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The Grand Thread and the Gray Magi

by Alex Hanevich about a month ago in Fantasy
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Chapter 1: The Apprentice

Cover Illustration by Darby Hanevich

Archibald Scrimshaw sat down upon a craggy gray boulder along the dirt road to Trent. He tossed his school satchel to one side and hugged his knees, waiting. Slowly the sun rose until the cool morning air burnt off, and feeling warm he removed his blazer. With his patience thinning, he let his fingers dig into the rock's crevices and chip away pebbles which he tossed lazily into the road.

As the morning went on a number of horses and townspeople coming and going on various errands hurried past without a word. One heavy pony tore up a clump of dirt in the road, and the better part of an hour was spent trying to chuck pebbles into the rut. The sun rose steadily overhead and the boy hopped off the stone to take refuge in the narrow shadow that the stone cast out across the vibrant green lawn.

He crouched in the deep grass and pulled a thick slice of toast and a boiled egg out. He washed both down with a slurp from a nearby spring, always keeping a watchful eye on the road even as he bent to drink. He returned to his post and using his rolled up blazer as a pillow leaned back against the warm stone.

He had not intended to fall asleep, but the heat was heavy and his stomach was full and soon he drifted off into the world of dreams. His sleep was short however. He felt something hard come down upon his thin leather shoes and he shot up in alarm scraping his elbow on the stone in the process. A wrinkled old hag stared down at him disapprovingly.

"Archie, what are you doing out of school?" the old woman demanded, as she hefted her heavy walking stick like a cudgel. Archie cautiously took a step backwards in case he needed to flee. "I'm meeting someone," he answered carefully positioning the stone between them. The old beggar woman hissed out a "tut-tut" and for a moment looked as if she would fly at the boy.

She sighed and her great shoulders slumped under her rags. "Boys will be boys," she added in her cracked voice. "You are your father's son after all. But I will have to tell your aunt of this. She will deal with you when you come home." Without another word she was off, moving with the speed and agility of one of better age and position. “Ragamuffin!” she whispered a little too loudly as she departed.

Archibald resumed his station upon the rock, since the sun had peaked and began to invade his shade. He wore his sweater like a turban to keep the sun off, like a picture his professor had shown him in school of men in India. The sun was fading now and tradesman became hurrying along the road leaving their stalls for their homes. Archie began to look at the sun frantically, watching in horror as it edged closer to the dark horizon.

Dusk was coming and frustrated Archie turned to collect his things. He tossed them angrily into his haversack, and just as the last golden rays of sunlight were gleaming, a man appeared. He was tall and thin and his face was clean shaven and young, but his hair was gray and shaggy. He wore a black three piece suit and carried a dark carved wood walking stick.

A thick cowl hung from his shoulders. His clothes were expensive and the material was fine linen. He strode expectantly to the stone and rapped Archibald on the shoulder with his stick. "Ow!" the boy hollered in alarm. "That hurts. I bid you mind where you strike a stranger, sir." The man studied the boy with a careful eye before poking him once more in the stomach.

"A tad on the fat side," the man said, although not unkindly. The boy grew indignant, but the man had a broad smile across his face. "Allow me to introduce myself, boy. I am Reginald Bloomburg the Third, Chief Magician of the Western Wastes." Archibald came to attention at once. The man smiled kindly. His eyes were black like wells that one could nigh drown in if caught in a stare.

"I am Archibald Scrimshaw, sir!" the boy shouted in excitement. "Yes, yes, I received your letter. You are interested in becoming a magician's apprentice. Is that correct?" The boy beamed. "Yes, sir!" he shouted, more eager than ever. "You understand that we only accept orphans into the Order. If you have parents, we will have to kill them." The boy nodded solemnly. "I live with Aunt, my parents are dead, sir!"

"That was a joke boy, you certainly lack a sense of humor. That will aide you a great deal in the magical arts. There is hardly anything funny about curses and spells and charms and runes and tomes and well all sorts of other funny sounding words that normal people don't understand. Yes we are a dry boring lot, sitting around inventing new ways to turn people into toads."

