It continued to rain all day as he walked, his cloak and hood insulating him from the majority of the downpour. Everything else in the woods had sought shelter hours ago; only he moved, and only the rain made any noise. It was still early in the season, and the chill in the air threatened to turn the rain to snow. So far, it had held off.
This journey was always arduous. It was meant to be; the Great Tree was not supposed to be consulted on a whim. The storm made it especially difficult, however. He pulled his cloak tighter with one hand while the other held his staff tightly.
The path now gave way to a clearing and the rain stopped abruptly. In the middle of the open area stood a large tree. It would take at least six men, arms stretched wide, in order to completely encircle the trunk. The branches stretched out from the trunk, starting about as high up as he was tall. They reached nearly to the edge of the clearing on all sides, and there was not enough room to see the top of the tree. It was called the Great Tree for good reason.
In spite of his usual stoicism, he asked, “Was the rain necessary?”
Though the air was still, branches rustled. They sounded like laughter.
“I see. Well, I am honored to be a source for your entertainment.”
A deep booming voice came from within the branches, “You have your sense of humor still. Things cannot be all that bad. What brings you here, child?”
He stopped himself from objecting to that. The Tree’s answer to any protestation about age was always met with the same response. He could live to see his two hundredth year, and the Tree would still find him young.
“A new sage has been born. I have come to ask you for her staff.”
“As you know, wood that is away from you…”
“Yes. Your staves do not out last you, so they must be replaced every time a new sage arrives.”
“So this means you… that your staff is near its end?”
“The staff is your wood. You already know the answer.”
“It is tiresome. I have lost track of how many have come and gone.”
“I doubt that is true. We are not intended for long lives such as yours.”
“Is this the last visit I should expect from you?”
“No. I will return once more with her, when her training is at its end. And here I will stay.”
The tree remained silent. Something fell to the ground from its canopy. He walked over and picked up a staff, taller than his own. The grain on it was distinct and ornate, swirling in many complex patterns.
“She will be tall, then?”
“Indeed,” the Tree replied. “And wise. If you must end, you will find her a worthy successor.”
“Do not hasten your return.”
“It will be a while yet from me. You will think it is a short time, however.”
“You are likely correct. Raise her well, my friend.”
That caught him off guard. The Tree never referred to him other than as ‘child.’ “I will,” he said eventually.
He turned and left. The Tree held back the rain it had been planning on sending after him.