Authors: Mark Tuson
‘Okay.’ Peter felt a little apprehensive, and wasn’t exactly petrified of showing it. ‘Are you taking me, then? Or am I walking on my own?’
‘Oh, I can go with you if you like, but I won’t be sticking around to talk. I’ll be there at some point, but that’ll be later.’
‘That’s OK. In that case I’ll amble up on my own.’
Eric bowed his head in respectful acknowledgement and said ‘see you later,’ and then he left Peter standing, alone, near the door in the refectory. He slowly became aware of people talking again, which they must have been doing for a good few minutes. That was a relief; he didn’t really like the idea of being the centre of attention.
He started making his way to the Steward’s office. It took him a few minutes to remember the right way to go, but he got there eventually, and knocked on the door.
‘Come in,’ said the voice from the other side of the door.
He did, and sat down on the chair before the Steward’s desk.
‘Hello Peter. Congratulations.’ The Steward seemed genuinely pleased to see him.
‘Steward.’ He inclined his head in a formal greeting.
‘Please, call me Eddie.’ He held out his hand to shake. ‘You’re a qualified magician now. We’re equals.’
That, Peter did not expect. ‘I’m sorry?’
‘My job as Steward is only to look after things and preside at ceremonies. I’m more of a
primum inter pares
most of the time.’
Eddie paused. ‘How are you feeling, anyway?’ He said, finally.
Peter considered for a moment. He still wasn’t sure. ‘I think I’ll have to get back to you on that one,’ he frowned.
‘Well, you know where I’ll be when you’ve made your mind up. There’s something I’d like to talk to you about, though, some time soon if possible. But in the meantime...’ he breathed deeply and straightened his back a little in his seat. ‘Do you remember where the courtroom is, where we held your trial last year?’
How could he forget? ‘Yes.’
‘Good. Eight o’clock in the morning, please.’
And that was that: Eddie said no more, leaving Peter to somewhat angrily contemplate whether he was about to stand trial again, though for what this time, he knew not.
In bed that night, Peter found it difficult falling asleep. The last time he had fallen asleep voluntarily had been in his Hovel, wrapped in crudely woven cloth made from softened bamboo and wood fibres, on a bed made of something very similar, surrounded by things only he himself had made. Getting used to this world again was certainly going to take some doing. Once he fell asleep, however, he slept better than he had done in months, for which he was very grateful when he awoke to the seven o’clock bell.
He felt surprisingly refreshed, and after getting dressed he went to wash, which he suddenly realized he had forgotten to do the previous day. Then again, he thought, it had been something of a special case, so he could be forgiven for forgetting.
In the small bathroom that was just near to his bedroom, it was a shock to him when he saw his reflection in the mirror above the sink. He had seen his reflection on water briefly while he was in exile, but he hadn’t really taken note of it: his hair was slightly past his shoulders, and he had grown a pretty wild beard. He wasn’t sure about the hair. But the beard, he decided he would keep. Though, this morning, he knew he wouldn’t have enough time to have his hair cut or trim his beard. Something to do later, he decided.
Eight o’clock came, and on cue Peter was waiting outside the courtroom as requested. He was slightly less furious now, slightly less apprehensive about whether they were to place him on trial again today or not. He had, after all, proven himself. Eddie had even called him his equal and stated that Peter was now a qualified magician, whatever that was supposed to mean.
The door opened, seemingly of its own volition, to a room full of people. The whole scene looked almost identical to what Peter had seen the last time he was there.
There was something very different this time, however. The whole atmosphere seemed to be a lot less formal. No, not less formal. Less severe. Peter would have guessed that this wasn’t a ritual trial.
On the other hand, there was a similar level of almost tangible silence in the vicinity. Similar, Peter thought, to what it was like when he had entered the refectory the previous day.
Nervously, Peter entered. He closed the door behind him, not daring to turn round. It clicked shut with a deafeningly loud sound. All eyes were upon him.
‘Calling Peter Iain Rutherford.’ Eddie was in the same formal guise as he had been at the trial. ‘Take your stand.’ He pointed.
He did, feeling self-conscious and shy. When he was stood in the same spot as he had that time the previous year, he had been ritually tried and punished, which he hadn’t really had much of a chance to develop feelings about, having been evacuated away to the island so quickly afterward. Now, however, he had feelings about it. Now he was back here, having not expected to be. How could he not? It was, thus, with a great effort of will that he maintained a neutral expression on his face.
