A Man of Many Spells
Charles C Cole
For a wizard of some regional renown, Methaglyn the Modest was a bookish sort. In his mind, nature in its rawness surrounded his remote dwelling like a village uprising, relentlessly busy and noisy and unpredictable. Spells, on the other hand, were carefully crafted, well-organized, dependable affairs. If one followed the directions to the letter, one would not be disappointed or surprised.
Methaglyn was confident that he knew more spells than his mentor or his mentor’s peers. He’d read every handwritten manual he could get his eyes on. In good weather, he’d even travelled on foot for days to be told, “You may review my spell book, but only in my study and you may not copy anything down. Errors happen – with profound consequences – during transcription.” All he did was memorize and contemplate spells.
If he’d had the ingredients about or could acquire them, he’d tried the spell, to consistent success, with the exception of the incident on the small pond in the nearby wood which was still bubbling and boiling weeks after his one memorable failure. Who knew accidentally substituting baking soda for baking powder would make such a seismic difference? Methaglyn did. And he’d never make the same mistake twice.
Methaglyn was ready to try a newly learned spell, but he needed to concentrate, which required more silence than available within sight of his humble stone dwelling, short of jamming warm sealing wax in his ears. So, he pulled on his worn leather sandals, filled his rucksack with herbal and magical integrants, and stuffed his pockets with cured beef to sustain him.
His destination was a couple meditative hours walk: a dry gorge at the bottom of a rocky mountain, always in some degree of shadow, and carpeted with near-barren sand. This was his remote retreat and a concealed testing ground, where mumbled incantations often reverberated sonorously off the cliff-face.
The eager wizard extracted his favorite travel cauldron and began mixing pre-measured ingredients. In no time, Methaglyn was having a conversation directly with the sleeping spirit of the ancient rock, compelled to the surface and animated through powerful magical properties that pre-dated human existence. A crude face, eyes and a mouth, twitched and revealed itself.
“Who wakes me?” asked the voice of the cliff.
“A man with questions.”
“So intriguingly specific. What do you seek, man?”
“I will gladly share all I know, if you let me rest once we’re through. I am old. I was old tens of thousands of years before the first man made his first weapon.”
“I assure you, this is but a temporary spell to be used only in emergencies, like when I’m lost and I need information.”
“What is today’s emergency?” asked the cliff.
“In truth, I’m practicing, for when I really need it.”
“So, your emergency is that you don’t know as much as you’d like to know. Tell me, seeker, do you know the nature of man’s first weapon?”
“A knife?” guessed Methaglyn.
“A bow and arrow with the arrow’s sharp point chiseled from flint.”
“It was a simple rock. I was put on the earth to give you a firm place to stand, to give you a tall tower to see and appreciate the world around you and your place in it, to see the weather or a herd of game approaching from afar so you could prepare accordingly, or to be used as a lee in the storm. But when you could finally think creatively, the first ‘think’ you did was to declare another man your enemy, find a dense fist-sized piece of me, and use me to pummel another because you feared there weren’t enough resources to share and you didn’t trust the other fellow’s motives. So, you struck first, and made me an unwilling co-conspirator to the crime.”
“I’m sorry. For what it’s worth, I’ve never used a rock to kill. I’ve never killed. I consider myself a man of reason, not a man of action. Certainly, not a man of unwarranted violence.”
The stone eyes opened wider and peered up at the threatening sky. “Rain’s coming. I can smell it in the air.” This pronouncement was made despite the face having no discernable nose. “Are we done?”
“I thought you were the lee in the storm,” teased Methaglyn
“Have you ever seen a flash flood up close? You stand in the frequent path of one.”
“Perhaps that explains why no animals have settled here,” said the wizard. “One final question: How do I tame nature, the birds and insects, to be as quiet as stone?”
“I have never heard of such a spell. I know birds don’t like to be noticed by a predator and insects like to be hunkered down before a deluge. If you can pretend to be these things, convincingly, for a while you might find what you seek. Or, better, burn the woods down and they’ll move away.”
“That won’t be necessary.”
“Good. In that case, come back some rain-free day, to practice, and we’ll chat again. Maybe you’re the ripe apple in the barrel of rotten ones.”
Back in his dooryard, Methaglyn stared up at the dark slate sky to his west, grateful to have avoided a second watery disaster. He hugged a large beech tree, arms and hands open as far as he could spread them and released his tensions around trying a new spell, through the tree, to its roots, to the ground.
Then he closed his eyes and listened to the birds and bugs and the burbling creek. When embraced, the same sounds were now cheerful and festive. He was not alone to wallow in his baser instincts, and he was relieved by the welcomed distraction.