Once they were seated in the dining car and waiting for their food to be served, Herberta asked Wilfort, "You said there were four kinds of magic. What does the fourth kind do?"
"Magic of the Crown allows a magician to change the material world with his mind. Like Magic of the Mask, it can do what would otherwise be impossible, but the changes made with it are real and permanent. As you may imagine, it is extremely powerful. However, it is also by far the most dangerous form of magic, so I will not be demonstrating it for you."
The server brought their soup and Herberta took a taste of it. "The food here is very good. You must give my thanks to that rich lady you are working for."
"Why do you think she is rich?"
"She must be. She's paying that outrageous price my grandmother is charging for the medicine and she can afford to hire a wizard to be her errand boy. I don't imagine a wizard like you works very cheap."
"She is really very poor. I will not ask her for more than a token payment for the medicine. Everything else is my own expense."
"Oh. Then she must be a relative of yours."
"No, I only met her and her son yesterday when he came and asked me to cure her."
"So you're paying all that money and going all the way out to Eweshire just to help a stranger?"
"Are you really that generous or was your pride hurt because you could not use your magic to cure her?" Herberta smiled at Wilfort. "Do not answer that, Mister-Patron Wilfort. People who do good things are good people--no matter why they do them."
It was almost sunset when the train stopped at Eweshire. It was a small, pleasant, country town--an open square lined with a chapel, a pub and a few shops, a ring of comfortable houses and then the barns and pens for the livestock. Beyond the town were rolling hills where huge flocks of sheep grazed in meadows between scattered patches of woods that were just beginning to turn to fall colors. The station had been built quite a distance from the town itself and the road to it passed by a large, fortified, stone building.
Wilfort looked around and smiled. "This is a very beautiful place, Mistress-Vendor Herberta. I miss clear, autumn days like this in Tweedon."
Herberta nodded. "Yes, it is nice here...if you can stand the smell."
Wilfort sniffed loudly. "Now that you mention it, I do notice a little odor."
"You do not need to be so polite, Mister-Patron Wilfort. Everyone here admits this place stinks. They say there is something in the grass that makes the sheep smell so bad, but they say it is also what makes their wool the best in the world."
"The smell really does not seem that bad to me, but I do not have a very good sense of smell."
"Consider yourself lucky for that while you're here, Mister-Patron Wilfort. Everyone in our family has an unusually sensitive nose. And tomorrow, we'll be picking stenchberries. They're even worse than the sheep." Herberta wrinkled up her nose at the thought of it. "We'd better start walking if we want to get to our house before dark."
"What is that building over there, Mistress-Vendor Herberta? It looks ancient."
"That's Eweshire Abbey. It's been here since before the empire was established. I guess things were not so peaceful here, then. We'll be stopping there. Grandma send along a package for one of the monks."
The entrance to the Abbey was a pair of huge, wooden doors with a massive, iron knocker on one of them. Herberta pulled the knocker back and let it strike, making a noise so loud it sounded like someone was trying to batter the door down. After a few moments, the door groaned open and an elderly monk looked out. "May you know the way of the Nameless One and follow it well. What do you seek?"
Herberta bowed slightly. "I bring a package, sir, from Madam-Medicinier Eldone ov Gronette for Reverend-Monk Fideles."
The monk nodded and opened the door farther. "Please, come inside and wait here. I will inform Reverend-Monk Fideles you have come."
When the monk had gone, Herberta whispered to Wilfort, "The monks do not believe in using magic. They were Grandma's best customers when she lived in Eweshire, even though they tend to be very healthy. There's no medicinier left in Eweshire, so she still sends them medicines when they need them."
Even wearing the loose, gray robes of his order, it was obvious that Fideles was a large, muscular man. He gave Wilfort a stern glance when he noticed his wizard's staff, but he smiled at Herberta. "Mistress-Neighbor Herberta, I was not aware you were back in Eweshire. Will you be here long?"
"Only a couple days, Reverend-Monk Fideles. I need to gather stenchberries for a medicine my grandmother is preparing. She told me to give you this package."
