I haven’t shared much of my fiction here. Elsewhere on the site is “The Poor But Honest Princess“. The brief introduction to a Fairytale. I’ve agreed to complete it when a magical unicorn appears so stay tuned. There are also a couple of chapters of my frankly weird psychedelic novel, “Instead of Sleep“. Those chapters aren’t exactly representative of the rest of the book but they volunteered to go first. There’s a good bit of sex, if you’re in the mood for it, some of it quite nice and some rather lonely and horrible. Anyway, here’s Wonderwall. No, I mean the first two chapters of MY magical goddamn teenagers book.
At the base of the mountains where the river flattens out is a town called Narrowsford. In that town is a boy that everyone calls Badger although the name his mother gave him was Anton. Badger was the son of a wandering magician who kept wandering and a local girl who stayed put. She lasted four years before dying of river flu and loneliness. She had loved Badger in her way, but her way had a lot of sadness and sighing attached to it. Badger’s mother had a wild romantic streak that had gone about as badly for her as it could. Of her countless hopes and dreams, perhaps one had come true.
When she died, Badger was left to grow up with her brother. Her brother was a simpler man with two emotions for all occasions, smug or angry. Smug as he watched others work and angry when he had to do something himself. Badger learned to cook and clean and do farm chores one step ahead of a cuffed ear or a night without dinner. When he was still very young he would sneak off to the little hut where he had lived with his mother to remember her. He would sit awhile and play with the rocks and twigs as if they were horses and carriages going over the big hills he’d never seen the other side of.
As he grew he became a solid, strong boy with little talk in him. His hair and eyes were black and his skin pale in winter and farmhand brown in summer. He wore the shabby clothes his uncle had worn to rags cut down to Badger’s size. He was a wary boy because he’d rarely heard a question that didn’t contain some sort of trouble or a joke at his expense. As a child with no allies, the local children had tried to make him a scapegoat and teased him without mercy until he’d taken to hitting any one of them who came within reach, fighting low and dirty and without respect for feelings. They now left him alone but it increased his isolation until he often heard only his Uncle’s voice for days at a time. When he ran his Uncle’s errands in the village, grown-up conversations would falter as he approached and but for the words needed for this many or that much all was quiet. He would stand there silently and if he looked up and around he met the eyes of the grownups watching him with a look he couldn’t quite figure out. As he pulled the cart home he thought about it. They were looking at him as they might look at a broken cartwheel or dog with foaming lips or a fire grown bigger than expected.
This Winter had been long and dark and cold. Locked up with Uncle and with little to do while the fields lay deep in snow, Badger carved wood, stayed out of Uncle’s way and pined for something better, for friends and excitement: For hope.
A little hope returned to him in Spring simply because that is what spring does. Nothing really changed outwardly except the return of grueling work as planting began in the still icy village. But the sun shone and leaves appeared on trees that had looked dead all winter. Spring deepened and warmed: The ice disappeared even from deeply shadowed places. The air sang with life and as he worked he could feel the sweetness of simply breathing or drinking water.
Uncle was determined to “catch a bride” as he called it and the best time for this was the Longdays festival as Spring ended and Summer began. Longdays was as close as Narrowsford came to a real celebration. There were contests and dances and treats for the children. Girls and women were a bit flirty and boys and men were a bit showy. There was a picnic feast where everyone had to drink at least one glass of ale. There were always fights and arguments but more happiness than was seen in town for the rest of the year put together.
Coming into town on an errand Badger almost expected things to be different and tried an awkward greeting to a woman coming from the other direction but she looked through him like he was a ghost. He turned and looked at her as she walked away.
“I wasn’t saying hello to you” he called “but to the demon following you.”
Without a look back she began running as fast as she could.
