They led Mayfly round to the barn and Mordi assembled a stall for him apologising for the fact that there were no stables since they didn’t keep horses. Arric was following Mordi back to the house when a strange and very muddy creature ran out of the trees and halted at the sight of them. Mordi bent forwards and slapped his hands on his knees
“Timmikins, good boy! Come to Papa!” The animal gave a squeaky grunt and bounded towards them with its snout waving. It planted its front paws on Mordi’s knees leaving big muddy paw marks. Mordi cuddled the animal while yelling “Hueee! I’ve got him.”
A few moments later an equally muddy and dishevelled Sir Hugo appeared. “He ran through the pond. I almost got him but I tripped. I’ll get him cleaned up. He produced a lead which he clipped to Timmikin’s collar. “Come on you little rascal. You can have ant pie not that you deserve it.” Sir Hugo headed back into the trees with Timmikin trotting happily beside him. Mordi waved a hand and his dress became spotless again. He started back to the house and Arric hastened after him,
“Um Mordi what sort of animal is that?”
Mordi turned “Timmy’s a racing aardvark.” He scowled “Or he would be if the ARA hadn’t ‘clarified’ the rules to exclude him.”
“Aardvark Racing Association. They decided that to qualify under the rules racing aardvarks must have a maximum of four legs. Timmy’s pretty fast for an aardvark. Knocked ten seconds off the furlong record on his first attempt. We’d have won everything in sight so to stop us they changed the rules though they called it ‘clarifying’.”
“Is six legs really an advantage? I’d have thought the extra legs would get in the way.”
“No, no. They’re trotting races so legs on each side work in tandem.” Seeing Arric looked a bit confused Mordi proceeded to demonstrate. He bent over at the waist and flung his left arm forward in an exaggerated motion as his left foot also stepped forward then he repeated this on the right side. Arric watched him lurching down the path and try as hard as he could he couldn’t stop himself from bursting into laughter. Mordi straightened up and grinned
“Well it isn’t a natural gait for humans! Come on I’ll show you your room and then I expect you’d like something to eat.”
Mordi opened the door on the most luxurious bedroom Arric had ever seen. He tried not to stare but when Mordi opened another door that led to a room with a bath tub with plumbing Arric gave up the struggle to look as though this was normal for him and simply gaped.
“Would you like a bath? Get rid of the travel dust?” Arric hesitated, he didn’t want to keep the wizards waiting. Mordi solved the problem for him “Don’t worry about time, we don’t keep set hours for anything. Hugo’s going to need a bath himself once he’s finished giving Timmy his.”
“Oh, in that case I will. Thank you.”
“I’ll run it and heat the water for you.”
“It’s all right I can heat the water myself.”
“Oh, are you a wizard?”
Arric sighed “No I’m not apprenticed I’m trying to teach myself. I’m slowly getting there.”
“Hmm it would be better to be an apprentice. I started out teaching myself but I came on by leaps and bounds once I became Hugo’s apprentice.”
“Are you really still Sir Hugo’s apprentice?
Mordi chuckled “No, haven’t been for over forty years. Just never left. Should have set up in my own right but you know how it is.” Mordi smiled reminiscently. “After seven years I couldn’t imagine being with anyone else and neither could he so we just carried on as we were. Right” he said returning to business “twist the lever for water. Once you’ve finished pull the plug. There’s towels and stuff. Take your time and relax.”
When Arric came downstairs there was no sign of anyone. He wondered where he was supposed to go. There were four doors and a passageway. One of the doors opened and Sir Hugo called out “In here Arric.”
Arric found Sir Hugo now clad in a wizard’s robe of the pink, sparkly variety that Arric hadn’t previously come across. His hosts seemed to be fond of pink. He was surprised the sign board hadn’t sparkled. Sir Hugo beamed at him and held out a glass of wine
“Mordi settled you in all right?” Arric nodded “Good. Tells me you’re trying to teach yourself to be a wizard.”
Sir Hugo plumped up the cushions on the couch and indicated to Arric he should sit down. He then flopped into the armchair opposite.
