Lawrence Watt-Evans

With a Single Spell

Dedicated to my mother, Doletha Watt-Evans


The little cottage at the edge of the swamp wherein old Roggit had lived out his life was not, strictly speaking, a part of the village of Telven. However, located as it was just over a hill from the edge of town, it was near enough that Roggit had been accepted as a Telvener; no one had protested when his apprentice, Tobas, had called on the villagers to attend his master’s funeral.

Of course, quite aside from any fine distinctions about the village boundaries, it was never wise to anger a wizard, or even a wizard’s apprentices, not even one as untrained as Tobas surely was after merely a year or two of study under a man who had been in his dotage and on the verge of senility for as long as anyone remembered.

As a result of these considerations, in addition to the usual morbid curiosity natural upon the cremation of one of the area’s older and more eccentric inhabitants, the ceremonies drew a good crowd, with more than half the townspeople in attendance. As Tobas saw them all silently departing after the fire died, he realized glumly that he could not say a single one — old, young, or in between — had come out of honest friendship or sympathy for either the dead wizard or for himself, the surviving apprentice.

He had had friends in his younger years, he told himself, but they all seemed to have drifted away when his luck went bad. Since his father’s death he had been considered a creature of ill omen, not a fitting friend for anyone.

He watched the villagers wander away in pairs, trios, or family groups and then set out alone, back over the hill toward the cottage. The sun was still high in the sky. The pyre had burned quickly, as the weather had been dry of late.

As he topped the rise he tried to decide whether he, himself, actually grieved over Roggit’s death and found himself unsure whether his distress was on Roggit’s behalf or simply a reflection of his worries about his own position.

His own position was still, to some extent, in doubt. As Roggit’s apprentice at the time of his death, Tobas was heir to everything the old man had owned that had not previously been settled on others; and as far as anyone knew, Roggit had had no children or relatives or even former apprentices to leave anything to. What little there was all went to Tobas.

That, however, was not necessarily a great comfort. Roggit had not been wealthy. He had owned a small piece of land, too swampy to be of much use, and the cottage, together with its contents, and that was all.

At least, Tobas thought, he hadn’t been left homeless this time, as he had been when his father died. And the house still held old Roggit’s magical supplies and paraphernalia, including, most importantly of all, his Book of Spells.

Tobas would need that. It was all he had left to depend on.

When he had first convinced the old wizard to take him on as an apprentice, despite the fact that anyone not half-blind and half-senile could have seen he was at least fifteen, rather than the maximum apprenticeable age of thirteen, Tobas had thought his place was secure. He had expected to live out his life quietly, earning his bread as a small-town wizard, selling love potions and removing curses, as Roggit had done. It had seemed easy enough. He had been initiated into the primary mystery of the Wizards’ Guild — he unconsciously touched the hilt of the dagger on his belt as he thought of it — and had learned his first spell without difficulty when, after months of delay and apparently unnecessary preparation, Roggit had finally seen fit to teach him one.

Tobas had thoroughly and beyond all question mastered his first spell and practiced it until he could do it perfectly with no thought at all; when Roggit had at last admitted that the lad had mastered it, he had promised to teach Tobas a second within the month. The apprentice had been looking forward eagerly to this next step in his education when, just two nights ago, the old man had died quietly in his sleep, leaving Tobas with his house and his Book of Spells and his jars and his boxes and his mysterious objects of every description, but with only a single spell learned, and that nothing but the knack of lighting fires.

The old man had called it Thrindle’s Combustion, and Tobas had to admit that it was very useful to be able to light a fire anywhere, at any time, under any conditions, regardless of how wet the fuel was or how fiercely the wind blew, so long as he had his athame, as Roggit had called the enchanted dagger that was the key to a wizard’s power, and a few grains of brimstone and something that it was theoretically possible to burn. Since learning it Tobas had made it a point never to be without the knife and a supply of brimstone and had impressed people occasionally by setting fire to this or that. He had used the spell to light Roggit’s pyre, and that had added a nice touch to the cremation ceremonies, an appropriate farewell; the villagers had murmured approvingly.

Of course, not every use of the spell had gone so well, he remembered wryly; he had once embarrassed himself by trying to ignite a black rock he had mistaken for coal. The only result had been a shower of ineffectual sparks. Fortunately, the girl he had been showing off for had not realized any more was intended and had been appropriately amazed.

Useful as it might be, Thrindle’s Combustion was not the sort of spell a lad could build an entire career on. It would not earn his bread, nor convince anyone to marry him, most of the village girls had been noticeably cool of late, though he was not sure why. He had never expected to wed for love, of course, hardly anyone did, but he doubted, under the circumstances, whether any of the available females would even consider a marriage of convenience.

He needed to learn more spells, quickly, and establish himself as the town’s new wizard. If he failed to secure his position as soon as possible, someone might well invite in a foreign magician of some sort, leaving him out of work. The cottage garden, with its handful of herbs, would not be enough to keep him alive if that happened.

Fortunately, he did have Roggit’s Book of Spells. But as he picked up his pace, hurrying down the slope to the cottage, he found himself unwillingly imagining reasons why he might not be able to use it. Had Roggit written it in some esoteric wizardly tongue? Would the spells he needed call for ingredients he could not obtain? The Book was old; might the pages have faded to illegibility, leaving just enough to remind Roggit of what he already knew? Was there some important secret he did not know?

He intended to waste no time. If he lost even a single day in mourning poor old Roggit, something might go wrong. He would open the Book of Spells as soon as he got home.

He crossed the dooryard impatiently, lifted the latch, and stepped into the cottage that was no longer Roggit’s. This was his now.

He looked around, reacquainting himself with the place. His own little bed — a pallet, really — which he would no longer be using, lay in one corner; Roggit’s narrow bed, where he intended to sleep henceforth, stood in another. A fireplace yawned at each end, both empty and cold; the weather had been mild, and he had not bothered to do any cooking since Roggit’s death. The lone table, used for cooking, dining, and as the wizard’s workplace, stood in the center. The long walls on both sides were jammed with shelves, cabinets, and cupboards, all packed with the necessities of the wizard’s simple life and arcane trade. The ceiling overhead was the underside of the thatched roof, and the floor beneath his feet was packed dirt. The Book of Spells lay in solitary splendor atop its reading stand.

The cottage wasn’t much, he thought critically, but it was dry and, when the fires were lit, warm. It was not at its best at present, the mattress on the bed was bare, as the only blankets had been wrapped around Roggit’s remains atop the pyre, and the woodbin and water bucket were empty, as Tobas had not paid much attention to the details of everyday life since the catastrophe of Roggit’s demise. A few spells that Roggit had cast might still be going here and there, and a few potions or philtres might be tucked away somewhere in the clutter, but no sign of anything magical showed. It looked much like any drab, ordinary cottage.

Still, it was his.

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