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Friday, April 4, 2014

The Spellcaster's Heiress -- Chapter 11

By Christopher Leeson


My life was changing incrementally; every day I became more aware of my inexorably strengthening link to the world of magic.  I had never asked for such a life and having to accept it was a daunting prospect.  Did this reversal of fortune bode aught but ill, or did it offer valuable opportunities?  During that cold night in Moyarien, I was nowhere ready to answer such a question.

Looking back, I realized that
Cawdour had lived long and well by magic, but he ultimately died at the hands of his enemies for having become a magician to be feared. 

Should I have pitied the man for his being cursed with magical skill?  Without magic, he would have died at least a century before I had ever come to know him.  And I had to ask myself, what would his life have been if he were born into to an ordinary life?  I could, perhaps, see Cawdour as an officeholder of some sort, possibly a magistrate striving for fairness and justice, or, even more likely , a pedagog at an academy, fashioning the young minds that were destined to inherit the future.

What would Cawdour have taught?  Alchemy?  Perhaps; I understood that most alchemists were not wizards, but scholars of well-schooled intellect.  Or, more likely still, Cawdour would have excelled as a philospher.  Everything that he cast his gaze upon, he seemed to see deeply, more than the visible surface showed.  I envied him for his acumen and wished that I could, one day, discipline myself do the same.

“Are magic and alchemy brothers,” I suddenly asked my patron one afternoon as we lunched in the roofless court at the heart of the ministerial palace.  “Or are the two studies entirely different?”

He nodded thoughtfully.  “Ahh, my boy.  That is an interesting question.  I would gauge that the difference between alchemy and magic is even greater than the difference between magic and sorcery.”

I blinked in surprise, but held steady.  He was playing with me, trying to make me ask, “What are the differences between magic and sorcery?”  He had, time and again, admonished me to focus, like an archer concentrating on a target, and thereby avoid irrelevancies.  Even so, the possibility that sorcery and magic were not the same fascinated me.  I wished to please my patron, however, and so refused to take the bait.

“Then the difference is small?” I ventured.

“No, not small.  I would say it is fundamental,” the mage replied.  “Think of magic as the application of a diverse body of knowledge that the best minds have compiled, knowledge regarding the forces that energize the world.    Alchemy, on the other hand, is a philosophy which focuses primarily on the properties of materials and how to change them into nobler substances.  It is, by comparison with magic, quite a much young discipline.”

He paused, as if expecting some sort of a response.  “In other words alchemy has grown from its origins as a subset of magic?” I offered.

“Not precisely.  Magic and alchemy together seek all wisdom.  But neither can discover it all.  One study goes where the other does not, and so both are needed in order to understand the entire working of the spheres.”

“Then you say they are compliments?  How do they comprise the whole?”

“Understand that two forces rule the universe –- what is chaotic, and what is orderly.  Man's spirit is an ember of the gods' spirit, and his will is like the will of a god, though on a diminutive scale.  The willful spirit is, by its very nature, chaotic.  It tries to channel the free energy, the original creative force, to is own end.  But while the gods at the beginning of the world sought for order, they used the power of chaos to achieve it, and whim follows no set rules.  What you must remember is that the primordial creative essence still exists and that the magician seeks to channel it, like the gods once did, to bend reality to his own desire.

“This is to say, though the gods created order, they did so by disorderly means.  Paradoxically, the world they forged could not exist unless it existed on the basis of established rules.  Rules were needed because the workings of the world is vast and the gods did not want to be bound to it, forced to create every new horse, or pig, or insect by a new act of will.  They instead established a dictum for how the world and the creatures in it would develop and interact.  That is, how animals would breed, how plants would grow, germinate, and flourish. 

"They made rules governing how the weather and the other elements would come together, like the working parts of a finely crafted machine.  The interacting properties of the world produce wonders, but they are wonders that follow an established pattern.  They operate so predictably that mankind has come to call them Nature and overlooks how wonderful the patterns is.  He considers Nature a given and sees no marvel in it.  It is the alchemist who knows better and studies all his life to ascertain what the rules of the world are, and he strives to bend these rules to his own ingenious ends –- for example, how to plate base metals with copper.”

“So the magician works by understanding chaos, and the alchemist by understanding order?”

“Approximately.  But any scholar, however learned, is doomed to go adrift if he obsessively embraces his own field of endeavor and ignores –- or, worse, derides –- the other field.  Both are valid, both have much to teach us, and together they comprise the team that pulls the cart of intellectual discovery.”

