The Science Of Magic

Chapter 4

gender confusion

Nah, nothing happened that night, except sleeping. Nevertheless, it was nice. At one point during the night, she reached out and pulled my arm around her.

I woke before her. For a while, I just lay there unmoving, watching her sleep. She had a nice little face. Somewhere inside this contentious Pixie was a real sweetie, I think; I mean to say, there must be. Occasionally, you could see it in her eyes.

She muttered and moved in her sleep. She was still full-grown As the sun moved through the trees, slanting shards of light cast patterns of warmth across her face.

She was just so darn cute, I hated to wake her, but nature called and I could not answer with her asleep on my arm. I freely admit, I have often fallen prey to such cuteness, but in her current state (full-grown, naked, and asleep-) grabbing her might be misinterpreted.

In an effort to awaken her gently, I touched my lips briefly to her forehead. She stirred beside me, bringing her arm around me. Moving her face so her lips met mine, she leaned into the kiss. She made a little humming sound.

Then her eyes popped open. She squealed in the back of her throat. When she realized she was embracing me, she squeaked and pushed away.

"Good morning?" I was puzzled, but that's nothing new. I had been puzzled often, lately.

Dot leapt from under the cloak. She realized it was cold and she was naked, at the same time. She popped back to normal size, and zipped back under the cloak.

"You- rrr!" I swear she growled at me.

She was flushed, bright red. She groped for the handkerchief, but encountered an unexpected portion of my anatomy.

"Oh!" She said.

"Well..." I replied, rising to the situation.



We fumbled about monosyllabically for a few moments, then she squirmed into the handkerchief. She flitted away, red and irate.

If I live to be a thousand, I'll never understand.

Dot returned less irate, but with an icy air of victory about her. Like a conquering general subjugating a crowd. Like she had a secret weapon.

"I think we should part company now," she said serenely, triumphantly. She knew I would take it personally and she was right.

I was unfamiliar with this part of the forest. I needed to have a guide, or risk getting lost. The River had been my guide to here, but now I needed to turn aside and cut through the forest, in order to meet Herbert and find West Keep.

I hadn't ventured more than fifteen miles from my cottage alone, since I was born. As much as Dot was a pain in my bottom, I did enjoy her company, and I was growing very attached to her. Besides, I knew she was doing it to annoy me and that annoyed me more than anything.

I wasn't about to let her know that.

"Well, my thanks for all your help and eh, suggestions. I don't know how I may have faired without you. However, I'm sure I wouldn't have enjoyed it as much. I know I'll miss you." I was spoiling her maneuver by acting graciously and it showed on her face. She didn't like it but there was nothing she could say, without exposing her machinations.

A variety of expressions played across her face; there was no way to gauge where her thoughts were going. I would just have to wait until they got there.

"I wonder if you could check for bees one more time, for me." She hopped aloft without a word. I watched as she rose above the trees and turned this way and that.

"You sure do have a cute bottom," I muttered aloud, much too quietly for her to hear. She glided back down hesitantly, landing on a tree limb just in front of my face.

"You need to go that way," she pointed to a path tinged with the air of disuse, "It's practically due North. Just go straight. Don't let the sun get before or behind you, and you'll be fine. There's an Inn at a crossroad; you can get directions to West Keep there. It's about a day and a half."

I believe she had no idea how much her wings gave away. I've watched her hover and forget to move them. I've seen them buzz when she was angry and flutter when she was pleased. Now, I watched them droop dramatically, as she mumbled; "I'll, uh, miss you, too." For a moment, her eyes gave her away, but the stern, steady anger returned.

"Good luck, and try not to hurt yourself too badly, you big oaf." She quickly angled off into the sky.

I started off in a northerly direction, but I turned when she called, "Pick up your feet before you trip over them." I waved and , walked into a tree. As I sat there, slightly dazed, I could hear her rasping laughter coming through the trees.

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Herbert was rocking back and forth on his heels, hands clasped behind is back. He rotated slightly to the right and stretched his neck to take in the tiers of books.

"I never expected, I mean, I didn't realize your library was so big."

"Mother and Father spent years finding all this stuff and getting it here. Every time a new shipment came in, I'd be the first one there to open the crates."

"It's pretty complete, as extensive as you'll find until you get to the coast." I was very proud of it. I had several books on loan to noted scholars.

"Still, it's not exactly the Library of Congress, don't bust all your buttons." He beamed at me.

"Well, I er..." I wasn't sure what the hell he said, but somehow, I felt nettled.

