Verse 7: DO YOU BELIEVE IN MAGIC?
Hannah Lee Robinette had always been a light sleeper (unlike her brother nate who could - and once did - sleep through a hurricane) and she'd been roused from her dreams shortly before 3:00 am, when she'd heard Gloria pull in, and again just a few minutes ago by the sound of voices. She pulled on her bunny slippers, checked that her mop of sandy hair was at least vaguely presentable and gone to investigate. Halfway down the stairs, she heard a strangled cry and a thump. Rushing into the room she skidded to a halt. "What happened? I heard something fall and…" She paused, taking in the tableau. Her big sister was kneeling over some half-naked stranger lying in front of the sliding doors. "Oops! Didn't mean to interrupt anything –" she lied.
"Hannah, this is Lexigar," said Gloria. "He fainted."
"Lexi-who??" Hannah came closer to get a better look, but Gloria waved her back.
"I'll explain later," she promised. "Get me a damp cloth and the ammonia from under the sink, please."
"Hoo-kay." Hannah knew that no-nonsense tone of voice and did as requested. By the time she returned to the scene of the whatever, Gloria had the guy flat on his back. Hannah handed her the cloth, which she draped over the stranger's handsome face.
"Thanks," Gloria said. "Hand me some pillows. I want to prop his head up."
"New boyfriend?" Hannah asked, sliding two cushions under the man's long black hair. As she did, she noted he had some sort of metallic brace on his left forearm. "The sensitive type, huh?"
Gloria did not answer. She opened the ammonia and was about to wave it under her patient's nose when she stopped for some reason. A look of doubt flashed across Gloria's face, but after a moment's hesitation she looked up again. "One more thing. Could you close the drapes?"
"You're the doctor," Hannah said as she pulled the sash cord. Mentally she added Playing doctor more like. Out loud she asked, "Any particular reason?"
Hannah had grown used to having her questions ignored and this one was no exception. Gloria used the makeshift smelling salts. Lexigar's head jerked, he coughed twice, and his eyes sprang open. They darted around in panic, looked at her in confusion, and finally up at Gloria. His breathing eased.
"Paro Dimah," he said, or at least that's what it sounded like to Hannah. Then he continued in lightly accented English. "I apologize if this unfortunate episode has caused you undue concern," he said, his voice shaky.
"Why do you talk like someone out of Jane Austen?" Hannah asked, noticing his trousers, which were tight at the top but balloony where they met his boots. "And what's with the pants? Were you fox-hunting?"
"Shhhhhh," Gloria said, the single syllable doing the double duty of soothing and scolding. She brushed the guy’s cheek lightly with the back of one hand. "You had a panic attack, but you're all right now. Just relax."
"You need me for anything else?" Hannah asked. This was getting definitely weird. Gloria shook her head and mouthed, "No!"
"Fine." Hannah picked up the ammonia and screwed the cap back on. "This stuff is so foul." She retreated to the kitchen, bottle in hand, sidestepping Warlock, who had taken his customary place on the throw rug by the kitchen entryway.
"Can you sit up?" she heard Gloria ask as she stowed the bottle. "Good. Put your head between your knees, then take deep, slow breaths." Gloria's voice lowered, but not enough to keep Hannah from hearing what came next. "Let me do the talking."
"I heard that," Hannah called out and rejoined the couple, standing there with hands on hips, regarding them both. This Lexigar looked much improved. "Talking about what?"
"Why don't you check to see if your brother is up?" Gloria stalled. "Then I can do this all at once and over breakfast."
Hannah stared for about five seconds, unsatisfied, but big sis held her ground. Stomping to the foot of the stairs as best she could in bunny slippers, Hannah screamed, "Hey, Beefy! Get your rear in gear. We have company!" She looked over her shoulder at Gloria and the topless stranger, then added. "You don't wanna miss this!"
There was a brief crackle of static from the intercom by the kitchen. —ksssht!— Gloria, are you okay out there? —klkk!—
"Now you've done it," Gloria scowled at Hannah. "You woke Uncle Tully."