After completing Uncle’s shopping he stopped to watch some boys and girls putting up decorations for the Longdays. He wanted to join them but he had a feeling that it would go badly and turned the cart back toward Uncle’s farm. Halfway home, surrounded by the flowering trees of Spring, his steps faltered in the rutted road, just coming to a silent stop like a rundown clockwork. Once in a while this feeling, he thought of it as “the stranger” came over him like a fever or a dream. It always gave him a pressing feeling of urgency but without direction. The ordinary world seemed altered, lit from inside like a tent at night and possessed here and there of bright and dark meanings just beyond his grasp. His eyes scanned restlessly looking for something he couldn’t quite picture and his hands would twitch and clench as if they yearned for something he was keeping from them. He trembled as if an enormous bell were ringing and vibrating right overhead. He let go of the cart handles and staggered into the woods beside the road as if someone had grabbed and pulled him. He began to run awkwardly over the rough ground, ignoring the scratching branches and slippery hillocks. He stopped suddenly, then dropped to his knees in the mud. Before him was a little gray mushroom no bigger than a baby’s toe. It seemed to be humming something. As if in a dream, he picked it, tucked into his pouch and ran back to the cart feeling nervous that someone might observe and question him.
Back at Uncle’s farm he unloaded the cart and put things neatly away. Uncle casually slapped at him as he entered the house but missed, lacking enthusiasm.
“You’re late again.”
“Sorry, Sir,” said Badger heading for the kitchen. He tended the stove fire and stirred the leftover soup he’d made last night. Evening came on and he lit the hearth fire and candles and brought Uncle some ale.
“I’m ready for my supper,” said Uncle.
“Yes sir,” said Badger and went to see to it. As he stood before the kettle, stirring with the big wooden spoon, he remembered the mushroom and took it out. It lacked any distinctive features. It didn’t look tasty or nasty, healthy or poisonous. He went to put it back in his pouch.
“Put me in the soup,” said the mushroom. Badger looked away from it as if something embarrassing was taking place that he shouldn’t see.
“Hey, you. Put me in the soup” said the mushroom, a bit more urgently, though how it spoke, Badger couldn’t see. With a sense of horror, he found his hand moving to drop it into the soup.
“Just Uncle’s soup,” said the mushroom” chop me fine and put me in Uncle’s soup.”
“What are you?” whispered Badger under his breath. “Are you poison?”
“Many think so.” said the mushroom “I am called ‘Tell the Truth’.”
His hands trembling, Badger chopped the little mushroom fine and stirred him into Uncle’s soup.
He set soup and bread before Uncle and went as usual to the other side of the table and forced himself to eat despite a stomach that asked him not to. Any variation from normalcy would bring sharp words from Uncle. As it was, they ate in silence but for slurped soup and spoon rattles. Badger cleared when Uncle indicated he was done and began to clean the bowls with scrapeweed when he heard a strange frightened gasp from the other room. In the warm orange firelight, Uncle was terribly pale and sweaty and sitting very stiff in his chair. In horror, Badger thought “I’ve poisoned him!”
Uncle sighed and began to look like a droopy puppet. His head swung loosely to face Badger.
“Ask.” He said.
Still fearing the worst, Badger crept toward the table and perched on the edge of his chair.
“Who am I?” He asked haltingly.
“My dead sister’s bastard,” said Uncle in a strange tone as if someone were squeezing the words out of him.
“Why do you hate me?” asked Badger.
“I don’t hate you” wheezed Uncle “I never think about you.”
“Why did you make Mother and me live in that cold hut?”
“She was shunned for her shameless whoring and that let me act as if I was being generous with that shearing hut I gave her.”
“Who is my Father?” asked Badger.
“He was a magician what came to the village to fix the sheep plague. He stayed a couple of weeks, healed the sheep, did a lot of small odd magic for folks, ruined my sister and left town forever.”
“Did he love her?”
“Ask someone who knows,” replied Uncle.
“What was he like?” asked Badger, warming to this idea of hearing the truth.
“Slick show off,” said Uncle sourly “Wore an earring and red and green clothes – trimmed his beard and smelled like soap even without a bath. Told a lot of jokes and knew a lot of songs. Always there was ladies being silly around him and my sister the silliest of them all, damn her.”
Badger’s head was swimming. “How can I find him?”
Uncle’s face grew a nasty smirk. “With a shovel”
Badger felt his heart fall back to its usual dark, low position.
