Read A Proper Wizard Online

Authors: Sarah Prineas

A Proper Wizard

Dedication

Dedicated to
Bre Kenney,
the best reader ever

The Magic Thief: A Proper Wizard

To: The Senior Wizard Connwaer

Heartsease House, Wellmet

 

To my respected Colleague:

As a fellow Wizard I write to you, Connwaer, having heard of your great wizardly Deeds and having read your Disquisition on the draconic Nature of Magic. For our great City of Danivelle has been suffering from an alarming and perhaps even dangerous magical Condition, of which none of the senior Wizards in the City can discover a Cause nor a Cure.

We grow most Desperate and implore you to assist us in this Matter. Thus, Connwaer, we Wizards of Danivelle send to you one of my most junior Apprentices, Verent, who can most easily be spared at this terrible Time. Verent is a rather bumbling and not-at-all promising Apprentice, so you must treat him not as a proper Wizard, but simply as a simple Messenger. He has been instructed to describe to you our City's mysterious Affliction and carry back to us your Letter describing what we must do to address the Problem.

Most sincerely, in great Haste and unease of Mind,

From: The Senior Wizard Sans-tête Poulet
Lagrand Place, City of Danivelle

 

V
erent wasn't sure why he'd been chosen for this mission. As an apprentice in his last year of schooling, he'd been ordered to go to Wellmet, a cold, rough, industrial city of the north, to meet with the wizard Connwaer, one of the great magisters of the age, who had written a revolutionary paper on the true nature of magic. Verent's master thought that this wizard Connwaer might be able to help their own city, Danivelle, with a particularly sticky magical problem. Verent wanted to think he'd been chosen because he was the only one who could be trusted to complete the mission. But he suspected that wasn't the reason. He knew his master thought he was a bumbling oaf of an apprentice.

Well, this time he would
not
make any stupid mistakes. No, this time he would prove his competence. Even if he really was just a messenger boy, he would bring back the solution to his city's magical problem—he would save the day.

Wellmet itself didn't make him feel very hopeful, though. As Verent stepped out of the boat that had ferried him from his ship to the dock, he surveyed the wharfs and warehouses of what seemed to be a very rundown, dirty part of the city. It stank of old fish and of . . . unmentionable things. Carefully Verent pulled a scented handkerchief from the pocket of his velvet apprentice's robe and held it to his nose. He kept his other hand in his other pocket, gripping his coin purse. No doubt there were nasty pickpockets and thieves about.

Wellmet was very different from his own city, Danivelle, with its mighty towers, its wide bridges and clean, tree-lined streets. The magic here was promising, at least. Though Master Poulet had convinced him that he was a poor excuse for an apprentice, Verent
was
a wizard, and he could feel it, a doubled magic far more powerful than the magic of Danivelle. Powerful and possibly dangerous, just like the great wizard Connwaer. Verent shivered in the chilly wind.

Not to worry. Master Poulet had sent a letter ahead of him. Verent didn't know what it said, but he knew he was expected. Also he was wearing a brand-new suit, his shoes were polished to a shine, and he was wearing a most elegantly scented cologne. He was determined to make a good impression.

The wizards of Wellmet, he knew, lived on islands in the river. It didn't take him long to find a man with a boat willing to row him and his trunk of clothing and books and other magical supplies from the filthy docks to Heartsease.

“You're a big fellow!” the boatman exclaimed, as Verent awkwardly lowered himself into the rowboat.

His size was perfectly obvious, Verent thought, and the man should speak more respectfully. Anyway, he wasn't particularly large, for a man of Danivelle. It was just these Wellmet people were so small. Underfed, probably, given how poor and rundown the city was.

With a shrug, the boatman finished strapping down Verent's trunk and settled in at the oars.

“Wizard, are you?” the boatman asked, looking over his shoulder to check their course.

“Yes,” Verent answered, not bothering to explain that he was really just an apprentice. He pulled back his velvet robe to reveal the locus magicalicus pinned to his coat. The stone was polished, as was the style in Danivelle, a hard green rock flecked with red.

“Been lots of wizardly doings here of late,” the boatman went on.

“Yes, I am aware of that.” Verent had heard many stories about the wizard Connwaer's amazing magical feats. It was enough to make him nervous, the prospect of meeting a wizard of such eminence, such power. “Mind your oars, boatman,” he added crossly.

It didn't take long before they arrived at Heartsease, the boatman casting worried eyes on the water slopping over the sides of the boat. Both Verent and his trunk were really too much cargo.