"I need to see books on magic, and history. Do you have Myths or Fairy Tales? I don't suppose you know the Dewey Decimal System?"

"Huh?" I wish I could report a more erudite response, but "Huh?" has got me through some real puzzlers before.

"What I meant was, where are the books on magic?"

"Oh, on the shelves, of course. Doesn't do to leave them lying about." I waved in the general direction of the stacks.

"Could you be more specific?"

I led Herbert to the racks with the books on magic, which were three cases of five shelves apiece. Some of the volumes were elsewhere, cross-referenced and annotated on the index of each bookcase. I pointed out the racks of historical reference; some of the books weren't books at all, but well-preserved scrolls.

"As far as Fairy Tales are concerned, you'll have to suffer through my recitations, or settle for O'Toole's, for all that's worth." I slapped my hand on the voluminous (and rather dusty,) Tome.

Herbert released a sigh, of sorts and took hold of my shoulders.

"It's very important that I learn how to use the magic on your planet, are there books to teach you how to use it?"

I was confused. Here was the best magician I'd ever met, asking me to teach him magic. If I had any I would teach it to him. But what the hell did he mean 'on my planet'? One of us wasn't particularly bright. I was beginning to sense it might be me.

"Huh?" I replied. See? It comes in handy, often.

Chapter 3 Contents Chapter 5

Nod is perplexed

The sun had become a great orange sphere. It hung at the edge of the world, peering through the bolls of the trees. I walked alone all day, without seeing another person. The forest remained quiet around me, as the sun reclined.

I had spent so much time in this forest, alone, it seemed silly to feel lonely; but I did. I missed all the annoying little things she did, though I was still perplexed (and slightly hurt,) by her actions.

Such is life.

With some effort, I forced myself to concentrate on matters at hand. I needed food, a fire and a sheltered place to spend the night.

I dropped my pack by the bole of a sturdy tree and slid down beside it, just then realizing how much my feet hurt. Something uncomfortable was poking me through my pocket. I twisted around to get at it. As soon as my fingers closed on it, I realized what it was; the vial of Stringewart juice.

Through all my travails and drenchings I had managed to hold on to the vial. Gods! I wish I knew why Herbert needed the stuff. I had gone through quite a bit to get it.

A really big yawn worked its way up and out my face. The sun was rapidly declining; I knew I must move or spend the night hungry and cold. I sighed as I creakily stood. I left my pack by the tree and walked the edges of the little clearing.

Wild squash, three onions and a pear tree later I returned to the clearing. I dropped the produce by my pack and gathered stones for the fire. In the end, I had a soft bower for a bed and squashes roasting in a merry little fire. While I waited, I munched a pear.

I couldn't get the vial out of my head, and I found myself playing with it. Watching the sun set, I drifted off to sleep.

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It was obvious to me that Herbert had been pacing. I was annoyed, not at his movement, but at the trail of rolled up paper-scraps that he left in his wake. That stuff was precious, did he think Vellum grew on trees? He would have to decide on a less expensive nervous habit.

"What's the scoop on this Elder tongue?" Herbert was rolling a scrap of vellum between his thumbs and his forefingers, as he spoke.

"It's very old." My eyes remained on his paper twisting.

"What else can you tell me."

"What did you need to know -and don't ask me anything more about West Keep- I refuse to go there."

"According to this, it's name in the elder tongue is 'Cairn al na' Rog'. What the hell does that mean, Nod?"

"Literally it means, 'Earth Vault', no-" I had to think about it, "-'Crypt'. Oh well, That made me feel much better."

"Are you sure? I mean, what's the apostrophe for? Does the Vault belong to the Earth or is it the other way around?"

"Neither, actually, the Elders had only one form of possessive, with no gender or tense distinction. The apostrophe is a modern convention to contract, in this case "nrrygr" in the eldest, "nar is the modern, pronounceable version. As far as I can tell they never used contraction, and no one knows how it was pronounced."

It was a subject, in which I was well versed, and passionate.

"Gods, sometimes I wonder if the Eldest had mouths at all. There's no way to pronounce the language."

"With your vocal anatomy-" Herbert interrupted. He moved toward the desk.

"The only written evidence of their language," I interrupted right back, "are perfect manuscripts, not a flaw."

"Perhaps they were perfectionists-"

"Yet they made no notes, no scribbles, no first drafts? It's very odd to say the least. I believe the current theories are wrong-"

"I have no doubt they are wrong, current theories usually are. So what's your theory?"

