Brother Simon, could I trouble you for a small favor?” asked the Vicar.
“What would you have me do?”
“One of my young brothers is excessively troubled by his own feelings of unworth. His confessions are too frequent and too lengthy, and there is little occasion for such sin as he imagines himself guilty of. He supposes what little penance I do require to be too little, and then imposes such measures on himself that he will surely do himself harm. I have other duties, but I am not sure how to help him. Perhaps you could speak with him. You have not visited our order long, but I have heard you speak. Your compassion and your understanding of scripture are both deep. You should be an abbot yourself.
“I should certainly not be an abbot. I am not sufficiently orthodox. Were I to speak freely, I would be declared a heretic in very short order. Besides that, my own vows require me to travel. I cannot stay long enough in any one place to lead an order.”
“That’s an odd kind of vow, and I have not heard you say anything amiss, but never mind. Surely there is something you could say. Brother Luther is highly intelligent and devout. I would hate to lose him to madness, or if he neglects or harms himself. ”
“Perhaps you might give him something to occupy his mind, rather than dwell excessively on his own faults. And then…” Simon paused.
“You have thought of something. Tell me”.
“Before there was a Church, there was Christ. There were then no priests, no confession, no penance. What He taught was repentance. Perhaps you should help him to see that he cannot torment himself into perfection with penance. While God is just, he is also merciful. Even to those who consider themselves undeserving. Especially to those.”
“You astonish me. That’s not what I expected to hear at all.”
“Do you see why I might be considered heretical? But It’s not unscriptural, especially if you look at the epistles of Paul. I would be willing to talk to your monk, but I think such counsel would be better coming from you.”
Simon sat in the tavern, listening to the merchants gossip about various speculative ventures. Two of them were right now discussing the spice trade. “Since Constantinople fell to the Turks, it’s been much harder to get shipments through Syria. That’s why the Portuguese are trying to find a way around Africa. ” “Yes, they get a little bit further every year, but they haven’t found a way yet”. “And then there’s this Colombus fellow.” “I haven’t heard of him.” “Oh, he tried to get the king of Portugal to finance an expedition of reaching the East by sailing west. My patron heard about it. The king turned him down, his council decided the fellow’s geography was wrong, he thinks Cathay is about a fourth the distance away most geographers think. But I hear he’s a most bold and persistent fellow and keeps talking the idea up.”
Simon’s brain whirled. The geographers were right, of course. He had been there and measured the positions. Besides that, the unknown Western lands were in the way and there was no way through. He had walked their bounds long ago. But he usually went the long way around, using short hops from port to port. He wasn’t bold enough for these great leaps into the unknown, and a long sea voyage had its own dangers. These Europeans didn’t have a clue about the special diet needed to survive without getting diseased. They also didn’t have his tricks of navigation and sailing. His secrets were still his own, although more and more of them were being discovered. No, this Colombus fellow wouldn’t reach Cathay or India by sailing west, although if he got the expedition financed, and if he were very lucky, he might find something else even more world changing. This was something Simon needed to observe.
Simon peered through the microscope. If he knew his microscopy, and he should, he’d been using microscopes since they were invented, this pattern of cracks radiating from multiple centers was not natural to this material. He’d been doing occasional odd jobs of failure analysis since the field was invented, looking for just this kind of thing, but normally he saw mundane metal fatigue or ordinary contamination. This was different. To make certain, he murmured a cantrip, invoking magical sight. Yes, there it was, unmistakably, the signs of unnatural magic. His breath quickened. This was his true profession and always had been, to track down evil interference with nature’s laws, trace it to its source, and put it down. Those with evil intent were always coming up with new and clever exploits of growing knowledge of natural law, and it was all he could do to keep up.
He picked up the phone. “Mrs. Dennison? Sorry to disturb you. This is Simon Magister, the failure analyst your company hired.Yes, I’ve found the cause of your husband’s plane crash, and you were right to suspect sabotage… No, I can’t explain, it’s much too technical, but I hope you will trust that I know what I’m talking about… Yes, I will do a proper report. It won’t make sense, if anyone should double check, but neither does the damage to the strut. …Right now, I would recommend that you hire a forensic accountant to look over your company’s books… Yes, I’ve worked with them before. and I believe they are competent. I’d also recommend a very discreet look at one of your suppliers. Yes, that one. You already suspected something there?… You do now? Very good. … No ma’am. there will be no charge for my services. This is pro bono…No, Ma’am, it’s because it is sabotage. If it weren’t, I would have charged you the normal fee and I wouldn’t have called you in person… No ma’,am that’s very generous of you, but I can’t possibly accept your money. I have other sources of income and all expenses are already covered for this kind of investigation. I would appreciate it if we could continue to work together….No ma’am, its no distraction at all. I now have a personal and professional interest in this case as well and it overlaps with yours.
