Chapter II: The Book

I was very nearly out of the audience room when the Marquis’ voice reached my ears.

“Wizard. Stay.”

My shoulders slumped and I obeyed.

I padded softly over and stood before the oaken throne, and in a blink I was alone with my liege in the audience room. The dull chatter from without the room had drained away with the petitioners, and the very last echoes of the door closing and latching behind Aveline could be heard trailing off into an infinite silence.

Henri was a young man finally coming into his own. The little gilded circlet of his station sat naturally on his wide forehead, coralling his neatly slicked hair. He had a narrow, protruding jawline complemented by a painstakingly cropped goatee. His eyes—unsteady, searching, cautious eyes—were currently working over my face.

Where Henri’s face was smooth and neat, he would be seeing mine lined and heavily bearded. Henri’s hair was slick and his brows thin and sharp; my hair short and coarse and my brows bushy. And, of course, where Henri’s eyes searched and inquired, mine were still and studied.

Henri shifted on his throne and cleared his throat before speaking.

“Why try to sulk out of court so quickly, my friend?”

That hurt a little bit. It’s never fun to be scolded by your boss. “‘Sulking’ is a bit unfair, I think. I would characterize it as… hustling. Deliberate haste,” I replied.

“I would call it absconding.”

“Absconding, sure.”

Henri smiled at my concession, leaning over and resting his chin on his hand.

“Absconding. So why?”

“My liege, I am a wizard…”

“I know that.”

What I meant to say was that we wizards are not especially strong. Certainly not stronger than demons. We do not, as it is sometimes thought, breathe fire, nor are we gifted with claws and fangs. And I will admit I was, then, not quite so brisk as I was when I was Henri’s age.

That leaves us to our studies. We are usually quite clever, and we are given many tools. We endeavor to give ourselves time to prepare, to arm ourselves with these tools. And if I were to do something about a demon in Fertheaux, I should begin preparing as soon as able.

But I had probably given Henri, and others in his earshot, this speech one too many times. So I cut to the chase.

“… yes, yes, sorry, you do know that. What I mean to say is that I should leave to begin my preparations right away.”

“You are going?” asked my liege.

“Why, yes, of course. There’s a demon in Fertheaux, apparently, and your peace must be kept.”

Henri lifted his eyebrows and tapped his cheek with his index finger, a gesture of intrigue, I thought. “Why assume I should send you? I could send Doria and her knights.”

“Because… ahm…”

“Admit it, Horwendell.”

I crossed my arms. “Admit what?”

“Admit that you have a terrible poker face.”

“Freely admitted.”

“And…?” he inclined his head expectantly. I quit stalling and got out with it.

“I was hoping to sulk…. abscond from here and go speak to Malisa, before you took further action.”

“Much better.”

I took that as permission to bubble over with the thoughts that had been simmering in my mind for the last few minutes. “I don’t believe this talk about consorting with demons. There are a number of things it is more likely to be. My first guess is simple paranoia. No demon, no fires, just a wild rumor…”

“… and the Reeve?”

“Drunk, perhaps?”

Herni’s head tilted in reproach.

“… Okay, perhaps not. But you must admit, it is possible there is no demon. Or perhaps it is a fae spirit. Or perhaps she is beset by the demon, rather that consorting with it.”

“Horwendell,” said Henri.

“She may have a companion of a non-demonic sort. A pet, perhaps. Or a friend. Silhouettes in the darkness of the forest can be…”

“Horwendell!” shouted Henri.

I drew up to a halt.

“Calm down, wizard. I do not trust the witch, it is certain. But I trust you. You need not convince me. I will allow this.”

“You will?”

“Of course. The Reeve is likely right, in his own way. There is something non-human in his hamlet, something he does not understand, and that threatens the peace. Perhaps it is or is not a demon. But you will know what it is, and you will know how best to serve.”

“That is a great relief, my liege.”

“You expected me to seek the witch’s death, did you?”

“It wouldn’t have been terribly surprising,” I admitted.

Henri bobbed his head back and forth, as though considering. “Perhaps I might have. Nevertheless… no, not yet. Go to her. I trust you will handle it appropriately.”

“I will, my liege. Now, if I may…”

“Yes, go prepare. The sooner the Reeve and his villagers are put at ease, the better.”

I finally sul… absconded, sweeping out the audience room door and hurrying up the spiraling stairs two at a time. I reached the top and slid through the door to my study and closed it in one graceful motion, greeting the familiar smells—ink, candlewax, and pine sap—and the familiar sights with a smile. I loved this room, truly. This was my relief after long, trying nights at court, full of mistrustful gazes and rolled eyes. The Marquis trusted me, but the peasantry did not, and my peers at court seemed to think of me as an amusement or a diversion. Aveline organized the Marquis’ affairs, Jermaine his relationships, and Doria his power. What, they seemed to wonder, did I do?

