Cordelia Cooper Born in Magic

Chapter One

    “Mama?” Cordelia paused a moment, just in case Mama was still sleeping.  She didn’t want to wake her if that was at all possible.  Mama was in such a bad state that she needed all the rest she could get.

There was silence from the bed.

“Mama?”

Too much silence. And the colors were wrong. Cordelia had seen the colors her whole life and she assumed that everyone else saw them too. But the colors and patterns that were around Mama now were different than they were supposed to be. They were dimmer and didn’t twirl and weave as much as they always had.

“Mama?” Cordelia stepped quietly to the bed, worried but not wanting to believe what her senses were telling her. She should hear something, but she didn’t.  The colors should be swirlier and richer, but they weren’t. There was no whisper of breath, no movement.  And Cordelia knew that her mother would never move again.  Mama was dead.

“Mama?” Cordelia wept “Oh, Mama . . .”

***

    Michael Cooper patted his father’s shoulder. “Come, Papa.  Let’s go home.”

Tomas Cooper was devastated by his wife’s death, even though she’d been sick for months. He didn’t want to leave the village’s burial ground.  Michael, though, knew that work wasn’t going to wait for his father to recover from Mama’s loss, and the count wasn’t going to forgive the family’s rent just because their mother had died.

“We’ve got to get out to the fields, Papa,” Michael said.  “Harvest won’t wait, and the Intercessor says that the rains will start soon.”

Harvest was the most important time of year in the village of Greenshire. Harvested crops were sold, then the rent was paid. And then you did the whole thing over again the next year. It was hard work, but it was all they knew. There weren’t a lot of opportunities to do much else if you were a peasant villager in Whitehall County.

Sometimes Michael dreamed of going out west and getting some of the elf lands that people said were free for the taking. But how could he do that now? The family needed him.  Papa was so sad all the time.  His sister Cordelia was only twelve and she was going to have to do all of Mama’s work now. Susie, Eleanora and Robbie, at eight, five and two, were too young to be much help.  Well, Susie could help some.

“Come on, Susie,” Cordelia said.  “We’ve got to get home and start dinner.”

***

    Cordelia walked through a world overlain with shifting colors and patterns. And lately those colors and patterns were becoming more intense. It was a gradual thing, and Cordelia wasn’t at all sure when they had started getting stronger, but by now they were getting to be really distracting.

Cordelia didn’t have any way of knowing it, but she was starting to come in to her power. Some people said that natural wizards had dragon blood, dragons being able to change their form at will.  But that was one of many stories that Cordelia didn’t know. Magic wasn’t much talked about in her little village. She had no way of knowing she was different.

She knew that no one else talked about the colors and patterns.  But there were a lot of things you weren’t supposed to talk about, so that meant nothing much.

She reached the well and lowered the bucket to the water. Once it was full she started the difficult task of cranking the bucket back up. She had it most of the way up when Joey Bookman snuck up behind her and shouted “Boo!”

Cordelia jerked startled and suddenly there was a twisting of the colors, orange and red and blue twirled around and the crankshaft on the well broke and fell into the water far below.

Joey took one look at the broken shaft and ran off shouting, “Cordelia broke the well, Cordelia broke the well!”

Cordelia hadn’t broken the well.  She was almost certain.  She couldn’t have. She had been startled and jerked her hands away from the crank and the well. It had seemed, for an instant, like she was pulling the colors.

And fortunately, at least this time, the village elders agreed with her.  She wasn’t strong enough to break the crankshaft, which was an oak pole three inches thick.

That was, she would later come to realize, probably the first time her magic had manifested.

It wasn’t the last.

***

    Six months later, the village elders weren’t so sure anymore. Neither was Cordelia.

“I never touched that wagon wheel,” Cordelia said. “There was just this curl of red and blue and then the wagon wheel broke.”

Intercessor Torson, the village’s only intercessor and naturally enough an Intercessor to Barra, god of harvest, listened to Cordelia’s explanation and his worries only increased. He wasn’t sure, because it had been a long time since his predecessor sent him off to Gent for training, but he thought that Cordelia’s mention of colors in the air sounded like natural magic.  And natural magic . . . well elves had natural magic and that was enough to make it bad in Intercessor Torson’s view. He began to wonder if, perhaps, an imp or minor demon was hanging around Cordelia.

That would be bad.

Yet he did not want to condemn the girl without hearing, so he wrote a message to the Temple at Gent asking for an inquisition into the state of the girl.

***

    “We had another one today,” Alfon Thistle mumbled. Alfon was a clerk at the temple and a deacon of Jusain, God of Law, who would never be a full Intercessor. He was good at his job, if bitter at his lack of prospects, and more than a little corrupt. He didn’t think much of wizards but would talk to anyone who was buying and Rojer Cartwright found him a good source of information.

“Another what?” Rojer asked, in a friendly manner, oozing the respect Alfon thought a clerk of the Temple deserved from anyone not of the Temple.

