Leryn shivered in the chill dawn, hating the way his boots felt. It took several minutes for them to warm up and lose the stiffness the endless mist imbued them with. Everything he owned was damp and the fire had refused to burn that morning.
Apparently using magic to make the fire burn was not appropriate, despite the fact the first thing his instructors showed him was a fire spell.
They had taught it to him, laughed when he screwed it up, and then Merlin had cautioned him against using it except in the direst of emergencies. “Never use magic unless you absolutely must—it alerts other, less desirable creatures to your presence. You don’t want that.”
Bramblestein had agreed, and their unusual accord impressed the truth of their caution on Leryn more than anything. Merlin remained silent as Bramblestein cautioned Leryn that laziness could lead a sorcerer down the dark path.
“Merlin’s first apprentice never took craftsmanship seriously. He was lazy, and when he discovered a source of easy power, he was snared. Of course, Mordred was always too smart for his own good, and he was not always truthful.”
Thus, that morning Leryn and his two instructors had enjoyed yet another cold breakfast of bread on the edge of turning moldy, washed down with stale ale.
True to his word, Merlin’s alter ego, Ambrose, had ‘departed for Londown’ the same day Leryn, Bramblestein, and Merlin left Bleakbourne on Heath. Unfortunately, Merlin was in a stubborn mood and refused to take on the persona of Noman, the aspect of his character Leryn liked best.
“I’ve accomplished all I can by skulking and hanging about in the shadows,” Merlin had said when Leryn came downstairs to find him there. “Bramblestein wants to relocate to Londown as his work takes him there too frequently, so I will reclaim my tower. Mordred suspects I’m in the area anyway. This way he won’t have to hunt me down.”
Without the various glamours with which the wizard had concealed his identity, Merlin was a tall, exceptionally lean man, appearing to be in his mid-forties, with red hair turning white. His ears were definitely pointed, displaying his elven heritage, and his beard, as it grew in, was more red than white. His features were a composite of Noman and Ambrose but heavily lined, as if he carried many burdens.
Over the course of the week they had been on the road, he had shown himself to be short-tempered, argumentative, and impatient. However, he did have a dry sense of humor, and when he and Bramblestein weren’t squabbling, he was a pleasant companion.
They had left Bleakbourne and followed the River Heath north, then turned west, entering the country of Wēalas. Leryn was frequently caught between the two ill-tempered old men arguing the finer points of magic craft, either one of whom would suddenly remember they were supposedly teaching him magic. At that point, they would then require him to do some inane task which had nothing to do with magic and everything to do with humiliation.
Ignoring their bickering, Leryn rode along with his writing case set before him on the saddle-bow, adding to his map. The day passed miserably, but judging from his companions’ comments they were arriving at their destination.
“Put away your toys and pay attention to your surroundings, boy. You may need to be able to get back here someday. ”
Merlin’s gruff comment didn’t endear him to Leryn. “And the map I am making will help me do just that. But I can finish it later if it makes you happy.” Refraining from sighing, he packed his case into his saddlebag.
Bramblestein said, “Maps are easily lost or stolen, and show others how to get to places they don’t need to go.”
Ignoring the dwarf’s comment, Merlin said, “The top of this hill is where the marker is. If you miss it you’ll never find the path.”
The road was steep and the horses worked to make the climb. Leryn knew they approached the low summit, but the dense forest precluded seeing any panoramic view. At last, the road seemed to level out and Merlin halted them, but otherwise it was difficult to tell if they were at the top or not.
The two wizards sat in their saddles, looking at Leryn expectantly.
Leryn looked around, seeing nothing out of the ordinary.
“Well?” Bramblestein glared at the bard. “What do you think?”
“I think we’ve arrived someplace where you want me to make some attempt at finding a magical construct I am unable to see. You will chastise me, pointing out what should have been obvious. Otherwise, I’m without a clue.”
Merlin snorted. “Brilliant observation.”
“You’ve a bad attitude, boy.” Bramblestein’s yellow hat nearly leaped off his head with his indignation. “Keep it up and you’ll be a miserable failure. Lives depend on what we do and what we know. Now, what do you see?”
Despite his frustration with the whole process, Leryn made the effort. “I see a forest of yew and beech. The low shrubs and ferns look no different than anywhere else. That linden looks out of the ordinary, as they don’t usually grow at higher altitudes, but otherwise, nothing.”
“You aren’t as dim as you pretend,” replied the dwarf. He and Merlin dismounted, with Bramblestein dropping to the ground and landing nimbly on his feet. Leryn also dismounted, wondering what he’d be required to do next.
“It’s your house, so you lead,” Bramblestein said to Merlin. “You,” he said to Leryn, “will watch what he does and learn. A test will follow.”
Having been through this before, Leryn understood the dwarf meant “commit this to memory.” Since he’d been trained as a bard, memorization was second nature. The tedium of the journey, in general, had interfered with his ability to pay attention. The challenge of actually working with magic, however, was becoming absorbing.
Gazing at the linden tree, Merlin gestured, and in sonorous tones, said “Viam, en aperit.” The words were, as always, spoken in the old, dead language of the Romani. Leryn knew the vocal tones and gesture were as important as the words of the spell, but the most important component was the intent of the caster.