"It must be my sleeping medicine. I still have enough for several weeks from her last shipment, but Madam-Medicinier Eldone must have thought to save the delivery cost by sending this with you. I give my thanks to you and your grandmother, Mistress-Neighbor Herberta."
"We are happy we can help, Reverend-Monk Fideles." Herberta tilted her head towards Wilfort. "And this is Wilfort ov Hobnosta, a wizard from the city of Tweedon. Grandma thought I had to bring someone along to protect me."
"I am pleased to meet you, Reverend-Monk Fideles"
Fideles frowned at him. "This abbey is consecrated ground, Wizard. You know your magic will not work here."
"I know, and I would respect your beliefs and refrain from using it here even if I were able to."
Herberta decided it would be best if they left. "Umm, I'm afraid we need to hurry, Reverend-Monk Fideles. I want to get to my mom's house while it is still light out."
"Of course, Mistress-Neighbor Herberta." Brother Fideles looked at her and smiled again. "May you know the way of the Nameless One and follow it well."
Like most of the buildings in the village, the house Herberta's family lived in was made of gray-brown brick and topped with a green copper roof. While the shutters on the other houses usually depicted sheep in some way, here they had a complex leaf pattern carved in them. Herberta led Wilfort around to a door on the side of the house.
"My mom'll be making supper now, Mister-Patron Wilfort, so we'll go in through the kitchen."
"Are you certain your family will not mind if I stay here, Mistress-Vendor Herberta? Perhaps it would be better if I stayed at the inn."
"There isn't any inn in Eweshire. There aren't too many people who want to visit here. You'd have to go all the way to Oakbrook and we have plenty of room right here. And don't worry about the food, either. Mom always makes more than enough."
Even with his not-so-sensitive nose, Wilfort could not help noticing the delicious aromas that filled the kitchen when they entered. A woman who looked like a somewhat older and heavier version of Herberta was stirring a huge kettle of mutton stew. She looked at them and smiled warmly.
"Herbie! I didn't know you were coming."
"Grandma just decided yesterday to send me out here to get berries for some medicine, Mom."
"Well, it doesn't matter. You're here now and that's good. And you've brought a gentleman with you."
"Oh yes, this is Wilfort ov Hobnosta. He's the wizard who wanted Grandma to make him the medicine."
Herberta's mother stopped stirring a moment and bowed slightly. "Welcome to our home, Mister-Guest Wilfort. I'm Cambelle ov Eldone"
Wilfort bowed in return. "Thank you, Madam-Hostess Cambelle. I am very grateful for your hospitality."
She resumed stirring and waved her other hand towards the cupboard. "Get those dishes on the table, Herbie. And be sure to give Mister-Guest Wilfort the good plates."
Herberta handed Wilfort a stack of dishes from the cupboard and motioned for him to follow her into the dining room. While they were setting the table, a large man with a weathered face came into the kitchen from outside, with a nearly fully-grown boy behind him. "That does smell good, Cambie! If only sheep smelled half that good while they were alive."
"Guess who's here, Tory? Herbie! And she's brought a gentleman with her--a wizard. They're in the dining room."
Tory hurried into the other room and hugged Herberta, effortlessly lifting her off the floor. "Who said you could come back here, Herbie?" he laughed. "Did you get tired of that big city?"
"No, Uncle Tory. I just came for a couple days to get stenchberries for Grandma. I do miss you, though."
Tory set Herberta back on her feet and looked at Wilfort. "You must be the wizard. I'm Istor ov Eldone and I welcome you to this house."
"I thank you for welcoming me here, Mister-Host Istor. I am Wilfort ov Hobnosta from the city of Tweedon."
"You've already met my sister Cambelle and of course you know my niece Herberta, so that just leaves my nephew, Steward." He shouted into the kitchen, "Boy, get out here and greet Mister-Guest Wilfort!"
Steward came into the dining room and bowed a bit awkwardly, "Pleased to meet you, Mister-Guest Wilfort."