“Oh, another silly letter from a local Intercessor. This one thinks he’s got a demon-possessed girl. Young girl, strange things happening, and the Intercessor at hand is one of the old types, you know, no education — or hardly any. He figures the girl has come to the attention of a local demon and wants an exorcism.  We’re going to write him back and tell him to find her a wizardry apprenticeship.  Say—” The clerked looked at Rojer drunkenly. “—you’re a wizard, aren’t you?”

Rojer ran his hand over the purple embroidery of his wizard’s robe in a gesture meant to look casual, but also designed to call attention to the rank the purple embroidery signified. “Yes, I am.  But why should I take on an apprentice who is a natural wizard? I’m a book wizard.”

The clerk snorted. “I know you’re not a real wizard, but magic is magic, isn’t it?” Book wizardry had been around for well over a hundred years, but to people like Alfon, it was still a lesser sort of wizardry. “Natural wizards have power. That’s what makes them natural wizards. Teach her to charge your magical gewgaws. That alone ought to pay for her keep. How about I give you a letter of introduction and you can just go fetch her?  As long as you take her away from the village, I don’t much care what you do after that.”

Rojer let the tone of mild contempt roll off his back. There was money to be had in this; he could smell it. Besides the clerk was right in a way. Magic was magic, though the approaches taken to learn it were different for natural and book wizards.

“Where is this village?” Rojer asked.

“Greenshire.  Up in Whitehall County.”

“Where’s that?”

“You go upriver to a little place called Coppriceshire. And then follow the road down to Greenshire.”

“That’s a lot of money,” Rojer said, “to have my wagon barged up the river.  If I’m going to be handling this problem for the church, then the least you could do is pay my fare.”

“I’ll have to ask about that,” the clerk said.

As it happened, Rojer did not receive any funds from the church. And he almost decided to pass on the whole thing. It was enough trouble to support himself and his mule. But he thought he might be able to get some money out of the family of this girl.  And Thistle, the drunken sot, did have a point about using the girl to reload magical items.

Rojer did get the letter of introduction. That would probably make it easier to sell some supposedly magical knickknacks to the villagers.  The next day Rojer set out for Whitehall County and the village of Greenshire.

 

 

Chapter Two

    The letter of introduction had proved quite useful, Rojer thought, as his wagon made its slow way along the road from Coppriceshire to Greenshire. The Temple had not bothered to check Rojer out, but had taken his robes at face value.  In part because it was hard to check out the credentials of a wizard. Most wizards were trained by a master and while it was, in theory, against the rules to wear the robes of a full wizard without the confirmed abilities, there was very little enforcement. In essence, you had to run into a wizard who took offence. There were a lot of people running around in wizard robes with purple embroidery and a lot of them had even less talent and training than Rojer.

When Rojer had run off from his master, he had worn the white robe with the green embroidery of a caster, which was awarded after a wizard learned his first spell. Rojer had no idea what his rank should be by now. Sometimes he even thought that he deserved the purple embroidery he wore. In fact, were he to be tested by wizard’s board, they would probably grant him the silver-threaded embroidery of a mid-ranked wanderer.  Of course, they would kill him for wearing the purple of a full wizard, so it wasn’t something Rojer was going to test. Besides, now he had a letter from the temple at Gent stating that he was a book wizard of the second purple rank. That letter had helped him sell his potions and spells more easily. So it was with a fuller-than-normal purse that Rojer Cartwright rolled into Greenshire.

***

    Cordelia Cooper didn’t know about the wizard till her father came and got her. She had been fixing dinner and the family’s cottage was some distance from the center of town.

“Come with me, Cordelia,” Papa said.

“Papa, I’ve nearly got dinner ready,” Cordelia said.

“Susie can manage it for now,” Papa said, much to Susie’s dismay. “You come with me now.”

“Yes, Papa.” When Papa spoke like that, there was no arguing.

They walked in silence to the little Temple, in front of which Cordelia saw a wagon. The wagon was covered with a painted canvas top that said “Rojer the Magnificent. Magic and Potions.”

“Magic and potions? There’s a wizard here?  Really?” Cordelia asked.

“He’s here and he’s got a letter from the Temple at Gent.  Come on,” Papa said.

“But—”

“I said, come on!” Papa grabbed her shoulder and pulled her along somewhat roughly.

Cordelia decided to keep her questions to herself.  Papa was really upset about something and Cordelia was afraid that it might be the strange things that kept happening around her.

“That’s right, Intercessor Torson,” Cordelia heard as they entered the Temple. “It’s probably not a demon, though I’ll be able to tell if it is.  What you’ve probably got here, Intercessor, is a brand new natural wizard just coming in to her powers.  Not that that can’t be even more dangerous than a demon, if it’s left on its own, you understand. Basically, for whatever reasons, the gods decided to give some people a natural talent for magic.  And if that talent is trained, it can be downright useful.  But if’n it’s not, things start getting busted.

