A Thorn in the Rose
(Note: In a sense, this is a prequel and a sequel to my earlier story, A Thorn in the Side. Please read Thorn's first adventure before reading this one! If you do not, I promise you will have no idea what is going on.)
I listened to the echoing tap of the old man's cane as he walked away. Bound up in my prison of greed, I had nothing to do but reminisce of days lost.
He could have saved me. He knew how to channel the powers of the cape. But instead, he left me here out of his hatred for me.
All I could do now was reminisce of days past.
He was a young Zafara then. Only ten years old. So young and naive. He often dreamt of weilding a katana and defending the temple from attackers.
If only he knew he would one day be one of its attackers.
The old Gnorbu often went down to the village of Shenkuu to watch the young ones play and see which ones were fit to be guards. Seeing the Shadow Zafara's zeal, he asked him if he wanted to become a guard.
The ignorant Zafara believed the old man's fanciful tales of valor and honor. He trained from that day on with his beloved bamboo katana. One day he would wield one of steel, of silver, of gold or even of maractite.
One day, he would wield a sword of legend.
If only he knew the truth.
I struggled against the bonds. Was it just me, or did they seem to loosen?
"Yaah!" After taking an oath to protect the temple, the Zafara found himself training one day in the courtyard. He slashed at a tree, opening up a gash in its trunk.
He felt a hoof on his back. He turned around, careful not to slash at the person behind him.
"The training dummies are over there, Thorn." A Red Ixi stood behind him. "Don't attack the tree. It takes away from the beauty of this courtyard and the beauty of the temple."
Thorn blushed. "Sorry, I didn't know we even had dummies. I'm still getting used to this place."
The Ixi's stern expression softened. She appeared to be his age. "My name is Danae. I don't think we've met." She tilted her head to the side, examining the slash in the tree. "You have a brilliant technique and a real penchant for swordplay. Would you like to spar?"
Some part of me missed sparring and swordplay. An emotion I had long locked away arose within me again; the sense one feels when holding a sword of any kind, of bamboo or steel; the emotion one feels when seeing a swordsman depart for battle.
A pining... to be a hero?
I beat it down. What good was heroism when I had long turned from the light I so despised?
The bonds tightened.
The thwak of clashing bamboo swords filled the courtyard. All the other guards stopped to watch the dueling children.
Danae feinted, jumped to the left, and struck at Thorn's chest. The Zafara fell to the dusty ground.
He looked up to see Danae's sword pointed at his face. The sun shone behind her, making her appear as a silhouette. "Do you surrender?"
Thorn dropped his sword in defeat.
After that day, the two sparred often. The thwak of bamboo swords became more common and grew faster as the two swordsmen gained skill. In time, it became like a rythym to the guards who watched, a cadence that kept the beat of life in the temple.
Each fought fervently. Sometimes the Zafara won, sometimes the Ixi. They were evenly matched, perfect rivals.
But as we all know, little is ever perfect.
I looked over at my cape, lying on the floor only a few meters away from me. How I wished I had it back. A life as an infamous thief shrouded in mystery... I would even settle for having my days as a "defender of the temple" back.
The bonds loosened.
What was I thinking? If I could get out, I could have all the power I ever wanted!
The bonds tightened again.
Was there a pattern?
That day. When he ruined one of the armory's finest katanas. He had hidden in the closet.
When she found him, she had looked him in the eyes.
He knew she had seen him.
She had tried to protect him.
Had this been friendship?
I began to see an order to the cape's actions. In the past, I had once been innocent. Looking back on those days, long forgotten in the dusty armoire of my memory, I began to remember my days of simple innocence that I once found blissful.
Was innocence bliss?
Or was it ignorance?
It was somewhat curious that he hadn't remembered her name until his final day at the temple.
Thorn and Danae were sparring when it happened.
The old Gnorbu walked out into the courtyard. "Danae, may I see you for a minute?"
Danae looked disappointed. "I guess we'll have to finish sparring another day."
Thorn watched as she walked over to the Gnorbu, who began to speak to her in private. However, the Zafara had excellent hearing-something he had trained himself in in order to become a guard-and eavesdropped on their conversation.
"Danae, I think you are ready to channel the power of the Lunar Cape."
Danae's face lit up. "Thank you, mentor!"
The first emotion Thorn felt was jealousy. It was a strange emotion to him, especially since Danae was his best friend. He tried to feel happy for her, but inside, the turmoil began.
The turmoil had been the first step on the path that had led me here. I wished I could reverse time and go back, go back and correct my mistakes.
Unluckily, time is a strange thing that goes in one direction. It never looks back, like a traveler determined to finish the journey he started thousands of years ago. He never stops for others on the great road, not even wounded ones, but continues on in his journey. What could his noble purpose be, that he stops not for travelers? Could he be teaching us a lesson about our own mistakes?
Education and wisdom are expensive, but they are worth more than gold or rubies.
I could now breathe freely in my prison.