"It is my pleasure as well, Youngster-Host Steward."
The doorbell rang and Herberta answered it. There she was surprised to find Fideles.
"Pardon me for disturbing you, Mistress-Neighbor Herberta, but it seems your grandmother has included an item of hers in that package by mistake." He held out his hand and showed her a medallion on a chain.
"That's Grandma's alright, Reverend-Monk Fideles." She took the medallion from the monk's hand. "Thank you for bringing it. I know she'll be very happy to get it back."
"I will not take any more of your time, Mistress-Neighbor Herberta..."
"Nonsense!" said Cambelle, who had come in from the kitchen when she heard the bell. "No one comes to my house at supper time and leaves hungry. I insist you join us, Reverend-Monk Fideles. Herbie, fetch another plate."
"It seems that is the way the Nameless One has set before me, so I shall follow it. I will be happy to join you, Madam-Hostess Cambelle."
A short time later, Herberta's family had gathered around the table in the dining room with their guests. Fideles was seated directly across the table from Wilfort. He stared at him intently and said, "The wizard has journeyed much farther than I did to be here. I think he should have the honor of saying the prayer tonight."
The monk's gaze made Wilfort uncomfortable and he lowered his head quickly to avoid it. Laying his hands palm-up on the table, he began, "We thank the One or the Many for the food and drink upon this table. We do not claim them as our due, but accept them as the gracious gifts they are. Let us show our gratitude for the nourishment we receive by using it to only do what is right."
When he looked up, Fideles was giving Wilfort a smile that made him wish he could have kept his head down. "You can recite well from the Imperial Book of Common Prayer, Wizard. But, I wonder, who do you thank in your heart? Is it the One...or is it the Many? Or are these only empty words for you?"
Wilfort hesitated for a moment, then said, "I do not know whether the One or the Many made the world, Reverend-Monk Fideles. The greatest minds are not able to agree on an answer to that question. But my gratitude to whoever made this world is sincere."
"But you must have some opinion on the matter, Wizard. Do not be afraid to speak freely." He gave Wilfort another smile. "I promise not to chop off your head if I disagree with you."
"I suppose I find it easier to believe in the Many than the One. There is much pain and misery in this world, Reverend-Monk Fideles. If the Many made the world, that might not be their intention, just the result of struggles between them. But if it is made by the One, then it is the One's choice that we suffer, because the world must be exactly as the One wants it."
The smile faded from the monk's face. "Do not be so arrogant, Wizard. Do you think the Nameless One needs your approval? We exist for whatever purpose the Nameless One chooses and whether that brings us joy or it brings us sorrow, we have no right to expect anything else."
Cambelle slapped the table so hard all the dishes on it shook and shouted, "Enough! This is my home, Reverend-Monk Fideles, not a hall of inquisition." Without giving him a chance to reply, she turned to her daughter and asked, "How is the medicine shop doing, Herbie?"
Herberta had been listening to the confrontation between the monk and the wizard so intently that her mother's question took her by surprise and it was a few moments before she answered, "It is difficult, Mom, but we are managing to survive. Grandma has started to teach me how she keeps records."
Wilfort asked, "You mean you are learning to do the accounting for the shop, Mistress..." Herberta did not live here anymore, but her family treated her as if she did, so Wilfort was not certain whether he should now consider her his hostess. After what he felt must have been an awkwardly long pause, he decided to say, "...Mistress-Vendor Herberta?"
Herberta did not seem to have noticed the pause. "No, these are records about the medicine...what works, what doesn't work, what does people more harm than good. She keeps them for every one of our customers, because the medicine does not affect everyone the same way. Most mediciniers just follow whatever their books tell them, but that isn't Grandma's way. It's a lot of extra work, but maybe that's why we're the one medicine shop that's still open in Tweedon."
Istor waved a fork in the air as he spoke, "If you ask me, you and your grandmother should just close that shop and move back here. We're making more than enough money on the farm to support you both. And no one really needs medicine now that wizards can cure everyone. Isn't that so, Mister-Guest Wilfort?"