Glowering back, Hannah shuffled over to the speaker box and pressed the 'Talk' button, "Don't worry, Uncle Tully, everything's fine."
—ksssht!— What? —klkk!—
"I said don't worry! You can go back to sleep." She released the button.
—ksssht!— If you say so, kiddo. —klkk!—
"Here let me help you," she heard Gloria say from behind her. She turned to see her sister easing Lexigar into a chair
"I appear to be causing quite the foofaraw," he said sheepishly. "I must have startled the young lady terribly.
"No biggie," Hannah said, taking a seat on the couch, tucking her legs under her. "Gloria has that effect on lots of guys."
"I should explain what evinced such an extreme response," he said as Gloria took his wrist to check his pulse.
"No need," Hannah broke in. "You had an anxiety attack. Since Gloria made me close the drapes, I'd say you're either agorophic or terrified of water."
"Not the drinking kind, but oceans…" He shuddered.
"Childhood trauma?" she guessed.
"Hannah!" Gloria cried. "It's none of your, I mean our, business."
"Still, she is correct," said Lexigar .
"She usually is," Gloria smiled, releasing his wrist. "It would seem you're back to normal, assuming…"
"Assuming what?" Hannah asked. Neither looked in a mood to explain so she shifted back to the subject of abnormal psychology. "Does the ocean always have that effect on you?
"It has been a very, very long time since I last saw the sea," he replied. "I had hoped time would have healed that wound, but evidence indicates otherwise. It took me unawares. Perhaps next time I will not react in so extreme a fashion."
"Let's test that theory," Hannah said, jumping off the couch and heading for the drapes.
"Let's not," Gloria grabbed her by the arms and whirled her around. "This is a private matter, deeply personal and not some experiment! Am I understood?"
"Who's the geek in the parachute pants?" Hannah's older-in-chronological-terms-only brother Nate had come in and stood there, scratching his head absently. He looked out of it, which was pretty much par for his course in her opinion. People said they looked alike, but Hannah didn't agree. She thought she had the cool clear eyes of a seeker of wisdom and truth, while Nate looked like he spent most of his waking hours lost in a fog. But there were certain undeniable similarities: hair, slender build, and their mother's nose. Not that Hannah remembered their mother, but she had seen the nose in pictures and she had to acknowledge it as the one gift she had received from that long-gone individual.
Gloria let Hannah go and turned her displeasure on their brother. "Geeks bite the heads off live chickens," she said waving a finger at Nate.
"Don't have an aneurysm," Nate yawned. He walked over and extended his hand to the man in the chair. "Hiya, I'm Nate. You must be the new boyfriend."
"He is NOT my boyfriend!” Gloria protested, a tad too vehemently.
The man did not shake hands. "T'Lexigar Machallo, Licensed Minstrel," he said.
"Big name! Can I call you Lex?" Nate asked.
"If that is your preference, I would offer no strenuous objection. And I am honored to make your acquaintance."
"Man, you talk funny," Nate observed.
"Nate!" Hannah and Gloria reacted in unison.
"I'm just sayin'," Nate persisted.
"I suppose I do," "Lex" agreed gravely.
"Well, Lex," Hannah said, glancing at her big sister, "if you're not Glo's latest project, what are you doing in our house at this time of the morning, wearing only half your clothes?"
"Did you brush your teeth?" Gloria asked them, a clear attempt at change the subject.
"Yes," Hannah lied, hoping Gloria could not smell her morning breath. Nate just nodded with his mouth closed, making Hannah wish she'd had the presence of mind to do the same. But Gloria didn't buy any of it.
"Brush your teeth, comb your hair, get dressed, and try to look presentable," she ordered. "I'll scramble some eggs, and we can have a nice long chat."
They both departed grumbling. When they returned, Lex – a cloth-and-leather bag in hand – was just entering the downstairs bathroom, the one that had been converted for Uncle Tully's special needs. Gloria had them set the table; before they finished, Lex emerged a changed man. He wore a puffy sleeved shirt tucked into his puffy-legged pants. Both looked clean and freshly pressed. His hair, now in a ponytail, shone as if recently washed and blow-dried. Even his boots looked polished. Yet Hannah was certain she'd heard no sound from the bathroom save that of the toilet flushing. No shower, no blow-dryer, no water running. Moreover, he had been in there for two, maybe three minutes, nowhere near long enough to do all those things, but there it was.
