Chapter One: Light as a Feather
High Wizard Vey levitated the giant cauldron into the centre of the room, careful not to spill the boiling water inside it onto the floor. Flicking his shoulder-length black hair out of his eyes, he set it down and pulled out a handful of strange plants from the pockets of his sapphire coloured robes.
As he sorted through them and separated them out into specific piles, Thordric, who was watching from behind, frowned slightly. He was quite the potion maker himself and so knew some highly unusual plants, but he had never seen any of these ones before. One in particular he wasn't even sure was a plant; it looked as though it had been carved out of stone.
Vey smiled as he saw Thordric staring. 'It's been petrified,' he said, handing the plant to him so he could have a closer look. 'It's like a fossil, though I had to use magic to speed up the process. It has to be like that for the potion to work.' He laughed and shook his head. 'Honestly, you should have seen the time I used it fresh. It turned my hair and beard into feathers.'
Usually Thordric would have laughed too, but today all he managed was a weak smile. Vey raised his eyebrow.
'So, what exactly is this potion supposed to do? When you've got it right, I mean?' Thordric said, avoiding Vey's gaze.
Vey had been instructing him for three years now, ever since Thordric had become the youngest member of the Wizard Council at only fifteen. That was after Thordric had solved the mystery of the previous High Wizard's death and Vey had taken his place.
The Wizard Council had been very different back then, not just in the products it produced but also its policies and prejudices too. Only full wizards, which meant those who had been born from a family with no previous wizards in them, could become members of the Council. Half-wizards like Thordric and, unknown to everyone at the time, Vey, had been looked down upon as having weak and dangerous magic. No-one trusted them and as Thordric had discovered, the previous High Wizard had wanted them all stamped out for good.
Vey grinned, the movement making his short, tufted beard part down the middle. 'It's supposed to create a feeling of weightlessness. I started developing it for mother, actually, since she's starting to get arthritis. I thought it would help her move around more easily. If it works for her, I may even put it on our product line so that all older people can use it.'
Thordric blinked. He had never thought of Lizzie, Vey's mother, as old. She had been the one who had first taught him how to control his magic, though she had no magic herself.
That was one of the unsolved mysteries of magic; there had never been a single woman who had been born with it in all the history of the land. Thordric thought that was a terrible shame, for Lizzie would have made a wonderful job of it.
'But Lizzie's not old enough to get arthritis,' he objected.
'Mother is very deceptive in her looks, Thordric. I assure you she is no less than sixty. But arthritis does run in our family. It doesn't just affect the elderly though, my grandmother developed it at the age of thirty five.'
By this time Vey had carefully cut up the important parts of each plant and placed them in the cauldron; creating a greenish mixture that stood bubbling away quite pleasantly. A light blue steam began to rise from it as Vey stirred alternately clockwise and counter-clockwise. That was the trick to potions. They all had such strict ways of stirring that Thordric thought he would never master some of the more advanced ones. Then again, as Vey always reminded him, he had never believed he would be able to master any of his magic.
'It should be done in a moment,' Vey said after about twenty minutes. 'Would you help me drain it?'
Only the liquid part of a potion was ever used, sort of like making tea, so all the bits of plant had to be sieved out before it was drinkable.
Thordric picked up a large, round mat of weaved rushes and put it over the cauldron. Then he found a large cooking pot and levitated it across the room so that it stood next to the cauldron, ready for the liquid to be poured into it.
'Right,' Vey said, his brow sweating slightly from the steam. 'You tip and I'll make sure the mat stays in place.'
Without touching it, Thordric tipped the cauldron gently over while Vey stuck the mat to it like a lid with his magic. The liquid, now blue like the steam, came pouring out and into the cooking pot. Once it was done, Vey fetched two goblets and filled them both with the potion.
'Care to have a taste?' he said, offering a goblet to Thordric.
Thordric eyed the goblet warily, remembering what Vey had said about ending up with feathers instead of hair, but quickly put it out of his mind. Vey had been working on this potion for three weeks now, nothing like that should happen again. He took the goblet and drank it all in one gulp, feeling as if he had just swallowed an entire stagnant pond.
'Why is it that all good potions taste so awful?' he complained, realising that his body really did feel lighter. It was so light, in fact, that the breeze from the open window was pushing him back slightly.
Vey tugged at his beard as he too found himself being pushed back by the gentle breeze. 'Hmm, I suppose I'll just have to work on it a bit more. It won't do any good to have people being blown away by a simple puff of wind.'
