#9 A Trickster's Tale
Hope you're keeping well! A new section opens up this month and finally answers the question some of you have been asking: what is mahrym, if not magic? You will find the answer here, as well the first two Schools : Illusion and Morphing. More of them coming up in future updates!
Meanwhile, the Storyteller and Aiga the bard continue their adventures below and share this month's story: A Trickster's Tale.
Aucel is quiet. Too quiet for a busy morning. The bard is quick to notice and has pestered me about it ever since we got out of the barn we were allowed to sleep in.
“It’s supposed to be market day!”, she exclaims, stretching her arms up and about. “Where’s all the chatter and the yelling and the singing? Where are the birdfolk?”
“Gone”, I retort. My back hurts, my knees hurt, it’s been a cold night and the air is so humid my nostrils are home to two streams. “It’s because we’re getting close to the Arnwell border.”
Aiga’s ears dart up.
“Can we visit Ilderil, the Sentinel?” She has that dreamy look in her eyes again. I suppose she’s envisioning a young version of him.
“Sentinels aren’t people who can be visited. If they ever leave their posts, you can be sure trouble’s brewing.”
The bard sighs as we walk past the orderly market stalls in the centre of the town. I try to catch up with her, unsuccessfully. My bones ache, my eyes burn. I think I’m not feeling well.
“I’m planning to leave later today”, I announce almost inaudibly. “To Arnwell. I think you’ll do really well if you stay here, in Nariv. Good food, peace, plenty of inns to stay at…”
She stops dramatically and looks at me in the eye. She then glances at the permanent ocean of grey clouds above us, and a deep frown starts forming on her forehead for the first time since we’ve met. Her joy dissipates for an instant, but comes back immediately after with a beaming smile.
“It’s almost as if you wanted to get rid of me. But it won’t be so easy, Storyteller!”
She laughs and pretends to be looking at a bouquet of lavender we both know she’s not going to buy. She walks past and waits for me at the next stall, asking questions about cheese and milk.
She is offered a jug of water and, with a smile, she pours it into a cup as the liquid glistens and changes colour. The children look mildly amused for a moment but are as busy and as silent as their parents, so Aiga’s mahrym is under-appreciated.
I can feel her disappointment from where I stand. I hurry up.
“So, I was wondering”, she begins as she pretends not to be affected by the lack of recognition; “why did you renounce to your mahrym? Weren’t you happy with the path you chose?”
Oh, no. Why would you bring this up today, Aiga? I start coughing unceasingly.
“I think I have something stuck in my throat”, I say. She hands me over the cup of water. I pretend to drink, but I’m not thirsty.
“My mahrym is useless”, she finally says. “I see other bards with amazing mahrym such as sound illusions, transforming their instruments mid-performance, making lights dance in the air as they play… And here I am. Changing the colour of water.”
I wait for her to continue but she doesn’t. She laughs her problems away and asks me for a new tale.
“Another one? By the gods, Aiga, if I tell you a tale every day I’ll run out of stories very soon.”
She laughs. The kind of laughter one uses to conceal emotions, a secret or a regrettable past.
“… Have I ever told you the tale of Isilda Vexari?”, I give in.
There’s a hopeful shine in her violet eyes, possibly expecting an epic quest or a tragic romance. But this tale is about mahrym.
A Trickster’s Tale
Isilda Vexari was a poor girl from Oriuu. Not only was she poor, but her parents were poor, and their parents before them. One had to skip several generations to find someone in the Vexari family with enough money to go by.
But Oiruu is an expensive land. A land of hard workers that are expected to keep their head down and work from sunrise to sunset. The Vexari family was no different.
When Isilda turned fifteen she finally had the opportunity to inherit a mahrym and join a School.
“Ah, at last”, her mother said. “If you join Transformation or Control you’ll help us greatly at the forge.”
“Those are your best bets if you want to secure a job”, her father agreed. “Think about all the opportunities now opening up for you!”
But Isilda wanted none of those things. She had an extraordinary imagination and had different conceptions on how the world worked. She was also considered a wonder child, quick to grasp new concepts with such ease that everybody was sure she would make it far. Farther than them, anyway.
“I want to be an Illusionist”, she replied, knowing it would be her death sentence.
“You’re burying your future!”
“You need to get yourself a practical job!”
Yet the days of Slumber arrived, and her parents were so preoccupied in keeping their meagre economy afloat that little attention did they pay to their daughter’s choice of mahrym.
Isilda fell into a deep sleep for three days. Slumber befell her like heavy fog rolling down a hillside, and she made her request to the gods.
She woke up alone the third day. Her parents had taken as good care of her as they could, albeit reluctantly, and had left her a mirror beside the bed. Isilda promptly grabbed it and admired her reflection, her face of bone, her curved ears, her brand new symbol of the Illusionist on her right cheekbone.
However, Oiruu wasn’t a land for an Illusionist. That which is not real has no place in the most technologically advanced region in the world.
She had no money to leave, and private mentorships were unaffordable. The longer it took her to find a mentor, the longer it would take her to master the mahrym.