“My master was a natural wizard and he told some stories that would curl your hair. So the Temple says that’s it probably best if’n I take her as an apprentice and get her trained up.  But I can’t do that without a fee. It’s too darn expensive to train a wizard. There’s the magical papers and ink you gotta have to record the spells.  And it’s pretty dangerous dealing with an untrained natural wizard.  They can kill you without half trying.”

By now Cordelia knew that she was the subject of the conversation. And while she was somewhat relieved to know that she hadn’t attracted the attention of a demon, being a natural wizard didn’t sound that much better. What if she actually did kill somebody by accident? What if she got scared and turned little Robbie into a frog?

Papa cleared his throat and Intercessor Torson looked up.  “Ah, there you are, Tomas. Cordelia, this is Rojer Cartwright, a wizard. He’s going to be your master.”

Cordelia didn’t mind the idea of being an apprentice, but she wasn’t thrilled at the thought that this man, in his gaudy robe, was her master. She saw knots and whirls around the man and there had been some around the wagon as well. Perhaps that was magic, but she saw whirls around everything, constantly changing, and had always done so.  It certainly didn’t seem like magic. Still, this Rojer Cartwright had little knots of color that she couldn’t identify tied to him in a way she couldn’t understand. She looked him over and nodded her head.  “Sir.”

“Oh, call me Rojer.  No ranks among us wizardly types.”

“Yes, sir.” Cordelia looked up at her father. “I’m to go with him? When?”

“You go on back to the house, finish dinner,” Papa said.  “I’ve got some business here, then I’ll bring him and the wagon to pick you up. Pack your things.”

***

    “That’s what Papa said,” Cordelia told Michael. “And Intercessor Torson just kept nodding. So I guess I’m going.”

“And all the broken stuff?  The strange things that happen?  That’s just you?” Michael said. “That doesn’t seem so bad. Why do you have to go?”

“I heard Mister Cartwright say that natural wizards are dangerous. And it’s got me worried.  What if I accidentally hurt Susie? Or Robbie? You know how he’s always hiding and scaring us all. Maybe I need to go off and learn all this stuff.”

Tack jingling outside gave them warning that their father and the wizard had arrived.  Michael stood up and headed for the door.  “Well, if you think so.  But if anything bad happens, you come back here.  You’re my sister and it’s up to me to protect you, no matter what that stupid Intercessor thinks. You hear me?”

It made Cordelia feel a lot better to know that Michael wasn’t afraid of her. “I’ll be back someday. You can count on that.”

Cordelia started putting the food on the table, then called Susie, Eleanora and Robbie to the table just as Papa, Michael and the wizard came in.

It was a strained meal. Papa explained to the younger children that Cordelia had to go away and they all cried.  Cordelia was pretty sure that Susie was crying more because she’d have more cooking to do, but Eleanora and Robbie were crying because they didn’t want her to go, just for herself.  Michael looked angry and Cordelia wasn’t sure why.

“Time for us to get on the road,” Rojer said. “You’d best get your things.”

Michael came up to the loft to help Cordelia carry her basket. “That, that . . . whatever he is! He’s charged Papa almost all the money we have to take you with him!”

“I heard him say that it was expensive to train a wizard,” Cordelia said.

“Seems to me that if the Temple wants him to take you, the Temple ought to be paying him, not Papa!” Then Michael started to whisper and handed Cordelia a small wrapped bundle.  “You take this.  And when you get a chance, tie the knife to your leg somewhere. I don’t want you out there with no protection at all.”

Once they climbed down from the loft, Cordelia hugged and kissed Eleanora and Robbie. Susie still looked unhappy, so Cordelia told her that she’d left her best skirt behind, since she didn’t want to mess it up traveling.  Susie looked a little happier then.

Michael gave Cordelia a big hug and whispered, “Don’t you forget where we are. Come back. Come back anytime.”

Papa looked beaten-down. “Intercessor says it’s for the best, Cordelia. And you can’t keep breaking things here. You know that.”

“I do, Papa.  I’ll learn and someday I’ll come back, so you’ll know I’m all right.”

“Get in the wagon,” Rojer said.  “Enough goodbyes!”

***

    Rojer Cartwright pulled up the wagon little more than a mile from Greenshire. “Get down, girl. I need to craft See Magic.”

While Cordelia climbed down from the wagon, the wizard pulled out a book and a blanket and headed for a patch of soft green grass between the road and the field. “You see to old Beau, girl. Unhitch him and let him graze a bit.”

So Cordelia saw to the mule that pulled the wagon, while Rojer crafted a spell on the side of the dirt path that was called a road between Greenshire and Brookshire. She could see the swirls forming around the wizard and contracting down into little knots, and hooking together with other swirls and shapes and eddies. It was both like and unlike the colors she had seen all her life. After a few minutes, about the time she was finished unhitching and rubbing the mule, he was done.

“Come here, girl,” he said.

“Yes, Rojer,” Cordelia said, trying it on for size.

He waited till she had reached him, then slapped her hard. So hard she fell down. Then he pointed an accusing finger at her. “You’re my apprentice. You will call me Master Cartwright or you’ll rue your impertinence.”

