Thursday, June 21, 2012

Excerpt: Hereward's Tale

This is just a little bit from the novel that I'm trying to get published right now, Hereward's Tale.

On the third anniversary of coming to the tower, Ward felt that he had been there for a lifetime. His life in Whitton had faded away to a hazy memory. The only faces he could recall from that time were those of his parents, Erek Woodward, and Brynna. Even the once-hated face of Eduard Reeve had grown fuzzy and indistinct. The things he remembered of the reeve were his calloused hands, the golden buckle on his belt and the smell of its leather. The tower had become his world, encompassing him within it and yet allowing him the freedom to go to any corner of Arunë with the turn of a page. He could not imagine what his life would be like now where he still in Whitton.

That morning he discovered a new set of robes at his bedside. It was composed of a brown gown and a green mantle, which he tried on at once. It was embroidered with yellow thread that described patterns of swirling leaves along its edges. He felt good wearing it, powerful, wizardly, though he knew no magic. He left his room to do his chores and began to wonder where his master was. He was not in the library, nor in the practice rooms. It was only when all the cleaning was done that he checked the study, to find the old mage sitting in a chair and staring out the window.

Spring was on the swamp again, and something seem to be troubling him. Ward approached him slowly, his new leather shoes squeaking as he walked. “Master?” he asked.

“Ahhh,” said Corvinus, turning. “Did you have breakfast?”

“I did. Did you want some master?” Ward gestured to the door. “I can fetch you something.”

 “No, my boy,” he said. “No. I am simply... I’m concerned, that’s all. No news from the hunt. How could whatever it is be hiding for so long?”

“Perhaps it sleeps in the winter,” said Ward. “Or migrates? There are other swamps nearby, aren’t there? You said Lomere was all swampland.”

"Yes,” said Corvinus thoughtfully. “Yes, both of those are possible. We’ll know when we discover what it truly is, I think. But sit, today you will get another present.”

Ward smiled. “I got it master. Didn’t you see?” He plucked at the robes. “Thank you! They’re very... wizardly. I feel as though I could pick a fight with a knight or an ogre and win!”

Corvinus chuckled. “Be careful yet, my boy. You’re too young to know any magic, and everyone will know it. But that’s not the present I meant. You simply needed a new robe. No, no, sit down.” He pointed to a nearby chair. “And pull your chair over here.” The wizard scooted his chair around, and Ward scrambled to follow his master’s orders. “Today,” said Corvinus. “Today! We shall begin the rudiments of magic.”

Ward gasped and his mouth went slack. His eyes opened wide and round like silver plates. Corvinus reached for a cup at his side, and placed it down on the ground between them. He began to gesture; the telltale signs of magic filled the air. There was a strange potency when magic was performed, a sort of tingling in the skin. Corvinus’ fingertips began to shed light. He started to speak, his voice a guttural mutter in a strange unknown tongue. It trebled in volume and suddenly the water in the cup was lifted up, hanging in mid-air, suspended. The master pressed his hands together, and the water compressed. It flattened into a shape like a convex lens. Corvinus’ voice stopped rumbling, but the water remained stuck there. “The middle world,” said Corvinus, “is shaped much like this water. It curves gently away on the edges. From its highest point, at the roof of the Barrier Mountains, there springs the tree known as Asca-Irminsul, the world-pillar.”

He flicked one hand up, and a spiderweb of ice shot from the water in a parody of a massive tree. “Its branches reach into the upper world where the gods dwell. Its roots,” and he flicked his left hand down, eliciting a vast network of icy roots from the bottom of the water, “Sink into the lower world, where the dead reside. The three worlds comprise our universe.” Ward nodded, awed.

Then Corvinus cupped his hands, and the tree vanished back into the water. The lens formed into a ball. “But the world is also an egg,” he said softly. “The unhatched egg of a titanic beast, or so the wyrms of old believed.” A hollow appeared in the water, and there an icy wyrm the size of Ward’s ring finger slumbered. “This ancient dragon is as old as time itself. It shall never wake, for it is too weak. Yet, in its sleep it breathes a slow rhythm.” And sure enough, the dragon of ice was slowly inhaling and exhaling. As it did, the surface of the water rippled in time. “The tides, the seasons, all of these are tied to the breathing of the World-wyrm, many sages will tell you.” Ward simply gaped.