"You find everything you needed?" Gloria asked from the kitchen, where she was scraping the eggs into a serving bowl.
"I did," said Lex, as he took a seat next to Hannah. "My possessions seem undisturbed from my ride."
"Let me see your teeth," Hannah demanded suspiciously. If he found this odd, he gave no indication, but merely offered her a dazzling, white-toothed smile. She leaned close and sniffed: minty-fresh.
"Buying a horse?" Nate teased as he plopped himself down in the seat opposite. He was wearing that stupid "CO-ED NAKED QUIDDITCH" t-shirt again. She was certain it could not be clean, and was about to call him on that score when Gloria came in bearing eggs and English muffins. She gave the first to Lex and set the second where everyone could reach. Then she took the sole remaining chair.
"Juice?" she asked.
"Please," Lex responded. She poured some O.J. in his glass and he tasted it.
"Mmmmm." He dabbed his lips with a napkin. "What is this?"
"You've never had orange juice?" Hannah gasped.
"No," he said, "though I have had purple juice. The tastes are quite similar."
Gloria choked on her own and started coughing.
"All right, what's the deelio here?" Hannah demanded. "You promised explanations, and we've been more than patient. Lex, who are you, what are you doing here, and how do you two know each other?"
Lex made as if to reply, then looked to Gloria, clearly seeking her permission to speak.
"Let me guess," Nate jumped in. "He's a (air-quotes) Cousin from Out of Town or an (more air-quotes) Old College Friend."
Hannah took her turn. "I know! ‘He's Having His Apartment Painted.’," she said, letting her tone of voice do what Nate's fingers had done. "Now you try, Gloria, but you better make this good."
Gloria rose to the challenge. "Last night, I was leaving the bar when Lex suddenly appeared out of a big hole in the air. A walking tree followed him and they fought. He used a long crystal spear made from one of the tree's branches to beat the monster, which exploded. Lex collapsed, so I put him in the Indian's sidecar and brought him home, where He Slept – by himself – On The Couch," she finished pointedly. "That's it."
"If you don't want to tell us, fine!" Hannah told her sister coldly but inside she was impressed. Of all the possible lies Gloria could have improvised, that was far more creative than she had expected.
Nate gaped at Lex. "A tree monster?"
"A Forest Troll," Lex answered, nodding in confirmation, "but it looked not unlike a tree."
"You fought a Troll?" Nate repeated.
"In Gilda's parking lot."
Lex looked to Gloria who nodded. "Yes," he said.
Nate considered this information for a couple of seconds, mental gears clearly in full fanboy mode. "Awesome! Was it a boss monster? How many hit points did it have?"
Groaning, Hannah put a hand to her face in exasperation and kept it there while her vidiot brother peppered Lex with more dumbass questions. Lex said he did not know what hit points meant, but he did not think the troll had supervisory responsibilities. No, he did not have any kind of wand. No, he did not know any Hobbits, but he did know Dwarves, Elves, and Ogres. He had never met, let alone slain, a Vampire, and was pretty sure they were immortal anyway. He no longer had the crystal spear, but yes, he could make another one, just not at breakfast. No, he did not have to say magic words to cast spells, nor did he know anyone name Vance. No, he could not summon magical beings to fight for him, but yes, there were those who could. He had a lot of experience, but did not know how many points he needed to reach the next level. No, he could not teach Nate how to fly, even if Nate paid him.
Hannah peeked through her fingers at Gloria, who was calmly spreading preserves on an English muffin as if this ludicrous game was not being played out in front of them. Finally, the eldest Robinette interrupted, "Nate, let him eat," she said. "Your eggs are getting cold."
"Can I get a word in?" Hannah asked after perhaps a minute devoted to eating. Enough was enough, she decided. Nate was brain-fried from all those videogames, but she was a straight-A student, National Junior Science Fair Honorable Mention, and a future astronaut. She could not let this tripe go unchallenged. "I have a couple of questions for the Great and Powerful Oz too."
