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Authors: Erik Buchanan

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Small Magics

BOOK: Small Magics
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small Magics

Erik Buchanan

 

www.dragonmoonpress.com

www.erikbuchanan.ca

Small Magics Copyright © 2007 Erik Buchanan

Cover Art © 2010 Alex White

 

All rights reserved.

Reproduction or utilization of this work in any form, by any means now known or hereinafter invented, including, but not limited to, xerography, photocopying and recording, and in any known storage and retrieval system, is forbidden without permission from the copyright holder.

 

Electronic Edition ISBN 13 978-1-896944-50-0

 

www.dragonmoonpress.com

www.erikbuchanan.ca

 

 

small Magics

Erik Buchanan

 

www.dragonmoonpress.com

www.erikbuchanan.ca

Dedication

For my wife Sara, who gave me the time to work.

For my dear friends and readers Chet, Kim and Katrina, who gave me their honest opinions and keen eyes.

For my daughter Maggie, who is too young yet to read.

And for Mr. Robert Currie, who 20 years ago showed me that I had a talent for the written word.

Acknowledgements

Special thanks to my editors Briana and Gabrielle, for all their fine work, for my readers Chet, Kim, and Katrina, whose keen observations and honest opinions helped make this a better book, for my wife who put up with the sight of my back as I worked at the computer too many nights to count.  Also to the fine folks at Rapier Wit and Fight Directors Canada who taught me about rapier play and many other things. And above all to Gwen Gades, publisher of Dragon Moon Press, for taking the chance on this book.

Prologue

Dear Thomas,

We greatly enjoyed your last letter. It is good to know that your life at the Academy is still as interesting as ever. We wish we could hear from you more often, but we know you are doing exams and one cannot fault you for spending your time in study. Your mother and brother are well and your mother wishes me to say how pleased we are at the work you are doing, which we are. It is not every family that can boast of a son studying both the law and philosophy, let alone one that has done as well as you.

To the meat of the matter: come home! Your mother and I haven’t seen you in four years and that is far too long. A summer away from your studies will do you no harm, and I should like to see you while there is still some of the boy you were left in your features. Not to mention, I should like an opportunity to show off the youngest son I’ve talked so much about.

If you can be here for the start of May, you’ll have a chance to meet Bishop Malloy, who, between ourselves, is a pompous creature and something too proud for one of the High Father’s servants. The bishop will be in Elmvale during the May festival to appoint the new priest for our parish, and will certainly be visiting our home. I have been working to secure a contract to supply all robes for the High Father’s churches in our district, and expect to close the deal when he visits. I have no doubt he would like to meet an able young man like yourself.

Come home, Thomas. You can show off the skills you’ve gained—though not, I hasten to add, those fencing skills of which you seem so inordinately proud. I know the study of fencing is required at the Academy, but I have always held that swordplay is not the proper pastime for the son of a merchant.

But I have given my opinion on that point often enough, as you have given yours. We will debate the matter in person when you come home.

I have included enough silver for you to ride upriver in comfort, and I expect you to do so and not spend it on books.

With love and affection,

your Father,

John Flarety

Chapter 1

Singing, in the distance.

Thomas smiled. He had timed his arrival almost perfectly. His friends had questioned the wisdom of setting out for home so soon after the term had ended—in truth, they had called him a fool and worse. April, they had said, was the worst time for travel. Rain, mud, and desperate brigands; that’s what Thomas would have to face. And someone as small and thin as Thomas would stand no chance. The trip was certain to end in grief, they had declared between draughts of wine. Besides, what sort of an idiot would walk home when he had money for a boat?

Thomas had protested the remarks about his person—he was only slightly shorter than average, though thin was an unfortunately accurate description— and shrugged away the rest. The river may be faster, he’d said, but the walk would be far more interesting, and would give him a chance to practice his botany. There were plenty of farms to buy food from and plenty of barns to sleep in. Besides, no brigands had been reported along the river road in ten years. He would walk.

His companions had shaken their heads in drunken solemnity and continued to forecast his imminent demise.

Thomas had set out exactly as he had planned, hoping to be home for the start of the five-day May festival. There hadn’t been as many barns for sleeping as Thomas had hoped, and he spent more than a few nights curled in his cloak underneath trees by the side of the road. Twice he had slept in the stone circles that dotted the landscape.

Legend had it the stone circles were part of a religion, but it was only legend. Those who built them had disappeared long before the followers of the Four Gods had come to this country, and long, long before the Four had lost their names. Now, the circles stood abandoned and overgrown, their purpose gone with their builders. Still, they made a handy windbreak, and fed Thomas’s imagination as he lay against the great, grey stones, staring up at the stars.

None of the predicted brigands had appeared to accost Thomas on the road, but his friends had certainly been right about the rain and the mud. A solid week of rain in the middle of the journey had soaked Thomas through, made the roads into a quagmire and added three days to his journey.

Still, I made it,
thought Thomas, listening to the singing.
Barely, but I did.

He stopped walking and started to brush the dirt from his clothes. A moment later he gave it up as hopeless. Three weeks of travel had left his clothes ragged and dirty. His thin frame had grown thinner from the days of walking, and his black hair was a tangled mess. He should have cut it short before he left, but in his rush to leave after the term ended, he hadn’t thought of it. Now, it was almost to his shoulders and completely unruly. He rubbed a hand across his face, felt the ragged edges of a very light, very scruffy beard. Fortunately he’d had the river to wash in or he was sure he’d have smelled as bad as he looked.