‘Mr Rutherford, further to the opening proceedings of your trial last year, and in consideration of your successful ordeal, we have called you here again this morning.’ Peter couldn’t work out whether the Steward was reciting a canned script or not. ‘To the end that we might formally accept your survival and acknowledge your qualification as a magician: I hereby tender your graduation from apprentice to journeyman, and induct you to full membership of the Guild of Magicians.’ As he uttered the last phrase, he did something which surprised Peter even more than his referring to himself and Peter as equals the previous day: he bowed to him in a genuine gesture of respect.
There was a round of applause, and that made Peter feel even more self-conscious. He tried to avoid looking around at anyone, wishing he could just go to the refectory and get some breakfast.
When the applause, which lasted far longer than Peter would have liked, ended, the Steward spoke again. ‘Welcome.’
Peter couldn’t stop himself from smiling with pride. So, now he was officially recognized as a real magician. Journeyman. That meant that, while he wasn’t a master yet – or even an adept – he was no longer a neophyte or an apprentice. He was
to adeptcy, and later hopefully, ultimately, to mastery.
There was no formal agenda after the Steward’s short speech; it seemed, basically, that he had simply wanted to humiliate Peter that last time. In fact, there didn’t seem to be anything of an agenda at all, because only moments after Eddie had said, in the formal person of Steward of the Guild of Magicians, what he had, people started to disband. Only two people beside Eddie and Peter himself remained: Caroline, and Eric.
The three of them stood near the great table at which Eddie had been sitting, in a loose circle. Caroline took Peter’s hand in an uncharacteristically warm and friendly way, and said that she was proud of how far he had come.
‘There’s still a hell of a lot to learn, mind,’ she said, ‘but you’ve come this far, and from what the Steward –‘ she inclined her head ‘– told me about how you managed on the island, you’ve done a hell of a lot better than most.’ Peter looked at her quizzically. She laughed. ‘Even I nearly got killed pretty much every week.’
Eric laughed as well. ‘So did I. I’d almost think you had an advantage.’ He put his arms around Peter in a rib-cracking man-hug.
‘How I managed?’ Peter’s curiosity got the better of him after only a few seconds. ‘Do people actually get killed?’
‘Yes.’ Eddie looked deadly serious; Peter believed him so fully that he suddenly felt icy cold. ‘Nearly half of them.’
Peter stood for a moment, utterly shocked at what he had just been told. At a look from Eddie, Caroline and Eric silently walked away, leaving himself and Peter standing alone near the entrance of the courtroom.
‘There’s something I’d like to talk to you about,’ Eddie said, once it was completely clear that they were alone. ‘Something you were asking about some time back.’
‘Come with me.’
Eddie silently led Peter back to his office, and they both sat down. It wasn’t as formal now as it had been before; Peter was already starting to feel more like he and Eddie were friends and equals. Maybe that was something to do with knowing his name now, as though it made him actually human.
Once they were settled, Eddie spoke again. ‘You asked about what the Guild is, and about the name Rechsdhoubnom. Yes?’
Of course, Peter was still curious about those things, but having had other, more pressing things to think about over the last year had driven them from the forefront of his thoughts.
‘Well.’ Eddie took a deep breath before continuing. ‘I’m not sure whether I can tell you everything, and that’s not because I don’t think you’re ready. You’ve proven yourself to be a strong person, in and of yourself, with the potential to be a great magician and an asset not only to the Guild, but to the world of magic as a whole.
‘First, the Guild. The Guild exists because magic exists. There’s a hell of a lot of magic out there, and nobody to regulate it or police its use, or expand the knowledge of it and make it grow. In a way you might say that the Guild is a regulating body, but in reality we’re more like a combination of police, army, and university.
‘Oh, we aren’t official. Don’t get me wrong about that, all of magic is underground simply because it’s easier for everyone concerned that way. But among magicians we’re a kind of
authority. There are other groups of magicians out there. In this world there are, maybe, half a million capable magicians. The Guild consists of just seven hundred of those.’
Half a million magicians? That was a large number of people for Peter to comprehend knowing some of the things he did, especially given the intrinsically occluded nature of the magician. ‘How do they all learn?’ He said. ‘I was under the impression that the learning of magic is controlled by the Guild. Or, if not controlled, supervised.’
‘In this country it mostly is. There are people who leave the Guild after a while – there are possibly as many as a thousand magicians in this country. Most of those who aren’t members of the Guild will have learned with or through us, and left at some point after being active members of our community for a while.
