Brian Murphy, Nancy Varian Berberick,Linda P. Baker, Nlck O’Donohoe,Paul B. Thompson,Jeff Crook,Kevin T. Stein,Jean Rabe,Richard A. Knaak,Don Perrin,Donald J. Bingle,

The Search For Magic

All For A Pint

Brian Murphy

Light from the tavern window illuminated the faces of the two wizards as they peered inside. Stynmar’s chubby cheeks rested against the pane of cracked glass and Grantheous’s beard tickled the adjacent frame. Fetlin, their apprentice, stood between them, staring into the tavern. All anxiously awaited the results.

Fetlin ran his fingers through his bright red hair and looked around. His masters shouldn’t be wandering around the docks of Palanthas, but they had to test the market and both had insisted on coming. Fetlin fingered the butcher’s knife he had thrust into his belt in case of trouble.

The Two-Handed Mug, like every other tavern located on the docks, smelled of salt and fish and sweat. The wood floors, made from slats of yellow pine, were discolored by blood and beer, reminding the patrons fondly of bar fights of old.

Inside, the raucous laughter of the sailors changed to cheers as two minotaurs kicked their chairs back and tossed a table aside. The minotaurs growled and snorted. Patrons jumped over the bar, where they could watch in relative safety, or ran out the front door, taking the fight as an opportunity to leave without paying.

The two minotaurs gave deafening roars and locked horns and arms. The mages looked at each other, worried. Stynmar shook his head disconsolately. Fetlin, who was supposed to be taking notes, had trouble telling the minotaurs apart. He saw that one had a scarred lip and the other a nose ring, and he wrote this down in case it later turned out to be important.

The minotaurs grunted and heaved, each testing the other’s strength and balance. With a sudden heave, Lip Scar flipped Nose Ring onto his back. The minotaurs rolled this way and that, knocking over chairs and tables and sailors, then Lip Scar gained the upper hand. Sitting on top of his opponent, Lip Scar raised his hands, fingers outstretched, and paused. Excitement hung heavy in the air. Sailors called out bets. Money changed hands. Lip Scar scanned the crowd, daring anyone to say anything. He sneered and, reaching down, began to tickle Nose Ring in the ribs.

Nose Ring started to laugh, and soon he was screaming from laughing so hard. He tickled Lip Scar, who snorted and guffawed. The two minotaurs were having a wonderful time. The sailors looked on, first in astonishment, then in disgust. They went back to their drinking.

Outside the tavern, Grantheous and Stynmar stared at each other in disbelief.

“Minotaurs tickling each other?” Stynmar gasped.

Grantheous frowned. “I didn’t even know minotaurs could be tickled. I don’t think anyone’s ever tried.”

“Or lived to tell about it,” said Fetlin.

The mages nodded and said, in unison, “Much too potent!”

The two walked off, heading for their next test.

Fetlin wrote the comment “too potent” on his piece of parchment and then fell in step behind his masters, constantly looking over his shoulder to make sure no one followed them.

The mages saw many strange things that night. Their second test was an old man, known to all Palan-thas as Dour Dave because no one had seen him smile in the last fifty years. To their astonishment, Dour Dave dashed out of the tavern called the Seventh Lance, wiping foam from his mouth and laughing merrily.

Spying the mages, he called out, “Hey! You’re wizards! Can you get any magic from this moon?”

Dropping his pants, Dour Dave gave the shocked mages a good view of his backside, shining in the moonlight. He giggled, yanked up his pants and ran off around the corner, just as a Palanthian guard appeared.

“Still too much,” said Grantheous, stroking his beard.

Fetlin noted the determination on his parchment and followed the mages to the Crow’s Nest. Here they found the group of dwarves they’d been watching. In previous weeks, the dwarves groused and complained about the woes of the world, what with the gods departed and evil dragons lording it over the people of Ansa-lon. This night, however, the dwarves were cheerful.

“Dragons and Dark Knights and all the misery they bring cannot last forever, my brothers,” one was saying. “Nothing evil lasts forever! Lads, we must hold on. We will do our part to bring about change. Every little bit helps, eh?”

The other dwarves shouted in agreement. They raised their mugs to better times.

Grantheous and Stynmar looked at each other. They smiled. Stynmar wiped away a tear.

“Just right,” Grantheous told Fetiin, who made a note.

Late that night, the two mages and their young apprentice sat around the table in their snug home in the presumably safe part of Palanthas, watching while Fetiin wrote out the spell neatly on a clean scroll. They had finally discovered the delicate combination of magic and beer that delivered the desired results. Grantheous was all for celebrating, but Stynmar looked a bit pensive.

Fetlin put on the teakettle then, seeing that the two wanted to be alone, went off to bed.

Grantheous poured out the hot water. “So, what is wrong, my friend?”

Stynmar wiped sweat from his chubby face and sighed. “I’m not sure we are doing the right thing.”

“Not doing the right thing?” Grantheous was shocked. “You bring this up now? On the eve of our success?”

“Now is the best time to bring up any doubts,” Stynmar replied. “This is our last moment, our final out. Once we cast the spell, there will be no going back.”

“So what’s wrong?” Grantheous asked.

“They have a right to know,” said Stynmar, gesturing to the window.

“What are you talking about?” asked Grantheous, understandably confused.

“The people have a right to know what they are purchasing,” said Stynmar. “If I were a customer and I found that a pair of mages were magicking my beer, I would be upset.”

“Yes,” said Grantheous, “and you would have every right to be upset if-and please mind that if-we were doing something ugly and nasty and evil to their beer. But Stynmar, we are helping these people.” He poked at his knobby knuckles, voice lowering. “You heard those dwarves. We’re doing good.”

“Do you realize how many evil things have been done in the name of good?” Stynmar argued. “The Kingpriest, for example.”

“Now, don’t get started on the Kingpriest again. Listen, Stynmar,” said Grantheous sternly, “since magic has started fading, some wizards have curled up their toes and died. Others are obsessed with scouring all of Ansalon for artifacts from previous ages, hoping to suck the magic from them. Stynmar, you are the only one who came up with this brilliant idea-take whatever magic we have left in these old bones and give it to the people. ‘A pint of hope’ you called it.”

“ ‘A pint for hope, a pint for love, a pint for faith,’ “ said Stynmar wistfully. “Yes. I know that’s what I said, but-”

“No buts!” said Grantheous. “After Dour Dave, I’ve seen enough butts for one night. You and I created this spell. With your knowledge of the arcane and my knowledge of spell components and herb lore, we have created that pint of hope. Perhaps I should say gallons of hope.”

“I still think that the customers should know,” Stynmar protested.

“Why?” Grantheous slammed his fist on the table. “Why should they know?”

“Did you see the minotaurs?” Stynmar shuddered.

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