"I er, that is I haven't got one. It's just damned funny is all." Actually, I did have a theory, but even Dad laughed at it. It would be quite a while before I told it to anyone else.

I was pleased with my memory (and pronunciation) of the old tongue.

Even so, my pronunciation was off. The eldest tongue is nearly unpronounceable, having almost no vowels in its lexicon (try pronouncing "Srgtn Lnnr Wrggn", without hurting yourself. I've often wondered if the Elders had jawbones capable of aspirating vowels). The modern lexicon is a convention to allow verbalization.

"It all comes down to one thing," Herbert slammed the book on the desk. Placing his hand atop it, he continued, "All the references boil down to this Scepter thing -"

"Segn Al Na' Rog?" I asked nonchalantly.

Herbert was frantically thumbing through,

"O'Toole's Unabridged Compendium of Translations From the Ancient", a battered and scarred relic that my parents had me study religiously.

The book was divided into three parts; a translating dictionary, a treatise on the evolution of language in the absence of vowels, and an all-purpose glossary of facts, names and un-usable trivia.

"Stick in the ground?" Herbert's confusion was evident in his voice.

"Rod or Scepter, of the Ground is closer. If you take into account the difference in syntax"

"So you have heard of it?"

"Well, in a manner of speaking. It's an old legend my mother told me, numerous times."

"Well..." Herbert prompted, impatiently.

"Oh, well- m-m-m. It seems that the Great and Powerful Drinn, a sorcerer of old, hid the scepter to defeat Dimitri, the Evil and Flatulent. In doing so, it is said that he nullified Human magic, including his own. He is therefore considered to be the last true Wizard."

"Well?" Herbert was, literally, on the edge of his seat, awaiting some kind of reply from me.

"Well, what?"

"Don't you see? This must be the source of the interference, the reason my magic doesn't work, why I'm stuck here."

"Well, here's not so very bad is it?" I was kind of miffed; all he talked about for the last few days is how to get out of here. I like it here.

"No here is just dandy, but I've got trouble to deal with at home, my home, and I can't deal with it from here."

"Oh, what do you propose to do about it?"

"I suppose I must find this blasted stick and take it to the castle."

"West Keep." I offered.

"God bless you."

"No, that's where the scepter belongs, where it came from, and the last place I'll ever go, wild horses couldn‘t..."

Westkeep! It was the last thing I wanted to hear. Westkeep had many legends, and that was never good. Reports alternately claimed it was haunted; possessed; abandoned; inhabited by the spirits of the unjustly murdered; the gravesite of Drinn; the entrance to various (and conflicting) hells; and, the source of all evil.

Whatever the truth, nobody went there on purpose.

I was sure I didn't want to go.

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It is the smallest noises-

the least significant things-

that reach through the shroud of dreams to awaken.

So it was, that a tiny noise affected me in a big way. It was a familiar sound; I had heard it many times. It had been stored in my memory under the broad heading: UH-OH. (At first, this may seem a little general or vague, but I assure you it's very functional.)

It was the sound of uncountable hundreds of bees, buzzing in a roiling gray cloud, not too far away.

I awakened with a start.

"Uh-oh," I said. (See what I mean?)

I knew what I must do. There is a sort of trigger attached to UH-OH, it tells my body to run like hell.

This time I was running away from the River. If the little buzzers got too close, I couldn't even jump in the water, as there was none.

Chapter 3 Contents Chapter 5

steering committee

Phineas was demonstrative, he thumped the desk, and he rattled a sheaf of papers. At a climactic moment in his oratory, he snapped a pencil in two.

"I said to watch him, follow him. Be unobtrusive, I said. What part of that did you take to mean, sleep with him?"

"We slept in the same place, I didn't sleep with him." Dot seemed to be in control of her emotions. She couldn't or wouldn't, show anger or excitement.

"Oh, well then that's unobtrusive?" The pencil in his fingers went 'snick!'

"It was unavoidable. After we ran across each other, it would have been more suspicious to run away." Dot could not act on the urge to leap over the desk and throttle him. Though she credited herself with restraint, it was the Gaeas, with which Phineas held her passive. Outwardly, she remained serene, and derived some satisfaction from the broken pencil.

"Besides, he would have bypassed your people entirely. I steered him to the Inn."

"In that case, get your ass to the Inn and keep an eye on him." He stared at her for a moment. He knew she was seething inside. He knew she couldn't act on it. As long as he could keep her balanced like that, she could be controlled.

