“There’s something wrong with Swain,” Marty said. He, Chandler, and Rudy had sneaked away from the refectory, and were eating their supper in Master Fitzgerald’s workshop. After years of having the college nearly to themselves, they were overwhelmed by all the new people, and with their new responsibilities.
“You mean, he’s sick?” Chandler asked. Good, he thought. Maybe Marty can be his healer. He’s getting very good, and it’s unfair that the temple people won’t make him an official healer just because he won’t take temple oaths. He’s gotten over his concerns that they’re priests, and all, but still, there’s a barrier. He was hurt so badly by the church back home.
“No, not sick, but…I don’t know…not clean,” Marty said.
“Huh?” Rudy asked. “He bathes with us every day, and he’s always trading scrubs with someone.”
“Not his body,” Marty said. “More like…like his life force.”
“His boy magic?”
“No…something deeper,” Marty said. “Like…what I saw when that man died.”
Chandler and Rudy exchanged looks. They knew what Marty meant, and they understood his reluctance to talk about it. A decade or so ago, just before arriving at the college, Marty had pulled at the hand of a man who was attacking Chandler. The man’s flesh disintegrated at Marty’s touch, and Marty had seen a glow leaving the man. He’d believed at the time that the glow had been the man’s life force. Now, Marty pushed away his supper and sat quietly, staring at the myriad points of light reflected in the polished top of the workbench.
“Have you told anyone?” Chandler asked.
“Just you two,” Marty said. “Do you think I’m crazy?”
“No!” Chandler said. “You see—well, you see a lot that the rest of us don’t see.”
“Remember what Master Fitzgerald said?” Rudy asked. It was a rhetorical question, and he answered it himself. “When a person kills, the act leaves a mark on them. The mark can be seen, with practice, by a magic user.
“I think,” Rudy continued, “that you’re seeing something like that mark. And, I think Master Fitzgerald needs to know about it, right away!”
“But he’s gone home, and we cannot leave the college,” Marty said. The college’s importance to the war meant that the students were restricted to the college after dark. There were soldiers guarding the front door and the stable door—the only exits from the complex of buildings and courtyards. “We’d never get past the guards,” Marty concluded.
Rudy winked. “Follow me,” he said.
From the lowest level of the underground complex of workshops, Rudy led Marty and Chandler through several dozen yards of tunnels and stopped before a blank, stone wall. He looked at Marty and Chandler. “You guys…this is my secret. I’ll show you, but you must promise not to tell…”
“We promise,” Chandler said. Marty nodded. That was sufficient for Rudy. He spread his arms and touched two particular stones. The entire wall slid upward. Chandler’s mage-lit ring revealed another tunnel. This one was dank, festooned with moss, and stank.
“Sewer?” Chandler asked.
“No duh!” Marty replied. “My turn,” he added. He gestured.
“I can’t smell!” Rudy said, touching his nose.
“Not for about an hour,” Marty said.
Master Fitzgerald was surprised when the boys appeared at his house after vespers. He listened to what Marty had to say, and agreed with the boys’ assessment. “You were right to tell me. We must return to the college immediately. Where are your guards?”
“Um, we don’t have any,” Rudy said.
“You sneaked out?” Master Fitzgerald asked.
“Um, yes, Master,” Chandler said. I hope a confession will forestall further questions, he thought.
Master Fitzgerald looked hard at Chandler, but said, “We must hurry. Curfew falls soon. Tyler and Greg will escort us.” Master Fitzgerald had been cautioned not to go abroad, even in the city, without an escort.
Marty sat at a table in the refectory with Masters Fitzgerald and Brandt. Two of the soldiers brought in Swain, who had been summoned from bed. Swain might have looked puzzled; however his eyes were too full of sleep for Marty to be sure.
“Who are you?” Master Brandt asked. Before Swain could answer, the mage added. “We know you are not who you claim to be; we know you are not from Valparasio; and we know that you did not arrive on the Morning’s Light. You see, that ship belongs to the grandsons of Master Fitzgerald, and those boys escorted him to the school. We have had ample opportunity to discuss their recent voyages, none of which were to Valparasio.”
