The Science Of Magic

Chapter 11


In contrast to the barren western slopes, the east side of the mountain is abundantly green. All the rain falls on that side, the mountain itself is the barrier to precipitation, and the resulting run off is the source of the River.

Herbert took issue with this, when I brought it up the evening before. Staring absently into the fire he said, "No lake that big could maintain itself, just on rainfall. There must be underground springs or the like. It's geologically impossible."

I warily watched his face transform, to the "Words of Wisdom" expression. Where is the lightning when you need it?

"Try to think logically, lad. Work with your brain not your imagination."

At precisely that moment, Tiela and Rosie cavorted past us. The little fairy went flying by, laughing and singing, trailing a wake of what could only be called 'fairy dust'.

Following closely was a seventeen-foot-long, pink dragon. The dragon was also laughing.

With a whoosh and a loud thump, Spike the Rabbit landed nearby shook out his twenty-foot wings and folded them.

Herbert and I looked at each other a long moment before I said, "Do go on, Herbert."

PREVIOUS Chapter 10 Contents NEXT Chapter 12


"They're up to something! We've got to call in." Natali was adamant, Jean-Pierre was unable to calm her. Where‘s a full moon when you need one?

He refused to be moved. Nothing she could say would convince him to call in with a fairy story. Even if he were willing, he refused to follow these yokels any further; it looked like they were going to scale the canyon.

Returning to base, was the only logical option. They had all the information the Chief sent them for. Once there, he could go anywhere they could find self-powered vehicles and Air Conditioning. The whining, amorphous wench, would be the Chief's problem.

"We really should make a report, if only with the Delvers." Her voice and face softened for a moment. "He doesn't have to know."

If they didn't get to her pretty soon, Her Redness would hunt them down and be off with their heads. They were on tenuous ground there, anyway. "As for the Chief, he sent us to get information on the Red General; he doesn't believe in fairies, and has no sense of humor."

Oh yes, Jean-Pierre loved the service. He wanted to be on the cutting edge of the technology. Since childhood, he had pictured himself as a starship captain, so he was pleased when he was sworn to secrecy about going to another planet. He was overjoyed when he met his female partner for the first time. Her sharp tongue could be forgiven, she was a looker, and smart, too. She might be fun, on another planet.

He had, however, planned on using a ship to get there.

To be flung out into the Universe, naked, without a ship to retreat to. Scattered across the cosmos to coalesce on this strange little planet. Once was enough.

"Look. They're stopping for lunch." Natali seemed to be calmer and he knew the full moon was still several days off. Maybe he would have some time to think. Just now, he was thinking of becoming a shuttle pilot on Arcticron 4.

"Lunch sounds great. What have we got?"

With a grim look, she tossed him a can of heat-and-eat, then took one for herself. "It claims to be beef stew." She popped the seal and waited for it to warm.

With the hazard pay he would get for this mission, (and it wasn't enough,) he would buy a Cyber-Chef.

PREVIOUS Chapter 10 Contents NEXT Chapter 12


The clouds parted around us, as Spike banked through the pass. Below us, the lush greenery and flowing water were laid out like a road map. The big rabbit stopped his undulant flapping and half-stalled. Snapping his wings wide, we began to glide.

"Rosie needs help mit der vagon." He cupped his wings and reoriented, "Ve land now."

"Ah, Herbert?" I moved to peer over the edge of the basket.

"Yes, Nod."

"Spike has his eyes closed," and his wings tucked, we were plummeting.

"Yes, well; apparently, he's afraid of heights." Commented Herbert, as the wind whistled through the basket.

"He's a flying rabbit, for pity sake."

"Lop!" grumbled Spike, without opening his eyes.

"Rabbits are not known for great airworthiness." He had to shout to be heard above the rush of air.

As we hurtled toward the ground, Spike whipped his wings apart and struck the ground with a resounding thump.

Herbert and I helped each other collect our hats and wits. As we arose from the floor of the basket, Herbert continued fidgeting with his hat, turning it this way and that.

"It's really a fear of falling, which is why," His fidgeting became more animated, "he shut his eyes."

"Hmph!" Herbert ripped off his cap and stared at it. He glared at my head. He snatched my hat off and placed it on his own head. Then he placed the hat in his hand, on my head.

Herbert took a moment to appraise the situation. Then, mumbling, "Naw, that's not right either," he switched them back.

As we dismounted, Spike asked, "Herbert, vhy ist you don't zap der vagon here mit der Hokey-pokeys?"

"Hocus-pocus," I interjected.