“But you said—”

“You sassing me, girl?” He raised his hand again, getting ready to hit her but then he reconsidered, visibly. “No,” he said more to himself than to her. “I guess you’re just slow. I wasn’t your master when I said to call me Rojer. Now I am. I’m your master till you finish your twelve years of training.”

Twelve years! That was almost as long as she had been alive and a normal apprenticeship was only seven years. She almost brought this up, but was afraid he’d hit her again.

He motioned with his hand. “Get up now, girl. I’ve got something to show you.”

Cordelia got up cautiously, afraid both that he would hit her when she got up and that he would hit her if she didn’t, and looked longingly back down the path that would lead to her village.”

“Don’t even think about it, girl. They paid enough to get rid of you. They won’t be happy to see you back again, untrained and dangerous. ‘Sides, they’re just a bunch of peasants. Tenant farmers, not even freeholders. Not much better than serfs or slaves from the southern provinces. You’re training to be a wizard. Now hold still!” He reached out with his left hand and touched her on her forehead, just above and between her eyes. In a place that other people, in other lands, would call the third eye.

And suddenly the colors and shapes that she had seen all her life were brighter and sharper than they had ever been.

The grass was no greener than it had always been. But the colored swirls that had always swirled around each blade of grass, those were suddenly much more intense.

“That’s wizard sight,” Master Cartwright—no, Rojer—told her. She might have to call him Master Cartwright out loud, but she promised herself then and there that she would never call him master in her mind. That promise would prove both painful and difficult to keep over the next few years, but she would keep it.

“Now then, I know natural wizards see magic anyway, but that doesn’t mean that the spell is useless,” he went on.  “You’re seeing the magic better, aren’t you?”

“Yes, sir . . . I mean, yes, Master Cartwright.”

“That’s right, girl.  Master Cartwright.” He smirked.  “Wondered if you were going to try that ‘sir’ bit again.”

Cordelia started hating him then. But she kept her mouth shut.

.”For a natural wizard, that spell makes it easy to see what’s magic and what ain’t,” Rojer said. “You saw me crafting that spell, right? Look over at that tree over there.” He pointed.  “Now I want you to imagine a blue ball hanging in front of that tree.”

Cordelia tried, and as she was visualizing the blue ball, she could see the magic swirl around it. Rojer was nodding and he said, “That’s right. Now turn the ball red,” which she did.  As the ball went from blue to red, the swirling changed direction.

“Now you see?  You can manipulate the magic by thinking of certain things.  A blue ball swirls it one way, while a red one swirls it the other.  A purple ball swirls it in a completely different direction, and a green coil ties it all up. Now, over the next little bit, I’m going to teach you some drills that’ll help you control your magic so you won’t be half-crafting spells by accident. Now, you go get Beau hooked back up to the cart and we’ll be on our way.”

***

    The next four hours or so were some of the most exhausting Cordelia had ever spent.  As he drove the wagon, Rojer would say “Make a blue ball,” or “make a green coil” or “make a purple hook.”

She did them all, and as soon as she made one he would have her adjust it. “Make it smaller,” or “Make it bigger,” or “Make it brighter,” or “more blue,” or “less purple,” but it was more tiring that she’d ever imagined it could be.

***

    The good thing about this girl was how strong she was.  The bad thing about this girl was how strong she was. Rojer watched the swirling currents of the magic. He was unable to see the shapes he directed her to make, but by seeing the currents he could tell if she had made the proper shape.  At least, he could as long as the See Magic spell he’d cast on himself lasted. He wasn’t a natural wizard, so he didn’t see those currents without the help of the spell.

This girl was a strong natural. And magic was going to tend to do what she wanted. She could be used to reload magical items with very little training.  With her loading the magical items, they’d last longer. That was all to the good. It would give him more time to get away before the spell faded and people wanted their money back.

When her magic started to falter, Rojer told her to stop and let her rest.  Then he started telling her about Frederic the Bold, a natural wizard of great power.  “Frederic the Bold lost control of his magic while attempting to build a magic wall around a castle.  The wall went around the castle, all right.  And then it contracted to about a foot across, and smashed everything in it down . . . to about a foot across.  Including Frederic the Bold,” he said. After he told her about Frederic the Bold, he told her about Thomas the Silly. “Thomas the Silly never finished his apprenticeship, because he got a crush on a girl and tried to cast a spell of love on her. Well, it didn’t affect the girl at all, but a local horse fell madly in love with him.  And that stallion went to town on Thomas the Silly. They had to bury him in a bucket.”

***

    By the time they had camped for the evening, Rojer Cartwright had mentioned at least a dozen natural wizards who had died from uncontrolled or poorly-managed magic, often taking whole villages with them. His point was obvious—that until Cordelia learned to control her magic, she was a danger to herself and anyone around her.

And Rojer—Master Cartwright, as he insisted—was the only person who could teach her to control her magic.  He was her only option, her only safety from herself.

Fine, Cordelia thought. I’ll learn. I’ll learn as fast as I can. ‘Til I’m a better wizard than he is.  And then I’ll turn him into a frog.

