The next two weeks passed quickly. I unpacked and repacked many times, second-guessing what I really wanted to take. Mhorik also had me learning a new ritual to cast before we left. He said it was to protect the village while we were gone so that no evil magics could take effect. It was long and involved, and even after getting everything packed the final time I still had to take the time to finalize my part of the ritual.

The whole village was there that last night to give us a grand farewell. We built fire in the center of the village until the smell of burning aromatic wood filled the air. The fire was stoked high after the ritual, and had to be kept burning while we were gone. Villagers would be assigned to tend the fire every night, and many villagers would need to go gather more firewood. Mhorik and I invested part of our power into the fire, a tiny bit of ourselves left behind to protect against magical danger. The villagers used the fire to cook the last meal we would share together before the trip.

Still, the people worried. “Is there no way to delay this, Mhorik?” “You are growing old, wizard, you should not go.” “What if an evil wizard douses the fire and enslaves us?” The questions became more and more worried, with fear feeding upon fear.

At last, Mhorik stood up and pounded his staff against the ground. He stood tall, resting against his staff ever so slightly. Using a little bit of power, he amplified the sound to give it weight and draw all attention to him. “My friends!” he shouted, “My friends, I hear your worries. And, I share them. But, it is necessary for me to go. Young Dorua must be presented to the other wizards of the convocation. I must go to talk with my peers and find news of what goes on beyond our village.

“Remember the stories of the walking corpses: how the slain did not rest and sought to send others to the darkness. I go to find if a threat like that challenges us in these times. If we are fortunate, there will be no news. But, if some danger prowls the land, I need to find out from the other wizards what we must do.

“The fire ritual has given everyone our protection. No, I will not be here to ward against wild animals or natural curses, but any evil magics cast at the village will fail. As for the other threats, our warriors are strong and brave. They will be able to fight off attackers or animals while we are gone.

“Do not fret, my friends. Look to the sun being swallowed by the sea as we speak. Does the sun abandon you? No. Every morning the sun crawls out from behind the mountains and brings the light and life back to the lands. We, too, are not abandoning you. Yes, you must endure the night, but we will still come back from over the mountains.”

We all sat spellbound after his speech. Most people were in awe of his inspiring words and the courage he lent them. I sat in awe of the way he masterfully wove magic into his words to give them power. There was murmuring in the crowd, and finally someone shouted, “Go, Mhorik, and bring light and life when you return.”

The rest of the evening passed pleasantly. Our friends came up and wished us well, gave us small gifts to take with us to bring some comfort on the road. Sama brought me some dried leaves to make into a soothing tea she knew I like. I hugged her and thanked her for her gift. I was a bit disappointed when Balar was not with her, though.

After our goodbyes, we walked back to the hut. A villager sat near the fire while two others slept nearby. Mhorik went on ahead while I took a stroll around the village one last time. I traced steps I had gone so many times before, but they felt more vital to me knowing that I wouldn’t see them for many months.

“Dorua,” the voice startled me as I was lost in my reverie. I looked up to see Balar step out onto the path.

“Balar,” I said, trying not to show how spooked I had been. “What are you…”

He stepped forward and put his arms around me. My impulse was to step back, but I fought against it and stood where I was. He leaned down and gave me a quick kiss on my cheek.

“Come back safe,” he whispered into my ear.

I put my arms around him and held him close to me. We stood there in the moonlight sharing the moment until we left our separate ways without saying a word. It felt like I floated back to the hut, and it took me a long time to finally settle down to sleep.

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