Melkeen twiddled the plain ring that circled the middle finger of his right hand. Of course, it only looked plain; he’d cast an illusion on it the moment he’d decided to try out its powers. The device was as gaudy as it was impractical, crusted with expensive jewels and graven with swirling designs. But Melkeen, being the keen-minded fellow he was, had found an alternate use for Oligarth’s largely ineffectual Aeaeae of Affection enchantment.
“Melkeen! Hurry up, man, or you’ll get cold scraps!” The plain-garbed brush-charmer waved an arm, grinning at the superior Wizard. The two other men at the edge of the campfire turned, smiled, and also gave encouraging waves.
Pasting on a smile, Melkeen waved back and walked around the tongue of the massive caravan wagon, picking his way over the uneven ground with care. This experiment was proving interesting.
“Got your wardings set?” Sommo asked when Melkeen drew alongside.
“Yes,” the Wizard replied shortly, accepting the steaming bowl of stew handed to him by the drab woman tending the small cauldron. She smiled shyly at him, and he remembered to return the gesture, which felt odd on his face. She beamed as she turned back to her pot.
“Excellent!” Sommo didn’t quite dare slap Melkeen on the back, but his cheer was hearty. “It’s good to have you along, Melkeen! Rudarch and I, we do what we can, but we’ve nowhere near your skill or power. With you handling the bigger spells, we can handle the little bits with ease.”
Rudarch stood up, his own bowl half-empty. “Aye, that. But before long, I daresay you’ll know our tasks well enough to do them all in your sleep.” He grinned without rancor at the youngest member of the magik-wielding team that protected Merchant Emmerin’s three wagons.
“Well, that’s possible,” Melkeen allowed. “But I’m not going to take your work away from you.” Now that the stew had cooled a bit, he began eating.
“And that’s part of what makes you a good man,” Sommo replied, digging into his bowl with a wooden spoon. “Learn fast, do your share, and don’t cause a fuss. Would that more eastern Wizards were of your cut.”
“Didn’t you say you were from Iltien?” Melkeen asked, looking around for a likely spot to sit while he ate. One of the drovers hopped up and offered his log seat with a small smile. Melkeen nodded and sat.
Sommo bobbed his head in agreement. “Aye, that I am. Rudarch here is of Drittuen. Good memory you’ve got! We know all about eastern Wizards, as we’ve both felt their hands all our lives. Me, I never had enough talent to train at any tower, and Drittuen doesn’t have much in the way of teaching for Wizards, so Rudarch never had anything formal. But everyone knows about the Tower of the Heavens in Calchion.”
Melkeen glanced up sharply. “What do you mean?”
“No disrespect to yourself, of course,” Rudarch put in, “but most of the Tower of the Heavens Wizards are …” He stared at Sommo as he struggled for words.
“Out with it,” Melkeen snapped. “You’ve no need to spare my feelings about Calchion’s Cowls. They’ve certainly done me no great favors over the turnings.”
Both hedge-wizards beamed at him, and Sommo answered. “A Cowl you may be, but you’re of a different cut altogether! You see, Melkeen, most of the Cowls have so high an opinion of themselves that they’ve no room in their minds for anyone or anything else.”
Melkeen snorted at his stew. “I could have told you that.”
Rudrach nodded. “No doubt, no doubt. But you’ve a different view on things, as you were accepted among them. Those of us with too little skill to be taken on, well, we’ve always known that we were inferior. Everywhere we go, we’re looked down on because we weren’t good enough for a tower training. What’s a man to do when the magik burns in his blood but he can’t learn to use it?”
Melkeen paused in his eating.
Sommo bobbed his head. “Aye, that. We’ll never have a fraction of your ability, Melkeen, but we have what we have. And I’ve no doubt that we have the same pull that you do to use what’s in us, small though it might be. The Cowls, though, they’d deny us what little we have.”
“How do you mean?” Melkeen looked at each of the older men, his brow furrowed. “Granted, those without a proper education aren’t as … capable for many tasks, but surely there are things you can do.” He invited comment with a cocked eyebrow.
Sommo sighed deeply. “Aye, that. We’re not trained, and folk know it. We scraped together our learning from old men who scraped together their learning. Many things we can’t do, but many things we can do. Small magiks are what most folk need, and that we can provide them. Few have need of the great magiks that the Cowls make, and few are the Cowls who would do the small things. So why not have us as can only do such things do them?”
Rudrach added, “Ah, but we’ve not the training of a Tower, so folk look at us askance and refuse our workings. Save merchants like Emmerin and his type, who cannot normally afford a great Wizard and so must resign themselves to our poor offerings.” He shrugged philosophically and lifted his dish to the woman for another helping.
The bowl of stew lay forgotten in Melkeen’s lap as he considered. Were he honest with himself, he’d never thought about this aspect of Wizardry before. Yes, the Cowls and their equals in other lands performed the highest magiks that protected their duchies and kingdoms. And no Cowl would ever demean himself with the mundane sorts of workings as these two men were doing: protecting wagon wheels from breakage and rot, keeping water out of the dry goods, chasing gnats from the eyes of the horses and oxen. That was what failed novices or barely-qualified Wizards, like the Overseers at the Tower, were for.
But if those brush-charmers never had the chance to learn even rudimentary skills … That was a far cry from trying to learn and failing. These men hadn’t even been given the chance to prove themselves. Melkeen himself had come far too close for comfort to being denied access to the Tower of the Heavens, and he did have the talent to make him great. How many other magikally-inclined children never passed the trials and were left to their own devices?
Were the Cowls truly so far-reaching that Wizards in other lands bowed to their example? He’d thought that was so, but this … this was not exactly the influence he’d expected it to be. It had never occurred to him that even brush-charmers and hedge-wizards needed basic training. Or that they were denied that training. Using magik without proper knowledge was dangerous. Small wonder brush-charmers had the reputation for spells gone awry!
And how much magik does the knowledge itself require?
Absently, Melkeen twiddled the ring on his finger.