‘Others sometimes stumble across some simple magical notion by themselves, and teach themselves the basics from there, try to extrapolate how magic works from their own limited observations and experiments. We let those be, generally, because they’re harmless enough – though with our own protective spells, we can detect all the magic that is being performed in anywhere in the country, on a live basis.
‘Sometimes we find someone who expresses more power than normal. Someone who shows a lot of potential, and all they need is the right guide for how to learn and what to learn. Those people, mostly, are the ones who we invite to membership here.’
He paused, giving Peter some time to think about what he was saying. To Peter, it suddenly seemed like the world was the huge, frightening place he had originally thought, after all. This dismayed him slightly: he had come to foster some small hope that, as a magician, he no longer had to feel quite as intimidated by it. But, no such luck.
There was this whole, huge underground community of magicians, apparently hidden all over the world, which made him feel somewhat less special.
‘There are other guilds around the world, then…?’
‘Sort of,’ said Eddie. ‘The Guild of Magicians is the oldest. We’ve been around in some form or another for nearly twenty thousand years –’
‘– and we were founded because of the second thing you wanted to know, which I’ll explain in a minute.
‘There are other groups around the world, whose structure are generally modelled off that of the Guild of Magicians, because ours is the way that has been the most effective for the longest time. Of course, the larger countries have chaptered groups; there’s a small one for each state in the USA, for instance.’
Peter found himself suddenly not quite so interested in the structure of the Guild and the nature of magic, but Eddie continued.
‘As for our own Guild, we make it our mission to educate ourselves and others who show that they’re capable, ultimately. Unfortunately, though, there are rogue and renegade magicians, just the same as non-magicians, and it’s usually either us or our international contemporaries who police them, who look for and catch magicians who use their power inappropriately. Sometimes, we have even found it necessary to go to war.
‘Which brings me to your second question. Rechsdhoubnom.’ He enunciated the name with the precision of a seasoned linguist. ‘Our records are sparse, but there isn’t any doubt that they are accurate. He was the son of one of the ancient god-kinds, the tribal leaders of prehistoric Europe, around twenty thousand years ago. At that time magic was different in a lot of ways, for reasons which, even now, nobody’s all that clear about.
‘For whatever reason, he went mad. He killed his father and stole his power, and created a world of his own, where he could be the unquestioned leader for all time.’
He stopped again, leaving a reverberating silence that was almost like a drug. Suddenly Peter had that surreal feeling again. ‘You are shitting me,’ he said, after several minutes’ silence.
‘No. Werosain. That’s what the world Rechsdhoubnom created is called. Nobody knows how he did it, it’s beyond the power of… well, it’s supposedly beyond the power of magic, but it seems he found a way. But Werosain is real. And you have met someone from there.’
This was getting a little much.
‘Do you remember the night you were attacked, the night you found out about us?’
Peter snorted. That seemed like asking if someone who had been there remembered the Titanic sinking.
‘Think about it.’
He did. He sat in silence, playing that whole sequence of events through in his mind for the first time in nearly four years.
‘The person Eric was duelling?’ He said, after a number of minutes. ‘The one that attacked me?’
‘Yes. He was part of Rechsdhoubnom’s militia – by the way, we usually just call him the Fraud, it’s easier to pronounce. Anyway, they sometimes come across from Werosain to here, attempting to steal our knowledge or magicians. Some people even thing that they want to rid our world of all its inhabitants and take it over, because by what small accounts we have, Werosain itself isn’t the most hospitable of worlds.’
‘Has nobody from our own world attempted to travel across to Werosain?’
‘People have tried, yeah.’ Eddie shrugged slightly. ‘But they’ve either failed to get there or failed to get back. Or else arrived and been turned to their side. We stopped allowing people to try, eventually, because it was very expensive, magically speaking, and it hardly ever worked.’
But they can get here, Peter thought. So there must be a way, even if nobody has been able to see it yet. Then again, twenty thousand years… someone must have found a way at some point, especially if someone found a way not only to travel from one world to the next but to create one.
Peter’s mind was suddenly buzzing with renewed, furious curiosity. How could a world be created by a magician? He would have to try and find out, somehow.
‘The Fraud is the only magician who successfully broke the first Law of Magic,’ said Eddie, ‘and as far as anyone really knows, the only one who even tried.’
Peter raised his eyebrow. ‘Laws of Magic…’
‘Do you not know of them?’