Lex grinned a self-deprecating grin, "I am neither great nor powerful, Hannah, but I will answer you as truthfully as I did your brother."
"First, if you just arrived last night, how did you learn English so fast?" Lex started to say something about Dwarves but she was not finished yet. "You expect me to believe that two worlds separated by, I don't know, billions of light years independently developed the exact same language with the exact same meanings? That's impossible!"
"No," he said, "merely highly improbable. I cannot tell you what to believe. I only know that it is so."
"That would imply these Dwarves somehow came to our planet, taught the primitive cultures of the British Isles to speak their language, and then departed without leaving a trace of their visit! I've never heard such twaddle in all my life!"
"Makes perfect sense," Nate observed.
"No, it doesn't!" Hannah snapped. "Modern English evolved from Middle English which developed from Old English. Language is a living thing! Even if both languages had a common source, they would have diverged over the centuries due to cultural influences!"
"I am afraid I am not a scholar of languages," he said, "and Tazyr history is not one of my stronger areas either. My native tongue is called Seshnei. Perhaps if I speak some words in it you can tell me if it sounds like any other language you know."
"Probably not, unless it sounds like French or Latin," Hannah grumbled. "For all I know, you could be making it up, just like this magic hoo-hah."
"Why are you surprised that I can do magic?"
"Because there is no magic!" Nate glared at her angrily, but she barreled onward. "Sure, some so-called magicians can make the Statue of Liberty disappear or make girls shriek when it looks like they're floating an inch above the ground, but those are tricks! No one can just wave a hand and say 'Asiago!' –"
"Assio!" Nate protested.
"What-ever," she said, dismissively. "No one can just wave his hand and make things float! It just goes against the rules of science!"
Lex waved one hand languidly and the jam jar floated into the air. It moved directly in front of her eyes, then gently returned to its place on the table.
"Cool!" breathed Nate.
"How – how –" she spluttered, knocking her chair over as she bolted out of it, leaning close to studdy the jam jar with squinted eyes.
"Magic," Lex said simply, taking another forkful of eggs.
"But how – how – how did you do that? It's impossible!" She sounded close to tears and her hands were gripping the table hard enough to turn her knuckles white.
"You use that word a lot. I do not think it means what you think it means." He took her hand and held it up before her eyes. "Look at your hand. There are so many things you can do with it. You can play the flute, throw a stone, slap a face, make pies, wave hello, scratch your nose, point a direction, snap your fingers, or pet a fat, furry ferret. And that is only a hand. How much more versatile is the mind? Magic is merely using your mind to impose your will on the Universe around you. You do that every day. I just do it differently."
Hannah was hardly satisfied. "Then how does it work?" she insisted, biting off each word.
"If you will bear with me, and refrain from interruption, I shall endeavor to explain." He waited for her to agree, then proceeded. "Here is a good example. As I was tumbling through the vortex it occurred to me that when I reached my ultimate destination, I would most likely be traveling with great velocity. While a hay stack or a nice soft pile of feather beds might, conceivably, be awaiting me, the odds were not favorable. Prudence, not to mention self-preservation, dictated I take precautions. So I cast Soft Landing."
Hannah sighed melodramatically, then held up her hand and waited to be recognized.
"Yes?" said Lex.
"That’s not really an answer. I mean, what are the mechanics of this putative spell?"
"That's Hannah-ese for 'how does it work?'," Nate translated. Hannah stuck her tongue out at him.
"This could get a bit technical," Lex warned.
"That’s okay," Nate chortled, "Young Miss Einstein here lives for technical."
"Very well. There are three components to casting a spell, at least as I do it: A Mental Matrix, the Mana to power it, and the Will to use it."
"Mana?" Nate perked up. "What color was it?"
"Not that it matters, but since Soft Landing is an earth spell, I would imagine the mana was mainly brown."
"Umm?" Gloria asked, and all eyes turned to her. "I know this is a dumb question, but what's mana?"
Lex opened his mouth, but before he could explain Nate jumped in. "Mana is magical energy, right?" He looked to Lex for confirmation.
