I ran upstairs to my room with the book grandpa had just given me for my eighth birthday. I hopped onto my bed and tucked my pillow under my arms just as if I was going to read one of the storybooks my parents got me last year. With the massive book where my head would be and me propped up on my elbows and my pillow, I carefully looked at my book. I could see where the black paint had worn away, and the letters were still faintly stamped into the cover. I moved my hand all over the cover, especially in the lower right-hand corner, where I felt the pattern when grandpa placed my bloodied finger on the cover. Other patterns under the leather faintly showed through. You could see where dirt had accumulated, or part of the leather rubbed, but the designs weren’t clear.
I opened the cover and the first page was bright red, and had a few words in large type:
“New student assigned. 52 years since last restoration. Place any Magic Fruit in box below to restore book.”
I tried sounding out the big words, but I didn’t really understand the first part, but I did understand “Place any Magic Fruit in Box” – so I ran downstairs shouting, “I need a Magic Fruit! I need a Magic Fruit”. My parents looked at me as if I was crazy, and I think I woke Grandpa up.
My dad said, “Slow down son, what’s going on?” While my mother gave me that look, and said, “Stop shouting.”
“The book says I need to put a Magic Fruit in the box! So I need a Magic Fruit!”, I exclaimed.
We all turned to look at grandpa and he just shrugged his shoulders. “I never had to put a Magic Fruit into the book, it’s already magical. I’ll go look at the book with Joeseph.”
…”Just settle down Joeseph, I’ll get there before your next birthday.” Grandpa teased. When he finally got into my room, he sat on my bed and looked at the open book. “Well, that’s amazing. I never knew it could do that. He then reached into his right-hand pocket and took out a Magic Cranberry. “Joeseph, this is my last Magic Fruit. I’m not likely to get any more until after this year’s harvest. Everybody is hoarding them in case something important breaks before or during the harvest. They are very precious, and as you know, your father works the fields all year and only gets one Magic Cranberry from the harvest in addition to his slugs [slugs are common currency, of less value than magic fruits, and will be covered in more detail later].”
“OK, Grandpa, but doesn’t the book need it?”, I asked.
“Well, technically, it does not have to have a Magic Fruit. It is asking us to give it one to repair the book. You could use the book as it is now; however, I have never heard about Academy books being restored, and I wonder just what the magic will do. I am willing to give it my last Magic Fruit, but I will need a promise from you. I will need you to promise that you will study very hard and pass the sharpening test before the winter solstice. Wait! Before you promise, you should understand you will have to sharpen many knives to pass the test: your Da’s, your Ma’s, Billy’s Ma’s, and more. Maybe even 100 knives, and you will still have to do all your other chores. Are you sure you are ready to work that hard?”
“Grandpa, I will sharpen knives all winter to pass the test if I have too. I won’t let you down, I will work hard and pass the test!”
“Hmmm, OK. Let’s see what happens then. Grandpa took the Magic Cranberry and gave it to me. Go ahead Joeseph, It’s your book. All you have to do is put it inside the square.”
I took the Magic Cranberry from grandpa and gently placed it in the square on the page. As soon as it touched the parchment – the cranberry was sucked into the book and vanished! Then the book started glowing a deep red, and the cover slammed closed. Then the book lifted a few inches off the bed, flashed bright red, and dropped back onto the mattress. The cover didn’t show any wear, the paint was perfect, and my sharpening stone gleamed like it was wet. I touched it, and it was dry, just shiny.
Grandpa said, “Take out the stone Joeseph, turn it over.”
I did, and the otherside was rougher and a different color, more grey then black.
Grandpa held out his hand, and I gave it to him. He looked at it carefully, “Joeseph; you just got an excellent upgrade. This rougher, grey side is for very dull knives, while this smoother black side makes sharp knives the sharpest they can be. Your sharpening test might be just a little harder now, and you’ll do better for it.”
I had mixed feelings. Getting a better stone was nice. Having to work harder didn’t seem like a good trade. “Can I open the book now?” I asked. Grandpa nodded, and I opened the cover. On the inside of the front cover, there were now words. “This book is registered to Joeseph Watershed, enrolled at the Royal Academy of Astria as a Tinker’s Apprentice. You have passed 0 of 751 lessons.” On the right side, where the first page of the book was, was a heading, “Table of Contents for Year 1,” with lesson names following, and a thin red ribbon.
Grandpa whistled low and said, “Joeseph, things have changed in the last 52 years since I went to the academy with my father and got this book. Here are the easy bits; the first lesson is about the book itself. The second lesson is still about sharpening. It’s where most who try and take up the tinker’s trade fail. Sharpening is more than rubbing stone against steel, and many never learn the full lesson. The ribbon is a bookmark. You won’t get the other three until you reach the lessons for those years. If you take away the first lesson, then each year the lessons double; 50 the first year, 100 the second and so on. You don’t have to be an Apprentice Tinker, but if you finish the first year’s lessons, you will have a head start in many other crafts and even a few trades by your twelfth birthday.
Grandpa then tried to explain something else to me, something that scared me. “Joeseph, others will try to steal this book from you if they learn of it. There aren’t any secrets in the book. All of the knowledge in the book can be found in other books. What makes the book special is that its magic is for training an apprentice without having a master. If the book is still magical, opening the book to the last page in front of any master will demonstrate that you are entitled to the rank of Journeyman Tinker. They will then demand the book in exchange for your journeyman seal, and if you are lucky, they will give you a handful of slugs. If you do that in front of an academy master, you will get your journeyman seal and 10 magic fruits – if you haven’t mastered the book, you will still get 10 magic fruits if you turn it in. So an academy is always a better option if you need to give up the book. Your father only gets one magic fruit from the harvest, in addition to his slugs, for his year’s labor, while our mayor gets 10 magic fruits out of each harvest. Do you understand? It’s a small fortune that other men will covet, and men have done evil for less, so never show the book to anyone you don’t trust, and expect that anybody you do show it to will tell others about it.”
I didn’t really understand all of this and just agreed not to show anybody the book. That seemed to please Grandpa, and we continued reading through the first lesson about the book. This book wasn’t like any of the storybooks that my family would read to me. There were no heroes or monsters or anything like that in the beginning. In fact, the first part of the book was about the book itself. It was filled with rules like, “Don’t take the cover off the book” and “Don’t use the book to power runes, cantrips, or spells.” Grandpa explained that the book was magic and that breaking these rules would break the magic, and the book would be ruined. No matter how curious, angry, frustrated, or any other emotion, I should always try to protect the book and never try to take it apart – even to fix it. Seeing how much work I needed with my letters and numbers, Grandpa agreed to read with me for an hour a day after dinner and help me understand the words I didn’t know.
I grew tired, and Grandpa put the book on my little table and helped tuck me into bed. Tomorrow we would resume the first lesson.