It was that day that he picked up the forbidden cape. He ostensibly tried it on because he knew he would look like a prince in the garb (so full of charisma and honor!), but deep down, he was slightly jealous. The spiky point of this thorn whispered, "I'll be better at controlling this magic than Danae. Then she will realize that I am the more adept!"
After the old Gnorbu stopped him, Thorn ran. He didn't know where, he just knew that the temple that he had once called home was gone. He couldn't go back now.
The only place a thorn is wanted is a rose. It adds to its macbre beauty, making the crimson blossom more like a duchess with her honorable, though sometimes cruel, guards.
But Thorn could no longer be accepted here.
Had greed ruined him?
That was it. That was the way I would get out. I had to get rid of this greed, this absolute craving for power.
What was truly important?
He ran south, eventually reaching a thriving port city. Along the way, he learned to steal. Here and there, an apple from a merchant's stand; sometimes an ear of corn from a farmer's field. The world became his candy dish; he could take whatever he wanted.
So he thought.
He finally came to a small town and settled there. As much as an itinerant thief could settle. He began with petty theft, pickpocketing, and the like. Sometimes food from a vender's stand; a few neopoints from a passerby's pocket.
He began to desire more.
A pocket watch, a neckace, a purse, a wallet.
Greed went from whispering to shouting.
He began to steal from the stores themselves: jewels, clothing, and other valuables. He began to steal from the shopkeepers' tills after they had gone home for the night.
In those ten years of thievery, he had never had a home or a family. To be sure, he had a cave to sleep in at night, sometimes a dark, abandoned alley, and, on rare occasions, a room in a crowded, shady inn owned by a friend of a friend of a fellow thief...but always listening for the town's guards, always waiting, for he was never sure if or when he would be caught.
He hadn't slept well since he had run that day, eventually dismissing sleep as something he didn't need, like so many other things. Like kindness, love, and...family.
Over the years, he had decided what he would steal next. Money was of no object; he had plenty of that. But what could one do with money?
He decided to do the impossible.
To steal power.
And a little revenge.
And here he found himself.
Here I find myself.
What really matters? Is it the money we earn, the things we own... or is it the simple things? Things like seeing a smile on a person's face after you do a good deed for them, like donating to the Money Tree when we have much, like sharing a meal with a good friend.
I looked down, noticing that the cape had fallen off my shoulders.
I was free.
Light and darkness cannot exist in the same heart. This was the key to the cape.
I left the room, abandoning both capes that had been the center of my life for ten long, terrible years.
There was something I needed to do, something I had been running away from for ten years.
I walked quietly into Mentor's quarters. The room was small, with a desk on one side of it and a bed on the other. The entire room was lit by a candle on the desk and the moonlight streaming in from the one window in the room.
I saw the old Gnorbu sitting at the desk.
As I walked toward him, my face was red, and a new feeling had found its way into my heart.
Something a thief learns to suppress after a life of crime.
"Mentor..." I started.
He turned toward the doorway. "I know."
We both knew what I was going to say.
I was sorry. That was it.
"Please, may I train as a guard again?"
"Thorn..." He walked toward me. "In all my years, I have never trained a guard that had as much skill as you would have. You have a good heart, buried beneath a hardened thief..." He paused to cough, and then began again. "I'm getting old. I will need a successor. And I know only one person that I would like to take my place."
He gazed at me. "You have potential. The innocent heart of a child never left you. Instead, it had been locked away all this time, imprisoned by jealousy, greed, and evil. I can see that the cape has taught you a lesson."
He couldn't mean me. "But mentor, who will be your successor?"
The old Gnorbu's gaze never moved. He looked me directly in the eyes, sending the clearest message of all.
I could do nothing. I simply stood there like a simpleton, shocked. "I... not after what I've done... why not Danae? She has more wisdom and more willpower than I."
The Gnorbu shook his head. "She didn't want to control it. She was afraid it would control her instead."
For a while, I couldn't speak. Could what Mentor said be true? He had always seen things in the guards that they had never seen themselves... unsure of what to do, I looked out the window, at the stars that had always comforted me after a night's disreputable work. In one part of the sky, I could still see the moon, but in the other sky, I saw a foreign light.
The dawn of a new day.
How long had it been since I had felt the warmth of the sun?
I turned back toward my mentor. "I'm ready."
"I knew you were."
In the end, the only place a thorn truly belongs is a rose.
The temple is my rose now, my home.
Danae and I began sparring again. I lost my skill for swordplay, but I began to regain it as we once again provided the rythym for life in the Lunar Temple.
And there was a new melody this time, as well as a harmony. The melody was that of a successor that would rise soon; a harmony of mentor reconciled with protege.
The moon is neither my nemesis nor my ally now. Instead, we are at a truce, though I sometimes stare at its silver light and remember the old days.
Why had it taken me so long to come to this conclusion?
Doesn't heroism bring more joy than antagonism?
Doesn't light shine brighter than darkness?
Isn't the smile on a person's face worth more than gold or jewels?
Even a Thorn can find his place.
Sometimes in life, you're a blossom, admired by all.
But there is no rose without a thorn.
The saga of Thorn is now complete. Do, however, keep your eyes open for more side stories about Thorn!