Actually, Herberta enjoyed the task of taking mice to the woods. She had made those remarks to Steward mostly because she liked irritating her brother a little. The cage and a pair of heavy gloves were on a shelf in the barn where they belonged, which Herberta hoped meant that Steward was taking good care of them and not that he was neglecting to use them. As she went to the different traps, she only found five mice, so apparently her brother was emptying them regularly. The gloves protected her from the mice that tried to scratch and bite her as she moved them from the traps to the cage. The mice, of course, did not understand that she was saving their lives.
She was just resetting the last trap, when she heard someone walking in the barn behind her. She looked over her shoulder and was relieved to see it was Wilfort. "Where in the world have you been? I thought I'd have to pick those berries by myself."
He looked at a her a while and grunted a few times. Finally, he just said, "I can't tell you."
Herberta grinned at him as she stood up. "Why? Have you been doing something you're ashamed of? You can tell me, I'm not shocked very easily."
He shook his head, "I really can't tell you. I need one of those mice, Herbie. I remembered you said you trapped them here."
"Another mouse? Are you looking for a little friend for Mollie?" Suddenly, Herberta's mouth dropped open as she realized what he had said. "You called me Herbie! Why'd you call me that?"
He looked at her with a puzzled expression. "Because that's your name."
"It's the name my family uses, you won't use it. That's not like you." She studied him intently and was certain there was something different about him. His movements were smoother, his manner seemed more relaxed, yet also more alert. "That's a name a man uses for a sister or a niece..."
His tone became more insistent and he started to walk towards her, scratching himself behind his ear as he did". "Can I have a mouse now, Herbie?"
Instinctively, Herberta backed away, ignoring his request as she continued, "...or...or a pet! You're that awful spinerider!"
"It's me. I'm Mollie. I just want to..."
"...eat my soul! You're not going to!" Herberta looked around for something to defend herself with. She grabbed a pail that was hanging from a nail on the barn wall and swung it in front of her like a makeshift flail. "I knew poor Mister-Patron Wilfort shouldn't have been carrying a horrible creature like you around with him. You got him, but you won't get me!"
"Willy is alright, Herbie. I'm just using his body for a little while. I use bodies, that's all I do. I don't eat anybody's soul."
"Why are you using his body at all? What were you doing with it?"
The spinerider-controlled wizard grunted a few more times, then said, "I can't say. I just can't say. Now, if you'll just let me have a mouse."
Herberta set the cage of mice down on the floor and backed away from it. She hated to let the spinerider have them, but if it was busy with them, she might have a chance to escape.
The creature made Wilfort's body kneel down by the cage of mice and Herberta hurried to the door. She knew she should keep running, but she just had to see what it was going to do. Quicker than she had ever seen the fat, little man move, it reached into the cage and snatched one of the mice. The mouse struggled to escape, but the spinerider-man held it firmly. It reached behind its head and pulled is collar down with the other hand, then held the mouse against the back of its neck.
There was nothing magical about it, but to Herberta it seemed a greater transformation took place than when Wilfort had given himself the head of a pig. That had just been changing shape, this was someone becoming a different person. It was just a little more formality in his posture, a bit of gentle confusion in his expression, a subtle awkwardness in his movements, but it convinced Herberta that this was really Wilfort again. He lowered his arm and held out his hand. The mouse that sat on his open palm was no longer a wild animal. She was an intelligent being, she was a person, she was Mollie.
Herberta wanted to run to Wilfort and hug him. She told herself this did not mean she felt anything special for him, that she would feel the same relief for anyone who had been in his situation. She told herself she did not do what she wanted because she was still afraid of the spinerider he was holding. She knew none of the things she told herself were true.
What Herberta did do was stand in the doorway and ask, "Are you alright, Mister-Patron Wilfort?"
"Yes, Mistress-Vendor Herberta, I am fine. I am sorry if I caused you any distress. I have had a rather unusual experience."
"I was just worried you won't be able to buy that bottle of medicine and we'd lose all that money you were going to pay us." She gave him an uncomfortable smile.