She trained often on her own but had no guide and relied entirely on her instincts and imagination. The results were decent. Good. Sometimes she was quite satisfied with them. But she would achieve so much more with a mentor, as she would then have access to the Library. Access to the books and materials left behind by other Illusionists.
It suffices to say her family and childhood friends gradually stopped talking to her her. She was crazy, useless to society as an individual, and would never find a place at the forge, the blacksmith’s or the runecrafter’s. She was neither an apprentice nor a worker. What a waste of talent!
She spent months knocking the same doors in the hopes one of the mentors in the city would take her in. She sweet-talked to them into a possible apprenticeship, but when the question of the money arose, most mentors would shut their door and never open it again.
“I’m sorry but we’re only taking elite apprentices. Very limited seats, you know? Most lands have affordable apprenticeships for Illusionists, you could travel there”, a mentor suggested.
He was clearly annoyed that Isilda had knocked on his door for the sixth time in a month to talk to him about a possible bright future, praise his talent and beg to be his apprentice.
Isilda could have told him the truth. She didn’t have the money or the means to travel. Even if she travelled by foot, where would she stay once she got there? And how affordable was “affordable” for someone with a house of their own?
Instead, Isilda used what she knew how to use best. Her imagination. And several hundreds of hours training when nobody looked.
“Believe me, I’d love to travel, but… I don’t have much time left.” She uncovered her arm, showing a fatal wound. A symbol became visible on her skin. The rune of Death.
The old mentor shook his head and shut his eyes.
“Ugh. Please cover this”, he blurted out. “I’m going to assume you’re seeing a good medic here, ensuring you’ll be around for another couple of years.” He looked pensive for a brief moment. “How are you affording a good medic?”
She told him about her parents. Jewellers, the best in the distant land of Falkor. They sent her gems which she then exchanged for ræ, the most common currency in the world, to pay for her expensive but very necessary treatment. She described the terrible accident she suffered five years ago in excruciating detail, and how she was now marked for death. According to the medics, she would die in less than five years.
The mentor, marvelled at her story and greatly interested in the gem business, suggested to meet again. And a third time. And suddenly, there was a spot open for Isilda’s longed-for apprenticeship.
Isilda was very consistent with her story and would sometimes leave the lesson earlier to go to a medic. There were only two other Illusion apprentices besides her, but she quickly needed lessons alone. After a few months, she needed an additional mentor as the old one couldn’t keep up with her pace.
Before the season changed she had already mastered the basics, and in less than a year she was casting illusions upon command within seconds. She paid her apprenticeship fees timely, the first of each month without fail. The fees were then sent to the Mrygat, the pillar and overseer of everything and anything related to mahrym. The Mrygat was also impressed with her progress and the recommendations and reports sent by her mentors.
“She’s the most talented Illusionist we have ever come across”, the old mentor would say.
“We have never had such an enthusiastic and diligent apprentice. We are honoured to be her mentors”, the other one added. “And we believe she may need a third mentor”, he jested.
By the time Isilda was seventeen, she was already having her final exam. Her certification to become an Illusionist.
“You will be performing The Banquet”, she was told on the day of the test. “There will be ten Osvarii at the table with different backgrounds and areas of expertise, and they will be eating and drinking to their heart’s content. Some will know it is an illusion, some will not. The exam will last three hours. Oh, and decent choice of clothes.”
Isilda wasn’t nervous. She was thrilled. Ten judges. Ten people who would be seeing, smelling, touching, eating the illustration she was about to perform before them.
She didn’t own any fine clothes, but she had cast an illusion on the ones she wore, and they now looked neat, tidy, formal. Perfect for the occasion. She had also camouflaged the smell of watery soup and worn-out shoes with the illusory scent of lavender.
The judges arrived and The Banquet began. A round table welcomed them as they found their seats and delighted their eyes at the meal before them: freshly baked and perfectly sliced bread, roasted beef and potatoes, perfectly cooked poultry, colourful salads full of greens, ten different sauces, oils and salts from different regions of the world, a marmite of steamy soup, a hundred variants of cheese, exquisite dishes and the finest silverware any of the present had seen in a very long time. The smell of a cuisine out of this world lingered in the air.
They ate. And they drank. And the wines were as fine as can be. Some even got a little jollier and tipsier than when they crossed the door. The desserts were outworldly too. A tower of unmelting ice-cream and frozen fruits, warm pastries wrapping homemade jam. And then came the teas, the infusions, even a warm thick and very rare drink called “chocolate”.
It took the judges an additional hour to leave. Nobody wanted to. The lingering smells of the banquet, the sensation of being full but just the right amount of full, the engaging conversation Isilda was having with them. To most of those present, she was just a waitress.
They left, one after the other, until only her mentors remained.
“You can drop the illusion now”, they said with a smile.
Isilda, compliant, snapped her fingers. She didn’t need to, but it marked the end of The Banquet.
The delicious meal disappeared. The jolly sensations vanished. The full stomachs were no longer full. The room smelled of old stone and ash. It was dry and darker, warmer, less welcoming. Only the memory of The Banquet remained now.
