Darwath 2 - The Walls Of The Air (7 page)

BOOK: Darwath 2 - The Walls Of The Air
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“Wizardry is knowledge,” Ingold said one afternoon as they sat on the white boulders that lined the bottom of an arroyo where they had taken shelter from the wind. The land was growing higher and less grassy, the waving fields of long brown grasses giving way to short bunchgrass and huge, scraggy-barked sagebrush. Dry washes cut the land, scattering it with stone and gravel. At the bottom of this one, a thin trickle of water ran, edged with ice even at high noon. It burned Rudy's fingers through his gloves as he filled the drinking bottles. Ingold sat on the rocks behind him, idly drawing the dry, yellowish blossoms of a dead stalk of kneestem through his fingers as he scanned, without seeming to, the banks of the gully against the pallid sky. “Even the most talented adept is useless without knowledge, without the awareness of every separate facet of the world within which he must work.”

“Yeah,” Rudy said,, sitting back and stoppering the flask with stiff, clumsy fingers. “But a lot of what you've been teaching me sometimes seems kind of useless. Like that kneestem you've got—I mean, it doesn't have anything to do with magic. It's just a weed. You said yourself it's worthless.”

“It is worthless to us and to animals, having no value either as medicine or as food,” Ingold agreed, turning the dry wisp in his mittened fingers. “But we ourselves are useless to other forms of life—except, I might point out, as sustenance to the Dark Ones. Kneestem, like you and me, exists for its own sake, and we must take that into account in all our dealings with the world that we hold in common with it.”

“I see your point,” Rudy said, after a moment's consideration of how much of what he loved and valued was, objectively, pretty useless. “But I didn't know jack about anything when I started magic. I called fire because I had to.”

“No,” the wizard contradicted. “You called fire because you knew it could be done.”

“But I didn't know that.”

“Then why did you try? I think you knew in your heart that you could do it. I think you might even have done it as a child.”

Rudy was silent for some time, sitting on the bleached bones of the rock. The wind moaned faintly along the banks above them, and Che flicked his long ears at the sound. There was no wind in the gullies. It was so still he could hear the water clucking softly at the ice. “I don't know,” he said finally, his voice small and a little frightened. “I dreamed about it, I think. I used to dream about a lot of stuff like that when I was a real little kid, like three or four years old, I remember dreaming—I think it was a dream—I picked up a dry branch in our back yard and, holding it in my hand, I knew I could make it flower. And I did. These white flowers budded out all over it, just from my holding it, just from my knowing they would. Then I ran and told my mother about it, and she hit me upside the head and told me not to imagine stuff.” The memory came back to him now, as clear as vision, but distant, as if it had happened to someone else. There was no sorrow in his voice, no anger, only wonderment at the memory itself.

Ingold shook his head. “What a thing to tell a child.”

Rudy shrugged it away. “But I was always interested in how stuff was put together. Like cars—or anyway, I think that's why I was good with cars. How they work, and the sound and feel of whether they're right or wrong. The human body's the same way, I guess. And I think that's why I drew. Just to know what it was and how it all fits.”

The wizard sighed and laid the dead plant stem among the rocks. “Perhaps it's just as well,” he said finally. “You could never have gotten the proper teaching, you know. And there are few more dangerous things in the world than an untaught mage.” New winds threaded down the gully. Ingold stood up, shivering, and pulled his hood over his face once more, wrapping his long muffler over it so that all that showed of his face was the end of his nose and the deep-set glitter of bright azure eyes. Rudy got up also, hung the water bottles over the various projections of the pack-saddle, and led Che up the narrow trail that had taken them down into the draw. Ingold moved nimbly ahead of him.

“Ingold?”

They scrambled up the last few feet to level ground and made their way back toward the road. A covey of prairie hens went skittering away almost under their feet Che flung up his head in panic. The skies had darkened perceptibly, and in the distance Rudy could see the rain sheeting down.

“Why is an untaught mage so dangerous?”