Archie was thoroughly confused at this point, he could no longer tell if the gentleman in front of him was joking or being quite serious. "I trust your grades are in order. We hardly need any more lazy dimwitted magicians in the world. All of them tend toward politics and a grand mess they make of policy." Archie's small chest stuck out proudly. "I'm top of my class in languages and reading, sir!"

The light had fallen at this point and the man struck his long cane against the stone as if it were a gigantic match and lit it. The staff blazed with an unearthly pale yellow light and in the flickering shadows the interview continued. "Languages will certainly be useful, what have you learned?" The boy again proudly shared his knowledge.

"I know a little German and French and know my Latin and Greek quite well." The man laughed with a pure laugh that sounded more like church bells than human lungs coughing out air. "These are good languages to know if you are a banker or a tradesman, but magicians need to know ancient tongues such as Garu-Garu, Threetoemaru, Ginsu, Clackityclak, and Murburp."

"Did you just make those up sir?" Archie asked dumbfounded. "Perhaps," Reginald replied coyly. "Perhaps." The two stood there looking at each other in the pale light of the walking match stick for quite some time. The boy felt as if he were swimming in the man's piercing black pupils. At long last the man sighed a great sigh of heaviness. "You will do," he said simply. "Let us be off!"

Now had there been eyes watching the odd couple depart they would have been thoroughly perplexed for they neither walked off down the road, nor did they remain where they were. The ravens who were watching from a nearby conifer, half brown from pine beetles, thought they saw the road itself swallow them both up.

But since there were no human eyes there to tell the tale, we will have to simply say one moment they were by the rock talking by match light and the next they were somewhere else entirely. Archie later described it as throwing a blanket over his head and pulling it off to reveal that he had moved to a different place. Reginald attempted to elaborate their mode of transportation as they departed.

"We call it vespering. The concept is relatively simple. The chief principle is that the earth is always spinning,” he explained as they moved through the darkness at great speeds. "The issue is not so much in traveling as removing oneself from the world that is traveling, and landing in the correct spot." At this he motioned downward, and for a moment Archie felt as if he were upside down. He feared that he might be sick, but then he felt ground under his feet.

Archie had failed to realize that he had closed his eyes, and now he opened them and looked out down a long grassy valley filled with wildflowers. The sky was still a blue dusk here, and far off he could see trees whipping in a strong wind. He turned to see Reginald standing at the door to a crooked white tower rising from the crest of the hill.

"Come along, lad," Reginald called as he stomped inside. Archie scrambled to follow and jumped as Reginald motioned at the fireplace and a cheery flame sprouted at once. The round room was piled high and low with books. There were large books and small manuscripts. There were gilded books and embossed books. There were volumes and guides and encyclopedias.

Archie had never seen so many books in his entire life. The table was held up by books and the wall was patched with more books. Books lined the spiral staircase that climbed the tower like a hanging ivy. Reginald spotted a smoldering book too close to the fire, and he leaped for it as he would a drowning puppy. He patted it until it stopped smoking and sat it gingerly on a sofa overflowing with leather bound tomes.

"Now your first task," Reginald instructed the dumbstruck boy. "Is to read every book in this tower, twice. Three times if it is difficult to understand. Each book you must explain and describe how it might have been presented better or more simply. In addition you are to identify what makes one book good and another evil." Archie's face was blank. "That will take years," he fumed."

"Usually ten to twelve," Reginald replied as he poured himself a saucer full of stale coffee. He always drank from saucers. "When do I get to learn magic?" the boy demanded. "Most people," Reginald began, "have this horrible tendency to want to learn truly great things before they have the intellectual stomach to actually comprehend them."

Archie let a frustrated sigh escape his lips. Defeated he reached for the nearest book. It was a finely bound brown leather and gold embossed edition that was entitled, "The Philosophy of Autumn Solstices and their Corresponding Lunars".

