1 - Michael Begins His Journey
Michael stopped by the small stream to catch his breath and refill his water skins. He was weak and fatigued. He had penetrated the wasteland, walking for a day and a half over the trackless land. He thought that he could see a lake of some sort in the distance, but he was not certain. The land was dry and hot, with very little game and short, stunted brush. He could see what looked like a volcano in a general northwesterly direction. A few grasses grew here and there in the hard black rock. There were also areas of black sand. Michael would make his camp here by the stream. There were fish in it, so he would have food. There were also some rabbits and other small game, which he could kill and prepare for his journey. Preserving the meat would use almost all of his spices that he needed to use in preventing spoilage. When he had passed the wasteland, he had better find a town or city soon. He would have no spices to preserve his meat, and that could be dangerous. If his meat spoiled, he would have little to eat. He killed a rabbit, built a fire, cleaned the rabbit, and cooked it. He would rest for a few days and decide what would be the best way to travel: across the wasteland or across the desert.
Michael ate his rabbit and brewed the last of his tea. He had two choices. He could cross the desert, or he could cross the wasteland. He had decided on the wasteland. The desert had no water; all he could see was miles and miles of sand. There were some streams in the wasteland. He would gamble on the fact that there was a lake or pond within its borders.
Michael lay back, watching the fire, sipping his tea, and resting. He had been traveling for a month, always heading west. He closed his eyes and sighed. He remembered how he had gotten to this point in his life, and was not pleased. He reviewed the events unrolling like a fine scroll in his mind. Michael, at twenty-one years, wondered if he had made a wrong choice.
Michael was not a soft and weak man. He grew up on a farm on the border of the land of Illyria. He lived with his father, mother, sister, and grandfather. Almost as soon as he could walk, he would wander the farm and the woods that bordered it. He had loved, and still loved, hiking across forests and fields. At age six, he was skillful with the bow. By age ten, he had shown a gift with animals. When he entered his teens, he was a lean and powerful young man, able to kill, skin, and butcher an animal and preserve the meat. He could also fish.
At fourteen, his father gave him a short stabbing sword. He practiced with it daily, as well as with his bow. Had he entered the army of Illyria, he would have made a formidable soldier. Instead, he chose to study at the temple in the nearby town. This would enable him to stay close to his family and help his family with the farm. In this small city his parents often sold the products of their farm in the market. The family was not rich, but did well.
Michael also proved to be a young scholar. He studied history, and how slaves from the land of Mordor founded his country. The original inhabitants accepted the freed slaves. Michael had also studied the life of King Aragorn of Gondor, and how he had defeated the evil king Sauron of Mordor. In this battle, Aragorn had the help of a wizard named Gandalf Stormcrow, as well as the elves and some small people known as "Hobbits." Sauron supposedly had a magic ring, which was destroyed by Frodo Baggins, one of the Hobbits.
Michael devoured the histories, reading, studying, and learning. He surprised his teachers with his thirst for knowledge and his ability to absorb all of the old manuscripts.
By age sixteen, Michael was a strong and powerful young man. Lean and rangy, his shape concealed his strength and toughness. When slave traders began raiding the outlying towns and farms, Michael was the first to join the small cavalry detachment stationed in the city. When a town or farm was raided, the cavalry would go out in pursuit. Sometimes the slavers got away; sometimes they did not. When the slave traders were caught, there would be a fight, and they quickly learned to fear the thin boy who could shoot an arrow from the back of a horse with deadly accuracy. And when he fought on foot, he used a short stabbing sword. Michael was very agile and quick. He would duck underneath his enemy's thrust and strike a vital organ. He had become a fierce fighter and a man to be avoided in combat.
Michael found time to study, hunt, fish, and work the farm. During the cold winters, when the ponds were frozen and fields fallow under the snow, he would spend his time studying. During the spring and summer he would work the farm. But he always had a small pack with a scroll to read during his free moments. Just after his seventeenth birthday, he questioned two of his teachers about his readings. The first was a younger teacher, thirty years old, Master Robin.
"Please, tell me," asked Michael, walking with Master Robin in the garden one early spring afternoon, "do you believe these histories of Gondor and Mordor, and of Sauron and Aragorn?"
Master Robin had been educated at the temples in the capitol city of Illyria, which was located on the coast. He could speak three languages by the time he was twelve. He was bright, an excellent teacher, and was patient with his students. He stopped for a while, looked and Michael, smiled, and collected his thoughts before speaking.
"Michael," he said, speaking clearly but softly, "you are a young and intelligent man. What do you believe?"
"I am not certain, Master Robin."
"These tales," continued Master Robin, " are roughly one thousand years old. Now, I believe that two men, who were great warriors and named Aragorn and Sauron, lived. I believe that they fought a great war. I believe that Sauron was evil and desired power over men more than anything else. But I do not believe he had a magic ring, or that there were elves, or hobbits, or wizards. I think, over the long years, that these items were added to the histories to embellish them and make them into great stories. Would the priesthood allow it, I would travel into the west and investigate them myself. But I have my duties at the temple. Now, young Michael, you have my belief."
The teacher and student walked for a bit more, and Michael and Robin conversed on the topic. Michael thanked Robin for his knowledge, and headed back to his small room at the temple to consider this item.
There was another teacher named Master Paul, who was close to eighty years of age. His mind was still sharp, but his body was beginning to fail. One fine spring day, Michael saw Master Paul resting in the garden. He approached the teacher, greeted him, and asked him the same question.