Thomas turned his grey eyes to the road ahead. Excitement and nerves warred within him to see which would get the upper hand. He had been fourteen when he’d left. Thomas smiled, remembering the desperate cramming he’d done to pass the Academy entrance exams, and his breathless anticipation the day before the trip.

He also remembered his mother waving and crying, his brother grinning and cheering him on, and his father beaming with pride as he drove his son to Greenwater and the river barge that would take Thomas downstream to Hawksmouth and the Royal Academy of Learning.

Four years,
Thomas mused.
I wonder if it still looks the same?

Well, one way to find out.
He shifted the bag on his shoulder, adjusted his rapier and dagger on his belt, and started walking again. He grinned at the thought of what his father was going to say when he saw the blades.

The weapons were strictly functional; no filigree, no gilding, no engraving, but high quality and well made. The rapier had a plain steel bell guard to protect its wielder's hand and a long, straight, wickedly sharp blade that ended in a deadly point. The dagger's blade was thick and wide and as long as his forearm, the better to parry away attacks.

Thomas had won the rapier and a matching dagger at a fencing tournament during the winter. He had entered on a dare, using a borrowed sword and padding, and had stunned himself by emerging victorious. His friends, thrilled for him, had pitched in to buy the sword belt. He had written home immediately to tell his family about the victory.

His father’s reply had been less excited than Thomas had hoped.

John Flarety had been very happy that Thomas had won the tournament. He was pleased to learn his son was studying his fencing with the same dedication as his other classes. Nonetheless, John Flarety insisted that Thomas
not
wear the blades. Such things were not appropriate for the son of a merchant. Noble fops carried swords. Soldiers carried swords. Rogues and ne’er-do-wells carried swords. Honest country folk had no need to carry swords, especially not merchants and their families.

Thomas had written back, explaining that, in the city, many honest folks carried swords, including every student who could afford one. Thomas’s father disagreed entirely and the written argument had been going on ever since.

The road turned down a hill, the forest gave way suddenly, and Thomas was on the edge of the Elmvale town common. The little field was filled with makeshift booths and milling bodies celebrating the May Fair. Children ran around and between the legs of the adults, playing incomprehensible games and begging money for sweets. His mouth started to water when he spotted the pastry booth. He used to stuff himself with blueberry jam tarts, and the sight of them made him realize just how hungry he was. Lunch had been several hours before, and the stale bread and dried sausage had been far less than palatable.

Thomas left the road and crossed the common. It was buzzing with activity. He had hoped to spot his parents or his brother in the crowd, but there was no sign of them. Nearly everyone else from the village was there, though. There were men testing their skill at throwing knives or shooting arrows or wrestling—and wasn’t that Liam, standing victorious in the wrestling ring? It had to be; no one else was that tall. The women were laughing at their husbands, and in some cases, showing off their own skills. Thomas stopped to watch Mary Findley put three knives dead centre into one of the targets. The sight made him smile. She’d been beating men at the knife throw as long as Thomas could remember. On the far side of the common, a small man was standing on a stage, juggling five clubs and singing a bawdy song that kept his audience bawling with laughter.

Thomas found himself grinning like an idiot. Compared to any market day in the city, the crowd was tiny. Compared to the May festival in the city, this was hardly an event at all. There were only a few hundred people here, and the entire fair took up only half the common. Thomas didn’t care. There was an energy among the people here that he’d missed at the May festivals in the city. There, the festivals had been too large for any one person to take in. Here, the festival was small, intimate, and filled with the joy that comes from living through a cold country winter.

“Thomas!”

The bellow was deep and loud enough to fill the entire common. Thomas turned and saw a mountain of a man detach himself from the crowd around the juggler’s stage and charge across the common. Thomas barely had time to identify the giant before he was grabbed, squeezed, and lifted off the ground.

“Thomas! I didn’t think to see you before June!”

“You didn’t believe I’d miss the fair, did you?” gasped Thomas between squeezes. “Now let me down, George, before you crack all my ribs.”

George Gobhann, son of Lionel Gobhann, the village smith, was brown-eyed, brown-haired, and far bigger than Thomas remembered. He had always been larger than Thomas, even though they were of an age. Now, though, he stood head and shoulders taller, and was easily as big as four of him. His arms were thick and sinewy and both of Thomas’s legs could have fit into one leg of George’s breeches with room to spare. The chest against which Thomas was currently being crushed would certainly have over-stretched any number of normal men’s shirts. George brought Thomas down with a force that rocked him to his boots and held him at arm’s length. “Look at you!”

Thomas heaved in a breath. “Me? What about you?”

“You’re skinny as a rake! Didn’t they feed you at the Academy?”

“Not as much as they fed you. Are you a smith now?”

“As if there was ever any doubt. How did you get home?”

“Walked.”

“Hawksmouth to here? No wonder you’re a mess.” George stood back and inspected Thomas head to foot. “What are you doing wearing a sword?”

Thomas put his hand on the hilt, turning it so George could see. “Like it? I won it at a tournament.”

George shook his head in mock-disapproval. “No one wears swords, Thomas.”

“No one
here
wears swords,” corrected Thomas. “Everyone in the city does.”

“Well, you’re in the country now, and you’ll look silly being the only one.”

Thomas rolled his eyes. “You sound like my father.” He scanned the crowd around them again. “Speaking of whom, is he here?”

BOOK: Small Magics
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