by David McLeod
Before we go farther, there is something we must do, Zosa said. Although Phillip pressed the dragon for more information, she would say nothing except, You will need a lot of rope.
Phillip gasped in the thin air. Zosa beat her wings quickly, not against the air, but to gather the magic that allowed her to fly. Phillip's lungs burned with the cold. Zosa! I can't—
Soon, the dragon replied. That is the peak. Look. Look through my eyes.
Can I do that? Phillip wondered.
You cannot do so, but I can make it happen, Zosa said. There was a warm chuckle under that thought. Close your eyes, and see.
Phillip gasped. In that moment, Phillip lost the vision. He closed his eyes again and opened his mind to Zosa's. There, Zosa said, and zoomed toward a tiny spot miles above the tree line and only slightly darker than the sheer cliff.
Are you sure? Phillip asked. Zosa's snort was her answer. She held her wings level, and glided slowly until she rested on a ledge perhaps a hundred feet above what she said was a cave—the cave in which had been placed the body of her last rider.
Phillip uncoiled a rope, and looked around. He'd climbed the volcanic pipe on the Reservation, the one the Hispanglos called Shiprock. He'd climbed it without pitons or ax or crampons or other fancy equipment such as the tourists used. However, he had been roped between two more experienced climbers. Now, his shivering was not entirely from the cold. Rappelling down—that was one thing. Climbing back up, especially encumbered with what he hoped to find in the cave—that would be another matter, entirely.
Tie the rope around my neck, Zosa said. If you cannot climb, I will lift you.
Phillip had an image of himself, suspended below Zosa by a hundred feet of rope, while she flew back to the encampment. Zosa caught the image in Phillip's mind and snorted. Not to the encampment, only to this ledge!
Oh. Phillip blushed. Zosa snorted again.
Phillip had been right. Rappelling down had been easy. He had tied one end of the rope around Zosa's neck and the other to a swami belt around his waist and between his legs. A long loop of rope fell below him as he walked and rappelled his way down the sheer cliff. Entering the cave was the next challenge. A ledge of rock beetled over the entrance like a troll's eyebrow. There was no place to stand in front of the cave; the hill fell away sharply, there. Phillip hung over empty space and swung back and forth until his oscillations brought him close enough that he could fall into the cave. He reeled in the surplus rope, and looked around.
The brow over the opening blocked too much light. Phillip lit a candle with flint, steel, and tinder from his pouch. He chuckled when he recalled the first time he'd tried to do this on World. He'd imagined the boy magic he'd received from Argon as a fluid, carrying the spark to the tinder. After all, he'd thought, that was how I received it from Argon. He chuckled, again, when he remember describing this to Tucano, the cleric at Javari and Maranon's village who had taught him so much about magic.
The cleric had laughed. "Many boys think that their magic flows in seminal fluid," he had said. "It does not. It is something else, entirely. The symbolism is, however, useful, as is all symbolism in magic."
Phillip pushed those thoughts aside and stood. The ceiling of the cave was about four feet above his head, and seemed to rise toward the back of the cave. The cave was perhaps ten feet wide at the opening. Phillip stepped carefully on the uneven floor, but stopped suddenly when a spark of light in front of him caught his eye. A fleck of mica reflecting the candle?
He raised the candle and took another step forward. Now, there were a dozen spots of light. Phillip took two more steps, and gasped at what the candle revealed. On a ledge in the back wall was the body of a golden man. No, it wasn't a body. It only resembled a body. It was armor. It was golden armor: a breastplate, greaves, vambraces, brassarts, cuisses, and more. Phillip stepped closer to the ledge. Of the man who had worn it, there was no sign.
How many years must have passed before a body would utterly disintegrate, disappear, at this temperature? Phillip shivered, again; again, it was not entirely with the cold.
Zosa, Phillip called. I found the armor. Your rider . . . Adrian . . . there's no sign of him. I'm sorry.
Adrian never was here, Zosa replied. He was gone long before his friends placed his body here.
