The Ways of Magic, Part IX to XIII
Copyright © 2003 by Maelan Peredhil
Rodair’s illness clung around for a few days before leaving, returning him to his usual, crisp self, to Avaline’s disappointment.
But she didn’t have much time to worry about him; she herself became sick next. And so she spent several days languishing in bed with nothing other to do that read her spellbook.
Rodair did not come to visit her as she had done, though she did wake up one morning with a mug of tea of her own sitting beside her bed. But it seemed that no real sympathy could be expected from the other apprentice. At least she had not been completely alone; Katiye had spent every last moment of her spare time sitting in Avaline’s room, entertaining her friend. The only problem was that as Katiye had now advanced to the high magics, she had considerably less time to call her own.
Then one evening, Avaline woke from a doze and found herself in a significantly better state than she had been before. Her nose was no longer stuffy, and her head had ceased the dull ache that had been nagging it for days. She had been feeling somewhat better all day, but not as good as this.
Pleased, she shoved the covers aside and stood. Her legs took her weight, and she walked over to the wardrobe eagerly. Up at last! She threw on one of her robes and left her room, breathing deeply of the fresher air in the hallway. Her room had gotten quite stuffy over the past few days.
Neither Rodair nor Shantir was anywhere in evidence. Knowing Rodair, he was having a lesson with the wizard, even at this late hour. So she wandered over to the practice room, opened the door a crack, and peered in.
Both were there. Rodair stood with his back to the door, concentrating on the wooden bowl that sat on the table before him. He was weaving spellcraft. Shantir stood to one side, watching his apprentice’s spell with intensity. Then, suddenly, the light between Rodair’s hands flickered out. He bit off a curse before it fully formed and dropped his hands to his sides. ‘This isn’t working.’
‘Keep trying,’ Shantir said encouragingly. ‘You’ll get it.’
‘When I haven’t ever been able to?’ Rodair sighed. But he raised his hands and started again. He went further with the spell this time, holding it until his entire body shook with the effort of controlling what was evidently a very large amount of magical energy. Then he neared the end of the spell. He raised his hands and shot the spell at the bowl.
Just as it struck the bowl, the light died away. Rodair snarled angrily, but not at the spell. ‘Why can’t I do it?’ he asked rhetorically. He knew the answer- he didn’t know.
The wizard shrugged, a look of sorrowful sympathy on his wizened features. ‘I don’t know, as I’ve said before. Perhaps a different spell, then?’
‘All right.’ Rodair glanced at Shantir. ‘Shapeshifting?’
Shantir shook his head. ‘No, too difficult. Try something else.’
‘If you would like.’
Rodair set himself and began to gesture again. But before he had completed even the first motion, he stopped. ‘Lost it.’
Shantir sighed. ‘Try again.’
‘It’s not going to work.’ Nevertheless, he began his conjuration again. He finished, but instead of levitating, the bowl split cleanly down the middle.
Rodair slumped dejectedly down on one of the benches along the walls, shoulders quivering with the exertion he had used, or perhaps anger. ‘I can’t do it. It just doesn’t work.’
‘There has to be something we can do,’ Shantir consoled, sitting down beside him and placing an arm around his apprentice’s shoulders. Though in truth, he was not so sure himself.
Avaline, seeing that they seemed to be done with the lesson, chose this moment to enter. ‘Excuse me?’
The heads of both men jerked up. A familiar scowl came onto Rodair’s, and he stood stiffly, then stalked past her out the door. Shantir made a move to stop him, then thought better of it and greeted Avaline instead. ‘So you’ve gotten better, I see.’
‘Yes. I just wanted to let you know.’
‘You will be attending your lessons again tomorrow, then?’
‘I hope so.’ Avaline smiled. ‘It’s been rather boring.’
Shantir returned the grin. ‘I can imagine. Well, it will be good to have you back. Now, I don’t believe that Rodair will be interested in joining us this evening, so if you don’t mind, I’m going to bed.’
‘That’s perfectly all right.’ Avaline wondered privately about the wizard’s uncharacteristic curtness.
‘Good night, then.’ He left, shutting the door softly behind him. After a moment alone in the practice room, Avaline followed him out, then made for the door to the courtyard. She wanted some free air after all those days stuck in her room.
When she reached the courtyard, she found that she was not alone. Rodair stood at the edge of the pond, the night breeze rippling his robes and hair. He was picking stones up off the ground and hurling them as hard as he could into the water. Between his small grunts whenever he flung a particularly large rock and the sound of his missiles hitting the water, Avaline managed to approach him without his noticing.
There she stood, a few paces behind him, and watched his continued barrage of rocks into the pond. He picked up a small stone and threw it with such force that it flew all the way to the opposite wall and rebounded into the pool. The next one did not go as far, and the one after that covered even less distance. Finally, his remaining strength leeched out of him and his last pebble plunged into the water barely three paces from him. Then, breathing hard, he turned to go back inside.
His pale face contorted with fury when he saw her. ‘What are you doing here?’ he demanded in a hissing tone.
‘Can’t you stay out of what does not concern you, you interfering bitch?’ He was far angrier than she’d ever seen him before, and then, unexpectedly, he began a spell.
It formed quickly in his hands, and Avaline, suddenly frightened, began a hasty retreat. But Rodair loosed the spell before she had even managed to turn fully around.
Nearly to her, though, it disappeared. Rodair started, and Avaline sensed that this was not what had happened with his spells in the practice room. She followed Rodair’s now-nervous gaze, and saw Shantir framed by the light filtering through the open door to his rooms.
His hand was raised as if he had just completed a spell himself. Slowly, he took a step away from his doorway. ‘Rodair,’ he said, not loudly, but it carried to every corner of the courtyard. ‘Come here, please.’
Looking frightened for the first time since Avaline had met him, Rodair moved tentatively forwards. He reached the wizard and stared down at the ground, suddenly very interested in his shoes.
The wizard spoke again. ‘What did you just call her?’ Rodair mumbled something unintelligible. ‘What was that?’
Rodair raised his voice only enough to be barely heard. ‘A bitch.’
‘Have I not expressly forbidden you from saying such things to anyone?’
