The Golem Maker of the Tower
A Story by Aaron Canton
“Just move up there…and slide over there…and—wait, no! Stop! Ahh!”
Laika yelped and darted away as the tall structure in front of her trembled, then abruptly fell apart and tumbled to the ground. A few pieces fell in her direction, but Laika dove behind a large tree before the debris hit the ground. The collapsing structure slammed into the grass with a series of loud thumps, and a heavy silence fell over the yard. When Laika summoned the courage to peek from behind the tree and saw the crumbled remains of the structure—a large box—she let out a groan in frustration.
The backyard of Viscosa’s Adventurers Guild was reasonably large, including a grassy picnic area, a copse of trees, and even a little stream running through the center, and the rubble from Laika’s latest experiment didn’t cover all that much of it. Still, there was enough debris that Laika knew it would take her golems a short while to clean everything and get the rubble sorted into nice neat piles. The only saving grace was the yard’s high fence prevented anyone from seeing her repeated failures, but of course people would see her failure when Arendal took his test if she didn’t come up with some way to help him. And that test was in just a couple days, so she was running out of time.
Her golems sorted the parts a short while later. Laika took a few sips of water, rewarded herself for her perseverance with a bite of a sweet honey roll she’d picked up at the market, and raised her hands again. The wood shuddered and began to move—
A door slammed shut in the guild, breaking Laika’s concentration and causing all the pieces to collapse to the ground at once. She let out a louder groan and fell back on the grass so she was staring at the sky and all the pretty clouds. That sight, though, failed to calm her like it usually would. “Agh!” she managed, “Stupid box! Mages probably don’t even make boxes! Why can’t Arendal’s test be on something mages really need to know? Like…like making pretty fireworks! That’d be a good test, not box-making!”
Footsteps approached from behind her, and when she rolled over, she saw the amused face of Cedric Renzeya. He was the man who owned and ran the Adventurers Guild, and he had adopted her after she had been rescued from a small mountain village. “Mages don’t actually make pretty fireworks all that often,” he said in a kind voice, sitting down beside her on the grass. “But they have been known to make magical boxes. Why, in one of my adventures, I needed to recover all the artifacts in a very large temple, but the temple was so remote I couldn’t get a wagon or a cart there. So I had a mage friend make me a special magic box that looked like it was as big as a regular pack, but that had enough space inside to fit forty packs worth of things into!”
Laika’s mouth dropped. She sat up abruptly and maneuvered herself into the cross-legged position she liked when hearing stories about Renzeya’s days as an active adventurer. “Really?” she gasped. “Forty? And he just made it for you?”
“Oh no. We traded: I helped him deal with another mage who was scrying on him and stealing all his best spells—that battle took four days, and one of his spells accidentally teleported us into the river—and when I was done, he made me the box in half an hour.” Renzeya chuckled. “It didn’t seem like a fair trade at the time, but believe me, the box turned out to be very useful in the temple.”
“How?” asked Laika when Renzeya didn’t immediately continue.
“There was this one statue in particular at the very top of the temple as tall as two of you lying head to foot.” He paused while Laika quickly lay back on the grass, marked the point where her feet were, and spun around in a half-circle so she could mark where her feet were there too. Then she got up and boggled at the distance she’d marked off on the ground as Renzeya continued. “Couldn’t have gotten it out without the box. Although it was still a little tricky—see, I knew the box’s inside could fit the statue, but the box’s opening was still only as big as a normal pack. So I had to shift and slide the statue in, and wriggle it to get all the little bumps past the opening. I must have spent two hours just putting that statue in the box—and I forgot the most important thing too!”
“What?” pressed the enraptured Laika.
“Getting it out when I was done!” Renzeya grinned as Laika burst into giggles. “When I got back to my client, I opened the box, turned it over, and realized I’d have to wriggle it out again! I had to buy my client a big dinner and several drinks just to get him to wait around for me to finish removing it!” He paused. “But on the bright side, after all those drinks, he got sleepy and didn’t object when I added ten percent to my bill for not warning me the statue would be that large.”
Laika and Renzeya shared a long laugh before Renzeya nodded at the box. “Anyway. I hope you don’t mind me asking—if you don’t like making boxes, why are you building this one?”
“I’m not building a box,” said Laika. “I’m trying to make a box golem, you know, a box that can build itself. But it’s really hard.”
As she spoke, she lifted a hand and focused on her golem magic. Again she felt it flowing through her, and again the box began to self-assemble, its pieces bending slightly to lift each other into the air. But then, at about the halfway point, the structure suddenly shook and violently disintegrated once more.
“Ah,” said Renzeya. “I was wondering where all my new lumber went.”
Laika blushed. “I’m sorry,” she said. “But it’s really important.”
Renzeya gave her a warm smile. “I know it is—but still, you should ask before you borrow things.” Laika nodded, abashed, and Renzeya went on. “So why are you making a box golem?”
“To help Arendal!” said Laika at once. “He needs to build a really big box with magic to pass his next test, but he can’t even build a little box, and so I’m trying to help him!”
Renzeya was quiet for a moment. He cleared his throat then. “The mages are usually pretty good about not giving students tests unless the student has a decent chance of passing. Especially Cenard; he hates it when one of his students fails—he always says that’s the mark of a bad mentor, since a good one would have known the student was having trouble and would have trained him more. It’s odd for them to give Arendal a test he has no chance of passing. I wonder why they think he can do it.”
Laika blushed and looked down.
Renzeya gently put his hand under her chin and lifted it so he could meet her eyes. “Laika…” he began. “Did you do something?”