He sighed and went to tip the potion away, but then Thordric called out to him.
'Wait, Vey. It seems to be settling down now. The feeling is still there, but I'm not being pushed back. It just needs a few minutes to work properly, that's all.'
Vey realised it was true and sighed, his muscles relaxing with relief. 'Would you like to come with me to mother's and see what she thinks of it?' he asked.
Thordric thought of Lizzie being pushed around her garden by the wind. He couldn't resist.
Lizzie was in a dreadful mood when they arrived, having just caught her skirt on a rosebush she had been pruning.
'Well, now that you're both here, I suppose you want supper,' she said, hardly sparing them a glance as she looked at the large tear on her skirt.
'Actually, we were just here to—'
Thordric nudged Vey in the ribs. Though Vey was her son, he had run away when he was only sixteen and not seen her again for nearly twenty years. He struggled to read her moods still, but Thordric knew her better. Lizzie liked company when she was in a bad mood and, what's more, she knew that they could mend her skirt in moments if she asked them too. Thordric thought he would offer first.
'I'll fix your skirt for you if you like,' he said. She beamed at him.
Thordric ran his hand down the soft fabric, feeling the tear and picturing it weaving itself back together, even stronger than it had been before. He was good at this sort of magic, for it was this kind that Lizzie had first set him to learning; fixing an old battered kettle that was now whistling away merrily on the stove. He felt like patting it affectionately, but thought better of it.
Standing up, with Lizzie's skirt in one piece again, he saw Vey tipping the potion into a glass behind Lizzie's back. He sighed. Vey really lacked tact.
'I know what you're up to, Eric,' she said, turning to Vey and raising an eyebrow. Thordric laughed inwardly at her use of Vey's real name. No matter how much he heard it, he just couldn't get used to it.
'At least let me have some cake ready so that I can deal with whatever foul taste that one has,' she continued, pulling a face. 'The last two left me feeling something dreadful.'
Vey put the glass he had been about to offer her down somewhat guiltily. Lizzie waved her hand at the table and told them to sit down while she cut them all some cake and poured the tea.
Thordric noticed sadly that Vey was right; her movements were so stiff and laboured that he thought arthritis could be the only cause.
'Lizzie,' he said, taking a gulp of tea. 'Why didn't you tell me you had arthritis?'
'Arthritis? Is that what Eric's been telling you?' she said, casting a nasty glance in Vey's direction. Vey paled visibly.
'Mother, you know it's arthritis. There's no shame in it,' he said quietly.
Lizzie snorted. 'If it was arthritis, then it would be consistent. I only get like this every other day. Unfortunately, you had to see me on one of them.'
'Then what's causing it?' Thordric said, now taking a large lump of cake.
'I'm not really sure, boy. It started about five weeks ago after I went to visit my dear sister in law. I admit it was a long journey, but I wouldn't have thought it would have caused any lasting damage.' She tightened her bun of hair, making her look rather like a stern schoolteacher, and turned her attention back to Vey. 'Well, I suppose I had better drink whatever it is you've got for me this time.'
Vey handed her the glass and she looked at the potion critically, sniffing it before she even thought of drinking it. 'At least it has a pleasant aroma,' she said, and drank it in a single gulp as Thordric had.
Vey and Thordric watched her closely. She looked back at them and ate a hasty slice of cake.
'Well?' Vey said after a moment. 'How do you feel?'
'I feel as though a good gust of wind would blow me away,' she said and, glancing at her open window as it got further and further away, added, 'and I do believe it is.'
Thordric caught hold of her chair to stop it moving back any further. 'That part wears off in a moment,' he said, hoping that it still would. Vey gave her an encouraging look, and Thordric noticed he was sweating again.
Lizzie took a sip of tea and stood up. 'You're right,' she said, doing a girlish twirl. 'I must say, Eric, it's certainly done the job this time.'
She walked around the room, her usual light and graceful movement returning more by the moment. 'Honestly, I feel so light that I could dance on water. Though,' she added darkly, 'I would do something about the taste before you start selling it to the public. Perhaps a dash of mint would do the trick. I have some growing in the garden, you know.'
Thordric caught the hint and got up to pick some while Vey groaned.
There was a small patch of it just outside the back door. He picked half of it and took it in. Lizzie and Vey's conversation switched off quickly as he entered the room. This time it was his turn to raise an eyebrow.
'Vey was just telling me that you seem a bit down of late, boy,' Lizzie said, thrusting yet another slice of cake in his direction. 'Would you care to tell me why?'
