The cutter smoothly goes down the wood, leaving behind a neat twisted trail. It’s been a long time since the Elder Bjornson have used it to make amulets of bear-tree for young adventurers. His crooked fingers themselves look like branches of a century-old tree, but are still potent enough nonetheless.
Bear-trees are grown by the power of rune magic; thus these trees are shaped like a bear’s head. The Elder one only has to cut out tracery and protecting runes. Bjornson knows them all by heart, so much so that he could make these even in his sleep. Dagaz is the rune of beginning and transfiguration; Ansuz and Fehu are the runes for gaining knowledge and being in need of nothing; Algiz is the rune that grants auspice of gods; Laguz is the rune that keeps your hunches right; Gyfu is the rune that strengthens your talents; Thurisaz is the rune for thinking at full capacity; and finally, Jera is the rune for conclusions and wrapping things up.
There are lots of other runes, but Bjornson considers these the most important. They do not ease a journey, but guide adventurers on their way. Only rustling of his tool against piece of dark-brown wood breaks the silence of hermit’s cell. His fingers know exactly what to do, while Bjornson himself is hazed by memories of the past, his gaze wanders through bookshelves, aged brazen sconces and volute crook made from an enigma-tree. Branches at the top of it, almost like a palm, hold an egg-shaped light-gem. Its dim white light barely casts any shadows.
Many years have passed since Bjornson had let go his last students from this forest. Madvadi live longer than any human, so they travel a lot more too. Some of them still have yet to return, but the Elder one remembers them like they’ve left only yesterday. Litbjorn has gone to the west, through Gutland dukedom; Storbjorn – to the east, through the Great Veroslav Kingdom. Both brothers still wander somewhere out there. But today their shift will be replaced, new adventurers will go on this afternoon.
Back then, many hundreds years ago, Bjornson also had left the village to travel to the north, through the Imperial Lands. Scent of wood and books often reminds him of the old days, bringing great waves of nostalgia. He shared a lot of knowledge on his way, but brought back home even more, they are immortalized within the archives now. The old madvadi smiles through his bushy greying beard. He would gladly go and wander once again if he wasn’t the Elder one.
This world still has a lot of secrets, doesn’t matter how much the population unravels them, unknown just increases over the years. Sometimes even the regular accidents bring up the new mysteries, let alone grand disasters like the Great Mage War. It’s been a few centuries since this massive bloodshed had passed, but new monstrosities keep coming into being in these spell-corrupted lands, new artifacts keep emerging, falling into hands or claws of various creatures. Magic surges still distort the old battlefields.
Immense and mysterious world beckons, yet needs protection. Some sought to defend it with their mighty weaponry; others with magic, the one that almost led to its end. Madvadi rely on their expertise. Accumulating their experience, passing it from one sages to others. They are waiting for the moment when their knowledge can help to save the world.
But of course, young madvadi do not think about it when they go on a journey. Thirst for adventures, desire to see the world and to prove themselves – that’s everything on their mind. Bjornson knows that from himself, he thinks that that’s a great incentive. Pilgrimage isn’t a duty after all, madvadi go on by a call from heart.
Finally, he finishes the last amulet and takes a closer look at them all. Everything is alright, as always. Three amulets for three adventurers – quite a lot this time around. Although when Bjornson in his youth chose to go out on his pilgrimage, two other madvadi decided to leave the Bear Forest too. Sadly, one of them never came back.
Bjornson threads twine made of wool of a three-horned elk through the loops of each amulet. He closes his eyes to chant a short protective spell, then puts the amulets in the canvas belt pouch.
He dims the light-gem on his staff while getting up. Dawn is rising outside the window. Morning Sun ascends over the Bear-Mountain, setting down such a bright golden light on the village. That is why they call dawn the golden hour. When the Morning Sun and the Evening Sun enter zenith – that’s the ginger hour. By custom, adventurers leave the village in the bright hour – so that both suns shine brightly on their way.