"Sure, dat too."

"The vagon, er wagon is too big. It would be like sending up a big flare. And then there's-"

"Ya ve know, der lightning."

"So far, we've been lucky. We'll try it this way first."

The real problem was the ponies. Ponies are not overly fond of dragons, under the best of circumstances. These ponies wouldn't let Rosie near enough to scoop them up and carry them over the mountain. They shied nervously, as we tried to herd them toward Rosie.

"Talk to them Rosie." Said Tiela.

"I doubt the horses are smart enough." Offered Herbert.

"Think at them, Rosie knows how."

"Yeah, Rosie," added Dot, "Just tell them you're a vegetarian."

PREVIOUS Chapter 10 Contents NEXT Chapter 12


Sunlight splayed across the belly of the clouds, gilding the ominous ceiling. The light deepened to bronze, then narrowed to an angry red on the horizon.

Rosie's sinewy form hung nearly motionless, in the brittle air. Her broad, pink wings stroked in labored beats, bowed by the air and alight with the sunset.

She was beautiful.

A braided cord was looped around her neck, and another was clamped in her claws. As she rose in the air, she lofted the wagon attached to the ropes.

The rope jerked taut and recoiled briefly, giving the wagon and it's contents (not to mention Rosie) a good shake. Rosie steadied the rope with her long, pink tail and a vibration passed between Rosie and the wagon.

On the wagon, one of the roped-down packs vibrated and discharged a small, black sphere. For a moment it hung motionless in the air. Tiela squealed when she saw it, then it fell away.

In the inky black window of the sphere read the following words;


PREVIOUS Chapter 10 Contents NEXT Chapter 12


The wagon took a pretty big bounce, but it survived. Communication between Spike and Rosie was very complicated and strictly non-verbal. We all listened in but no one thought aloud. Most of it was visually oriented, anyway, vectors and intercept points and the like.

The wagon only dropped about eight inches, but we observers all gasped on the first bounce. As we were all linked mentally, we had a group goose-bump experience.

We hurriedly rifled through the contents of the wagon to see what the elves had bequeathed us.

There were a good number of very heavy kegs, two trunks, a crate, several ropes, and many bundles. Notable among them, was a chest of tools; twelve parasols (the most puzzling item of the lot); and a Fletcher's crate of arrows, with no bow in evidence.

Attached to the perimeter of the wagon were two lamps, three fishing poles, one disgracefully abused tin basin, and a scullery box.

The trunks contained costumes from a Repertory. The crate held musical instruments; a lute, six different pipes, several drums and rattles and a few odd-looking things, which may or may not have been instruments.

After much shuffling, some whining, and a couple of false starts; we managed to get the wagon re-packed and rolling down the mountain.

I carried the Mage's stone in my pack, and I had an idea.

PREVIOUS Chapter 10 Contents NEXT Chapter 12

Phineas T.

"But what if he does, Phineas? What if the legends are true?" Will Rumpledumpling encompassed his paunch with his arms. He was not stupid and he knew a thing or two about the world, such as it is.

Phineas had a way of bullying and placating him, at the same time. Will had come to dislike this, over the years, but he dealt with it. After all, without Phineas, Will would not have been Mayor. And he liked being Mayor.

Phineas was somewhat taken aback by the urgency in Will's voice. Could it be that the old dumpling had some thoughts of his own?

"After all," said Will, "The humans take great stock in prophecies and omens and such. There might be something to all that, Phineas."

"Stuff and piffle. You know as well as I do that there's not a crumb of veracity in those old legends. Let the Humans have their delusions. They're not magical anymore, they have to make do with superstition and religion. What they don't know about the world, would fill volumes."

The religion bit almost won over old Will. He had first hand experience with their religion, it still made him shudder. Will was becoming very unhappy. This conversation was not going where he had hoped it might.

"What shreds of magic they have aren't natural, my lad. Mostly jury-rigged Færy magic." Phineas was rather smug about it. He poked Will in the chest to emphasize his point.

"Well then, what about that Drinn fellow, that was no Færy magic they were using." Will was truly adamant. Not only had Phineas called him 'my lad', but he poked him in the chest, which Will abhorred. Will poked him back.

Will noticed nothing more than mild surprise, but Phineas was more than surprised, he was shocked. The Mayor's aggressiveness was unprecedented.

Phineas had wondered at the legends, himself. That's why he wasn't leaving anything to chance. If, by some twist of luck, that boy found the scepter before his people, he wouldn't live long enough to do anything about it. Which made him realize they lost track of that miserable Dryad and her, eh friend. He made a mental note to send someone after them.

