Sample: Hope and the Clever Man

Hope and the Clever Man“Daddy, come and look at this!”
“Daddy’s busy, Hope. What… oh.”
The tall, dignified man with the sad face paused and knelt by his daughter in the corner of his office. The sun streamed through the window, broken up by a tree outside. Eight-year-old Hope curved her little brown hands around one of the beams, and where it hit the floor it made a perfect patch of rainbow light. She turned her big dark eyes up to him, looking for his approval.
“How are you doing that, sweetie?”
“I’m bending the light,” she said, with that tone of voice that children use to adults who are being dense.
Her father blinked, and stared, first at the rainbow and then at Hope.
“That’s very good, Hope,” he said. “Just wait here a few minutes?”
He came back with the mage, a woman called Sincerity, whose straight black hair formed a disciplined line above her eyebrows and another line above her shoulders. Hope knew who the mage was, since she was also the manor’s healer and Hope had had a couple of childhood illnesses. Sincerity didn’t seem like a person who liked children much. Hope showed her the game with the light when her father asked her to, though.
The adults looked at each other with wide eyes, and the mage began asking her questions. How long had she been able to do this? Oh, not long. Could she do anything else? Yes, all sorts of things, especially with light. She could make a light in the air, and change its colour, and make it move around. But they were just little games.
“Actually,” said the mage, “you have a very important talent.”
Hope’s father’s office had a door through to the Countygold’s office, because Father was the Countygold’s secretary. Hope’s family had been retainers of the Countygolds of the Western Isles for generations. Father called through and asked if the Countygold could come and discuss something, and they talked about Hope like adults do, as if she wasn’t there.
“Having a mage from the Western Isles would be a source of pride for our County,” said Father.
“That’s true, Vigorous,” said the Countygold, a big old man who had always been kind to Hope. “But in any case, it’s the mage’s duty to train her up, and my duty to make allowance for it. That’s in the contract I agreed to when I brought Sincerity here.”
Sincerity nodded. “How’s she doing at school?” she asked.
“She’s a bright child,” said her father.
“I’ll want to take her out of the school and teach her my own way,” said the mage. “I’m sure the village school is fine for teaching figuring and the dwarvish script, but she’ll need a proper education in the Great Nine if she’s to get anywhere as a mage.”
Hope lifted her head at that. On the one hand, she didn’t always get on with the other children at school. On the other hand, she wasn’t sure she wanted to be with the mage all the time. At least at school if you didn’t know the answer there were other people to hide behind.
“Can you teach all of the Great Nine?” asked Father.
“I know the Earthly Three best, but I can teach the rest well enough for an eight-year-old.”
“What about Reliance?” said the Countygold. “He could teach her.”
The mage thought about that for a moment. “All right,” she said. “It’s the Earthly Three she mostly needs, but I’ll be pleased enough to have more time to attend to my other duties while the chaplain teaches her.”

Hope’s father held her hand as they walked home that night, and didn’t say much. He looked worried.
“What’s wrong?” Hope asked him.
“I’m trying to work out how to tell your mother.”
Hope’s mother was the Countygold’s estate manager, which meant that she went around all the farms and houses that belonged to the Countygold and told people what to do. She usually came home in a bad mood.
Father cooked the dinner, a stew, and when Mother came in he made sure to give her the best bowl. When they’d eaten, he cleared his throat.
“Verity,” he said, “something happened today.”
“What?” said Mother, in her usual sharp tone.
“It turns out that our little girl has magical talent, and Sincerity has agreed to teach her.”
Mother glared at Father, and then at Hope. “Hmph,” she said.
Since she didn’t say any more than that, Hope went to her first lesson the next day.

“First of all,” said the mage, “I need to bind you to the Protocols of Hesh.”
“What are those?” said Hope.
“They’re powerful mindspells which will prevent you from using magic to do anyone direct, lasting harm.”
“I wouldn’t hurt anyone,” she protested.
“Doesn’t matter,” said Sincerity. “I can’t teach you if I don’t bind you. That’s part of the Protocols too. Unless we do this, I won’t be able to open my mouth to teach you anything.”