‘Yes, Master Wizard.’ Avaline had learned over time that Rodair referred to Shantir as such only when he wanted to impress others or, now, when he knew he was in trouble.
‘And did you cast a spell at her?’
‘Yes, Master Wizard.’
‘You know, as well, that that is against Adani rules, correct?’
‘Yes, Master Wizard.’
‘I am going to report you for that, Rodair. Forgive me, but you have gone too far now. Avaline is no threat to you and you must stop treating her as one. Understand?’
‘Yes, Master Wizard.’
‘Now go into my rooms while I tend to it. Go.’
‘Yes, Master Wizard.’ With a resigned sigh, he turned and dragged his feet into Shantir’s chambers. Shantir hastened to Avaline.
‘Are you all right? He didn’t manage to hit you with anything, did he?’
Avaline shook her head, shaken. ‘No, you came in time.’
‘Good.’ He sighed. ‘Avaline, I am truly sorry. I never thought that he would go so far as to actually use magic against you. You may be assured, he will receive adequate punishment for his offenses.’
‘All right.’ Avaline swallowed, trying to smooth her ruffled confidence. ‘What spell was that?’
‘I don’t know, but I’m going to find out. Rodair will tell me, I’m sure.’ He patted her shoulder kindly. ‘Why don’t you go on up to bed?’
‘I will, I think.’
Less than an hour later, Rodair sat in the study of the Wizard Danien, she who was in charge of enforcing the rules. Shantir stood behind his apprentice’s chair, looking grave. Rodair himself looked very uncomfortable under the stare of the steely-eyed wizard across the desk from him.
‘The spell did not actually strike the girl?’ Danien asked Shantir, though her eyes never left Rodair’s face.
‘No, I intercepted it before it reached her.’
‘And what spell was it?’
Shantir looked down at Rodair.
‘What? Oh, it was stunning spell, the first one we learn,’ Rodair replied nervously.
‘Not a horrible one, then. That may aid your cause, apprentice.’ She leaned back in her chair and considered him for a long moment. At length, she gave her verdict. ‘Three days without any use of magic whatsoever and access denied to the Library or any other such place where our lore is kept. Understand?’
Rodair looked shocked. ‘What? But-’ Then he subsided, knowing he could do nothing else. ‘As you command.’
‘Good. I am finished with him, Shantir.’
Shantir inclined his head and gestured for Rodair to follow him. Apprentice trailing miserably along behind, the wizard returned to his house and into his office. Once there, he sat at his desk and stared at Rodair. His apprentice squirmed under his gaze as well, perhaps even more so than he had under Danien’s.
It was a minute before he spoke. ‘You deserved every bit of what you got, you know.’
Rodair nodded reluctantly. ‘Yes, Master Wizard.’
‘Why did you do that, Rodair?’
‘She was spying on me,’ the apprentice replied sulkily.
‘She was not. And as to what you said to her... Rodair, tomorrow morning, first thing, you will go to her an apologize for what you have done.’
Rodair’s temper flared at that. ‘Apologize? But I’m not at all sorry! She deserved it.’
‘Nevertheless, you will do as I have asked.’
‘Rodair, I have never, ever had to punish you before this. But it seems I need to do so now. If you do not apologize to her, I will let every single trouble with magic be known to the entire Adani.’
Rodair froze. ‘You wouldn’t!’ He was staring at Shantir with open disbelief.
‘I will, if you do not apologize.’ There was a deep and lengthy silence between them.
Then, at last, Rodair yielded. ‘All right,’ he muttered sullenly.
‘And you will also ask her to set what penance she wants you to do.’
‘Are you- Fine.’ He stalked from the room.
‘Avaline? Avaline!’ Rodair pounded on the door of his fellow apprentice. He looked hopefully at Shantir, who waited idly at the end of the hall. ‘Maybe she’s not--’
At that moment, Avaline pulled the door open and Rodair fell into her room.
Avaline regarded him coolly as he tried to regain his composure. ‘Oh, it’s you.’
‘Yes. Avaline, I... I’m...’ He stumbled over the words. ‘I came to... I’m sorry!’ he blurted out at last. Done with that, he hurried onwards. ‘And Shantir said that you get to decide what my punishment is for calling you... calling you a bitch.’
‘I see.’ Avaline considered him. ‘Well...’ Finally, she waved a hand dismissively and shoved him towards the door. ‘I don’t want to spend the time trying to decide. Nothing, I guess. Get out.’
Relieved beyond words, Rodair scampered out and down the stairs past Shantir. ‘She didn’t have anything to suggest,’ he told the wizard over his shoulder. ‘Now, I’m off to the Library-’
‘You can’t go there, remember?’ Shantir reminded him.
Nearly at the bottom of the staircase, Rodair slowed. ‘Oh, yes...’ He sighed dejectedly and slowly began to remount the steps. ‘I guess I’ll be in my room, then.’ As he passed the wizard again, Shantir heard him mutter, ‘Lessons weren’t doing me much good, anyhow.’ He sounded as if he were trying to convince himself.
Shantir raked a hand through his white mane of hair and leaned back against the wall of the practice room with a sigh. ‘What do you want to try now?’
Rodair bit his lip. After three days without magic (during which time he had been holed up in his room reading and sulking) things were still not going very well. Of course, it had been the same way for almost forever, so that was no surprise. He spoke decisively, though. ‘Teleportation.’
‘Are you sure?’ Shantir asked despite the fact he knew Rodair would try it.
As expected, his apprentice nodded. ‘Why not?’ He braced himself and began the intense and complicated conjurations that the spell involved. Nearly through, his magic stopped. With a resigned sigh, he began again, and this time he finished the spell with a grunt and an upwards thrust of his arms.
He did not disappear, however. Instead, he went limp and slowly began to fall backwards.
Shantir jumped in time to catch him before he hit the floor, bearing his apprentice up with an ease that defied his aged appearance. Rodair lay inertly in Shantir’s arms, blank gaze directed at the ceiling.
‘Rodair?’ Shantir stared urgently into his apprentice’s face, unwilling to shake him for fear that Rodair was hurt.