Argon had felt how cold Phillip was even before Phillip and Zosa returned. He had built up the fire, and had a cup of hot tea waiting when Zosa landed. All the boys' eyes lit up when Phillip stepped down, the golden armor tied in a bundle.
"You found it . . . him, I mean," Maranon said.
"We found the armor," Phillip said. "Zosa said Adrian never was there, that he had departed his body. I never thought . . ."
"Tell us!" Javari demanded. Kyle and Brendan echoed the appeal.
Phillip sipped the tea that Argon thrust into his hands. "Well, a thousand lifetimes ago, and more," he began.
The boy wound the windlass and lifted the bucket from the depths of the well. This valley in Elvenholt, a few valleys west of Rome, had suffered a drought for three years, and the bucket dropped a long, long way before it splashed in the water. The boy cranked the windlass. When the bucket reached the top, the boy tipped it into the trough, careful not to spill even a single drop. And then, he let the bucket fall again. He would do this hundreds of times before the end of the day. The water would irrigate the garden in which his family grew vegetables and beans. If the well didn't run dry and if brigands didn't raid perhaps the boy's family would not starve during the coming winter.
The boy no longer counted the number of times he dropped and then wound the bucket up. By mid-afternoon, his mind was numb, as was his right arm. He tipped the bucket and let it drop. He did not hear the expected splash.
He cranked the windlass a few turns, and let the bucket drop. He listened carefully, and heard a thud rather than a splash.
The well is dry! he thought. He looked over the garden, and then at the sun, which was still bright—and hot. At twelve, Adrian was too old to cry, even if he had water to spare for tears.
"We will wait until tomorrow," his father said. "The well may refill by then. If not, we will wait until the next day."
Adrian nodded. He understood that there was nothing else that could be done. Either the well would have water, or it would not. If it did not, the fate of the garden wouldn't matter. His family would die of thirst before the garden shriveled.
There was no water the next morning, or the day after that. Adrian watched his father measure the water remaining in the rooftop cistern, and saw that there was only a few days' supply left for his family—and none for the garden.
That night, Adrian lay awake, wishing as hard as he could for rain, but knowing that wishes didn't really come true, except in stories. As he drifted off to sleep, he thought he heard a voice, a voice that said, Sometimes they do.
The sun had not quite risen the next morning when Adrian walked to the well, and released the windlass. The spool on which the rope was wound spun as the bucket dropped. There was no splash. Adrian began to wind up the windlass, when he heard the voice. Come here, boy. Come here.
Adrian looked around to see who might be calling. It wasn't his father, mother, sister, or brothers, for he knew their voices. And this voice seemed to come not from his ears, but from inside his head.
"Who are you?" he called. "Where are you?" He looked across the garden, toward the mountains.
Look up, the voice said.
Adrian looked into the sky and saw a sparkling dot that quickly became larger until it resolved itself into—
A dragon! Adrian thought.
Adrian's father left the house and walked toward the well, where he expected to find his son. When he did not, he looked across the garden, toward the mountains. He did not see the boy there, either.
"Look up, Father!" came Adrian's voice.
The man did so, and fell on his butt.
"We will fly to Rome," Adrian said, when he and the dragon had landed near the boy's father. "There, she says, we will find a mage who can make it rain."
Adrian and the dragon did fly to Rome, and they did return with a mage who summoned the Great Magic to break the drought. But Adrian did not remain in the valley, but returned to Rome and learned the skills of a soldier and became leader of the wing of Dragon Riders who defended Elvenholt in that war. But that is another story.
"That is a fanciful story," Argon began, but stopped speaking when Zosa snorted.
"I didn't mean fantasy!" Argon asserted. "What was your name, then? Might you have been in the picture book we saw at Barbican?"
Zosa snorted, again. I know nothing of picture books, nor do I know what was the name Adrian called me. Why is that important?
Argon didn't remember from the book a dragon rider named Adrian, and couldn't answer.
"Is it really gold?" Javari asked about the armor.
"Based on the weight, and its strength, it couldn't possibly be," Kyle said.
"Mithral?" Brendan asked, or rather, whispered.