At Rojer’s direction, Cordelia unharnessed the mule and rubbed it down.  Then she hobbled poor old Beau and went to the campfire.  At least Rojer had started the fire with a spell, which was a lot easier than trying to use flint and steel.

“You cook,” Rojer said.  “There’s some chicken in the Keeper, that small box over there. Open the lid, take out the chicken.”

When Cordelia opened the box, there was a leg and a thigh of uncooked chicken.  She smelled it, and it smelled fresh. Then Rojer directed her to some flour, salt, baking powder, and buttermilk, so she could make dumplings. She found the pot, put the chicken in it, with some water and onions, then waited for it to stew a bit.

“Master Cartwright?” she said.

“What?”

“Are there any herbs in the wagon?  Something to make this taste good?”

“Don’t worry about it. I’ll use a spell, once it’s done.”

So Cordelia waited until the chicken was done, then put her dumplings in the pot and waited for them to cook.  Then she said, “This is ready, sir.”

Rojer whacked the back of her head.

“This is ready, Master Cartwright.”

“All right.  Bring it over and dish it up.”

Cordelia did as directed, and when they both had bowls of chicken and dumplings, Rojer rubbed his fingers together as though he were adding a pinch of spice to the bowls.

“Go ahead,” he said, taking a bite.  “You’ll like it.”

Cordelia was surprised to find that she did indeed like it. There was an explosion of subtle tastes with every bite.  Sweet and tangy, which blended together and enhanced the flavor of the chicken and dumplings. It was better than what she’d made back home, even with no herbs.

***

    The next morning Rojer spent a couple of hours crafting spells into magic items. “The items like the Keeper make casting the spell into them easier in two ways. If the spell component has been crafted a little bit off, the item will smooth out the rough bits, as long as it’s not too much off. and you can mostly put the components of the spell into the item as you craft them rather than holding them all in your head. So it’s easier to craft a charging spell than a spell that you’re going to cast directly.  Like Servant, for instance.  Craft the charging spell into an amulet, it’s easy. Craft the spell to just make a Servant, not so easy. Of course, it’s eas . . . ” He looked over at her, then said, “Making the containers for spells is the job of a full wizard. I have a number of magical items that you’ll be able to charge, once you learn some control. But I wasn’t planning on taking on an apprentice, so none of them are basic enough for you to start on.”

Cordelia wondered what he’d been about to say when he stopped and looked at her. Some sort of craft secret? Or just something he didn’t want her to know?  Even though the night had passed with no trouble, she didn’t trust Rojer as far as she could throw him.

***

    What Rojer didn’t want to say was that there were three classes of wizard; those who charged magical items, those who crafted spells from spell books, and those who could cast a spell on the fly. The ones who could do little more than recharge a magical item weren’t really even considered wizards. The ones who crafted a spell from a spell book were book wizards, and the ones who could cast a spell on the fly were natural wizards. Like book wizards, those who recharged magical items did so from books and mostly that’s what Rojer was.

He didn’t want Cordelia to know his limitations. He could make magical items, and craft spells into them. He could cast a few spells directly.  But he couldn’t cast a spell on the fly, not even such a minor spell as the Practice Spell, which is what he had used to flavor their food last night. He always had to craft the spell in advance, using his spell book.

He loaded light spells into Light Coins, small silver disks inlaid with magic moss, which would glow with the brightness of a candle for over a week. Those were popular for outhouses, and he sold them pretty cheap. He made and sold a stain-remover brush, that would be rubbed over a stain until it pushed the stain off the cloth.  It would work on about half-a-dozen stains before it wore out.  It was very popular with housewives, but he had to be pretty careful about promising too much with that one. A busy housewife could use it up within a few hours.

Once he had a few items charged up, Rojer and Cordelia proceeded to the next town, Brookshire, where he sold the items.  A small village like this couldn’t afford very much of even the simplest magic.

 

Chapter Three

    As the wagon made its slow way out of Brookshire, Rojer started the lesson for today.  Which was almost the same as the lesson for yesterday.  Again, Cordelia had to make the blue ball, and this time Rojer had her adjust the color of the ball a little bit. And all day long, with only the occasional break, Cordelia made and unmade that horrible blue ball.

They camped that night and the next day was just the same. Rojer spent a couple of hours crafting spells. Cordelia watched him work while trying to keep from being obvious about it, because she was supposed to be doing the camp chores. One thing was clear, Rojer was very focused while he was working. He never noticed much of anything while he was crafting. That let Cordelia sneak looks at what he was doing, as long as the camp chores got done.

She couldn’t see what he was thinking, but she could see the effect it had on the magic. She guessed that he was thinking about blue balls and other shapes and colors. It wasn’t all mental. He made gestures and she could see those gestures having an effect on the magic flow.

Rojer spent part of the morning crafting spells into magic items like the Keeper box and a few others that they used regularly. He used Slippery, a spell that went on the axles and sometimes Repair, a spell on the canvas cover of the wagon. Then they would climb aboard the wagon and move out. As the wagon moved along there would be more drill.

They reached Herinshire and Rojer sold more magic. Then it was three days of blue balls till they reached Hillshire. Rojer sold some more items at Hillshire and muttered about the spell safe getting low.

Cordelia had no idea what he meant by that. “What’s a spell safe, Master Cartwright?”

Rojer looked at her like she was an idiot. “Don’t you know anything about magic, girl?”

Cordelia bit back the comment that he hadn’t taught her anything yet.

“A spell safe is what you store a magic item in while it matures.”

That wasn’t that much help, Cordelia thought. “Why?”

He sighed.  Heavily. Like it was just too much trouble to answer. “A magic item is a little like wine.  You have to let it mature gradually, over time, to get the best quality.  It works like this. Let’s take Clean Cloth, the spell you’ve seen me use to clean up our clothes, and like I’ve sold in places we’ve gone through. For that one, you take a little-bitty short-bristled whisk broom and you carve symbols and patterns on it that match the spells of cleaning.  It can be tricky, getting those right, so that takes a while.  It takes skill and patience and an understanding of the spell you’re going to cast on it. You don’t have to do it all at once, except for the last bit.  After you’ve got it all carved up and prepared right, you take magic moss and press it into the engraving.  And once it’s pressed in, you cast a spell on that whisk broom to bond the magic moss into it.  Then you craft the Clean Cloth into it, and when that’s all done, you take the broom and you put it in your spell safe to let it mature.  Generally speaking, the longer you let it mature, the better the quality. But there are limits. No matter how long you let it sit, Clean Cloth is still Clean Cloth. It ain’t never going to turn into a mending spell.

“But that’s one of the problems of being a wizard. It takes a long time to get paid after you’ve done the work, sitting around waiting for magic items to mature.”

***

    They had been traveling over a week when they reached Lakeside Village on the shore of Lake Thorenga.

Rojer told her, “Lake Thorenga is a large inland lake about six miles across and over nine miles long. It’s the headwaters of the Thorenga River, with a waterfall from the lake to the river that is over a hundred feet tall. We’ll follow the shore of Lake Thorenga south, then east around to the other side of the lake then follow the Thorenga River east to the northern sea. Probably. Getting magic materials isn’t easy out here in the country.”

Since he was unable to buy magic materials, Rojer went ahead and bought another mule at Lakeside.  “Poor old Beau, he can’t travel very fast alone. Another mule, more speed.”

It was the day after they left Lakeside that Rojer started her on the red curl saying “You have a start on the blue ball. Now we’ll add the red curl.”

And they did. Alternating between the blue ball and the red curl whenever Rojer called out a change. One thing that Cordelia noticed was that as the red curl curled inward it seemed to get brighter and wanted to go from red to orange. Rojer insisted that she keep it a consistent color all the way from the outside to the center. But when she did, he insisted that it was too purple. So she let it shift just a little bit to the orange while it curled into the center, and Rojer said that was better.

As they made their way around Lake Thorenga, Rojer made her make first a blue ball, then a red curl, then a blue ball again and on and on. Cordelia’s days were full of exercises, trying to hold the blue ball and the red curl both in her mind.

“Master Cartwright,” Cordelia said, trying to keep the annoyance out of her voice, “what am I doing?”

“You’re learning a spell. The Practice Spell.”

“I don’t understand why I’m learning it this way, Master Cartwright.” Cordelia had learned to be very careful to use “Master” when speaking to Rojer. If she used it, she usually got more information.  If she didn’t, she got yelled at or hit. Or was sometimes given yet more exercises with the hated blue ball. “Isn’t the spell in your book?”

“Of course it is,” Rojer said. “Every spell book in the world probably has the Practice Spell in it.”

“They why can’t I look at the book and make the spell that way?”

“Because it wouldn’t do you any good. You’re a natural wizard. You have to internalize the spell.  It has to become part of you.  And the best way to do that is what we’re doing. Constant practice, till each part is automatic. Step by step, one shape at a time, one color at a time.  Get it right just once, and getting it right the second time will be quicker. And . . .” He sniffed. “. . . it naturally follows that if you get it right the second time, the third time will be easier still.”

None of this made sense to Cordelia, but Rojer was still talking.

“Natural wizards do their magic by feel, not by intellect. It takes a book wizard to understand book wizardry. You natural wizards are more artistic types.  You’ve got to feel the magic before you can use it.  And I’m giving you the tools to feel the magic.”

That also didn’t make any sense to Cordelia.  She’d always been good with numbers, had a very good memory, and was good at solving puzzles. It was true that she couldn’t read; no one in the village could read except the Intercessor.  But she felt certain that she could learn to read, given the opportunity. And she didn’t feel at all artistic. Art was something fancy people did, in the big towns, for lords and ladies.

But one thing was certainly clear.  Rojer wasn’t going to let her see his spell book.

So, it was back to blue ball, red curl and, eventually, the purple funnel, keeping one in her mind, then two in her mind, and then all three in her mind at the same time. And watching Rojer craft his spells every morning, Cordelia was almost sure that she recognized the red curl by the ripples that it made in the magic.

By the time Cordelia was capable of keeping the ball, the funnel, and the curl in her mind at the same time, they were halfway down the Thorenga River. And it was there that they met Aradrel, the elf.

 

 

Chapter Four

    Aradrel, last elf of the Niswood Grove, wasn’t a particularly prepossessing elf.  He was young, about fifty years old, and almost half of that had been spent in a tree on Master Dobson’s plantation in Riga Province, down south, where he’d been sent after his Grove was burned out and he was captured. He was a runaway. If a slave catcher got him, he’d be sent back in chains and whipped within an inch of his life. It had happened before and even if the scars didn’t show on his back, they were there on the inside. He was working as a stevedore on the docks in New Darthin in Minatan province, and ready to run at a moment’s notice. Between the hard work and constant fear, he had stopped taking good care of himself and started drinking.

When he drank, he talked, and the thing that he talked about was his plan.

“I know where there is a cache of elven magic,” he told the wizard. “And the humans never found it. They didn’t know our Grove. They thought we were like all the others. Everything trees, trees and more trees. But we had other places and that’s where the mages kept their magic.”

The kind wizard ordered another drink, which was a good thing because Aradrel didn’t have the money for more drink.

***

    Aradrel woke to the singing of birds. And it took him a few minutes to notice that he wasn’t in his little room, but on a blanket on the ground. Unlike most elves, Aradrel didn’t consider this any great improvement, in spite of how poor and cramped his room in the boarding house was. Besides he had a horrible hangover. He pried his eyes open, only to see an ugly girl with the round ears of a human, stirring the fire.

Wagon. Humans. Not in his room. Slave catchers. Suddenly Aradrel was fully awake.

Too suddenly. His mind had not caught up with his body when he sat bolt upright.

“Good morning,” said a voice from behind him.

Aradrel jerked around to see the wizard from last night’s drinking binge smiling at him in a way that didn’t seem very friendly at all.

“So here’s the deal,” Rojer said. “I’m not going to turn you over to the slave catchers for the reward.  Not unless you make me. I’m going to help you with your plan. I’m going to help you find that cache of magic you talked about, and I’m only going to take two-thirds of it. I deserve that. A third for not turning you in and another third because there ain’t no way you can do this without me. Ain’t no way that the humans of Arzon Province are going to let an elf run around loose. They’ll catch you and send you back south, sure as elves sleep in trees. Who knows?  They might even send you someplace worse.  There’s always someplace worse.

“I don’t hold with slavery. I’m an abolitionist, I am, though I’m not a fanatic about it. If you’re with us, they’ll just figure we own you, so they won’t bother you so much. We’ll go down there, bold as brass, collect up your tribe’s magical items and then we’ll each go our own way. It’s that or the slave catchers.  Take your pick. Heck, if there’s all that many items there, a third of them will make you rich.  You can go out west, or take a ship to Centriaum; go somewhere safe.”

Safe sounded like a paradise to Aradrel, but he didn’t really believe what this wizard was saying. He would have to be on his guard all the time.  But, maybe, just maybe, it would work. “All right.  I’ll show you the way.”

***

    “Do you want some breakfast?” Cordelia asked the elf. “Master Cartwright bought some meat pies at the tavern. Usually we have to make do with what I can cook, but he said we need to get on the road quickly today.”

The elf looked at her suspiciously.

“If you want some, you need to hurry,” Cordelia said. “It takes him some time to craft and cast his spells, then craft some more, but he’s already cast the ones for the wagon while we were waiting for you to wake up. So, if you want to eat, eat.”

Cordelia wasn’t sure about traveling with an elf, not that she had any choice in the matter. Back in Greenshire, there weren’t any elves that she’d ever heard of. But there were stories, many of them a bit scary.

The elf looked at her with a wary curiosity and said, “Yes’m. I’d appreciate some food, ma’am.”

“Cordelia.  My name is Cordelia.”

“Yes, Miss Cordelia.”

“Just Cordelia.”

“No, Miss Cordelia.  Elves who speak to humans in a familiar manner get whipped.”

“Not by me,” Cordelia said. “With the master over there, I’m just as likely to get knocked on the head as you are.”

“Master?”

“Yes.  Master Cartwright.  I’m his apprentice.”

“Oh.  That kind of master.”

“For twelve years. And I’m not sure there’s that much of a difference.”

“Yes, there is, Miss Cordelia,” the elf said.  “Your master isn’t allowed to kill you, for one thing. And your slavery will end, and when it does you’ll be respected. Have a skill.”

“If you say so.” Cordelia wasn’t convinced that she’d ever learn anything with the way Rojer was teaching her. Well, she thought, that wasn’t entirely true.  She had learned greater control. She hadn’t broken anything or caused sudden unexplained winds or any of the other minor disasters that had followed her around since her mother’s death. Not since she had become Rojer’s apprentice. At the very least, she had that.