"True enough, old man, but that's my point exactly, that was 250 years ago, heard of any Mages since?" Phineas stopped his forefinger in mid-air, before he poked Will again. He was puzzled by Will's aggressiveness, and did not want to start a poking contest. He put his hands in his pockets.

"They are a dying breed. Most of them hardly live a hundred years- and they talk about long term relationships. What do they know about forever?"

Will moved back toward the desk, as he could tell Phineas was warming up for a long tirade. He wished the bell would jingle, and jumped when it did. His sudden spring made Phineas jump, too.

"Now cut that out," declared Phineas.

Will mumbled something and reached for the crystal ball. There was a vague murmuring from the sphere. Will nodded his head and then answered, "O.K. I'll take care of it right away." He disconnected immediately.

"Well, Phineas, I'd love to chat a little longer but duty calls and I must answer." Will put a firm arm around Phineas' shoulder and steered him to the door.

"Ring me up tomorrow or Friday, and we'll have lunch."

As the door closed behind him, Phineas was puzzled by two things he did not have the time to investigate. Did Will just give him the brush off and, was that the sound of cellophane being unwrapped in there?

PREVIOUS Chapter 10 Contents NEXT Chapter 12


"You won't even be here, what do you care?" Blunderbrast's ruddy face was permanently creased, with the lines of a garrulous grin. His reputation in battle was fierce and deservedly so. He was a huge man, and a cracker-jack magician. He was not to be trifled with, and contrived to maintain such an intimidating air, that not even the near-moronic would miss the clues. Yet, wherever he went, he would invariably wind up near the bottom of a pile of children and puppies, immediately after dinner.

"I've grown rather fond of this place," A breeze swept across the balcony, stringing hair across Drinn's face. He sighed, looking across the parapets to the distant River. "I will be very sad to leave here, Randy."

"Awr- Awk!" Agreed Narcissus.

"The offer stands, I won't have any magic, either" He put a large, but delicately articulated hand, on Drinn's shoulder.

"I know the kid's would love to have you. They claim I don't spoil them enough, you big pushover."

"Well, look who's talking-"

"Besides, it just won't be the same around here, without-"

"You mean, because of me." He tapped on the inlaid box, he held, and continued. "I'm going to leave this here, it belongs here. Do you want to know where?"

"Not me, pal, I like it quiet."

"When they find out what this means to their magic, well - my head doesn't turn far enough to look over my shoulder forever. This place is too dangerous, for a Drinn with no magic."

PREVIOUS Chapter 10 Contents NEXT Chapter 12

When dealing with Dwarves

Spike figured to make the journey in three hops (no pun intended), with stops for meals, etc. By the end of the first flight, we were all ready for some rest.

Dot was being unusually helpful and quiet. She had a long talk with Tiela and Rosie, after dinner. Hanna and Spike were examining a copse of White Juniper, a powerfully aromatic tree. Unfortunately, the aroma is much like cat urine.

Herbert and I sought refuge by the diminutive fire. The wood, while not damp, seemed reluctant to burn. The sky was a uniform gloomy gray and the atmosphere, under the trees, was close and uncomfortable. The sun cowered in the West.

None of our band was smiling or laughing. Even Tiela and Rosie were sedate and dark. I wondered if it was my imagination; I was feeling rather melancholy, perhaps I was misinterpreting.

"No, I feel it, too." said Herbert quietly. "It's not a coincidence." We remained silent for some time.

"Herbert?" I whispered. Everyone had settled in for the night. A mixture of snores, and huffing told the status of each shadowy lump spread around the fire.

"Yes lad,"

"Our group is getting pretty big. It's not going to be any secret we're coming."

"Perhaps it's best if our arrival is not a secret. We could fake a pretty astounding tent show." He raised an eyebrow at me. "I found this nailed to a tree at the last crossroads"

"Lord Cardoram is conscripting hearty men-at-arms for the upcoming Election." He stopped speaking and raised his abundant eyebrows. "Soldiers, for an election?" He thrust the parchment at me. I wasn't certain if he was offering it as evidence, or for an explanation. I took it to be the latter, and read through the fine print for him.

"Well?" He was bouncing where he sat, sort of bobbing up and down.

"Apparently, there is some dispute over who rightly rules the place. Lord Cardoram and the other two parties, Duke Haliford and Prince Wanderly, have been holding the title on alternating years." I paused for a breath.

"Do go on, you're doing quite well."