"What are you waiting for?" It was a command and a dismissal. He examined her, closely.

She moved from the chair and walked slowly to the door. She felt him watching her, and smiled while he could still see. He was easy, for all his bluster.

"Oh yeah. One more thing." He called. She stopped with the doorknob in her hand. "Keep your pants on."

She couldn't help the way her wings buzzed as she closed the door. He couldn't help the smirk that washed across his face.

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Book manuscripts, scrolls, for Christ sake; I felt like an alchemist. I tried everything, spells, potions, chants, incantations- you name it- I tried it. The best of them, when I accidentally hit a clear spot in the interference, just didn't work. At the worst, there were reversals and side effects, notably; lightning.

I was damned tired of the lightning.

Some very nasty things were about to happen. I needed magic, real magic, heavy-duty- this-ain't-no-parlor-trick magic. I still had my 'conjuring', as Nod called it, but all the Warrior 3000® assault weapons in all the dimensions wouldn't stop this. I couldn't hope to out technology them.

Nevertheless, I had to find something, some gimmick, a trick the Delvers weren't expecting. So far, my diligence had gone entirely to waste.

During one of the moments when I was reflecting (i.e., staring vaguely into space,) she spoke to me.

" Herbert?" I heard the call, and didn't refocus my eyes to see if it was the neighbor girl, or her sister -it certainly wasn't Nod's voice. As I slammed the book closed, it raised a cloud of dust. What could those girls want, now? I wasn't hungry, and I didn't feel like conversation.

"Herbert- to go need to be in rock-place now-est possible for you."

That got my attention. "What?!"

"Moving must of same to big rock-you place far from now - you."

"Would you mind repeating that, slowly -in English, this time"

"Not knowing- I have no 'English' just-only poor. To rock must go-you, on edge of land."

"Say, do I know you?"

"Calling me qorissa, you/now know."

Maggie Pottrattle and her sister peered through the door of the Library.

"Herbert, who are you talking to," Asked Maggie?

I had a sudden desire to focus.

"That's qorissa, with a quaay in the front" The voice offered.

The Pottrattle girls did not even hear her. I was pretty sure that was enough. My brain agreed and I sat like a zombie, listening to qorissa, the voice in my head.

Oh, brother.

"Speaking in your head is what, looking at, I/was been everwhen-You. Ahh!"

Something in the timbre of the thoughts changed, I will not try to describe the difference.

"Possess You not the proper mental referents for total coalescence."

"Say what?" At least I understood that, I think.

"Difficulties Translating this/when."

The voice in my head continued spouting, and I could almost make sense of the twisted syntax. I will not endeavor to repeat it all, here, but the ending is worthy of note.

 "Contact will I as traffic clears then/You, give not hope-up-Yours (I'm sure it wasn't meant that way) I love you" The voice went silent.

I love you? Well, at least if I was crazy, I still liked myself.

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Hanna stroked the great winged beast, thoughtfully. She wasn't really listening to Tiela's diminutive harangue. Hanna already knew the basic gist of it; the rest was just generalized kvetching and bitching. Tiela could go on for hours.

"You're not even listening!" Tiela was working up a real good head of steam. "Here I am, pouring my heart out to you and you're ignoring me!" Her wings made a little buzzing noise.

"I'm sorry, Tiela. You're right I wasn't listening," If Hanna didn't stop this, they'd wind up in a fight.

"So much is happening, I'm a little lost, Sweetie."

Tiela resolved it by darting to Hanna's cheek and planting a kiss there. Hanna extended a hand and Tiela used it for a quick summersault. Hanna still had her other hand locked in the fur of the beast. The beast was big enough to accommodate Hanna's sixty-two inches as well as Tiela's more modest dimensions.

"Aw, He's not so much," Tiela was growing petulant again.

"He's quite a sturdy animal, good flyer, too." Hanna pointed to the capacious haunches and stalwart wings. "He'll be good transportation, and he can carry much."

"What kind of creature is he, Hanna?" asked Tiela without a trace of petulance.

"I think it's called a Flying Dutch Lop."

"No, I mean..."

"It's a rabbit."

Chapter 3 Contents Chapter 5

the Inn

I followed the sounds through the woods, until I came upon a crossroads. Set back a way from the southwest corner, was a Public House and Inn. The sound was coming from this impressively large establishment.

I was weary, and it sounded inviting, but I was low on funds. Beside which I just had to find Herbert.