“How?” asked Badger with a grim feeling he might know.
“Me and your Grandfather rode after him when we found he’d ruined sister. She didn’t want to name him but Granddad had a way of asking she couldn’t deny and she finally admitted it were him. Him being magic we didn’t dare go head to head so we followed him to the next town on his circuit and laid in wait. Your Grandpa let fly an arrow right at his heart, he held up his hand with a yell and that arrow went deep into his chest and he fell off his horse dead. I yelled hooray, good shot Da! But as I pounded your Grandpa on the back he fell over in a bloody heap. That wave and yell had been what they call return magic. Whatever is sent is bounced back in kind. Maybe it was all he could summon on such short notice. Miserable mucker killed my Dad and ruined my sister. Good as killed her too. Knackering was too good for him.”
Badger silently thought that maybe truth was poison. It seemed to have found some part of his heart previously untouched by misery and started in to work on it. He turned away to look at the fire for a moment.
“What about me?”
“What about you?” breathed Uncle.
“What have you in mind for me?”
“Use you here forever” murmured Uncle in a quiet voice, “unless I can find a way to make some money off you.”
Uncle’s face went slack and Badger heard the voice of the mushroom from Uncle’s lips –
“Quick! Drag him to bed – he’ll be his normal self in the morning.”
Nervously, Badger caught Uncle under his arms and expecting at every moment to be slapped down and knocked silly dragged him awkwardly off to bed and threw the covers over him.
Badger went to his hay pallet in the barn and lay awake all night with his mind buzzing with sorrow and excitement.
In the morning Uncle looked pale and sweaty as he dressed his best for the festival. Badger had the feeling that he kept looking at him strangely and shaking his head.
As Badger struggled to make himself look nice all he could do was think about the strangeness, and what it really was and how to find it again but nothing came to him. He imagined his father a cheerful man dressed in red and green and full of jokes and songs. He could scarcely imagine such a thing. He had never known anyone full of jokes and songs. Around here soberness was highly prized, all men were taciturn and all women touched with sourness. The thought of someone telling jokes and singing in public made him think of a drunk or a fool. It just made him rather sad to think of his Father that way. Badger peered into the broken scrap of mirror on the wall when Uncle was through with it. A tough and dirty face with hard eyes looked back; a face expecting a fight.
At the Festival Badger hung back and clung to the edges of things but it was still nice for him. He wished he had someone to talk to but just the general buzz of fun lifted his spirits. He went and made a sandwich and pulled a cup of ale and sat by the river to watch dragonflies buzz. In a while, he lay down and drifted into a nap with laughter and chatting in his ears… and woke to screaming. He sat up eerily alert and looked where the screams were coming from then looked where the screaming people were looking. Five little children had built a raft when no one was looking and sailed out into the river. The raft had dissolved and the children were bobbing swiftly toward the rapids where they would be pounded to mush on the rocks and sucked away downstream. Men and women were running toward the river but it was clear they could never get to them in time.
Without a moment’s thought, Badger stepped into the strong flow of the river. Oddly, he suddenly became aware that he was shouting completely mad singsong nonsense, screaming and moving his hands over the surface of the water as if feeling around for something. Then something began happening that didn’t make any sense at all. The upstream of him was turning to a solid mass of ice, creaking and groaning and cracking and refreezing on the first day of summer. The children downstream sank down to the sand of the exposed river bottom among a few flapping fish and goggled about in wonder. Badger looked over his shoulder, a sudden searing pain coming up through him. The parents stood where they had been running as if they too were frozen.
“Hurry!” Screamed Badger and they ran to gather the children. He could hear yelling behind him and feet splashing in the mud. After a few more moments the pain became unendurable and whatever had possessed him snapped like a twig. All at once the river unfroze and badger collapsed into it. He was carried along half-conscious on the swirling surge, turning like a leaf or a stick. The last thing he saw was the whole town along with their rescued children staring at him blankly from the river bank as he went floating past.