"Yes, well; Prince what's-his-face, decreed that a year was now 3,655 days long and ordered all calendars to be adjusted. Apparently, this put the other two into a bit of a snit, and they demanded elections. It seems their villages have larger populations, than Prince what's-his-face's.

"Then again," Herbert's words trailed off for moment. "I think that, with the proper preparation, we could use this to our advantage."

He pulled his fingers through his beard, thoughtfully, and said, "When Dealing with dwarves, it's best to carry cash."

PREVIOUS Chapter 10 Contents NEXT Chapter 12


Tiela was flitting around us, babbling a blue streak. The piping of her diminutive voice, usually quite pleasant, now seemed a droning whine.

"I'm sure I could help." She said from just right of my head.

"There must be something I can do." She said from just left of my shoulder.

"After all, I'm in the Air Force," She floated in mid-air with her hands on her hips. She attempted to beguile us with an adorable, plaintive expression. When that didn't work, she resumed her high-pitched harangue.

The path branched in three directions. I could see no difference between them. Herbert looked at me and shrugged.

"What'cha gonna do, Huh ?" Piped Tiela.

Herbert pressed a hand on my shoulder, "You choose, Nod."

We went to the right.

PREVIOUS Chapter 10 Contents NEXT Chapter 12

Lord Cardoram

"I admit it is a bit of a job, you know. Sometimes I don't know how I find time to do everything, but then I've got excellent help." Lord Cardoram waved his hand around the room, so as to indicate his staff.

"It does have it's rewards though, I take two hours every day just for myself. Needful to keep the mind clear of cobwebs. Generally I do something interesting or fun, but sometimes I just sneak off and take a nap." He gave me a conspiratorial wink.

"Has one of your family been Lord of the Manor long?"

"Oh, heavens no, Father was the first, he was chosen after the death of the Red Duke. Not a very nice fellow, that one. A bad piece of work." Lord Cardoram shook his head.

"Forgive the inquisitiveness but, who chose your father?" Herbert was pumping for information, that was obvious to me. I hoped it wasn't as obvious to Lord Cardoram.

"Why the people of the village. Of course, it was just our village at the time. The other two villages went different ways with their selection. I understand Duke Haliford's father took the castle by force of arms, most extraordinary. He still rules by force. Many of his people have settled here, in Redbrook, over the last ten years."

"Are you telling me you were elected?" Herbert made no attempt to veil his disbelief.

"Well, yes I guess you could say elected, although drew the short straw is more like it. Father was picked by default, you see, no one else wanted the position."

He glanced at us in turn, gauging our reaction. Upon seeing Herbert's skeptical expression, he added, "No it's true. Before the Red Duke died, he set up a brilliant infrastructure, too bad he was mad as a hatter. If he hadn't started killing off everyone he might have done wonders. I often wonder how the place would be different if he had survived."

I was amazed at his attitude toward the Red Duke, and such was his nickname, known by all and sundry for miles around. The Red Duke was a homicidal maniac of unrivaled proportions. It was rumored that he dabbled in the dark magic and it drove him insane.

I was discussing it with Herbert on the way back when all hell broke loose. I'm still not sure exactly what happened.

PREVIOUS Chapter 10 Contents NEXT Chapter 12


I've never seen the kid like that before. His eyes glowed with a cold, grim rage. I didn't know he was capable of such a thing. Normally, his emotive state was one of mild curiosity, or outright panic.

It had been a quiet walk back from the town. We were both pretty tired and just plodding along. A slaver was driving a bunch of human beings, it turned my stomach. I've learned, however, not to interfere unless absolutely necessary.

They were chained together, ankle and wrist, then chained to the empty wagon preceding them. If asked, I'm sure the driver would have said the slaves weren't riding, because he didn't want to tire the horses. Horses cost more than people.

Nod stopped and stared at them, I didn't intrude on his thoughts. A certain narrowing of his eyes told me he was in turmoil.

A young girl became tangled in her chains, and fell to the ground. The resultant strain on the chains disrupted the line and brought a few others down. The procession halted.

The slave master went berserk. He set forth with some of the most original scatological references, I've ever heard. He pushed the child over with his boot. He brought the whip down across her face and shoulders. He raised the whip again.

Her cry was echoed by Nod, who leapt at the master. Nod grabbed the thong in his left hand and jerked it back. Drawing his sword, he severed the whip, with one clean movement.

Nod was positively growling. He laid the tip of his sword against the slaver's throat, and backed him to a tree. "I should kill you now, but you're not worth the trouble your death would cause. Get away from here before I change my mind." Nod nicked the man's chin and pushed him away. He turned and bent down to help the girl.