"You needn't worry. I still intend to make that purchase."
"Can you tell me what happened?"
"Yes, I'd be happy to do that. Even though Mollie was in control for a while, I was still aware of everything that happened. It may take awhile, though. Perhaps I should tell you while we go for the berries."
"The berries, I almost forgot about them. I'll get the mice and a couple baskets and we can be on our way."
When Wilfort had awoken that morning, he felt that something was wrong. He remembered the trip to Eweshire and for a moment thought it might just be the confusion of waking up in a different place, but there was more to it than that. His memory of the last evening was a little blurred, but he vaguely recalled the mat in the spare room. He was not laying on any mat now, just a cold, stone floor.
He opened his eyes. The only light was from two narrow slits high above him, but he managed to see that he was in the bottom of some deep pit. He got up and walked around the pit. He found a jug of water and a bowl of stale bread, but nothing else. His movements did draw the attention of a shadowy figure who looked down at him through one of the slits.
"So, Wizard, I see you're awake. I hope you slept well."
Wilfort recognized the voice. "Reverend-Monk Fideles? Where am I? Why am I your prisoner?"
"You are in the Abbey of the Nameless One, Wizard."
It seemed odd to Wilfort that there would be a prisoner pit in an abbey, but then he remembered how ancient it was. In those days, religions had been very militant.
The monk continued, "But, you are mistaken. It is your magic that makes you a prisoner, not me. I want to set you free."
"If you want to set me free, then let me out of here."
"At the right time, I will, Wizard. It is almost dawn and my fellow monks will be gathering in the Sanctuary for morning prayers. After that, the Sanctuary will be empty, so I will return and take you there."
"I do not understand what you are talking about, Reverend-Monk Fideles. Why would I want to go to the Sanctuary?"
"It is the proper place for swearing an oath. Would you want to swear it there, in that pit? No, it must be in the Sanctuary."
"I am not intending to swear any oath, neither here nor in the Sanctuary."
"But you must, Wizard. You must take the Oath of Renunciation. I hate to see you in that pit, but I must keep you there until you agree to swear you'll never use magic again."
Wilfort reached in his pocket. There he felt Mollie, still asleep. He remembered sharing his coffee with her, the coffee the monk had served. "It was the coffee! You put some of Madam-Medicinier Eldone's sleeping medicine in my coffee. You must think you are very clever, Reverend-Monk Fideles."
"I can not take credit for cleverness that is not mine, Wizard. It was Madam-Medicinier Eldone who thought of this whole plan. She even put her medaillon in the package so I would have an excuse for visiting her daughter's home. But now the bells are ringing for morning prayers. Be ready, Wizard. I will be back soon."
Wilfort sat down on the stone floor of the pit. He found it rather strange, but what he felt most was neither fear of what would happen to him nor anger at the monk and the medicinier. He was concerned whether Herberta had know of this scheme. Had she been a part of it all the time or was she as ignorant of the real reason for their trip as he had been. As he thought about it, he realized she could not have known about it. If she had, she could have put the medicine in his coffee herself and there would have been no need for the monk's visit, which now seemed so suspicious. It surprised him how much relief he felt from confirming her innocence.
Mollie stirred in his pocket, so Wilfort took her out and held her in front of him. "We're in trouble, Mollie. That crazy monk who came to dinner last night put sleeping medicine in our coffee. Now he's got us locked in a pit under the abbey and he won't let us out unless I take an oath not to use magic any more."
The wizard got up and walked around the pit, examining the wall. The pit had been carved out of solid rock that had been polished until it was smoother than glass. Even Mollie's sharp claws could not cling to it. Wilfort sat down again, and gave out a loud sigh. "There's no way out of here, Mollie, except the opening in the ceiling and we can't reach that." The mouse in his hand hung her head sadly. "I wish I could let you talk now, but I can't do any magic here. And no one can use their magic to find us, either. I think taking that oath is the only hope we have of getting out of this pit." Mollie shook her head frantically. "I don't like the idea either, Mollie. I will miss hearing you talk. And I don't know what I'll do to earn a living. Magic is the only work I've ever done. Perhaps Mister-Professor Oswold could get me a job at the Academy. I would still know about magic, even if I could not do it."
