Xavier Lynwood looked at Douglas, who was staring off into space, “What did I just say?”
Douglas blinked as Xavier’s voice stopped, then he started scribbling onto his slate. “Far to the east, the country of Scoubar is the country where the Mage-king lives.”
“You weren’t listening,” Xavier shook his head.
Douglas erased his slate then started again, “But I wrote exactly what you said!”
“That doesn’t mean you were listening, Douglas. If I hadn’t brought it to your attention, you wouldn’t remember any of this later.” Xavier sighed. “It is important to learn about the world.”
Douglas switched to the sign language he had developed with his family. It was quicker than writing, as long as he didn’t have to use any specific or unfamiliar words. “But I want to learn about magic!”
“History is more important. Besides, do you think the Mage-king is not related to magic? Scoubar has some of the best stores of magical knowledge in the world, second to the Endless Library in Vospia.”
Douglas frowned, his hands taking some time to arrange his thoughts, “Then why do we live… here?”
“Despite having a Mage-king, Scoubar is not friendly to… most who can do magic. The Endless Library places many restrictions on those who go there, and it is no place to raise children. Besides, there are more important things than having access to the most magical knowledge.”
Douglas disagreed, but he didn’t say that. He supposed he still needed to learn other things as well, if only to make it so he could learn what he really wanted in peace.
Douglas often spent time at the Bakers’. Not by choice, but because he had to go to town and it was the most tolerable place. The older brother Theo was being considered for a position as an apprentice under Xavier. He was a smart kid, at least by the standards of the townsfolk. He could read, at least. Anna could too, but she was closer to Douglas’ age of eight and didn’t read that well yet. Even so, he ended up spending time with her, mostly because she was the most tolerable kid in Pendle despite her inability to stop talking. At least she talked to Douglas, recognizing that he could in fact understand her, even if he couldn’t physically speak. There was a difference.
“… and last week we got a new sign from the carver. He spent a lot of time on it and it looks really good, doesn’t it?” Anna gestured up at the sign.
Douglas looked up at the sign that said, “BAKER.” It was more than just that, however. For one thing, half the town wouldn’t be able to read it. Thus, it had artistically rendered loaves and pastries in the parts of the letters, as much as could be done with carving and a little bit of paint. Douglas had seen more accurate depictions of bread but… he couldn’t look away. The split loaf that made up the B, the little slices of pie for the A and K… something about it just grabbed him.
“Douglas? Doug? Are you listening?” Anna poked him, then stepped in front of him and waved her hand in front of his face… but he was long gone.
When Douglas got back home he immediately ran to the desk, pulling out a piece of paper and drawing on it. Letters and image mixed, turning into a single word-image. Douglas held the paper up high… and no magic happened. That was bad… or was it good? He would have been in serious trouble if it had worked, because he knew casting from a scroll, such as it was, would burn the paper… and fire inside was bad.
It was also bad that it didn’t work. That meant it didn’t work… or he’d done it wrong. Douglas pored over his hastily drawn spell… and realized that was the problem. He’d been too quick and too loose with the shape of the runes. Maybe he also needed practice applying the power as well, since he had never done magic before… but even if it had activated somehow, it would have been wrong with only a few of the runes being correct. It was like a sentence where half the words were wrong- and some of them weren’t even words at all.
Douglas wrote it out again, this time with better planning. His runes turned out just fine… but the image was all wrong. It was just a bunch of runes squashed together. He didn’t even bother trying that one. The next one looked right… but the runes were all jumbled up and out of order. That one probably wouldn’t work.
The next week involved many sheets of paper and a lot of running up and down the stairs- any attempts had to be done outside. He had to reuse paper as much as possible, fronts and backs… and sometimes his attempts bled through. He’d already gone far beyond his allowance of paper for the week… or for the month… but he couldn’t help himself. He was so close. Finally, he had a wordimage he couldn’t make any better. All he had to do was figure out how to add power. He couldn’t do it one word at a time. The entire spell had to happen all at once. He was lucky there were a comparatively small number of runes for a light spell, because he had to memorize the whole thing and bring out the image all at once for this to work… if it even could. Maybe he was just hoping for something impossible.
Memorizing it was the easy part- he’d never had trouble picturing complex images in his head. He was just stacking up magic runes in his head, seeing how they fit together… it just took a little bit longer than with blocks and physical things.
Douglas went around out back where nobody could see him. He didn’t want his father or sister to see him trying to do magic. They thought he couldn’t… but he could. He knew it. He even felt it when they did it. He just had to figure it out. The light spell. It was basically just a ball of runes. With some sized up and sized down, he could imagine a spiral that formed the correct order, neatly tied together to look something like a sphere, or sort of like a circle on paper. That was the hard part, moving things from two dimensions to three… but thoughts like that had to wait. Each rune in order, but all at once… and power.
The light knocked Douglas off his feet, not because of its intensity or anything physical, but just from surprise. The light spell had just sort of… happened. That said, the effort had made his head hurt. He didn’t care though. He ran and grabbed his sister and father and brought them outside. “Watch!” He waved his hands to bring attention to himself. Xavier and Lucy were confused, but because of Douglas’ enthusiasm they went along with it. They stood outside waiting.
Douglas stood there, trying to recall the spell he had just used. He knew it worked, so all he had to do was remember it… but it wasn’t there. Any attempt to find it just made his head hurt worse. Douglas began to panic. Could he not do it? Had he imagined everything? What would he do? Maybe he could just say he wanted his father and sister to come outside… but they were usually so busy… Then Douglas remembered the scroll. He’d memorized the spell from it, so he could still use it, even if he couldn’t remember the spell anymore. He signalled for his family to wait and dashed inside in a panic.