Cranberry Valley

01-Happy Birthday!

The cake was huge, and there were tall, thin candles all over it! Mom was slowly bringing it in from the kitchen when my dad and grandpa started singing, “Happy Birthday, dear Joeseph, Happy Birthday to you!” They couldn’t do it like normal people; no, they had to make faces at me while they did it, and I couldn’t help but start laughing. Even though my laughter, I could hear my mom snickering and trying to tell them to stop or she was going to drop the cake. She didn’t drop it. Instead, she joined in the fun with them and wiped the little bit of frosting she had on her finger onto the end of my nose! Before I could get too indignant, everybody started yelling, “Make a wish!” and “Blow out the candles!” So I did what any eight-year-old boy would do, I scrunched my eyes tight and made my wish, “I want to be a Mage!” I then took a big breath and blew really hard, and amazingly, I blew out all the candles. There was cheering, and then there was cake!

As things settled down and we were eating the cake Grandpa asked me, “Are you sure you want to be a Mage? You don’t want to be a Magic Cranberry farmer like your dad?”

“No, No!”, I said. “I want to do big magic and keep the world safe! I want to go on adventures and fight monsters and bandits!”

“Well, you could do almost all of that as a merchant’s guard.”, my Dad said. “All except the ‘Big Magic’ – what kind of ‘Big Magic’ do you want to do?”

Excitedly, I said, “The Biggest Magic Ever!”, and my Mom lovingly laughed with me. “Of course you do, every boy wants to be a Mage when they grow up.”

I remember looking at her after that, and asking, “so if every boy wants to be a mage, what do girls want to be?”

She grabbed me up into a big hug, and said, “we all want to be mommies to the cutest little boys and girls!”

To which my father and grandfather smiled and chuckled. Once my mother put me down, my father pulled my chair closer to his. “Son, I have a present for you. Every boy needs one and needs to learn how to use one properly.” Then from behind his back, he pulled out a small leather belt sheath with a small bone-handled knife in it. “I’ll give it to you now, and later your Grandpa and I will teach you how to use it and care for it. Don’t throw it, it ain’t that kind of knife – and don’t carve on anything in the house, or your mother will be taking a piece out of both our hides.”, he said, smiling.

I looked at it in awe, my own knife! The leather had been stained a brown so dark it looked black in spots and made the yellow-white bone handle stand out so much more. I gently pulled the knife from its sheath and saw the ten centimeters of polished steel. There was a beveled edge on one side of the blade and a slight curve towards the tip. As I stared at it, appreciating the mirror-like finish, I heard my mother’s stern voice suddenly, “You won’t use that knife at my table unless it’s as clean and sharp as it is right now. No dirt, sap, nor rust on any blade at my table.” And I hurriedly replied, “Yes, Ma!”

“She comes by it honestly boy, a tinker’s daughter knows that ‘there’s no knife as sharp as a tinkers’ and you’ll learn it too, as that comes to my present.” my grandpa said, “Sheath that, and come over here.” Pushing the knife back into the sheath, I got down from my chair and scooted it over to where my GrandPa was sitting at the table. He scooted his chair over so I could sit in mine right next to him. “A very long time ago, a very wise man showed me a small magic that could change the world. Would you like to see that magic?”

“Yes! Yes! Please show me the magic GrandPa!”, I said.

“Very well.” Then, from his left shirt pocket, he took a small rectangular stone and said, “This here is a sharpening stone. One that may be used by anybody to sharpen a knife.” He then reached down and picked up a book from beside his chair – it was a massive book with a deep red cover and letters in cracked, black paint on the cover. “This here is my ‘prentice tome from when I studied at the Royal Academy as a boy. Can you read the cover, Joeseph?”

Struggling with the cracked paint, “It says, Aprentce Tinkr Lor.”, I said.

He chuckled and replied, “That’s pretty close. Later you can look closely at where the paint has come off to get it right. The academies teach many trades and crafts, but they don’t teach Mages. Did you know that Joeseph?”

“No…why don’t they teach mages if they teach other things?”

“Because not just anybody can be a mage, they need something special inside them to become a mage. So everybody learns a craft or a trade, and during that process, some people show that they have that something special and a Mage will come and take them for that training.”

“Oh…does that mean I can’t be a mage?” I said a little sadly.