“But magic also comes from the World-wyrm. For magic resides in the breath, and it is the breathing of the great Wyrm that makes the eddies of magic itself.” Corvinus smiled then, and the water descended back into the cup. “All around us, my boy, is that breath. It is the natural force of magic which can be bound and harnessed by any living being. There are three things,” and Corvinus held up three fingers, “that are needed to master the art of magic. The first is breath.” Corvinus breathed in and then out again, a heavy burst of air. “So breathe.”

Ward did as he was told. He sucked in, held the air, and then breathed it out again. Corvinus nodded. “The second is the motion. This is the physical grammar which gives shape to the magic. The words of power, the movement of the hands, these are all part of the motion. The last element is the pattern, the gnomonus. This is the warp and the weft. It is something that you store in your mind like an imprint, the imagus or eidelon of all elements of the spell. And soon, very soon, you shall learn to comprehend the simplest of the gnomonus’ and you shall be a mage.”

“So then,” Ward said, crinkling his eyes and struggling to comprehend, “Magic is something physical? Something you can touch?”

Corvinus seemed stumped for a moment, and his fingers drummed against the arm of the chair. He crossed his legs and kicked the cup with the tip of his shoe, knocking it onto the ground. “Oh, damn,” he muttered. He reached over to pick it up and place it on the arm of his chair again. “Well, all things are physical unless they are pure thought. Magic itself is just a term for what happens when we shape the latent energies of the world. We call that the Breath of the Dragon or the teluran. That is the sleeping power around us. That we can feel, in a way, but we cannot grasp it with our hands. It is too refined, too fine, for us to see or touch without aid.” Ward nodded. “Now,” said Corvinus, “We will begin today’s study with the Kyklor Antiki.”

Ward did the translation as fast as he could, thinking through the archaic words. “The Circle of the Ancients?” he asked.
“It is an idiom,” said Corvinus, “Which means ‘The Encyclopedia.’ The sum of all knowledge. But we are interested particularly in its volumes on magic.”
“Will that teach me how to use magic, master?” Ward asked with excitement. He followed Corvinus from the room as the old man made his way to the stairs of the library. The mage laughed.
“No, my boy. It describes the philosophy of magic, not the practice. You’re not quite there yet. Why do you think it takes years and years for wizards to wield even the most minor of powers? You’ll get there, but not for a long while.” Ward pouted. That put a damper on his hopes, but learning something about magic was better than learning nothing at all.
“Besides,” Corvinus went on, “There are more important things to learn than magic, believe it or not!”
“What?” asked Ward, and he frowned. “What do you mean, master?”
 “Ah!” Corvinus’ eyes were filled with clever light and he held up a single finger. “It is more important for a mage to be smart and judicious than it is for him to command a vast reservoir of power.”
“But isn’t magic a measure of your smartness?” Ward asked, confused. “I mean, if you are very smart, wouldn’t you be a master of magic anyhow?”
 Corvinus shook his head. “Ah, not so, not so. Your intelligence, my boy, limits your upper capacity in learning, that is true. But every mage starts as an apprentice, and he is weak in understanding but hopefully strong in knowing. Magic is mind-twisting stuff, Ward! It takes hard work as well as brilliance in order to grasp it. But being cunning and careful is ever so much more important than being a master of sorcery.” He leaned back and scratched his beard. “How can I phrase it?”
“Imagine that being in command of great sorcerous power is like being very strong. You come upon a stone that you want to move, and you simply move it. Now, when you are an apprentice, that might won’t be available to you. Your magic will be weak, but if you are clever you could use it as a lever.”
“And move the boulder without so much strength!” Ward said, finishing the thought. “So, to be a good wizard,”
“And a good man,” interjected Corvinus.
“And a good man, one must learn to use magic carefully, wisely, and intelligently!”
“You have it exact,” Corvinus grinned.

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