Saturday, December 04, 2004

Non-Mâvarin Fiction Entry: Meet Joshua Wander, Part Five

Art by Sherlock, adapted from an early draft of Rani's portrait.The following except from JW's autobiography is unrelated to the Mâvarin books, except tangentially through an unfinished short story.

Part One: The willing subject of experiments conducted by two of his professors, Syracuse University student Christopher Stein (the future Joshua Wander) develops an ability to manipulate the electromagnetic spectrum, creating light shows and other effects. In the midst of doing so, he disappears from the lab into another world, with one of his professors dead at his feet and two small medieval armies advancing on him from opposite directions.

Part Two: Misunderstanding Chris's attempts to revive Rachel, the two groups of fighters seem as intent on attacking Chris as each other. Unable to overcome the language barrier to explain, Chris scares the peasants away with lightning, and manages to disarm an attacking noble as he recreates the conditions that took him out of the world he knew. He reappears in the lab, but he's not really there, not really touching anything or anyone. The lab disappears again, along with Rachel and her shocked and angry husband. Chris finds himself in darkness.

Part Three: Chris quickly realizes that he is in a cave. Despite the cold and wind, he ventures out into the night, crossing farmland on a dirt road under too many stars. He seeks shelter in a nearby barn, where he is greeted by the telepathic voices of the horse and cow who live there. They tell him that his coming was foretold, and offer to let him sleep in the hayloft. Chris accepts the invitation.

Part Four: In the morning, a who calls himself Onclemac man comes into the barn. Chris introduces himself by the made-up name Joshua Wander, and is advised to keep his real name secret. Onclemac tells him he's in a country called Angland. Onclemac himself came from Syracuse, having unwisely read aloud from a spell book in a used book department. He invites "Joshua" in to breakfast.

Part Five: Light My Fire

As I followed the man who called himself Onclemac (Uncle Mac?) toward a farm house with a tarred and thatched roof, I reviewed what he had told me. Like me, Onclemac was a former resident of Syracuse, New York, but we weren’t in Syracuse now. We were in a country called Angland, where magic supposedly worked. Onclemac had not reached this place by scientific accident, as I had, but as the result of a spell in a book he’d found. Or so he claimed.

The question was, did I believe him?

“Excuse me,” I said as we reached the man’s front walk. Instead of flagstones, this consisted of foot-long slabs of something that looked like opal. “You said something earlier about my being who you thought I was. Last night, your horse said my coming was foretold. Who and what do you think I am?”

“Pretty much who you said you were,” Onclemac said. We reached his front door of painted blue wood. He unlocked it with a small brass key and held it open for me. “Come in.”

“That doesn’t tell me anything,” I complained.

“That’s true,” Onclemac said. Onclemac’s front hall looked much like an illustration of Bilbo’s hobbit hole, except that it wasn’t round. It was all polished wood and round windows and a large stone fireplace. Onclemac took off his cape and hung it on a rack by the door. I decided to leave my sweatshirt on, but I brushed away some loose hay that still clung to it. In doing so I discovered that a few wires were still hanging from my head. As I pulled them off, I thought for a moment I could smell Rachel’s perfume.

I had no time to think about this, however, because Onclemac said, “Come on into the kitchen, and I’ll tell you what I know about you. It’s not much.”

“Fair enough,” I said, and followed him.

The kitchen had an oak table and three chairs, oak cupboards, and an herb garden on the window ledge. Onclemac got out some sausage and eggs to cook on his wood-burning stove, all the while talking about everything except what I most wanted to know. “There’s been some Renaissance action here, but not to the extent you might expect. Nobody’s even discovered America yet. There is a Leonardo in Italia, but from what I hear he’s mostly been inventing magical devices, not scientific ones. If it weren’t for the printing press and movable type, I probably wouldn’t stick around. I’ll be surprised if they have an Industrial Revolution at all, ever.”

“Why is that?” I asked.

“They don’t need it. Magic makes a pretty good substitute for science, as long as the population stays low and the society is mostly agrarian.”

I was getting impatient. “What does all this have to do with a prophecy about me?”

Onclemac turned the sausage patties before answering. “I just want to impress on you that magic is to be taken seriously in Angland. The laws of magic are as real here—and in several other worlds I’ve visited—as the First Law of Thermodynamics is back home.”

“How do you know it’s real?”

“I know because I’ve done magic myself. It works. Back in Syracuse I was an optometrist. Here I’m a wizard.” He pointed at me with his wooden spatula. “You’ll be one, too.”

“Again I ask: how do you know?”

“Spell 17.”

“Spell 17?”

“It’s my general purpose divination spell. It said that my apprentice would arrive this week from a place that is known to me. You’ll be here for three weeks, after which I won’t see you again for ten years.”

Finally I was getting answers, but I wasn’t sure I could trust what Onclemac was saying. “And you believe this? What if I don’t want to be a wizard’s apprentice?”

Onclemac spread his hands, palms up. “Is there something else you’d rather do?”

He had me there. “I suppose not. Can anyone learn magic?”

Onclemac shook his head. “Not one person in ten can do it. But you can.” He put the sausage patties on a couple of plates as he added. “You’ve already done magic.”

“Are you talking about my traveling between realities? That was science.”

Onclemac broke a couple of eggs into the iron skillet. “Perhaps it was, back in Syracuse. Here, it’s magic. So was your conversation with Ed and Elsie.”

“But other than Ed and Elsie, I haven’t done anything special here,” I protested. “I figured that the animals were magical, not me.”

Onclemac looked at me thoughtfully and nodded to himself. “Let’s settle this with a practical demonstration,” he said. He unlatched the metal door on the front of the stove, revealing three half-burned pieces of firewood. He muttered some words I didn’t understand. Flames died. Embers stopped glowing. Then he gestured to me. “Light my fire, Josh.”

It felt weird to be called by my newly-adopted name, already abbreviated into a nickname. I shrugged. “I’ll try.” Fortunately, there was plenty of sunlight in the room. I concentrated it and aimed it at the wood, much as someone might use a magnifying glass to set a piece of paper on fire. Instead of the controlled beam I expected, the light gathered at my fingertips and shot into the wood as a bolt of blue lightning. Fire sprang up all at once from every inch of wood, in the shape of an undulating female dancer. I thought I heard a few bars of a Jimi Hendrix song—both guitar and vocals—just before Onclemac slammed the door shut to avoid getting singed.

“That, my friend, is magic,” said Onclemac.

I nodded. “You’re right. That is magic. Maybe I am a wizard after all.”

The Real Joshua Wander
Joshua Wander: Two Fragments
Joshua Wander Lives (the history of the character)
Meet Joshua Wander, Part One
Meet Joshua Wander, Part Two
Meet Joshua Wander, Part Three
Meet Joshua Wander, Part Four

No comments: