"That's the thing about magic." Amos Lochlan poured himself another cup of mint and comfrey tea, and continued speaking. "Y'see, little brother, you've got to learn that you can't be using magic irresponsibly, will you, nill you. You must learn to think before casting a spell. 'Course, if you'd just listen to me, your older, wiser brother, you wouldn't have to think, and you also wouldn't be owing the innkeeper eighty pence . . ."
Riccon had been standing at his brother's side, casting tiny lightning bolts at Amos's cat to make her fur stand on end, but now spoke up. "Firstly, I have a name, and there's only two years difference 'twixt us anyway, so you needn't be calling me 'little brother' all the time. Furthermore, you're insulting my intelligence. I'm just as much a sorcerer as you, and I'm smart enough to have memorised that speech of yours by the fiftieth time you recited it."
"Mm-hm," Amos murmured, a smile beginning to tug at his lips. "If you remember it so well, why did you-"
"That wasn't my fault," Riccon protested. He crossed his arms and pouted. "You heard that merchant. He was insulting me. Said I looked more like a baby than a sorcerer. My reputation was on the line there. Is it not perfectly logical that I'd show him a bit o' the old Lochlan spitfire?"
"Well, it was also perfectly logical that your lightning bolt would ricochet and break something."
"It was not. I would've had to be a mathematician to see that coming. Besides, that tea set shouldn't've been there. It was asking to be broken."
"Right. 'Tis the tea set's fault."
"It most certainly is."
Amos sighed. "Well then, 'tis also the tea set's fault that we've got no money. And we still owe the innkeeper that eighty pence, mind you, and he's not going to give us any breakfast 'til we pay up."
"Fine, you've made your point. Can I leave yet? I have things to do."
"Like what?" Amos said, chuckling. "We can't go anywhere until we work off our debt, and we can't find a job 'til we continue travelling. Being a wandering sorcerer is hard work. Never a dull moment though, especially with you as a companion-and what'd you do to Una? Her fur's all frizzed, as though-" He was interrupted by the shutting of the door, announcing Riccon's departure.
Picking up his grey-striped cat, Amos spoke aloud to her, as he tried to smooth out her fur. "Hmph. There may only be two years difference between us, but Riccon acts like he's two, instead of seventeen, the wee upstart. Is that not the truth, Una?"
Like a good cat, Una purred in agreement.
# # #
As Riccon stepped out the front door of the inn, he gave a loud, shrill whistle, and held out a gloved right hand. Scarcely a moment passed before his hawk, Tahirah, flew from the roof spaces and alighted on his waiting fist. Absentmindedly feeding her a piece of dried mouse, Riccon ventured out into the street. Surprisingly, it was deserted. The town was a small one, so there wouldn't have been an especially large crowd anyway . . . but not a single person? Strange, but perhaps there was something happening in the town square. It certainly couldn't hurt to look. Turning his steps to the centre of town, Riccon shifting Tahirah to his shoulder and listened for any sounds aside from his own breathing.
It wasn't long before he began to hear quite a lot of noise-the sound of many voices all speaking at once. Sounded like a faire day. Riccon quickened his pace and, upon coming to the town square, saw what was causing the din. What looked to be the whole town was there, all of them talking, shouting, and jostling one another. At the centre of it all was a young wizard in scarlet robes, trying to be heard above the racket.
Riccon ducked and wove his way through the crowd, in an attempt to get close enough to hear what the wizard was saying. Finally, the wizard raised himself up on the tips of his toes and shouted, "Are there any sorcerers here? Anyone? I am paying twenty-thousand crowns! Will you lot please quiet down? Sacre bleu! I cannot hear myself think! Does no one wish to earn twenty-thousand crowns? For the love of heaven, quiet down!"
Riccon felt his heart skip a beat. Twenty-thousand crowns! Why, he could buy the whole country with that! Slipping away before anyone noticed him, he ran back to the inn where he and Amos were staying and bolted up the stairs. But when he reached for the doorknob, it wouldn't turn. Apparently, Amos had locked the door. Riccon spent the next few moments trying to jump up and see through the peephole, failing utterly, and swearing under his breath all the while. Not that he wasn't used to this sort of thing. It's difficult to see much of anything when you're five feet tall and built like a willow sapling.
Riccon pounded on the door and shouted, "Amos! Are you in there? Open the bloody door!"
His brother's voice came primly from within. "What's that you say, little brother?"
"I said, open the bloody door!"
"D'you ken something odd, Riccon? I think I must not be hearing you right, because I haven't heard you say the magic word."
"Amos, we're sorcerers! There are about a zillion magic words!"
"You ken which one I mean, little brother."
Riccon growled and kicked the door hard enough to make it rattle on its hinges. "Alright, please open the bloody door!"
As soon as the door stopped shaking, it opened to reveal Amos standing there, with that 'tsk tsk' look on his face. "Now, just think, you could've been in here long since if you had started out saying, 'Amos, it would appear that the door is locked. Will you please open it?' Instead, you very rudely -"
"Amos, stow the gab and listen a moment. In the town square -"
"A-hem. 'Tis also rude to interrupt. Furthermore, it seems to me that -"
"There's a wizard in the town square and he has a job for sorcerers and he's paying twenty-thousand crowns!"
For three full seconds there was silence. Then Amos spoke: "What?"
Riccon grinned. "D'you ken, Amos, 'what' isn't very polite. D'you not need to say the magic word?"
"Och, I know. Rules of polite behaviour only apply to me. Anyway, 'tis just as I said; there's this wizard out in the town square, looks bloody rich, gold embroidery all over his robes and stuff. Cousin Murdo could fleece him like a new-born lamb . . ."
"Get to the point, Riccon."
"Well, I couldn't get too close, there's a muckle crowd around him, but he's looking for sorcerers and he's paying twenty-thousand crowns. Can you bleedin' believe it?"
Amos frowned. "What does he want sorcerers for?"
Riccon shrugged. "I dunno that. D'you expect me to do everything? But think of the gold, Amos! Think what the chieftain will say when we bring him buckets o' treasure!"
"Well . . ." Amos thought about it. The chieftain would be pleased. And not just him, but the whole clan. A gift of thousands of crowns would bring such honour . . . "Well, there's no harm in at least making an inquiry into this. Come in here, little brother, and make yourself presentable."
Amos pulled Riccon into the room, closed the door, and began putting on his outer cloak. Then he snatched up his staff and waited impatiently as Riccon tried half-heartedly to smooth back his unruly raven locks. Amos's own dark brown hair had already been neatly combed, oiled, and queued that morning.
At last, when Riccon looked "like a civilised human being" (as Amos put it), they started for the exit. But scarce had Amos placed his hand upon the latch, when there came a polite tap at the door. The brothers looked at each other, and Amos opened it. Standing there was the very same wizard that Riccon had seen in the square, looking rather flustered.
"Hello?" he said. "I beg your pardon, but are-that is-are you two the sorcerers Amos and Riccon Lochlan?"
Amos drew himself up to his full height- a few inches taller than Riccon. "And what difference is that t'yerself, wizard?"
"Were either of you in the town square anytime in the last hour or so?"
The sorcerers exchanged glances again. Then Riccon very casually put his hands into the pockets of his robes. "Well . . . I might've walked by the general area. Why d'you ask?"
"Did you hear that the Wuldorian Guild of Wizardry is in need of a few sorcerers? And that these sorcerers will be paid most generously?"
Riccon nodded, looking nonchalant in the extreme. "That sounds sorta familiar. I think I heard something about it."
"And?" The wizard prompted, his voice carrying the tiniest edge of desperation. "You are interested, no?"
"Jings!" Amos exclaimed. "D'you expect us to agree to anything before you even tell us what you want sorcerers for?"
The wizard shuffled his feet. He tilted back his tall, pointed hat to wipe at his brow. He cleared his throat. Then he very carefully closed the door. "Firstly, give me your word of honour that you shall keep this information to yourselves."
Amos raised an eyebrow. "Why?"
"These are, ah-sensitive matters pertaining to the Guild. We would prefer that they remain private."
"And are these 'sensitive matters' anything that will get us chucked in jail?" Amos asked.
"Sacre bleu! We are an upright establishment, monsieur Lochlan. I think we follow the law, no?"
Amos shrugged. "Well, alright. I'll not be after spreading the word 'round about whatever this is. So, what is it? And how did you find us? And furthermore, what's your name?"
The wizard sniffed. "One question at a time, monsieur. My name is Montaniér. Godfrey E. Montaniér. I am a diplomat for the Wuldorian Guild of Wizardry, and, as such, I am sometimes sent out on tasks such as this one. As to the manner in which I became aware of your presence, someone in that insufferable crowd said that there were sorcerers in this inn-although he thought it necessary to warn me against mentioning the subject of personal height in the presence of the younger of the two."
"Well, I dunno what he even meant by that," Riccon interrupted. "He probably meant someone else."
"I am certain that you are correct. Now, as I was saying, I then simply asked the innkeeper if he was housing any sorcerers, and, if so, where. He kindly obliged me with a bit of information. And-ah. . . As to what the Guild wishes you to do-this small, easy task, which we will be paying you twenty-thousand crowns for, and which you gave me your absolute word of honour that you will not tell anyone about-we-ell . . ." Godfrey shuffled his feet again, and seemed to be looking for the right way to phrase his next sentence. "You see, our Arch Wizard, our dear leader, most powerful of all wizardkind, is-ill."
Riccon couldn't quite hide a snort of laughter.
Godfrey fixed the young sorcerer with a penetrating glare, and asked, his voice dripping icicles, "I beg your pardon, monsieur, but have I said something humorous?"
Despite a sharp kick to the shin from Amos, Riccon smiled and said, "Well, d'you not think you lads are overreacting a bit? Your Arch Wizard gets the sniffles and it's a matter of national security?"
Godfrey folded his arms, and his long sleeves draped down the front of his robes, making him look very much like an offended eagle. "I am afraid that the situation is rather more serious than, as you so quaintly put it, 'the sniffles'. The Arch Wizard (may all blessings be upon him) has contracted a puzzling malady, the symptoms of which include fever, chills, shaking, lethargy, an aversion to light, and some other, um-very concerning signs. We, that is, the Wuldorian Guild of Wizardry, sorted through our entire medical library, and at last found a few possible matches. We have pared down the various possibilities until but two remained-blue monkey fever, and a rare disease by the name of Aeger Tardusium."
"Isn't that a kind o' plant?"
Godfrey glared at Riccon once more before continuing. "And, seeing as the Arch Wizard has not come into recent contact with any blue monkeys, we are fairly certain that he has caught the Aeger-which, we are also fairly certain, is a disease, not a botanical species."
This time it was Amos that interrupted. "Um-look,
wizard . . ."
"Right, Mr. Montaniér, uh-d'you ken we're not healers? I mean, I can fix up a scrape or two, but it sounds like you'll be wanting a doctor."
A hint of a smile crept up Godfrey's lips. "Not to worry, Monsieur Lochlan. I do not, in fact, need a healer. What I need is a sorcerer, or, in your case, two sorcerers, who are able to travel quickly through the wilderness, and, of course, survive. You see, this disease, the Aeger Tardusium, is very, very rare. And, as such, no one has ever bothered to find a cure for it. Or so we thought.
"It has come to the Guild's attention that there is a sorcerer dwelling on the Southern tip of Admantia, who has made it his life's work to find cures for all manner of curious ailments, one of which is the Aeger. However, his cures are, to say the least, rather useless-the reason being that he makes no attempt to share them, and refuses to speak to anyone except other sorcerers. We sent several messages to him, promising rewards beyond imagination, but he only replied to the first of our entreaties; and that reply was terribly rude and included some rather salty language concerning his opinion of wizards."
"So," Amos said, "you want us to convince him to hand over the cure?"
"Well . . . basically, yes. First, of course, you must travel there, and you know how uncivilised Admantia is-no?"
Amos nodded. "Aye, we ken."
"Good. Secondly, once you are there, you must obtain the elixir however you are able-hopefully force will not be necessary, but one never knows. Then, when you have the elixir, you must hurry back to the Wuldorian Guild of Wizardry with all possible haste, and you will receive your reward. That is acceptable, hm?"
Amos nodded again. "Aye, that's acceptable. Especially the bit about the twenty-thousand crowns."
Riccon cleared his throat. "Aye, jolly good, but
there's something you haven't told us yet."
"And what might that be?"
"Well, and why's this whole thing so bloody secretive?"
For a moment Godfrey just stared at Riccon. Then he asked, very slowly, "Begging your pardon most humbly, but were you raised in a barn?"
Riccon raised his chin a touch more (he had already been gazing slightly skywards in order to look Godfrey in the eye) and said, "I'll have you know that my parents took great pains over my upbringing, and I'm exceptionally well educated!"
"Hm. It doesn't show."
"It does!" Riccon insisted, his cheeks reddening. "And what kind o' diplomat are you, anyway? Aren't you supposed to be more . . . diplomatic?"
"Only when I have to be. And at times I forget myself when I am presented with an astounding display of idiocy."
"Oh, really? Well, maybe my dagger could convince you to-"
Riccon was interrupted by a kick to his shin and a loud cough, both from Amos. "Calm yourself, little brother. Arguing doesn't help anyone. Mr. Montaniér, could you please explain to Riccon why you want this kept a secret?"
"Fine. Are you aware of the existence of a certain other so-called 'guild' that supposedly dabbles in magic, and may or may not have one or two actual wizards working for them?"
"D'you mean the Swevnian Guild of Wizardry?"
Godfrey sniffed contemptuously. "Yes. Though they do not deserve such a fine-sounding title. As it stands, this tawdry collection of misfits claims to be a rival guild (as if!), and they are constantly searching for any sign of weakness. If found, they would instantaneously pounce upon it and do what damage they could, inasmuch as such a pitiful batch of rejects could do anything. So, although we have little to fear from these so-called 'wizards', it still seems wise to refrain from advertising the fact that we currently have no Arch Wizard. Eh?"
"I guess that makes sense," Riccon admitted grudgingly.
"Of course it makes sense. And it also makes sense that we wish for our Arch Wizard to be fit and healthy as soon as possible. Are you ready to leave?"
"D'you not need to give us directions first?" Amos pointed out. "So we can find this sorcerer lad?"
"Oh, sacre bleu! Of course I must. All this travelling is beginning to fray my wits . . ." Godfrey continued mumbling under his breath as he reached into one of his voluminous silken sleeves and felt about, apparently looking for something. After several moments, he pulled out a transparent orb, about the size of a cabbage. "You are familiar with glow crystals, no?"
The two brothers looked at the orb, then at each other. Riccon cleared his throat. "Well, err-o' course we are! I mean, everyone kens about glow crystals. They're all over the place back home in Alba. Why, we've got bushels o' the bloody things. Absolutely . . ."
Godfrey didn't speak, as both Amos and Riccon nodded, all the while affirming their intimate knowledge of the crystals. Finally, the wizard sighed, and held up a hand for silence. "Alright, I am certain that you are both highly knowledgeable on the subject of glow crystals. However, I do not use them very often myself, so please watch and make sure that I am using it correctly. You can do that, eh?
"First, you set the crystal in a secure location where it will not roll away, or, if you must, you may hold it in the palms of your hands. Mind, both hands. We do not want you to break the crystal, yes? Then tap the crystal with the index finger of your left hand, and say aloud the name of he whom you wish to speak with. In this case, moi. There will appear to you an image of wherever my crystal happens to be at the time. It is much like a divining dish, except that there are two crystals, and communication is possible." There was just the barest suggestion of a wry smile as Godfrey asked, "So, that is correct, no?"
Riccon nodded imperiously. "Aye, it looks like you know what you're doing."
"Good. Now, I shall write down my name pour vous . . . to make certain you do not forget . . . " As he said this, Godfrey took a small writing tablet and a quill pen from his other sleeve , wrote his name in swashy cursive, and handed the paper to Amos. "Be very careful that you do not lose this paper, Monsieur Lochlan. You must say the entire name in order to contact me."
Riccon who had been reading over his brother's shoulder, winced. "'Godfrey Èteinne Pierre Mattieu François Alain Montaniér'. D'you mean we have to say that whole bloody thing every time we want to speak t'you?"
"I am afraid so."
"Begorra! Why couldn't you just have three names, like normal people?"
Godfrey smiled. "Well, that is the name which my parents chose for me, and who am I to question their decision? Besides, I rather like it."
"That's because you're not the one that has to say it," Riccon grumbled. "And they're all those unpronounceable Fennish names. How did you get into the Wuldorian Guild o' Wizardry with a name like that?"s because you
"I think they were more concerned with my magical ability than with my name. And
"you should be more concerned about the journey ahead of you. All you need to do is travel to Admantia and turn Southwards, and I shall give you more comprehensive directions through the glow crystal. You are ready to depart, no?"
Riccon shuffled his feet. "Err-well, I sorta owe the innkeeper eighty pence, and he was going t'make me work it off, so-"
Godfrey sighed again, then reached into his sleeve and pulled out a leather purse. He counted thirty pence and gave them to Riccon. "Here. Take this, and be off."
Riccon grinned and shook Godfrey's hand. "Sure, and you wizards are decent lads after all! I think we're ready to leave."
As the sorcerers began packing their haversacks, Godfrey pointed to Tahirah, still perched on Riccon's shoulder. "That bird of yours-it cannot speak?"
Riccon shook his head. "Naah, Tahirah's a hawk, and not a magical one. your secret's safe with us!"
"You are certain?"
# # #
"Riccon, are you sure about that?"
Riccon unrolled the map and glanced at the surrounding terrain. " 'Course I'm sure. 'Twas just by veering off Southeast at first that got us off track. But, look, according to the map, we should walk due West for a while, then Southwest. Then we'll be in that forest there. . . That is a forest, innit? Jings, who drew this thing? Is that a forest or a lake? Och, well. I guess we'll find out. . . Anyways, then all we have to do is make it over here and-"
"Let me see that." Amos took hold of half the map and examined it. "you say we're here? But that's a mountain range. . ."
Riccon shook his head. "Wrong continent. you're looking at Fennus."
"Oh. So I am. Then where d'you say we are?"
"Right about here, on the Paylian Flatlands. It looks flatland-ish 'round here, doncha think?"
"Aye, I s'pose it does. So, which direction are we going now? West, is it?"
"Right y'are, brother. Due West."
Needing no further confirmation, Amos reached into his haversack and took out his lodestone. He dangled it by its string for a moment, until it stopped spinning, then marked the direction the stone pointed. "Alright, little brother. We'd best be off."
Riccon didn't answer, but kept pace with Amos as they began walking.
# # #
"Riccon, where are we?" Amos took hold of the front of his brother's robes and pulled him closer, so their noses almost touched. "you said that we'd be in the forest by three-o-the-clock! 'Tis nearing evening, and all I see is grass!"
"Now, Amos, I'm sure -"
"Oh, 'tis sure you are? It so happens that that's what you said yestreen, and what you said this morning, and what you said at noon, and every time you've said that to me, 'tis been a bald-faced lie! I'll trust a mole selling long ships before I trust your word again!"
Amos released Riccon's robes, and they stood there, Amos red-faced and scowling, and Riccon looking down at the ground. After a minute or two, Riccon rested his staff in the crook of his arm and took the map out of his haversack. He studied it for a moment, then shook it in an attempt to smooth out some of the wrinkles, but instead the increasing breeze nearly blew it out of his hands.
"Alright, Amos, I really think I know what happened. It wasn't entirely my fault. Y'see, we only checked the direction once, and when everything looks the same like this, 'tis easy to get off course."
"So where are we now?"
"I think 'tis up here we are. Just South of Callryand province." Riccon shuffled his feet uncomfortably. "Though, on second thought, we could also be-"
Amos sighed and snatched the map. "Give me that. you didn't have any idea where we were going in the first place, did you? Now I'll have to-"
"Give that back, you big bully!" Riccon interrupted, whisking the map away. "I can figure it out."