Wilfort closed his eyes and rubbed his forehead, trying to think of another solution. After a while, he opened them again and looked at Mollie. "I think I might have a plan, but it could be dangerous for you. I wouldn't ask you to do this if I thought there was another way." Mollie stretched closer to his face, waiting for him to continue. "I'll tell the monk I'm going to take the oath. When they take me out to go to the Sanctuary, I'll bring you out too. You'll have to sneak out of the abbey and go back to the village. Find Mistress-Vendor Herberta and make her understand I'm a prisoner here, so she can bring help. I'm certain she wasn't part of the scheme to capture me."
"When we get to the Sanctuary, I'll pretend I've changed my mind and refuse to swear the oath. Hopefully, they won't do anything worse than put me back in this pit." Wilfort stroked Mollie behind her ears. "If anything does happen to me, I'm sure Mistress-Vendor Herberta will take care of you. It's really not a good plan, but unless you've got a better idea, that's what we'll have to try." Mollie stared at him for a while, then suddenly she ran up his arm and across this shoulder. He felt her furry body rubbing against his neck and he could not help laughing. "I don't think tickling me is really a better idea, Mollie."
Fideles returned to the abbey's dungeon with three other monks. Each of them carried a quadent, a long-handled axe with four blades. They stood next to the entrance to the pit and Fideles called down, "Are you ready to turn away from your evil ways and swear the Oath of Renunciation, Wizard."
The voice from the darkness of the pit replied, "I'll take the oath, Monk."
"I must say it surprises me that you agreed so quickly, but I am pleased you did. Perhaps you are not the fool I believed you were."
The four monks got two long, wooden poles and slid them through iron rings on the stone slab that covered the entrance to the pit. Then, each one grasped one end of a pole, to lift the heavy slab. The disciplined life the monks led made them stronger than average men, but it was still a great strain for them to move it. One of the monks lowered a wooden ladder into the pit and they waited for the prisoner to come up. They either did not notice or did not care that a mouse ran off into the shadows of the dungeon when he reached the top of the ladder.
The four monks stood in a circle around the pit entrance, holding their quadents again. They were ceremonial weapons, but they still would be effective as clubs, even if their blades were not sharp. If the monks had been unarmed, the fat, little bookworm still would not have had a chance against them. With Fideles leading them, the monks escorted their prisoner through the dungeon, towards the Sanctuary.
"You should rejoice, Wizard, for you have chosen to turn away from magic and follow the way the Nameless One intended for you."
"You didn't really give me a choice, Monk."
"It is better to follow the right way by force, than the wrong way by choice, Wizard. But I should not call you Wizard any longer. You are beginning a new life, so it is fitting that I should give you a new name. I proclaim you are now Libreziel. That was the name the Holy Warriors of Vale Lora bestowed on the last mage-king when he too renounced magic."
"You obviously didn't take a vow of silence."
"This is not a time for silence, Libreziel. Today, the Holy Warriors are reborn. As they did in ancient times, we shall fight to rid the world of the plague of magic."
"I thought the Holy Warriors were just a legend, Monk."
"You are wrong, Libreziel. This place has not always been called Eweshire. Once it was known as Vale Lora and it was not the home of sheep but of the greatest crusaders who ever lived."
The Sanctuary was a large, circular room, covered by a high dome. Fideles led his little procession through one of the four pairs of huge, oak doors and past rows of long benches to the dais in the center of the Sanctuary. The four monks took their places around the edge of the dais, facing their captive, who stood at its center. A pattern of grooves carved in the floor of the dais radiated out like a sunburst from the place where the fat, little man stood. Although they had not been used for over a thousand years, they were a grim reminder that once the blood of sacrifical victims had flowed here.
"The time has come, Libreziel. Swear the oath that will set you free."
"I think I'd like to reconsider this. Why don't you let me go and I'll think about doing the oath tomorrow."
