Tears of an Apprentice
“Jeran, do you mind getting me my lance?”
“Not at all, sire.”
“Thank you very much. Did you polish it last night and check if it has any dents or cracks?”
The young blue Lupe stared up in admiration at the yellow Blumaroo knight towering over him in full metal armor sans helmet, gleaming silver after the Lupe’s meticulous polishing. He balanced his lance on his lap, and started scrutinizing it at every angle. For several seemingly suspenseful moments, the Lupe braced himself for his master’s comments. But unlike most squires, he didn’t rock back and forth on his heels, bite his nails or basically fidget. He stood tall, perfectly concealing the nervous anticipation welling up inside him.
After all, it was his first time to polish the lance of the legendary knight and swordsman, Sir Reynold, who was also Jeran’s master and mentor in the ways of knighthood.
It felt like forever and a day had passed when Reynold finally spoke, and it took all of Jeran’s training to keep from jumping out of his breeches.
“Very good, my squire. I think I feel lucky about this upcoming tilting tournament. What about you?”
The Lupe smiled widely. “I think you’ll win again this year, sire. There’s no doubt about it.” He paused, and took a deep breath, suddenly looking more serious and determined.
“Someday, I’ll become a great hero... like you, sire. Thank you very much for choosing me as your apprentice and teaching me.”
Reynold grinned, patting his squire on the head. “Like me? Jeran, it would make me even prouder if you become a hero in your own way instead of just doing what everyone else does. What I teach you is just the basic template for anyone who wishes to become a knight, plus a few hints and tricks from my own experience, and it’s up to you how you interpret the lessons I give you. But I think you’ll grow up to become a wonderful knight someday. Just keep working hard like you are now.”
With a nod, the blue Lupe replied, “Thank you... master. I won’t let you down, I promise.”
“I know you won’t. Now, let’s see how you cleaned my helmet. Did you remember to get those hard to reach places in the visor?”
“Well... just look at you now. Sir Jeran, a real knight of Meridell... I know you’ll serve the kingdom to the best of your capabilities. It seemed like only yesterday you were my young squire, always eager to learn... and now...” Reynold put an arm around his former apprentice’s metal-plated shoulder and smiled proudly. “You were more than a squire to me... you were like a son, a son I have raised and who is now carving his own niche into the world. Meridell will never fall, so long as you’re around.”
“Sir, if it weren’t for you, I wouldn’t have been knighted in the first place,” Jeran replied humbly. “I can’t thank you enough for bearing with me all these years...”
The yellow Blumaroo chuckled. “I know you won’t... Sir Jeran. And don’t call me master anymore. We’re practically equals now.”
“Still, I’ll never forget everything you’ve done for me,” Jeran pressed on. “Thank you, master. I won’t let you down, I promise.”
“I think we’ve had this conversation before,” Reynold quipped. “And I still know you won’t.”
“I can’t believe I let him down... I let him down... I can’t ever show my face to anyone in Meridell ever again!”
The blue Lupe buried his face in his paws after glancing outside his bedroom window. The sun was still struggling to break free of the horizon, but that wasn’t important to him right now, and neither was the landscape that greeted him that morning. He gritted his teeth and tried to recall all the curses he learned from the guardsmen during his time as an apprentice to the great Sir Reynold of Meridell.
Speaking of which, he was no longer in Meridell, judging from the houses and other random quirks that caught his eye outside. He was in Brightvale, a neighboring kingdom ruled by King Skarl’s older – and probably wiser – brother Hagan. But Jeran didn’t want to think about how or why he ended up in Brightvale, let alone in a small, rather obscure house in a small town not too far away from Brightvale Castle.
There was a knock on his door that forced him to get up from where he was seated on his bed and staring through the window. But before he could cross the room and get to the door, Jeran reached out for a cane leaning against a bedpost. And he also didn’t want to think about how or why his leg was fractured in several places and made him wince every time he put a little bit of weight on it.
The Lupe hobbled towards the door and turned the knob slowly. Standing in the doorway was a young yellow Aisha rather close to her adolescent years. She adjusted her red-framed glasses and stared at him for a moment before finally speaking in a voice made imperious by years of spending too much time in libraries poring over books and amassing all sorts of information, but its tone seemed a bit... anxious, maybe sad.
“What do you want, Lisha?” asked Jeran brusquely.
Smoothing out her gray pleated skirt, Lisha replied formally, “I came to call you and see if you were ready for breakfast. Michella doesn’t like it if you skip meals.”
“I know she doesn’t,” muttered the knight. “All right then, I’m coming.”
The two of them left, Jeran shutting the door to his room, and made their way towards the dining table and kitchen, which wasn’t too far away. Plus, they didn’t have to go down any stairs to get to it, much to the Lupe knight’s relief, as he leaned on the cane every step of the way.