‘I’ve heard of them,’ Peter replied, ‘but I can’t honestly say I can remember if I was ever
‘One.’ Eddie began. ‘A magician is not a god, and therefore cannot create or destroy a system of nature.
‘Two. The use of magic to end the life of another person is not permitted.
‘Three. The use of magic to alter another person’s state of mind, regardless of said magician’s intent, is not permitted.
‘So,’ Peter said, following a moment’s pause, ‘the Fraud created a system of nature? Is that what creating a world is defined as?’
‘A system of nature is anything, basically, beyond a magical terrarium. Things that can grow to be bigger than what went into making them. Magical terraria are made here occasionally for this reason or that, generally research into plant life and ecosystems though, like in the normal world. What the Fraud did was to actually create a world, an entire world, through some sort of magical means.’
‘Do you have any idea what sort of means?’
‘No. We haven’t the foggiest, apart from what I’ve just said.’
Peter suddenly remembered the dream which he had had, with the young man and the dead older man. He spent a moment trying to decide whether he wanted to say anything or not; he wasn’t sure if it would do any good, if it would make Eddie think anything of Peter that might be a cause for concern for anyone. After not much more thought than that, he decided not to say anything about it. Maybe there would be a time to mention it, but it wasn’t now.
It was all confusing and intriguing, though. Confusing and intriguing enough to be exactly the kind of thing Peter had always been interested in attempting to get to the bottom of. The fact that nobody else had made very much progress to speak of didn’t do much to deter him, either: this might be his chance to make himself shine and prove that he was special, after all.
Peter had some difficulty sleeping again that night. It was like a big reveal – this was the point, this was where he was, this was why he was here. The more he tried to clear his mind and get to sleep, the more his mind found itself becoming flooded with images of the young man from that dream, long ago as it was, and trying to associate it with the creation of a world. To reconcile what looked like a display of raw and uncontrolled emotion into what, surely, would have required more control than even the greatest of mortals could muster.
Before joining the Guild and becoming a magician, he had maintained a keen interest in the sciences, and tried often to keep his own knowledge up-to-date concerning what was happening in the world of physics in particular. He had read books like
A Brief History of Time
as a teenager, and watched with avid excitement when the Large Hadron Collider was powered up for the first time. In short, he had been interested in the beginning of the universe before.
But there was a difference, this time. His interest before had been in the Big Bang, and in the moments immediately before and after it. There was art and beauty in it, but it was ultimately mere science, governed by its own laws and metalaws. And then there was this new notion of a person – a limited, fallible human being – creating a world of their own, by their own actions and will. By all logic it should have been impossible.
All these thoughts circulated in his mind throughout the night, like the multi-coloured contents of a washing machine on a slow cycle. When, finally, he got to sleep, his dreams were disturbed by images of his hovel-on-sea exploding in a Big Bang while Stephen Hawking looked on and recited the Laws of Magic over and over, his robotic voice somehow sounding cruel and sarcastic.
The following morning, he wasn’t initially sure if he had even slept; most of his memory of the night had been of his thoughts cycling round in his mind. It wasn’t until he remembered his odd dreams that he though he must have been asleep at some point or another.
He wandered around, absent-mindedly following the train of thought that had resulted in his disturbed dreams, and muttering to himself, repeating the words that he had seen in his dream several years ago and could suddenly recall as though they were a well-loved child’s rhyme in plain English.
‘Ehkeir toum rechsa duea. Ehkeir deeia duea. Ehkeir Rechsdhoubnom.’
What the hell did it mean? For that matter, what the hell language was it? When he had heard the young man saying it in his dream, it had had a flowing and rhythmic quality, and a musical type of tonality – almost like a song. Of course, he recognized the last word as being the name of the Fraud, but he now had a curious feeling that it wasn’t a name at all, but a phrase, or a title; it clearly was a word that was native to that language, whatever it was.
And then there was the scene in which that phrase had been spoken. What was it that had just happened?
Just as he realized that he was asking himself too many questions to be able to solve even one, he became aware that he was at the door to the library, pushing it open. He caught himself and stepped back, looking at the door. He stood for a moment, trying to decide whether he was going to give in and try to find out more about the Fraud.
That was pointless, he knew. He had always had something of a tendency to carry on looking for information, even after having exhausted every possible place where it could be found, and he knew this as well. And yet it almost always seemed worth looking further, in case he should find something he had missed before.
In this case, however, he knew it really would be futile, because he had looked before, as deeply and extensively as he ever had. He wasn’t going to find anything about the Fraud: there was nothing there to find.