"You'll be all right." He told her, "The sting will go away in a little while."

I'm not sure exactly what happened next or what came after that.

The slaver turned toward Nod, drawing a sword from his wagon. What Nod saw as noble rescue, the Slaver saw as highway robbery. He ran toward Nod and the girl.

Nod was squatting in front of the girl, with his sword across his thighs. The slaver swung his blade in an arc over his head, aiming at Nod.

Nod grabbed his sword in his right hand and spun around as he stood. With his left hand he swept the girl behind him. The blade glanced off the slave master's blade and sliced clean through the his neck.

To his credit, Nod did not flinch from the gore of the decapitation. Though he was covered with blood, he did not whirl and hurl his lunch, as I did.

PREVIOUS Chapter 10 Contents NEXT Chapter 12


"Don't stand there gawking, go back to your homes and families." I couldn't believe it. Here I had liberated these people and they just stared at me.

"Nod?" said Herbert quietly.

"Why are they just standing there?" Actually, four or five made a break for it. All the rest, about fifteen, remained staring and looking puzzled.

"They're slaves, Nod, they don't know what to do. I suspect the majority were born into slavery and have no ideas about living any other way."

I blinked a few times and opened my mouth to speak; nothing came out.

"How are you going to feed these people, clothe them; shelter and bathe them? You've taken on a big responsibility, Nod."

"I-Me? ...I didn't realize-I thought ..." As nothing vaguely intelligent was forthcoming, I shut up.

"Let's go to work on those chains. When we return to camp, I'll rassle up some food. This is not going to further our negotiations."

The way back was nerve racking. Halfway there I sent a thought to Rosie and had her fly reconnaissance. We were adding twenty new people to our happy band of travelers.

All because I had to open my big mouth.

Herbert was right. I didn't stop and think, I didn't consider the results of my actions. I just acted.

My only defense was the look on that girl's face. And though I felt foolish, I'd do it again, without hesitation.

Ah well.

PREVIOUS Chapter 10 Contents NEXT Chapter 12


Mavis moved amid the pots and kettles, stirring this and adding that. She moved with a grace that comes with familiarity, and wasted no motion.

The massive stone kitchen surrounded her like a womb. This was her Domain, she was mistress of all she sautéed.

She moved from the stew cauldron to fetch the salt cellar, which was in the pantry.

She returned with a generous pinch of salt, cradled in her palm. When she approached the hearth, she couldn't help but notice that the cauldron was no longer hanging over the embers. It was, in fact, entirely gone.

After a few moments of slack jawed wondering, she began to look around the kitchen. She searched with the half-hearted air of one who knows they didn't leave the key in this room, but have looked everywhere else.

Perplexed, she ran off to find Percy. He must notify Lord Cardoram; the castle is haunted.

PREVIOUS Chapter 10 Contents NEXT Chapter 12


Herbert conjured up a steaming cauldron of stew, I think it was lamb. It was fragrant and delicious, but could have used a bit more salt. Even Spike tried some. He explained that he didn't mind animal flesh, but he wanted assurance that it was not rabbit stew.

It was the best meal I'd had since we started this journey. I set to my plate with abandon.

Before I made it through my second helping Herbert stood and cleared his throat to get everyone's attention. "Tomorrow, Nod and I are going back to the village to scrounge up some gold." He peered at Tiela, "We don't need an escort."

Herbert had the only idea that made any sense: He conjured up a doorway to the Great House and we brought the ex-slaves through.

"Guess it doesn't matter much, now. Everyone knows where we are." Complained Herbert, slapping his smoldering hat against his thigh." Besides, it may actually help our meeting with Duke What's-his-name."

"Haliford, "I assisted.

Donna, that was the slave girl's name, didn't want to go at first. She believed me to be her new master, and nothing I said could dissuade her. Herbert persuaded her with a silk scarf.

After exchanging pleasantries, the Captain and I came to an arrangement for the ex-slaves. They would be paid to work as domestics at the Great House. The Guard would educate them and provide bed and board. There was plenty of room and too much work.

After saying goodbye to Donna (she was very grateful), Herbert zapped us back to the rest of the company.

PREVIOUS Chapter 10 Contents NEXT Chapter 12


The forest was green and moist with the promise of spring. At the edge of sight, mists hung over the ground. The mounting sun bled crimson, into the fog.