* * * * *

Custin the Magician

"Some drunken louts thought that I was an escaped slave and chased me along Blathaon Street," I  told the man in the warehouse.  "A stranger came along and led me here."

"Where's the man?" said the lurker in the feathered hat.

"He left."

"Why bring you all the way across the city and then abandon you?"

"We only went a street or two."

"You're very confused!  Blathaon is almost a league away."

I jarred.  "That's impossible!"

"I've lived in Moyarien all my life.  I know the streets.  But maybe you're just trying to delay me.  You want to keep an eye on me while that friend of yours goes for the authorities!  Maybe I should flee and take you hostage!"

"You'd better not try!" I said, hefting up the board that I held like a club.

For all his braggadocio, the dandy recoiled.  But he had started me wondering.  Had Llassar and I really crossed the city with what had seemed like a short walk?  I already knew that the hours had melted away like so many minutes!  Could I no longer trust my own senses?  By cursing me to be a sorcerer, had Cawdour plunged me into a world of unreason?

"Sir," I addressed the coxcomb, "I don't understand why I was brought here, or even how I was brought here.  All I know is that I'm cold and tired and I want to get back to my friends.  Can you send a message to the Four Lions for me?"

"I can't go out!"


"I don't think I should tell you."

"If you're in trouble, maybe we can help one another."

He threw up his arms.  "You can't help me.  They're arresting all the wizards.  Haven't you heard?"

"You're a wizard?"  The idea had never occurred to me.  "Then we have something in common," I said.  "I'm a wizard, too!"

"Very funny!"

"No, it's true.  They arrested my whole family.  I was hiding in a tavern inn room -- until some -- bounty hunters -- came for me.  I put on this disguise, but they saw through it and I had to run.”

All this was a fabrication, of course, but the truth was too convoluted.

"Says you.  More likely you really are an escaped slave."

"I am not!"

"Prove it!"

"How can I prove the negative?"

"Well," he suggested, "joy slaves usually have a tattoo on their left hips.  Show me."

I tossed my head.  “That game is called 'get the girl naked if she's dumb enough.'"

"All right," he answered peevishly, "if you're really a witch, do something magical."

I considered the Cap of Shadows in my hand.  "Very well, if that's what you want, I'll show you what kind of -- of magician I am." 

Hours had passed since my last use of the cap, but in my subjective time, at least, it had been only half an hour.  Still, being with Llassar had made me feel inexplicably energized.

With more than a little apprehension, I donned the cap and began the memorized chant in a low whisper.  To my relief, the tell-tale warmth of magical power gushed through me.

I heard the mystery man gasp.

"That's a pretty good trick!" he exclaimed.

The colorlessness of the world around me bespoke the fact that I was walking unseen.  I pulled off the cap before any more of my precious power could be wasted.

"All right, now show me what you can do!"

"I can't do very much," the young man replied, avoiding my glance.  But he looked like he wanted to say something more, so I waited.  "I've studied love spells, but they never seem to work.  There's really only one thing that I've been good at.  According to my magus, it's not a common power at all."

"Show me," I encouraged.

He looked briefly around, then stepped over to an empty cask.  He knelt above the thing and, placing a hand on either side of it, tightened his thin features with concentration.  Just a moment later, I heard a crackling in the air, like a strolling foot crushing autumn leaves.  Before my eyes, the cask suddenly started to -- fold in on itself and, almost before I realized it, it was no longer to be seen.

The wizard stood up and heaved a heavy sigh.  "I don't know where these things go after I've sent them away.  I've never been able to bring anything back --"

"That's incredible!" I said.

He shrugged.  "For some reason I can only use the spell once every day.  Well, it's more like once every day and a half if the object is a  big one."

"So you can do the same thing with something large?"

"No, but I can make parts of very large things disappear.  But it always leaves a frightful hole behind."

This was fascinating, but I had other urgencies.  I had begun to shudder.  "Please, I'm freezing.  Can you loan me your cloak?"

"I'm cold, too.  But I have a blanket," he counter-offered.

"That's even better!"

"If I give you a blanket, will you sit on my lap until you warm up?"

"What do you take me for?" I fired back.  My limbs were covered with gooseflesh, but, had I still been a man, I would have knocked the rogue down!

"Women are so stubborn!"

"Don't call me -- oh, never mind!" 

He frowned.  "You're going to get sick the way you are."