Marty saw the fear in Swain’s eyes change to hatred and then to…glee? Marty reacted; he held out his hands in front of himself and shouted, “No!” as a yellow bolt of light left Swain’s hands, to disappear into a wall of blue smoke that Marty had erected between Swain and the others. Master Fitzgerald gestured, and Swain’s hands, which had been grasping for magic, froze in place.
“Marty, does he have any more of those missiles?” Master Fitzgerald asked.
“Huh?” Marty asked. His voice shook. “I…I don’t know…”
“Look at him. What do you see inside him?”
“Oh,” Marty said. He was still shaking, but he understood what Master Fitzgerald meant. Marty focused the same power he used for medical diagnosis, and looked at Swain. “There’s nothing like that, but the…the darkness…it’s bigger? Definitely stronger.”
“Thank you, Marty. Perhaps it is time you left the room.”
Marty’s stomach fell. At least, it felt as if it had. “No, Master, I want to see this through.”
Master Fitzgerald looked at Marty, and then exchanged glances with Master Brandt. “This may be unpleasant, Marty. You…”
“I discovered him; I stopped his attack,” Marty said. “It is my right…and it is Right. I know it.”
“Very well,” Master Fitzgerald said. “On your oath, say and do nothing…except to defend, perhaps…” The mage stopped talking, and thought for several minutes. Then he said, “Do what you think best, Marty.”
Marty nodded, and turned to face Swain. “Who are you?” he asked, and looked hard at the boy while he waited for an answer.
“He was from Eblis, and he was a spy,” Marty told Rudy and Chandler. “He had murdered the real Swain, and had taken his place. Master Fitzgerald said to tell you that much, and to tell you not to speak of this to anyone.”
“What will happen to him?” Rudy asked.
Marty’s voice was flat and cold. “It already has. He’s dead.”
“Oh, Marty!” There was anguish in Chandler’s voice.
“No, not I,” Marty said after he returned Chandler’s hug. “The Baron. He came to hear from Master Fitzgerald what we had discovered. He stayed to be the executioner. He…he said he would not ask one of his men to do something he would not do himself. He said that the boy’s blood was on his hands, in any case. He…he told Swain…” Marty was crying, now, and his words were gasped out between sobs. “He told Swain he…he hoped he would find the Light…and he…he killed him…it was magic…I saw it…Swain…his name was really Burke…he smiled…” Marty found himself smothered by his two friends, who held him until he stopped crying.
Marty had declined Master Fitzgerald’s offer to elevate him to journeyman. “Third lesson…,” he said. “Don’t do magic—”
Master Fitzgerald interrupted by putting his hand on Marty’s arm. “But you must have known…how else could you have shielded…” He stopped when he saw the look in Marty’s eyes. “You didn’t know? Oh, my. I thought it was something you’d learned at the temple.”
“What’s wrong, Marty,” the mage continued when Marty merely stood, mute.
“They aren’t teaching me anything, really. It’s all rite and ritual, and since I won’t swear to be a novice, they won’t let me…let me do anything but clean up. It’s a good thing they haven’t invented bedpans, or I’d be changing those, too. I’ve figured out a few things, like how to stop my nose from working when I’m cleaning up their messes, but…”
Master Fitzgerald’s eyes hardened as Marty answered the mage’s questions. Then, he smiled. “Marty, if you agree, you will not return to the temple.” Marty nodded, and Master Fitzgerald continued. “You have keen sight; you can control magic with your will, alone. You know the danger of it, and you have been very circumspect.
“The shield you erected seemed exactly like one that a journeyman might erect using a spell; yet you did it much faster than anyone…including Master Brandt or me…could have. Perhaps we need to reconsider Lesson Three.
“And, the baron has a job for you. He wants you to examine everyone at the college, the temple, and in the army for the darkness you saw in Swain…Burke. And, he wants you to teach other mages what to look for. It seems, Marty, that you have a very important talent, and that you are a very important person.”
A morning several months later found Marty, Chandler, and Rudy, in Master Fitzgerald’s workroom. “Marty?” Master Fitzgerald’s puzzlement was apparent in the inflection of his voice. “What are those characters?”