Carefully, he laid Rodair on the hard wood floor. It was then that he noticed no breath seemed to be coming from Rodair’s mouth; his narrow chest was utterly still. As near to panic as he had ever come, Shantir knelt beside him and tested for a heartbeat. To his distress, he found none.
It seemed that Rodair had been slain by the teleportation spell. Fighting to keep his senses straight and to avoid bawling aloud as no wizard should do, Shantir lifted his hands to weave a spell.
Perhaps it had not taken his apprentice’s life, perhaps...
To his immeasurable relief, he still could feel Rodair’s spirit, if faintly. It was still connected to the body that lay prone on the floor. Which meant that Rodair had only thrown his spirit into the plane of death, not actually killed himself.
The wizard sighed. It was bad enough. Though one of the relatively harmless planes, it was not a pleasant one, and could be dangerous on occasion. And he did want his apprentice back.
It seemed he would have to go to the rescue. He began to call up what he needed for such a mission. But before he finished the spell, the door flew open and the Wizard Matrin stalked in.
‘Oh, here you are. You need to come quickly. Alem’s spell went wrong; he’s in the spirit plane. You’re the only one who has any experience there; you’re needed to help him.’
Shantir looked at him with annoyance. ‘And my apprentice has just gotten himself stuck in the plane of death. I have to help him. Find someone else.’
Matrin looked at him with short patience. ‘Shantir, you’re the only one who will do him any good. Your apprentice will survive; the spirit plane is by far the more dangerous of the two.’
The other wizard sighed. ‘Yes, I know. I’ll get there in a moment, as soon as I tend to something very quickly.’
Matrin nodded solemnly and retreated. ‘I hope you know what you’re doing, Shantir.’
Shantir hurried from the room and raced up the stairs to Avaline’s room. She was in, fortunately, and looked up in surprise as he burst in on her. ‘What is it?’
‘Rodair’s had some trouble; his spell went badly wrong and now he’s trapped in the plane of death. Unfortunately, I have another matter to attend to at the moment. Will you aid him?’
‘Me? But I don’t know how!’
‘It shouldn’t be too hard. I will perform the spell to send you there. Then you must find Rodair. I hope he hasn’t strayed too far; he shouldn’t have. When you find him, give him one of these.’ He paused to call up two apricots and passed the fuzzy fruits to Avaline, who took them curiously. ‘Both of you must eat one; they are your connection to this world and will bring you back. The only dangers you will face are the spirits of others who are still living but have been trapped there. They may try to get the apricots from you; but do not, in any circumstance, let them be taken, or you too will be trapped there. Understand?’
‘Yes, I think.’ Avaline tried to hold back the fear that rose within her fiercely-pounding heart, currently trying to break out of her chest by sheer force.
‘Good luck, then.’ Shantir raised his hands and performed the spell.
Avaline suddenly found herself standing almost knee-deep in cool water. All around her was an impenetrable blackness, though she could still see the water stretching out into the distance. And she barely managed to hold in a scream.
The water was filled with bodies.
Hundreds of them, thousands, even.
They were lying over each other, under others, facing every direction, though all lay on their backs with their eyes closed as if asleep. The sight of them drew her eyes like magnets, and she was powerless to look away.
Five paces to her right lay a woman of perhaps thirty, in a flowing green dress that rippled, as did her long brown hair, as the disturbance in the water created by Avaline’s arrival caressed her still form.
Before her was a young boy of no more than five, sandy locks playing about his face in a lighthearted manner unnatural to one so still. Over him was draped a girl so alike in feature and build that she could be none other than his sister.
A man with shoulders denoting a blacksmith was sprawled some paces to her left, beside an old man gnarled and withered with age, whose remaining hair was wispy dandelion fluff.
Avaline’s eyes flickered downwards and this time she did scream. She stood in the chest of a lithe man no more than twenty.
The bodies were not solid. As fast as she possibly could, she jumped aside, only to land in the head of an aging woman. They were too close together to avoid. Horrified, she moved aside again, but in her haste she tripped and splashed into the water.
When she had blinked it from her eyes she found herself staring into the face of the five-year-old boy. His mouth was partly open, and he merely seemed to be resting. Avaline shoved herself upright as fast as she could.
Stop thinking about it, she commanded herself fiercely. You have a job to do, and the sooner it is done, the faster you can leave. And quickly, before her temporary determination could falter, she hurried onwards into the darkness.
‘Rodair!’ she called as she went. ‘Rodair! Where are you?’
There was no answer. A sudden, horrible, thought struck her then. What if she was going in the wrong direction from where he was? She could continue forever, lost in the darkness, trying to find Rodair. Surely, surely Shantir would come to her rescue!
But what if he could not find her, and then- SHUT UP! she screamed mentally. Then, out loud, ‘Rodair!’ Still nothing.
Or was there? From behind her, she thought she heard motion in the water. Was her mind beginning to play tricks on her? Minds often did when they were nervous, she reminded herself. But it did no good this time. She stopped and listened carefully. Yes, there was definitely something there, and coming closer. Shantir’s warning about other living spirits danced into her head. But she tried to hope for the best.
A man came into view then. It was not Rodair. He was far older, with red hair that was going grey and fiercely black eyes. He sported the robes of an Adani wizard, though his were much more ornate than anyone’s she’d seen the whole time she had been there, and his were tied at the waist with a silver belt.
‘Have you food?’ he demanded in a gravelly voice as he drew near.
‘You have food! I can smell it! Give it to me!’ he demanded suddenly, reaching her and groping eagerly towards the hand that clutched the apricots.
Avaline drew back as fast as she could. ‘No! I need it!’
‘I’ve been trapped here for seven centuries! Give them to me!’ the wizard shrieked, lunging at her.
He caught her and bore her to the ground beneath him as he struggled to seize the apricots from her. She wrestled furiously with him; she had to save Rodair and herself! But her opponent was too strong for her. He seized her wrist, and though she pummeled him with her free hand, he pried her hand opened and seized the fruit that lay within. Panting heavily, he stood and gazed at the fruit with rapt triumph.
‘At last,’ he murmured. ‘At last I can return!’ He raised the fruit to his mouth.
Avaline did the only thing she could. Hoping desperately that it would work, she raised her hands and performed the simplest of spells.