Simon had always felt a little possessive about Egypt. It had, after all, been more or less the center of his wanderings for thousands of years. It was sadly diminished from what it had once been. He was sitting in the marketplace in Rashid, thinking about how little he cared at the moment for the French, who were unloading their warships, when he felt a familiar itch in his mind. “It is time. Open the ancient world”.
So. How was he do to that? He left the marketplace and wandered the town. thinking how much it had changed since the days of the Ptolemies. Wait. There was a fort a few kilometers away, and the French might well be planning to use it. Simon didn’t much care for the way people carelessly reused old material, destroying what information it could give them about the past, but Sultan Qait Bey had been doing just that when he first built the fort a few hundred years back on one of Simon’s many absences, and some of the stones he used were covered with hieroglyphics. In fact, there was one he remembered in particular that just might do the job.
He arrived at the fort late that evening, found a quiet spot, and sat down to meditate. He cast a delving spell, one that would let him quickly find and skim all the stones remaining that had hieroglyphics. After a couple of hours, he found it. That one. It was broken, but on it,there were inscriptions in two forms of written Egyptian and Greek. Now that he had located the stone, he cast a glamour. The men looking for building material to would be sure to find it.
The next day, he visited the French encampment. A few inquiries told him that the Lieutenant in charge, Bouchard was his name, had a bit of classical education and was indeed planning to repair the fort. Simon found a quiet nook and murmured a matching glamour to cast on the Lieutenant. For this kind, he only needed the man’s name, which he now had. He would not miss the significance of the find.
Well, he had done what he could. It was time to move on.
I’ve changed my mind” said Simon. “I’m going to stay at least one more day before I fly out.”
He pulled out a credit card. “I’ll pay for one more day of hangarage right now.”
“Any particular reason?” asked the manager of the small rural Nebraska airport, as he processed the transaction.
“Weather forecast looks good, but I still don’t trust it”, replied Simon.
The manager nodded. “There are old pilots and bold pilots, but very few old, bold pilots, they say.”
“Exactly”. Simon carefully did not add that the spirits of the air were especially restive this season, or that he could taste a malicious influence somewhere, or specify just how old he was, or how many hours of flight time he had accumulated that would give weight to his instinct. The manager didn’t need that information and wouldn’t believe him anyway.
This snippet is from the historical fantasy I have been talking writing about for a few years now, working title “Tales of the Magister”. Every Sunday, Sarah Hoyt posts writing prompts on her blog and invites prospective authors to contribute. These are considered writing practice, and these scenes may or may not appear in my finished work.
Mr. Gordon told Flora “I’ve filed a claim on that gold on your property. The court will back me up, and you can’t afford a lawyer who will take me on. And you” he pointed at Simon, “You’re a foreigner. You have no standing. Not even if you marry her, which I have no doubt is what you’re after.” He turned and walked out.
Simon turned to Flora. “Don’t worry. He won’t find enough to be worth his while.”
Flora, who was on the verge of tears, said “How can you know that? He can hire lots of men to go help prove his claim, and then what?”
“And then he will have wasted his money. I won’t say trust me, but you will see. And you can dismiss that nasty suspicion he planted right now. I don’t need your gold, and there are so many reasons I can’t marry you I can’t count them, even if I were so inclined, which I am not. No reflection on you, you’re a fine woman. For someone, someday, maybe. Right now, I need to go for a walk. If you will excuse me?”
“Of course. ” Flora turned away to her housework and Simon stepped outside. The faintest of smiles played on his lips. “Standing, is it?” He had more standing with greater powers than Mr. Gordon would ever dream of. Now, what was that spell? He hadn’t had much cause to use that one since Precolombian times, but this was an equally worthy cause. Now, what about her sons? Should they find the gold? No, it wouldn’t be good for them. Not unless…ah, yes. He’d used that one, too, back in medieval Europe. Not until they were more mature, and not if they were looking for it.
He reached the spot of Gordon’s claim, and sat down on the ground. This would take a while. He began the ritual, invoking the spirits of the earth, instructing them to hide the signs that prospectors would be looking for, unless and until certain conditions were met. Presently he stood. Yes, that would do.