Week 10, Visiting the Golden Archmage
We left our heroes entering the gates of the castle of the Golden Archmage, except for Cantrel, who remains outside to continue pegasus-training, and in case we need rescue [and because his player couldn't make it]. We follow a figure in robes and peaked hat, all gold with red trim. He glides as if on wheels, though he negotiates stairs just as smoothly. Also, he is silent. Tom has to ask twice, "How should we address the Archmage," before he gets the answer, "Call him Sir." And that's the last we get from him.
A pair of doors open of themselves to reveal a banquet hall with tables set out before a fire and many tapestries. The food is steaming. We find places, leaving vacant the throne-like chair at the head. Four of the guard-clones come in, along with the big burly guard. And the next time we look at the head of the table, the Mage is sitting there. At his invitation we sit down and start eating.
Also talking. At the Mage's request, Tom gives a prÚcis of our adventures since arriving in this world. Wu emphasizes that all we want to do is recover our stuff and leave. The Mage remarks that we were easy to rob and so, perhaps, not safe guardians of such potent items. The next time, our weapons might fall into even less worthy hands. Tom replies that we were extremely uninformed and unprepared. He also asks who would be more unworthy than Gorlach. The Mage admits that is a hard question. The Mage also remarks that Gorlach probably let us go so we could spread fearful publicity about him.
He then asks about our origins and mission. Tom tries to explain about other dimensions. "Like the fairy paths?" the Mage asks, so then HE has to explain fairy paths to Tom. They seem to be talking about much the same thing. This is unexplored magical territory, to a large degree. To wander fairy paths, you should be both a good magician and very detached from your own world -- a rare combination, since the practice of magic requires lots of money, extensive education, sometimes family connections, etc., none of which are conducive to detachment.
However, the Black Mage does study this general sort of thing. He creates magic doorways very like the ones created by the pantope and Daewen's lamented omniport.
Tom now offers to demonstrate some of our alien magic to the Golden Archmage. He borrows Christopher's harp and uses his knack of tools. The knack works fine, but Chris isn't that good a harpist, so Tom doesn't do very well. Oh well, it was the eldritch aspect of the performance that was important, not the musical.
The Mage then suggests a demonstration sword-fight between the Castelan (the big bruiser) and Tom, Tom to use the sword of a Lord Armir, who lost it in the "great games of the fields." These games are tourneys the Mage arranges between nearby local human talent and "characters of the old player-folk." Tom is deeply disturbed by this reference. The worldbenders might readily be called "player-folk." And who are their "characters"?
The Castelan fetches a sort of epee. Lord Armir was quite a good swordsman, so Tom does very well, but the Castelan is at least as good and certainly stronger. At one point, he appears to lose his temper and knocks Tom into a back flip, then chops a table in two. The Mage calls a halt before any more furniture gets broken.
While Wu patches up some bruises and minor shock on Tom, Chris uses his dicing talent to scatter a handful of salt into the image of a griffin. The Mage is perhaps even more interested than in Tom's skill. He remarks that this is a very subtle sort of magic, since it can be used to achieve bizarre effects without leaving a standing enchantment behind. Chris offers to teach the Mage, but he replies that although he grasps the general principle of the thing, it would take a long time to really learn to do it. (Tom's skill is not teachable, which may be why the Mage is less interested.)
The Mage goes on to outline the difference schools of magic, much as did Mother Myrtle. He also tells us that there are seven great magical colleges in the world, where wizards go for training. Each college teaches all twelve schools of magic, though naturally they tend to specialize in some more than others. Each college runs a magic guild. Each of the twelve schools has one acknowledged Master of that school. It is in the nature of the magic that there can only be one top-ranking Master. Together they form a Council of Twelve, setting major policy such as the rules for a duel arcane. The guild hierarchy runs parallel to this. Most Masters are also good in other schools.
The Archmages have achieved Mastery in several schools at once. Their staves of gold, silver, or crystal are unique in the world and charged with many magics. They are unique by necessity -- no one could ever make another Gold staff of comparable power, though one could make a new High Staff from a new material.
This Golden Mage is not the original one. Each staff, of either the Twelve or the Three, is passed on from time to time -- the Fifteen are long-lived but not immortal. Each staff has a different tradition. Some are bequeathed. Some, like the Gold, are passed on by a non-lethal duel arcane. And some get even rougher, like the Silver. The White Staff typically passes by violence. The Pink and Green fade quickly, and Green even cycles with the seasons.
Chris asks if a staff needs to be material, solid. The Mage considers this idea carefully and replies only that they have all been solid SO FAR.
For all their bickering, the Twelve don't make war on each other. The Council of Twelve would quash any two members who tried, or the Three would. Tom asks if they ever skirmish or play tricks on each other. Oh yes. Might the Black think it amusing to join the party in playing a "trick" on the White? That would be quite a trick indeed. The Mage advises us to practice our skills and gather some new mighty weaponry.
Tom asks after the "player-men." They are the castle staff. Long ago, the Golden Realm was on an even higher plateau than at present, inhabited by three tribes of battling gods. Two nearly exterminated each other, and the third withdrew to the northlands. Among the leftovers were these golden figures, like abandoned chess pieces -- life-sized magical ones. Ah ha! The guards are pawns; the "Castelan" is a castle, a rook; the majordomo, whom the mage called "Keeper of Ceremonies," must be a bishop. The figures we saw wandering near the castle must have been other pieces. There are, of course, two sets: gold with red trim and gold with blue trim. The Mage amused himself by pitting the two sets of magical warriors against each others. When that got dull, he started organizing these tourneys with humans. (The chess pieces usually win.) He invites us to come back here for a match when we've built ourselves up a little. We are glad put it off.
About the myth-folk. They are more divine fall-out. Some, like the wood nymphs, migrated here from elsewhere, because the climate is mild and the magic suits them. (Chris rather surprisingly remarks that there were wood nymphs where he came from.) Others, like griffins, spring from the intense magic of the place itself. In some cases, the composite creatures may have been pieced together by Green Mages of the past, one of whom lived near here before the Golden moved in and forced the Green out. The Golden is quite sure the pegasi are deliberately produced magical hybrids. He thinks Issik and the other fauns sprang up spontaneously.
He then hands out some gifts, in return, he says, for the tale and the magical demonstrations. He gives Tom a set of tools -- a knife, a chisel, and a mallet. The knife is magical and can be used to carve crystal. (Wu probes it experimentally.) Tom offers to carve a crystal ball for the Mage, by way of experiment, so the Mage summons his apprentice, who fetches a large amethyst. Tom produces a small, egg-shaped ball and an amethyst shot-glass from this, using the knack of tools.
The Mage then presents Chris with a small wooden box and tells him to open it in ten days, at which time there will be a present in it. After that, he should discard the box. He also gives Wu a good book on warding.
The magical shop talk seems over and we begin discussing the pros and cons of Wu joining a local magic guild. It looks like we want to go back to that city (which we will call Marchford) and there equip ourselves -- earn money, buy stuff, take language lessons. Then we might try to find the Black Mage, far to the south in the Wild Winds territory, where the djinn and afrits live. Or we might go gunning for Gorlach. Either one looks far in the future.
Copyright © 1998, Jim Burrows. All Rights Reserved.