"What do you care?  You're a barbarian!  A knight would show some chivalry!" 

"I'm not a knight.  I'm a scholar.  I can't bear knights."

My head jerked.  "What have you got against knights?!"

"They're lunkish and crude -- and all the maids chase after them.  It doesn't make any sense."

I didn't care for being called either lunkish or crude, especially by a fop who knew nothing about soldiering.  "C-Chivalry makes sense!" I informed him through chattering teeth.  "It's about using s-superior strength with grace.  Knights don't try to t-take every advantage of every woman they run across!"

At least most of them didn't.  So I would not anger the gods, I had judiciously qualified my statement by saying “every.”

The stranger seemed at a loss for what to say next, so I turned vexedly away and sat huddling upon a cold box.  When it became plain that I would continue to reject any gratuitous indignity from him, the magician said:  "I don't like to see another wizard suffering.  Just wait a second."

He ducked out of sight and returned with a brown-colored blanket.  This I took it and draped over the blanket that I was already wearing; the warmth of the scratchy wool was glorious.

"What you said before, you may be telling the truth," he said.

“How is that?”

"Nobody would risk a sorceress's life just to keep an eye on somebody like me.  If you're really in trouble, I'm very sorry.  If there's anything I can do --"

“Just show some manners,” I said, not looking his way.

He stepped around me and held out his hand.  "My name is Custin."

I accepted it.  "My name is – Maeve."

"That's a pretty name."  He smiled.  "I'd wager your father was a knight."

"Why do you say so?"

"The way you talk.  You sound like you've been raised around an army camp."

"I guess I have spent a lot of time surrounded by men."

"I knew it!" he exclaimed.  Then, softening his tone, he inquired:  "Have you had anything to eat?"

"Not for a while.  I could use something warm."

"I don't have anything warm.  Some bread and dried beef, that's about it.  But I still have a couple bottles of wine."

"I'd appreciate a cup of wine very much, Sir Magician," I replied carefully, trying not to sound like a soldier.

Custin bustled away and brought back a copper plate laden with bread and beef, and also a metal container brimming with red wine.  I received this largess gratefully and ate and drank with serious intention.

"You rather eat like a man, too," he observed.

I shrugged and took another mouthful of bread.

"Would you like a clove to chew?" Custin asked when I put the plate aside.  "They always sit well with me after a meal."

"Thank you, but I've never picked up the habit.”

The wizard at that point sat down across from me, looking rather woebegone.

"I-I'm afraid that I've made a terrible first impression," he began haltingly.  "I always do.  Women never seem to like me.  I annoy men, too."

The Custin's improved behavior had taken the edge off my irritation.  "It could be the way that you talk to women!" I suggested.

“What do you mean?  What am I doing wrong?”

"You shouldn't make it so obvious about what you're thinking."

He threw up his arms.  “Why can't society listen to honesty without becoming offended?"

"It has do to with something called civilization."

"Civilization?!  What is it good for?  Society should be knocked down and rebuilt to a plan."

"Isn't that rather extreme?" I asked.

Custin waved a lank arm.  "Are those people out there so civilized?  They want to kill me.  Why?  I've never done anything except study hard so that I could get a good job and make a success of myself."

"It's not civilization that's to blame; it's bad government."

"What's happened to Arannan?  This used to be a nice place to live!"

"I would hardly call Harouck civilized," I told him.  "Look at me!  They've put my parents in prison and my entire family is slated to die on Cernnunog's Eve."

He looked at me alarmedly.  "Die, just because you're a sorceress?  That means my uncle may be in danger, too."

"It's more complex than that, but you can bet that anyone who helps...our sort...will be risking his life."

"Poor Uncle Pendaran!  He's been my only friend since all this started.  Right now he's trying to contact some of those conspirators he's heard of, to get me away to a foreign land."

I perked up.  Was he referring to the same people whom Lairgann had been trying to track down?  If Custin's uncle already knew where they could be found -- well, I just had to learn more!

"The king is pretty much a hostage in his own palace," I said, trying to redirect my host's anger.  "It's the chancellor who's the enemy.”

"If you say so," he replied indifferently.  “I've never been much interested in politics."

"You'd better be interested in politics, my friend, because politics is interested in you!"

"If only that scoundrel Cawdour hadn't turned out to be a traitor!  It gave the militia an excuse to start arresting every sorcerer in sight.  Conspiracy?  I never even saw that Cawdour person from a distance!"