Marty blushed. He’d been doodling rather than writing the spells he was to have learned. “It’s a story I learned as a child. I wrote in my grandmother’s language. I didn’t lose Navajo like we lost some of our English when we came through the gate. I’ve…well, it’s something from my past that I just don’t want to forget.”
“I understand,” Master Fitzgerald said. “Or, I think I do. You’ve lost so much, you want to keep what little you have, eh?”
Master Fitzgerald made a decision that was to echo for centuries. “Marty, some years ago there came to this college a set of books. Three of those books bore characters such as those. We have never been able to understand the books. Would you like to see them?” Marty nodded.
Master Fitzgerald removed six books from a cabinet and put them on the workbench in front of Marty. “This one is written almost exclusively in those characters,” he said. “This one, only partly full, is the same. These three appear to be translation dictionaries. One contains the characters of your grandmother’s tongue as well as roman characters which we use to write Old Elvish, modern Elvish, and the common tongue. One is written in a language that is nearly Old Elvish, and another which we cannot read.”
Marty picked up the first book Master Fitzgerald had indicated, and opened it. His eyes grew wide. “I can read this!”
He scanned the first few pages. “Well, actually I can read some of it. The characters are the same, except for a couple. And some of the words…they’re not Navajo …what my mother taught me.
“This is a diary. May I have paper, please?”
A tenday later, Marty presented several sheets of paper to Master Fitzgerald, and stood silently while the mage read.
“Marty? Are you sure?” Master Fitzgerald asked. Marty nodded.
“Do you believe that this boy is from your world?” the mage asked.
“I want to believe that, Master,” Marty said. “But there is something wrong. Actually, there are several somethings that are very wrong. The alphabet isn’t quite right; some of the words I just don’t know—but that may be my fault. But, the real problem is that the capital city is wrong. The borders of the reservation—the territory in which he lived—are wrong.
“You said that many worlds touched this one. I think that this one is like mine, but is not mine.”
Marty showed Chandler what he’d translated. “See, here, he says his people know how to open a sipapu—the spirit hole in a kiva that leads between worlds. He knows how to create a gate. But the chant! It’s not here. He says it’s not here.”
Chandler wiped Marty’s tears from the boy’s face. “But now we know it is possible,” Chandler said. “We didn’t know that, before. And there’s no better place to explore than here, don’t you think?
“Master Fitzgerald promised to help us try to find a way home,” Chandler continued. “Marty, I like this world, but I love you more. I will do everything I can to take you home. I said that once. Never forget it.”
Marty nodded, and then hugged his friend. “What Master Fitzgerald said? About Light and Dark? Good and Evil? Evil attracting Good? Chandler, I love you more than my own life. I know that this is where you belong. And where you belong, I belong. Yeah, I’ll study these books, but there are a lot more important things to do if we’re going to be…well, warriors of the Light.
“And,” he said, “I’m so very happy that we’re doing that, together.”
In the summer heat, the “old boys” had carried duvets onto the roof. Nazrie woke first. “What’s that?” he mumbled. A gong echoed across Barrone. Marty, who had fallen asleep next to Nazrie, sat up. The repeating gong-gong was louder, now, and was joined by a higher pitched clang-clang-clang.
Marty stood, and stepped gingerly over naked limbs as he walked to the parapet. He gasped. “Fire!” he called. “Fire in the harbor. It’s a ship!”
Rudy was next to the parapet. The burning ship was just over a mile away, but the flames lit the boy’s face and his red hair. “It’s drifting toward the wharf!” he said. He was right. In the minutes that had passed, the ship had moved noticeably closer to the main wharf where dozens of ships were moored.
“Fire ship,” Nazrie said. “Its lines? It’s not Arcadian or Elven. This is an attack.” The elven tween’s eyesight had discerned what the humans could not; his calm turned their excitement into resolve.
“We must do something,” Marty said. “Chandler, you could—”
“Do nothing,” Chandler finished Marty’s sentence. “Lesson 3: Don’t do magic unless you know what you’re doing.” Chandler stood behind the other boys. They did not see the flush that came to his face. Not two weeks ago, he’d hurt Cody—badly—when a prank backfired. No one had seen it but the boys, and Chandler was sure none had tattled on him, not even Cody, but Chandler was also sure that Master Fitzgerald knew.