‘By the power of the Wells, light, I call you forth,’ she muttered as quickly as she could.
Light flared. The wizard, on the brink of eating the apricot, screamed and threw an arm up to his face to protect his eyes from the light he had not seen for seven hundred years. In the process, he dropped the apricots.
Letting the spell go, Avaline seized upon the fruit and scampered away while the wizard recovered himself. Then, with a shriek of rage, he was after her.
Avaline ran faster, screaming as she did, ‘Rodair! RODAIR!’
She could not keep up this pace up forever, and the other wizard would certainly catch her sooner or later. She wondered briefly why he had not used magic to stop her yet. She resolved to ask Shantir about that when she returned to the plane of life. If she did.
Then, at long last, there was an answering shout from ahead.
She could see Rodair now, looking wildly around some thirty paces ahead. Desperately, she redoubled her efforts.
‘Over here! Come here!’
He sprinted towards her. He was paler than ever, with a wild fright in his eyes, she saw. He was terrified. At last, they met.
‘Here,’ she gasped, thrusting an apricot into his hands as the wizard swooped towards them. ‘Eat! Now!’
She popped the remaining fruit into her mouth and swallowed as quickly as she could, pit and all. The last thing she heard before vertigo took her was the wizard’s outraged bellow...
Shaking, she found herself lying on her own bed. Slowly she sat up. There were no more dead spirits, no more darkness, no more water. Laughing and half-sobbing with relief, she flopped weakly back down.
Only then did it occur to her to wonder whether Rodair was safe.
Her question was shortly answered by feet pounding on the staircase and Rodair himself arriving in her room. ‘Are you all right?’ he demanded immediately.
‘Yes- are you?’ He did not seem to be injured.
‘Perfectly so.’ Breaths finally beginning to slow, he stared at Avaline with amazement. ‘You... You saved me.’ He sounded as if he himself did not believe it.
Avaline stared at the floor, not knowing what to reply to that. Then the next moment, Rodair did something she would never have expected of him. He dropped to his knees beside the bed and pulled her into an embrace so tight she thought her ribs might crack.
‘Thank you,’ he whispered into her ear. ‘Thank you so much.’
‘Well, I couldn’t let you be trapped in there forever, could I have?’ Avaline replied huskily, blushing.
‘Yes, you could have.’ He drew away from her, but remained on the floor. ‘I’m sorry I’ve been so rotten to you. Very sorry. Forgive me, it was a horrible thing for me to have done.’
‘I forgive you. If you’ll tell me why.’
‘Shantir hasn’t? Then I most certainly will. I’m in debt to you forever, Avaline. Anything you say.’ He sighed. ‘And you should know.’
‘You saw most of it the other night,’ Rodair began. ‘I can’t do magic. Well, that is, I can, it just...’ He took a deep breath and tried to explain himself. ‘All the higher magic doesn’t work for me. None of the spells beyond warding will do what I want, or even work in any way. Most of the time the magic, just stops. It isn’t there any more. But it never happens with any of the easier spells.’
‘That’s awful!’ Avaline exclaimed. ‘Why is that?’
Rodair shrugged. ‘I don’t know. Shantir doesn’t know. No one does. I’ve looked all through the Library. Nothing even mentions anything close. Shantir says he thinks it’s the first time something like this has ever happened.’ He laughed raggedly. ‘I guess the Wells just don’t like me.’
‘Have you tried to figure out how to stop it from not working?’
‘Of course! We can’t think of anything, and we’ve tried a lot of things. But anyhow, that’s why I’ve been so unfriendly to you. I didn’t want my time with Shantir interrupted, because, even though it’s stupid, I’ve never really given up hope that there’s something that can help me and that if I practiced enough, I could do it. I’m sorry. It was completely pointless.’ He sighed. ‘And there probably isn’t any solution, either.’
‘Don’t say that!’ Avaline put an arm around Rodair’s bony shoulders; the other apprentice stiffened reflexively, then slowly relaxed. ‘Everything can be fixed.’
‘There’s something, believe me.’
‘I like to think so...’ He shook his head and sighed. ‘But even if there is, I won’t find it in time.’
‘Time for what? Your test?’
‘When is it?’
‘In six weeks. No, wait. Five now.’ An unspoken sadness shone in his dark eyes, though one side of his mouth was curved into a very small smile. ‘I’m never going to pass it.’
‘You couldn’t explain the problem to them?’
‘I could, but it wouldn’t help. You have to be able to do the spells. And you only get one chance at the test.’
Avaline tried to keep up a cheerful face, but it was becoming harder as their talk went on. ‘Five weeks should be long enough to find something.’
‘When five years has not been enough?’
‘Why five years?’
‘It was five years ago that I learned the last spell that I could do, the warding spell.’ He stared intently at the ground. ‘Five years of failures.’
‘I’m sorry.’ Avaline did not know what else to say.
‘It’s not your fault.’
‘So, is that why you don’t go to the meetings? Because then every apprentice would know about your problem?’
Rodair nodded. ‘Yes. I just sneak out. No one’s caught me yet. Well, besides you.’
‘How’d you manage that one?’
‘I don’t know. Luck, I guess.’
‘Oh.’ A silence hung for a moment. ‘What spell went wrong?’
‘I was trying teleportation. Stupid of me; it’s the hardest one, and if I can’t do any of the ones before it... I just felt like trying it.’
At that moment, Shantir returned, looking harried. ‘Here you are! Are you all right?’
Rodair and Avaline nodded.
A relieved expression came onto the wizard’s face. ‘Thank goodness! I was worried...’ He trailed off as he noticed Avaline’s arm around Rodair; he had been too anxious at first. ‘What’s going on here?’
‘He was just telling me about his magic,’ Avaline replied. Rodair colored slightly and looked away.
Shantir did not comment, though his blue eyes sparkled with pleasure. ‘Did you have any trouble finding him?’
‘Well, a wizard tried to take the fruit, but I blinded him with the light spell. What I don’t understand, though, is why he didn’t use magic on me...’
‘Only the very simplest of magics work in the plane of death as well as certain other planes,’ Rodair replied for Shantir. ‘Only about the first five spells we learn.’ He appeared ready to say more, but Shantir made a curt gesture with his left hand and he stopped with his mouth partly open.