He had scarcely finished the first sentence before in aggravation shouted out, "I don't even know what alexithymia means!" Without looking or putting down his dribbling saucer of coffee, Reginald tossed a huge dictionary to the boy. "You're going to need this," he said simply.

Archibald read on until the night deepened, and Reginald finished his coffee and with a nod lit a lantern. "Let's see you off to your room." The climb to the top of the tower along the spiral staircase took a considerable time. Numerous mounds of books had to be vaulted or scaled. On the second floor Reginald nodded to an oak door with a brass handle.

"My quarters," he mentioned as he maneuvered by a tower of books on insects, animals, and marmasuits. The third floor housed the baths, and the fourth was the library, which Archie snickered at in passing. The room looked as if a flood of books had washed out from it and splattered throughout the entire tower. After the fifth and sixth floors they passed a narrow hatch into the tiny tower bedroom.

The room was round and a trundle bed and an empty bookshelf stood side by side. A zebra skin rug carpeted the floor and a dreamcatcher laced across the oval window looking east. The heavy oak rafters were low overhead, and Reginald hung the lantern off a silver hook.

"No books," Archie commented thankfully. "This is your space," Reginald replied. "This is for your things." Archie dropped his haversack unto the floor and plowed unto the bed. All the adventure of the day seemed to catch up with him, and he felt himself drifting off at once. He started for a moment and sat up, "Shouldn't I wash up before I go to bed?"

"Do as you like," was all Reginald said as his head disappeared through the hatch. Somewhere below he heard a muffled "Good Night!" Archie kicked off his shoes and socks with his toes. Outside he could hear the wind whipping around the tower. He started to think about Autumn lunars and was instantly asleep.

The next few weeks at the tower, passed fairly similarly. Each day, Archibald would rise promptly at seven and proceed to read. He was a quick study and enjoyed reading. Some mornings Reginald would be waiting for him downstairs, as he drank from a saucer full of coffee, and some days it would be midday before Reginald emerged from his room, his hair askew.

They both read a great deal, and occasionally Reginald would depart for several hours. Sometimes he returned with dark brown rye bread, a slab of bacon, and a few onions or a wheel of cheese. Other times he would go on "magical missions" as he called them and he would return muttering about war and rumors of wars.

Once he came back and kicked open the door to the tower hollering in Russian for several minutes, before he seemed to remember where he was and he simmered down. Many a day passed in silence as both men read diligently. Reginald seemed to remember whatever book, Archie happened to be reading, and he frequently quizzed him on the content and deep issues that the book mentioned or the ones the book failed to address.

Archie was deep into "Magical Theory, a History Composed by the Historium" when Reginald began a detailed explanation of magic. "The unseen, my apprentice, is the more real between the realities. While the flesh and stone of this world are real, the more real is the soul and mortar of the mind." Archie recognized some element of this argument from his reading, but not enough to offer an educated agreement.

He merely nodded and turned to continue reading, but Reginald pursued his passionate explanation. "All men are amateur conjurers. For magic is the unseen thread that binds the world together. The Grand Weaver wove his will into a beautiful tapestry. Magicians merely tug at the frayed strings."

"Love, loyalty, honor, truth, and life are threads of magic that weave throughout the world. Magicians take these threads and mend the torn places where mankind has frayed the Grand Weaver’s magic. A man and a woman who love each other are quite right in calling their feeling magical for the thread that they feel is the work of a divine weaver."

At this Reginald paused, made a few notes in a commonplace book he carried at all times, and then went back to reading. Archibald also resumed his reading and this is how Archie's magical training continued for several weeks. One day, Archibald did not see any sign of Reginald even by the end of the day, and fearing his master was ill he timidly knocked on his bedroom door.

"Go away lad," Reginald called out in a raspy voice, as if he had been crying. "I do not want to be bothered today." Archie obeyed for a time, but he soon returned with a saucer full of coffee and after entreating for some time he pushed open the door, which hardly could open at all against a mountain of books.

