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Mark McClelland, 24 Feb '13

        “Fsschictsizzl.”
        Arrendal bent over his spellbook, his ear so close to the page he could feel the fine hairs rub against the gold letters he’d laid down so many years ago — before disease had left him blind. He strained to hear it again, afraid it may have been his imagination breaking free of his weary mind.
        The village of Lonergan slept, this late-summer night, and the hour was so late that even the insects were scarcely to be heard through his open window. The occasional sigh from his beagle stood out against the silence, and even this he cursed and wished away. The sound had been so very faint, even to the finely tuned ear of a blind man — he didn’t want to miss it if it came again.
        Slowly, he reached across to the bowl beside his spellbook. He traced the rim, feeling its familiar ridges, orienting himself to its four compartments — all the while continuing to listen, eager, nearly desperate to hear the sound of magic again.

        The idea had first occurred to him two days ago. Or was it three, at this point? He hadn’t slept more than a few hours since, excited as he was at the prospect of having contact with magic once again. A mage, you see, depends utterly upon his vision, to re-read his spells and absorb into his person their power. When a spell is cast, it is lost from the mind of the caster, like a gemstone torn from a tapestry. To bring the power of the spell back into himself, to master its intricacies anew, the mage must study the spell. It is not enough to memorize the symbols and words, calling them to mind and turning them over. The mage must return to his spellbook. The very writing plays a crucial role, commuting its power into the mind of the learned spellcaster in a way known to all who have mastered the craft — but understood by none.
        The monsters who, years ago, had dumped their bloody, disease-ridden refuse into the waters upstream from Lonergan could never have guessed the victory thus scored. It was the drinking of this tainted water that brought the agent of disease into Arrendal’s body, ultimately depriving him of his sight.
        In the years since, Arrendal had found other ways to put his remarkable mind to use. He redoubled his efforts to motivate his fellow villagers to prepare for battles only he seemed to know would come. His book arts were also put to use, creating blank books of such beauty and durability they drew merchants and scholars to a village otherwise isolated from the world — too isolated.
        Above all, he set his mind to the problem of a spellbook for the blind. With the help of a colleague from a distant town, he had invented a means of laying down raised symbols, so he could run his fingers over them and “see” them by touch, but this had yielded nothing more than a few charred fingertips; the magic surged on the page and amassed on the surface of his skin — he could feel it, hot and alive — but it could go nowhere from there.
        He had discussed with this colleague the idea of applying materials to the symbols that would allow them to speak their magic to the spellcaster, and together they had tried a great many experiments. They had started with tongues, dried and ground to a powder, then dissolved in various fluids — saliva, alcohol, bard’s blood, melted silver — whatever they could think of that might help convey powers of speech. They moved on to ears, and from there to cricket’s legs, songbird’s throat, various woods well suited to the making of musical instruments - all manner of thing, many at great expense. His savings depleted and his colleague’s patience wearing thin, Arrendal had been forced to give up this line of inquiry.

        His resources were at an end, but his obsession lived on, stronger than ever. Idea after idea crossed his mind, and he kept a log of them all, to refer to when he had the opportunity to try again. Two days ago, it dawned on him that he may have overlooked a very basic concept: magic wants to be known. It wanted to flow into him, so that he could bring it into the world, but it didn’t know that he was blind. His objective, he realized, should be to communicate to magic that it was not communicating to him.
        This set him on a new course, his urgency brightened by fresh inspiration. When he had run his fingers over the raised letters, he now realized, he had touched on this principle. It had not merely been the burn of raw energy. Magic must have understood his intention. It had responded, but he was unable to receive it into his mind through his flesh. What if he could somehow let magic know that he could not see the symbols, and instead needed to hear it?
        Without the help of his colleague, his experiments were clumsy. Entire pages of his spellbook were destroyed in the process, as he smeared all manner of grease and pitch across the symbols, blacking them out to indicate to them that they could not be seen. None of it worked, but he kept at it, undaunted. His confidence refused to be dispelled. It was merely a matter of finding the right words, as it were, to inform magic of his need. He tried talking to it, of course, in every language at his command, but was not surprised when this failed. Magic responded to elements, colors, temperature, passion, and the meaning of objects — not to languages, human or otherwise. Emotions conveyed through speech could sometimes amplify or alter slightly the effects of a spell, but not by way of linguistic meaning.

        His fingers moved past the compartment of albumen. The symbols were sufficiently blackened — he felt sure of that. The key, then, had been adding a second part to his message. Not only did magic need to understand that he could not see; he to convey also that he wanted it to speak. He dipped his index finger into the next compartment, felt the liquid, and brought his finger back across the page. Reluctantly, he lifted his head, afraid he might miss a reprise of the mysterious bit of magic he had heard, and ran his wet finger over the pitch-blackened letters.
        “Fsschictsizzl.”
        Louder this time, and recognizably the same sound. The voice of magic. There could be no doubt. And this time, he felt it. Ever so slight, bringing back memories of his earliest days as a student of magic. Tears of joy welled up in his eyes. He lay his cheek against the page and started to laugh and blubber. Tears flooded out now, running over his skin and onto the book.
        “Lemon juice.” He laughed and cried at the irony of it. “Yellow for communication, lemon as a symbol of friendship,” he recited. After all the gold he’d thrown at the problem. “Pitch and lemon juice.”
        He dipped his finger in the bowl one more time, just to feel it again. He traced his finger over the same symbols, and again the voice — and the tiniest sparkle of magic within him.

Comments · 1

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  • Mark McClelland said...

    Written in one straight shot, but it took be a couple of hours, so I'm not sure it qualifies as a true burst. And I did have to go back and remove words here and there, to trim it down to size -- precisely 1250 words.

    Arrendal is a character I invented for a role-playing game some years ago. My imagination keeps coming back to him, and I decided I would indulge myself in a little vignette.

    • Posted 6 years ago