He woke up in a soft heaven of down pillows and blankets in a snug little bedroom. From where he lay he smelled flowers on the warm breeze that stirred around the window. Afraid to let anyone know where he was, his instincts told him he’d be in awful trouble if they found him here but he almost couldn’t bear to give it up. He glanced at the window: It was too small to let him escape.
“How did I get here?” he wondered. He suddenly realized he wasn’t wearing his clothes but a clean nightshirt. He heard children playing a game in the next room and further off the noises of a busy kitchen. All at once he remembered the river and the ice and a pain like fire climbing up his arms and legs before snuffing him out like a candle. He had no precedent for this. His foremost feeling was shame, as if he had drunk too much and made a fool of himself in front of everyone… but the feeling quickly deepened into fear: Would they let something like him live?
“What am I?” he wondered and as if in answer, a tiny ember of pride glowed in his chest. “I must have magic in me…” he mused aloud.
Suddenly he heard footsteps coming and his pride hopped out the window and scrambled away through the bushes leaving him waiting alone for whoever was coming. The door latch creaked and a kind female face peeked around the corner of the doorway. It was Helmi Virta, mother of two of the children rescued from the river. He had never spoken to her in his life.
“Good Morning” she called “I’m just checking on you”
“Uh…” he said, “I’m here in this bed.”
“I know,” She said, stepping into the room “How do you feel?”
She came forward and put a hand on his forehead, checking for fever.
He had a sudden desire to cry that was so strong that he pushed her hand away and said “I’m alright. How long have I been here?”
“Two days. Just sleeping and …and singing a strange little song.” She looked a little uncertain and said: “Would you like to get up and have something to eat?”
“Um, yes.” He said, getting out of bed quickly and looking down at the nightshirt. “Should I…um
Is this OK to wear?”
“That’s fine, “said Helmi” And I have your clothes when you are ready…” she paused uncomfortably and looked down. Then tears rolled from each eye. “Dear God,” she whispered hurriedly “thank you for saving my children. Whatever it was you did…whatever happens next, thank you for saving them…I would have died…”.
“Oh um…” he stammered, not knowing where to look. “You’re welcome.”
It was a few minutes later while he was eating that he thought to wonder about her words: “whatever happens next.”
He soon found out.
Uncle came and got him, demanding him like a piece of stolen property. Glancing back at Helmi and her children outside the little farmhouse like they might pick his pockets. Badger rocked with the cart as Uncle drove the bumpy roads back to the farm. Sunlight flashed through the leaves of the roadside trees and birds flew and called around them.
Uncle was silent for half the trip before he looked back at Badger and said coolly “Well you’ve done it now, boy”
Badger, as was his habit, waited to hear.
Uncle squinted back at him. “Elder council says you must be sent away. You’re too dangerous to be kept within the village bounds.”
Badger was stunned. He hadn’t hurt those children, he had SAVED them!
Uncle was quiet, then glanced back at him. “How did you do that?”
Badger met his eyes, what was that odd glint?
“I don’t know, I didn’t think about it, it just happened…”
“Is it just water you can magic or other things too?” asked Uncle, quietly.
“Uncle, where will I go if I can’t stay in the village?” asked Badger, unhappily “I don’t know anybody anywhere!”
“Now boy,” murmured his Uncle soothingly, “Haven’t I always taken good care of you? Just do what I tell you and all shall be well.”
And with that, Badger knew he would have to leave. His Uncle’s words brought him up short. As bad as his life had been had been in Narrowsford it was all he knew. But what he had learned about his Uncle and Mother and Father from the truth-teller mushroom had closed a door on his Uncle and opened a new one in his thoughts about who he was and where he belonged. Then the day of the frozen river had made it impossible to remain. He had proved to be just what all those suspicious faces had guessed he was and even if he had done something good, it was too powerful and too strange to find a home here. While he didn’t know much about his Mother and Father, he felt that they would have wanted something better for him than living on Uncle’s scraps and being afraid to leave.
“Like what, Uncle?” Badger said flatly. “What do you want me to do?”
“That’s the music I want to hear, boy” Uncle said happily “I’ve got some ideas for you to try when we reach the farm!”