In the center of the room was a great four post bed and Reginald sat half buried by books written by the likes of Shelley, Keats, and Lord Byron. His eyes were red from crying and he clenched a fist full of yellowed letters. Reginald took the coffee as if it were medicine. "Whatever is the matter with you?" Archie asked puzzled. "Matters of the heart, lad,” Reginald answered, but he would not say anything more than that.

Archie could get little else out of him besides this, and the next morning Reginald acted as if nothing had happened. Not too many days had passed since, when suddenly Reginald grew very serious. "The most magical thing in this world is a kiss. It is the most heavy and dangerous of all magic. They say that the kiss is the oldest magic in the world. Some speculate that it was with a kiss that the Grand Weaver woke the first man and woman long ago. It was with the magic of a kiss that the world was saved during the War of the Summer Kiss."

Archie sat up. "That is the war my parents died in!" Reginald nodded knowingly. "Magicians nearly destroyed the world ten years ago. Two sides developed between those who wanted to mend the world with the threads of magic and those who wanted to remake it by undoing the Grand Weaver’s works and using the threads to make new ones. Both sides were passionate and committed. The battles were fierce and desperate.

Foul magicians were prepared to unleash an unthinkable horror upon the world, but two people stepped forward, one from each side. A man and a woman. With a kiss they ended the war by sacrificing themselves with a grandest most powerful magic of all, and so those who survived called the conflict the War of the Summer Kiss."

"Did you know my father?" Archie asked deeply interested. "Yes," Reginald said sadly. "He was a good man. But enough of this. Back to your reading." Reginald could not be provoked to speak further on the issue, but that night Archie thought about his parents, and wondered about how they had died and what side they had fought on in the war.

Archibald was making steady progress through the volumes of books. Once he had found a small leather bound journal entitled, "Poems to She-Who-Must-Not-Be- Named". He had scarcely read the first line which went something like, "The Ravens in her hair make me stop and stare" before Reginald pounced upon it like a cat. "Nothing useful in that one," he had said blushing.

Once Archibald caught Reginald staring intently in the bathroom mirror. "Rather vain, aren't you?" Archie muttered walking past. "Every mirror is a window," Reginald countered. “And every window is a door. The longer I look through myself, the more flaws I see within. Next to the Grand Weaver, I find myself to be boastful, rude, and cowardly." Archie paused mid-step. Reginald’s rant triggered a question that his reading had provoked, earlier in the day. "What is the grand thread?" he asked.

"The Grand thread ..." Reginald mused. "Some would say it is a legend or a metaphor to explain the unexplainable." "What do you say it is?" Archie asked. "I think it is the connection between the abode of the Grand Weaver and the abode of man. I think it is the bridge between us."

"It is his arm reaching for the heart of our world. It is the pure ideals of his character at work mending his great tapestry. It is the Grand Magician with us." Archie smiled. "You quoted the 'Semblance of the Divine'." "No," Reginald smiled. "I wrote the Semblance of the Divine."

Archie stood with mouth agape. But Archie was shocked, and the next morning he began diligently re-reading the 'Semblance of the Divine'. He occasionally called out difficult passages to Reginald who seemed extremely amused that his protégée should take such an intense interest in his work.

They debated one section a great while. Reginald (under the pen name Dante Alighieri) had postulated that the grand thread was like a bridge between the Grand Weaver and his under magicians on earth. Archie however suggested that it seemed more like a ladder, and Reginald had found this idea very compelling.

They were passionately discussing the subject when Reginald stood with such abruptness that Archie drew back in alarm. "We have company," the older magician said reaching for his matchstick walking cane. "Whatever you do," he said looking gravely at Archibald. "Do not mention your name."

Three hard knocks came at the heavy door, and Reginald motioned two fingers toward the door and it flew open wide letting a gust of thin snow and leaves scattered in among the books. Archie shivered in the autumn air. The door flapped madly on the brass hinges and two men stood waiting in the doorway. Reginald resumed a more normal posture, but Archie could still sense his tension.