***

    Aradrel walked along beside the wagon and listened as the wizard instructed his apprentice. Out of curiosity, Aradrel tried visualizing a blue ball.

“Stop that,” the wizard said, while the apprentice looked at him curiously. Then she asked the wizard, “Is he a wizard?”

“No.  Anybody visualizing a blue ball will have that effect.  The trick is, it’s got to be the right size and the right shade. And you have to put it together with all the other pieces to construct a spell before it will do much of anything. Just following the instructions without being able to see what you’re doing is dangerous. You ought to know that, elf. Didn’t your mother ever tell you not to mess with magic without training?

“Girl, stop the wagon.  We better check on this. We don’t need any trouble.”

Once Miss Cordelia had stopped the wagon, the wizard got down and gestured for Aradrel to approach him. Aradrel did so, although he stayed as far away as he could get away with.

“All right, elf,” the wizard said. “Visualize the blue ball hanging right between you and that tree over there. Go on now.  I’m not going to hit you.  Yet.”

Aradrel did as instructed, although he was nervous.

“Do you see anything around the ball?” the wizard asked. “Anything at all?”

And to his surprise, Aradrel did see something.  Very faint. Almost not there at all. There were little swirls, like heat on the desert sand, swirling around the imaginary blue ball. “Yes, I do,” he said in surprise and excitement, and did not notice the resentful expression on the wizard’s face. “Little swirls.  They’re very faint.  I almost can’t see them at all.  But they’re there.” In noticing the little swirls, Aradrel had lost concentration on the blue ball and the swirls disappeared.

“Well, I guess it’s true what they say,” the wizard said disgustedly. “Even the dumbest elf has a little magic. Not enough to be useful, but enough to be dangerous if it ain’t trained. All right, elf. Girl, we may as well stop and make camp here.  I’m going to have to craft an extra See Magic spell.”

***

    Rojer had stopped casting See Magic on Cordelia after only a few days. He had cast it on her only to provide a clear distinction between her regular sight and her magic sight.  But he cast it on himself before he started crafting spells, so Cordelia had seen him cast it once, or often twice, a day, every day since she’d become his apprentice. By now, the gestures and meaningless syllables he used in crafting it, as well as the swirls and knots developed in the magic flow, were utterly familiar. And she was beginning to think that she could recognize some of the visualizations from their effect.

The blue ball was there and so was the funnel. Cordelia wondered what it would feel like to have another student studying with her. Once the spell was crafted, Rojer cast it on the elf and then had him visualize the blue ball again. It was clear from the elf’s reaction that the magic sight was much clearer now. In fact, it was so clear that it made it difficult for him to concentrate.

“You’ll get used to it,” Rojer told the elf.  “Either that or you’ll learn not to try and craft a spell. All right.  Both of you.  Visualize the blue ball.” Then he looked back and forth between them. “Girl, you tell the elf what’s wrong with his blue ball.”

“It’s got too much green in it,” Cordelia said.  “Not enough purple.”

“Well, don’t ignore your own blue ball while you’re talking, girl. Elf, tell her what’s wrong with her blue ball.”

The elf tried to concentrate on his own visualization while looking at hers, and Cordelia knew that he didn’t have enough experience to guess what might be wrong with her visualization from its effect on the magic.  It didn’t matter anyway, because as soon as the elf tried to concentrate on her ball, he lost his own and the magic swirled away.

***

    That started a new routine. For the next six months, as they made their way south and west toward the caves of Aradrel’s former home, they studied magic as they moved and sold magical trinkets to pay their way. Over that time Cordelia and Aradrel got to know one another and — to an extent — trust one another.

The life of an elf in the civilized part of Amonrai was not easy. Most of them were kept as field hands. Education was hard to come by, although not yet illegal, as it would become later. Most humans resented the fact that an elf could be cured by placing himself in a tree, or even by a human forcing him into a tree. It was a natural part of their being, so staying out of a tree when injured was almost impossible.  Many humans felt that because any injury could be cured by a few years in a tree, well, you could do anything you wanted to an elf.  Cut off a hand, or a foot, or just about anything.  It’d grow back in a few years of tree rest.

This attitude was maintained even when there was no tree available, and more than a few elves died because of it. Some communities wouldn’t allow a tree of any size within miles, in order to keep elves away. Oh, an orchard was fine.  None of those trees got big enough.  But a large tree?  One that was two feet across, for instance?  That would be turned into lumber as soon as it could be managed.

There were specific types of trees elves grew, that had naturally thick trunks. And often, those trees were cut down at any size.

None of that had impinged on Cordelia’s world until she met Aradrel. She’d never seen an elf before. And most of what she’d been told about them was wrong. At the same time, in spite of the trust that had developed between them, Aradrel maintained a resentment of all humans. He blamed them, including Cordelia, for everything that had gone wrong in his life, even though she hadn’t been born yet. Sometimes Cordelia understood the way he felt, but mostly it seemed a very unfair attitude to her and she called him on it more than once.

While there was some trust between them, Aradrel’s attitude had kept it from blossoming into true friendship.

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