Master Paul coughed and smiled at the boy. He requested the Michael make him some tea, and then he would give him his answer. Michael hurried off to the kitchen, made some tea with honey, and brought the rich, hot brew to Master Paul. Then he sat at his feet to listen.
"Now, young Michael," said Master Paul, his voice becoming clear and strong, "I believe every detail in those stories is true. I believe that magic did inhabit the land once, and still does live here. One must only seek it. When I was young, and studying at the temple in the capitol, a sailor showed me a strange dagger. He said it was made of mithril, the magic metal of the elves and dwarves. I do not know whether the dagger was made of mithril or not. But I have never seen any metal like it since. Because of that dagger, I believe the tales of the ring are accurate. But, you have your own mind. Believe what you will."
The two chatted for a short time while Master Paul finished his tea. When the mug was empty, Michael took it from his teacher's hand and the two parted. Michael took the mug to the kitchen, cleaned it, and went to the library to study. Where the stories true or not? The answer must lie in the scrolls. But if the answer were not in the ancient scrolls, where would Michael find it?
At age eighteen, on a fine midsummer night with a high and bright moon and plenty of stars, Michael's father and grandfather took him behind the barn into a fallow field. His grandfather carried an unusual case, which contained a bow. His grandfather removed the bow and the arrows and handed them to Michael.
Michael examined the bow and the arrows. He had never seen such a finely crafted set. The wood was white and displayed a workmanship unknown in Illyria. The arrows were all matched, and tipped with an unusual silver-grey metal. When Michael tested the edge, he cut himself.
Michael's father took the bow from his hands and held it up, letting the moonlight reflect off of the white wood. The rays of the moon struck the bow, and some golden letters appeared all around the bow. None of the three men could read the beautiful runes. They glowed brightly, and then faded.
"I believe," said Michael's father, the awe in his voice clearly audible, "that the wood of the bow and the arrows is mallorn, the ancient wood of the elves. I believe the metal of the arrowheads is mithril. The craftsmanship can only be elfish. And, my son, if this bow exists, then elves exist. Where, I do not know, but they exist."
Michael held the bow tenderly in his hands, and began to gently cry. This was an elfish bow! The histories were true! Now he knew what to believe. His grandfather took the bow and gently placed it, along with the arrows, back into the case. The three men headed back to the farmhouse for a mug of ale.
When Michael turned nineteen, Illyria passed a law allowing slavery. Michael disapproved of slavery. He believed it was wrong for one human to own another. However, he continued with his studies and work on the farm. He also had become one of the best archers in the land. No slavers came to the area where Michael lived. They feared the lean and rangy farm boy, tough as a bull in a fight, who could put out a man's eye with an arrow at two hundred paces.
When Michael turned twenty-one, he caught a merchant beating a young boy outside of his shop. The boy was a slave. Michael beat the merchant. He didn't hurt the man. His intent was to humiliate, and show the merchant the error of his ways. The merchant, however, brought a lawsuit against Michael. If Michael lost, he would become the merchant's slave. The merchant had political connections; there was no way that Michael could win.
One week before the appearance before the magistrate, at midnight, Michael, his grandfather, and his mother were saying goodbye. Michael was going to run away. It was his only chance. As he hugged his mother, she wept and kissed him tenderly. His father and grandfather merely smiled. Michael pushed back a bit from his mother and noticed a cart coming up the path to the house. As the cart drew closer, he noticed that Master Robin was driving the cart and Master Paul was the passenger. As the two teachers got close to the group, Master Robin stopped the cart, dismounted, and helped Master Paul to the ground. The two teachers joined the family.
"Well," said Master Paul, a big grin splitting his face, "I see the young man has made his choice. You must follow your destiny. Head to the west and follow your dream."
"Here," said grandfather, handing Michael the elfish bow, "these are, for now, rightfully yours. Find the elf, be it warrior or maiden, and return the bow. The bow was created by elves, and belongs with elves. It was made to pierce orcish armor, forged in Mordor. Your father and I knew this day was coming, and we prepared ourselves for it a long time ago. Take the pony, Gem, as a companion and helper. We will miss you, but you must do what you must do."
"It is your destiny and fate," said Master Robin, a single tear running from his right eye and down his cheek. "I wish I could accompany you. Even though I do not believe in magic, I do believe that the art and skill of Gondor and Mordor far surpassed Illyria's. I would like to view it for myself. Travel well, young man, and learn what you may!"
Everyone said tearful farewells, and Michael headed to the west, following the first path, and then road, heading in that general direction. All Michael had were his short sword, the two bows, a change of clothes, some cheeses and spices from his mother, a few cooking and eating utensils, and plenty of water. Gem had very little to carry. Indeed, Michael could have easily carried the load himself.
Michael had traveled in a general westerly direction for about two weeks. Gem, who was eighteen, and had served the family on the farm for a long time, had weak heart. Michael waited near a stream for a few days, not wishing to make Gem work anymore. One day, Gem lay down, went to sleep, and did not wake up. Michael had loved the pony and buried it. He wept a bit and then continued to the west, finding both the desert and the wasteland.
He opened his eyes and looked about. He would kill some rabbits tomorrow and preserve the meat. He would carry as much water as possible in his skins. In two days, he would cross the wasteland.