A Tale by Michael DeAngelo
Chapter One: Cresting Waves
The man and the elf sat beneath the trees, listening to the rain land upon the leaves. Long before, their fire sizzled and sputtered out, leaving just sparks and wisps of smoke behind.
Icarus remained a few feet away from there, leaving the sanctuary of his lean-to behind. His pupil holed up there though, looking skyward as though he could learn to predict where the rain would fall. Though Helios couldn’t see his mentor’s face from that vantage, he was sure a smile was splayed across the elf’s face. A pronounced sigh was released, loud enough that he was sure it would be heard.
“I assume that’s your less-than-subtle attempt at making me aware that you’re bored.”
“What?” Helios asked in the most innocent tone he could muster. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“My apologies,” the elf teased. “It’s just that I’ve seen dogs under the command of your father’s hound master that are more discreet.”
“What are we doing out here, Icarus?” the pupil wondered. “You’re always putting my nose in books or cutting a fighting lesson short because ‘it’s better to stop a fight than to start one.’ You always have some kind of cryptic message behind every action. But for the life of me, I can’t seem to find the lesson in all of this.”
Icarus spun about, finally facing his ward. “Must there be a lesson? Could it not be a moment of respite in a life otherwise overflowing with training and learning and preparation?”
A knowing grin couldn’t be contained as Helios looked upon his teacher. “Not from you,” he insisted. “You’ve got three thousand years of experience. There’s a lesson in this. Or at the very least, a reason.”
The elf chortled. “You know, when I was your age, I was afforded some time to be naïve. You already know so much, young Master Helios. In time, I fear I’ll run out of things to teach you.”
“Somehow, I doubt that,” Helios muttered.
Icarus furrowed his brow then, and rose to his feet. “I’ve been more aware of your nightmares with every passing day. Yes, of course I’ve noticed. And even the nights when you aren’t awakened in a cold sweat, you still toss and turn, struggling to find reverie. I’ve been tempted to reach out for help from another, but I wanted to try one last time on my own to rid you of your demons.
“This place—or rather, the place we’re going—was always a place of reprieve for me. It reminds me of a place I knew in my youth. Though those times are long past, I still draw comfort from here. I’m hoping that—even though you won’t have my memories—you’ll still find comfort there as well.”
Helios rose then. “This isn’t necessary,” he pressed. “I appreciate the offer, but we don’t need to go anywhere. So I’ve been having nightmares. It hasn’t affected me during my waking hours, has it?”
“No, it hasn’t. But…”
“Then it’s business as usual. It’s my job to be prepared for when my brother becomes king, is it not? Someone has to protect him. If we’re taking a breather instead of training, I’ll take this as a formal acknowledgement that I am prepared to stand beside my brother.”
The elf couldn’t hold back a smile. “Humor me, will you?” He waved the lad on as he turned and walked past the smoldering pile of ash. “You have to remember, when your brother is king, you’ll not just sit at his side in the throne room. In many ways, you’ll be more important than he. You’ll be an ambassador, an escort, a ranger—all the things that Kevin cannot be because of his duties.
“You need to know Ippius inside and out. Luckily, you’ve got a teacher who has seen it flourish, decline, and rise up again.”
Helios threw up his hands in concession. Very well then. Tell me all about the trees and the flowers and the rocks, Icarus.”
“You jest, but there was a time when my brother did just that with his pupils.”
“I feel tremendous pity for those students.”
Icarus smiled. “So did I.”
Together, the pair of them walked through the forest. Most of that time was occupied by silence, but on occasion, Icarus pointed out something worthy of note. There was a place that the elf once trained the young prince’s father; a path that led to a bluff that overlooked much of the surrounding area; even a grave that Icarus had dug to bury a companion from long ago. Even though some of those memories were afflicted by sadness, the elf’s tone never wavered—until he saw his ward reach for a delicate red berry that seemed prevalent in that area of the forest.
“Leave that be lad,” Icarus bad. “Those berries are incredibly poisonous to humans.”
“Just humans?” Helios wondered.
“The only lasting legacy of a mad elf,” his mentor said. “They call the stuff Rezarium. Humans simply call it Crimson Nib. When it is crushed into a paste, it can be made into one of the most potent poisons there is. To others, it’s simply a bitter flavor that might give you a small headache.”
The prince hummed to himself. “Perhaps you should put up a sign,” he joked.
They continued on for only a few moments before the trees became sparse, and the sea stretched on into the horizon. Helios couldn’t hide his grin, and Icarus clapped his hands together at the sight of that.
“It’s been forever since I’ve seen the sea,” the lad said. “Did you know that Father would bring me on his ship when he would sail to…?”
The elf caught that drifting dialog and clapped his ward on the shoulder. “Do not fret, my friend. I have no doubts you’ll sail again. As ambassador to—”
“It’s not that,” Helios interrupted. “Look out there.” He pointed to the roiling clouds in the distance, his gaze locked upon them. “Those don’t look pleasant.”
“Certainly not,” the elf agreed. “But we have nothing to fear of them.”
“No?” Helios asked.
Icarus shook his head. “Those clouds have been there for years. That used to be the path your father’s ships would take to reach the city of Lark. It was on an island much like Argos, but now it lies beneath the ocean.”
“Because of those clouds?”
“Those clouds are just a reminder,” the elf said. “The gods can be vengeful, and mortals can be foolish. I’m sure you’ve heard the songs.”
“What songs?” Helios asked.
Icarus chortled. “I could never do them justice. Suffice it to say, Hudorian punished an entire island of innocent people because of one thing or another, depending on who you ask. People know to respect the sea now, and the one who controls it.”
“It really makes you think,” the young man said. “All it would take is one crazy mistake. Just one maddened person could completely change the fate of an entire world. You’ve lived in a world where—twice—islands bigger than ours have plunged into the sea. We are at the mercy of these incredible forces, and we don’t take enough time in our days to truly appreciate that.”
“There’s that lesson you were talking about,” Icarus teased.
Helios smirked and shook his head. “Oh, no. You can’t just take credit for every revelation I have.”
“That doesn’t leave me many lessons to take credit for. You’re brilliant beyond your years, young Master Helios. You’ve taught yourself many of the things you know without my help. So tell me, why did I bring you here?”
His ward narrowed his gaze and tapped his fingers on his hip. “It… reminds you of something”
Icarus nodded. “I find comfort in this place because it is not unlike my brother’s grove, where he used to teach his students about the world.”
“And now you’re carrying on the legacy,” Helios noted.
“Oh, I don’t have anything to teach today,” the elf said. “I just wanted to take you out here to get you away from it all.”
“Well what fun is that? Surely you can tell me more about the things you’ve seen. You have three millennia of knowledge that I don’t. What about your time with my father? Or, have you ever seen any of the gods? What about—”
Icarus raised his hands to placate the lad. “Fine, fine. I’ll humor you. But with so deep and rich a history to scout, how will I ever decide what to speak of?” He flashed his eyebrows in jest before his gaze was drawn to the sea again. He stared out into that endless blue for a moment, and then his vision landed on those distant clouds once more. “I was not present when Lark met its end,” he said. “But you that I was there when Shandranar fell.”
“You don’t have to speak of this, Icarus,” Helios assured. “I know it brings up bad memories.”
The elf sighed. “They weren’t all bad.” He drifted off into silence for just a while longer, until he seemed fixed in those dismal clouds. “For a time, it seemed all that was left of Tellest was a sky like that above Lark. We should have known that was bound to change. For better or worse, no one could have expected…”