Suddenly Reginald relaxed completely. "Del Costa!" he cried out in surprise and delight. Del Costa was the first of the two men and he had bushy wolf-like hair and thick sideburns. He wore a black three piece suit and a heavy black winter coat lined with fur. Behind him was the strangest man that Archie had ever seen. Every inch of him was covered in bandages. The only visible body part was his eyes which were a deep bright blue.

The man reminded Archie of a drawing of an Egyptian mummy that his history teacher had shown him once, but this man wore clothes over his wrappings. He turned to study Archie, and Del Costa shoved him hard. "Move along raggie!" he demanded firmly.

The ragged man obliged without a word, and Reginald cleared a space on a sofa, which Archie had never knew existed under a great mound of books. Archie noticed that the ragged man was bound hand and foot with silver shackles. "Looking at his jewelry, son?" Del Costa asked with a knowing eye. "Yes, sir," Archie replied. Reginald busied himself with a fresh pot of coffee.

Del Costa tapped the tight silver manacles with his index finger. "Silver prevents the use of magic. Keeps him in line, until I deliver him to the Citadel." Archie bit his lip. "What's wrong with him, sir?" Del Costa looked at Reginald as if to ask permission. Reginald shrugged and Del Costa turned back to the boy. "He's a ragman."

Archie studied the prisoner until a hiss from the hidden mouth beneath the bandages startled him away. "None of that Hume," Del Costa said menacing two fingers which suddenly burst into two fine flames of blue fire. Hume's eyes were frightened, but defiant. "How'd he end up like that?" Archie asked.

Reginald returned with coffee, a saucer for himself and a cup for Del Costa who looked at Reginald as if to say, "You're still not drinking from saucers are you?" Reginald looked away as if he had not noticed. "He became a ragman by playing with magic he had no part in exploring. He undid the very fabric that weaved his body together until he tore out his soul."

"Oh yes," said Hume, speaking for the first time in a hideous raspy voice. "I may have braved unspeakable horrors, but I have seen the Eye of the Grand Magician. I have seen His fires burning the fabric of men and women and children. I have beheld all our fates." Del Costa raised his fingers, and the ragman stopped. "He is quite mad," Del Costa offered. "Are there really others like him?" Archie asked.

Reginald's face grew solemn. "Sadly, yes, many magicians fall into such a fate, because they desire power, before they have the knowledge to use it." "All of them," Del Costa added, "Have suffered mental damage due to their condition. Although some still live and work in peace, many are a menace and a danger."

"Like me," Hume hissed and he lunged forward toward Archie who scrambled backwards in terror. Reginald neatly tripped the ragman, and Del Costa pinned him, his hands ablaze with blue fire. The screech that arose was the most horrifying sound that Archie had ever heard. It was like a guttural screech and a gnashing of unseen teeth.

At last Del Costa released him, and the ragman collapsed clearly drained by the encounter. "I'm sorry, Reggie, old boy. I didn't mean to bring him here but we are making short vespers until we reach the citadel. Long vespers have been intercepted of late." Vespers, Archie now knew referred to the means by which Reginald had first brought him here.

He understood the theory better now, but the acceptance of the reality still befuddled him. "Not to worry, Del Costa. We go way back. I'm glad to see you, even if it is under such circumstances." No introductions were made, but Archie listened closely to the two magicians discuss politics, world events, and the rumblings of war.

"Raggies continue to push for representation on the Council, but so far they have been blocked." Del Costa knew a great deal about the interworkings of the magical high council, since he was a special agent for them. His job was to capture dangerous magicians who used their abilities to harm others.

From what Archie could ascertain, the Magical Council was made up of three very old magicians who gave orders to the twelve magicians who oversaw the twelve regions of the world. Reginald was one of the twelve, and under his responsibility were all the magicians who lived in this region of the world. During all this discussion, Archie continued to look at the shaking form of the ragman.