Fideles thrust his quadent towards the reluctant oath-maker. "Do not mock the Nameless One! You shall not walk away from here unless you swear the oath."
"Alright, I'll do it." In a more solemn voice, he said, "I swear to the One or to the Many, through the agency..."
Fideles glared at him, "Stop! You dare to invoke the Many in the Sanctuary of the Nameless One?"
"This is my oath, not yours, Monk. It won't work if I don't say what I believe."
One of the monks, whose name was Quandes, said, "He speaks the truth, Reverend-Monk Fideles."
Fideles snorted, "Then proceed as you will."
"I swear to the One or to the Many, through the agency of these holy witnesses that from this time onward, I shall perform no magic. I shall use neither Magic of the Mirror nor Magic of the Mask nor Magic of the Coin nor Magic or the Crown nor magic of any form not yet known. By my..."
Quandes interrupted, "Reverend-Monk Fideles, I am afraid he may not understand the good we are doing for him. When he leaves, he might seek revenge for the wrong he imagines we have done to him."
"He will have no magic to use against us, Reverend-Monk Quandes, and I am certain he would not be able to harm us without it."
"He could tell others what has happened, Reverend-Monk Fideles, and they could use their magic to destroy us. We would not be able to leave the safety of the abbey."
"I had not considered that, Reverend-Monk Quandes, but I must agree that is a great danger. Libreziel, you must also swear to never reveal what has happened here."
"You said you'd let me go if I swore not to use magic. You didn't say I had to swear to anything else."
"That is true, but the circumstances require us to make a slight change to the conditions of our agreement. It is unfortunate, but necessary."
"I guess I don't have a choice about that either. I further swear that I will never tell that I was captured and brought to this abbey, that I was forced to renounce magic in order to be released. I will say nothing about these events that would cause anyone to think these monks have done me any harm. By my own will, my words are said. By my own words, my will is bound."
The four monks recited together, "With our ears, the Nameless One hears your words. With our voices, the Nameless One proclaims your will bound." They stamped the handles of their quadents on the floor four times.
"Am I free to go now, Monk?"
"Yes, Libreziel," Fideles answered, "you may go for you are truly free now. May you know the way of the Nameless One and follow it well."
The man hurried out of the Sanctuary as fast as his fat, little body would let him, but he stopped at the door and shouted back at the monks, "Actually, you're right about that, Monk. I'm free in ways you'll never understand".
Herberta opened the cage and the mice scampered out into the woods. "That was certainly an ordeal you went through, Mister-Patron Wilfort, both you and Mollie." She looked glumly at Wilfort. "Are you planning to report it to the Imperial Patrol?"
"No, Mistress-Vendor Herberta. Your grandmother was involved in this matter and I expect the Imperial Patrol would treat her rather harshly."
Herberta looked very relieved when she heard this. "Thank you, Mister-Patron Wilfort. We still must do something about Reverend-Monk Fideles and his followers, though. We can't let them think they are the new Holy Warriors of Vale Lora."
"I agree, but I would not want to harm them."
"I know you wouldn't, and I don't want to hurt them either. But, I think I might have a way to handle them. If they want to bring legends to life, we should remind them how bad some of the creatures in those legends were. So after we get back with the berries, we'll go to the pub."
The pub, Mistress-Vendor Herberta? "I do not understand how going there will solve this problem."
"Don't worry. I'll tell you exactly what to do." Herberta held out her hand so Mollie, who had been riding on Wilfort's shoulder, could climb onto it. She started to rub the mouse's back with her finger, no longer concerned about the spinerider on it. "Was it really all Mollie's idea to swear the oath instead of you?"
"Yes, I did not even know she was planning to take control of my body until she transferred to it from the mouse."
"Even if Mollie was controlling you, you actually did say the oath. Shouldn't you still be bound by it?"
"It is the will that is bound by an oath, Mistress-Vendor Herberta, not the body. It was her will that made my body say the oath, so it is her will that is bound by it, not mine."
"So she gave up her ability to do magic so you could keep yours."