“All right and tight,” the boatman said with a relieved grin as Verent hauled himself onto the shore of one of the wizards' islands. Verent paid the man—with a carefully calculated tip—and surveyed Heartsease. The island itself consisted of a tall, narrow, newly built house, a cobblestoned courtyard littered with building materials, and a huge black tree covered with black leaves. Verent shook his head. No, they weren't leaves but sinister birds. He squinted. The birds, he realized, were watching him.

Leaving the trunk for one of the wizard Connwaer's servants to fetch, Verent strode across the courtyard and, ignoring the birds, went up the stairs. After straightening his robe and making sure his hair was lying down flat instead of sticking up, as it tended to do, he knocked at the front door of Heartsease.

After he'd knocked again more loudly and impatiently, and waited a short while, the door was opened by a servant boy three or four years younger than he was, wearing a high-necked black sweater, overlong in the sleeves and unraveling along the bottom edge, brown trousers with a hole in one knee, and red woolen socks. One shoulder of the sweater, Verent noted, was shredded, as if something with sharp claws liked to perch there. A bird, perhaps. The boy's dark hair needed cutting, and his eyes, which were bright blue and shadowed, as if he didn't get enough sleep, regarded him questioningly.

“I am here to see the greatest wizard of your city,” Verent announced grandly.

The boy opened the door wider. “C'mon in. You're Verent? From Danivelle?”

“I am he,” Verent said with what he hoped was a dignified nod. The boy led him down a short hallway and into a study with two wide windows letting in plenty of late-afternoon light, sturdy, comfortable chairs, a thickly carpeted floor, and a fireplace at the opposite end where a bright fire burned. Against the walls were shelves crammed full of books and magical devices. Verent didn't see anything that looked like a grimoire—a wizard's spellbook. Before the fire sat a white-and-tabby cat, which regarded him solemnly and then turned its head away. Everything, except the cat, was overlain with a collection of books, papers, dirty teacups, half-empty bottles of ink and what looked like slowsilver, and magical paraphernalia, bits of machinery, and boxes of screws and rusty gears.

Untidy, Verent thought. He swept his robe from his shoulders and held it out for the servant boy to take. “Here,” he prompted.

The boy stared blankly at the robe for a moment, then took it and tossed it over the back of a chair. “D'you want some tea?” he asked.

A Wellmet ritual, Verent was beginning to think. He'd been offered tea on the ship, as well, and at the docks when he'd gone into a shop to hire a boat. “Yes. I thank you,” Verent said. The climate here was cold and damp; maybe they needed frequent doses of hot tea to fortify themselves. Careful not to bump anything, he cleared room on a side table and set down his hat and gloves and, moving a few books from a chair to the floor, sat down. “If you please, will you tell me about him?” he asked.

The boy had crossed to the hearth. Pulling his sleeve over his hand for a pot holder, he took a steaming kettle off a trivet and carried it to the table, where he poured boiling water into a teapot. “Tell you about who?” the boy asked, replacing the lid of the pot.

The boy must be stupid, Verent thought. “I speak of the greatest wizard of our time, of course. What is he like?”

“Oh.” The boy returned to the hearth, where he crouched and set down the kettle. He seemed to be considering the question. “Well, some people are afraid of him.”

Verent swallowed. He shouldn't be surprised, considering what he'd heard about the great wizard. Even Master Poulet spoke of Connwaer in awed tones. Connwaer, it was said, had singlehandedly defeated a plot to hold hostage Wellmet's supply of magic. The villains, Verent had heard, had created a terrible device that, without Connwaer's magical expertise, might have destroyed the practice of magic in Wellmet and beyond. Then, it was told, Connwaer had foiled an attempt by another magical being to feed on the magic of Wellmet and had bound both magics to the city, thus revealing the connection between magic and dragons. Now wizards across all the cities were debating his discoveries. Meeting the wizard responsible for such deeds made Verent nervous. “You're afraid of him, you say?”

“Well, I'm not,” the boy answered. He went to the table and inspected a dirty teacup, which he polished with the hem of his sweater, then filled with hot tea from the pot. “But people who don't know him are. He's tall and stern, that's one thing. And he's got that old gray-bearded croakety-croak look, you know?”

“No, I do not,” Verent said stiffly. How impertinent. His own master, Senior Wizard Poulet, was very strict and stern, and he had a gray beard.

The boy grinned. “And he shouts a lot because he's impatient. Sugar?” He held up a sugar bowl.

Verent nodded. “Yes, please.”

“Benet's at the market. There isn't any milk until he gets back.” The boy carried him a steaming cup—no saucer, Verent noted.

