‘Yes sir,’ snapped Spelter. Coin gave him an unblinking stare, a stare as old as time, the kind of stare that basks on rocks on volcanic islands and never gets tired. Spelter felt his mouth go dry.
Billias held out his hands for silence. Then, with a theatrical flourish, he rolled up the sleeve of his left arm and extended his hand.
The assembled wizards watched with interest. Eighth-levels were above magic, as a rule, spending most of their time in contemplation -normally of the next menu – and, of course, avoiding the attentions of ambitious wizards of the seventh-level. This should be worth seeing.
Billias grinned at the boy, who returned it with a stare that focused on a point a few inches beyond the back of the old wizard’s head.
Somewhat disconcerted, Billias flexed his fingers. Suddenly this wasn’t quite the game he had intended, and he felt an overpowering urge to impress. It was swiftly overtaken by a surge of annoyance at his own stupidity in being unnerved.
‘I shall show you,’ he said, and took a deep breath, ‘Maligree’s Wonderful Garden.’
There was a susurration from the diners. Only four wizards in the entire history of the University had ever succeeded in achieving the complete Garden. Most wizards could create the trees and flowers, and a few had managed the birds. It wasn’t the most powerful spell, it couldn’t move mountains, but achieving the fine detail built into Maligree’s complex syllables took a finely tuned skill.
‘You will observe,’ Billias added, ‘nothing up my sleeve.’
His lips began to move. His hands flickered through the air. A pool of golden sparks sizzled in the palm of his hand, curved up, formed a faint sphere, began to fill in the detail …
Legend had it that Maligree, one of the last of the true sourcerers, created the Garden as a small, timeless, private self-locking universe where he could have a quiet smoke and a bit of a think while avoiding the cares of the world. Which was itself a puzzle, because no wizard could possibly understand how any being as powerful as a sourcerer could have a care in the world. Whatever the reason, Maligree retreated further and further into a world of his own and then, one day, closed the entrance after him.
The garden was a glittering ball in Billias’s hands. The nearest wizards craned admiringly over his shoulders, and looked down into a two-foot sphere that showed a delicate, flower-strewn landscape; there was a lake in the middle distance, complete in every ripple, and purple mountains behind an interesting-looking forest. Tiny birds the size of bees flew from tree to tree, and a couple of deer no larger than mice glanced up from their grazing and stared out at Coin.
Who said critically: ‘It’s quite good. Give it to me.’
He took the intangible globe out of the wizard’s hands and held it up.
‘Why isn’t it bigger?’ he said.
Billias mopped his brow with a lace-edged handkerchief.
‘Well,’ he said weakly, so stunned by Coin’s tone that he was quite unable to be affronted, ’since the old days, the efficacity of the spell has rather-’
Coin stood with his head on one side for a moment, as though listening to something. Then he whispered a few syllables and stroked the surface of the sphere.
It expanded. One moment it was a toy in the boy’s hands, and the next …
… the wizards were standing on cool grass, in a shady meadow rolling down to the lake. There was a gentle breeze blowing from the mountains; it was scented with thyme and hay. The sky was deep blue shading to purple at the zenith.
The deer watched the newcomers suspiciously from their grazing ground under the trees.
Spelter looked down in shock. A peacock was pecking at his bootlaces.
‘-’ he began, and stopped. Coin was still holding a sphere, a sphere of air. Inside it, distorted as though seen through a fisheye lens or the bottom of a bottle, was the Great Hall of Unseen University.
The boy looked around at the trees, squinted thoughtfully at the distant, snow-capped mountains, and nodded at the astonished men.
‘It’s not bad,’ he said. ‘I should like to come here again.’ He moved his hands in a complicated motion that seemed, in some unexplained way, to turn them inside out.
Now the wizards were back in the hall, and the boy was holding the shrinking Garden in his palm. In the heavy, shocked silence he put it back into Billias’s hands, and said: ‘That was quite interesting. Now I will do some magic.’
He raised his hands, stared at Billias, and vanished him.
Pandemonium broke out, as it tends to on these occasions. In the centre of it stood Coin, totally composed, in a spreading cloud of greasy smoke.
Ignoring the tumult, Spelter bent down slowly and, with extreme care, picked a peacock feather off the floor. He rubbed it thoughtfully back and forth across his lips as he looked from the doorway to the boy to the vacant Archchancellor’s chair, and his thin mouth narrowed, and he began to smile.
An hour later, as thunder began to roll in the clear skies above the city, and Rincewind was beginning to sing gently and forget all about cockroaches, and a lone mattress was wandering the streets, Spelter shut the door of the Archchancellor’s study and turned to face his fellow mages.
There were six of them, and they were very worried.
They were so worried, Spelter noted, that they were listening to him, a mere fifth level wizard.
‘He’s gone to bed,’ he said, ‘with a hot milk drink.’
‘Milk?’ said one of the wizards, with tired horror in his voice.