“Oh no, you could very well be a mage!” Grandpa said. “We won’t know until later, and it will show in your magic! You see, Joeseph, everybody can do a little magic, so it’s hard to know who can do a Big Magic, and because even a little magic can change the world, we all need to learn all the little magics we can. Are you ready to see the little magic now?”

“Oh Yes! I still want to see the little magic!”, I said.

“Very well.” Opening the book to a page held by a cloth bookmark near the first third of the book, he showed me a funny picture, called a rune, at the top of the page and lots of writing on both of the pages that could be seen. He then took out a pen and drew the rune very carefully onto the sharpening stone. He then took two more sharpening stones out of his left pocket and arranged them on either side of the first stone, forming a line. “Now, watch carefully.”, he said as he then took out a Magic Cranberry from his right shirt pocket. You could see it was a Magic Cranberry, and not an ordinary one, because not only did it glow with a soft red light; it was perfectly oval from all sides and the same deep red color all over. You couldn’t even see where the stem originally attached it to the bush. He placed it on the rune, and it stuck there while he softly said some words and pushed his hand together like he was trying to clap really slowly but wasn’t able to because something invisible was in the way. Soon there was a loud click, and only one sharpening stone was on the table.

“Where did the others go?”, I exclaimed.

“I merged them into the center stone so you will have a sharpening stone that will last for your entire life. It will never wear down from use, and you would have to hit it very hard with a hammer to break it. You can still lose it, so I have an exceptional place for it.” Grandpa then picked up the stone, closed the book, and turned it, so the spine faced me. There at the top of the spine, was a rectangular slot. He then took the sharpening stone and gently slid it into the slot; once it got to the bottom, it clicked, and the book glowed with a faint grey light. Grandpa turned to me and said, “Now, that’s your stone, and you can have the stone, or in exchange for a tiny amount of pain, you can have an even greater gift – you can have this book and learn all the secrets and magic it contains.”

I was shocked, and so was my mother as she gasped, “Father!”

Placatingly, Grandpa said, “It’s OK Mary, I mastered the book long ago, and I don’t need it anymore. But Joeseph, he’s just starting his journey, and even if he doesn’t want to be a tinker when he grows up, will find many things within the pages that will serve him well.”

Dad looked at me and said, “Son, there’s no way you will know the value of this gift until you are much older. I don’t know what the tiny pain your GrandPa says you will have to pay is, but it doesn’t matter; I would have paid a great price knowing what I do now to have the chance he’s giving you. Pay the price he asks, take the book, and study it.”

Grandpa looked at me with a smile in his eyes, “It’s wisdom your father gives you. However, you must want it, and you must willingly pay the price, not knowing what it is beforehand. Do you want the book Joeseph?”

“I do want the book, is it going to hurt a lot to get the book?”, I asked.

“Not with a knife sharpened by a tinker, Joeseph, and I sharpened yours before it went into that sheath. Let’s see it, and your right index finger.” I placed the knife on the table. He laid the book down flat on the table with the front cover facing up and then pushed it in front of me as if I was going to open and read it. I gingerly gave him my right hand, and after a small flash of light, a small drop of blood formed on the tip of my finger. I didn’t see or even feel the knife pass through my flesh. Grandpa then bent my hand down, so I touched the lower right-hand corner of the cover, and I felt something hard, a pattern or design, underneath the soft leather. There was a soft grey glow, and another click came from the spine of the book. When I lifted my finger away, there wasn’t any blood on the book.

“Joeseph, this is now your book. No one but you may remove the sharpening stone, and no one but you may turn the pages. Furthermore, the book will only allow you to read from the front to the back. You cannot skip lessons in the book, and you must give the book a drop of blood each time you are ready to be tested on a lesson. Only once you have passed a test will the book allow you to open and study the next section. You may go back and look at, re-read or study any section of the book you have mastered, just as I did to reference the durability rune.” By the time he finished speaking, I had begun to feel the small cut at the end of my finger. It didn’t hurt a lot, but I knew it would be annoying every time I touched something until it healed. My father was proud, my mother was a little anxious, and my grandpa looked a little tired. I stood up, unbuckled my belt and put my sheath on, and then buckled it. My father adjusted it a little for me, showing me how to place it a little behind my back where my arm wouldn’t swing into it. I hugged and kissed everybody, grabbed my book, fumbled a bit at how heavy it was, and skipped off to my room.