‘Please don’t show off your considerable knowledge at the moment, Rodair. Save it until another time.’ He took a seat in one of the chairs by the fire. ‘And what did you tell Avaline exactly?’
Rodair made a noncommittal gesture. ‘Everything, really.’
The wizard gave a satisfied nod. ‘Good boy. And I hope you’ve apologized for your behavior?’
‘He has,’ Avaline assured him.
‘Which reminds me. I have an apology for both of you. Rodair, for not coming to aid you myself; Alem’s spell threw him into the spirit plane and I had to go help him. And Avaline, I’m sorry for making you risk yourself to help him in my place. Though it would seem that it has turned out for the best this way.’
‘You don’t need to apologize,’ Avaline and Rodair said at the same instant. Rodair shot Avaline a grin similar to the one he worn when she had seen him laughing with Shantir.
The wizard chuckled. ‘You cannot realize how glad I am that you two are getting along now. I was beginning to think I would need to keep two houses, one for each of you.’
‘No, you need to keep your hands closer together. Like such.’ Rodair demonstrated arcing his hands towards each other as he brought them up. ‘Try it again.’
‘As you command, my lord,’ Avaline replied teasingly. Rodair rolled his eyes and gestured for her to continue. Avaline laughed and lifted her hands. But just as she opened her mouth to speak, the door of her room burst open and Katiye waltzed in.
‘Hello, Avaline!’ She caught sight of Rodair and scowled furiously at him. ‘Out, bookhead,’ she commanded.
‘No, let him stay,’ Avaline countered. But Rodair stood anyways.
‘That’s all right, I’ll go.’ However friendly he had become with her, he still retained his dislike for much company, particularly Katiye’s. ‘I’ll see you later, Avaline.’ He stalked out.
As soon as the door was shut, Katiye whirled on Avaline. ‘What were you doing with him?’
Avaline looked a mite reproachfully at her friend. ‘He was helping me with a spell. Until you came.’
‘He was helping you? Rodair? He hates everyone!’ She paused and glared suspiciously at Avaline. ‘Did you just hint that you’d rather be with him than me?’
‘Not at all; we were just working together and you interrupted us. And that you cannot deny.’
Katiye looked only partially mollified, but Avaline chose to ignore her. ‘So, what would you like to do?’ she asked.
‘I don’t know. I just had some time after Matrin finished with my lesson and I didn’t have anything to do but come here.’ Katiye grinned amicably. ‘It’s rather pathetic, really.’
‘How did your lesson go?’
‘Well, I’ve finally got the levitation spell. See, watch.’ She raised her hands and began muttering. One of Avaline’s two pillows rose off the bed and hovered a few spans in the air, falling back to the bed with a soft thump when Katiye released it. ‘Matrin says I can learn how to move things around soo-’
A series of thumps noticeably louder than the pillow’s were heard from the other side of the wall. Avaline jumped, then started for the door. ‘Excuse me a moment; I want to see what that was.’
Katiye began to follow her. ‘I’ll come.’
‘No, stay here.’ With a pout, Katiye obeyed and Avaline hurried to Rodair’s door and pounded on it. ‘Rodair?’
It was a few seconds before Rodair’s voice, strangely choked, replied. ‘Come in.’ Avaline reached for the doorknob and pulled the door open as quickly as she could.
The room inside was a disaster. The piles of books had all been spilled, the blankets torn from the bed, the chairs beside the fire overturned. Rodair was sprawled beside the bed on his stomach, with what appeared to be two of the larger piles of books tumbled haphazardly onto his back and legs.
Avaline rushed over to him. ‘Are you all right?’ He was quivering violently and did not reply. ‘Rodair!’
Shoving the books on top of him aside she took his shoulders and rolled him over- only to discover that he was fit to die of laughing. He was redder in the face than she had ever seen him, or had believed possible of one with his pallor. Avaline felt the tension leech out of her.
‘Rodair...’ she repeated, letting out a sigh of relief.
‘Can’t... breathe!’ Rodair gasped, trying unsuccessfully to get a hold of himself.
Avaline waited patiently for him to recover. It took a while, but he eventually calmed down enough to speak.
‘I meant to do that,’ were the first words from his mouth. ‘Well, not really, but...’
‘I was working on levitation, and all that happened was that I turned up rather a wind storm.’ He looked ruefully around his wrecked room. ‘And it sort of blew everything around a bit.’ He let out a giggle. ‘You should have seen it. The only warning I had was that the chairs jumped a little, then...’ He exhaled the rest of his merriment with a sigh. ‘And now I’ll have to clean it all up.’ He shoved himself upright. ‘Best get to work. You can get back to Katiye; I’m fine.’
Avaline did not really hear his last few sentences. All she thought of was the spell Katiye had just performed for her. The same as Rodair’s, and yet... They had come out so different! Her heart ached at the thought, even though Rodair did not seem to mind much this time.
‘I’m going to find a way to help you with that problem,’ she said aloud, even though she had intended it just as a thought.
Rodair shrugged. ‘If you really want. I doubt you’ll be able to find anything.’ His voice took on a quiet pride. ‘I think I would know if there was anything in the Library that spoke of such a miracle.’
‘Everything does not have to be found in the Library to exist, you know,’ Avaline reminded him fondly. Bookhead indeed. ‘Well, I’ll let you be, now.’ She left.
‘Could we go to the Library?’ she nevertheless asked Katiye the instant she returned to her own room. Katiye wrinkled her nose.
‘Why do you want to go there?’
‘I want to look for something. Please? It’s important to me.’
‘Oh, all right then.’
But though she remained in the Library for the rest of the day, she found nothing. At last, she bid farewell to Katiye and wandered back to Shantir’s house amidst the deepening twilight. The wizard awaited her in the entry hall, comfortably contemplating the ceiling from a cushioned chair. He broke off his meditations when he saw her.
‘Ah, Avaline. Come in, sit down. You haven’t happened to see Rodair, have you?’
Avaline did as she was bid and shook her head. ‘No. Why? Isn’t he here?’
