Dreamed 1983/6/4 by Chris Wayan
A cold gray sea, deadly to fall in. And our iron ship, the Ship of Fools, is taking on water. If we don't get off her soon, she'll pull us down with her. How'll our quest survive?
It was no simple spell-failure: the Elephant fell faster than gravity! Did someone sabotage the rescue? Did our elephant friend have enemies?
On our rescue vessel, I scurry into an unused corner of the deck, squat, and free my Oracle Mink from inside my coat. I examine her fur. The texture of her fine, short pelt never lies. Today it's a tousled, choppy sea of pyramidal spikes. She's been rubbed the wrong way! Our spell WAS sabotaged. I'm able to learn the elephant is alive, though magically disguised or transformed... but that's about all.
My friend Wally, in our group, looks at me in disgust, sure that I botched the spell and got the elephant killed. He says "I'm leaving the quest. With an incompetent mage, we have no chance."
I feel hurt, but remember he's fussy, even anal. Shamanism's sloppy. He likes the scientific precision of wizardry. No wonder he believes them, not me. And it's true, the bridge-spell MUST be perfect.
The trouble is, I recall it exactly, and it was flawless.
So when we come ashore, I demand a hearing in the council of mages. They look at the spell-traces, and admit they can detect no flaw in my end of it. But something caused it to fail, and the other mages' end looks equally sound. I'm an unknown, a shaman, my oracle's some small animal. They're reputable, professional wizards, so it has to be some subtle error on my part. My own fault. I drowned my friend.
I snap "Since you don't respect MY truth-teller, I'm using YOURS." It's a detective program; they're quite proud of its objectivity and reliability.
"Go ahead, if you wish to be further shamed in public. It will come up blank. The only saboteur was your own amateurism."
I set it to find the name of the mage who sabotaged the rescue spell. The program crunches away quietly for a while, and then the courtroom fills with gasps: a letter comes up! And another. There WAS a saboteur! Near me, a shy teenage witch-girl named Silky hisses in real shock that I'm right. Letter by letter the program spells out "EMADRO" or "EMADRE" with down-slanting accents on the first and last vowels and a rising one on the A.
The Arch-mage, the leader of their Council says "The machine has to be wrong! Emadre is well-known to us. So is his weakness: he CANNOT touch water!" His name hints at it: E- is short for Ex-, "out of" and Madre means "water" in Latin, I know. "He couldn't touch a spell surrounded by water and built on water, let alone twist it to suck someone INTO water!"
"All I know is, your own Oracle says I'm right. Emadre has been named, and I will fight him. It's out in the open now."
Their Archmage mocks "You can't seriously expect us to stand by while you attack one of us!"
So I have two enemies, not one. I ignore him and say to the others "You must each decide who and what you trust. Me or Emadre, your oracle or your Archmage. But they aren't MY oracle or MY leader. I have no conflict, no dilemma. TWO oracles I know to be reliable say Emadre kidnapped my friend. I'd advise people to keep out of the line of fire when we meet."
I summon my enemy's image so I'll know him. A tense, bald, sly, intelligent man, older than me, with the look of a snob. The very embodiment of the attitude I see in this Council.
I set out to find him. An old woman from the Council comes with me, sides with me, shows me what to expect of Emadre: a hail of poison darts, spell-propelled...
So the war becomes open at last. I feel better, despite the danger.
In battle, I learn I'm especially good at saving people. Not as good at hitting my enemies. But my mentor and I are both hit by poison darts, yet I feel fine. In fact a great vigor wells up in me, to be protecting folk against him.
The battle ends, the elephant is freed, and we're still standing, seeming unhurt by his deadliest weapon.
The old woman says "Well. We won. You'll be the next Archmage, you know."
"What? Why me? I don't even understand why we're not dying."
"Oh, we are! Of course we're going to die. But you'll come back right away, in a different body. It's what you do. It's why you'll be chosen Archmage."
"But what about you?"
"Me? I may not come back, this time. I've lived so many times. It's really no longer my job to solve the problems of others."
She sounds almost wistful. Methinks the lady doth protest too much. And... I've heard those words before, long ago... Now I remember. It can't be! I ask anyway.
"Long ago, in another life, in another body... were you called... Gandalf?"
I start to feel faint, as the poison gets to me.
The old woman muses, looking back across long landscapes of time, of being unable to resist helping just once more... and says finally, gently, almost tentatively, "I... was Gandalf. Yes, you may still call me Gandalf."
But I won't, if she never returns. As Emadre's poison nears my heart, I lie on the battlefield and beg her shamelessly with my dying breath: "Please come back... you must come back! All these lives, together... you are needed here, and not just by this world. I'll miss you. I need you. Gandalf, come back!"
I die, though not in fear. I know I'll be back.
But will she? Or did I find a mentor at last... just in time to lose her?
NOTES IN THE MORNING
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