Bjornson puts on green robe and comes out of his hermit’s cell, leaning on his crook. He lives at the top of terem’s tower, on the third tier. Below is the habitat of other members of the Council of Sages. The rest of the terem is dedicated to a modest library. The real archive is located far beneath, in an enormous stone dungeon. Nobody besides the Council and their apprentices go there.
Bjornson usually spends his days working there, but not today. It is the send-off day. He goes down on creaky spiral stairs, to the library. The other five sages are sitting here, preparing some little things for the adventurers.
Adventurer should care of themselves, but traditionally sages make thick journals of enchanted parchment encased in leather cover for them, set of writing materials and something from them personally; from a mentor to their student. An amulet, for example, not runic like the ones that Bjornson diligently makes; or even a weapon. Although it is considered a bad form to give a knife, but nobody is keeping it from anybody that a journey to the new world is not just an adventure, but foremost a tough path full of hardship and great danger.
So that is why Bjornson isn’t surprised to see his former student, mighty Beistarving, wrapping leather cord on the handle of his dagger. This colossus madvadi has experienced people’s vileness firsthand and had to spend a lot of time recovering, healing his wounds in the royal household of the then Gutland’s duke, Karl II Totlichstreik. That is when Beistarving embittered and learned a lot about the art of war.
Bjornson can’t blame him. If battles with either a monsters or humans await, then you shall be ready for it. After all, anyone that just had a little taste of real power can immediately get full of avarice if they just meet some madvadi-adventurer, they’ll ask for more and more knowledge.
Quite young compared to other sages, Skjonhet is busy decorating carved oak staff; in her time, she had to serve in the court of the Crimson King for over a decade, infamous warlock of the Amber Mountains. She got out of his grim fortress only by trickery.
Skjonhet still wears a painted kaftan given by the Crimson King, as a tribute to the lesson that he taught to her. Many sages wear something that reminds them of the old days. Beistarving, for example, wears a military kaftan, except that he removed duke’s crest, replacing it with a protective rune.
Green robe of Bjornson isn’t the same one he wore when he left the village, but it reminds everyone, even Bjornson himself, why he was called the Green Bear in Veroslav lands and freewheeling kingdoms. Beistarving told him that this moniker is still widely known, there’s even a fairy tale about Grunerweiser, the Green Sage with horrific face, but terrific heart.
Madvadi discover a lot in the world, but bring even more knowledge out there during their wanderings.
“Good morning” – Bjornson softly muttered and shortly nodded.
He decided to not interfere, so he left the terem to take a walk. The village woke up early, it smells like smoke, damp earth and rotten leaves. Roosters are crowing. A very agile one got up on top of the hut, warbling at the Morning Sun.
Terem of the archives lies above of the rest of the village, it is closer to the Bear-Mountain, so Bjornson can see the whole district from up here. Some jest that it is all his property, but he doesn’t think so. He is the Elder one, so he always helps his fellow kinsmen in disputes and troubles, teaches them if needed, but he wasn’t ever a ruler, let alone having his own estate. When his time comes, some other sage has to replace him. He hopes Beistarving will take his place, but also wants someone else to do so because this colossus seems too militant. Madvadi do not make alliances or wars since ancient times, it has to be this way so that their knowledge can serve the world when the time comes, not someone’s personal gains. At the end of the day, the road to hell is paved with good intentions. That is an old saying from Gutland’s capital, Gotmark.
“Top of the morning to you, the Elder one!” – the honey brewer Eldreson shouted while rolling an oak barrel out of the house. “I’ve cooked some for youngsters for the road!”
Medovukha is traditionally given to adventurers when they are ready to go on their journey. It is also profitable to sell it to neighboring villages and towns. Although they don’t sell it that much, so they get quite a lot of money for it. With that money they usually buy iron or clay so that their blacksmiths and potters have something to work with. The forest and Bear-Mountain give Madvadi a lot, but far from everything.
