Please enjoy the first chapter of Be: The Journey of Rol, a story of adventure and hope:
“Do you want the good news or the bad news first?”
It was a mind game that fourteen-year-old Rol often played with his much older uncle, Master DaTerrin.
“I’ll take the bad news first, young impetuous one,” replied DaTerrin. “And I do hope that this time the bad news is not as bad as it has been recently.”
“Well, as you can see,” started Rol innocently, “I don’t have the items for the week that you sent me to get at the market.” Rol held out his arms to show they were free of the expected edibles. “But instead”—and he paused for a moment and a half for effect—“I have these three tiny, speckled duck eggs.” He held them forth in the palm of his right hand to be gazed upon in all their tiny, speckled duck egg glory.
The aged face of DaTerrin showed the glimmer of a smile. His wrinkled lips trembled and then quivered, but he fought to control his reaction to the sight of the eggs in his nephew’s palm. To make a further attempt at presenting a serious appearance, DaTerrin pinched his right eye whiskers between his thumb and forefinger, twirling them deliberately as he listened. He also furrowed his brow for good measure.
“And the good news,” continued Rol, “is that they are magic eggs that, when eaten, will imbue whoever eats them with amazing powers like invisibility and incredible strength!” After another pause for effect, he added, “Before you doubt even the slightest bit, I’ll have you know it’s true. It is. I heard it from the merchant who sold them to me in town. He had to remind me what imbue meant, though.”
A moment for the words to sink in.
Another. And one more.
Then, without warning, DaTerrin lost the smile battle and went straight into a laugh that quickly became hearty, on the brink of boisterous or even clamorous. It took some time for the elder to regain control. He had been semi-expecting a humorous remark from his nephew—based on past experience, especially recently—but not the one he had just heard. When the laughter subsided, after a few subsequent chuckle eruptions that came out of nowhere, he calmly said in a deadpan manner, “Magic duck eggs. That’s a good one. Your wit knows no bounds. But tell me, my young jester, where are the supplies? The truth this time.”
Rol shrugged playfully, but upon seeing his uncle’s expression transition from that-was-quite-humorous-and-thank-you-for-the-good-laugh to I’ve-had-enough-for-the-moment-and-the-time-for-your-antics-is-over, he decided to end the high jinks.
“I’ll be right back,” Rol said, and ran hurriedly down the path toward the town he had visited earlier that morning. Standing a few steps in front of the door to his house, DaTerrin watched as his nephew stopped at the nearest tree, reached behind the large, gnarled trunk to grab something on the ground, and then stood up, placing his left hand on his hip while scratching the top of his head with his right. Rol hesitated for a moment and then slowly crouched. There were a few moments of shuffling and of gathering items in his arms, and then he came jogging back to DaTerrin, who waited for him, stone-faced.
“Do you want the good news or the bad news first?” asked Rol again, this time with a nervous crack in his voice.
“I would like them both,” DaTerrin said, sounding frustrated. “The order doesn’t matter, and this game must come to an end. Preferably a satisfactory end.”
“The good news is that I went to the market and brought back everything—everything, mind you—that you asked me to get. The bad news is that I put all the items behind that tree”—Rol pointed, indicating the exact tree—“so that I could tell you about the duck eggs. And it appears that while we were talking, a few local skrats happened to get into the bread. Now we have one less loaf of bread for the week.” Rol lowered his head, looking as sorry as he could in hopes of appearing properly distraught about the situation.
Rubbing his wispy white-and-gray beard thoughtfully with one ancient hand, DaTerrin contemplated the most appropriate reply that would reprimand his nephew without discouraging him. Rol knew perfectly well what was happening and stood motionlessly in front of his older and wiser uncle. He waited patiently for the elder’s response, waited a little longer, and then—when it seemed he could not possibly wait another moment—he forced himself to wait longer still. Rol did so without uttering a sound and without any unnecessary fidgeting, such as scratching itchy spots or cracking his dirt-encrusted finger or toe knuckles. Rol was a good student and learned his lessons quickly. He also understood that although he had provoked a good laugh, it had been at the expense of a few days’ worth of bread, which was costly and inconvenient to replace.
