Nettle set about that evening teaching Micos how to perform magic by clicking one’s fingers.
“It’s all in the way you click them while speaking the words. The two must become one for the magic to happen.” Nettle laid a small piece of kindling down on the stone hearth. “Let’s start with something easy. Set fire to this twig. I’ll show you first then you try.” She focused on the small piece of wood. “Ignitum.” The word and the click of her fingers melded together as the twig burst into flames. She looked up at Micos and smiled. “Your turn now. Remember: Concentrate, say the spell with confidence and click your fingers with purpose.”
Micos took a stick from the bundle of kindling and placed it as Nettle had, down on the cold stone. He took a deep breath, spoke the word, “Ignitum,” and snapped his fingers. The twig twitched for a second then lay still. He clicked his fingers again and spoke the spell. It made a crackling noise that ended in a puff of smoke. “It’s not working.” He looked at Nettle and then back at the stick, which he shoved with the toe of his boot.
Nettle laughed at him. “Kicking it won’t help. You nearly got it right, but you must speak the word and click your fingers together. There can be no delay between the two. Go on try again. ”
Micos made several attempts and with each failure he became more frustrated.
“It’s no good. I can’t do it.” He picked up the twig and flung it into the fire.
“You don’t think I did it straight away do you? You’re trying to do in one night what I took my time to learn. But I know you can do it. I feel it. You must focus.” Nettle reached out and retrieved another piece of wood from the bundle and set it down as before. “Go on, try again.”
Micos focused on the piece of wood, this time taking a moment to centre himself and steady his breathing. The spell left his lips as the click of his fingers resounded in the air. The twig flared and was consumed by the flames.
Micos turned towards Nettle. The beam on his face was hard to ignore. She patted him on the back. “See I knew you could do it,” she said. “All it takes is a bit of concentration.”
It was well into the night before she called a halt to the lesson. Micos could now easily set fire to wood as well as transform one object into another. He had not quite got the hang of making things disappear, but Nettle felt pleased at the progress he had made in such a short time. She had always known that despite his boyish charm, which she found hard to ignore, he had the makings of a good Wizard. He had mastered the essence of the magic of transformation, at least enough to convince Narcam he could do it, by union of spell and click as it was set out in her old Wizards Book of Spells.
Micos, who was now feeling confident about his abilities, said, “Now that I can do this, you’d better teach me the spell you used to get rid of the rats.”
Nettle looked at him. There was something in his eyes, a brightness she had seen it before. It was that look he got when his ego took over. She knew he was excited about what he had learnt, and how he really longed to be thought of as a Wizard. Can I trust him with this spell? she thought. Perhaps I should sleep on it.
“It’s late and I’m tired. Tomorrow will have to do.”
“But you promised. Anyway, how’s Narcam going to believe me if I don’t know it?” Micos stood in front of her.
Nettle observed how his jaw tightened. “Don’t be impatient.” She yawned. “It’s been a long day. There’ll be plenty of time in the morning to show you. Narcam’s not due back till late afternoon.”
“How do you know that?”
“He sent another message. Didn’t I tell you?”
“No.” Micos frowned. “Ha, as if cheating me out of the dark magic spell isn’t enough. You’re now keeping messages from me.”
“Don’t be stupid.” Nettle pushed past him. “Go to bed. We’ll talk more in the morning.”
Micos watched her leave and listened to her footsteps as she walked down the hallway to her room.
“Pfft, girls. Just when you think you know what they’re thinking, you find you don’t know at all.”
He was not tired. In fact he was wide awake and keen to practice what he had learnt. He walked over to the bundle of onions that Nettle had weaved together in a rope and hung from a beam. He pulled free the outer papery skin of one and held it up to the light of the candle. Its soft glow illuminated the amber tones on the fragile skin. He placed it down on the table. Holding his thumb against his first two fingers, he simultaneously snapped them as he spoke the words, “Transformus, butterfly.” The amber wings fluttered and took the air. He laughed as he held out a hand and the butterfly alighted on his finger. Micos observed the shape of its wings, the delicate markings that were traced over them. He carried it to the workbench by the wall, climbed up and opened the window a fraction. He held the butterfly up to the gap. It rested on his finger for a moment before it flew away.
He smiled to himself as he climbed down. The simple beauty of the butterfly reminded him of Nettle and how good she really was. He felt annoyed at himself for the way he had acted.
It was childish of me, he thought. Micos sighed. It’s just I want to be able to do what she can. After all I’m the one who’s meant to be the Wizard, not her.
The moment that last thought entered his head, he felt sorry for thinking it. He knew it was wrong to be jealous of her. How could they ever be together if he did not stop feeling this way?
Tomorrow I will make it up to her, I will.
He blew out the candle and headed for his own bed.
* * *
The rain pounded on the roof all night and Nettle’s sleep was fitful. When the first light of dawn crept in through the small window of her room, she sat up, rubbed her eyes and threw off the bed covers. Sitting on the edge of her bed, she listened. The only sounds she heard were the sky rumbling and the rain crashing down. No birds were singing, and every now and again a flare of lightning lit up the whole of her window pane.