A Jack-of-Dawn, with a merry glint in his eye, chattered at us in between nips at the green, young shoots. New growth was beginning everywhere, haloing the vista with a warm, green glow.


"Yes, Nod?" He answered absentmindedly, while scanning the landscape.

"You know that it's November seventh, right?"

"Did I miss your birthday?"

"No, Herbert. But it is a fine spring day, for the middle of fall."

"Well, since you put it that way..."

"Also, the rest of the mountain range is gone." I pointed, a bit West of North.

"Yes, I noticed we are not where we should be."

"Where are we, Herbert?" I used a very innocent, I'm-just-the-apprentice-you're-the-Wizard expression. I was learning much, from the girls.

"I don't know, lad. But, I'm pretty tired of being jerked from place to place." His anger didn't show on his face, only a kind of sad resignation. Nonetheless, he kicked a dandelion to smithereens.

"I'm tired of winging it, not knowing what the hell is really going on ..."

"You mean you don't have a plan?"

"I'm making it up as I go along."

"But Herbert! You must know what's going on. I'm following you, you're our leader!"

"I haven't been leading anything for quite some time, lad."

"Well then, who has been?"

"You, of course. You've made all the major decisions since... oh, since the witches village. I believe you've come of age."

"Huh ?" I said, using my all-purpose reply.

"Today, you are a man."

There was only one path to follow, so we followed it. It displayed a disconcerting tendency to disappear into the dim mist, behind us.

"I certainly didn't zap anything, Nod. Have you been mucking about with some spells?" Asked Herbert.

"I don't know any magic spells, Herbert."

"So you say. What about the Inn? From what you've told me, that was a full fledged magic attack. How about the sword? You couldn't have forged that sword without some talent."

Herbert and I had been going round in conversational circles for some time. He felt that I was not taking my responsibilities seriously enough.

"I had no control over that, Herbert. It just came out of me, like ..."

"Magic?" assisted Herbert. "Hey, I understand, if you're having a hard time with the magic bit. It took me a long time to get the hang of my talents, even after I knew I had them."

"How long?"

"Well, about thirty-five years." Herbert was abashed and I scowled at him in frustration. "That's why you should be working on, your magic, night and day until you learn to use it. It doesn't matter what anyone tells you, you keep after it."

"I've been a little preoccupied." It was short and sharp.

I was getting angry, and I knew it, though I wasn't sure why. Perhaps it was because of all the years I longed for magic, only to find myself lacking. After many disappointments, I gave up the dream at the age of sixteen. Now Herbert seemed to be telling me that I was a failure at magic, because I gave up to soon.

"I just don't feel it, Herbert; didn't you tell me you always felt different?"

"Yeah but I thought that was Bipolarism with a touch of paranoia mixed in."

"I beg your pardon."

"I thought I was nuts." He awaited my comment.

The opportunities are rare, and when such a moment comes along, I like to savor it. My eyes never left his, I did not turn my head or blink. For a bleak, eternal moment, I let his gaze tighten upon mine, sensing the tension, waiting for the right moment.

When the moment was precisely right, I raised my left eyebrow a centimeter.

"Well, I was wrong!"

It is, as they say, a gift.

"... all I'm saying is, be careful what you promise these people. They all look up to you, respect you as their friend and leader. To them, particularly Rosie and Tiela, you are a hero."

Me? A hero? Herbert was spending too much time alone with his pipe.

"You are shirking you're responsibility to them, you should be practicing, discovering your magic instead of denying you have it. As the leader, your work is to be as smart and together as you can be, you owe it to them to strive to be better than you are. Use your noggin'."

"I hardly think ..."

"That's what I mean, you hardly think. Remember way back, when you promised Rosie, we'd find her egg?"

"Yes. She needed help."

"Certainly, and an offer of help was called for. But first get the details, learn the facts, you may have been promising something impossible to deliver."

"Nothing is impossible, Herbert."

"Plenty of things are impossible. Like, recapturing one's virginity, the lowering of taxes in a non-election year." Herbert shook his head. "Nod, are you prepared to die to make your promises good? Are you willing to enter the Dragon's Lair and die there, if necessary, to rescue that egg?"

"Not really."

"Then don't make a blind promise like that, you may wind up doing more harm then good." He sucked in a batch of air, "Nod, you are the most noble person I've ever met. Don't blindly volunteer yourself for suicide, if you can avoid it."

Herbert laughed and slipped his arm around my shoulder. "Try to have as much faith in yourself as we do."

"Now where were we? Ah, yes; where the hell are we?"