"He is nothing under all those rags, you know." Del Costa said sadly. "His body is gone, he is a soul without a case to house him. They tear apart the fabric of their bodies in the quest for power and in the horrible moment that they realize what they have done they desperately try to patch themselves back together, but it is too late. They will never be whole again."

"This is why they so greatly fear fire," Reginald added. "If their fabric burns they have nothing to bind their souls to earth, and they would be ripped away. A soul without a body is tugged between life and death. This is what drives them mad. They do everything in their power to live, while all the laws of magic demand their death. They are a living breathing paradox."

As the men droned on, Archie slowly fell asleep on the newly unsurfaced sofa, the red velvet soft against his cheek. He woke once in the night, but did not stir, and he could hear the two magicians talking softly by the fire. "The kid is kinda fat," Del Costa said chuckling.

"He may be, but he is one of the brightest students I have ever trained," Reginald rebutted. Del Costa leaned in close, and Archie could just barely hear his whisper. "Does he know?" Reginald shook his head. Archie held his breath. "Know what?" he wondered to himself. What could Master Reginald be keeping from him? But before his mind could offer any possibilities he fell back asleep.

Archie awoke to the smell of frying bacon and boiling coffee. Del Costa and his prisoner were gone. The two occupants of the tower said little, but as the day passed and the night crept in, Reginald assembled a wide angled telescope and together in the snow they studied the stars. Reginald picked out major constellations and trained Archie on the stories behind them.

Nearly every night they bundled up in beaver skin coats and studied the stars. Many a night ended in a snowball fight and they would come back inside sweaty and wet from the snow. Archie was coming to think of Reginald less as an instructor and more and more like the father he had never had.

Not many days later Reginald kicked in the door and dragged a gigantic evergreen into the tower along with what seemed like half a snowbank. The tree was much too large for the space and reached from the door to the fireplace, and Reginald had to continually put out low hanging limbs that caught fire.

"Why did you bring that tree in here?" Archie asked befuddled. Reginald's face glowed. "Yuletide!" He answered as he hummed carols and dug through the books until he uncovered two old crates. "My favorite time of year."

Reginald cracked open the crates and inside lay an assortment of decorations, ornaments, and colored tinsel. Together Reginald and Archie began placing the ornaments on the tree, which Reginald had secured upright between four heavy books. They wound colored tinsel around the tree.

"For the grand thread," Reginald had commented. Reginald paused at a small carved wooden owl ornament which he hung carefully next a small silver star. "She always loved owls," he whispered. Archie started to ask, but restrained himself.

They carefully placed half melted white beeswax candles upon the tree in silver candlestick holders which hung off the branches. With a flourish Reginald lit the entire tree at once.

In the golden glow of the evergreen they sang together, "Decks the Halls". There was something magical about the illuminated tree, the cold air, and the sacred words. Both men stood in silence marveling. Suddenly, solemnly, and without explanation Reginald spoke. "The length of a life is not measured in years but in the size of your heart." And with a wave he extinguished all the candles at once.

As the days to Yuletide neared, Archie spent a great deal of time trying to figure out what to get Reginald for the holiday. As the cold, crisp, winter days passed Archibald watched with excitement as a number of bizarre, oddly shaped packages appeared under the tree. Archie shook and rattled the brown paper gifts whenever Reginald turned his back.

A nagging doubt grew in his mind though, as he realized he had no idea what to get Reginald. He spent a great deal of time pondering this matter, because there were clearly a great number of gifts meant for him come Yuletide, and he wanted something to give back to his kind master who had come to mean so much to him.

Archie had not left the tower since his first day there except to roam the grassy knolls and maple woodlands. Then one morning, when it was so cold that he could see his breath, Archibald awoke to a horrible rasping moaning. At first he feared it was some wight, ghoul, or ghost, but as he tiptoed down the tower staircase, he realized that the horrible sound was coming from Reginald's room. He knocked timidly at the impressive door in the morning gloom.

