The Secret of Making

by Nigel Gordon


En det dnkuura ua, ot jarllen lopt hoget weg und gaat lout kent.

In the dnkuura year, one trainee walks the high way, and the great secret knows.

The prophecy of the Lady of the isles. Made eight hundred years ago.

Talmad listened to the sound of the scream that reverberated around the walls of the dungeon, aware in some part of his mind that it was his scream. The response to the agony of pain that shafted through his body. He wished it would end. That they would go that little bit too far and release him from his suffering. He did not care if he died, he just wanted the pain to end.

"Tell us," the voices demanded. "Tell us, and it can stop."

Tell them what? They had said, but he could not remember. All he could remember was the pain. The waves of agony that would come up him when he did not answer their question. He wished he could. He wanted that this agony would stop, but he knew that he could not give the answer. It was not that he was a hero, keeping safe a great secret that had been entrusted to him. Though no doubt that is what his tormentors thought. The simple truth was he did not know what the answer was.

"Can't push him more, we would lose him," the questioning voice stated.

"Fine, do what is needed to keep him alive, we will resume at the third hour." That was spoken by the velvet voice. Talmad knew that the questioning voice belonged to a small man, firmly built and dressed in executioner's leathers. That man's face had been the last image he had seen as they had put out his eyes with red hot irons. An event of agony that had taken place three or four days ago, if he had been able to keep track of time. Though he was not confident that he could. In the depths of his memory, he recalled Master Rican telling that during the questioning, it was common practice to deliberately mislead the victim as to the passage of time. So, Talmad thought, it maybe three days, it may be more, it could even be less. Not that it really mattered. It had all been a period of constant agony, an agony that had started with him regaining consciousness and finding burning iron fellers holding his body.

Iron fetters, to bind the prisoner but also to bind magic. Only a sorcerer, or if the legends were true a Magus, could resist the draining force of iron. All lower magicians were drained of their power by its touch. Not that Talmad's power would have been much use. It was weak, and his skills were limited. If things had gone as normally ordained in the School of Magic, he would not have taken the high path to the White Temple in an attempt to become a sorcerer. Only the most successful students upon graduating were offered that privilege, and all within the School had known that Talmad would not be amongst their number.

It had been a surprise to many that he had even managed to stay in the School with his limited skills and little awareness of the lore. Each year when they had stood for examination Talmad had barely scraped through with the minimum of marks required to stay. There had been many times when his teachers had openly suggested that he would be better leaving and taking up as a Hedge Wizard or even as a Healer, roles for which he appeared to have some skills.

Then had come the day of the final testing. Each student had to complete three magical tasks. As was the tradition, they went to the Grand Hall and had drawn three lots from the silver goblet. Only those students who could complete all three tasks drawn would be allowed to walk the high path to the White Temple and the chance to become a sorcerer.

Three times Talmad had walked up to the chalice. Three times he had drawn a lot from the chalice. Three times the number he had drawn had been recorded. When Talmad had matched the numbers to the descriptions of the tasks to be performed, he could not believe his luck. To bring a live frog from a lump of clay, to draw a butterfly from the wind and to call a wolf to his side. They were all Earth Magics, the one class of magic in which he excelled. In each task, he could perform perfectly.

Of course, there had been mutterings that it was unfair that he had drawn three lots of the same class. Then again, there had always been mutterings about his luck. From the day he had presented himself before the doors of the School of Magic, a twelve-year-old orphan with no right to be there and no connections to give him entrance.

Sharma, the wise woman in his village, who had nursed him through the red fever, had told him to go there. It was during that fever that he had first displayed the indications that he was one of the gifted. She knew that there was no place for such a one in the village. As it was the villagers resented the burden of an orphan whose vagrant mother had decided to give birth amongst them, then die, leaving a fatherless child for them to raise. For that was the King's law, any child made orphan must be raised by the community in which they were born until their thirteenth year. The resentment of the village had led to a hard life for Talmad, he was used more like a slave than treated as an orphan. The villagers regarded him and treated him as slightly worse than the feral dogs.