On autumn Madvadi collect balmy honey from apiaries, so this medovukha is especially wonderous. Bjornson expects a few merchants by the end of the month. Remarkably a lot come from the Great Kingdom, a bit less from Gutland, even though local nobility really values Madvadi’s medovukha. You can even kill for that honey, as one Gotmark merchant with huge moustache said.
Bjornson thanked Eldrjeson and moved further – to the Ancestral Stone, where adventurers should be waiting for the sunrise before going anywhere. Madvadi rarely pray to the gods, they even use magic mostly in exceptional cases, but it is considered a good omen to ask spirits of ancestors for advice or parting words. They say that spirits should support and tell the right path at the crucial moment.
The Ancestral Stone is on the hill behind the village, closer to the forest. It’s a giant bolder, five times higher than Bjornson. It is shaped as a sitting bear looking to the east. It is almost completely covered in moss, like it’s fur. Three young adventurers are resting next to it, with their eyes shut.
Bjornson takes a look at them from afar, then turns back – he doesn’t want to disturb them. Every one of them is worried, it is the journey of their lifetime and it is undoubtedly will affect the future not only the village, but all Madvadi. They are all talented, but still young.
Looking at the simple huts and small yards Bjornson remembers how he’s been thinking about his journey back in the day, how much the village will change when he returns. But the truth is that it basically didn’t change. It’s not so big, there’s nothing in here to really change. If it was a human village, who do not live as long, maybe it would change beyond recognition, but centenarian Madvadi are quite different.
Among other races only dragons are even remotely close in spirit to them. When others forge armor and swords, practice in martial arts, raise armies and battle for lands or ancient temples and artifacts, Madvadi just observe and wait. Ambitions and superfluous desires that led to the Great Mage War are foreign to them.
Bjornson is convinced that because of this mindset they are capable of gathering enough knowledge, so if a new disaster happens they are here to save the world. Anyone who tries to encroach on this knowledge won’t get off easy, not for nothing humans think that Madvadi come from bears.
The adventurers will have to prove this a lot; and learn a lot about themselves. Learn about something to be afraid of. Rulers change, borders change and like any other magical knowledge or art of war – it shouldn’t be forgotten that whenever a new foe comes and a new arcane war approaches they should be prepared for this.
Great responsibility lies on the adventurers, not everyone is ready to fully realize how important it is. It comes with time. Bjornson decided to remind them of it today.
When the bright hour came and the Council of Sages, adventurers and their families gathered before the terem, when mentors admonished their students and gave them their traditional gifts, when the time has come to say goodbye, Bjornson spoke with his staff raised with light-gem shining:
– Today you shall leave this village for many years, beginning your journey. The most important journey of your life, because it is a lonely one. We won't be here for you to give you a helping paw. You will discover, learn and mature by yourself, that's how wisdom is gained. Do not believe anyone who calls you wise. You won't ever feel wise. There is always something to strive for, that is why your life is one big journey, from its dawn to its dusk. We travel even to the other side; we just don't come back. Your wanderings through this world is the most important part of your life path. How important it is you can only learn outside of this village, or maybe you won't even many years after your return. But it is important to know that any journey is crucial for you and all of us. Because we are Madvadi. Venture bravely on your way, but remember: it can get you far-far away. Not just from the Bear-Mountain, but from what we taught you. Your way is your own trial. You will learn a lot about this world and yourselves. Do not interfere within strangers' feuds, but do not refuse to give an advice, pay with good for good, but do not rush to harshly punish evil. Do not be proud of your knowledge, sometimes it will be wiser to admit that you don't know something. Beware of good intentions, but do not refuse to help. Warn of evil actions, but do not let yourself get hurt because of false pride. Learn from others, learn others in return, but do not be intrusive. Do not be negligent and do not just settle down without a good reason. Do not be fainthearted. And most importantly: do not forget about your home. Remember: the one who left in the fall will return in the spring. Good road to you and let the bright hour come on your way every day, as it is customary in nature.
Story author: Privalov Sergey