"Magic does have its limitations, Mister-Host Istor. That is why I came to your mother's shop--to buy medicine for a woman I could not cure with magic."
"Then she has some strange disease that you don't know how to cure?" Istor asked.
"It is not the disease itself that is a problem for me, but the flow of Destiny around it. I have taken an oath not to disturb Destiny with my magic, so there is nothing I can do for her."
Steward spoke up, "Old Man Gabbel says warlocks can break any oath they want. He was telling Uncle Tory and me about them at the pub today. He says their will's so strong, not even the One or the Many can bind it."
His uncle reminded him, "Mister-Publican Gabbel likes to tell stories, Stewy. You know there really aren't such things as warlocks."
Cambelle frowned at Istor. "He's not the only one who likes to tell stories. You said you were going to be working all day in the fields, Tory. How long were you two at the pub?"
"We just went over to get a quick lunch, Cambie. We just ate and left, that's all."
"Uncle Tory works hard, Mom", Herberta remarked. "He deserves a little fun now and then. Anyway, that medicine Mister-Patron Wilfort's buying will really help us at the shop. He's paying fifty gliddas for it."
Cambelle looked rather surprised at this. "That must be very special medicine, Mister-Guest Wilfort. What is is for?"
"It is for feeble-lung, Madam-Hostess Cambelle."
"Fifty gliddas for feeble-lung medicine! That is..."
"...what Mister-Patron Wilfort agreed to pay for it, Mom." Herberta added quickly.
"Yes, I suppose it is my mother's business what she charges. Anyway, I hope you are pleased with the food, Mister-Guest Wilfort. It must be a much simpler meal than what you are accustomed to in the city."
"The mutton stew is excellent, Madam-Hostess Cambelle. I wish I could eat this well all the time."
Herberta laughed, "From the size of your belly, I'd say you already eat well enough, Mister-Patron Wilfort."
"Perhaps I do indulge my appetite a bit too much, Mistress-Vendor Herberta."
Cambelle gave her daughter a reprimanding glance, then pushed the pot of stew closer to Wilfort. "Don't listen to her, Mister-Guest Wilfort. You just go ahead and have all you want. There's plenty left."
"Thank you, Madam-Hostess Cambelle. I really can not resist having another helping."
As Wilfort refilled his plate, Herberta told him, "I didn't mean you were doing anything wrong, Mister-Patron Wilfort. There are girls who like their men plump, you know." Wilfort said nothing in reply, but he did blush slightly.
After Cambelle rebuked him, Fideles was silent until the meal was finished. Then he said to her, "Thank you for a wonderful meal, Madam-Hostess Cambelle. I must return to the abbey now, but before I do, would you allow me to serve the coffee...as my very inadequate way of showing my gratitude."
Cambelle thought this was an odd request for a guest to make, but she just said, "Yes, Reverend-Monk Fideles, if you want to. It's brewing in the kitchen."
The monk left the room and returned a few moments later with a tray of coffee cups. He set the first one he took off the tray in front of Wilfort. "Please, accept my apologies if you felt my earlier remarks were inappropriate."
"There is no need to apologize, Reverend-Monk Fideles. The conviction you have in your beliefs is something to be admired."
The monk served the rest of the coffee and set the tray on the sideboard. "I must ask your pardon for leaving, but it is already past the time when I was expected back at the abbey. May you all know the way of the Nameless One and follow it well."
After Fideles had left, Cambelle sighed and said to Wilfort, "I'm really sorry about what he said to you, Mister-Guest Wilfort. I hope he didn't make you feel too uncomfortable."
Wilfort sipped his coffee, then set it back down. "Please, do not feel responsible, Madam-Hostess Cambelle. Besides, no harm was done."
Herberta started to giggle and her mother frowned at her. "I didn't think there was anything funny about that, Herbie."
"Sorry, Mom. I...uh...was just thinking about something that happened back at the shop." Seated next to Wilfort, Herberta was the only one who could see that hidden behind his hand, Mollie was sharing his coffee. She knew her mother would not approve of a mouse on her table, even if it was a very well-mannered one.