"Simplistic but essentially correct."
"Ahem!" Hannah broke in, looking owlish. "Now that we've established that, what about this Mental Matrix thingy?"
Lex appeared to ponder briefly. "For Matrix, substitute Machine. Imagine a device crafted to exacting specifications out of crystallized thought and designed to do one thing only, consuming itself in the process. That is a matrix. I have learned quite a repertoire of such matrixes and at any given time I have a certain number of them stored away in my head, filled with mana and ready to use. If I need to, I can always break one or more down and build new ones to take their place."
"Say I accept any of this malarkey," Hannah said, glowering. "What does Soft Landing do?"
"Oh, I know, I know!" Gloria volunteered, getting into the spirit of things. "It kept you from breaking every bone in your body when you hit the dumpster at ramming speed."
"Exactly!" Lex agreed, then turned back to Hannah. "And before you ask, the spell transferred all kinetic energy from me to the metal bin I hit. Thus it, rather than I, absorbed the impact."
Nate grinned, "There you go, H! It's basic physics."
Hannah exploded. "No its not! It's poppycock! It's as far from basic physics as Mercury is from Pluto!"
"Nate," Lex said, "why don't you show me where to put the food and then we can wash the dishes while the ladies take it easy?"
Nate, for the first time in memory, leapt to his feet eager to help, leaving her looking furiously at her eggs as if expecting to find some answer there.
"Hey, can you teach me to –" Nate began.
"Why not?" Nate whined, as he loaded plates in the dishwasher.
"First of all," Lex explained, showing more patience than Hannah though she would have, "it is against the rules. I am not sufficiently adept and knowledgeable, and more important, I am not licensed to teach."
"I won't tell anyone —"
"Second," Lex continued as if Nate had not spoken, "even were I permitted to teach you, it would take many, many years."
"How about just something simple?" Nate persisted. Clearly he did not understand the concept of no, but that was Nate all over.
"Many, manyyears. I was not born knowing how to cast spells. Only one Wer-"
"You've used that word before," Gloria interrupted. "Wer... is that what your people call humans?"
Lex blinked, "Well... yes and no. All Wer or Weren are Human, as are all fully sentient mortals. Elves, Dwarves, Dolphins, Wyrd, Orku... essentially anything that can think for itself and isn't ammortal, like a Faerie or Deamon, or immortal, like a Dragon or Godling." He paused, "You're the only sentient race on the planet, aren't you?"
Hannah nodded, "Well, the only sapient one. We do have Dolphins and a few other species that might be sentient, but not to our level. Makes sense, I guess, that your definition of Human and ours are a little different."
Lex took a sip of coffee, pondering that for a moment, then continued his previous thought. "As I was saying, only one Wer in five has the potential to learn any kind of magic, and not all do. I had to learn everything, and that took time and patience and a lot of practice. I spent one year just learning how to breathe correctly."
"No way!" Nate was clearly crestfallen.
"Correct breathing is a prerequisite for proper meditation, and meditation is key to magic of any sort," Lex explained patiently. "Wizardry is a matter of mental discipline. You must rearrange your mind to use magic, because it is not natural. In some ways magic is the most unnatural thing in the universe. If I were to drop this dish, what would happen?"
"It would fall to the floor," Hannah called out. "Gravity."
"Exactly," said Lex. "To keep it from falling, I must counter gravity as far as the plate is concerned. To do that, I have to make my mind, my willpower, stronger than the pull of the earth. How do you make your body stronger, so you can lift heavy objects?"
"Exercise, I guess," Nate answered.
"Magic requires that you exercise your brain, and the brain left to itself is a real… What is the word? Ah, yes. Barkalounger."
"What?" Gloria interjected.
"Barkalounger," Lex repeated. "You know, a really lazy person."
"You're kidding," Hannah scoffed. "Is that what it really means in your language?"
"In the language of the Tazyr," Lex reminded her peevishly. "Does it mean something different here?"
Gloria pondered for a few seconds. "Come to think of it, no."
"Go on," Nate urged.
Gloria broke in. "Enough Q&A. What do you two have on your agendas?"
