The town of Hanselman lay nestled at the bottom of a valley. Tight streets wound this way and that way, like cobbled snakes, around houses and stores. A wide and deep river dissected the town in two. Bridges arched over the body of water connecting the eastern part with the west. During the day, people would move back and forth between the two parts of the town. Peddlers would line the sidewalks of the bridges, calling to passer-by’s to look at their wares, or to trade. It was always gloomy in Hanselman. A thick blanket of clouds always lay low and heavy in the sky, and the air carried the touch of frost. Plumes of smoke always trailed delicately up from the countless chimney stacks of houses and tenement buildings. The few trees that lined the roads, or stood in the sad little parks, were always bare and gnarled, weathered by the cold air. The people of Hanselman however, were resolute and went about their things unperturbed by the cold weather or the ever-persisting gloom that hung in the sky. They would always greet each other in the streets. And even though the peddlers and merchants that moved through the town could be annoying at times, the people of Hanselman were always friendly towards them. Even on the coldest days, when the townsfolk would wrap their coats tight around themselves and hurry to get indoors, they would politely decline the few peddlers that still braved the weather.
Yet, for all the niceties of the people from Hanselman and the resilience against the cold and gloom, there was one thing they all avoided. One thing they did not speak of. One topic of conversation they hated to discuss, and if anyone, even a stranger from another land would raise this topic in conversation the people of Hanselman would turn their back on that person. People would hurry home to avoid speaking of it. The innkeeper would ask his patrons to leave his establishment and close his doors for the night if it was even murmured amongst the drunkards at the tables. If there was one thing, that nobody wished to acknowledge in Hanselman, it was the magician.
For all things bad that happened in Hanselman was blamed on the magician. A person’s bad luck, or a child’s sickness, was chalked up to the magician. The magician was the shadow behind all the ill workings of Hanselman. People used the word as a curse under their breaths. And as much as the magician was at the heart of the townsfolk’s superstition – he was in actual fact at the heart of Hanselman.
At the centre of the river that ran through the town, stood an island, and on that island there was the magician’s tower. Of all the bridges that crossed the river from the eastern side to the west – there were none that joined the island to Hanselman. The island, barren but for the tower, stood alone and mysterious at the heart of the town. No one of the town looked at the tower, and like the magician, no one spoke of it. Even when crossing the bridges, no one dared to look at the tower. The tower was a tall cylinder, built of slabs of grey stone. There were no openings within the stone, but for the arched windows at the very top. There was no door at its foot either. It was outlawed in Hanselman to set foot on the island. The magician resided there. It was his land.
Not much was known of the magician, except that the people of Hanselman knew that the magician was not a practitioner of cheap spells like the casters that travelled from town to town in search of boarding and food in exchange for their services. The magician of Hanselman was of old magic. It was said he had the power to sway the elements, to commune and control the animals of the wild, and to walk the dreams of people. Although no one had ever seen the magician, the townsfolk knew that he was hunkered in his tower, working on conjurations and enchantments. Many believed that he was responsible for the constant gloom and cold that held the land. Some said he used the sun to power his magic, and that’s why it was never seen. At night, when darkness had fallen, a deep blue glow could be seen from the arched windows at the top of the tower. Without fail, the townsfolk would see the blue light emanate in slow pulses like a heartbeat in the void, and when that ominous light throbbed, the townsfolk would lock their doors and close the window shutters. The night was the magician’s time, when his invisible presence was felt the most, and the people of Hanselman stayed inside, away from the darkness, close to their fires and the warmth of the candles burning on tables. For outside, they believed the magician’s magic prowled the streets in otherworldly forms, seeking dreams to spy on or to entrap unsuspecting persons in their enchantments.**
Night had fallen outside. Cold air blew through the wide windows and the pages of tomes on the desk rustled back and forth in the wind currents. Beyond those arched windows, the magician knew the lights of the town, Hanselman, flickered like fireflies in the dark. He could see the bridges spanning the river, bold street lamps casting wide pools of golden light on the cobbled streets. There was a time when he would sit at the windows of his tower and look out onto the town and find what he saw beautiful. On those nights he would smell the smoke from the chimneys. He would whisper a spell onto that smoke, and he would see into the homes from which the smoke came. He would see happy families sitting at their tables eating dinner, parents listening to their children’s tales. He would smell the food on their tables. This he would do with each home and by the time the sun crested over horizon for the new day, he would have spent time with each home in Hanselman.
That was a long time ago. Now he barely looked out the windows of his tower. The lights of the town had lost their appeal. He no longer wished to see into the homes of happy families. They were like dust to him. He slept through most days now. Once his body was fit, but it was now withered. When he dared to look in the mirror, he would see a waif with gaunt cheeks, grey skin and bloodshot eyes. His hair was tangled, and his beard was a dishevelled mess. He was not how he once was.