PREVIOUS Chapter 10 Contents NEXT Chapter 12

Given the Bird

He wore a blue robe, wrinkled and stained. The edges were trimmed in filthy grey fur. A conical lump of a hat perched above the great eyebrow-ledges, that shadowed his craggy face. Whorls of tangled whiskers dangled from the lower part of the face. A row of gnarled teeth appeared, as the mouth spasmed in a grin.

He moved from the shadows of the great deciduous forest to greet us. A bony hand stretched toward me and touched my chest.

"Good, a full interface; I didn't know if I could get one going. All this interference is mucking up the aether. It was difficult enough to get us here." He studied Herbert and me for a moment, "Well, which one of you is this Herbert person?" He folded his arms and glowered at us.

"That would be me." Herbert said, with a puzzled frown.

"By my stars!" He removed his pointed hat, to reveal a disreputable owl, perched atop his head. He shifted his hat from hand to hand.

Pointing one crooked, gnarled finger at Herbert he began.

"YOU!," he croaked and paused to clear his throat, "Ahem, must cease your attempts at magic. You cannot use magic in this Dimension. Your polarity is all wrong." More hat shuffling.

"I don't understand."

"What's to understand? Stop at once, don't do it anymore. Cease and desist. Nix on the magic." He was getting rather excited.

"Polarity? What polarity?"

"You're messing up the aether, everyone's spells are going wrong. So stop!" The Mage was clearly agitated.

"I didn't do anything."

He reached to his head and grabbed hold of the surprised owl. The bird let out a squeak. Then he hit Herbert over the head with the owl. By now the pudgy bird was hoo-hooting like crazy, thrashing it's wings about.

"What did you do that for?" asked the Owl.

"Took the words right out of my mouth." Added Herbert

"Sorry Archimedes, I mistook you for my hat." He put the hat back on his head, then plopped the owl on top. Realizing that wasn't quite right, he removed them both and looked them over at arms length. Replacing the bird and then the hat, the man whirled and strode away.

Herbert stood and watched, rubbing his head, following the man's movements until he was out of sight. The spring-forest scene shimmered and twitched and faded out.

"Who was that?"

"Don't ask!" Herbert seemed truly distraught. "I don't want to discuss it."

PREVIOUS Chapter 10 Contents NEXT Chapter 12


The second path to the village was strewn with the detritus of travel. Crumbling towers of rock flanked the path, dividing the sunlight into piercing beams. Here strode humankind, ever unable to pick up after itself.

Herbert and I were approaching the least attractive of the manors. A great tottering pile of stone it was, as though built by five or six different crews with differing plans. The out buildings were hovels at best, most of them leaning to one side.

Herbert scrunched up his nose and gave a few experimental sniffs.

"Well, we found the dump, now where's the village?"

PREVIOUS Chapter 10 Contents NEXT Chapter 12

Duke Haliford

Duke Haliford's side of town was to the North of the road. It spread, like a mold on over-ripe cheese, across the fields and up the side of the mountain. Where it met the road, the buildings could kindly be described as shabby; infested is nearer the mark.

Like great bloated toads, these structures squatted on the dried bones of an ancient castle, long fallen to ruin. Herbert and I had to vault the remains of an ancient out-wall, to get off the road. Long after the newer buildings have crumbled, the ruins would remain.

It was rumored, (by the dry goods store owner,) that no one remembered anything about the castle. But it had always been there, and always in it's present state.

As we moved toward the mountain, the village got less abandoned-looking, but not more lived-in, if you take my meaning. I glanced to Herbert as we passed a row of stone and wood houses. They were plain. They carried no unnecessary adornments. They barely showed signs of life.

"It's the rubies, Nod. We've become more sensitive to the immaterial. Yes, I'm feeling it, too." Thought Herbert.

Herbert tended to shy from mind to mind connections, warning me that I'd forget how to speak aloud, if I kept it up. So I was startled by his gentle intrusion.

I felt vaguely uncomfortable, myself. And it did seem connected to our use of the ruby rings.

There were no flowers anywhere. Nothing was growing, except in the fields (and there, none too well.) I'd never been anywhere that a few wild flowers didn't grow, or at least a few weeds. Given the overall condition of this side of town, it bothered me.

PREVIOUS Chapter 10 Contents NEXT Chapter 12

Fine tuning

"It's just a matter of fine tuning certain things, magically."

The Duke opened his mouth to speak, but Herbert raised a hand to stop him.

"It's only 600 gold pieces."

Whatever the Duke had been thinking was swept away by Herbert's fee.