The Great Nine turned out to be the old elven curriculum, still the basis for higher education in the Realm of Koskant, though the Elven Empire was more than five hundred years gone. Sincerity taught the Earthly Three: life, mind, and what the elves had called, rather dismissively, “dead things”. This third category formed the whole of dwarven magic, since the dwarves didn’t hold much with things that were alive. The mage didn’t know much dwarven magic — she was a life-and-mind mage — but she had books. Playing with light, she told Hope, was energy magic, and there was also matter magic, transforming and shaping nonliving things. There were magics of space and time as well, in theory, but humans had never learned them and even the dwarves admitted that they couldn’t do much with them.
For the rest of her education, Hope went to the chaplain, an elderly Asterist scholar named Reliance who had grown up with the Countygold. He taught the Three Bridges (music, poetry and storytelling) and the Heavenly Three (astronomy, mathematics and Asterist theology: the three aspects of the Divine and their nine faces). His approach to teaching was less disciplined than Sincerity’s. He would give her something to read, usually, ask her questions about it or look at her work when she came back, and grunt something noncommittal. He did love music, though, and taught Hope to sing in the classical style. This also helped with her chanting, an important part of elven magic.
Mathematics had always been Hope’s best subject at school, and even without much encouragement from Reliance, she studied it enthusiastically. She was soon well beyond the level she would have reached in the village school.

“How were your lessons today, Hope?” asked her father one day. He always asked, and Hope usually said, “Good,” or “Fine,” but today she said, “Oh, it was fun, Daddy, I learned all about how to bring heat from the other spaces into our space, and we set some things on fire.”
Hope’s mother set her knife down with a thump.
“It’ll be your fault,” she said to her oathmate, “if the child burns the cottage down.” They lived in a cottage at the back of the manor house.
Angry tears welled up in Hope’s eyes. She wouldn’t burn anything down, she knew better than that.
“Now, now, I’m sure it’ll be fine,” began her father.
“I was opposed to this foolishness from the start,” said her mother, “as you well know.”
“Verity, it’s a chance for our girl to shine,” he said. “Think of the reflected glory of having a daughter who’s a mage. The Countygold already treats me with more respect because of it, consults my opinion…”
“I can’t think why,” said Hope’s mother, in a tone which made it clear what she thought of her oathmate’s opinion.
Tears were sliding down Hope’s cheeks, but she kept silent.
“She’ll do us no favours with her looks, anyway, especially if she keeps that up,” said her mother. “Go to your room, child.”
Hope’s mother very rarely addressed her by name. After that night, she carefully did not show any enthusiasm for her lessons in her mother’s hearing.