It all started on one of those nights when he would sit at a window of the tower and exercise his clairvoyance on the townsfolk. He moved his sight from one household to another. On this particular night though, he discovered that a little home, tucked away on a quiet street had a new occupant. In the past the magician barely spent more than a few minutes spying on this home because it was occupied by an old man who suffered from frailty and sickness. The magician didn’t like to watch the man. The slow and painful way the old man moved, and how fits of coughing wracked his body, was a grim reminder that death comes for all. The magician preferred not to entertain such a reminder. Yet, on this particular night, the magician discovered that the old man was no longer alone. When the magician’s divining sight penetrated the brick and mortar of that little home, he saw the old man sitting at the table, struggling to lift the spoon from the bowl of soup before him. His hand trembled, spilling most of the contents of the spoon back into the bowl. The magician’s sight was drawn to the woman standing in the kitchen though. She stood over a pot on the stove, methodically stirring the stew within, humming a gentle melody to herself. Not in all his days, and not in any of his worldly travels had the magician seen anything so fair. Nothing that was in his power to conjure could compare to her beauty. Long black hair fell to the small of her back, and it had sheen that shone like summer light. Her skin was dark as an olive, smooth and warm, and her eyes were a fiery green. She wore a dress that left her shoulders bare and covered her body delicately tight, revealing the curves and lines of her breasts and hips. The magician remained in that home for the rest of that night, watching her, listening to her voice, falling in love with her. And each night after that, he returned to do the same. As time passed, he learnt more about the woman. He learnt her name and that she was the daughter of the frail old man. She had come from another town, one he had heard of but never been to, to look after her father in his last days. He found her curious. There was something about her that he could not fathom. A depth that was dark and cool, swirling in itself. The magician wished to understand this about her.
This wish became a desire. A desire that began to gnaw at him, like a hunger that he could not satisfy. Casting his divination to peer through the world and into that home to watch her, was no longer satisfying. He wanted more. So he began to construct two spells. He toiled over his parchments, spilling ink, scribbling incantations and sketching diagrams. He burnt dragon horn with the flames from black candles. He cast feathers into vials of water, and whispered curses on them to make the sink. And when all his preparation and work was complete, his spells were ready. The first he attempted during the day. He chalked a circle on the ground and lined it with candles. With his breath the wicks caught aflame. In a clear voice he recited the verses of the spell. The magic entered the world on dark wings, for it was a black spell from a forbidden place. The spell took his soul from his body and on the back of cold wind, his soul was transported across the river and over the town, into that little home tucked away on a quiet street. There his soul entered the old man and possessed that frail body. At first, the room lurched and twisted, but as the magic settled, the magician looked about and found himself where he desired – sitting across from the beautiful woman. The old man’s soul was locked away, and he now resided beneath that spotted skin and aged bones. She was so much clearer to him now. She was visceral. He could smell her perfume, see the fine details of her face and the fairness of her skin. His magic had worked.
The second spell he tried at night. In his chamber he had created a pedestal, and on top of it there lay a clear glass sphere. He placed his fingertips on the sphere, closed his eyes, and recalled the incantation. The magic grew within the centre of the sphere. At first it was just an ember, barely visible, but as the magician worked through the spell, another speck appeared. And then another. Until a whirlpool of bright blue magic curled and twisted within the sphere. Even with his eyes closed, the magician could see the blue hue of the magic. Once the spell was whole, the sphere pulsed with magic. Although the magician’s body stood in his chamber with his fingertips touching the sphere, he was not there. He was not part of the world. He found himself wondering through a field of long grass. Flowers bloomed on trees. Two crescent moons cradled one another in the pale white sky. At the centre of the field, the beautiful woman stood – looking at him with her bright green eyes. She could see him. She saw him for the first time. The spell had succeeded. He walked her dreams.
By day, the magician would cast his black spell and possess the old man’s body. With each day that passed, the old man’s soul faded away – until he was gone completely. The magician would reanimate the corpse in the morning, and inhabit that lifeless body into the evening until the old man would retire for the night. The spell was demanding and required energy to sustain itself. And as the days turned into weeks and then into years, a dark gloom settled over Hanselman. Thick clouds gathered and never left. The air turned cold and bitter, and vicious gusts of wind would blow down the river and through the streets of the town. At night, when the woman had put the old man to sleep, the magician would awaken from the possession and walk across the floor of his chamber, his legs weak and stiff, toward the pedestal and the glass sphere. Then, he would summon the magic through the sphere and enter her dreams, and there he would wait for – to spend the night in her company. This became the magician’s existence. He would never meet her in person. He would never smell her with his own nose, nor touch her with his own hand. He would never look upon her with his own eyes. In his tower he would reside, and through the body of an old man he would pass his days. Sleep would never be his again, for he would wander through dreams by her side each night, always looking to satisfy that desire to understand her completely.