"I'm meeting Marcy and we're going to the library," Hannah replied.
"Jerry's mom was going to take us to New London to the comics shop," Nate said. "But I'd rather just stay here and talk to Lex."
"No, you wouldn't," Gloria said sternly. "Lex needs to do some stuff and probably should take things easy. He's had a rough time of it. And I have to go to the bar early. I have a lot of calls to make. I'm short one bartender and have no singer for the weekend."
Lex looked at her, then – without a word – walked over to the couch and picked up a strange musical instrument. He plucked at the strings and began to sing:"Qav'ai Brudo begar saim eyrah, Tar ahu jan ya teusi, Sharsharat rilvi benetat, Tar sah tel adeqwa devra."*
He had a marvelous
singing voice, and he coaxed impossibly beautiful sounds from the
instrument. Hannah could not understand
the words, but their meaning somehow shone through. She pictured row upon row of soldiers,
awaiting the command that would send them rushing across a wide expanse of open
fields towards a great and terrible foe.
She recalled a time when she was seven years old and her father had
taken them to see the Boston Pops' annual Fourth of July concert. The show had culminated with the 1812
Overture and, as cannons roared and fireworks blossomed in the night sky above
the Charles River, the music had taken her away to a place that was filled with
wonder and grandeur and, yes, magic. All
at once, she was a little girl again, holding her father's hand, transported by
a wave of melody that held her in willing thrall. Reluctantly, she put the feeling aside.
Lex stopped playing
and looked at Gloria for her reaction.
"You're hired," she said.
"Do you know any songs in English?" Hannah asked. "That was outstanding, but people in bars want to hear songs they know the words to so they can sing along off-key, you know?"
"True," Gloria admitted. "People don't hang around in places like Gilda's to hear concerts. They want entertainment that goes well with beer and pretzels. What can you sing in our language?"
Lex stroked his chin. "I know quite a few songs in Ganta, but I doubt your patrons share the same tastes as the Tazyr. Most of their popular songs are about one of two things, and the first is not suitable for children."
"Really?" Nate perked up. "Like what? Give us an example."
"I think we can guess, Nate," Gloria said, dryly. "What's the other type of song they like?"
"I can give you a sample of that easily enough." Lex adjusted the tuning and the music that came out sounded entirely different than before. He sang,
"Hammers and chisels
And axes and hacksaws,
Jigsaws and ripsaws
And handsaws and backsaws,
Wrenches and pliers
And wires on spools –
These are a few of
My favorite tools."
Hannah and Gloria laughed uproariously, so loudly that Lex stopped playing. "You find it humorous?" he asked in some puzzlement. "Will it amuse the crowd?"
"I don't get it," Nate complained.
Gloria caught her breath. "It might amuse them, but a little of that goes a long way. Dwarves are big on songs about hardware?"
"They are passionate about it. They have over 400 varieties of hammer alone."
"Most people here prefer familiar songs about cheating hearts, obsessive love, dysfunctional families, and personal trauma," Hannah informed.
"I know a few of those, " Lex said. "I could translate them."
"And I can play him some of my mp3's," Nate offered enthusiastically. "I have thousands!" he told Lex with pride.
"I'm sure he doesn't know what an mp3 is, Beefy," Hannah sneered at her brother. "That's a way of recording music, Lex," she explained.
"I would gladly listen to your favorite songs, Nate. I have some small skill at learning new music."
Gloria stood. "You and Lex talk about that by yourselves," she said. "I'm gonna try to catch a few Z's before I go in. With one thing and another, I didn’t get much sleep last night; I could use a nap. Lex, would you care to join me for lunch at Gilda's? You can check out the place and the sound system; meet the staff."
"I would be honored to join you for luncheon."
"Can I come, too?" Nate begged.
"No!" Gloria headed towards the stairs, talking as she went. "I don't have to tell you that Lex's secret has to remain among the four of us, do I?" They both shook their heads. "Good. Hannah, if I'm not up by eleven, wake me. And Nate? No magic."
* "The morning sun burned through the fog, And there before my eyes, A hundred thousand soldiers stood, And none of them afraid."