Hope spent a lot of time in the manor’s library, especially on Fourdays. Most people took the last day of the four-day shift-round as a day off, and even though her mother often worked on Fourday, Hope got into the habit of spending the day in the library to get away from the cottage. As she’d passed her childhood’s end rites and become a “betweener,” in training for adulthood, she became more aware of the constant tension between her parents. Besides, if she studied hard, and became a really useful mage, Mother would have to acknowledge that she wasn’t worthless after all.
Parts of the library were much older than the house itself. The Countygold’s ancestors had themselves been senior servants in the old elven manor-house, the one before this, back before the fall of the Elven Empire. They had taken the old manor over when the elves retreated into the mainland forests, leaving their human former slaves in possession, and there was still a whole section of ancient Elvish books in a corner at the back of the library.
Mindmagic and lifemagic were mostly worked in Elvish, and Sincerity insisted that she be fluent. On a Fourday when her parents had had a shouting argument before breakfast was even on the table, Hope wandered into the ancient section and picked up an old daybook. Her mother kept one just like it, recording events in the house and estate — harvests started and finished, planting, the matings and births of livestock (the people had their own, separate record in the estate rolls), building work undertaken, weather observations and suchlike. Hope thought it would be interesting to see how much had changed and how much had stayed the same, so she went to a window-seat and curled up with the fragile old volume.
One entry referred to the fact that the siora had bloomed early that year. “What’s a siora?” she wondered, and went and fetched the old Elvish illustrated herbal.
“Oh,” she said when she saw the illustration, “meadowbonnets.” She noticed, though, that the ink illustration showed a pattern she’d never seen on the flower, and that didn’t seem to be on the painted version. She checked the text in case there was an explanation.
“Siora have a beautiful lia pattern,” she read. “Lia, lia. Is that a colour word?” She checked the big Elvish encyclopedic dictionary that she always kept at hand when expanding her vocabulary.
Lia was indeed a colour word, and the entry referred her to an essay on colour at the back of the dictionary.
“Elves,” she read, “apparently perceived colour differently from humans, and many of their artistic works employing colour look odd to human eyes. For example, the famous rainbow mosaic in the Citadel of Coriant shows the classical 27 named colours of elven art, three of which are imperceptible to humans. Compare the 32 colours recognised by the dwarves, some of which are also not perceptible to human eyes, though in the case of the elves it is the colours beyond purple in the spectrum, and in the case of the dwarves the colours beyond red.”
A chart beneath the text compared the two colour systems, and showed lia as one of the three colours humans couldn’t see.
“I wonder,” thought Hope, “if I could shift the light somehow to see what the elves saw.”
She looked up her textbook on light magic, and while it didn’t give a spell for exactly that purpose, she thought she saw how she could make one.
Intrigued now, she wrote out her best guess at the spell, taking her time over the sigils, and started to work it. The light shifted, and sure enough, she could now see the patterns in the painted illustration of the meadowbonnet flower.
The daybook still lay beside the herbal in the window seat, and, to Hope’s surprise, underneath the text, in a different hand, she saw another text in Elvish. It seemed that an elf had not wanted humans reading it, and had written it in lia ink.
Hope snatched up the book and ran to show Sincerity. Sincerity lived alone, having never oathbound, in a cottage not far from Hope’s parents’.
“Well,” said the mage. “Well, well.” She eyed Hope with something resembling respect.
With the help of a great many books, and working together for hours, they managed to enchant a viewing glass so that it would change the light in just the right way to enable the hidden words to be read.
Using the glass, they found more texts. It appeared that when the elves had left, their apparently-blank books had been reused, and Hope and Sincerity discovered account books and daybooks and estate rolls with Elvish writing underneath the entries. Besides long-irrelevant political notes, the texts included a number of spells, most of them unfamiliar. The most useful was a lifemagic technique that let one both observe and affect the blood flow in a body far more easily than any of the methods Sincerity knew. One could use it to see if someone was lying, for example, or diagnose and even treat illness without touching someone.
Sincerity sent out letters to every mage she knew, not only to tell them about the new spells, but to ask them to look in old libraries for more examples. Before long, she started to get replies telling her that they’d found answers in old books to mysteries that had puzzled everyone for years. There was a good deal of magic, lifemagic especially, that the old Empire elves had never shared with their human slaves.
One morning, at the start of their lesson time, Sincerity brought in a thick letter written in a round elvish hand. The elvish alphabet was only used for magical, formal, scholarly and legal purposes now, having been replaced with the square dwarvish alphabet for everyday use, so this was clearly an important letter.
“What’s that?” asked Hope. Sincerity had an air of what, in a more expressive person, would have been glee.
“Well,” said the mage. “One of my letters was to the Master-Mage Amiable. He’s the head of the magic school at the University of Illene, and, as it happens, my old teacher.”
“This is from him?” said Hope.
“Yes. He’s started a project to transcribe, compile and distribute the knowledge that’s been hidden in the old books. He’s written to mages in other realms, offering to send copies of all the spells discovered in Koskant if they send copies of theirs to him. He’s announced a new library and institute of ancient knowledge, to be established in Illene.”
Sincerity actually smiled, an unaccustomed expression on her severe face.
“And he’s sent this to you.” She handed over another enclosure. It was unopened, but Hope guessed that its contents were described in the other letter, because Sincerity seemed to think it was significant. She eyed her mentor for a moment, then tore open the letter.
It was not just in the elvish script, but actually in the Elvish language. By writing in Elvish, he was silently acknowledging that she was a person of scholarship, she thought to herself.
“Dear Mistress Hope,” it began, as if she were a grown-up woman with her adulthood rites behind her, and not a girl just short of seventeen years old. “I was delighted to hear from your tutor, my former student Sincerity, of your most valuable discovery. This is an opportunity to regain knowledge lost for centuries, and has already begun to show its benefits.”
The letter went on in this vein for some time. Halfway down page two, she gasped aloud.
“And so,” the letter said, “I am most gratified to offer you a full scholarship, to complete your studies in magic at Illene, starting in the next academic year.”
Sincerity was openly smiling now, and Hope felt like her face was going to break in half. “Let’s go and tell Father,” she said, and they hurried to the secretary’s office, abandoning their lesson.
When the Countygold heard Hope exclaiming to her father about the scholarship he poked his head through the connecting door between their offices.
“Did I hear right?” he asked. “Old Amiable is offering you a free place?”
“That’s right, Countygold,” she said.
The Countygold was in his late sixties, and rather overweight. He wheezed as he made his way into the room and pulled up a chair to the table on one side of the office, where Hope’s father held meetings, then gestured Hope, Sincerity and Hope’s father to join him.
“Well,” he said. “As we discussed, Vigorous, I’d have liked to pay for her education myself. You and your oathmate, and your families, have served the county well for generations, and it’s not every year someone comes along with young Hope’s potential, eh?”
Hope blushed, and muttered something grateful.
“But with the repairs we need to the seawall, and the price of grain, I don’t know if we could have managed it, so this comes as a relief. What does the scholarship cover?” said the Countygold.
“Fees, lodging and basic food,” said Sincerity. “That’s standard. Books and travel are still the student’s own lookout.”
“Well, I can cover travel,” said Hope’s father. “I have some money set aside that your mother doesn’t know about,” he continued to Hope. “Enough to pay for a steamer up the Gulf.”
“Thank you, Father,” she said. A steamer trip all the way to the mainland was expensive enough that very few people she knew had ever been there.
“All right, then,” said the Countygold. “I remember when I was at Illene, my father established an account with the university bookshop. I’ll look up what he set up and how he did it, it’ll be in the old accounts. Though it was, my goodness, fifty years ago nearly.” He smiled reminiscently.