"600 pieces of gold, that's insane!"

"Yes, but it's guaranteed. I imagine you've spent more than that already, what with bribes and parties and what-not. All for uncertain results."

Herbert conjured up an apple and took a large bite. Behind the Duke, sparks danced across the candlesticks. Around the mastication, Herbert said, "I will offer you supernatural intervention with guaranteed results, for only 500 gold pieces."


There was a noticeable change in the Dukes expression. He fidgeted for a moment then spoke.

"Even should I agree, it will take me some time to get it from the treasury. How do you propose to guarantee the results of the election?"

"I didn't say I'd guarantee the election, only my work. Here's how it works; You get a full refund if you lose the election." Herbert looked smug and reached a hand out to me.

I knew what he wanted. Captain Dyna had lent Herbert a contract, Dyna said was a standard mercenary contract. Herbert and I stayed up all night revising and making three copies of the contract to suit our particular situation.

I placed the stiff roll of vellum in Herbert's hand.

"We'll set it up like a wager and have a third party hold the fee until after the election. That way there can be no suggestions of tampering"

I sent off a thought to the girls and Spike. They were waiting at the campsite for us, waiting for my signal.

"Master Noderick, for instance," Before the Duke could fully express his displeasure, Herbert continued, "Of course I'll understand if you are reluctant to use Master Noderick, I would be equally reluctant to allow one of your people to hold it."

The Duke grunted agreement.

"Herbert?" He turned to my voice, "Perhaps you could call up a Pixie, under the Wagerer's Geas, to hold the money."

Herbert smiled and patted me on the shoulder. "Good thinking, lad. What do you say, your Duke-ness?"

Knowing that Pixies have no love for wizards, the Duke saw this as being to his advantage. Even under a spell, Pixies could be tricky and resentful; spells like that had to be constructed very carefully. With their reputation for shunning people, no one would suspect a Pixie of being in league with us.

"That would be agreeable. I'll need some time. I am at the mercy of my subordinates."

PREVIOUS Chapter 10 Contents NEXT Chapter 12

Prince Binky

"Do something for us."

"Madam, my skills are not whimsical parlor tricks. I do not waste my efforts for the amusement of courtesans." Herbert sniffed.

"Binky," whined the princess," make him do tricks for me, Binky!"

"Very well madam. Here is one of my favorite tricks." She had asked for it, demanded, as a matter of fact. So he let her have it.

Herbert zapped away all her clothing, except her royal cape, which she immediately whirled about her. Her expression was priceless.

Binky -er, the Prince, held his stony glare for only a moment, then burst into uncontrollable laughter. His face reddened, he gasped for air.

"Good show! That's got her going, then." The Prince choked out, as she raged from the hall. "I wonder if we might arrange one for The Princess' Mother, I say! That would be a hoot!. Eh? Eh?"

I was more than pleased to see that Herbert, got poked in the ribs with an elbow, every time the Prince said 'Eh?'

PREVIOUS Chapter 10 Contents NEXT Chapter 12


"No, lad. it's much simpler than that. Even if we hadn't thrown in Dot as a ringer, we covered all the bases. No matter who wins, we collect at least 500 pieces of gold."

"Yes. I understand all that. Why did we throw in Dot?"

"Well, this way we collect 1,500 in gold."

"Listen, only one will win, that's only 500. The rest we'll have to give back, won't we?"

"Not really. You're missing an important point. The beauty of a guarantee is that the the guarantee-ee, rarely asks to collect. The more difficult one makes the process, the less likely it is anyone collects."

"If the nobility here had put aside their greed and lust for power and thought about it, they wouldn't have made the deal.  We promised them nothing, which makes it easy for us to deliver. But here's the real trick; we tossed in a ringer."

"UH-Huh ." I would have to write a vocabulary primer.

"The Pixie. They think she's constrained to protect the letter of the contract, when in fact, she's under no constraints at all. By the time they hold their elections, we'll be long gone. Whoever wins will be obligated to the fee, they won't come looking. The losers, should they survive, will be in no position to ask for their gold back." He cocked his head to the left and grinned at me.

"I believe it's time for us to go. Tell me all you know about Dwarves."

Herbert never ceases to amaze me.


Chapter 10 Contents Chapter 12

The Science Of Magic

Chapters ...1 ...2 ...3 ...4 ...5 ...6 ...7 ...8 ...9 ...10 ...11 ...12 ...13 ...14 ...15 ...16 ...17 ...18 ...19 ...20 ...Contents

XHTML 1.0!