I scanned, the scraggly hills that underlined the failing, western sky. To the east and south, the giants of the old forest deepened and gloomed with the night. A few yards inside the deciduous echelons, the gloom deepened to black. A string of riotous greens wandered from the North, meandered past the inn, and dissolved into the lowering ranks of the forest. It was the same river in which I had been destined to spend so much time.

It was the River that finally decided me. That, and the small, dark cloud that was slipping out of the opening the River made in the forest. I was somehow sure, that the cloud would be heard to be buzzing, as one got closer.

Ah well.

Maybe I could get some help at the Inn, to locate that twice-damned wizard.

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After they had loaded their Flying Lop (the official name, according to the tag on the harness. Hanna had begun to think of it as the F-Lop) they loaded themselves into the harness. It was a sort of saddle cum basket-chesterfield with seatbelts. It was attached by leg straps, and a coupling on the collar of the beast.

It was woven of reeds, with a long, braided arch across the top. The arch was capable of supporting a canvas, which kept off the weather. Inside, soft, bright-green hay was spread all over the bottom. Several small, multicolored, oval baskets nestled in the grass.

Tiela didn't like flying, unless it was under her own power. She was highly agitated and prone to motion sickness. Hanna was doing her best to reassure her.

"...very capable flyers, nothing fancy, mind you; no loop-the-loops or dead falls. Very safe and strong." Hanna said as she fastened her seatbelt.

"Yeah, but how is he on take-offs and landings?" asked Tiela, suspiciously. She hopped into the air, stopped in mid-flight, did a figure eight and landed on the harness ring.

"Those big legs are great for landings," Hanna raised her voice to be heard above the commotion.

Tiela interrupted, louder still, as the background noise escalated. "Landings are easy, point yourself at the ground and stop flying." Tiela cupped a hand around her mouth and shouted, "What about the takeoff?"

A burly elf pointed toward Tiela, "You're clear for takeoff." He ran off, puffing and blowing. All around them, Pixies and Fairies were dashing for cover.

"Hanna," Tiela's tone was questioning. She put her hands on her hips, raised one eyebrow, and glared.

"Well, the takeoffs are a little ah, rough."

Tiela was about to say "How rough?" but the words never got out.

As the big bunny took it's first hop, Tiela tumbled to the floor of the basket. One could hear a wailing siren, which sounded suspiciously like, "Haaaaaaannnaaaaaa!"

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"Arianna, we believe this is, eh, unnecessary." The Speaker performed the mental equivalent of a nod of the head. "Prognostics indicate that this is currently a zero-sum string, and will not affect the Mainstream for several 1000 cycles. It matters little what happens there, in our lifetimes.

"But Rog, is a Source World. We can't let it be destroyed!" Arianna was uncharacteristically vehement. "Think of all the Artifacts-"

"You're young, yet. Please remember that it is the Mainstream that's important. The future is what counts. However nostalgic, The Calculation is always the first Prior-"

"What about the present? There are beings there, intelligent life-"

"You have not been certified as Integrator-"

"Because you prevented it."

"Even so, you are restricted to projection, it's too dangerous to go personally.

"I'm quite capable of-"

"This is non-negotiable, you are dismissed!" The Speaker was uncharacteristically agitated.

Arianna stamped her foot and said, "Father!" very sternly, but she left.

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The bunny bounded down the expansive tunnel. It came out of the cave on its third brain-shaking, bone-jarring hop. By the seventh hop, Tiela had been reduced to whimpering, curled up on the green-straw floor.

Hanna was happy just to keep her brains from spilling out her eyeballs, for one more hop. She hoped the great, fuzzy bastard would get airborne and get it over with.

When it happened, it took them both by surprise. They were waiting for the next mind-numbing hop when-...

Nothing. No Hop. No rattled teeth, no sense of having your spleen sent to another place and time.

Tiela looked up, dazed. She sniffed and sat up straight. After a moment, her eyes focused on Hanna.

"I hate you and I hate this bloody..." Her face went all screwy for a second, then her eyes got real big. She managed to hurl the word 'rabbit' over the leeward side of the bunny basket, along with the contents of her diminutive GI tract.

The rabbit turned his head. A broad pink eye looked at the mess on its fur. Then the eye looked at Tiela (who had run through at least five shades of green and was now working her way through the purples.) An enormous mottled ear whipped around and smacked Tiela on the head. It couldn't have hurt much, but it was humiliating.

Chapter 3 Contents Chapter 5

Will Rumpledumpling

"Well that's the last we'll hear from those two." Phineas T. folded his arms across his chest. A satisfied smirk spread across his face.