As she emerged from the chaplain’s study at the end of her lessons that day, Hope drew up short. Her father waited outside, leaning against a wall.
“I wanted to talk to you before we go home,” he said. “I’m very pleased that this scholarship has come up.”
“So am I,” she said, as they began to walk towards the back door of the manor.
“It’s a wonderful opportunity. You’ll be carrying the pride of the family, of the whole island. The whole county, in fact.”
“I suppose I will.”
“It’s an important recognition, and I want you to always be aware of that. Recognition is very important.”
“What about the work for its own sake?” she said, stopping on a middle stair of the back staircase.
“Well, I suppose. But without recognition, you won’t get far in life. What do you want to do when you graduate?”
“I haven’t thought. I mean, my talent seems to be strongest in energy magic, but I’m not bad at mind and body magic. I’ve seen how Sincerity helps people with those.”
“Listen to me, Hope,” said her father, leaning forward from the higher step on which he stood, so that he loomed over her. “Nobody ever became wealthy and respected by helping people. You keep an eye out for your chance to shine.”
“Yes, Father.”

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Mike Reeves-McMillan lives in Auckland, New Zealand, the setting of his Auckland Allies contemporary urban fantasy series; and also in his head, where the weather is more reliable, and there are a lot more wizards. He also writes the Gryphon Clerks series (steampunk/magepunk), the Hand of the Trickster series (sword-and-sorcery heist capers), and short stories which have appeared in venues such as Compelling Science Fiction and Cosmic Roots and Eldritch Shores.

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