I didn't know what to say.  Quite against my intentions, I had been responsible for Cawdour's downfall.    But if Cuspin was suggesting that the best way to get along with a despotism was by means of collaboration, I was against it. 

The student sorcerer's ears pricked up.  "Listen!"

I heard it too.  A lock unlocking, the creak of rusty hinges.  My fearful companion dropped to his hands and knees.  He crawled toward the edge of the loft to survey the floor.  I crouched and followed behind him.

I saw the broad figure of a cloaked man moving in the gloom.  Custin suddenly grinned and stood up.  "It's all right, Maeve!" he said.  "Now we can be out of this place!"

* * * * *

When Cuspin, his uncle, and I had reached the Tavern of the Four Lions, we ran into Tadgh in the front hall, oiling his heavy boots.

"Maeve!" he exclaimed, lurching to his stockinged feet.  He was not half so surprised at the sight of me as he would have been had I arrived still dressed in the tavern shift.  Out of courtesy, Pendaran had purchased me a low-priced outfit and a cloak as a market along our way was opening.  And Cuspin had been correct.  We were indeed a long way from the rogue's tavern where my night's misadventures had begun.

"Where's Gannon and Cemion?" I asked.

"Upstairs," he muttered distractedly, looking my companions over.  "Who are your friends?"

"Just that – friends."

Tadgh flashed a disapproving look.  "We have to be careful about strangers."

"I have been careful, soldier.  These men saved my life!  Gentlemen, this way."

I led them up to the third floor and found its antechamber crowded.  It looked like some sort of a crisis conference.  At the first sight of me, Gannon and Ceann practically ran to my side.

"Thank the gods, R -- ah, Maeve?" jabbered Gannon.  "I thought we'd never lose those ale-house scoundrels!”

“I could have supposed that they were all busy chasing me,” I responded sourly.

Chagrined, my friend said, “I wanted to go back for you, but it was touch and go.  I was half out of my --  I mean, I was worried.  We sent men back to look for you as soon as we made our way to the tavern."

"I hid in a warehouse, where I met these gentlemen," I informed him, my tone still stilted. 

Gannon looked closely at my companions for the first time.  "Sirs --," he greeted them with a wary nod.

"This is Custin, a magician of good accomplishment," I said.  "And this gentleman is Custin's uncle, Master Pendaran."

Gannon shook hands with each in turn.

"This is my friend Coll," I explained, using Gannon's favorite alias.

“Pleased to meet you, Sir Knight,” the older man said.

“You're both very welcome," Gannon said.  "By returning this -- young lady -- to us you've made yourselves some friends."

Another friend stepped into view.  "Maeve," whispered Ceann, throwing her arms around me, "I thought I'd never see you again."

"I can take care of myself!" I stated. 

Just then, Cemion barged up.

"Maeve, we have to talk.  Ceann, would you get our guests some refreshments?" the Fyana leader said.

“I think I've had enough of tavern work,” she replied irascibly.

Cemion looked prepared to rebuke her, but, holding himself in check, took my wrist and dragged me aside.

"Are you insane, girl?  Going off on some harebrained adventure with just that bravo Gannon to protect you?  Bringing back people we don't know without a word of warning?"

"Can't I make any decision for myself?"

"Not if you're putting the lives of every man here at risk.  Last night we had to ask too many strangers too many questions trying to find you!'

"You must have been asking the wrong strangers, since I had to find my own way back.  Anyway, I was only doing what Rodin told me I should."  And this was the truth.

"Rodin's a ghost!  He's forgotten what mortal danger means."

"Rod understands danger as well as you do.  And he could pass along a few useful thoughts about honor, too."

"Honor?  You're just a girl!  Honor doesn't concern you."

"If I choose to be honorable, what will you do about it?" I demanded.

"Ahh!" Cemion fumed, turning away.  "You're every bit as reckless as your brother!"

I rejoined Gannon, who took his turn at nudging me off for us to speak one on one.  "I think Cemion's going to be trouble for you,” he whispered.

“Why?  Was he that angry?”

“Frightened out of his wits, I'd say.  You've really turned his head.  But his interest in you is going to be a two-edged sword."

"I didn't ask Cemion to get interested in me.  In fact, he comes right after Harouck on my list of unwanted suitors.  If only Elekta hadn't put a beauty spell on this body!"

Gannon smiled.  "I don't know.  If I had to be a woman, I'd certainly prefer to be an attractive one."

