From the author: A pair of wizards have a meeting of the minds that ends badly.
The door to the wizard’s keep slid noiselessly open, as though pushed by some unseen hand.
I was not impressed.
I’d had a keep of my own once, and I was fairly sure that the door was opened by mechanical, not magical, means. Once I stepped into the room I was certain of it. Though it was summer, a large fire blazed away on an elevated hearth in the center of the room. Beneath it, I was willing to wager a sizable portion of my ill-gotten gains, was a tube feeding into a leather bag and system of weights and pulleys. Simply open a valve in the fireplace, and the hot hair fills the bag, causing it to rise and with it the weights that operate the pulleys and open the door.
I took another step forward. The room was small and cluttered with detritus of any successful wizard’s career: black-painted tables covered with arcane scrolls and grinning skulls. Candles, some shaped like limbs or organs, everywhere. Shelves lined with jars of jellied newts, powdered basilisk teeth, bat wings…
Nothing I hadn’t seen before.
“My dear Pelagus, it’s so good to meet you, though of course I feel I already know you from your letters.” The resident of the tower stepped towards me from behind a pile of musty books, arms extended in greeting. He was short and fatter than I expected (most wizards, for some reason, believe that gauntness imparts an air of dedication to one’s craft) but dressed in the traditional attire of false spellworkers everywhere: the loose, flowing robes so useful for concealing items, the absurd conical hat, the broad belt with its secret pouches and pockets. I took his outstretched hands in mine.
“Good Melchior, how I have looked forward to this day,” I replied, “how much we have to talk about.”
“Aye,” he agreed. “And for good talk, good wine! Won’t you sit?” The little man gestured towards a chair of oak with red velvet cushions. I sat down. He bustled about, fetching goblets and a vessel.
“Alas!” he cried with excessive drama, “the wine jar is empty! No matter for the likes of us, eh, Pelagus?” He reached for a pitcher of water that stood on the table beside us. The little show-off. Was he really going to change water into wine? How unoriginal, I thought, but said nothing and watched.
He was quick, but the hand is only quicker than the untrained eye. I saw the small hole in the wine vessel before he covered it with his thumb, muttering an incantation.
Melchior then unstopped the jar and uncovered the hole. Inside the vessel, wine now flowed from its compartment and into my cup.
“Bravo, good Melchior! Truly you are everything that I have heard!” I continued the shameless toadying that characterized my letters of introduction. There was no point in exposing him. Yet.
“Nonsense, you’re too kind,” he replied, a look of insufferable self-satisfaction crossing his face as he took the seat opposite me. “It’s but a trifle to men such as we.”
“I suppose so,” I replied, sipping the rather indifferent vintage. “Now, how long have you been in the service of the Duke?”
“Ten years, my friend. Ten years.”
“And he pays you for your services?”
“A thousand crowns a year, plus expenses,” he said proudly.
“I see. Well then, let’s get down to business.” I rose and stared down at him, using my great height to even further advantage.
“Business?” he asked, somewhat taken aback.
“I’m sorry, didn’t I mention that this was not a purely social call?”
“No,” Melchior replied slowly, “your letter said you were just passing through.”
“Ah, well,” I said, tugging on my beard. “A man in my position can hardly go telling everyone what he’s up to, can he?”
“And what position would that be?” asked the little man, his voice suddenly shaky.
“Why, Chief Inspector of the Brotherhood of True Wizards and its affiliate, the Sisters of the Wiccan Arts.” I pulled the parchment designating me as such from my sleeve and waved it in his face.”
“I never heard of them…” he began.
“Of course not! Membership is strictly by invitation. Only when you have established so outstanding a reputation as yours is one invited to join.”
“I see,” said Melchior, puffing up again as he regained his composure.
“You see, our organization’s role is to preserve the reputations of wizards and witches everywhere.”
“Protect our reputations?”
“From fraud sir!” I cried, clapping him roughly on the shoulder. “Fakers and charlatans abound, my friend. They compete with us for jobs and every time one is exposed our credibility is undermined with both the public and those classes we rely on for patronage.”
“Of course, you’re right,” agreed the little imposter. “And you wish for me to join your organization?”
“I’m honored, of course, but what must I do? It won’t cost me a lot of money, will it?”
“Of course not.” I leaned in close and spoke in a hoarse whisper. “All you have to do is perform one feat of genuine magic for me and I’ll affix your name to this scroll and sign it.” I produced a scroll identical to the one I’d shown him earlier, except this one bore no name.
“One feat of magic? But surely, sir, you have seen at least two this very morning.”
“The magic portal? Turning water into wine? Of course, we true wizards also use these basic tricks. Save us considerable time and energy, and it impresses the hell out of the locals. But before I can sign the papers, I need to see one real bit of magic.”
“A demon summoning?”
“A real demon or a bit of cloth and a mask secreted in your bosom?”
“Magic fire that shines but does not burn, then.”
“What, a little phosphorus on the end of a stick? Really, Melchior I’m most disappointed. I had such high hopes for you.” I took the scroll off the table and placed it again in my robe.
The little man paled. Sweat poured down his shiny, bald head. “Levitations. Disappearances. Lead into gold. I can do them all.”
“Can you really?” I turned as if to leave, then hesitated. “I must warn you my friend, that our Brotherhood takes a very dim view of imposters such as you. Just as I’m sure your master will take a very dim view of being hoodwinked out of a thousand crowns plus expenses every year.”
“No! Don’t expose me. Lord Donegal will have me drawn and quartered, and that’s if he’s in a good mood. Please!” The little man hurled himself to the floor and grasped me by the knees. “Please don’t tell him, I beg you.”
I patted his head lightly. “There, there. I’m not a harsh man. I will give you one option. Swear to me that you will never practice false magic again and leave this place. Take as much of your gold as you can carry, but leave at once. There are other wizards of the Brotherhood in the land, and if one of them finds you he may not be as merciful as I”
Within seconds, the babbling, sobbing little man had pulled a flagstone from the floor to reveal a secret compartment bursting with coins. Hurriedly, he filled his pockets.
I’m sorry it had to end like this, but it looks like you won’t be hurting to badly.” I stepped into the doorway.
“What will I tell the Duke?” he gasped, eyes wide with fear.
“Don’t tell him anything,” I suggested. “Wizards disappear all the time. Just take the money and run. He’ll get over it.”
“Yes, I suppose you’re right.” The little man bustled about, emptying his pockets of playing cards, rabbits, silk cloths and other accoutrements of our line of work.
“I say,” I said pretending to stare into the distance. “Is that my friend Fastidel the Cruel approaching?”
“The cruel?” he squeaked, going quite pale.
“So-called because of his favorite method of punishing shysters like you. I shudder to think what will happen if he finds you here.” I grimaced and shivered.
“Gods preserve me!” he shrieked. I sidestepped as he charged through the door, head tucked low, stubby legs churning. I watched as he shrank to a tiny speck, then disappeared completely into the distance.
Tomorrow I’ll present my credentials to the Duke. He’s obviously in need of a good wizard. As for poor Melchior, I wonder how long it will be until he realizes he was tricked into giving up his extremely well-compensated position.
Probably as long as it took me to figure out that scalawag Fastidel conned me out of my job with the Earl of Blescoe.
I just hope poor Melchior doesn’t try this little game on any real wizards.
This story originally appeared in Adventures in Sword & Sorcery #4.