‘He’s too young for alcohol’, explained the bursar.
‘Oh, yes. Silly of me.’
The hollow-eyed wizard opposite said: ‘Did you see what he did to the door?’
‘I know what he did to Billias!’
‘What did he do?’
‘I don’t want to know!’
‘Brothers, brothers,’ said Spelter soothingly. He looked down at their worried faces and thought: too many dinners. Too many afternoons waiting for the servants to bring in the tea. Too much time spent in stuffy rooms reading old books written by dead men. Too much gold brocade and ridiculous ceremony. Too much fat. The whole University is ripe for one good push …
Or one good pull …
‘I wonder if we really have, um, a problem here,’ he said.
Gravie Derment of the Sages of the Unknown Shadow hit the table with his fist.
‘Good grief, man!’ he snapped. ‘Some child wanders in out of the night, beats two of the University’s finest, sits down in the Archchancellor’s chair and you wonder if we have a problem? The boy’s a natural! From what we’ve seen tonight, there isn’t a wizard on the Disc who could stand against him!’
‘Why should we stand against him?’ said Spelter, in a reasonable tone of voice.
‘Because he’s more powerful than we are!’
‘Yes?’ Spelter’s voice would have made a sheet of glass look like a ploughed field, it made honey look like gravel.
‘It stands to reason-’
Gravie hesitated. Spelter gave him an encouraging smile.
The ahemmer was Marmaric Carding, head of the Hoodwinkers. He steepled his beringed fingers and peered sharply at Spelter over the top of them. The bursar disliked him intensely. He had considerable doubt about the man’s intelligence. He suspected it might be quite high, and that behind those vein-crazed jowls was a mind full of brightly polished little wheels, spinning like mad.
‘He does not seem overly inclined to use that power,’ said Carding.
‘What about Billias and Virrid?’
‘Childish pique,’ said Carding.
The other wizards stared from him to the bursar. They were aware of something going on, and couldn’t quite put their finger on it.
The reason that wizards didn’t rule the Disc was quite simple. Hand any two wizards a piece of rope and they would instinctively pull in opposite directions. Something about their genetics or their training left them with an attitude towards mutual co-operation that made an old bull elephant with terminal toothache look like a worker ant.
Spelter spread his hands. ‘Brothers,’ he said again, ‘do you not see what has happened? Here is a gifted youth, perhaps raised in isolation out in the untutored, um, countryside, who, feeling the ancient call of the magic in his bones, has journeyed far across tortuous terrain, through who knows what perils, and at last has reached his journey’s end, alone and afraid, seeking only the steadying influence of us, his tutors, to shape and guide his talents? Who are we to turn him away, into the, um, wintry blast, shunning his-’
The oration was interrupted by Gravie blowing his nose.
‘It’s not winter,’ said one of the other wizards flatly, ‘and it’s quite a warm night.’
‘Out into the treacherously changeable spring weather,’ snarled Spelter, ‘and cursed indeed would be the man who failed, um, at this time-’
‘It’s nearly summer.’
Carding rubbed the side of his nose thoughtfully.
‘The boy has a staff,’ he said. ‘Who gave it to him? Did you ask?’
‘No,’ said Spelter, still glowering at the almanackical interjector.
Carding started to look at his fingernails in what Spelter considered to be a meaningful way.
Well, whatever the problem, I feel sure it can wait until morning,’ he said in what Spelter felt was an ostentatiously bored voice.
‘Ye gods, he blew Billias away!’ said Gravie. ‘And they say there’s nothing in Virrid’s room but soot!’
‘They were perhaps rather foolish,’ said Carding smoothly. ‘I am sure, my good brother, that you would not be defeated in affairs of the Art by a mere stripling?’
Gravie hesitated. ‘Well, er,’ he said, ‘no. Of course not.’ He looked at Carding’s innocent smile and coughed loudly. ‘Certainly not, of course. Billias was very foolish. However, some prudent caution is surely-’
‘Then let us all be cautious in the morning,’ said Carding cheerfully. ‘Brothers, let us adjourn this meeting. The boy sleeps, and in that at least he is showing us the way. This will look better in the light.’
‘I have seen things that didn’t,’ said Gravie darkly, who didn’t trust Youth. He held that no good ever came of it.
The senior wizards filed out and back to the Great Hall, where the dinner had got to the ninth course and was just getting into its stride. It takes more than a bit of magic and someone being blown to smoke in front of him to put a wizard off his food.
For some unexplained reason Spelter and Carding were the last to leave. They sat at either end of the long table, watching each other like cats. Cats can sit at either end of a lane and watch each other for hours, performing the kind of mental manoeuvring that would make a grand master appear impulsive by comparison, but cats have got nothing on wizards. Neither was prepared to make a move until he had run the entire forthcoming conversation through his mind to see if it left him a move ahead.
Spelter weakened first.
‘All wizards are brothers,’ he said. ‘We should trust one another. I have information.’