"Actually, she could not do any magic before the oath. No spinerider can, no matter who its host is."
"Really? I guess I just assumed she could. In stories, the animal companions of magicians are always magical themselves." Suddenly Mollie pressed her nose tightly against Herberta's palm. Herberta pressed her other hand against her own nose. "Ew, you're right, Mollie. Those stenchberries must be very close." She looked at Wilfort, who did not seem affected at all by the smell. "You really can't smell that?"
"Just slightly. I would not consider it offensive."
Herberta told him, "Since you've got that defective nose, I ought to make you pick all the berries yourself." But she still picked her share of the berries.
It was late in the afternoon when Herberta and Wilfort got to the village square. The building they faced was small compared to the abbey, but larger than anything else in the village itself. Carved in stone above the entrance were the words, EWESHIRE PUBLIC HOUSE, with the imperial crest on one side and the crest of the village on the other.
"You're sure you remember what to do, Mister-Patron Wilfort?"
"Yes, Mistress-Vendor Herberta. I fill follow your plan, even though I do not understand what it will achieve."
"It'll work, I'm certain of that." She raised her arm to her nose and sniffed. "Ugh! Even after scouring with our strongest soap, we still stink like those berries. Can you change smells with your magic?"
Wilfort looked surprised at this question. "I never thought of it, but I suppose I could."
"With such a useless nose, you must seldom think about smells at all. Try to make me smell better, Mister-Patron Wilfort."
The wizard raised his staff and a stream of tiny, sparkling lights flew from the crystal sphere and swirled around Herberta. When they had disappeared, he said, "I think you will find that a pleasant improvement, Mistress-Vendor Herberta. It is only Magic of the Mask, but I'll make it last until we are finished in the pub."
The young woman sniffed her arm again. "You've made me smell like mutton stew!"
"It was the most pleasing aroma I could think of."
She started to scowl at the little wizard, but when she saw how sincere his attempt had been, she could only laugh. "A woman wants to smell attractive, maybe even alluring, Mister-Patron Wilfort. Not edible! It's no wonder you've never found romance."
Wilfort asked her uncertainly, "What would you like to smell like?"
"For now, I'd be happy to just smell clean, maybe like soap." Once again the sparkles from Wilfort's staff whirled around her, then vanished. "Hmmm, that's better. It's a little stronger than I'd like, but I suppose you don't even know what a subtle smell is like. Now, do it to yourself so I don't have to smell that stink any more."
The pub was crowded and noisy. It was still too early for supper, but people were gathered around tables of various sizes, some large, some small, talking, laughing and drinking. Herberta led Wilfort to a small, empty table near the center of the room and they sat down. A few moments later, a white-haired man wearing an apron came up to their table. He was as fat as Wilfort, but even shorter.
"Mistress-Neighbor Herberta, it is so good to see you again. Has the way you follow made you happy?"
"It is difficult at times, Mister-Publican Gabbel, but I think, yes, it has."
"And who is your companion? I don't recognize this fellow."
"This is Wilfort ov Hobnosta, a wizard from the city of Tweedon. He is a customer of my grandmother's medicine shop."
"Greetings and welcome to Eweshire, Mister-Visitor Wilfort." The publican bowed low, then grinned at Wilfort. "A wizard who buys medicine, now that is not someone I expected to meet today."
Since he was already seated, Wilfort just nodded to return Gabbel's bow. "I am pleased my way has brought me here, Mister-Publican Gabbel."
"Has Mistress-Neighbor Herberta told you of the toll our visitors must pay?"
As Herberta had instructed him, Wilfort pretended to be surprised, "No, she has not mentioned that. Is it a very expensive toll?"
"It is a toll that is a pleasure to pay, Mister-Visitor Wilfort. All we ask is that you tell a story to entertain us. As a wizard, you must certainly know an interesting tale or two."
Wilfort hesitated. This was not what Herberta had planned, so she gave him a little shove. Then he got up and stood in an open space between the tables. Gabbel unfastened the bell that was attached to his belt and rang it above his head to get everyone's attention.