Badger could hear his Uncle’s thoughts bubbling like soup. A palace and power, women and revenge, the wealth of ten kings!
He looked back down the road as the little pony cart clopped slowly toward the farm. This little road had been ice all winter and mud all spring and would be mud again come fall. Over the treetops, he could see the foothills and further the mountains still horned with snow. Summer was the time for traveling and summer was already passing. It was time to go. He thought of what to take and realized there was really nothing to take except perhaps a knife and some bread and cheese. He would play along a bit with Uncles hopes today then pretend he needed more rest and run off in the night.
As they drove onto the farm and alongside the house Uncle tensed up.
“Something is wrong.” he muttered and then a moment later “Now who can this be?”
A huge black shire horse was tied outside the house with a smaller golden morgan beside him. A collection of leather traveling packs were stacked neatly beside them. There was nobody in sight as Uncle jumped down from the cart but the front door of the house was standing open like a gaping mouth.
Uncle ran into the tool shed and came out with a scythe for himself and a pick-hammer for Badger.
“Go around to the back” He whispered “and come silently to the front room. If there’s trouble, hit fast and hard, don’t hesitate.”
He waited till Badger had gone around the side of the house crouching low and moving quietly, then he clomped up onto the porch yelling out “Haloo? Who’s about the place?” He stepped warily but quickly through the open door.
Badger crept forward through the house hearing Uncle’s voice saying “What do you want? What are you doing here?”
Peeking into the front room he saw a huge fat man in Uncle’s chair with a tankard of ale beside him and a pipe smoking up the room with an acrid swampy smell. He wore a black cape with a great triangle of red silk showing beneath it over his large stomach. On his head was a black hat with little deer antlers sticking up.
He yawned hugely and rose to his feet. “I am Magnus Erratoi. I’m a Wizard and I’ve come for the boy.” He gestured without looking at where Badger was peeking around the corner.” He’s to be my prentice by order of the Will of Anton Matias Zeklos.” He turned to Badger for the first time. “That was your father, my boy,” he said more quietly.
Uncle shook the scythe angrily. “And I’m all the family he’s got. I’m like a Father to the boy. It’s me what’s raised him all by myself.”
“And took away what family he might have had by goading your Father into killing Anton and once this farm was yours, letting your sister and her baby waste away in despair. It’s amazing the boy lived at all or… or it would be if he wasn’t who he is.” He paused and took a huge puff on his pipe.
“But of course you will be handsomely rewarded for this heartbreaking loss of your dearest kin.”
Suddenly Badger was coughing and sputtering in the yard outside the farmhouse. A huge hand was holding his arm. Magnus pointed and said “Look…look inside” Badger could see Uncle in the house arguing and gesturing at his own empty chair.
Magnus chuckled. “He still sees both of in there and he’ll spend hours arguing and wheedling till he’s talked me out of a King’s ransom for you. Then finally the smoke will clear from his head and he’ll realize we are long gone.”
“It was that stinky pipe wasn’t it?” asked Badger and Magnus smiled and nodded.
“You’ll take me with you?” said Badger “and I can prentice for you?”
“Yes, that part was the true,” said Magnus. “The little morgan is for you, can you ride?”
“Not well,” said Badger “but I learn quickly.”
“Let us hope so,” said Magnus reloading his packs on the horses. “And let’s put as many miles between us and here as we can.”
And under softening dusk, they trotted off down the dry summer road toward the mountains.
Camping with Magnus for the two weeks travel it took was an experience beyond anything Badger had known in his life; for comfort, for entertainment, for adventure. He was intoxicated on amusement and new vistas always opening up around the next trail bend. The days were long and would have been hard if Badger wasn’t used to longer and harder but the nights were splendid and strange.
After the long days ride Magnus would complain of being done in and stagger around camp groaning and stretching his huge frame and digging around in the satchels. If Badger blinked or looked away, when he looked back Magnus would be relaxing on brocade pillows or tapping a keg that wasn’t there a moment before. He nearly turned himself inside out the first time he met Johannes, the tiny gray gnome butler who rose from a lumpy satchel every morning and evening to offer treats from a silver tray. Generally, Johannes was a gnome of one word: “Sir?” But feeling a bit uncertain of Magnus, Badger tried to pry information from Johannes. As Johannes waved a tiny gray hand over a tray of savory meat pastries, Badger whispered to him: “Where are we going? Do you know?”