For the boy to be gifted would be too much for the village, Sharma knew. Once the gift was revealed, the village would be required to send the boy to the School and then support him until he entered one of the guilds, be it magician, healer, maker or slayer. It was a cost the village could not afford and one it would resent having to meet. She strongly suspected that the village would not meet it. That once it became aware of the boy's talent, the boy would be disposed of. It was a hard but true fact of life that villages like her's would deal with such probably expenses by removing the cause.

There was though another way that the village could be saved the expense. He could become a runaway and seek sanctuary at one of the guild houses. They then would have the responsibility for him and the costs. Once Sharma had realised that this solution existed, she had spent the night by his bed as he slept off the end of the red fever. In those hours of darkness, she had whispered in his ears words which suggested this to his mind. It was a suggestion he had readily accepted and, as soon as he could walk again, he had slipped out of the village and departed on the month-long journey to the City of Guilds. A journey he preferred not to think about, but one which had deposited him dirty, weak and lost, on the steps of the School of Magic, before the gilded doors.

By rights, no such supplicant for sanctuary should enter by those doors. There were clear signs and messages to all that supplicants should go to the rear of the School where the bursar would deal with them, assigning such to menial jobs that needed doing for the support of the scholars. Only those sponsored by a guild member or one of the nobility could enter by those doors. He could not read the signs and notices, for no one had ever bothered to teach the boy his letters. As such, he knew not the meaning of the symbols which told him to go to the rear of the building.

An agony of pain, swamping the throbbing aches from the rest of his body, pulled him back from his thoughts, as his broken jaw was forced open and bittersweet liquid poured down it. The sharp acid sweetness proclaimed it to be yangalan juice mixed with honey. He knew it would sustain him and induce sleep, but also that it dulled the ability to perform magic. As if he could have done much even when he was not half torn apart. If it had not been for his form of entry into the School, he would not have been accepted with his weak skills, but as it was luck or fate had intervened for him.

Arriving at the City after two sleepless nights, fearful as he had been, after that first night aboard, of the attentions of the barge captain who had offered him passage down the Great Ricer to the City. The moment the barge had docked, he had fled its presence and ran to the first significant building that he could find. It could have been any, indeed if the barge had docked at its usual place, it would have been the Guild of Slayers that he sought sanctuary with. However, the barge master, knowing those who would pay well for a boy who would not be missed, had docked lower down the wharves, and so Talmad had come to the Guild of Magicians. There it was that he saw the great bronze doors, and the great men in their fine robes going in and out. He also saw the guards, fierce and angry, stopping with force all those who should not enter that place.

Not knowing how to approach the Guild and being unable to read the sign instructing all mendicants to proceed to the door at the rear of the building, Talmad had looked round, seeking help. In doing so he spied an old man, in rags and dirty from ashes, coming towards the steps. Talmad ran up to him and asked, "do you go into the Guild?" The boy did not see the look of horror upon the faces of those around.

Upon being informed by the old man that he was indeed going into the Guild, the boy asked, "take me in, that I may be given sanctuary and teaching." The old man reached out his hand and took the boy's hand and guided him up the steps and through the great doors of the Guild. Once within he presented Talmad to the masters of the Guild as one who had sought admission and to whom admission had been granted. For the old man was the Guild Master, on this day returning from the funeral of his father. A day where, by tradition, no man can refuse a request honestly made, which is why no one speaks to such a one returning from the funeral rites so that no burden may be placed upon the mourner. Talmad, though, in ignorance of the custom, had spoken, had made a request and in doing so set a burden upon the Guild Master. So, it was that the Guild Master took him in and sponsored him for entry unto the Guild of Magic. The fact that the boy's performance of the basic skills was weak was of no import. By tradition, all those sponsored by the Guild Master were admitted. Thus it was that an unlettered peasant boy, with no connections and no noble backer, had become not a supplicant upon the Guild of Magic but an apprentice to its arts.