Will Rumpledumpling looked less satisfied. Nervously fingering the candy cane in his pocket, he said,

"But, Phineas, the Great Scepter of Drinn? Couldn't you think of something more believable?" True to his name, his expression made his face look like a dumpling.

"Ah, but there is a scepter you know. It's been lost for hundreds of years; they'll never find it. Especially not with that great nasty bunny to ride. They're gone the other way as fast as they can. And I was glad to give them transport." Phineas finished with a self-satisfied leer.

"Well, I trust you know what you're about. I leave it all up to you, the whole thing makes me rather queasy." Unconsciously, Will was unwrapping the candy cane in his pocket. It made a crinkling, crackling sound that filled up the quiet pause.

Phineas wrinkled his nose and thrust an eyebrow at the rotund Will.

"Let's have it, then," he said holding his hand out.

"Now, then, Phineas. I'm just keeping it to soothe my nerves."

"Nerves indeed, hand it over." Reaching into his coat, Phineas brought out a flask and handed it to Will.

Will surrendered the candy and took three big swallows from Phineas' flask.

"Now we must see about this boy magician, and that damned Peridot." Phineas smacked his hands together.

"Then you believe the prophecy," Will began.

"Nonsense! The boy has picked up a talisman or a familiar. I don't care what the Seers feel about him. Humans don't have any magic of their own."

A burly elf shambled over to the pair. He looked at them and blinked a few times.

"Duh, I got it all done, just like you told me." He shook his head in agreement with himself.

"Elves!" Thought Phineas, "The world would be a better place without them. Hoodlums, gangsters, sheep molesters, the lot of them." He didn't have a prejudiced bone in his body but he would hope his sister never took up with Elves, if he had a sister.

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Officially, he was an Integrator, you may think of him as a troubleshooter.

After nearly twelve years, he was damned sick of it, twelve spans in a backwater planet (they didn't even have plumbing) to prevent one animal-driven ground vehicle from bumping another. In six thousand years, it would change the course of the Universe. That was his last sacred mission.


"But, Speaker, working opposite her- I'm quite fond of Arianna, I wouldn't want anything to get between us." Therol switched mental gears and thought aloud.

"Prognostics gives her a 10% chance of actually affecting the Mainstream."

"Dirt side on another backward planet, I can hardly wait." Mentally, sarcasm is never lost on anyone.

"Think of yourself as ballast."


"Think of it as your duty, if you must."

Chapter 3 Contents Chapter 5

The Inn

Smoke rose from the third floor stacks of the central house. A great wall, enshrouded in ancient, clinging ivy, enclosed two sides of the property. The wall joined an L-shaped structure with many high windows. Rookeries rose at the four corners; someone was lighting a signal fire atop one.

It looked much like a castle. Entry was gained through a portcullis-like construct, in the truncated right angle of the wall. There were honed points on the iron bars, but the gate was open and appeared to have no guard.

I strolled through the courtyard garden holding my breath. Several doors of real glass could be opened, to join the main house to the courtyard. Most of them were closed.

Inside I moved toward the smoky hearth, trying to find a place to sit. The room was poorly lit and the course conversation all but drowned out the musicians in the corner. I took a seat at a partly enclosed booth near one of the open glass doors. I took a look around.

Most of the patrons were grouped around three trestle tables, in the center of the room. They seemed to be an average group of workmen and farmers. A rotund fellow was finishing a toast with a raised goblet, which was received with generally, loud approval.

"What may I get for you tonight, sir?" The serving wench startled me out of my reveries. She was very blonde and slender. For a moment I was taken by the acute geometry of her face (and low bodice.)

"Sir?" She blushed, noticing my gaze.

She had astonishing silver-gray eyes.

"AH uh-uh-uh," I countered wittily.

"Perhaps some ale," she left it open, trying to coax a reply from me.

"Ah, yeah," said I, always the soul of wit and charm. "Ah, don't I know you from somewhere?" Even as the words came out I was feeling chagrined.

"I don't think we ever met." She replied. A smile to shame all the angels lit up her face. Stunned, I watched as she moved away. I tried to think of something to say at her return. My mind was blank.

I shrugged my cloak back and stretched my legs under the table. I felt all the weariness of the day, as I watched the gray-eyed goddess, with the serving tray. Her movements had an unstudied grace and ease. Her motions never disturbed the tray or it's content. Her laugh was like the sounds of birds or water, but very sweet and human.