The wizard glanced back at him. “A mage will have magic,” he said quietly. “It's like love, Rudy. You need it and you will find it. You will be driven to find it. And if you can't find good love, you will have bad, or what passes in some circles for love. And it can hurt you and destroy everyone you touch. That is why there is a school at Quo,” he went on, "and a Council.

The wizardry at Quo is the mainstream, the centerpoint of teaching. Since Forn the Old retired there and began to gather all the lore of wizardry in his black tower by the sea, the Archmage and the Council of Quo have been the teachers of all those who were capable of understanding what was taught. Its principles are the principles handed down from the old wizardry, the legacy of the empires that existed before the first coming of the Dark, three thousand years ago. They are older than any kingdom of the earth, older than the Church."

“Is that why the Church has it in for us?”

Wind had begun to blow down rain upon them, mixed with hard, tiny spits of hail. Rudy pulled up his hood resignedly. He had long since gotten used to the idea that if it rained, he got wet. There was no shelter in the open plains.

“The Church finds us unbiddable,” Ingold said mildly. They talk of the power as a manifestation of the illusions of the Devil, but it all comes down to the fact that we have the power to change the universe materially and we owe neither them nor their God allegiance. As you've already guessed, we are excommunicates, ranking with heretics, parricides, and doctors who poison wells to drum up business for themselves. 1% the Church wanted to press the point, they could give Alwir considerable trouble for employing Bektis or even associating with me. The Church will make no marriage when one of the parties is mage-born; and when we die, we are buried like criminals in unhallowed ground, if we aren't simply burned like murrained beasts. Whatever happens, Rudy, remember that no law protects wizards."

The darkness of the vaults beneath the palace at Karst came back to Rudy's mind—the narrow doorless cell and the Rune of the Chain, spelled to hold Ingold there until he starved. No wonder, he thought, those with only a single power choose to lie about it. The surprising thing is that anyone becomes a wizard at all.

Rain drummed down around them, black and freezing, from a dark sky. It pooled in the ditches beside the road, sheeted the low ground, and ran in rivulets down Rudy's cloak, slowly soaking him through. He tried to remember the last time he'd seen a clear sky and wondered wretchedly if he ever would see one again.

Ingold was still speaking, more to himself than to his companion. “This is why the bonds between us are so strong. We are the only ones who truly understand each other, as Lohiro and I know one another's mind. It's why he and I traveled together, bound as allies against all the world, why he was like a son to me, and why he picked me to be his father. We are all we have, Rudy—wizards, and those very few people who, not mageborn themselves, understand. Quo is more than the center of wizardry on earth; it is our heart-home. It is all we have.”

The cloudburst was slackening. Light and mists rolled in the lowering air, but no sign of sun or sky. It seemed as if all the world were blanketed in cloud and the sun would never break through again.

Rudy asked, “Do wizards—uh—marry among themselves? Or could a wizard, like, marry an ordinary person?”

Ingold shook his head. “Not legally. There is no legal marriage with excommunicates such as we, at least not anymore, though matters used to be different in times past.” He glanced sharply sideways at him, and Rudy had the uncomfortable feeling, as he often did with Ingold, that his mind was being read. “There used to be a saying, 'A wizard's wife is a widow.” We are wanderers, Rudy. We make that choice in accepting the power, in admitting to ourselves what we are. There are those who are not mageborn who understand us, but mostly they also understand that we cannot be like them. It's a rare person, woman or man, who can accept a long-term relationship on that basis. In a sense we are born damned, though not in the way the Church means it."

“Do wizards love?”

A look of pain crossed behind the blue eyes, like a quick shiver in the wake of a draft “God help us, yes.”

All of this strange miscellany of knowledge and information only served as a background to quiet Rudy's mind and help him to focus and understand. The step between understanding the world and understanding magic was a very small one.

One night Ingold scratched the runes in the dust by their tiny campfire, and Rudy, who had guessed by this time that the wizard did not repeat himself, spent the evening studying their shape and sequence in the dim, ruddy light. After that he periodically drew them out for himself while he sat his guard watches, laboriously memorizing shapes, names, and attributes—the constellations of forces which centered on each separate symbol Ingold sometimes talked about them as the two men ate supper or settled down for the night, explaining how they might be used for meditation or divination, telling where they came from, who had first drawn them, and why. Slowly their pattern came to make sense to Rudy, until he saw how a single rune, properly made with the appropriate words and thoughts, could draw its attributes to itself and surround itself with them. This was how Yad would protect and turn aside the gaze of a seeker from that on which if was drawn, how Traw would make invisible things visible, and how Pern would focus the thoughts of those who looked upon it for rationality, justice, and law.