With the casting of the spell, the linden vanished. A path appeared through the undergrowth. Leading his horse, Leryn followed Merlin, halting when he did.
He turned to Bramblestein, expecting to see him cast the closing spell. Instead, the dwarf winked at Merlin and said, “Our bored protégée should have some idea of how this works by now. I think he should take it from here, don’t you agree?”
Merlin grinned. “Oh, absolutely. He’s a smart man—let’s see if he can figure this one out.”
Leryn pictured Merlin casting the spell, recalling the words the wizard had spoken, the tones, and his gestures. Merlin had cast the spell for opening, so the two sorcerers wanted him to close the way. By now, he understood well that magic was a science of symmetry. This meant he had to reverse the spell Merlin had cast.
Thus…if “Viam, en aperit” meant “open the way,” he would need to “close the way.” But it seemed too simple—would Merlin have been so obvious when he originally set the spell?
Viam, en aperit…the “en” was an “unword,” a syllable that meant nothing but was inserted for symmetry. Without that syllable, the way would remain hidden. Leryn had done this enough to know that the number of syllables and pauses in the recitation were critical, so the closing spell required the same number of syllables, with the pauses in the same places. The gesture would have to be done accurately but in reverse.
All the Romani words Leryn knew for “closing” were either too short or too long for symmetry. Too long a word would not work at all. He would have to choose a shorter word, which would require an extra, closing unword or the two spells wouldn’t be symmetrical.
Also, he had discovered the hard way that you couldn’t use the same unword twice in one spell. Unconsciously he touched the scabbed-over burn on his forehead, the reminder of how critical getting the spell just right could be.
His mind revolved around the fundamental law of symmetry… En was the lead-in unword, which had to be made past tense, so it would be ent. This also meant un or la was the trailing syllable. While a simple spell for closing would most likely not set his hair on fire, he didn’t want to find out what the repercussion would be.
He chose un, hoping for the best.
Picturing what he wanted as clearly as he could, Leryn raised his hand and gestured, saying “close the way” in Romani, adding the two unwords, his voice as sonorous as Merlin’s had been. “Clauder, ent viam un.”
The linden tree appeared, and then vanished.
Merlin tsked. “You have to mean it when you say it. You must want nothing more than to have the way closed. Remember, you only get three tries or the magic will lock you out.” The wizard stood with his arms crossed while Leryn attempted the spell again, and this time, the linden tree remained.
“At least, he had the symmetry right the first time,” muttered Bramblestein. “He may do well at this after all.”
“Pain is a marvelous teacher,” replied Merlin. “Fortunately his hair will grow back.”
The three remounted, with the dwarf tugging on the strap holding the rolled rope-ladder he used for mounting his horse and climbing back into his saddle. Once mounted, he reeled the ladder back up, and they took the path that led down into the dense forest.
They came to an ancient grove. Slightly above the copse was what looked like two natural holes in the side of a hill, almost like eyes. When Leryn looked hard at them, he could see, set back inside by several feet, the two entrances had been bricked up. One hole contained a circular window and the other an arched door.
“There’s a byre around to the rear for the horses.” Merlin led them around the hill to a small meadow that lay beside the stream, enclosed by a withy fence. A small, three-sided shed stood in the enclosure, just large enough to offer the horses shelter from the elements. “We’ll leave them here for now.” Carrying their tack, the three men trudged to the back door. It looked similar to the one in front but was flanked by two circular windows.
All around, the thick forest rose, hiding the sky. The sounds of the stream penetrated the silence. Merlin rapped on the door in a specific pattern and Leryn observed closely, memorizing the sequence. The door swung open, as freely and silently as if the hinges had been oiled the day before.
The cave was comprised of five rooms. It was well-furnished, comfortable, and much larger inside than Leryn would have guessed. One chamber was Merlin’s bedroom, another held two extra beds. Two rooms appeared to be store-rooms. The large, central room contained a good-sized wooden table flanked by padded benches which provided the only seating, and a large fireplace was centered in the room. A tall bench stood to one side, clearly for preparing food. On the far wall, another bench held tools and the strange instruments of an alchemist.
Books filled the many shelves lining the walls, more books than Leryn had ever seen in one home.
Merlin broke the silence. “This was my master’s home, and is where I was raised.” He looked around, with an inscrutable expression. “Emydin was a great man. He found me in Londown and saved my life. This is where I’ve been for most of the last few years, until recently.”
“Where you’ve holed-up feeling sorry for yourself, you mean.” Bramblestein snorted. “You only come out to check on things in Bleakbourne, forcing me to babysit that monstrosity of a tower.”
Instead of rising to the bait, Merlin shrugged. “You two get settled and I’ll fix supper. Tomorrow is going to be a long day if we’re going to get the amount of wood we’ll need.”
Leryn stood by a round window, gazing at the dark woods. Having ridden through that dark forest, he would no more have set an ax to a tree there than he would his own foot. And, he remembered old Scutter’s tale of the Killing Wood.
The next day would prove interesting, that was sure.
Bleakbourne on Heath” © 2016 – 2017 Connie J. Jasperson, All Rights Reserved
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