My eyes were helplessly drawn to her; I sat and watched her approach in rapt fascination. I thanked her clumsily, as she set out my ale.

 "Here," she said, "I thought you could use something to eat. " She set a large, steaming crock before me. 

The stew was vicious but the ale helped wash it down. I pushed the empty bowl away. The throbbing in my hand had quieted to a dull pulsing.

Swallowing the last mouthful with a swig of ale, I motioned for the serving wench. I was feeling a little woozy and somehow managed to knock the ale pitcher on the floor.

"I'm terribly sorry." I said, bending to the pitcher as she did.

I was enthralled by the view of her wonderful breasts. Oh, I had seen breasts before, but only accidentally and then it was usually some old woman of thirty or better. I had seen lots of art with nudity, but these were the real things. Pink and warm and fragrant and round, they strained cheerfully against her bodice. They were right there.  

Inside I was screaming Hooray! (At least some part of my body was screaming something) Outside I was turning very red.

Her hand touched mine, as we both reached for the pitcher. My eyes fled to her eyes. There was a heart-stopping moment of magic.

Then she smiled. Her eyes were filled with a clear silver light that danced as she smiled.

"Wa-Wa-What's your name?" I was in a trance, locked to her eyes.

"Natali." She said. As if she hadn't spoken the most glorious name ever uttered.

"You are very beautiful, Natali." My heart skipped a beat when I spoke her name.

"Thank you." She smiled and blushed. Turning away, she muttered, "would you like more ale?"

The trance was broken, "Yes please." I replied.

I watched her as she glided away, her golden hair floating around her angelic face like a halo. Somewhere inside me, a deep sigh began to work its way out. I took another sip of ale.

A gangly-looking fellow approached. He wore gray tights, soft shoes and a tunic. A confusion of orange hair sprouted from under a cap that shadowed his eyes. He carried a flagon of wine but no weapon.

He came to the table and doffed his cap. His bow was deep, almost comical, except that it was so gracefully executed.

"My name is Jean-Pierre d'Lyons. I am at your service." He smiled crookedly as he straightened up, "May I join you?"

He spoke in a thick, obviously fake, French accent. His ears were enormous.

"But of course." Indicating a chair with my good hand, I said, "Nod, at yours."

He took a giant gulp of wine from the pitcher and let out a long sigh,

"I have a business proposition for you."

"I could use some business," I replied. For some reason, I took an instant liking to the man. I trusted him. Maybe, he could help me find that dratted wizard.

"I have a friend who's been encorcled."

"I beg your pardon, they've been what?"

"Encorcled. A witch cast a spell on her." Jean-Pierre thrust his lower lip out and looked very serious.

Even though I was dizzy, I knew something was wrong with his story. I knew every witch around for miles, no talent.

Most witches have no real power of their own; instead, they use familiars and incantations to invoke færy magic. The invocation was rarely accurate; hence, the reputation for witches using bad, or black magic. The magic wasn't bad; it just wasn't very good.

Natali caught my eye as she went by. She smiled and blushed, placing her hand in my unhurt one as she stopped for a moment.

There was a piece of paper in it. 

Natali whirled and headed away. I watched her go with great interest, pocketing the note without a reading. The world was growing fuzzier; my thoughts were whirling.

I had a vial in my pocket! "What's this," I thought. As I began to rise to extract the vial in my hand, a large meaty hand thumped me on the shoulder.

I, quite naturally, spilled more ale.

"Like tha' d'yer, lad?" A large meaty face was eventually attached to the hand. It was not a kind face but it was not exactly ugly. Luckily, a rancid beard and a patina of grime hid most of it.

"I er, beg your pardon, sir?" I asked warily.

"The quiff, lad. Are yer fond of the skirt?" He squinted one eye (at least it looked like an eye) and cocked his head to the side. His other meaty fist was occupied, curling and uncurling around his brass-shod, oaken staff.

"Well, I've only just met her. "

His face glowered red for a moment, his knuckles turned white around the staff, "Yer not likely to get any farther either you, git, she's mine."

As he screamed this last, he swung his massive staff down at me.


The staff splintered the back of the booth as I ducked out of the way. I came up from under the table and spun around to face him. All I could see was the brass edge of the staff coming towards me. I didn't have time for thought; I threw up my hands to ward off the blow.

The fragile vial flew from my injured hand and shattered atop his staff. He froze- his staff froze. He expression changed to a puzzled look, as opposed to stupid and mean. The aroma of Stringewart filled the Inn.

It may have been the first time his face had ever been washed.