Wilfort tried unsuccessfully to suppress a yawn. "Please, pardon me. It must be the long train trip that has tired me."
Cambelle nodded, "Trains do the same thing to me. Herbie, why don't you show Mister-Guest Wilfort to the spare room off the kitchen. It's nice and private there."
"This room doesn't get used much any more." Herberta motioned to a dismantled loom and a spinning wheel stacked in the corner. "All the wool goes to the mills these days."
"The mills are very busy, Mistress-Vendor Herberta." Once again, Wilfort could not help yawning.
Herberta took a large mat and some blankets out of a cabinet and laid them on the floor. "I used to sleep here myself once in a while. Sometimes the snoring in the common room just gets to be too much." She walked over to a large window and opened it. "Grandma says it isn't healthy to sleep in a room with the windows closed, Mister-Patron Wilfort. It shouldn't be too cold tonight."
While she was looking out, Herberta thought she saw a gray figure hiding by the garden wall. She knew it must just be a shadow in the starlight, but it gave her a nasty idea. Still facing the window so Wilfort could not see her impish grin, she said, "There aren't any streetlights out here in the country, so it really gets dark at night. If you're afraid, Mister-Patron Wilfort, I could stay here. There's plenty of room on that big mat, you know."
She waited, wondering how Wilfort would refuse while trying not to offend her, but she had not expected his actual response, a very loud snore. Turning around, she saw he had fallen asleep on the mat, fully dressed. She knelt down to cover him with the blankets and laughed softly, "Are you that tired, Mister-Patron Wilfort, or do you lack passion so much that even the thought of spending the night with me puts you to sleep." She paused to watch him sleeping as she was closing the door and quietly recited a rhyme from her childhood.
"Awake, by day,"
"In dreams, by night,"
"We seek our way,"
"And hope it's right."
Back in the kitchen, Herberta joined her family who were already busy cleaning away the dishes from their dinner. As she did, her brother asked her, "Did you do it, Herbie? Did you kiss him goodnight?"
Herberta laughed, "Since when are you interested in kissing, Stewy? But no, I didn't kiss him. Mister-Patron Wilfort isn't my suiter--he's a customer of the shop, that's all." She glanced at the door to the spare room and sighed so slightly that no one noticed. "Besides, he was too tired to do anything, even if I had wanted to."
"He won't always be that tired, Herbie", Cambelle said. "It's time you should be giving me some grandchildren. It won't get any easier as you get older."
"I'm planning to, Mom...when I'm ready. But, would you want grandchildren as short and fat as that wizard?"
"If they were as intelligent and kind as he is, I'd be satisfied."
"It doesn't really matter what we think about it. He isn't the least bit interested in romance with me...or with anyone else, it seems."
"If he's not interested, find someone who is, Herbie. That city you live in is a big place. There must be a lot of nice men there."
"There are, Mom, but I want someone who'll be committed to me, maybe even get married."
Her uncle came in from the dining room, caring a large stack of dirty dishes. "You know what they say, Herbie. 'A man who wants one woman is a man no woman wants'."
"He's right," Cambelle agreed. "Only the most desperate men are willing to get married, the kind who think they're lucky to find even one woman who'll accept them. And men always think they're much better than they really are, so imagine how awful those men must actually be."
"Hey, how can you say that, Cambie?" Istor asked with mock indignation. "I know I'm not merely as good as I think I am...I'm even better than that."
Cambelle laughed, "You, of course, are the exception, Tory. But seriously, Herbie, you know your Uncle Tory will watch out for you and your children, and Stewy is almost grown now, too."
"We're family, Herbie," Istor told her. "We'll protect you better than any husband ever would."
"I know you and Stewy will, Uncle Tory. I don't anyone to replace you...but I want someone...different."
Cambelle motioned for Istor and Steward to leave her alone with her daughter. When they were gone, she said, "Herbie, the truth is once a man has his seed in a woman's spermatheca, he'll lose interest in her. A vow may bind a man so he does not seek another woman, but it can't keep him from wanting to. That's just the nature of men."