Thordric didn't care to, but it would do no good not to say. 'I…' he began, but his throat had grown dry. He felt so terribly guilty about it all.
Taking another gulp of tea, he started again. 'I've been part of the Council for three years now and I've learnt a lot thanks to both of you,' he said, his palms growing hot. 'But I feel as though I haven't done anything useful yet. Everyone is working on something except for me.'
'That's not true,' Vey said, frowning at him. 'What about that potion you made that stops bleeding? I know you haven't finished it yet, but it's almost there.'
'That was an accident,' Thordric said, looking down. 'I was trying to develop a new fertiliser for the trees in the Council garden but I knocked over two of the batches I'd made and they mixed together in a sticky mess. That potion was the result.'
Vey couldn't help but smile, but his face dropped as Thordric glared at him. 'Well,' he said, gulping slightly, 'you've got to find something that you truly care about. Everything the Council does now is a direct result of wanting to make things better for everyone. Like this potion. I would never have made it if I hadn't wanted to help mother out, yet now I have something that will help many more people.'
'So I should think of something that I want to change for the better?' Thordric asked.
Vey nodded. 'Just because I'm teaching you doesn't mean that you're not free to pursue something of your own. All I want to do is help you when you have need of it.'
'My, my, Eric, how awfully grown up of you,' Lizzie said to Vey slyly. She turned to Thordric. 'He's right, boy. It's up to you to find what it is you want to do, but whatever it is, you'll have our support all the way.'
Chapter Two: The Beginnings of a Plan
The station house was insufferably warm as Thordric made his way to Inspector Jimmson's office. As he passed, the constables, busy working at their desks, dipped their heads to him respectfully. No matter how much time passed, he still found it strange to think that he no longer had to run the Inspector's errands now that he was part of the Wizard Council instead of a lowly runner at the station.
It had been just under three years since Jimmson had married Thordric's mother, but despite that and his new twin baby sisters, Thordric couldn't help but think of him as an inspector first and his step-father second.
He reached the door and knocked politely before going in. The Inspector was sitting in his chair, facing away and he appeared to be making strange cooing sounds. Thordric raised an eyebrow and coughed.
The Inspector turned around quickly, his arms held protectively over Thordric's baby sisters, frowning so much that his eyebrows met in the middle. However, that wasn't what made Thordric snort the most. Inspector Jimmson was known for having a large, emotionally responsive moustache. On this occasion, however, it appeared to be half missing.
'Now, there's no need to laugh, boy,' the Inspector said, anxiously glancing at the windows to see if any of the constables were looking in. They weren't. 'You should have seen the trouble I went through this morning trying to get in without anyone noticing.'
Thordric snorted again and his sisters gurgled at him happily. 'What happened?' he asked, taking Elle, the slightly bigger of the two. Her sister, Mae, scowled at her and dribbled over the Inspector's hand.
'Look in her hand,' the Inspector replied, gesturing to Elle.
Thordric looked down at Elle's tightly clenched pudgy fist and gently prized it open. Inside was a handful of stiff brown hairs, matching the Inspector's moustache. Thordric laughed again and the Inspector shushed him impatiently.
'Well, boy,' he said. 'Can you grow it back again?'
'Of course I can,' Thordric said. 'I did it before, didn't I?'
He handed Elle back to the Inspector and looked at his moustache, picturing the hair growing back while willing it to do so. It started growing almost immediately, catching up with the other side. Before it could get too long, however, Thordric stopped it. He pulled a mirror out of his pocket and held it up for the Inspector to see. The Inspector turned his head from side to side, looking at his moustache from all angles. Satisfied, he let out a large sigh which caused Elle and Mae to gurgle at him.
'Thank you, boy. Now I can stop hiding from everyone. You, er, won't tell anyone about this, will you?' he said, bobbing the twins up and down on his knees. Elle, spotting the new hair growth, was already reaching up to grab it again but she couldn't quite get it. Instead she made herself content with teething on the Inspector's tie. Mae saw her and started chewing the other side.
'I won't say a word, not even to mother,' Thordric promised. 'I suppose she's working today, seeing as you have the girls?' he asked.
'Yes, she's in the morgue now. Two unexplained deaths came in this morning needing post-mortem examinations, if I recall. Honestly, I can't fathom how she does it. And to think she uses those same hands to make dinner of an evening.' The Inspector shook his head, turning a little pale.
Thordric grinned. 'You get used to it after a while.'