“Really impressive”, the old mentor said.
“Beyond expectations”, the other one added.
“We still have to wait for everyone’s verdict but I can say, without a doubt, that this was the most perfect execution of The Banquet I’ve ever seen. And I’ve seen a lot.”
“Your family must be very proud of you, miss Vexari. You can collect the results and your formal title next week. Good job, you’ve earned it.”
But Isilda never went to collect her formal title or her results the next week. She had passed the exam with flying colours. Her mentors had written her letters of recommendation as the youngest Illusionist to have ever mastered her mahrym in only two years.
“Her condition must have worsened”, the old mentor said, remembering the terrible rune of Death on her arm. “We should send someone to the medics so that they deliver her the good news. Perhaps the last good news she’ll hear in her life.”
One after the other, all messengers sent to locate Isilda returned. The medics claimed they had no knowledge of anyone under that name, and that they would certainly know of someone with such a terrible wound and the rune of Death on her arm.
Weeks passed and there was still no word of her. She had completely vanished. At some point, the mentors assumed she was one of those revolutionaries that were trying to make a point. That qualifications and exams didn’t matter. Mocking the system. One of “those”. It was the only reasonable explanation.
“What a shame”, they would often say.
One day, the mentors received a letter from the Mrygat. A real, hand-written, paper letter, beautifully sealed and stamped. As they began to read it, their jaws dropped in horror.
Over a hundred thousand ræ had disappeared all of a sudden. Upon thorough investigations conducted by the Mrygat, and after spending a fortune in mahrym-tracking devices, they finally found where the ræ had come from.
It was the apprenticeship fees deposited by Isilda Vexari during the last two years. Month after month. The first of each month.
She had played them. There was no real wound. There was no rune of Death. There were no real gems or ræ. Her parents may not even be jewellers from Falkor.
They searched for friends and relatives but they all denied knowing her. She had shamed them with her impractical interests and had finally encountered trouble. “No, she must’ve used our daughter’s name”, her parents told the guards. “Our daughter is dead.”
Albeit Isilda’s parents used that as a manner of speech and didn’t believe their daughter had met her end yet, the death register was checked and Isilda Vexari had, indeed, been confirmed dead by at least twenty witnesses. Even her fallen mask, her face of bone, hung at one of the overly-crowded graveyards of the city.
Twenty years later, the Mrygat finally gave up on their chase and the case against confirmed-dead Isilda Vexari was finally closed.
Rumour has it that she is still out there, far from Oiruu, travelling the world and casting illusions where she goes. So perfect they are, that the ræ we spend these days may not even be real after all.
“Wait. Are you telling me Isilda was casting both The Banquet and an illusion on her own clothes?”, Aiga asks in awe.
I nod, smirking under my hood. I knew she’d enjoy Isilda’s story.
“Do you want to know the best thing? She had never seen, least tasted, any meal like that that in her life. It all came from her own imagination.”
The bard spins around as she walks, first humming, then singing a new song about the greatest trickster of our time.
“So she just imagined a perfect banquet and cast the illusion?” Aiga’s eyes shine imagining the meal herself. Her mouth quickly curves in realisation. “Wait. Did she vanish all of a sudden because she couldn’t keep up with the illusion of the gems any longer? Had she been casting that illusion for two whole years?”
“I couldn’t say”, I confess; "though it's likely."
As the clouds crawl closer to the marketplace, I make out a line of carts in the distance pulled by horses. One of them is heading to a town in southern Arnwell, and the bard has already spotted it. She looks at me and nods encouragingly.
I don’t blame her, wanting to leave. Rain and more rain, every single day. It’s almost as if the land wanted to get rid of us. I try to remember how many ræ I have left in my pockets. I have just about enough.
We find ourselves a seat and the bard insists to pay my part. My bones are giving me a terrible time again, so I reluctantly agree.
“Imagine if we could create illusions of all the ræ we wanted”, she ventures with a beaming smile.
The cart slowly but surely departs from the marketplace and turns in the direction of the faraway forests. The sound of the wheels against the road, the hooves of the horses, the first raindrops agains the roof, and the distinctive smell of rain are soothing, like a warm fire in the middle of winter.
“What would you buy?”
I was dozing off and the question startles me.
“What? Buy? Oh.” I pretend to think as I feel a cold dead weight in my stomach at the thought of money. “A pair of warm shoes, I suppose.”
She seems shocked by my response and starts describing in great detail the abode and gardens she would have, the instruments she would buy and the grand stage she would open. She must have given it some thought.
After a while, I pretend to be asleep. Someone puts a blanket over me. I thank them without a word.
It will be a short journey to Arnwell but, let’s face it, this cart is the perfect target for an ambush: only one guard, farmers, tired travellers and no protection runes in sight. Best to rest before crossing the border.
The last thing I see before darkness takes over me is the bard’s violet eyes examining the ræ in her bag, one by one, in the hopes of spotting a perfect illusion cast by Isilda Vexari.