As he waited, Rol thought that the worst-possible reply from DaTerrin would be his uncle asking what he thought should be done. That’s how it always happened. Master put Rol on the spot, and that made Rol wish he had a carefully constructed answer—or even an array of appropriate comebacks—instead of some blubbering words and nonsensical phrases that didn’t help the situation in any way, but instead often prolonged the agony.
“What do you think I should do about this?” the master asked wistfully.
I sure didn’t see that coming, thought Rol sarcastically. He devised his comeback quickly. “Since you are asking, I think you should tell me what you would do so that I will gain knowledge from your great wisdom,” replied the ever-sly student.
“I will tell you,” said the even slyer teacher, “and then you will grace me with feedback to what I have said. But first, in all humility, as I am a student as well as a teacher, some words of wisdom: For those you first meet—as well as those you have known for ages—believe in them, have faith in them, give them your complete trust. If they would like you to feel or act otherwise, that is up to them.”
DaTerrin let that sink in for a moment. Then another. And then one more moment to wrap it up in a neat little package.
While absorbing the wisdom that had been expressed so eloquently and collecting his admittedly inadequate thoughts, Rol chose his words carefully. Purposefully looking seriously serious, he replied, “You trusted me to bring back the items from the market. I was careless and let them out of my sight for the sake of a joke. I let you down and deserve some sort of punishment for betraying your trust and making you feel otherwise, just as you now mentioned in your words of unbelievably wise wisdom moment.”
DaTerrin wrestled back a grin. Almost. “Yes, you were careless. But you were also quite humorous with your remark about magic. Not that funny makes up for careless, mind you. Yet, I do know that your heart was in the right place . . . even though your bag of food was not.” The smile at last broke through fully, putting Rol at ease. “Let’s consider this a lesson learned and a good deed done for those pesky skrats. Anyway, I can’t wait to try those ‘magic’ duck eggs. The extra strength I don’t need, but I’ve always wanted to know what it would be like to suddenly disappear.”
Back in his room, after helping his uncle put away the items from the market, Rol looked out a cobweb-laden window at a brief rain shower and reflected on the encounter with his uncle. He was amused by how similar it had been to many of their interesting interactions. Moments of fun, periods of seriousness, a reasonable ending that led Rol to later reflect on the experience. Most likely it all unfolded in exactly the way his uncle had planned, which did not bother Rol a bit. The time with DaTerrin was often predictably unpredictable as much as it was organized chaos, but Rol believed he benefited from all the training and experiences. His master sometimes referenced their sessions as “serious buffoonery,” which described the various situations well.
Although Rol’s uncle was much, much older—or “wiser,” as DaTerrin preferred to think of the gap—and therefore had much more life experience than he did, secretly, Rol longed for the knowledge and enlightenment his uncle had earned and now displayed. They shared a common bond when it came to the quest for knowledge.
In terms of appearance, though, the two were wildly different. Rol was thin and tall for his age, while his uncle was pudgy and not so tall, a difference that Rol referred to at times by calling his uncle “Little Master”—but only when he thought he could get away with it. The boy had bright green eyes and mostly smooth skin, as opposed to the elder, who had mysterious gray eyes and weathered but not unduly wrinkled, pale skin. Rol’s hair was dark brown and curly, but DaTerrin had little hair on his head—and most of the hair he did have appeared to have migrated down to his small chin, from which a long, whitish-gray beard sprouted. More wispy hair poked out playfully from DaTerrin’s bumpy nose and knotted ears.
Both Rol and his uncle had generally cheerful outlooks and good manners—though when it came to eating without slurping, neither would be counted among the civilized. Both had surprisingly quick reflexes, and both enjoyed challenges, puzzles, and deciphering as well as witty banter, if they did say so themselves. The two discovered they both also appreciated music. DaTerrin whistled joyfully when he awoke at sunrise each day, and Rol lay in bed in the next room, listening to the playfully shrill sound before committing to the day by putting his sockless feet on the rugless floor.
DaTerrin’s voice interrupted the daydreaming Rol.
“If you are not too preoccupied, young one,” said Rol’s uncle, “would you consider walking with me to the market to replace that bread?”
A brief return to the village market quickly became much more exciting than the shopping trip just that morning, even with its speckled duck eggs prank.