"I believe so," Phillip said. "It's too strong and light to be anything else. In fact, it's so strong and light, it must have been created by magic."
A summer storm had made travel on the ground impossible. The mountain passes had become channels for floodwaters. The companions had taken shelter at an inn. A few thousand feet above them, Zosa frolicked in the storm. In a warm room after a hot bath and meal, Phillip and Javari cuddled while waiting for the others to come upstairs.
"When we were in chains," Javari began, "you made magic with your song. It was a different magic and it wasn't imprisoned by the iron manacles like the magic I know. I could see your magic—what?" Javari pulled back from Phillip's cuddle. "Did I say something wrong?"
Phillip sighed. He lifted his hand and touched Javari's cheek. "No, nothing you said. But am I the only one who cannot see magic?"
"No! It is as Jason said: only a few people can see magic, and most of those are mages who have studied for years. But I did see the magic in the maelstrom you created."
"Maelstrom. That's a new word, Phillip said. "It means whirlpool, one that would suck a ship under the sea, right?"
"Yes, but how did you know?"
"You are a sailor, and the magic took the shape of a whirlpool. Therefore, the word you used . . . it's not important. What is important is that you took energy, power, from my magic and used it with your magic—the smith magic you studied—to break the iron, right?"
"You used the energy to break the bonds between the atoms and molecules of the iron manacles, right?"
"I do not know atoms and molecules. Is this a secret of your people?"
"No. Atoms and molecules are not magic, just science. And my magic—the magic of that song—can't very well be a secret," Phillip said. "I didn't even know it was a spell until I sang it. What I sang was a cradle song, something to calm a child. Oh! Don't tell Maranon—"
"Don't tell Maranon what?" The boy's voice came from the doorway. He threw his backpack in the corner and flopped down on the pallet beside Phillip.
"Don't tell him that he's a real pain in the ass," Javari said. He threw one of his riding gloves at his little brother. The boy easily snatched it from the air before it could strike him.
"That's not what you said last night," Maranon retorted. "In fact, I remember quite clearly—"
"Quiet," Javari said. "Be still and let your elders speak."
"Some of my magic is a secret of my people," Phillip said. "However, if we are to fight beside the people of this world, and if we are to fight for that which we believe to be good and right, I think you and I must share much more than the magic of our bodies; we must share our secrets, as well.
"There are some secrets I am sworn not to reveal except to someone who has been initiated into my lodge . . . but . . ."
Phillip thought for a moment. "There's a saying in the lodge: Two can make one. I never really understood, but I know, now. It means that Argon and I can make you and Maranon lodge brothers! Two can make one!"
"What are you talking about?" Argon, who had just come in, asked.
"If the rules of your lodge are the same as the rules of mine, we can initiate Maranon and Javari, as well as Kyle and Brendan, into our lodge. Then, the magic of my people can be shared with you. What can you tell me about smith's magic without breaking your oath?"
"Um, they didn't ask for an oath. They didn't even say it was secret, but it must have been! They always closed the doors. Oh! I think they knew that someday you would have to know."
The mysteries of Argon's Lodge are similar enough to those of my lodge . . . the lodge our people brought back from the high steel of the great eastern cities of the Hispanglos, and from the wars in which we served as code-talkers, that I am comfortable making the others our lodge brothers. I remember an early lesson the Shaman taught me: 'that which is not prohibited is not only permissible, it is often required of us.'
The ceremony was held on a rocky meadow high in the mountains. The lodge symbols were woven from grass and reeds, and were probably recognizable only to the two boys who had woven them and the four to whom they explained the symbols and their significance. The words of the ritual were translated by Phillip from Athabascan and what he'd come to call Lodge German. Maranon and Javari, Kyle and Brendan, were nervous, yet their trust in Phillip and Argon was strong. When Phillip asked the final question, there was no hesitation in their answer. Phillip and Argon removed the blindfolds from their four friends.
The kisses that sealed their oath were as powerful as the oaths, themselves.
"Now," Phillip said. "Now we can begin to share some real magic."