Maz stormed into the commons hollering like an idiot and making Cale jump in his seat. Cale was nervous enough waiting to receive the elder’s staff that he would carry the rest of his life. Dock, Jockren, and Tiller were in the room with him, waiting for the same summons.
“Jonder of Den’s staff is here,” said Maz. “One of us is going to inherit Jonder’s staff.”
“Oh, my,” said Tiller. He closed his book. “He fought in the battle of Crozan Heights with that staff.”
“That would be a noble staff, indeed,” said Dock.
“Would be?” said Maz. “It is the staff of one of the greatest wizards of our time, may Urluthe draw his ghost into the Vine.”
“I meant it would be noble for me if I had it, knucklehead” said Dock. “It would be a fitting match for my blood.”
“Oh, yes, your highness,” said Maz. “How fortunate we diggers breathe your air.”
“Shut up,” said Dock.
They all had a fresh gleam in their eyes, except for Jockren who busied himself fixing a clock.
Elder Midsen and Horgan came in. Midsen had a gnarled length of yew, and Horgan’s staff was bronze—a very rare thing. “It’s time,” said Horgan.
Cale followed the elders behind his cohorts into the Estherine’s courtyard. Near the fountain was a stack of wood varying in shape, size, and color. Before Jonder’s staff came into play, Cale wanted to find one with a large top so he could carve it into the head of a beast much like the ram’s head on the staff of Cort. Not anymore. To carry the staff of Jonder would give him instant respect among peers and elders alike.
Horgan lined them up before the woodpile. “We spent weeks choosing the wood in front of you, seeking out trees that grew strong in Urluthe’s Vine of Creation. They have all been ceremonially bonded to the Vine, each with its own unique character. Four of you will have to find the one best suited to you, the one that best harmonizes with your own bond to the Vine.”
Midsen waved at a runner, who disappeared through the door to the hearth room. “One of you will receive Jonder’s staff.”
Dock sucked air audibly, and Tiller’s eyes went wide. Maz smiled like a boy in a pastry shop.
The runner came back with Elder Piner, who carried Jonder’s staff. It was a rich colored wood with dark, bold inlays on the upper half. Elder Piner anchored its tip to the ground in front of them.
“Each of you take hold of the staff,” said Midsen.
Dock reached out and grabbed it at the top. Maz held it underneath him and pulled it toward himself just a tad, eyeballing Dock as if to say, ‘Take it if you can.’ Cale and Tiller reached at the same time and then pulled back for the other, then reached again, Tiller finally grasping below to allow Cale a spot above him. Jockren grabbed last.
Elder Midsen continued. “For sixty years this staff supported Jonder’s bond to the Vine of Creation, guiding his use of its power. The one of you it is best suited for will know it and hold on, and when you have been so chosen, the others will lose their grip and their hands will fall with an unbearable weight.”
Midsen held his hand on the top of the staff, and suddenly Cale felt the power of the Vine surging through it, exhilarating him and opening up his own bond. It expanded his entire experience of the Vine, sensing it coarse through everything around him. The staff was going to choose him. The harmony he felt was unmistakable.
Maz’s hand released and fell to his side with unusual force. Tiller released soon after. Dock’s face strained and his arm shook. He released with a loud gasp.
Cale thought he heard himself laugh. His good friend Jockren stared at nothing, a look of wonder on his face. Cale hoped he would find a great one for himself. But then his arm started to fatigue, and he realized he’d been holding against an increasing weight. His knuckles started to hurt, but he wouldn’t let go. He realized his harmony with the Vine was fading, the sense of power diminishing. He could see Jockren didn’t strain at all, and soon he could hold on no longer. His arm fell and the power of the staff was gone.
Dock looked at Jockren with disbelief and Maz smirked. Tiller swallowed and nodded. Midsen, Horgan, and Piner studied each of them, giving the common impression that an elder peered into your soul.
“Jockren,” said Cale. Jockren flinched and looked at Cale. “The staff is yours.”
Jockren blushed and hefted it off the ground. “I’m a true elder,” he said.
Cale laughed. “Did you ever doubt you were?”