There was no answer, so Archibald knocked again and the echoing sound mingled with a hacking cough. Archie pushed the door as far as he could against the books and stumbled into the dark room. Reginald was tossing and turning in his bed. Books and handkerchiefs were thrown in every direction. In one corner sat a locked bookcase that instantly caught Archie’s eye, but the moans from his teacher dragged him out of his imagination where he was pondering what secret texts were kept sealed out of sight. Reginald's nose was red and crusty and his eyes were yellow and glazed.

"Master Reginald?" Archie asked approaching the bed. "Woe! Woe! Woe is me," Reginald cried out in a raspy voice. "Whatever is the matter?" Archibald asked. "I'm sick. Sick. Sick Sick. I'll probably die." Reginald retorted. Archie felt Reginald's head and it was warm, but not hot. "I need medicine," Reginald said weakly reaching into the empty air dramatically.

"Where do you keep the medicine?" Archie asked dodging Reginald's flailing arms. "I don't keep medicine here," Reginald replied as if Archie had asked something ridiculous like why a dragon was living in the chimney. "Where do you keep the medicine?" asked Archibald again exasperated.

"Medicine is made, not kept," Reginald said in the most scoffing tone his sickness would allow him. "Fine," Archie replied. "Fine, then I'll make it. What do I need?" But Reginald was not listening he was pointing. Archibald followed the direction of his long craggy finger to a piece of parchment and a charcoal stick.

"Number one," began Reginald. "Frog toe webbing." Archibald's face constricted. "Ew, you know how disgusting that would be in medicine?" "Number two," Reginald said ignoring him. "Scum from the foot of a wandering beggar." "Are you making this up? Is this some kind of joke, Master?" Reginald continued as if Archibald had not spoken.

"Number three, a bottle of Uncle Billy’s Beeswax miracle cure. Number four, green tea leaves. Number five, coffee grounds. Number six, butterscotch candies. That is the best flavor after all. Number seven, number seven, Archie. Are you even listening?" Archibald looked up and restrained himself from replying harshly. "Yes, I'm trying to write all this down." His hands were covered in black soot from the charcoal.

Reginald returned to his soliloquy of herbal remedy. "Number seven is a lock of a girl's hair." Archie's face was screwed up in a horribly disgusted look. "You are really going to drink this?" Reginald responded only with a long string of sneezes and chocking coughs. "Get on with it," he finally croaked out. "But where do I get these things?" Archibald asked perplexed. "From town, of course."

"Town?" whispered Archie. Having never ventured far from the tower, he honestly did not even know how to leave. "Problem?" Reginald asked frustrated. "Um, Master how do I get to town? I don't know how to vesper." Reginald blew his nose long and hard with an oddly hollow sound."

"Leave the tower, cross the fields, enter the maple wood, on the other side is a wall. Touch the wooden gate in the wall you never saw before. Say 'please' before you open the latch. Go through." Reginald tossed a small silk sack at Archibald. "Ow," Archibald yelped as he caught it full in the face. "Money," Reginald said clearing his throat with great force. "No, go already."

Archibald did not have to be told twice. Well, usually he did, but not in this instance. He grabbed his satchel tossed in the money and pushed open the heavy tower door. A few fresh snowflakes where wrestling in the brisk air as he hurried across the rolling hills to where the maple tree, leafless like undead hands reaching for heaven stood stark against the snow.

He had explored the woods a great deal in the fall and had no idea how deep the woods extended. He continued straight on for about an hour before coming to the wall. The wall was made of chipping white plaster and coarse red brick. He walked along it for some time without seeing a door or gate of any kind.

Realizing that it could lie in either direction he sat down to think for a moment. His beaver skin coat kept him warm, but his face was red and his breathing gave off great clouds of smoke like a kettle brewing tea. What had Reginald told him again? Suddenly he reached out and touched the empty wall in front of him.