And sometimes I wondered that myself. The Marquis valued my opinion on what matters it was relevant on, but those matters were sparse.

But here, at my desk, there was no such worry. There was no maddeningly empty field of responsibilities. There was only lush potential and knowledge within grasp from all sides.

And tonight, there was a challenge.

I sat down and eyed the letter, still curled up neatly atop the others. A matter of life and death. Perhaps it was a demon after all?

The Reeve said that fires burned hotter around her cabin. Some demons—demons of fury and hate—could have that effect. But lesser demons and stranger demons—of anguish or of misery—did not. And sometimes sorcerers did.


I tapped the front drawer of my desk with my finger and it slid open, animated by an unseen force, revealing a simple leather-bound tome, thick and heavy. I hefted it onto the table and began to leaf through the pages.

Page after page after page was filled with script, in Orlan, in Orsinic, in Draconic, in Dwarvish, and in cipher. On many pages the script was underlaid by thin, faint lines, sometimes forming clear images and other times sprawling about haphazardly. The pages spilled over with meaning.

This was my spellbook. The wizard’s spellbook is best thought of as a map. Using a map, a cartographer can reduce leagues and leagues of terrain, filled with rolling hills and imposing forests and mortal habitation, to the information that is required for the map’s intended audience to navigate or estimate distances. Likewise, using a spellbook, a wizard attempts to reduce entire discourses about reality—planes of existence, material forms, the nature of mortality, the heavenly arc of the stars, the majesty of the Gods, the strands that weave together to form the world and mortals’ understanding of it—down to a mere thousand pages. Needless to say, this project is insane. It is futile. It is arrogant.

But I, like the Court Wizards of Ilianath before me and all their peers, had undertaken it anyway.

The secret is that the wizard’s spellbook is intensely personal. Wizardry requires not just a crystalline, mineral-hard intellect. It also requires careful introspection. The wizard must understand intimately the manifolds of their own mind, the facets of their knowing, so that they may encode the information they have learned from study into mnemonics. Otherwise, without this careful reduction, there is simply too much of it. It would require thousands and thousands of pages to convey the knowledge required to understand and cast even the simplest of spells. Not only would it be laborious to write out, it would simply take too long to read. Before the wizard’s understanding of a spell could be made final in the last pages, they would have forgotten the foundational elements on the very first.

It was the preparation of a spellbook that made a man or a woman a wizard. A person whose mind was sharp enough and whose spirit was dedicated enough to squeeze enough knowledge of the world into a small enough space that they could use it to perform magic—to defy common understanding—was a wizard.

Of course, there are others who could cast spells. Gods, of course, may perform miracles by force of will, and may invest mortals with those powers. Sorcerers, too, may simply will magic upon the world. But wizardry is set apart by a certain stately dignity. No, really. There’s a peace and a stillness to wizardry that just isn’t there with some of the other, older arcane practices.

It was with this dignity—and, well, a little bit of excitement—that I paged through my book and settled on the sections I would read tonight, the spells that would fill my mind to capacity and would require a constant attention from some part of it for entire day, lest I forget crucial elements.

The first was a simple shielding spell. An abjuration, brought about by the understanding of the southern night sky. The pattern of stars and the arc of the moon through them hold a secret, ancient meaning, one that may be used to reject, to refute, and to protect.

The second was a transmutation meant to be cast on the self. In the whispers of the wind, the billowing grass on the plains, and the darting flight of the sparrow lay the secrets to speed, a way to make one’s legs simply carry faster and farther.

The third was a divination in two parts. The first returned to the stars, making meaning out of all four corners of the sky, including fields of stars that are only possible to see by traveling far to the north. The second part was a tale of the ancient astronomers who first charted the stars independently, and how two of them from the north and south met. By uniting these two separate loci of knowledge, the wizard could unlock the common secrets of the relations between souls, and for a time, understand all languages that have ever been spoken. If this “demon” were any sort of spirit from elsewhere, the chances of it speaking the local dialect of the back corner of a minor kingdom were slim.

Fourth, and finally, I flipped to the back and began to read of another abjuration, similar to the shield from before. But this one was quite a bit more complicated in its stellar interpolations, and it didn’t involve the moon at all. It had nothing to do with force or physical reality; it was merely a study in abstraction and indirection. The culmination of these mounting layers of empty concept was a spell that could negate magic: a counterspell.

I had never had the occasion to cast a counterspell before. My interactions with my peers, to that point, had usually been perfectly professional and had never given way to open conflict. Nevertheless, some years before I had spent the weeks of effort to transcribe and rearrange my old master’s spell for my own use for just this situation: that Malisa might get in out of her depth with a person or creature with magical ability. I would need to be prepared, or this creature might subject me to the very power that I had spent my life studying.

Or, worse, Malisa would.