Carefully taking the tea, Verent nodded his thanks.

“But he loves doing magic, and talking about it, and he's really very kind,” the boy said, filling his own cup and then sitting cross-legged on the hearthstone. The cat uncurled itself and climbed into his lap. “Be careful, Lady,” the boy said to the cat, “or I'll spill tea on you.” With one hand he held the teacup; with the other he stroked the cat.

Verent took a sip of his own watery tea. “He is kind to you, then? Do you like serving him?”

“I'm not his servant,” the boy said flatly.

“Oh,” Verent said. “I beg your pardon.” The boy's accent was lower class. It was a reasonable mistake.

The boy shrugged. “It's all right. I used to be his apprentice.”

Oh, so the boy was a magical practitioner. But
used to be
, he had said. Most likely, Verent thought, he had failed his exams. He didn't seem very bright.

The door burst open. Verent turned to see a girl with long braided blond hair, wearing an apprentice's gray robe over a neat dress, poke her head into the room. “Aletho!” she said, excited. “And dimmertil, almost. Are you coming up?”

The boy put down his cup, set aside the cat, and got to his feet. “As soon as Pip gets back, Bre. Keep an eye on it.”

“Right-o,” the girl said cheerfully, and left.

Odd, Verent thought.

The boy had crossed to the table, where he rummaged in a box of springs and bits of metal parts. “D'you want to see what we're working on?”

“Ah, no,” Verent answered. “I will wait here for the wizard Connwaer.”

The boy turned from the table, his eyes wide. “Oh. You think you're waiting for Connwaer?”

“Yes, of course,” Verent answered. How rude. The boy ought to be calling him “sir”—Verent was an apprentice, after all, as his robe and shiny locus stone made clear—and then there was the girl apprentice popping in and out of the room like that. Really, the wizard ought to keep his people in better order.

“Drats,” the boy said. “
Greatest wizard
, you said. I thought your master's letter must have been meant for Nevery instead. I'm Conn.”

The room spun around Verent, and he set down his teacup with shaking hands. This scruffy, scrawny
boy
in the holey sweater was the greatest wizard of the age? No, not possible. “
You
are Connwaer?” he asked.

The boy nodded.

Verent shook his head. “You can't be. You're lying.”

“I don't lie about things like that,” the boy said.

“You expect me to believe that
you
wrote the disquisition on the draconic nature of magic?” Verent said in a choked voice.

“Yes,” Connwaer said. “Nevery helped, but the ideas in it are all mine.”

Verent pointed with a shaking finger. “I came all this way, and
you
are supposed to help us?”

Connwaer shrugged. “If I can.”

There was a knock on the door, and a huge, fierce-looking man stepped into the room, his bulk filling the doorway. “Magister Nevery should be done meeting with Duchess Rowan,” he said. “They're expecting you at the Dawn Palace for dinner.”

Connwaer shot the big man a grin. “Think they're serving biscuits, Benet?”

The man called Benet snorted. “Don't be late, you.” He went out, closing the door behind him.

“Probably not,” Connwaer said to Verent, who could only stare blankly back at him.

Then the wizard . . . the boy . . . the whatever-he-was Connwaer went to one of the windows, opened it, and leaned out to shout one word, “
Pip!
” Seeing Verent's confusion, he added over his shoulder, “My locus stone. It's been out hunting pigeons all afternoon.” As if that explained it. “Pip!” he called a second time.

The door burst open. The same girl apprentice stood in the doorway. “Sorry to interrupt again, Conn,” she said. “Aletho's just going off. You're going to miss it if you don't come at once.”

Connwaer closed the window. “Oh. Keeston is around here someplace. In the library, I think. Run the rest of the experiment yourself and talk to him if you get into trouble.”

“Are you sure?” the girl asked.

Connwaer nodded.

“Righty-o, I'll give it a go!” she said, and left, slamming the door behind her.

Verent gathered his gloves and hat into his lap. This was simply intolerable; he'd traveled all this way for nothing. Master Poulet was going to be furious.

“I have to meet Nevery,” Connwaer said. He rubbed his eyes as if weary. “Have you read Prattshaw's treatise?”

Verent blinked. “No, I have not.”

“Right.” Connwaer went to the door, where he took a tattered gray apprentice's robe from a hook and put it on.

Hah. That was proof the boy was not a proper wizard. “If you were a senior wizard, you'd have a finer robe,” Verent challenged.

Connwaer looked down at himself. Then he looked up, studying Verent, who sat up straight in his chair, feeling proud of his own neat suit, his shined shoes, the gleaming locus stone pinned to his coat.

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