The wall shimmered like a ripple on a pond and a green wooden door appeared at the center of Archibald's touch. Archibald tried the handle and found the door resolutely locked. "Great," he vented with a long sigh. "Just great."

For a moment, bewildered, cold, and frustrated Archibald longed to give up. It grew like a cancer arching from his heart until it struck his head like a lightning bolt, and for one moment he wanted nothing more than to home with his Aunt, safe and warm and bored. "Please," he called out to no one in particular.

No one in particular answered. A great mechanical clang rang out from the door and the latch released. Cautiously, ever so slowly Archie reached out his hand and the door swung open. What he saw was unthinkable, and yet he took it in a moment. His breath did not work as quickly as his head, and he gasped as he comprehended.

Behind Archie was the woods and the snow, the pale sky, and the long wall. Before him was a bustling cobblestone street with mounds of slushy black snow and muddy carriage ruts. He was standing in the doorway to a mean little stone house. A gateway between two worlds.

He looked back and forth for a long while trying to really wrap his head around the phenomena. Was the tower and the wood inside this house? Or was the house merely an entrance through space and time to another place altogether? Before he could come to any satisfying conclusion a pompous red faced buffoon of a man heaving from trying to quickly waddle, began sauntering toward him.

Resolving to settle the matter later, Archibald pulled the door closed and a latch sounded internally. "Boy," the fat man bellowed between deep gulps for air. "Whatever are you doing outside my warehouse?" Archibald did not answer. The man began digging between his thick rolls of fat until he discovered his belt and an odd assortment of keys.

Pulling a crude lead key of simple design he thrust Archibald out of the way and unlocked the door. "No wait!" Archie cried out, finally finding his voice. The door flew open to reveal a low stone room filled with ropes and barrels, boxes and the faint squeak of mice. "Hmm, all seems in order. Run along ragamuffin!" Archie obliged, wondering however he would get back. As he turned the corner he could still hear the great man wheezing.

Crossing the paving stones carefully, due to the ice he passed into the city square, where even in the cold dreary light of the day a fairly large crowd had gathered to trade and purchase. Archibald retrieved his list.

"Number one," he said aloud. "Frog toe webbing. Where does one find something that?" He looked up from his list to see a large swinging wooden sign labeled, "Aquatic Goodness: For All Your Frog Related Needs". "Hmm," Archie grunted. "I guess that answers that." He opened the roughly hewn door into a pale parlor of amphibious glory. There was a low pond sunk into the floor and frogs were everywhere.

The smell was nearly as startling as the overwhelming chorus of ribbits, chirps, and deep bullfrog bellows. A thin wiry man with glasses and a deep net stepped toward him nervously. "Shut the door. Don't let them escape!" A sly brown leopard frog made a desperate leap, but Archibald slammed the door and the frog hit the wooden door and bounced off with a sickeningly squish

The frog seemed no worse for his high altitude collision with the sturdy door and he shrugged, as well as a frog can, before hopping with a plop into a dark nearby pool. "What are you buying boy? Arrgh, don't step there." Archibald balanced on one foot to avoid stepping on a flood of frogs underfoot. "Frog toe webbing," said Archibald very slowly to be sure he requested the right ingredient.

Archibald paid the nervous man and was just heading out the door when something happened. Of course, you want to know what happened. That is only natural. In his rush to get out the door without any frogs escaping, Archie ran full force into a girl about his own age. She was dressed in a cap and bonnet, and had a basket on her arm. They collided with such force that both slipped and fell into the ice, snow, and mud.

Archie was the first to his feet, and apologizing profusely he rushed to help the girl up. She looked up at him. He looked down at her. Their eyes met, and she took the hand he offered, and the touch was electric. For what felt like three weeks they stood like that, unsure of what to say. Neither wanting the moment to end.

Fantasy

About the author

Alex Hanevich

I’ve loved books before I could read, and been telling stories as soon as I could talk. I love weaving a tale a watching the characters come alive and take on their own quirks and personalities. I believe words are magic!

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