Five O'Clock Somewhere

Welcome to Five O'Clock Somewhere, where it doesn't matter what time zone you're in; it's five o'clock somewhere. We'll look at rural life, especially as it happens in Rio Arriba County, New Mexico, cats, sailing (particularly Etchells racing yachts), and bits of grammar and Victorian poetry.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Wizards of Winds and Waves, chapter 19

Aptitude testing

For those of you who have only just joined in watching this blog, this is a work of fiction. In this world, great sailors aren’t ordinary humans; they’re wizards. Our heroine, Sarah, has recently discovered her own talents, and she has just enrolled in a wizard school to hone those skills.

Wizards of Winds and Waves
Chapter 19

“I, uh, hello,” I said. “Uh, sorry …”

“Oh, please, I understand,” Betsy said. “I’m used to the reactions. My appearance is rather startling. I just try to be as inconspicuous as I can, although I’ve had some embarrassing moments.”

“Yes, I guess you could call your enrollment ceremony embarrassing,” Rhonda said.

“It was the big ceremony in the fall,” Betsy said. “Because of my face, I was trying to hide at the back of the stage. But then both my parents’ ropes burst into flame, and suddenly I was the focus of all the attention. I’ve been leery of fire ever since … this …,” she indicated her scarred face, “and this fire took me so completely by surprise that I screamed my head off. Not being raised in a wizard household, I’d never heard about that parent test and its meaning. Neither had my so-called parents, or they probably would have found some way around it. Up until then, I had no idea they weren’t really my parents, although I should have had a clue – what mother would do this to her child?”

“Your mother burned you?”

“Yes. She and my dad managed to convince the authorities that it was an accident, but it wasn’t. She was in a screaming rage one day, saying nobody had a right to be as pretty as I was, and she threw me down, and my face landed in the fireplace.”

“My God, that’s awful. I think the worst my mother ever did was force me to go for two days without food. But mostly she would just do this wishful thinking that maybe I’d go away.”

“Anyhow, Jackson and Rhonda became my parents and I got enrolled about midnight that night, after everybody else had been sent away,” she said, pausing for a moment. “You know, I think we’re going to be great roommates. Let me show you to our room.”

Our dormitory was right around the corner from the library, which I considered to be an excellent location. It was small, but wonderfully homey, with two beds, two desks, a small sofa, and various student-type furnishings. What made it unlike a typical dorm room was the large collection of wooden models of sailboats that occupied nearly every horizontal surface. I reached out toward one. “May I?” I asked.

“Yes, go ahead. You might guess, that’s my hobby; I carve model boats. More than that, I carve people’s souls into boats, a magic I didn’t even know I was applying. I just thought that when I carved a boat for someone specific, I was good at guessing what they were like, but really, I was focusing that person into that boat.”

“So your boats resonate with their owners?”

“Yes, and more. They work like good-luck charms, but only for the person they’re made for. That’s how the wizards discovered my talent; they detected the magic in one of my boats and tracked me down through the owner.”

“My talent is racing boats. I almost never lose, even to another wizard.”

“That’s a good one. I already know what boat I’m going to carve for you – a racing dinghy.”

We went to lunch in the dining hall, and I noticed that many of the other students gave Betsy a wide berth. I wondered whether her appearance made them uncomfortable, or whether the unfortunate event at the enrollment ceremony had made them leery of getting too close to her. Perhaps it was some of both.

After lunch, I had my first class, a basic orientation to the world of wizardry. Because I had only just enrolled, I was the only student, and Jackson was the teacher, and the class took place in Jackson’s office. “We’ll work on getting you up to speed so you can join the regular class as soon as possible,” he said. “But first, we’ll need to figure out what your skills are. You have been subconsciously using some magic that goes beyond what some of us believed possible, and now we want to work on figuring out exactly what you can do, as well as how much control you have. I suspect that control is going to be your biggest problem, and until you do learn it, you may be a danger to yourself or others.”

“I can see that,” I said. “I know what I do, but not until after I do it.”

“Fortunately, this school is well shielded. Magic from outside can’t get in, and magic from inside can’t get out to alert the Others what’s going on here. In addition, parts of the school are sealed off from each other, especially places such as this office and the laboratories where the students are learning the spells. Magic in an untrained person is purely subconscious,” he said. “It can get out of control readily and have grievous results. Spells are a way of consciously invoking our inner magic, and making it do what we want. We must also be sure that we’re using our magic for the good of the world. If we get selfish, we can easily be turned by the Others.”

“Just who are the Others, anyway?”

“They’re wizards, like us, but they have been corrupted. They work for themselves, not for the world. Wherever you see great suffering and oppression, that’s probably the Others at work. There aren’t many of them, but it doesn’t take many of them to have a devastating effect. One dictator – or one advisor to a dictator, which is how most of them work – can destroy the lives of millions of people. They’re behind corporate greed, too, and terrorism …”

“Terrorism, Revenge, and Extortion?”

“You might put it that way. Why?”