A middle-aged pink Yurble had just set the table, and it was brimming with all sorts of food and drink, their aromas coming together and wafting towards the Lupe and the Aisha. She watched warily as they approached the table, as though expecting either of them to ruin her breakfast, her arms crossed over her long, off-white robe, which was bordered by scarlet and yellow. But her expression softened at the sight of Jeran, and she spoke in a blunt yet concerned voice.
“Jeran... I believe Lisha hasn’t told you yet?”
“Told me what?” He turned to his younger sister, scratching his head.
“Lisha, you better eat... I’ll tell him myself. I think he needs to hear it alone.”
“Yes, Miss Michella.”
Michella beckoned for Jeran to follow her through the back door, which opened to a small orchard and garden. As she was a healer and magician, she kept all sorts of herbs and other plants growing within her reach, and the various smells hit the blue Lupe all at once, but it didn’t take too long for him to get used to it. The Yurble didn’t shut the door behind her, but walked a good distance away from it, stopping underneath an old apple tree. There were no apples within its leaves now, but Jeran knew very well that there were more pressing matters than picking apples. He leaned on his cane, and felt his paws on it shudder with uneasy anticipation.
She gazed skyward. The sun was now almost completely free of the hills that seemed to bind it, but she wasn’t staring at it. In fact, it was as if she could see something beyond that expanse of blue, patched with white, above them.
And her eyes... her deep brown eyes were filled with sadness that increased the amount of dread welling up within Jeran.
“Michella... is this about me? If I hadn’t broken my leg, I could have defeated them... his army... Meridell would be free by now and I wouldn’t be reduced to something like this, hiding away with a bad leg in Brightvale, like a humiliated, wounded, foolish coward...” He bowed his head, taking several deep breaths.
“I do not blame you for failing to defeat Ramtor,” she replied swiftly. “He is a powerful wizard with ties to the king. You can’t just take him down with a few swipes of your sword and a strategy or two. It takes much more than that. And remember that you are here in Brightvale for two reasons: one, because I was the nearest healer available, and two, because Ramtor may want to finish you off the next time he finds you. You’re staying alive, like everyone and everything else that lives in this world.”
“Then where did I go wrong?” asked the Lupe knight worriedly. He clutched his forehead and gritted his teeth. “What could I have done?”
The Yurble took one step towards him, raised one callused paw, and slapped his left cheek lightly.
“Stop blaming yourself. When I said I wasn’t going to blame you, I didn’t mean you should. Self-pity is very unbecoming of a knight like you, Sir Jeran. Many other heroes greater than you have fallen before him... have never returned, even...”
Michella’s last word faded away, leaving a tense silence between them that lasted barely a few seconds, as she spoke again. “You know Sir Reynold of Trestin, right? You were his squire, taken under his wing and trained to become the master warrior you are now. Shortly after he received word that you were wounded, his army was the next one to mobilize...
“I can’t think of any other way to say it. I’m sorry, Jeran. Just recently, Sir Reynold’s battalion also fell.”
“What?” The word came from the Lupe’s mouth as a cracked whisper. “But...”
“That’s not all.” Michella turned away from him again, but not before Jeran could catch a glimpse of her face. She was looking more morose now, which accentuated her facial features and made her seem older...
Somehow, he half-expected what she was going to say next.
“Sir Reynold is gone. He was at a disadvantage, and was instantly finished by Ramtor’s spell-casting minions. Bernard has already gone to Trestin to give the news to Reynold’s wife and children. I’m very sorry, Jeran. I know he was like a father to you when you were still training under him – “
Jeran made a sound very much like a stifled sob. “He was still like a father to me even after I was knighted,” he said, his voice wavering even more. “I admired him greatly; he transcended every knightly ideal and expectation of him... he taught me everything I know. If it weren’t for him, I wouldn’t have become a knight. Heck, when I was younger, I thought of him as an invincible, unstoppable force that mowed down evil like grass... I still did, even as I grew older and wiser.”
His shoulders shook, and Michella’s steady paw steadied them, if only for a moment. The Lupe closed his eyes, as though trying to squeeze out a tear and at the same time keeping them from flowing.
“Everyone and everything has a weakness, Sir Jeran,” she said frankly. “Nothing is perfect, nothing is invincible, nothing and no one lasts forever – not Sir Reynold, but not even Ramtor...”
“But why did he have to die?” Jeran asked; his words laced with anguish and devastation.
The pink Yurble sighed, shaking her head. “Some questions are never meant to have definite answers. I can’t answer that; for all I know, what I will say could either be painfully right... or horribly wrong.”
“I let him down,” he whispered, more to himself than to his healer. “I made a pledge to always protect and serve Meridell, to keep it and everyone in it safe...”
