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C. Dale Brittain

A Bad Spell in Yurt

PART ONE — YURT

I

I was not a very good wizard. But it was not a very big kingdom. I assumed I was the only person to answer their ad, for in a short time I had a letter back from the king’s constable, saying the job was mine if I still wanted it, and that I should report to take up the post of Royal Wizard in six weeks.

It took most of the six weeks to grow in my beard, and then I dyed it grey to make myself look older. Two days before leaving for my kingdom, I went down to the emporium to buy a suitable wardrobe.

Of course at the emporium they knew all about us young wizards from the wizards’ school. They looked at us dubiously, took our money into the next room to make sure it stayed money even when we weren’t there, and tended to count the items on the display racks in a rather conspicuous way. But I knew the manager of the clothing department-he’d even helped me once pick out a Christmas present for my grandmother, which I think endeared me to him as much as to her.

He was on the phone when I came in. “What do you mean, you won’t take it back? But our buyer never ordered it!” While waiting for him, I picked out some black velvet trousers, just the thing, I thought, to give me a wizardly flair.

The manager slammed down the phone. “So what am I supposed to do with this?” he demanded of no one in particular. “This” was a shapeless red velvet pullover, with some rather tattered white fur at the neck. It might have been intended to be part of a Father Noel costume.

I was entranced. “I’ll take it!”

“Are you sure? But what will you do with it?”

“I’m going to be a Royal Wizard. It will help me strike the right note of authority and mystery.”

“Speaking of mystery, what’s all the fuzzy stuff on your chin?”

I was proud of my beard, but since he gave me the pullover for almost nothing, I couldn’t be irritated. When I left for my kingdom, I felt resplendent in velvet, red for blood and black for the powers of darkness.

It was only two hundred miles, and probably most of the young wizards would have flown themselves, but I insisted on the air cart. “I need to make the proper impression of grandeur when I arrive,” I said. Besides-and they all knew it even though I didn’t say it-I wasn’t sure I could fly that far.

The air cart was the skin of a purple beast that had been born flying. Long after the beast was dead, its skin continued to fly, and it could be guided by magic commands. It brought me steeply up from the wizards’ complex at the center of the City, and I looked back as the white city spires fell away. It had been a good eight years, but I felt ready for new challenges. We soared across plains, forests, and hills all the long afternoon, before finally banking steeply over what I had been calling “my” kingdom for the last six weeks.

From above there scarcely seemed to be more to the kingdom than a castle, for beyond the castle walls there was barely room for the royal fields and pastures before thick green woods closed in. A bright garden lay just outside the castle walls, and pennants snapped from all the turrets. The air cart dipped, folded its wings, and set me down with a bump in the courtyard.

I looked around and loved it at once. It was a perfect child’s toy of a castle, the stone walls freshly whitewashed and the green shutters newly painted. The courtyard was a combination of clean-swept cobbles, manicured flower beds, and tidy gravel paths. On the far side of the courtyard, a well-groomed horse put his head over a white half-door and whinnied at me.

A man and woman came toward me, both dressed in starched blue and white. “Welcome to the Kingdom of Yurt. I am the king’s constable, and this is my wife.” They both bowed deeply, which flustered me, but I covered it by striking a pose of dignity.

“Thank you,” I said in my deepest voice. “I’m sure I will find much here to interest me.” The air cart was twitching, eager to be flying again. “If you could just help me with my luggage-”

The constable helped me unload the boxes, while his wife ran to open the door to my chambers. The door opened directly onto the courtyard. I had somehow expected either a tower or a dungeon and wondered if this was suitably dignified, but at least it meant we didn’t have far to carry the boxes. They were heavy, too, and I had not had enough practice with the spell for lifting more than one heavy thing at a time to want to try in front of an audience.

The air cart took off again as soon as it was empty. I watched it soar away, my last direct link with the City, then turned to start unpacking. Both the constable and his wife stayed with me, eager to talk. I was just as eager to have them, because I wanted to find out more about Yurt.

“The kingdom’s never had a wizard from the wizards’ school before,” said the constable. I was unpacking my certificate for completing the eight years’ program. Although, naturally, it didn’t say anything about honors or special merit or even areas of distinction, it really was impressive. That was why I had packed it on top. It was a magic certificate, of course, nearly six feet long when unrolled. My name, Daimbert, was written in letters of fire that flickered as you watched. Stars twinkled around the edges, and the deep blue and maroon flourishes turned to gold when you touched them. It came with its own spell to adhere to walls, so I hung it up in the outer of my two chambers, the one I would use as my study.

“Our old wizard’s just retired,” the constable continued. “He must be well past two hundred years old, and when he was young you had to serve an apprenticeship to become a wizard. They didn’t have all the training you have now.”

I ostentatiously opened my first box of books.

“He’s moved down to a little house at the edge of the forest. That’s why we had to hire a new wizard. I’m sure he’d be delighted to meet you if you ever had time to visit him.”

“Oh, good,” I thought with more relief than was easy to admit, even to myself. “Someone who may actually know some magic if I get into trouble.”

I took my books out one by one and arranged them on the shelves: the Ancient and Modern Necromancy, all five volumes of Thaumaturgy A to Z, the Index to Spell Key Words, and the rest, most barely thumbed. As I tried to decide whether to put the Elements of Transmogrification next to Basic Metamorphosis, which would make sense thematically but not aesthetically, since they were such different sizes, I thought I should have plenty of quiet evenings here, away from the distractions of the City, and might even get a chance to read them. If I had done more than skim those two volumes, I might have avoided all that embarrassment with the frogs in the practical exam.

“You’ll meet the king this evening, but he’s authorized me to tell you some of our hopes. We’ve never had a telephone system, but now that you’re here we’re sure we’ll be able to get one.”

I was flabbergasted. In the City telephones were so common that you tended to forget how complicated was the magic by which they ran. It was new magic, too, not more than forty years old, something that Yurt’s old wizard would never have learned but which was indeed taught at the wizards’ school. How was I going to explain I had managed to avoid that whole sequence of courses?

He saw my hesitation. “We realize we’re rather remote, and that the magic is not easy. No one is expecting anything for at least a few weeks. But everyone was so excited when you answered our ad! We’d been afraid we might have to settle for a magician, but instead we have a fully-trained and qualified wizard!”

“Don’t worry the boy with his duties so soon,” the constable’s wife said to him, but smiling as she scolded. “He’ll have plenty of time to get started tomorrow.”

“Tomorrow! A few weeks!” I thought but had the sense not to say anything. I didn’t even have the right books. If I did nothing else, I might be able to derive the proper magic from basic principles in four or five years. I was too upset even to resent being called “the boy”-so much for the grey beard!

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