“It’s empty again,” Narnemvar announced to the ferns at large. Or, rather, he announced it in general and the ferns seemed to soak up the sound. They were getting tall enough to block out the sound of the sea, as well, so the walk was getting quieter. “How close is it to time for the next meal?”
“An hour and a half, at least, sir,” Satbada turned slightly, just enough to show he was providing his master with the information, rather than answering his master’s odd friend directly. His tone seemed to suggest that he trusted his master not to expect a meal at such a time.
“Good. Good. That means that, at it’s worst, it will still leave us time for eating.
I can’t feel any lessening in the rate it picks up. And we haven’t let it fill more than once, so I can’t tell if it will fill more or less as we get farther away.” Narnemvar stopped his hand gestures and stretched. He looked around as if realigning himself with reality.
“Sorry, I get a little disconnected when I play with magic. Do you want to keep going?” He stretched and shook out his arms, letting his hands flap. “The hands and arms are getting a little tired, but the legs are fine. I don’t think I need to keep watching if we keep walking.”
“Let’s slow down a bit.” suggested Postlavanderon. “We can enjoy the scenery and the change of pace.”
“It is looking rather green, isn’t it? The light, I mean, filtering through the leaves. And the trail has gotten soft. Almost springy.” Narnemvar thrust his hands into his belt, then flexed his knees to test the springy-ness he had just mentioned.”
“I believe,” said Satbada, “that most magic users would not have said they were playing with magic. Analyzing, perhaps, or evaluating.”
“Yes. What you have to understand, dear Shortbread, is that most mages are freelancers or courtiers. Selling the importance of the commodity to the marks is half of the game. If you say play, you’ll be paid a playing sort of sum. If you look dour and concerned and struggle through your spells as if they were a great burden and you say you are enfraying the various natures of the conglowment and quantifying each motressment of its recursive ramification, then you’ll probably walk away with heavier pockets.”
“Recursive ramification? Does that mean it splits into branches that then split back?” Postlavanderon was amused. Shortbread, however, was blank-faced. Lavvi knew there could be many reasons for that, and ignored it.
“More or less. I’m told it’s one of the steps in magic. If you can’t imagine something fraying and splaying in two opposing directions you can only do one level of magic, while if you can, you can go to the next level.”
“Is this part of the law of hundreds that you mentioned before?”
“Yes, old hoop-knocker, it is.”
“Ah, so you had a hoop as a child. I’m relieved to hear it”
“No, although my familiarity with hoop-knocking occurred at a young age, I’m afraid the phrase is a euphemism, rather than a tool of euphoria. Although I believe that a tool of euphoria is understood to be referenced.”
“You shock me!”
“No hoop at all? How did you work off your childish energy?”
“Well, by then I could visualize something branching in two opposite directions with ease, and could spend my time doing so.”
“Your spare time.”
“In a manner of speaking. The manor had three other boys toting water, so I was, indeed, a spare. And moving enough water for a household of fifty did take a lot of time.”
“Why were you set to carrying water when you had a talent for magic.”
“Largely because I’d been orphaned and that’s what orphans did in that house. Older orphans drew the water or dumped the water or moved it about in the house,” here he committed a rolling flourish with one hand, “heating it and things.”
“When did they find out your talent?”
“Never, I expect. Someone came through shining with magic and I followed him.”
“No idea. I followed him for days before I brought myself to his attention. It wouldn’t have done to let him know where I came from.
By then he’d met up with several others of the glowing sort, and one of them actually twigged to the fact that I could see their magic.”
“So when you say glowing, you don’t mean that he created light?”
“Oh, heavens no. None of them made light that an ordinary person could see. Bessie could make wooden coins float and she had two other desirable attributes: she knew a fair bit of magic theory and she had a use for someone to carry things for her. We got along wonderfully.”
“And she taught you everything you know?”
“Everything she knew, certainly. I picked it up quickly enough that she was able to sell me at the next town for two dozen gold.”
Postlavanderon stopped. When his friend kept going, he hurried to catch up, then grabbed his shoulder.
“Hold, now. You can’t just say that and walk on. Are you saying you were a slave?”
“Possibly. It could have been more like . . what are those things that sound like you’ve been dowsing on speck?”
“A finder’s fee?”
“The very thing. It could have been one of those.
I was supposed to stay, of course. And I did, for awhile.”
“So you’re a run-away?”
“Walk-away more like. Once a magic user knows more magic than you do, how do you make them stay?”
“Do you feel badly for leaving them?”
“Him. Single owner. A few workers. Several students of various sorts. All of us did magic. Bessie came back to check on me occasionally. She knew more theoretical magic than any of them. I think that’s what let me surpass them. One of the things that did, anyway.