"You had your chance, and you got us lost! I'll take charge of the navigation. Now hand over the bloody map!" Amos grasped a corner of the map and managed to take it back. Riccon, however, was not about to let him keep it, and very nearly tore the paper in half while trying to yank it out of Amos's grasp. In a moment they were both on the ground, in a tangle of robes and staves, fighting over the map.
"Give it back!"
"It's my map!"
"It is not!"
"Is too, you great big bully!"
"Stop that! You'll rip it!"
"I'd sooner rip it than let you have it!"
"Give it back!"
Amos at last succeeded in loosening Riccon's grip on the paper, the younger sorcerer tried to grab it again, Amos stopped him-then realised that neither one of them was holding anything. "The map!" he cried. "Where is it?"
Riccon pointed to an off-white rectangle being borne away on the rising wind. "There!"
Both sorcerers were fairly good runners, but the light-weight parchment was fast disappearing from sight, even as they chased after it. Riccon tried to put on an extra burst of speed, but instead he tripped and fell sprawling on the grass-directly in front of Amos, who also tripped, and landed on top of his brother. They both attempted to rise, fell over each other, and finally managed to get to their feet, muttering strings of questions and complaints.
"Arrah! Where has that bloody map got to now?"
"How do I know?"
"Now we'll never find it."
"It's your fault, you big nitwit. 'Tis yerself that can figure out where we are from now on. I'm not going to help you at all."
Amos sighed. "Riccon, an attitude like that won't help anything."
"Good," Riccon said, sitting down on the grass. "You obviously don't think you need any help, so I'll not give you any."
"Riccon . . ." Amos looked up at the sky for a moment, then sat down beside his brother. "I'm sorry I yelled at you, little brother. Will you ever forgive me?"
"If I promise to never do it again, will you forgive me?"
Riccon took a moment to think about it. "I guess so."
"Good, then let's be on our way. I don't think we can find the map now, but we can try to find a town or some such thing. Somewhere to ask for directions." Amos stood and held out a hand, which Riccon took and also stood.
"Well," Riccon said, "We ought to walk west. I think there's a town that way."
"Alright, little brother," Amos said, figuring that they couldn't be much worse off no matter which direction they chose. He shaded his eyes and scanned the meadow. "Where did Una and Tahirah get to? We didn't leave them behind with all that running, did we?"
Riccon smiled, and whistled loudly. Then he held out a gloved hand, and within a few seconds Tahirah swooped out of the sky and landed on her usual perch. Riccon transferred her to his shoulder, grinning. "Tahirah never gets lost. Though I'm not so sure about your fat kitty."
Amos frowned. "Una's not fat. She's just well-fed." He looked over the meadow again, and called his cat's name several times. Receiving no response, he dug in his haversack for a moment and pulled out a small leather sack. "Una!" he called, shaking the bag. "Una! I've got your dinner, machree!"
Instantly a grey head popped up from the grass. "Mrowr?"
Amos shook the bag a little harder, and eventually Una waddled over and stood at his feet, meowing pitifully. Amos picked the cat up and deposited her in his haversack, along with a portion of his trail rations, as he tried not to notice the way that Riccon was smirking. "Alright, let's be along now. We've wasted enough daylight."
Riccon, still looking smug, took the lead and started on his way up a small hill. "As soon as we get to the top o' this hill, we'll have a bit o' a vantage point, and I'll decide where best to head next. I'm thinkin' West, but you can't be sure until you can see something. D'you remember the time we were lost in the forest? I got us out o' that, right? So you just trust me, and I'll see us right. Aye, I could be a professional navigator if I wished to, 'tis just . . ." Riccon trailed off, as he crested the hilltop, and stood, staring. Then, suddenly, he began to laugh.
Amos quickened his pace, though it was a little difficult to climb while carrying thirty pounds of cat. "What? D'you see something?"
Riccon just continued laughing, and pointed. Amos finally made it to the hilltop, and saw what his brother found so amusing.
"A town! Riccon, 'tis a town!"
"Aye," Riccon replied, still chuckling. "Did I not tell you I'm a fine navigator?"