Talmad felt the soporific effects of the yangalan taking hold on his body. They did not kill the pain, that was now a constant ache from within him. It told him he still lived, though he knew that it would not be for much longer. If only he knew what they wanted, then he would tell them and free himself from this agony. The problem was he did not know. They kept asking him for something of which he had no knowledge. There being nothing else he could do, he allowed himself to drift down into the pain-racked drug-induced sleep and dreamed of suffering.

Not the agony of the torture he was now being subjected to but the drip drip suffering of a boy, bullied and despised within the Guild. From the moment he was in, he knew he had made a mistake. He was no Lord's son, nor the spawn of some wealthy merchant, coming to obtain an education in the Magic Arts. Neither was he one of the wild talents that the Guild sent out its seekers to find, who would be nurtured within its walls to become the sorcerers and teachers of the future. He was an unlettered peasant of little skill who should not have been amongst the apprentices. The apprentices knew this, and they let Talmad know it. Even the Guild servants, who were of his own kind, resented him, for he had got what had been denied them. Forced to seek sanctuary within the Guild, they had come as supplicants to the Guild. In return for food and shelter, they worked for the Guild. Undertaking menial tasks for the apprentices, including Talmad, while often having higher inherent skills in the Magic Arts.

Throughout all his years at the Guild it had been made clear to him that he was a misfit. One of the lower orders, who by an unforgivable breach of etiquette, had obtained access to that which was only for those who were fit for it. Not that the Guild Master was of that opinion. He and his wife took Talmad under their wing, regarding him as the son they did not have, and it was for them that Talmad worked on his studies. By doing so he managed to pass the end of year exams each year, often by not much, but he did pass them.

He even passed the finals. Not that he had much chance of getting any benefit from them. To do that he would have needed good connections or good mastery of one of the higher magical arts. He had neither. His only gift was some affinity for the magic of the earth and those things that lived upon it.

Being amongst the top ten in his final year, he was given the chance to attempt to try for the right to go to the White Temple, where one could learn to be a sorcerer. Not that anyone expected him to try. Many who went through the mountain gate and followed the path to the temple did not make it. Some who did would have been better off if they had not. They arrived at the steps of the edifice with their bodies broken and their minds shattered. For those that did make it to the White Temple, the rewards were great. They became the sorcerers, bound to the king. In return for the greatest of powers, they gave their service to the king, totally and absolutely. With their protection, the king was safe from any who would plot against them, for they controlled all magic.

The effects fo the yangalan juice wore off, and Talmad woke, his racked body full of pain. It could not yet have been the third hour for there was no sound of preparation in the dungeon. He could feel the faint heat of the fire, which no doubt had been banked against its need. In the silence of that place, he could hear the constant drip of water, which suggested to him that the place where he was held was probably underground. The probing of those senses left to him confirmed this to him. He was in a deep dungeon, somewhere in the City. This surprised him as he had presumed that he was being held at some country estate of a Noble Lord. Yet, when he thought of it, there was a sense about it. He had been captured on the mountain path. They had been waiting for him as he had climbed the first steep incline and entered the forest. From there, they would have had to take him either over the mountain or through the City, to get to the vast expanses of the kingdom, where the nobles had their estates. Why take the risk? Every noble in the kingdom had a palace in the City, where he could safely be held.

Talmad allowed his mind to wander back to the morning before he started the walk up the mountain path. As was the custom, the candidates for the White Temple had spent the night in seclusion with the Guild Master and the Apprentice Master, Master Ricin. Legend had it that this was where they were taught the secret that would enable them to become sorcerers. In fact, they spend the evening talking about the most fundamental aspects of magic. So basic in fact that many apprentices had forgotten them before they finished their second year. The skill of being self-aware and at one with that which surrounds you. How being at one with the wildlands of the mountain path would allow you to find your ways past the perils of the trail. Then they had slept as students of the Guild house, before being taken out to the mountain gate. Each had then drawn lots to decide the order of their going. A candle's burn to be between each of them setting off on the trail so that one could not follow and benefit from the skill of the other. Talmad and drawn last, and was the last to leave the shelter of the gatehouse and walk through the gate onto the path.

