On the eve of his 20th birthday, Capitulum entered the cave, alone.
* * *
On the morning of his 72nd birthday, Capitulum stumbled out of the cave. He had grown a long grey beard that complimented his ancient robes. His wrinkled face was twisted into anguish as his labored breathing pierced the crisp air. As he slowly climbed the hill towards the grotto of his homestead, he assumed his father’s cottage was no longer standing. Sure enough, all that remained of his childhood was a jumbled ring of broken stones in a dead clearing.
Capitulum leaned on his staff—a slender piece of white wood, smoothed from years of use. As the old wizard gazed upon the familiar surroundings, he felt his legs give way. Gripping the staff, he slowly sank to his knees, feeling the prickly brown grass pressing into his shins through his threadbare robe. Letting the last of his strength dissipate, he fell rigidly onto his hands, grasping at the old nostalgic world and peeling large tufts of grass and dirt away from it. Makeshift parchment and letters spilled from an aged pouch he had strapped across his chest. He stared at the countless memoirs he had written, now fanned out before him, as they danced in the eastern wind. Once a valuable necessity of survival in the underworld, he let his written records scatter away, worthless.
Capitulum stood. To the east lay a town, that he prayed still existed. The sun was just now rising bleakly behind gray clouds, in that direction. Oh how he yearned to see daylight again. Though he had finally emerged from the Long Darkness relatively unscathed, it seemed the warmth of the sun would have to wait, as the land became overcast in a stiff and shadowless clarity.
Surrounding him on every side was a dense forest of evergreens, mature in size, but strangely unfamiliar to the wizard. Their seeds must have sprouted and grown old just as he did during his own mortal sequestration under the earth. Between the knotted boles, he spotted the road that led east. He donned his hood and gathered his windswept belongings.
As he wandered, the dim sun began to bleed through the canopy, blinking in and out behind obscuring leaves. Capitulum steadily followed the underused road, as it twisted and turned, threatening to vanish beneath the overgrowth. The surfaces of the rocks and trees around him began to slicken into a vivid green moss, as he neared the audible source of their flourishing.
This was the river that split the forest in two—the river his father had ferried him across a lifetime ago. Capitulum had stood on this spot a thousand times, waving to his father whenever he left for business in town. Capitulum had only crossed the river twice when he was twelve, to visit and return from Rookstone. While there, on a whim, his father had given him his first book, a manuscript of seafaring principles and boating techniques, to keep his young son occupied while he tended to matters behind closed doors. The book, which currently resided in his pouch, was lushly illustrated with diagrams and schematics—by a talented scribe, no doubt—with each page painstakingly reproduced from a master copy, he assumed. Ironic that the only watercraft steered within leagues of Rookstone was a shoddy raft his father used weekly to ferry himself across this river.
The boat was nowhere to be seen.
The river was much fuller than Capitulum remembered, spanning an incredible width. Its waters were tumultuous and much too dangerous for an old man like himself to enter, and it was unlikely that it narrowed within a convenient distance. Regardless, Capitulum was determined to cross.
All along the banks of the river stood giant fir trees, centuries old, thriving off the dampened environment. Their height was more than sufficient to lay across the river, had they been felled. Capitulum possessed no tools, but nevertheless he approached a particularly wondrous giant of a tree near the shore. He placed his hand upon the bark to steady himself, and set the end of his staff onto an exposed mangling of roots.
“I’m sorry, old one. This is not the fate you deserve,” Capitulum spoke, “but I must cross this river.”
Closing his eyes, the wizard concentrated, channeling his desire. Moments passed, and the sound of the rushing river slowly fizzled into nothingness. Birds no longer called their morning song, and the tree leaves swayed in unnatural silence.
With a tremendous crack, the sounds of the forest returned, nearly deafening Capitulum’s ears. Easing slowly, the massive tree—now broken at its base—began to teeter off balance. As gravity overtook it, the great tree slumped downward in a fury of splintering despair, and in an earth shaking boom, it crashed…
Startled birds flocked to the sky. Capitulum blinked.
“Fool!” the wizard cursed at himself. Hot in the face, he traipsed away from his blunder, swearing. The birds cawed overhead, as if to mock the error. With hesitation, he chose another, less mighty fir.
* * *
An hour passed and Capitulum shamefully crossed the river on a gnarled husk. He dared not look back at the multitude of his failed attempts behind him. It seemed his iron will was not as honed as it was in the perilous Underworld.