‘I haven’t seen him all day, and he’s not in his room.’ He sighed and waved his hand dismissively. ‘Well, no matter; I doubt he’s in much trouble. So, what have you done all day?’
‘Well, Katiye came by as Rodair was helping me with a spell, and then Rodair left and we went down to the Library. I wanted to see if I could find anything to help Rodair.’
‘I take it that you didn’t.’
‘No.’ She sighed. ‘There has to be something.’
‘Indeed? You have much confidence. We’ve tried everything we could thing of, all to nothing.’
‘What happens if he doesn’t pass his test?’
‘Then his time here is finished and he must depart within three days.’
‘Will he pass?’
Shantir frowned. ‘At his current stage, unfortunately no. He knows it, too.’ He caressed his chin slowly. ‘He wants to be a wizard so badly, though; he’s never given up trying. I hate to see what it will do to him if he indeed does not pass.’
‘And he couldn’t stay for extra training.’
‘No.’ Shantir fixed her with his blue-eyed gaze. ‘I’m going to ask a favor of you, Avaline, one that I’ve never asked of anyone before. Would you mind me not giving you any lessons until Rodair takes his test? I believe he needs all my time dedicated to him for this.’
‘Of course you can! I’ve got five years; he has five weeks.’
‘Thank you, Avaline. In the meanwhile, you can continue to learn from the book I gave you; there’s no reason for you to be doing nothing.’ He glanced expectantly towards the door. ‘Where is Rodair?’
‘I don’t know.’
‘Well, his misfortune that he’s not here; we’ll just have to talk ourselves.’ He smiled. ‘So, tell me about your home.’
‘What? Oh. My father’s a tanner and my mother a weaver. I have a sister and a brother; my sister Elrie’s younger than me, and Chrias is older by about three years. Chrias wants to become a mercenary, but he’s not so terribly good with any sort of weapon and I think he’ll become a tanner like Father, or at best a hunter. Elrie’s going to be a weaver for sure; she’s very good. And I’m here.’ She laughed. ‘It’s rather different, don’t you think?’
‘Indeed,’ Shantir chuckled with her. ‘From which town, again?’
‘Really? Rodair’s from around there; he was born and raised in Cantil.’
‘I’ve been there once or twice. They had a fair library, as I recall.’
Shantir smiled. ‘So they did. That’s why Rodair reads so much, or so he said.’
‘I can see that. What about you, though? Where are you from?’
The wizard raised bushy eyebrows. ‘Me? It’s been a long time since anyone’s asked me that. I was born in the city of Harok on the western coast, the eighth son of a well-to-do merchant.’
‘Eighth son?’ She had known about the size of wealthier families, but that was huge!
‘Yes, indeed. I had eleven brothers all told, and three sisters. We had quite a busy house. And I’m not the only one with magic; my eldest brother, Jaem, is an enchanter- he wasn’t quite powerful enough to become a wizard.’
‘And the rest of them?’
‘Well, my sister Tari became a merchant after our father, and did quite well at it. The others all took off on their own ways- you can tell your brother, if you like, that I had a brother and a sister who became mercenaries, and both were slain before they were thirty. It isn’t all that it’s made out to be.’
‘I’m sorry to hear that.’
‘Oh, I’m done mourning; I have been for years. They’re all dead now, of course, save Jaem; too much time has passed for them to still breathe in this plane.’
‘Why? How old are you?’ The instant she spoke, she wondered regretfully if she had offended Shantir. But the wizard seemed not to care.
‘I will be in my one hundred ninety-eighth year, come three months. Such is the fate of every wizard, to outlive their family.’
‘Oh... So that will happen to me?’ She hadn’t considered that when deciding to become a wizard. Had she known, she might have chosen differently.
‘Yes.’ He must have seen something of her thoughts on her face, for he laughed gently. ‘Don’t worry; you would have outlived them had you decided to train your magic or not. I misspoke; I should have said it is the fate of all those with magic. It extends the life proportionally to the amount of magical power the person can hold. And this way you can at least use your magic.’
‘I see. Have you had other apprentices before?’
‘Oh my goodness yes! Quite a few, besides you and Rodair. I think around fifteen or so. Maybe a few more. Incidentally, your friend... Katiye, it is- her master, Matrin, was one of mine. Possibly the brightest I’ve ever had, excepting Rodair.’
‘Matrin’s never said anything about it.’
Shantir grinned. ‘Has he ever said much?’
‘Well... no, actually.’
‘He’s rather quiet. He has even Rodair beat there. At least Rodair can go on for a long time once you get onto a topic of his interest. Then the problem is getting him to shut up.’ Shantir chuckled fondly. ‘I’m very lucky to have you both. So tell me; how did you discover you had magic?’
‘It’s not very exciting. There was a mage who passed through Martun once, when I was about seven. It had been a hard winter and there hadn’t been any travelers to or from the village for a while and so everyone was desperate for news and they all went to speak with him. I came too, of course; Chrias insisted on dragging me along. The mage, after he told his news and everyone was leaving, he stopped Chrias and beckoned to me. He told me that I had magic. Neither Chrias or I believed him and Chrias was about to take me away again when the mage took my hands and had me move them like a spell, saying something as he did. I felt this sort of tingling feeling in them, and then I began to believe him. He told me that I should go to the Adani Chapel when I was old enough and train my magic with the Wizard Shantir. My mother said that when I was fifteen I could go, even though I tried to convince her to let me go at thirteen.’
‘Waiting did you no harm; you will easily learn everything in less time. Do you happen to know the mage’s name?’
‘Well...’ Avaline tried to recall it. ‘It began with a T. Tar... Tarin, or something like that, I think it was.’
‘Taric,’ said Shantir decisively. ‘He was one of my apprentices. I’d always wondered what became of him; he was quite a friend of mine. We both knew he would never make a wizard, or even an enchanter. He simply wasn’t powerful enough. But he remained cheerful enough about everything.’ He added something that Avaline couldn’t quite hear, but it sounded like, ‘Unlike certain others I could name.’
‘How did he know I had magic?’ She’d always been curious about that, but had never found anyone to ask.
‘He could sense it in you.’
‘Can you do the same?’
