3.28 The Wooden Sword

Location: Montaven and beyond
Timeline: Sixth Age, 46th Year, Autumn

A fortnight later, Beckali, Alboris, Alfranco, Paulina, Teree, and Chich cried together whilst they watched Emcorae ride away from home in the company of a mysterious little elf that only Alfranco knew anything about.

The old man had introduced the Amorosi as El-Janus — that same azora warrior of that he had spoken so frequently about in his tales from The Last Great War. Yet El-Janus’ legendary reputation and his promise to protect the boy did little to quell the Azop’s fears. Even still, the family knew the die had been cast for Emcorae – his future would be determined away from Monthaven – and as they could not stop events from unfolding, their only choice was to try to see Emcorae off with well wishes until they should all meet again – which El-Janus told them would be no sooner than five summers from now.

In the weeks leading up to Emcorae’s departure, each of the Azops had tried to come to terms with the boy’s parting in their own way, yet in truth, none wanted to see him go and the family had engaged in numerous discussions, looking for a way to keep Emcorae with them. It was Emcorae’s grandmother Pallina who initially had the hardest time losing her beloved (1), yet it was the old woman’s words that had made the rest of the family finally acquiesce and let Emcorae go.

“We can’t fight Yahway’s will.” A heart-broken Pallina had advised the family, after she herself had had a lengthy discussion about the matter with Pastor Kastelli (2). “All we can do it pray that Meree will intercede on Em’s behalf and watch over him.”

And so it was that Emcorae left his home – the sorrowful parting words of all having been spoken and their tears shed, the family watched as Emcorae rode away on a pony that cantered close El-Janus’s mare – everybody wondering what the future held for the young boy.

Yet there was one figure watching the scene unfold who had not participated the events of the sad parting — watching from the seclusion of the nearby woods, the goddess Alyssa held a far different point of view about Emcorae’s future – smiling at what she witnessed, It comes together as I have planned.

The goddess flitted among the trees as she watched El-Janus lead the boy away, giddy with delight. Once she was certain the pair were out of sight from the Azops’ homestead, she blew a kiss on the wind towards the boy and then disappeared – satisfied with herself for a job well done.

Six days later, as the second month of the fall season was coming to a close and the trees were beginning to shed their varicolored leaves, Emcorae was still faring south with his new teacher.  The journey had been a quiet one so far – long days in the saddle, with El-Janus’ only talk being responses to Emcorae’s questions, rather than initiating conversations on his own. On the first couple days, the youngster’s queries had been many, yet as the days wore on, he’d grown weary of being the discussion starter. Yet, this was only the case while riding, as during their camps, the elf-lord took on the role of teacher and his dark blue eyes gained a twinkle that was not there when they rode — for when asaddle, the azora was on alert. And yet, even though his words were more around the campfire, even still the strange elf was not as loose-lipped as the boy and none of their discussions lasted long.

Far from home with a stranger he knew little about, Emcorae grew quickly homesick — wondering if he had made the right choice in deciding to go to Arbola in the first place. Travelling along the Easton Road by day, and making camps well off the road, Emcorae came to realize just how dark the nighttime hours could really be – especially when the moon went down and the stars were obscured by clouds. That’s when his mind began to fear that perhaps another gargoyle might be chasing him and he doubted that little El-Janus could do much against a demon should one of the evil sprites attack them. As such, the boy got little sleep and often dozed in the saddle during the long rides.

And it went for the first six days of the journey.

The next day Emcorae and El-Janus passed through the village of Sylvania – a bordertown that sat at the convergence of the Ontra Road with the great Easton-Weston Passage. After so many days of sleeping in the woods, Emcorae was eager to bunk in a bed again – sadly for him, that was not the case, as El-Janus only stopped in the town long enough to purchase some oats for the horses and a few supplies for the road, and the the pair made their way out of town shortly after that.

When Emcorae asked why they couldn’t just stay this night in town, the elf-warrior replied with a question of his own, “The sun has just path its zenith and the moon shows the promise of fullness tonight, do you not want to make as much progress as you can towards your goal today?”

Mouth agape, Emcorae didn’t reply – muttering to himself about the benefits of sleeping-in and silliness of waking up before dawn, and the like. To say he wasn’t thrilled with the schedule his new master had placed him on, would be an understatement. yet if that would have been the worst experience of this short trip to Arbola Forest, Emcorae would have been much the happier, albeit none the wiser.

Unfortunately for him, this night would bear witness to an event that would shake the core of the twelve year-old boy. 

“C’mon, sir, let me hold a real sword when we practice tonight instead of the wooden one again,” Emcorae complained. “I’m strong enough to lift a metal one if that’s what you’re afraid of. And, I won’t hurt myself.”

The pair had just finished making camp for the night and the lad knew that their evening sword-play training would soon begin. In the days prior, El-Janus had begun to assess the boy’s basic weapons-handling abilities by having him practice some novice short sword techniques with a light-weight practice blade made out of oak. The trials were neither difficult nor exhausting, yet they were the beginning of a long journey along a path that marked the progression to Warrior.

