Tuesday, July 9, 2013

The Wizard

Not far from the village lay a ruin. It might have been a keep or castle of some sort, but most who saw it mistook it for a pile of rocks and rubble. Not even the monsignor at the church in Asheville could tell anyone what the ruin once was.

But from the ruin, from time to time, passersby could see columns of smoke, sometimes thick and black, and other times willowy white. A few of the more foolish boys dared each other to approach the ruins at night, when the vapors were accompanied by strange lights, blue one moment, green-red the next. Those who got close said the rocks were swarmed with frogs who lived in the marsh near the pile. Their eerie croaking filled the night, filled their ears, and they, in turn, filled the ears of the more cowardly with stories of a wizard changing those foolish enough to intrude on his solitude into the croaking beasts.

There was indeed a man living in the ruins. Abbingdon himself had seen him. He seemed strange, yes, hermetic, closed in, unwilling to communicate. But he occasionally came to the farm to buy fresh eggs, betimes with coils of sausage and strings of onion over his other arm. Wizard or not, becharmer of frogs or not, he was mortal enough to be hungry.

“Good morning to you, Richard,” Abbingdon said as the wizard approached the farm gate.

“It’s still raining,” the wizard said.

“Hadn’t noticed,” Abbingdon said, rain dripping off the end of his nose. “Eggs?”

“Yes. Several dozen, if you have them.”

Abbingdon’s eyebrows arched. “That many? You have guests, or a sudden urge for omelettes?”

Richard laughed. “Guests you might say, who like an omelette.”

“I’ll go poke the hens. I have some eggs, perhaps they have more.”

He and Richard walked to the henhouse. They gathered about a dozen eggs, adding them to the basket of five dozen Abbingdon had collected earlier that morning.

“I’ll have some disappointed customers,” Abbingdon said as Richard hoisted the full basket. “But the price is right.” He jingled a heavy handful of coins.

Isaac heard the jingling, from a hideout in the stables. He peered through a thin bit of thatch and saw his father talking to the wizard, who squelched off with his basket of eggs.

He could not steal from his father. He knew the money he jingled would go to buy food for the family and for the animals that fed them when there was no purse to jingle. Stealing from his father would be stealing from himself, taking food from his mouth and clothes off his back. “I have developed ethics, father, despite what you think of me,” he said, grinning.

But the wizard. If the wizard had that kind of money to spend on eggs, he must have more.

Much more. For wizards could turn lead into gold, he knew. Wizards earned fortunes for casting spells, for potions. That they lived in pokey huts or in the ruins of ancient buildings belied their wealth – of that Isaac was sure.

“The best time to go is now, while the fool is preoccupied with his eggs in the daylight, not expecting to be followed,” Isaac said to himself as he slid out of the thatch and into the muddy farmyard.

Though the rain muffled his steps, and though he was quick to stay out of sight, Isaac found following the wizard taxing. The wizard was suspicious, turning suddenly about, muttering, talking to himself, tripping over roots and lurching from side to side as he struggled around the mud and puddles. Once, dismayed at the mire the path had become, he looked quickly about and, spotting no one, snapped his fingers. Instantly he levitated about a foot in the air and, walking as if on invisible stilts, traversed the muck without further staining the bottom of his green robe.

Isaac was forced to run to keep pace. He felt the sting of nettles and thorns as he pushed through the brush and bloodied his nose when an errant branch snapped back and hit him in the face.

“This wizard had better have something worth stealing,” he muttered, blotting at the blood mixing with rainwater on his upper lip and chin.

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