All through the night she had wrestled with the question of whether or not to share the dark magic spell with Micos. She had decided that if she wanted to stay in Narcam’s employ, then she had no choice but to do so. It was not that she did not want Micos to know, it was just that she knew how impulsive he could be and was afraid he would get himself into more trouble once he had such a spell in his hands.
She smiled. I can’t help it. I like him regardless of how stupid he can be.
Nettle pictured his features in her mind’s eye, how his cheeks dimpled when he smiled and his ebony hair framed his face. She felt her heart flutter and wondered if this was truly love. Another flash of lightning broke her reverie and she set about getting dressed before she went to the kitchen.
“Micos, breakfast is ready. Get up,” Nettle called through the doorway before returning to the fire and retrieving the freshly made scones. She placed them on the table and walked towards the door once more.
“All right I hear you. I’m coming.” Several moments later he appeared in the room. His hair was ruffled and he yawned as he took his seat at the table.
Nettle looked at him and shook her head. She poured two cups of herbal tea and brought them over to where he was sitting. “Here,” she said as she placed one down in front of him. “Eat the scones before they go cold.”
She sat on the opposite side of the table nibbling a scone and watched as Micos greedily tucked into the flour cakes. When he reached out for the last one, he hesitated and looked at her.
“Go on you have it,” he said and pushed the plate towards her. “Are you going to show me that spell then?” He waited for her to reply.
Nettle munched on the last scone and washed it down with a swig of her tea. “Yes, of course, but first, clear away your dishes.” She nodded at his cup and plate as she picked up her own and walked over to the workbench. He followed. “I don’t know how we’re going to get over to the blacksmith’s place to get that paint. The rain hasn’t stopped. I bet outside is a mess.” She poured water into a bowl and stepped aside for Micos to place his plate and cup inside it.
“A bit of wet won’t hurt us. Come on, Nettle, hurry up! We have to be done before the master returns. Besides I’m dying to get a look of that book you have.”
Nettle raised an eyebrow and returned to washing the dishes. “Well, don’t just stand there. Take hold of that cloth and wipe these dry then.” She held out a plate to him.
She was just drying her hands when there came a knock at the front door. No, more than a knock, a thump, then another and another. It sounded like someone was banging on the door with a heavy stick. She looked at Micos. “Who can that be? It sounds like they’re going to break the door down.”
Micos shrugged and together they raced up the hall and towards the door.
“Stop banging, we’re coming,” Nettle shouted.
Micos took hold of the handle and flung the door open. Both stared at what met their eyes, mouths agape with incredulity.
“‘Er Wizard, I’ve been delegated to tell you to do something about this?”
The man, who stood with an oar in one hand, gestured with the other hand to the water that had now turned the village into a lake. Another man sat bailing water out of the boat with a tin pot. The relentless rain continued to fall as the sky growled and groaned above them. The boat bumped against the top step of the house, creating a small wave that rolled towards Nettle and Micos, to land with a splosh on their feet.
“Well,” said the man, “what yer going to do about it?”
“Do?” Micos looked at the men in the boat.
“You’re the Wizard aren’t yer? Get rid of this ‘fore we all drown.” With a sweep of his hand he indicated the rising water. The movement made the boat bounce; the man wobbled. Nettle and Micos held their breath as it looked as though he was about to fall in. But he planted his oar with a thump on the bottom of the boat and clinging onto it, managed to steady himself.
“We can’t help you,” said Nettle. “You’ll have to wait for our master to return.”
The man glared at them. “Wait. We could be under all this ‘er water ‘fore ‘e gets back. No, there’s only one answer. If yer cannot help, then the boy must go to the Dark Wizard Lostan. It’s the boy or the village.”
“He can’t go to him,” shrilled Nettle. “You don’t know what the Wizard will do.”
“What I know is that ‘e said to send ‘im. If ‘e has the boy, ‘e’ll end this spell and the village will be saved. Now don’t make me come and get yer boy.”
“You can’t have hi…” But Nettle did not finished the sentence as Micos stepped in front of her and placed a finger upon her lips.
“It’s all right Nettle. I’ll go. This is all my fault anyway.” He moved onto the top step. The rain splattered onto his head and water began to seep around the soles of his boots.
“Wait,” said Nettle as she placed a hand on his shoulder. “If you’re going, I’m coming with you.”
Micos turned towards her. “You musn’t. What’ll Narcam say if you’re gone?”
“I don’t care. I’m coming.”
“Make up yer minds and be quick about it. It’s no fun in this boat yer know.”
“Nettle please.” Micos looked at her, but he knew the moment he did that she would not change her mind. He saw that determined glint in her eyes, that he knew so well.
“Shut up and move over.” Nettle joined him on the top step and pulled the front door closed behind her.
The man beckoned them to come aboard and held out a hand to help Nettle climb in. Once they were both seated, the men started to row the boat towards the gates. Nettle gazed around and wondered how many of the smaller dwellings had been flooded and where the people that lived in them were.