Shantir shook his head. ‘No. For me to know if someone has magic, I must see them doing it, but I can at least tell how powerful they are while they are using magic. The strange thing is that the weaker a person is in magic, the more readily they can sense magic in others. No wizard can do it, enchanters can, and mages most of all. They cannot gauge power, but they can tell if it is present. No one knows why it works that way. Perhaps to be fairer to the mages, as some of them can do no more than the light spell. And of course, if you do not have magic, the rule does not apply.’
‘How did you find out?’
‘Jaem. He sensed I had power and brought me to the Adani when he went.’
‘What exactly determines whether or not someone is born with magic?’
Shantir cracked a smile. ‘Ah, for that, you will have to ask Rodair. I myself have never really cared why, but he has done extensive research into the matter.’ He looked again to the door, reminded once more about the absence of his older apprentice. ‘Where on earth can he be?’
‘Would you like me to go look?’ Avaline offered.
‘No, it’s too dark. He’s somewhere in the Adani, most likely the Library. It is hard to keep track of time in there. He’ll turn up sooner or later. Meanwhile, it grows late. We should sleep.’
Sooner or later, it seemed, was not that night, nor the next morning. Rodair’s room, when Shantir entered it shortly after dawn, was empty and the blankets did not appear to have been slept in. With a sigh and several choice mutterings about a lack of common sense being all too frequent in youth, he descended the stairs and made for the Chapel across the dewy lawn of the Adani grounds. From the Chapel Proper he entered the Library and sought out his apprentice in one of the many nooks and crannies Rodair liked to read in.
Towards the very back of the Library Shantir found him, curled up inelegantly on the floor, surrounded by open books. One of these served as a pillow for the young man’s head. A quill that was now slowly dripping ink onto the floor from its wet end was held loosely in his narrow fingers. A pile of papers covered with his neat writing was stacked beside the book-turned-pillow.
Hiding a smile, Shantir reached down and shook Rodair. ‘Wake up.’
‘What?’ Rodair moaned sleepily. His eyes twitched open and stared with sleepy confusion at the wizard who stood above him. Stiffly, he sat up and looked about him. ‘Oh.’
‘You were here all night?’ queried Shantir. Rodair nodded, wincing as he yawned and stretched. ‘Doing what?’
‘Researching some things.’
‘You know, you really should take a break from worrying about it, at least for a-’
‘It wasn’t about that. Not really.’ He stood and began to gather his things, placing the books back on the shelves where they belonged and bundling his papers together.
‘Well, we missed you last night. We had some lovely conversations, Avaline and I.’
‘I’m sure you did.’ Rodair wiped the last of the sleep from his eyes with the back of a marvelously ink-stained hand. ‘Do I get to work with you today?’
‘Of course. In fact, Avaline’s lessons are going to wait until you’ve taken your test. I am at your disposal.’
‘Wonderful. Remind me to thank her.’ He began to walk towards the exit of the Library.
‘I will. In fact, would you like her to see your lesson? She wants to help you.’
‘I wouldn’t mind if she wants to.’ He sighed. ‘But she won’t be able to help.’
Rodair threw up his hands with exasperation. ‘Never! It is NEVER going to work!’
‘Try again,’ Shantir invited.
With a sigh, Rodair lowered his hands enough to begin the same transformation spell he’d been trying for the last hour. The basket was just remaining a basket, no matter how many times he tried. The same ball of magical light began to form between his hands, growing as he molded it to his spell.
Reaching the end of the spell, he shot it at the basket, looking pleased that he’d at least finished the spell without trouble. But the ball missed its target and struck the wall instead- and bounced off.
Shantir, Rodair, and Avaline, who sat in the corner watching, stared at it in surprise as the ball of light rolled along the floor and came to rest at the wizard’s feet. Shantir nudged it gingerly with his toe.
‘Well, Rodair... It seems to have become solid, though how you managed that I do not know.’
‘Oh, really?’ Rodair leaned down and picked up the ball with one hand. He threw it up and down twice experimentally. ‘So it has.’
‘Can I see it?’ Avaline asked. Rodair tossed it to her. It was heavier than it appeared, and felt slightly warm to her touch. She rolled it back to Rodair with a grin. ‘Well done.’
‘Why don’t you bring it to the Library for them to keep?’ Shantir suggested. ‘I’m sure someone can find a use for it.’
Rodair shook his head dismissively. ‘No. I refuse to have my mistakes-’
‘We all make mistakes; I’m sure there are others in the Library.’
Avaline joined in the wizard’s encouragement. ‘Come on, Rodair, why don’t you?’
‘I will not.’ Rodair dumped the ball into Shantir’s hands. ‘Keep it if you want, but it is not going to go in the Library.’
‘I’ll make you a deal,’ offered Shantir. ‘If you can’t unmake it, it goes in the Library.’
‘You know I can’t do that spell...’ Rodair muttered, but he took the strange ball back from Shantir and, shoving the basket gracelessly aside onto the floor, placed it on the table.
‘Well, perhaps this motivation will be enough to make you do it.’
‘When becoming a wizard isn’t?’ Rodair held his hands out before him. ‘Here goes.’ He began to form the patterns of the spell.
When the spell struck the first spell, though, the ball of light did not disappear. But its color faded from a golden glow to a dark blue, then to green, then purple, and on through a continuous cycle of all imaginable colors.
Shantir raised an eyebrow. ‘An interesting effect. But not what you intended, I think. Take it to the Library.’
Rodair threw his head back with a groan. ‘No...’
‘Teach you to bet with me. Go on. It’s even more interesting now.’ He thrust the ball at Rodair, who reluctantly accepted it.
‘Fine, then. But I am NOT saying who made it.’ He exited, cradling the ball in one hand.
Avaline rose and went after him, falling in pace with Rodair’s lanky strides. ‘Rodair, about your magic,’ she began.
‘What about it, and will you please keep your voice down?’ He looked furtively around to make sure there were no other apprentices near.
‘What exactly happens to it when it goes wrong?’
‘What do you mean?’
‘For instance, when it stops before you finish the spell, what do you think it’s doing?’
‘I’m not quite sure if I understand you, but really, it does just what you said- stops. I don’t know why, as I’ve said before.’ They were nearing the Chapel now.