Upon arriving in the market area, Rol heard shouts of “Thief! Stop!” from a nearby shop. He and DaTerrin turned to see a black-robed man running out of the shop with a pouch in one hand and a small stick in the other. The shop owner chased after the man but stopped abruptly at the entrance. Others in the area gathered around to help, but they backed away swiftly as the man raised the stick and pointed threateningly at each bystander, then sweeping the air with it to hold them all at bay.
“Mind you, I have a wand of foul spells,” cried the robed man, who pulled back the hood of his cloak to get a better view. Rol noted that his hair was white, and his eyes were wild and black. The man continued in a booming and obnoxious voice, “I am Darkor, son of Darklor. Do not test me, or you will pay dearly.” He confidently wielded the stick, which was presumably the wand he had mentioned earlier, and continued to point it menacingly at the frightened townsfolk. He also started backing his way toward the main path in and out of the village.
DaTerrin moved toward Rol and whispered a few words in his ear. Rol replied with a strange look and the words: “Are you sure?”
DaTerrin nodded and moved away quickly, around the outer edge of the crowd and toward the man known—at least to himself—as Darkor. Rol watched his uncle and then tentatively stepped into an open area that had been vacated by bystanders, putting himself between them and the self-acclaimed son of Darklor.
“Excuse me,” muttered Rol. The white-haired man stopped. He tilted his head slightly as he tried to make sense of the situation. A younger was addressing him. There was no movement from anyone in the crowd, at least that he could see. And nothing threatening about the boy, but something was not right.
Suddenly, the man in black felt a tug on the back of his hood. When he wheeled around, he came chest to face with a man who seemed to be about his age but who was smaller and with more nose and ear hair. Pointing his wand at the whiskered newcomer, Darkor said, again in that obnoxious voice, “I am Darkor, son of Darklor. Who dares confront me and the wrath of my powerful wand?” And then he pointed his highfalutin stick in DaTerrin’s face.
DaTerrin smiled pleasantly at the man. He made a quick motion to the left, then back to the right, and then he raised both hands and put his thumbs in his ears while wiggling his fingers at Darkor. The wand followed DaTerrin’s movements, but no further action was taken.
DaTerrin taunted the irritating man for a few more moments, practically inviting him to demonstrate his wizardry. When Darkor did nothing, DaTerrin snatched the wand from him, spun it around twice in his fingers, and rapped one end on the fleshy tip of his opponent’s pointy nose. In a complete stupor, the dazed man in black watched DaTerrin snap the wand in two while sweeping his right foot behind Darkor’s ankles. DaTerrin then pushed Darkor in the chest, a move that immediately caused him to drop to the ground, bringing embarrassment to Darkor, as well as papa Darklor, whoever he was. Flat on his back, and with an absolutely stunned expression, the would-be thief and self-proclaimed wizard lay helpless and silent while some of the menfolk from the village swaggered in to hold him down.
Rol rushed to his uncle and hugged him tightly. “I know I should have been confident, but I was too scared,” he said, apologetically. “I thought he would turn you into a larch bird or some such creature.”
“He did,” quipped DaTerrin with a wink, “But I recovered quickly.”
A few bystanders, who happened to be bystanding around and were obviously eavesdropping, laughed and patted DaTerrin and Rol on their backs, and then continued with their business of being background extras. As the crowd dispersed and Darkor was taken away in chains, Rol asked his mentor how he had known the man would not use his wand to cast a spell on him.
“I’ve lived a long, long time, young one,” his uncle said. “I’ve seen many interesting and inexplicable things. But I’ve never seen a magic object live up to its reputation. The truth is, magic wands aren’t. Transforming spells don’t. Scrolls and potions are just fancy names for paper and liquid. Darkor knew his wand was useless. I could see it in his eyes. He was more afraid than you, although he covered his fear well with his deep, confident voice.”
“But . . .”
“Why are there so many stories of magical happenings? People are bored, so they make up tales of wizards and sorcery. Or they try to take advantage of someone who will believe them, as Mr. Dorkor tried to do a few moments ago. The best way to handle that situation is to confront the person. Call him out. And if you can show others the lie at the same time—well, all the better.”
Rol said that he thought he understood. Then, after settling down from the excitement, as he and his uncle continued their market day rounds, he joked, “I wander what will happen to the man in black.”
“He’ll be sitting a spell in prison, I’m sure,” wisecracked DaTerrin.
They both agreed that the punnery should end there.
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