"I want to find a man who loves me, Mom. Are you saying men never actually fall in love. They just pretend they are so we'll..."
"No, Herbie, their love is as real as ours...it just doesn't last as long."
"It doesn't seem fair. Look at the caudatans. They get married all the time. Why can't we be like them?"
"She-caudatans lay eggs and he-caudatans must seed each one, so they both know who their children are. With us, a woman holds every seed she receives, so a man always wonders from whose seed a child grew. I think that's what makes men the way they are."
Herberta sighed, "And that's just the way the One or the Many made this world."
"That's what your uncle says...but, I think he's right, Herbie. No matter how much we wish the world was different, we still have to live in it the way it is."
The next morning, Herberta knocked on the door to the spare room. "Are you awake, Mister-Patron Wilfort? My mom'll have breakfast ready soon and then we got to get out there and pick those berries." She waited several moments, but there was no answer, so she knocked a little harder. "Wake up in there! Don't think I'm going to do all that berrypicking myself." The wizard still did not respond, so she shouted, "Mister-Patron Wilfort, are you alright? I'm coming in there!"
When Herberta opened the door, she saw Wilfort was not sleeping there--he was not in the room at all. The empty mat was on the floor and the blankets were thrown in a pile next to it. Wilfort's travelling bag and staff were still where he had set them last night. Herberta went back into the kitchen and asked her mother, "Have you seen the wizard this morning?"
Cambelle shook her head. "No, I haven't, Herbie, and I've been here since dawn."
"Then I think he's disappeared."
"Well, he is a wizard. I'm sure he knows how to do that."
"I mean he's gone. If he was just invisible, he could still hear me when I called."
"Did he take his belongings with him?"
"No, his staff and things are still in there, Mom. Then he must be coming back. He wouldn't leave those behind."
"Maybe he went out early to meditate or something. I don't know, but I imagine wizards might need to do that."
"You're right, that must be what happened."
"Grab yourself a bowl of porridge, Herbie, and come and eat."
Istor and Steward were already eating in the dining room when Herberta and Cambelle came to join them. Istor asked, "Where's our guest? You're not going to let him miss this good breakfast, are you?"
"I don't know where he is, Uncle Tory. He wasn't in his room this morning."
"Maybe the Wizard's Council summoned him during the night to fight some goblins or demons for them," Steward suggested.
"I doubt the Wizard's Council even knows that Mister-Patron Wilfort is alive, Stewy," his sister replied. "Besides, if he was summoned somewhere, I'm sure he would've taken his staff with him."
Steward agreed, "That's right. He couldn't fight anything without his staff. I'd love to see him zap a goblin with it."
Cambelle said, "All this talk of goblins and demons--you and your uncle both spend too much time listening to pub-stories, if you ask me."
"I don't think there are such things as goblins and demons, Stewy, but if there were, Mister-Patron Wilfort does not seem to be the sort of person who would be fighting them."
Her uncle said, "He might surprise you, Herbie. You know what they say, 'There're two sides to every coin.'"
"I didn't think he was the kind to avoid working, but maybe that's his surprise side, Uncle Tory." In a louder voice, Herberta said, "If you've turned invisible, Mister-Patron Wilfort, and are waiting for me to go and do all the berrypicking, it won't work. I'll just stay here too, and then you won't get that medicine you came all the way out here for." She waited a while, then in her normal voice, said, "I guess I didn't really expect him to appear when I said that, but I was hoping he would."
"So what are you going to do now?" Istor asked.
"Go and pick the berries myself, just like I said I won't. I still want to sell him that medicine, even if he isn't going to help."
Steward got up and started to take his empty bowl to the kitchen. "Don't forget to take you little mice friends out to the woods with you, Herbie."
"That's your job now, Stewy."
"It's my job when you're gone, but you're not gone today."
"Alright, I'll take care of them. It seems the wizard isn't the only one who knows how to avoid work."