“The people in those houses over there,” she said pointing to one side. “What’s happened to them?” She brushed her now soddened hair out of her eyes.
“They be staying with some of the folk who have houses built higher than their own. This is a right pretty mess we’ll be clearing up. I can tell yer. What yer do boy to make that Lostan want yer so bad eh?”
Micos never replied as the men wielded their oars with skill and strength to cut through the icy water and propel the boat forwards to halt at the gates. All four of them marvelled at how beyond the gates the land was dry and how although the water was rising, it did not spill outside the confines of the village.
“I’ve never seen the likes of this magic afore. Still after those rats I’d think anything was possible. Don’t yer agree Jed?” The man looked at his rowing partner who said nothing, but nodded his head. “You’ll have to jump out of the boat and through the gates, yer hear.” He stared at Micos and Nettle. “Be orft with yer then.”
They both stood, their clothes drenched, clinging to their limbs. The men remained seated.
“I’ll go first and I’ll catch you when you land.” Micos went to the end of the boat and leapt out over the edge of the water to land outside the gates on the dry ground. The boat swayed from side to side and Nettle lost her footing to fall back into the arms of the old man at the far end.
“‘Ere watch out girl,” he said pushing her up again. “Do yer want to tip us all out?”
Nettle edged her way to the top of the boat and climbed upon the seat. It was a long way down, and the water looked deep. She sucked in a breath, placed a foot on the bow and with all her might she pushed off. As she sailed through the air the boat dipped under the pressure of her jump and as it bobbed back upwards it tossed its two occupants, like rag dolls, over its sides and into the murky water that now flooded the village. Nettle landed in Micos’s arms and both toppled over to roll in the dirt. From somewhere above them they could hear the shouts of the two men splashing about.
“What happened?” Micos untangled himself from her and stood up. He reached out a hand to her.
“I don’t know. I just jumped.” She grasped his hand and allowed him to pull her to her feet.
They both looked at the gates and how the water seemed to be held in place by nothing the eye could see. She grasped hold of the skirt of her robe and wrung it out. Water puddled around her and her feet squelched within her shoes.
“That’s some clever magic,” said Micos, who seemed not to be bothered by the fact that he was wet through. “I wonder how he did it?”
“It’s not clever. It’s irresponsible and dangerous magic. And I’m soaked.” Nettle continued to wring out various parts of her dress before moving on to her hair.
“It’s just water. We’ll soon dry.” Micos grinned at her. “It might be dangerous magic but you have to admit it’s kinda spectacular isn’t it?” Micos turned his attention back to the spectacle of the never ending-storm.
“I’ve told you,” snapped Nettle. “There’s always a price to pay for using dark magic and this is Elemental dark magic, the most dangerous according to my book.” Nettle brushed down the skirt of her robe which was now smeared with muddy marks. “Come on we’d better go if we’re to get Lostan to stop this.”
Micos swung around to face her. “Go to Lostan? I don’t think so.”
“You know if we do he’ll do something nasty to us don’t you?”
“I suppose, but the village and the people…. We have to stop this Micos.”
“Narcam will stop it.”
“Narcam isn’t here.” Nettle wanted to shake him, make him understand how important this was.
“Yes, but he will be later today. Remember you said he would.”
“Oh yes, that’s right.” Just for a moment Nettle had forgotten he was returning. “But if he comes back to this, we’ll both be in serious trouble.”
“You were ready to face him a while ago. What’s changed?” Micos reached down, pulled off one of his boots and tipped out a stream of water. He shook it before putting it back on.
“That’s when we had a chance of a believable story. We have nothing now.” Nettle felt her bottom lip tremble. It wasn’t like her to break down, but right at this moment, she felt she was losing everything she had grown to love: the village, Narcam and if she was sent away, possibly Micos too.
“It’ll be all right.” Micos slipped an arm around her shoulders. “We’ll just hide in the woods for a while. Narcam will come back and sort this all out. It’ll soon settle down and then we can come back. That’s better than trying to face Lostan. Besides, Lostan wouldn’t dare to cast any more spells on the village when Narcam is there to protect it. Everyone knows he’s the oldest and greatest Wizard there is.”
Nettle sniffed and nodded her head. “What if Lostan finds us before Narcam comes back?”
“We’ll make sure he doesn’t.” Micos took hold of her hand and together they walked towards the woods.
* * *
In her cave, Octava looked up from her scrying bowl, rubbed her hands together and cackled. “Perfect, the boy and girl are cast out of the village. Now all I need to do is get to them before Lostan and retrieve the talisman. Then I can defeat the Dark Wizard and have a tasty supper as well. Two for the pot is always better than one.”
She cast her eyes back down to the scrying bowl and with a finger swirled the inky contents. “Liquid dark, reveal to me, where the boy and girl may be.” The atramentous liquor whirled around the bowl faster and faster until it cleared to show Micos and Nettle walking into the woods.