Ingold never drew them all out for him again.

He taught Rudy other things as the plains country gave way entirely to the fringes of the cold sagebrush deserts. He showed simple tricks of illusion that could be woven around a wizard to make other people see things they did not really see. A mage could spot the illusion, but most people, who operated on surface impressions, could easily be led to think that they saw a person of different appearance, or a tree, or an animal, or a flaming whirlwind—or simply nothing there at all. It was less like magic, Rudy thought, than it was like acting, or storytelling, or drawing, but done differently. Rudy could already call fire and mold the white witchlight into a ball to illuminate without heat, like St. Elmo's fire on the end of his staff. He had learned to use his ability better to see in darkness and, by experiment, to draw visible things in the air with his fingers. As they came into the true desert and water grew scarcer, Ingold showed him how to make a water compass by witching the twigs of a certain plant and how to tell by magic if a plant were poisonous.

One night they spoke of power, of the central key of each person or being or living thing—and Ingold's definition of living things was very different from Rudy's. He spoke of the focus of all being, the innermost truth that Plato had called the essence; the understanding of that was the key to the Great Magic, and the ability to see it was the mark of a mage. Watching those bright crystal eyes across the fire, Rudy saw reflected in them the vision of his own soul, lying, like the silver runes on the Keep doors, beneath the surface of the familiar body. He saw with calm and pitiless detachment his own feelings about himself, the interlocking of vanity and love and yearning and laziness, a kind of bright, glittering perpetual-motion machine of affection, cowardice, and sloth that drove his restless soul. He saw it with Ingold's pure, unforbearing gaze, seeing faults and virtues alike, and was neither surprised nor ashamed. It only existed, being what it was. And in that timeless and bodiless trance, he became aware of that other essence beside him, like a lightning-riddled rock, lambent with power, fired within by a magic that permeated from its visible core. Ingold, he thought, startled and shocked, for the momentary vision of those scarred depths of love and grief and loneliness dwarfed his own bright, shallow emotions to insignificance. He felt an overwhelming awe of the wizard again, as he had before the ringing doors of the assaulted Keep and as he had one night in the valleys of the river, when Ingold had asked him why he wanted to be a mage. It was an awe that Rudy usually kept hidden, half-forgotten in the face of that shabby little old man with his scarred hands and mild, sarcastic humor. But the awe never fully left him; it increased as he came to understand this scruffy old pilgrim. He would now no longer question how Ingold knew whether Lohiro of Quo were alive or dead.

“Magic isn't like I thought it would be,” Rudy said much later that same night as he gathered his blankets about him, while Ingold settled down by the fire to take first shift at guard. “I mean, I used to think it was like— oh, people turning themselves into wolves, or slaying dragons, or blasting walls down, or flying through the air, or walking on water—stuff like that. But it's not.”

“But it is, really,” Ingold said easily, prodding at the ashes of their tiny fire. “You yourself know that one does not turn oneself into a wolf—for to transpose your personality into the heart and brain of a wolf, aside from being very dangerous in terms of the structure of the universe, might prove too great a temptation to you.”

Distantly, the wolves answered his words, their faint howling riding down the night wind. In the darkness of their arroyo camp, Rudy caught the bright, hard glitter of Ingold's eyes and heard the dreamy edge to his voice.

“Wolves love what they are, Rudy. To be strong—to kill—to live with the wind and the pack—it would call to the wolf in your own soul. There would always be the danger, you see, that you would not want to come back. And as for slaying dragons,” he went on in a milder tone, “well, dragons are really rather timid creatures, tricky and dangerous, but only likely to attack humans if driven by hunger.”

BOOK: Darwath 2 - The Walls Of The Air
2.65Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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