“Two things I say to you, my child,” began the diminutive elf-lord, raising a finger to stress his point, “One: do not whine in my presence – it does not become an Azora-in-training.”

“And the second?” An embarrassed Emcorae squeaked. 

“Do not question the methods I use to teach you, Emcorae Azop. For they have been proven true by thousands of years of training. Not even I, a mysstro, dare question The Way.” 

El-Janus was calmly seated before the campfire, appearing to be comfortable as always, dressed in his simple traveling clothes: loose cotton pantaloons and a linen waist-length tunic, both brown, with a green obi-sash, and short leather boots. El-Janus was indeed much like his grandfather Alfranco had described – at a mere five feet tall, he was shorter than the average elf, and with his aged olive skin, bald scalp, and lack of any armor, the elf’s appearance did not bring to mind the image of a world-class warrior. Yet, Emcorae had learned straight away that any misconceptions about respect for El-Janus would likely be a mistake – for, although the Amorosi had not drawn his weapons, his dual rapiletti blades were ever visible in their scabbards at his hip, and the boy rightly guessed that the elf could flash his steal at a moment’s notice.

Additionally, beyond the sight of the warrior’s weapons, Emcorae surmised something else: the Azora mysstro that was El-Janus had a presence about him, a kind of “lifeforce” that seemed to encircle him, and the wisdom that was overtly evident in his midnight blue eyes was as vast as the sky itself. Thus, the boy was both intimidated and awed by his new teacher and frequently he found himself apologizing.

“I’m sorry, master. I did not mean to question your teaching. But please, sir, tell me more about The Way – the way to where?”

The Way of the Azora,”  smiled El-Janus, his demeanor softening. “It is the path that we all must tread if we want to reach the enlightenment of understanding what it means to be a noble warrior.”

“How long did it take you to complete it?”

“I am still finding my way.”

“What?” The boy gasped. “But my granddad said that you’re seen more than 400 seasons and he said you were a master! Isn’t that true? I mean, c’mon, there ain’t no way I could live that long, so how can I become an Azora? Why am I even going down there then, if I have no chance?”

After patiently waiting for the boy to question himself out, El-Janus responded, “It is true that I have witnessed the dawning of 473 spring times. It is also true to say that I was once a Pupil like you. But in time, with much training, did I progress, and thus I learned much as a Novitiate. Yet, that was not the end for me, instead I desired to continue walking, and I did find success too as a Cavalier. And now I am fortunate enough that Pan and Alyssa have blessed me with the opportunity to serve as Mysstro.”

“But,” interrupted Em, wanting to know more about his own situation, “how long will it take me to move to the next level? To become a Novice?”

“Most Pupils develop the basic skills necessary to confidently move on to the next stage of their lives as a Novitiate within a decade or three.”

Emcorae gushed for a flood of despair, yet the elf held up a hand. “Listen, my son, before you speak. You can learn much that way. No warrior ever gets to the end of this training. There is no End, but for the end of your days. None can ever know all the answers. For that knowledge is left for the gods alone. And even then, only a few may know The Truth – nay, perhaps only El-Aba, the Father, may know that much. But for you, for me, and others like us, we must pray that we ever have the ability to walk along the path, for only then, can we learn more about The Way.”

“But, how will I ever know when I am even a warrior?” lamented the youth. “Are you saying I will be ‘in training’ for all of my life?”

“Ah, Emcorae, your ‘training’ has only just begun and you would be wise to hope that it lasts a long, long time. For, understand that we practice in order to ingrain these basic repetitive maneuvers into the very fabric of our being. We make these moves into unconscious habits, reproducible without thought or mind, but instead just action or reaction as needed. By doing so, we are giving ourselves a good foundation from which to build upon. A foundation is a beginning, and when you begin with a solid foundation, you improve your chances of ending with a desirable result. Thus, your practice training is the heart of your real life success.”

“But when will I ever use my skills in real life?” Emcorae wondered, a bit afraid at what his teacher might answer.  

Pray, young one, that you are not forced to use even the small skills you have learned so far anytime soon.” Then smiling, El-Janus added calmly, “One day you will understand this simple lesson. But for now, I say to you in the words of The Society of Dead Poets, ‘Learn to understand your place in the grand scheme of things; That the wonderful play may go on and you may contribute a verse.’ What will your verse be, Emcorae Azop? Think on that this night as we continue our lesson with the sword – yes, the wooden sword.”

Nektar’s Notes

  1. She didn’t hesitate to lay the blame of losing Emcorae on her husband Alfranco for in her mind, if he had never gotten mixed up with the elves or that silly war, none of this would have happened. That Emcorae was being forced to pay for Alfranco’s sins was of a certain for Pallina. And it was Alfranco’s sin of losing Emcorae that she would ever condemn him for.
  2. When the clergyman had learned about Emcorae’s opportunity to start a new life, he explained to Pallina that surely this was a gift from Mannah and must be accepted. His words had the desired effect and caused Pallina to support Emcorae’s leaving town – the end result is that Pastor Kastelli took advantage of the ‘opportunity’ to get rid of the town’s pariah and rebuild the pysche of his parish all in one blow.
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