We worked together. Charms of various sorts. It was good discipline for a youngster. Eventually I complained about it being boring and got beaten. The next time Bessie came through, I complained to her. I expected sympathy. Instead she said that she knew someplace better and if I came along, she’d show me and split my price.”
“And I’m a mage!” the grin that went with that was a goofy one.
“Seriously, that had to be illegal one way or another.”
“I have no idea. I was young and paid no attention.”
“I have no idea.”
“How can you have no idea?”
“Why would I know? I didn’t know then. No one told me I was supposed to be keeping count and I would have probably messed it up anyway.”
“No one ever told you how old you were or when you were born?”
“Nor who my parents were. It just wasn’t of interest to anybody.”
“That is sad.”
“If you say so. I mostly had a good time. There were always others around my age to play with and one or two adults who would take an interest. Or at least see that I was fed and sewn up.”
“A child who can see magic tends to get distracted and fall down a lot.”
“Sounds like you should have been watched a lot, rather than somewhat.”
“Perhaps. But I discovered a lot more things knocking about than I did being taught. I was taught more organized things, and that was good, but most of the . . . well. . . I guess you could call it the basic materials, I just picked up on my own.”
“If I may enquire, sir?”
“What is the rule of hundreds?”
“It’s the Law of hundreds, Shortbread.” Narnemvar grabbed his collars like a pacing disputant. He forbore to shift from looking downward to looking upward, as the academics taught. “Magically speaking, rules are enforced and laws just are.
You may have heard that only one person in a hundred can see magic?”
“I surmised that they were loosely speaking.”
“Yes, depending on the population, it’s more like a 3 to 17 split, which would be about 15 in each hundred. But if you go on to calculate the odds of each step, saying one in a hundred isn’t so far off. Especially since it’s hard to say that you’ve counted everyone, let alone tested everyone.”
“I see, sir. And the steps.”
“First step is seeing magic – say one in a hundred. Second step is being able to manipulate the magic – say one in a hundred of those, or one in a thousand. Then there’s the recursive ramification thing, which you need to make a magical change permanent. That’s another one in a hundred.”
“For one in ten thousand.” said Postlavanderon. “How many steps up are you?”
“Eight, I think.”
This time it was Satbada who stopped. Narnemvar nearly ran into him.
“Forgive me, sir, but is this the same thing as a Mage’s Level?”
“Loosely, my good pastry, loosely. Most mages don’t count the seeing magic step.”
“Still, I’ve never heard of a Mage of more than level five.”
“I’ve heard of a few. Sixes. One seven. They tend to stay holed up, surrounded by other mages. It’s hard to say what their level really is because most of them are tapping the talents of their underlings.”
“And yet you say that you are a level seven, yourself.”
“Without underlings, yet. All on my own.” Narnemvar’s smile tipped a bit. It wasn’t quite rueful.
“It’s true.” said Postlavanderon, quietly. “It’s one of the reasons my family values my friend so highly.
Satbada stood silently for a moment.
“If you wish, sir, perhaps we could stop just for tea.”
“No, no. The walk is invigorating, is it not, my friend?”
“Certainly, Lavvy. Certainly. You could use the walk, I’m sure."
"Can you feel your fingers?”
"Can you feel your fingers?”
“Pretty well. They’re still tingling, but they’re recovering apace.”
“And you could use a distraction to keep you focused on the here and now, no doubt. Shall we play questions?”
“Hmmm. Questions. Questions? Ah, no! I have it! Dis-negatives!”
“Is that the one using words like disgruntled and unruly?”
“Yes. Full sentences. No repeats. Added points for more than one dis-negative in a sentence. I’ll go first!”
No one spoke for a bit as Narnemvar prepared his opening to the game. Which is not to say that it was silent. Narnemvar mumbled to himself speculatively as he bounced along, too happy to be playing to merely walk. The wind was positively whooshing in the high fronds. Small frogs peeped, chirped, and whistled. Various other noises sounded for various other reasons.
But no one spoke. Both of the other people on the trail were thinking soberly to themselves.
“The feckful apprentice vertently assisted his ruthful master to organize his collection of gusting knick-knacks. That’s four points.”
“I don’t think I can give you vertent.”
“Vertent in the adverbial form.”
“Granted. Why not.”
“Vertent is the opposite of advertent, yes? So is the word inadvertent. It already has a perfectly useful opposite. The game requires. . .”
It began to rain slightly, but it did that every morning in this area and no one took notice. It was too warm for a little wet to be a bother.