“I’m just remembering old James Bond movies, where he was fighting against SPECTRE, the Special Executive Committee for Terrorism, Revenge, and Extortion. You make the Others sound an awful lot like Bond’s old enemies.”

“You know, you may be right. They do have a lot to do with those sorts of activities.”

“And the Others are out to destroy me?”

“You’re a very special case. Even without training, you have powers that are far greater than most wizards can even dream of. With training, you will be a mighty weapon against them.”

“And if I don’t want to fight?”

“You really don’t have a choice. You are who you are, or what you are, and the Others are after you whether you like it or not.” Jackson opened a large book on his desk. “Meanwhile, let’s figure out where you are. Our magic comes from within our minds, and not from outside sources, although physical objects can be used to focus the magic – this is often the case with ceremonial magic, such as the enrollment ceremony in which the magic of all those present can be focused through the ropes and sailcloth, to make the spell stronger. Words and music can also be used to similar effect. The most basic class of spells are those of divination, which involves finding things, determining their condition, reading minds – animals are easier than humans, but both are hard – and, at an especially advanced level, predicting the future.”

“Well, I’ve always been good at finding things.”

“This should be easy, then.” Jackson handed me a slip of paper with the beginning of a shopping list written on it. “Find the pencil that wrote this list.”

“It’s in your center desk drawer,” I said. “There are two pencils in there; you want the one on the right.”

“I think we can skip to more advanced lessons,” Jackson said. “I’m guessing you can also do weather – I’ve heard about your sailing skills and how you always take the course with the best wind. What about people?”

“Pierre,” I said.

“No, you aren’t going to be able to find him,” Jackson said. “He’s supposed to be in his apartment, and that’s shielded – it took a full attack of the Others to get in the other night, and no single individual is going to be able to get through.”

But even as Jackson said this, I sensed him. He was in the bedroom of his apartment; a sheet of plywood had been nailed over the broken window, so it was gloomy. I realized that big nose of his was really sensitive; I could smell the seawater smell of the wet furniture, salty, a little bit fishy, and beginning to smell moldy. Some major refurbishing would be in order. He went to the clothes hamper and took out the clothes I had worn the day I had moved into the apartment – how odd, I thought, that I had only spent two nights there – and he held them to his face; I could smell the vanilla scent I had worn that day. He went into the “guest” closet and passed my clothes over all those in there; I could feel the magic tingle as he executed the spell to make them all my size. Then I could feel the magic shut off – this was no longer the guest closet; it was my closet now. He did the same for the clothes in the guest dresser. “He’s getting ready for me to move in,” I said.

Jackson looked startled. “That’s not possible. You shouldn’t be able to find him. Unless … unless his shields are down …” Jackson paused a moment to concentrate. “No, he’s shielded all right. This could be a problem – if he’s not shielded from you, the Others could attack him through you. Or they could get at you through him. Can you read his mind?”

“No, or at least, I can’t tell exactly what he’s thinking,” I said. I realized that I could feel his physical reactions to those thoughts, however, as he continued to hold my clothes. And then there was that vision again, that Pierre had called a premonition last time I saw it – his hand on my back, me in his bed – there was something a little odd about the vision, although I couldn’t place it. Then the doorbell rang, Pierre went to answer it, and I lost contact. “I’ve lost him now,” I said. “Maybe his shields are open to me only when he’s thinking of me.”

“Well, Pierre’s a special case, anyway,” Jackson said. “How are you with ordinary people – ones that don’t have any particular tie to you?”

I tried to think of an ordinary person to locate, and the only one I could think of was the delivery boy who had brought the Chinese takeout to Pierre’s place. Yes, there he was, in an elevator, going down, grumbling under his breath about how the higher up in the building, the lower the tips. I wasn’t too surprised when the elevator doors opened to reveal the lobby of Pierre’s building. “Well, there’s this Chinese food delivery boy who thinks the world of Pierre!”

“Well, I guess that’s not as directly connected to you …”

“Wait a minute … If I can find people, I wonder … What about Pierre’s daughter, Eliza?” I spread my thoughts out and felt a glimmering. “She’s alive … that’s all I can tell. Wherever she is, it must be very thoroughly shielded. Maybe far away, too.”

“Well, that’s more than anyone has found out before,” Jackson said. “We did try, once, many of us pooling our power to find her, a few years back when Pierre had just joined us. We couldn’t even find out whether she was alive. Pierre will be glad to hear your news. But if she’s in a shielded place, she may be in the hands of the Others, and that wouldn’t be good.”

“Knowing what I know about Pierre’s second wife, she could well have something to do with the Others,” I agreed. “Poor Pierre.”

“Meanwhile, I think we’ve covered quite enough ground for now,” Jackson said. “Let’s break until tomorrow, and then we’ll see how you rate on the next sets of skills, illusion and telepathy.”


Blogger Tillerman said...

I need some of those wizardy skills to always find the best wind. Where do I sign up for the course?

Wed Feb 15, 01:14:00 PM MST  
Blogger Carol Anne said...

You'll have to check with Larry on that one.

Thu Feb 16, 11:01:00 AM MST  

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