"So you can say, never having tried it," I remarked archly. 

My friend abruptly changed the subject.  "Who are those men, really?  And why did you risk bringing them here?"
"I told you.  Custin is a sorcerer.  We can use him.  And his uncle knows people --"

"And you just happened to meet them hanging around a warehouse?"

"It's a long story.  All you need to know is that Master Pendaran has already made contact with those people that Manchan was telling us about.  Custin's asked him to arrange a meeting for us -- tomorrow night, if possible."

"Smugglers?  You're not personally going to meet with that sort?"

"Who else could I trust to get things done right?"

“I hope you're not referring to yourself.  The way you've been going, you'll be dead or tattooed in less than a year.”

“I think I'm doing rather well, especially since I have to endure with disadvantages that I never had to deal with before.”

"Rod -- I don't like it.  They might be just common brigands.  They might put you on a boat bound for Herzeloyde."

"I'll risk it; it's for my family.  The hardest thing will be persuading the smugglers to trust us."

He shook his head.  "Just tell me one thing:  How did you get this wizard on your side?"

I cast a glance back at Custin; he was talking to Lairgann.  "I'm not sure, but I think he's trying to win my favor."

"Oh, Rod --!  Not another one?"

"Shhhh!  Maeve!  And don't be giving me that look!  I never led him on.  Look at me!  Do you really think I'd have to?"

"Oh, aren't we getting vain!" he grinned.

"I'd be a fool not to take every advantage of this ridiculous situation.  As for you, you had better use all the charm you have with Master Pendaran."

"Why?  He's not my type."

"The man's only interested in getting his nephew get out of the country, not in becoming involved with people like us.  Talk to him.  Be persuasive."

"What do you want me to say?"

"Convince him that we're not just common brigands."


I got through the day of talking and planning, and then fell exhausted into bed.  Upon rising, I went downstairs for an order of bread, fresh milk, and a hot bowl of heinin -- a mix of spiced beef blood and butter.  By the time I had filled my platter it and taken it back upstairs, Ceann, was up, too, sitting before the low-burning fire.  Even from across the room, I couldn't miss her somberness.

"I thought you'd be in better spirits now that you're out of that tavern," I said, pausing behind her.

She didn't deign to look my way.  "I think that place has dirtied me forever."  Her hand went to her hip, where her skirt hid the primrose tattoo.  Cutting the thing out would leave behind a scar that would no doubt be just as repugnant to her.

I sat down beside the girl that I had loved for a year.  "It'll just take a little time to get back to being who you really are," I promised her.

She glanced at me, almost accusingly.  "No, Rodin, it's not that easy.'

I laid my hand upon her knee.  "I'm sorry we didn't find you sooner."

"I'm grateful that you came at all!"

"Did you think that I wouldn't?  I owed you."

"Is that all?  I used to think that you loved me."

I was taken aback.  “You didn't seem to want my love a couple nights ago.”

“That wasn't the kind of love I needed.”

"This is a confusing situation, but I do love you," I insisted.  "I –-"

She was again staring into the fire.  "Whoever owes what, I still can't stay here."

This statement came as a shock.  "Why not?"

"I don't fit in.  The men, they don't care about me."

“It's only because they never know what to expect of you.  They hardly know what to say or do when you're around.  It's been that way from the start, and you've dealt with it.”

“I'm tired of dealing with it.  Do you imagine that any of this has been easy for me?”

I didn't wish to get into a quarrel.  “No, of course not,” I replied.

"And now I'm worried about you, too."

"What do you mean?"

"You're like me.  A woman in a man's army."

“I wouldn't exactly say that....” I began.

"I mean, if something happened, they wouldn't lift a finger to save you either."

"I haven't seen that.  Just last night, they did everything they could to find me, didn't they?"

"I suppose they did, even if they didn't accomplish anything.  Maybe it's just me.  Maybe I'm too disgraced to deserve any respect."  She rose from the bench slowly.  "I think I'll go take a walk.  The sun is well up."

“But the city is always dangerous,” I warned.

“Oh, yes, I think I've learned exactly how dangerous my own city can be.”

I took her hand and held her for just a moment.  "All right, darling, we'll talk this thing through when you're feeling better.  Just remember, I do love you."

She made a face that I couldn't quite read and then pulled away.  I watched her go. 

Love.  Why was it always so difficult?

I heard light footfalls and looked back.  Custin was coming up the stairs carrying a lyre -- and also a white bouquet.


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