Meridell will never fall, so long as you’re around...
Thank you, master. I won’t let you down, I promise...
I know you won’t.
“That’ll be enough self-pity from you,” said Michella abruptly, giving him another slap. “Didn’t I tell you a while ago? Nobody’s perfect! Everyone, and everything, has a weakness! Did you honestly think you could march into every battle and come out triumphant? I’ve lived long enough, seen many battles, to know that it’s true. You’ve seen your fair share of lost fights, right? Hmm... I think you’re not blaming yourself for losing to Ramtor now... I think you’re blaming yourself because your old master is dead, right?”
Jeran said nothing. He just continued hanging on to his cane, frowning in remorse. The Yurble had struck a chord within him. But he replied, “If I only had won that fight... then he wouldn’t have had to go and get himself killed...”
“Do you think things like these are easily won, like a game? And so what if you won that fight? Everyone wins and loses, and everyone has a time to die. Let’s say you did force Ramtor to abdicate the throne and give it back to the king. But Reynold is slowly getting older, and pretty soon he won’t be fit enough to fight like you. Perhaps this was already his time, and he knew it. Honestly, it’s useless berating yourself for things you never even did. And don’t dwell on things like these. It’s over, they lost, and Meridell is still under Ramtor. That may be true, but that doesn’t mean we’ll forever be under him. Things change, life goes on... you should know that by now, being a knight.”
Michella let out a low sigh. “I guess there are things you always have to learn and relearn, no matter how old and experienced you get. At least be thankful that you’re still alive. But don’t you go running off trying to get Meridell back, you hear me? Even with my help, that leg of yours will take a while to fully recover, and you’d be a huge target for Ramtor. And I know Reynold wouldn’t want you doing such follies, or brooding over his death.”
The blue Lupe nodded, and it was hard for her to tell if he had been listening or not. But she opened her arms and embraced him around his shoulders.
“I remember when you were younger... when you would come running to me, crying and whining that you cut your finger because you tried to practice with Reynold’s sword,” the Yurble said reminiscently, breaking away from him. “Look at you now... you’re facing bigger things, you came back from the battle with more than just a bad finger, and yet you haven’t shed a single tear.”
“I know... I know it would be strange and rather unfitting for me to cry, but... I want to.”
“Crying releases tension, stress and all that excess baggage in your heart.” Michella pointed to his chest with a finger that bore a simple silver ring. “Crying is not a sign of weakness. I have seen many knights and supposedly legendary heroes cry during my lifetime, including Sir Reynold himself. They sit down, let the tears fall, and when they’re done, they get up again, take their swords, and move on. Your master once came to me after a battle, tears pouring as he told me about how he promised his closest friend that he would return alive no matter what, yet he already felt like dying.”
Jeran nodded again, still quiescently listening.
“Perhaps it’s best now that I leave you alone for a while. Come inside when you’re ready to have breakfast, all right?”
He watched the pink Yurble healer walk away slowly after another glance at him under the shady apple tree. The Lupe just stood there, watching Michella return to the open back door of her house and chide a yellow Aisha standing beside the open doorway, probably for attempting to eavesdrop.
That got a little, halfhearted chuckle out of him, which was instantly lost in a sob. With one paw on his cane, Jeran buried his face in the other before looking up into the brightening sky.
“Sometimes, we feel burdened with so many things, like feelings, thoughts, you get the idea. One way to let it all out, to lighten the load and keep us from collapsing under its weight, is by crying. They say that crying is a sign of weakness; but on the contrary, it takes a strong man to admit that he still has emotions, he isn’t perfect, and is unafraid to show it. I myself have cried many times in my life, such as when Melissa, my best and closest friend, got sick, and when I thought we were going to lose the Skirmish at Seaside...”
“But master, I’ve never seen you cry,” piped up young Jeran, looking up from the huge book on the Code of Chivalry he was reading.
Reynold smiled and patted his squire on the head. “I prefer to cry alone. Others cry in the company of their loved ones. Often, I don’t want anyone to see me cry and get worried about me. There are better things to do than worry about me.”
The Lupe scratched his head, his face a wordless question.
“You’ll understand when you get older,” said the yellow Blumaroo, sitting down beside Jeran. “Now then, can you tell me what this clause on the top of the page says?”
Often, I don’t want anyone to see me cry and get worried about me. There are better things to do than worry about me...
A tear rolled down one of Jeran’s cheeks, another one in hot pursuit, but he made no move to brush them away, or the next few tears that followed in silence, as he kept his back turned away from Lisha, Michella, and the house.
After all, with every tear, he somewhat felt a little better, a little less burdened.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: Thanks for reading! But if you would like to find out more about Reynold, it is recommended (but not required) to read "A Hero's Journey", published from issues 222-231.