"Good neighbors, Mister-Visitor Wilfort ov Hobnosta has found his way here from the great city of Tweedon and is about to tell the toll-tale." The publican looked at Wilfort and began to recite.
"If you wish to pass this way,
With a story you must pay.
True or false, you need not say.
Of the past or of today,
Tell it now, without delay."
Wilfort looked around the room. Everyone was watching, listening, waiting for him to start. His friend Oswold said that all magicians were performers, that all the magic they did in public had what he called an element of theatrics. So what he was about to do should not be so hard for him, but the number of people in his audience made him nervous.
Then he reached in his pocket and felt Mollie rub his hand to comfort him. Then he looked back at his table and saw Herberta smile to encourage him. Then he began his story.
"One day it happened that a magician needed to go on a journey." He stamped his staff on the floor and suddenly he no longer was a short, fat man. He was a tall, sinister-looking figure, dressed in the long, black robe that magicians of long ago had worn. His eyes could be seen glowing red in the big, black hood that hid his face. Instead of a crystal sphere, his staff was topped with a horned skull. The crowd reacted with murmurs of surprise and approval.
In a voice that was now deep and ominous, he continued, "After the magician had gone a great distance, he grew tired. So he stopped to rest and fell into a deep sleep. While he was sleeping, four of the Holy Warriors of Vale Lora came along and saw him." Wilfort pointed his staff to his left and to his right, then behind him and before him. Each time he pointed it, a glowing sphere appeared that turned into an image of an ancient crusader in gleaming silver armor.
"The Holy Warriors said to one another, 'If we attack him here, he will surely destroy us with his magic. Therefore, let us take him to our abbey, for that is consecrated ground and his magic will have now power there.' The Holy Warriors did as they had said and so sound was the magician's sleep, that he did not awaken until they arrived at the abbey."
"There the Holy Warriors said to the magician, 'No magic can not help you here, Magician, for you are on consecrated ground. Swear to the Nameless One that you will repent your evil way and never perform magic again. If you refuse, we shall cleave you in four.'" As he said this, the images of the Holy Warriors pointed their quadents towards Wilfort.
"The magician agreed to their demand and swore a solemn oath to never perform magic again. The Holy Warriors went on their way, rejoicing that they had saved a soul from the horrible grasp of magic."
"But the next day, they met the magician again. He asked them, 'Do you regret the deed you did to me yesterday, Holy Warriors?' 'No, we do not regret that deed for we have done the will of the Nameless One', they replied. Then he asked, 'Do you promise to never again do such a deed, Holy Warriors?' They answered, 'No, we shall not make that promise for we would do such a deed again.' Finally, he asked them, 'Do you fear my wrath for the deed you have done, Holy Warriors?' Now they laughed at him and said, 'No, we do not fear you for without magic you can do us no harm.'"
"'You have answered wrongly, Holy Warriors.'" Wilfort threw back the hood that had hidden his head to reveal a gaunt face beneath a pair of twisted, black horns. "'For I am a warlock and neither the One nor the Many have the power to bind my will!'" Wilfort raised his staff. An image of fire appeared around it and a thick, smokey smell filled the room. The fire expanded into a ring that spread outward to the Holy Warriors and reduced them to ashes. This produced gasps from the crowd that quickly turned into loud cheers.
The next moment, Wilfort was again a short, fat man and there was no evidence the Holy Warriors or the fire had ever been there. He almost let the soap scent he had given Herberta and him fade with the other magic, but fortunately, he remembered to keep that a while longer.
Without saying another word, Wilfort went and sat at the table with Herberta. Gabbel came over and set two mugs of his best ale in front of them. "Well done, Mister-Visitor Wilfort! Well done! There'll be no charge for that ale. You've earned those with that story. Of course, the best storytellers don't need any magic tricks to tell a good tale." The publican pulled over an empty chair and sat down, resting his arms on their table. "Did either of you ever hear of the Night-Gnashers? They were the most bloodthirsty band of goblins that ever walked the ways of this world. One day it happened..."