Though legend filed the mountain path with great dangers, the area close to the City was just wildland. Open grasslands rising up to the forest. The young bloods from the City often hunted here, and its ways were well known to them. It was once you got beyond the tree line that the land got hard and dangerous. So, it was that Talmad, who had on occasions accompanied hunts out into the wildlands, set off at a run. The long lolloping run that proclaimed him to be a peasant from the grasslands. The morning had been warm, the sun shining, and he had quickly made his way across the open meadow into the trees of the forest. He had made no attempt to extend his self-awareness into the forest around him. This was an open forest, hunted and used by man, like the forests of his home village. There was little here that would endanger him. That would come later when he passed into the wild forest. So, he missed the knowledge of those that lay ahead. The first he had known had been the choking red powder that had surrounded him and taken his strength, masamalan, the thief's herb. He knew it the moment he had inhaled the first confusing grains of it, but there was nothing he could do. As he fell back upon the path, he had heard the velvet voice, "see I told you he could not ward."

The memory of those words brought Talmad back with a vengeance. Pain racked his body. He could not ward. Of course, even the most junior of magicians could ward, but he could not. It was air magic, magic in which he had no skill. That, though was unimportant, it was the fact that velvet voice knew. Such knowledge would only belong to somebody within the Guild. Somebody who knew him well, but who?  And why had they taken him? What was it that they wanted? The questions danced within his head, and he knew there was no answer there for them. There was only the knowledge that he had been blinded and crippled. No more would he run across the grasslands, no more would he look upon the shadows dancing in the sunlight of the forest.

Within his mind, he saw the play of light upon the path, he felt the warmth of the sun playing on his tortured body. He was aware of it. He was aware of it, this was not a memory, it was knowledge. It was an instinctive knowledge of how things were and what they should be. It had been there all the time, but he had never used it, never acknowledge it, but now he needed it. He required that awareness and what it could bring. The knowledge of sunlight playing on his body allowed him to know how his body would react to the sun and how he could start to rebuild that which had been injured. For that though he needed power, but he was bound by iron.

Slowly he reached out with his mind, to become aware of the fetters that bound him. Ready at any time to pull back. The moment he felt the drawing presence of iron. That element that drew magic back to the earth.

But if it drew magic into the earth, he could follow that magic into the earth. He gave his awareness to the iron, allowing it to be drawn down into the ground, to expand into the rocks below. There he felt it. The immense power of the earth. The seat of earth magic. All there, just waiting, waiting to be called upon by one who was aware of it. No wonder iron drained magic, it opened the path to the earth magic. Magic far more extensive than any that was taught by the Guild, and all paths were two way. To make the connection you would have to put your magic into it, and on a path that wide it would drain you, but it had not drained him because he was already empty!

Coldwater splashing him dragged his mind back into his body and dragged the connection back with it.

"He's still alive then," commented the velvet voice.

"Amazingly yes," the gruff voice replied. Talmad reckoned that must belong to the torturer. "Though for how long I would not like to say, the others have all died."

So, Talmad thought, they had taken the others.

"Let's hope that this one knows then, though I doubt it, he's a peasant whelp," commented velvet voice.

A new voice intruded, with the sharp twang of a Karg Lord.

"Peasant or not, does not the fact that he has survived tortures that have killed the other two not suggest there is something special about him?"

"Only that he is more animal than they were and has an animal's instinct to survive."

"Maybe," responded the Karg, "or maybe he is the one. The prophecy was precise, one who this year walked the mountain path would know the way of the Magus and free the people."