“But Chandler,” Marty said. “You know what to do. Pull the heat from the fire and it will go out!”
“And where does the heat go?” Chandler asked. “And what if there’s someone on the ship and I pull the heat from their body? And what if…” His voice trailed off into silence broken only by the gong-gong and clang-clang-clang.
“The heat goes into the air, high above the ship,” Marty said.
“Widely diffused!” Rudy added, quickly.
“There is no one…no one alive, that is…on the ship,” Nazrie added. “And time is of the essence.”
Rudy and Marty each took one of Chandler’s hands, and gave it a quick squeeze of reassurance, before releasing it.
“Okay,” Chandler muttered, still a little unsure, but given courage by his friends’ words and touch. He raised his hands and swept them through the matrix, gathering power. He imagined a whirlpool spinning…and almost lost the image wondering if the whirlpool should spin clockwise or counterclockwise in the southern hemisphere. Focus, Chandler! he thought.
“I…I can’t do it!” Chandler gasped. “The fire…it’s too strong…there’s magic in it…”
“Yes, you can,” Marty said. Oh Chandler! Try, try! You can… Marty urged silently until his thoughts were interrupted by an overwhelming feeling of fullness and flowing. Marty felt power bridged the space between himself and Chandler. Marty could see the glow as he pulled power from the matrix and funneled it to Chandler. Like the shield he erected between himself and Swain, he knew what he was doing was right, even though he didn’t know how he knew, or how he did what he did.
Chandler felt the power, raised his hands, and placed the tip of the imaginary and invisible whirlpool onto the ship. He willed the heat and the magical energy that fueled the fire to rise and dissipate into the air. As fast as thought, the fire guttered to extinction.
“Wow!” Rudy said.
“Come on! Let’s go to the dock and see!” Marty began.
“We’re under curfew,” Rudy said.
“You didn’t care last market when we sneaked out—” Cody began, and then clapped his hand over his mouth.
“It’s okay, Cody,” Jacob said. “We already knew. Who do you think fooled Master MacMartin into thinking you and Rudy were in bed together?”
Rudy talked Marty, Chandler, and Nazrie into going with him. They reached the docks just in time to be intercepted and challenged by a decuria of city guardsmen. “We’re mages,” Rudy asserted boldly, “from the college. We heard the fire bell, and saw the flames.”
“True enough, boy,” the decurion said. “But not enough of the truth. The fire’s been out for some time. You…” he turned to Chandler, who appeared to be the oldest tween.
“Was anyone hurt?” Chandler asked. “Was anyone hurt!” he demanded when the decurion ignored his question.
“No one on shore,” the decurion said. I don’t know…wait…here’s the boat.”
The squeak of oarlocks heralded the arrival of a dory. The boat bumped against the wharf. A tween in army tabard shinnied up the ladder and reported to the decurion. “The ship’s covered with ice! It’s still afloat. The harbor master has put a line on it, and his crew have it in tow.”
“Was anyone hurt!” Chandler demanded of the boy.
“No,” the young soldier replied. “Why would anyone have been?”
“No reason,” Chandler said. “We’re not needed here.” He turned to the decurion and gestured to the light in the eastern sky. “It’s almost dawn. Curfew’s over, now.”
The decurion nodded, his mind was on more important things than four boys who’d sneaked out to see a fire. Chandler took Marty and Rudy’s arms, and urged them away. Nazrie followed more slowly.
Chandler sealed the door to Master Fitzgerald’s workroom. Marty looked puzzled. “What…?”
“Marty, what you did...giving me the power to put out that fire? I couldn’t have done it without that. Marty, that’s why you came here with me. Whoever or whatever brought us here...they let some things in and kept some things out. They wouldn’t let the m…m… the thing we were riding on…come into the world. They didn’t let in the other stuff that didn’t belong here. But they did let you in. You are meant to be here. We are meant to be here. We are meant to be together.
“The day we came to Barrone I told you I loved you. I’ve told you that again and again. Marty, I will love you forever…”
“Chandler, I love you, and I will love you forever,” Marty said.
This story began with a single line in the first chapter of "Book of Heroes: George of Sedona." It will conclude in the final chapter of that story, to be published on Saturday, May 8th
Thank You for Reading!
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