“I…I might have had my golems help him build a little box for one of his tests. And Mister Cenard might have thought Arendal did it on his own.” Laika looked away. “But Arendal was really worried he’d get kicked out and sent back to his village if he didn’t finish it! And he was trying real hard, and I wanted to help, but now he’s stuck! He can’t build the next box, and he can’t ask Mister Cenard for help without telling them he didn’t do the last one and getting in even worse trouble. So I have to build the box for him again and—”
She heard Renzeya inhale and trailed off, then cautiously looked at him. But to her relief, though his gaze looked a little disappointed, he didn’t seem angry.
Her foster father, Mayor Maltra, would grow very upset whenever she’d failed at creating a golem. Sometimes she’d had to go to bed with just a couple crusts of bread for dinner.
Renzeya wasn’t like that.
“It seems,” he said in a slow, measured voice, “that your building the first box for your friend put him in a tough spot.”
“But I was just trying to help him!” Laika insisted. “I didn’t mean to hurt him!”
“Nonetheless, you still did,” said Renzeya. “Of course I understand you did not mean to—and I am sure he did as well. But you made it seem as if he was more competent than he is, and now he is expected to do more than he can handle.”
“I…” Laika sighed. “I know. But I don’t know what to do besides helping him with this test too.”
Renzeya was quiet for a moment. “Wouldn’t building this second box for him make things even worse, though?”
“But if I don’t do it, he’ll fail the test!” insisted Laika. “I don’t want him to fail!”
Renzeya held up a finger. “But if you do build him the box—and get away with it—the mages will think he’s even better at magic than they already think he is. Their next test will be even harder, and once again he won’t be able to complete it or ask for help.” His mouth curled upward in a slight smile. “Unless… Do you plan to follow him around for the rest of his life doing all his tests for him?”
Laika had an image of herself old and grey, like some of the really ancient adventurers that stopped by the guild now and then to sip tea and talk about how they’d delved in this or that legendary ruin, running after Arendal and casting magic for him. “Uh-uh,” she said quickly. “No way.”
“Then at some point he’ll have to learn to do magic on his own,” said Renzeya. “Preferably now, when the task before him—though difficult—is not necessarily out of his reach.”
Laika trailed off, but Renzeya didn’t say anything, and Laika felt herself grasping for words. “I want to help him!” she said at last. “Because he’s a really good friend! And I want to be a good friend too and—”
Renzeya took her hand. “Laika,” he told her. “You are an excellent friend.”
“Really?” Laika looked at Renzeya. “But you said I hurt—”
“Friends sometimes hurt each other by mistake. Certainly I’ve done or said things I shouldn’t have to my friends, and they to me. But the important thing is you apologize and try to fix it. If you do that, Laika, nobody could possibly call you a bad friend.”
Laika felt a little better at that, but after a few seconds, she shook her head. “I don’t know how to fix it, though!” she said. “I don’t know how to help him.”
Renzeya thought for a moment and then clapped his hands together. “Ah. Remember when those mage bullies were bothering you?”
“Yes?” asked Laika, puzzled. “Why?”
“Well, as I recall, they gave you some trouble, and you came back here.” Renzeya nodded at the guild hall. “Did the guild help you?”
Laika nodded. “Uh-huh.”
“They gave me advice and tips—oh!” Laika jumped to her feet. “You’re saying even if I can’t do Arendal’s project for him, I can give him advice! I get it! But I’m not good at his kind of magic. It’s all wands and wards and chants that make my tongue hurt.” She stuck out her tongue, grimacing as she remembered the attempts she’d made to sound out his spells. “I don’t understand that magic, and he doesn’t understand how to do golem magic so I can’t teach him that either. What advice could I give him?”
Renzeya’s eyes sparkled. “Well, what else are you good at? For instance: when you’re building golems, you’re not just casting spells, are you? Aren’t you doing other things?”
“Sure, I’m picking materials and putting the golem together and…” Laika trailed off, and then a big smile split her face. “Hey, yeah! I’m good at building things, even without magic! I could give him tips!”
“Excellent idea,” said Renzeya. “Between you and me—and don’t tell Cenard I told you this—a lot of mages get too used to using magic for everything. They forget how to do practical things, like putting things together. So Arendal might not understand that very well, but if you do…”
“I do!” Laika thought back to when Arendal had been trying to build the box. He’d been trying to put each piece into its final position right away, but was that the best idea? Would some kind of middle position be more stable? It was worth thinking about. “Um, am I good at knowing about anything else?”
Renzeya laughed at that. “You’re ‘good at knowing about’ a great many things, Laika. But for example—when you were dealing with those mages, you were really good at figuring out how to use your skills to counter theirs, even though they had more magic. That makes you resourceful. I’m sure a few lessons about being resourceful could be useful to Arendal. After all, he must be good at some magic, or Vestigo wouldn’t have let him join the guild at all.”
“Resourceful?” Laika sounded the word out a few times in her head and found she liked it. “Yeah, I can do that! I mean, he’s good at wards—I’ll bet I can think of some way that could help him!” She got to her feet. “Thanks, Mr. Renzeya!”
“Anytime. Oh, and Laika?” The girl turned back just as she was about to run into the guild hall and up to her room. “You won’t do anyone else’s projects for them again, will you?”
“Nope. I learned my lesson.” Laika gave Renzeya a warm smile. “But I’ll give Arendal lots and lots of friendly advice!”
Renzeya climbed to his feet. “That’s the spirit,” he said in a warm, pleased tone. “Good luck, Laika. I have complete confidence in you.”
Laika flashed Renzeya one more grin, then rushed off to get to work.