‘The magic just stops.’
‘Yes. It’s suddenly not there any more.’
‘Strange...’ She mused over this for a while, then, as they entered the Chapel Proper, began speaking again. ‘Do you know when it’s going to fail before it actually does?’
‘Not really.’ He paused and considered, then changed his mind. ‘No, wait. Yes, I sort of can; most of the time, the magic gets slightly stronger right before it disappears.’
‘I see.’ A thought struck her. ‘Can you stop one spell and work on another in the middle of the first without ruining the first?’
‘Usually, but only if you put a lock spell on the first one before leaving it. Why?’
‘Because if it’s the surge of magic that’s causing the magic to stop coming, you could stop the spell and cast one that lessens the power of magic you’re using- is there such a thing?-, and then the magic wouldn’t stop.’ She sighed. ‘That’s rather confusing.’
‘It is,’ Rodair agreed as they entered the dim haven of the Library, ‘but there is a way to control the amount of magic you use, though it’s not a spell. It’s worth a try. I’ll try it when we get back.’ He approached a table to the right of the doorway. A young woman sat behind it reading a large volume. She looked up as Rodair approached and smiled.
‘Ah, Rodair. What can I help you with today?’
Rodair set the color-changing ball of light down on the table in front of her. ‘Here. I’m not sure what it is, but Shantir said to bring it here. It was an accident. Two, rather.’
The librarian laughed and picked it up. ‘I’ll find somewhere to put it. Does it do anything?’
Rodair shook his head. ‘Not that I know of.’
‘Well, I’ll deal with it. Anything else?’
‘No, that’s all.’
‘Later, then.’ She smiled at him and returned to her book.
Avaline and Rodair left the Library and returned to the bright Chapel Proper. The sudden change made them blink.
‘One more thing,’ Avaline said as they squinted their way through the Chapel and into the even brighter grounds. ‘How long does it take for your magic to come back?’
‘Not long; I can do more spells right away. Or rather, not do them.’
Just then, someone off to their left hailed them. ‘Avaline!’ Katiye, standing with four or five other apprentices, waved a hand to her friend. Rodair quickened his pace slightly. ‘Come join us!’
Avaline declined with a shake of her head. ‘No, I’m busy.’ She hurried to keep stride with Rodair.
‘Rodair and I are working on something.’
Katiye’s face, even from a distance, became incredulous. ‘What? Oh, never mind. You can bring him here with you. He’s lots of fun.’
‘Can’t, sorry. Maybe later.’
‘You can go, you know,’ Rodair said to her as they left Katiye behind. ‘You don’t need to take all your time up with me.’
‘But I want to see if this works. Why? Do you not want me?’
‘No, no, not that. Well, I’m... I can’t be called the most interesting person around here. You’re welcome to go with them. I mean... I don’t want them to hate you because your spending all your time with me.’
‘They’ll have to deal with it.’
‘Oh.’ Despite himself, Rodair looked pleased, and even began to put his arm around her shoulders before thinking better of it. Blushing furiously, he lengthened his stride yet again.
‘Will you slow down?’ Avaline panted, half-running now.
‘Sorry.’ He slowed.
‘Tell me, have you ever had any friends?’
‘Um... No, not really.’
‘Because you certainly don’t know how to act with them.’ She smiled at him. ‘Let’s run now; I do want to try that spell.’
However fast a walker Rodair might be, he was not an athlete and arrived at the practice room almost a minute after Avaline, greatly winded.
Shantir pursed his lips to hide a smile as his apprentice collapsed on the bench. ‘All went well at the Library, then? Oh, and Avaline told me about her idea. I suppose it might work, though I don’t think the lock spell is necessary. Give it a try, will you? Any spell will do.’
Rodair set the basket back on the table. ‘Levitation; it’s one of the least harmful.’ He lifted his hands and began the spell. The light died out, however, before he got to the end. With a sigh, he shook his head. ‘That was my fault, I didn’t feel it soon enough. I’ll try again.’ He started once more, to the same effect. But for a different reason. ‘It doesn’t seem to matter. I lessened it as much as I dared, but...’ He joined Avaline on the bench and stretched his legs out in front of him. ‘Thank you, though.’
There was silence for a while. Shantir appeared deep in thought. Suddenly, he nodded to himself and his eyes swiveled to stare at Rodair.
‘The lock spell...’ he mused. ‘I never thought of that, though it should have been obvious. What if, Rodair, when you felt the magic come more strongly, you put a lock on the spell? That way, when your magic returns, you can undo the lock and continue the spell.’
Rodair sat bolt upright. ‘That might do it! It makes sense. Here.’ He jumped to his feet.
‘A lock spell,’ Shantir explained to Avaline as Rodair prepared himself, ‘is used to maintain a spell even when its creator is not using magic. With luck, it should tide over the failure. I’m not sure, since it seems that Rodair’s magic leaves him entirely during that point, but it may. We shall see.’
Rodair began his weaving, an intense look of concentration on his face. Towards the end of his spell, he flicked his right hand, but the light disappeared nonetheless. He did not seem daunted, however. ‘Too late, I think. I wasn’t really expecting it; usually I can finish a spell if I get that far. Again...’
The flick of the wrist came much earlier on this time- and the magical glow held. Fighting to control the excitement within him, Rodair waited until he was sure his magic would have returned, then cautiously released the lock with his left hand and continued on with the still-present magic. Another pause, and he reached the end of the spell. Amid the dead silence in the room, he readied himself and threw the spell directly at the basket.
Which obediently rose up into the air.
A shriek of joy from Avaline tore the silence into shreds and left no survivors. She leapt to her feet and seized Rodair around his lean waist, hugging him tightly. ‘You did it!’
Rodair was staring at the hovering basket with emotion on his face in such amounts that it was unreadable. His right hand covered his mouth, muffling the deep breaths issuing from it.
The wizard said nothing, but the joy on his face was unmistakable. His eyes glittered wetly as, slowly, he stood and placed his arms around both Avaline and Rodair. In a voice hoarse with feeling, he murmured into Rodair’s ear, ‘Well done,’ the instant before Rodair’s shout deafened both him and Avaline.
To Be Continued …
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