He needed Zak to be his friend. He needed someone who would listen, who he could teach, who he could share with. For such a lonely man, a friend was a necesity that always seemed to be out of reach. And now it was here. Zak needed Morgan to foster his untapped intelligence. He needed someone to disolve all the prejudices he had and to break open the world for him. He needed praise for his knowledge and help to acquire more. Both he and Morgan were missing something. And now they had each found it in each other.