Friday, March 2, 2012

The Collector of Cantrips

The Collector of Cantrips
Bobby Derie

On an antique road my footsteps fell in with a scholar of small things. We were fast for a while on our common journey, speaking of his strange study and distant travels to collect trifles of little interest, save to others in his field. Yet I found an inherent merit in his work, and would wait when he would stop for a while to speak with the petty sorcerers outside the walls of Hurn, in their own degraded pidgin, taking copious notes of their everyday miracles, and thanked them before we went farther on our way.

Perhaps I learned as much of the history of magic in those days as a student in one of the great universities, though our lecture-halls were but the campfire, the wayside tavern, and the vast empty steppe on that ancient beaten track. There were strange genealogies of spells, scraps of lore that the fist true Men had sweated and pored over, then cast aside and forgot as their studies progressed, ‘til even the apprentices were not raised up on them. He spoke, in that high-pitched voice with soft inflections, of the seven languages of magic as we know them today—and how they developed from still older tongues, and were refined and begged and borrowed from one another, were refined, codified, diverged, and forgotten, recovered, remade, until finally written down—and even that, the study of the history of written magic, was a discipline in itself.

We paused outside the village of Yall, with its strange blue oxen, so he could copy the scraps of half-remembered nursery glamers from a diary of soft brown paper, and in the evening he drank deep on koumiss and entertained us all with a history of the grammery of fire—starting in the modern day and working back, age by age and cantrip by cantrip, reading from his notes each spell on the kindling of flame. The dried ox-turds burned colors none in Yall had ever seen, and before the night was half spent impish elementals and sluggish salamanders danced amid the coals with Melunusian demons from the nearest and least fearsome hells, bound by strange circles and a curious sign scrawled in the dusk.

One overcast day, the wind howled, and feet weary and bleeding and throats dry, we kept the silence a while. My thoughts did not stray too far, however, as I considered my companion of the road. I knew, as all men must, of the high sorcery of the great spiral towers, and could recognize the whispered names of those terrible potent thaumaturges. Less well known but perhaps more rumored were the night-shrouded necromancers in the government catacombs, whose work was vital to the defense of nations and states, and who set their grim faces to control the invisible fires and unleash them against great enemies. In my own life I had engaged the artisan-magicians, not archwizards but skilled and knowledgeable at their tasks, whose practical magick was such a part of life.

Yet I decided to myself I could not judge the collector of cantrips on his chosen profession, and when at last our roads forked, I offered him my hand in friendship and health. In his turn he offered me an antique blessing, calling on the names of five small and forgotten gods.

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