The smile on Johannes’ thin and pointy face dropped and he seemed to swallow before simply saying “Anything else sir? Refresh your drink? I have ale from Erhabenes.”
“No thank you,” said Badger.
After a fine meal in a rich tent of hanging carpets (which he hadn’t noticed till finishing his dinner), Magnus would generate some wild entertainment like a choral gathering of all the local mice and rats standing together, arranged by height with squirrels doing acrobatic folk dances in front. What sort of sense these animals made of the experience later, Badger couldn’t imagine. And while he couldn’t help laughing, he secretly felt a tiny bit troubled for them. He would drift off to sleep swaying in a hammock in the summer breeze and awaken in the morning to Johannes offering him a hot washcloth and a cup of smoke-tea. He couldn’t believe his good luck, he seemed to be occupying some other, far luckier person’s life and at moments felt an irrational fear of being caught at it and chased off.
During the day Magnus would ride silent and seemingly watchful for hours and then suddenly begin to regale Badger with colorful and absurd stories about his travels and adventures. Badger never knew how much to believe but he never argued a point. If he had a gift at all, it might be silence.
Surprising himself one afternoon while riding, Badger suddenly asked Magnus: “Sir, how did you know my Father?”
Magnus looked back at him from under his huge eyebrows. “Your Grandfather was like a brother to me. As boys we were both prenticed to Kasimir Redbird.” he paused and shuddered slightly ” Those difficult days forged a lifelong bond between us. I knew your father as a boy and a man until he disappeared.”
Badger had never even considered grandparents. “Is my Grandfather alive?”
“Sadly, no,” said Magnus, his huge back to the boy, “Eaten by trolls.”
When setting or breaking camp, Magnus would assign Badger some basic chores like gathering firewood or filling the water skins. Such work was as normal as breathing and Badger worked hard without complaint. One evening as he came back to camp with his arms full of dry wood he froze at a dark liquid croaking of voices coming from the campsite.
“Minor attacks continue. All rebuffed.”
“Shipment delayed, rough seas.”
Badger crept forward as silently as he could. Between the branches of pine and willow, he saw the back of Magnus standing before a large collection of ravens arrayed before him on branches and shrubs. A glittering black eye speared him across the clearing:
“Spy!” came a shout and a wave of dizzy confusion overwhelmed him. He appeared to have tripped coming back to camp and dropped his firewood. Suddenly he remembered tripping and felt embarrassed. He busied himself picking it up. Magnus was rummaging in a bag and there wasn’t a raven in sight. Why was he thinking of ravens?
Magnus smiled at him with cool eyes. “Watch your step, my boy.”
They had no trouble from Uncle as they made their way up from Narrowsford and out along the trader’s road that wound toward Erhabenes, the beautiful old city that rested just up from the base of Mount Ozera. Ozera fills the sky as you climb higher and higher and then suddenly there is a plateau and Erhabenes jumps out at you as if from hiding. Most of the buildings are native stone from ground to roofline, and trimmed with white mortar. The roofs are steep, with red tiles from the slurry clay at the base of the mountain. The buildings flow up the rising curve of Ozera far enough to give a sense that the city is floating up into the sky. Beyond Erhabenes, the trader’s road runs on through the mountains and down into the mysterious deserts on the other side. As a caravan city of the northern hills, it was full of surprises from faraway places, amazing outlanders and goods: There were foods unheard of in the rest of the kingdom. Dried fruits and peppery dishes and styles of clothing which made yokels, like Badger, stare open-mouthed. Truthfully though, it didn’t take much to make Badger stare. He was woefully ignorant of nearly everything that wasn’t within twelve or so miles of his lowland home.