“So where and what have you been studying?”
“ I go to the library in Whitecastle once a week. I started with Basic Spells for Beginners, Fundamentals of Magic by Redfern and Rich, and Herbs and Potions for Health by Alice Lackland. Then Blaise brought me the two volume Dowson on Healing, Principles of Spell Construction by March Liddle, and the Ethics of Magic by Mordecai Rich.”
Sir Hugo nodded “Good choices Arric. All books I’d recommend even if I did co-author one of them myself.”
Mordi came in and Sir Hugo grinned at him
“Arric’s read one of your books Mordi.”
“Oh really which one? Diet and exercise regimes for the racing aardvark? Smokable herbs their cultivation and...”
Sir Hugo cut across him “No, no, Mordi the boy’s studying magic. He’s read our book and the one you wrote on ethics.”
“You’re Mordecai Rich?” Arric squeaked. Even in the wilds of Borland people had heard of Mordecai Rich after all he’d rebuilt the famous hanging bridge across the gorge of Kemorn when everyone said it was impossible after the dragon Wymertal had destroyed it. Not only that he’d distributed the exorbitant fee he extracted from the Duke of Borland to the country’s poor.
Mordi nodded “Yes. So you’ve read the ethics? I was very young when I wrote that; it’s a bit pompous and convoluted.” He chuckled “I’d make it a lot simpler these days. As in ‘killing people is wrong unless they are Vincent Asgreen’. Food is ready.”
They ate in the kitchen which was big and homely. Timmy who was now clean but not sparkly was asleep in his basket and wearing, unsurprisingly, a pink coat. Once the food was dished up Sir Hugo said
“Now while we’re eating you tell us what brings you to our hidey hole and what we can do to help the prince.”
Arric recounted everything from his abrupt departure from home right up to the disaster of Blaise being told he had to marry Lady Letitia. Since it was clear that Sir Hugo and Mordi were of the same persuasion as himself and Blaise he didn’t conceal their plans to be together and Blaise’s idea for him to be Chamberlain when he finally became King. The others had listened without interrupting and now as he sighed and finished with “Blaise’s new plan is we run away together but Count Asgreen would have me on toast for breakfast so that’s why I’m here. We, but especially Blaise, need help urgently since the wedding is to take place in a month.”
Sir Hugo scowled “This wedding is to stop Blaise becoming King. We need a way of concealing his escape. Preferably until after the wedding. That needs a substitution.”
“Mouseman.” Mordi responded promptly.
“But can Arric handle the spells?” Sir Hugo sounded doubtful.
“We’ll teach him and we’ve some very experienced rodents.”
“Experienced rodents?” Arric asked.
Sir Hugo nodded “You’d be amazed how many people ask us for temporary coachmen or footmen or maids. They want to make a splash but it’s much cheaper to get us to provide a couple of dozen prop servants than to hire real ones. So we have a team of mice and rats that are very used to being spelled into humans. Difficulty with this one is it’s going to be a speaking part.”
Mordi nodded “I think it will have to be Smitty. He’s a clever rat. He does lines.”
“He is also devious, temperamental and he has a tendency to adlib.”
“Exactly he’ll be perfect.”
“I see your point but he’ll be difficult. Arric needs to be able to control him.”
“I’ve never done anything like that. The only transformation spells I’ve studied are very basic things like making the ale top quality.”
Mordi said “I assume you haven’t got a carpet since you came on a horse.”
Arric shook his head. “I’ve never used one.”
“No problem we’ll teach you that and the transformation spells you need. Shouldn’t take more than a couple of weeks.”
“I have to get Mayfly back by next week.”
“I’ll take you in the horse box. Only an hour by carpet. Better than two days eh?” Mordi said cheerfully. Arric nodded fervently.
The rest of the evening was spent undergoing a very thorough examination of his abilities to see how much they’d have to teach him. He fell into bed and didn’t wake until Sir Hugo banged on his door to tell him breakfast was ready.