"I think my Lord, you place too much emphasis on the prophecy, none has attained the status of magus for over two thousand years, no one knows how it was done."

Talmad did though. Deep down within himself, in that small piece of being he had pushed into the depths to escape the pain, he realised he knew. It was so simple. The Magus was the magician who had been driven by desperation to go beyond the bounds that restricted the normal exponent of magic. There was no way that any magician would seek to follow the flow within the iron. They would feel it draining them before they ever found that which could feed them power. Talmad had been driven beyond caring and had followed the path, he had touched the power that lay deep within the earth, and he knew it and knew what to do with it.

That was all that was needed. As Master Ricin had taught, once you knew the nature of something, it was yours to use. Talmad knew, he knew the nature of the pain that tortured his body, he knew the despair of the darkness that the burning out of his eyes had brought upon him. He knew the loneliness of the boy who had stood before the Guild and realised that he had no place there. He knew all these things, and he could use them.

Above all, he knew the reason why. A thousand years before the Kargs had conquered the kingdom, putting their own king on the throne. They had established the White Temple, that offered the gift of sorcery to those who had the magic skills. In getting that gift, the magicians had been bound to the service of the king.  In the offering of that gift the Kargs had year on year removed the best of the Guild to their service and kept the Guild weak. But a magus, one who was outside their control, would endanger all of that.

"Tell us, what has to be done to make a magus?" velvet voice asked.

"You have done it!" Talmad's voice thundered throughout the dungeon as he drew strength from the depths of the earth. He felt the heat of the iron and expanded his mind to become aware of the heat, drawing it from the metal and into himself, then releasing it in a blast of energy. Screams and the smell of burning flesh filled the dungeon. Talmad stood, the chains of bondage falling away like dust as he drew the essence of iron into himself. He remembered the healing light of the sun and extended his thoughts to it. A great roar of agony erupted from the stones above as they fell away to allow the sunlight down into the pit of despair. He drew its power into himself, healing that which was damaged. Rebuilding that which needed rebuilding. Remaking that which had been destroyed. In his remaking, he went beyond that which had been there and made that which was now required. So, it was that the eyes that now looked out of that face were eyes of fire that saw in colours far beyond those known to mortal man.

"You have done it," he whispered in a voice that echoed throughout the City. "You have made the Magus." He looked down upon the huddled forms that lay blasted against the dungeon walls. The torturer he ignored, for he was just a peasant, such as Talmad, doing a job for which he had been trained. The Karg Lord he ignored, for now, such as he were of no importance, there was a greater force in the land. It was the young man in the robes of a magician that Talmad sought. He knew him. He recalled that at one time, he may have liked him. Now, though, there could be no forgiveness, not for what he had done to him, but for the man's betrayal of the Guild and the people with it. For what? The Magus expanded his awareness, letting it seep into the mind of the magician. The later became aware of the presence in his head and looked up at the form standing above him with horror. This was beyond anything that he knew.

"So you wanted power, they would let you become a magus," the Magus laughed. "So, have it." Deep from within the earth, he drew upon the forces of magic, drawing them up into himself and allowing them to flow down into the magician. Opening the paths so the magician could feel the flow and feed upon it.

At first, there was a touch of wonder upon the magician's face. Never in his life had he conceived of power anything like this. Then there was fear, for the power kept one flowing, and he knew he could not hold it. Finally, there was terror, as the power started to consume him. His screams reverberating around the City, announcing that now there was a Magus.

Note: With the rise of the Magus the rule of the Kargs failed, and the people once more ruled the lands of the North. In the Guild of Magic, there was much discussion about the way that the Magus came into being. It was Master Ricin who pointed out that the word kent which the Karg Lords had read as 'know' can also be read as 'understand'. In such a case, the prophecy reads:

En det dnkuura ua, ot jarllen lopt hoget weg und gaat lout kent.

In the dnkuura year, one trainee walks the high way and the great secret understands.