Magnus and Badger made their horseback way into Erhabenes, Badger watched the huge swaying frame of Magnus on his shire horse cutting a path through the crowded streets. Suddenly small children appeared from the crowds, approaching Magnus as near as they dared and pranced along beside him, hands raised. The huge wizard nonchalantly waved a hand forward and back across himself as if brushing away lazy gnats and coins began to trickle from his hand, mainly copper, some silver and now and then gold. More children came, then the whistling began. The crowds took up a strange sort of melody, more alarm than music, piping sharply just beyond the range of comfort. Then the drummers came. Running from buildings along the street like firefighters to a blaze came men in red hats with drums of different sizes. The drummers formed a wide phalanx around Magnus, big enough to include Badger, whom people looked at curiously. Here and there people leaned out windows and rang bells or whistled or pounded pots. The whole thing was incredibly noisy and felt a bit like a celebration, a bit like a hero’s welcome, but oddly aggressive too. The great parade moved forward through the streets till suddenly the drums faltered and the whistling died back and Magnus stopped. Badger couldn’t see anything and edged his horse forward, closer to Magnus. They had reached a major cross street and paused in their progress; on a collision course with them was another whistling drumming crowd and at its head, A tall skinny man dressed in shiny blue sitting atop a small elegant cart pulled by six goats and a cat. The drummers and whistlers, now silent, melted back and back some more till the two magicians might have been simply meeting at a nearly empty intersection. Without any guidance from him, Badger’s horse delicately stepped behind Magnus. The blue wizard flicked a bit of dust from his clothing. Magnus rubbed his nose and sniffed. Badger began to feel a little sick to his stomach, with itchy and tingly feelings too. Little whirlwinds of dust danced about them in the street. Suddenly a window near the blue wizard cracked with a bang and one of the goats collapsed. The blue wizard nodded almost imperceptibly and Magnus slowly proceeded across the street with Badger nervously following. The crowds reformed ahead but seemed to leave more room for the two as they passed. They wound through streets that were cheerful here and menacing there. Badger sensed they were near the center of the great city, and his mind was almost overwhelmed at the wonder of it all. Erhabenes seemed all palaces, bazaars, dark alleys and people of a variety Badger had never imagined. Magnus hailed him back from his thoughts.
“Boy, we are here.”
Badger raised his eyes to where the magician was pointing. Across the square was a huge mustard colored box of a building covered with statuary. As they approached, stone eagles opened their wings, stone soldiers raised weapons in salute, stone women and children ran down the side of the building waving their arms in obvious if silent welcome. As he and Badger approached the building approached Magnus bellowed: “Door!” and the two of them rode out of the sunshine and through the shadowy entrance that opened suddenly before them.
Badger welcomed the sudden dark and quiet. It calmed his nerves after the tense pandemonium of the street. He couldn’t hear a trace of the street noise that had clattered in his ears moments before. He had seen more strange and amazing things in the last few minutes than he could comprehend and they swam in his mind’s eye. The image of the faceless stone figures running down the side of the building, and the thought they were just outside unnerved him. For a moment he wished he was in the barn at Uncle’s farm, lying on the straw, staring up into the rafters. He swung down from the horse. Two grooms appeared and held Magnus’ horse as he jumped off with surprising grace, landing in front of Badger. “Sorry for the noisy welcome,” Magnus said, a trace of a smile on his lips.”I wish they wouldn’t do that every time I return to the city. They tell me it’s an honor but I know for a fact, the ancient belief of these parts, that driving off a wizard is best done with loud unpleasant noises.”
Magnus clapped his hands together and yelled “Clara!” Badger flinched, ready for nearly anything to appear but as the grooms led the horses away he saw a slim, pretty girl standing there.
“Service,” she said, looking calmly up at Magnus.
“Clara, this is my new prentice. Find him a room, and show him where things are.” Magnus smiled and strode from the room.
“What’s your name?” asked Clara, coming no closer.
His throat felt small and dry. “Badger,” he said.
“Like an animal?” she asked, one eyebrow raised a touch.
“I guess so,” said Badger.
“Follow me, Badger,” said Clara, swiveling on one heel and breezing from the room.
© Copyright Hugh Miller 2019