I was trying to utter an apology, when several things occurred simultaneously (to the best of recollection):

Jean-Pierre leapt up from the booth; Natali cried out, "No!" as the man's look became stupid again, but meaner still.

A great cloud of Great Horned Bees swooped through the window and attacked him. He came to attack me, surrounded by a roiling swarm of bees. I opened my mouth to scream stop, or wait, or help! This is what came out:


A great spear of blue flame leapt from my hands and slammed into my attacker. He was lifted from his feet and hurled through the glass doors, making a tremendous crash.

I looked down at my hands, and then I looked around the now silent room. I looked back at my hands. Then I looked at the still smoking boots on the floor.

There was a final, solitary tinkle of glass.

Natali was at the bar, looking both puzzled and horrified. A man in the back was wringing his hands on a food-smeared apron. The whole crowd was staring at me, some of the patrons began to rise, eyes narrowed, lips tight.

"Uh-oh." I thought.

"Damn Wizards" said someone.

The mood was getting ugly. I backed up in the direction of the door (I hoped.) I noticed Natali looking at me and pointing. She was mouthing the words, "back door", and pointing in the appropriate direction. As I caught her eye, I smiled at her briefly and returned to the problem at hand.

"Ol' Grister there," complained one of the closer patrons, as he hitched his thumb at the shattered windows, "for as many years as I've known him, I never seen him spout flames and fly before. Any of you?" He looked about, casting the query to the crowd.

"It seems likely to me then, that all this flaming and flying and all, must bloody well be your doing!" He jabbed his finger into my chest.

"Well I uh..." I replied, smartly.

"He's a bleedin' Sarserer* is what!" exclaimed someone from the crowd.

A chorus of cheers from the other patrons expressing their approval met this. I inched toward the back door, holding my arms away from my side. I put on my most innocent 'who me?' face and said;

"Please, good people, it was an accident."

"Oh well, isn't that nice? As long as the Grister was kilt accidental-like he'll be fine." A crone near the front pointed a crooked finger at me. "He even talks like a bleedin' sarserer, who else would say 'good people'?"

"And were those fancy magic words you said just an accident?" The speaker actually sneered at me. Two men grabbed me by the arms.

"The words just came out. I don't even know what they mean." I pleaded, looking back and forth among the crowd, the two men, and the smoking boots.

I have always told the truth (well, almost). I have a terrible memory for details, and it always seemed to me to require a certain facility I don't have, to keep track of the various threads of prevarication. I really didn't know what was going on, and I was finding it more and more difficult to maintain rational thought.

Did I just do magic?

Almost all the patrons had arisen and were encircling me. I couldn't squirm loose, or see a way to get to either door. I felt dizzy and sick, I had an overpowering urge to go to sleep.

Jeanne-Pierre put one foot easily on the bench-seat and slammed his flagon on the table. The crowd grew quiet. He looked at me quickly, and spoke.

"The Great Nob fears no man, no mob. It is only through his sense of honor and fairness that he does not blast you all to the Hell reserved for sheep molesters." He took a great draught of wine; some of the crowd grew more reticent, some backed off. All eyes were on him.

I didn't miss my cue, either. Through the edge of the crowd, I noticed Natali, easing real slow toward the back door.

Jean-Pierre moved slowly from the table. Taking another long drink from his flagon, he banged it on the table. Wiping his mouth on his scrawny wrist, his crooked face contrived to smile. Even as the crowd turned to look at him, he was gone.

From the chair, he turned a back summersault that landed him directly behind me. His arms flashed out and struck the two men holding me. They went down and I moved away.

Then Jean-Pierre danced around the common room in a display of great gymnastic ability and speed. Jean-Pierre took one man's sword, as the man was unsheathing it.

The non-combatants were clearing the floor and crowding the alcoves in an effort to be out of the line of fire. Natali was gesturing frantically and it took me a while to realize she meant for me to come to her.

Jean-Pierre could scarce be seen, as he moved between my attackers. He moved so quickly and efficaciously, that it was over before I could do anything.

I still felt dizzy and realized that I had been holding my breath much too long. The room seemed to move around me. The lights had brilliant purple halos. I had a hard time moving my limbs.

He came to rest in front of me, hands on hips, smiling like a Cheshire Cat, after defeating eleven or more semi-armed men (apparently, the best part of the home guard) in slightly under one minute and fourty-five seconds.

"What are you waiting for?" He tilted his head and smiled anew, pointing toward the back door.

Chapter 3 Contents Chapter 5


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