A Question of Mastery

The Never Ending Quest - Episode 6275

As they climbed the hill-side and left the forest further behind, Fred brooded about his sword, Nelheth-Mord (for he assumed that the larger runes denoted the weapon's name). White magic was one thing, though even that was not wholly trusted by his people. The defensive spell on his Flamebane Mail was, it seemed to him, clearly a piece of white magic. But the sword he had acquired from the dragon's hoard, without thinking to examine it closely at the time, now seemed to him to positively reek of black magic. The people of the Great Kingdom had always feared such magic.

The Kingdom had created a single order for magic users which it used to control mages: the Order of the White Hand. All mages within the Kingdom had to be licensed by the Order, convincing it that they could be trusted to practise only white magic. Any mage who attempted spellcasting when unlicensed would be banished - or worse. Many an old crone, most no doubt innocent victims of malicious rumour and gossip, had been burnt at the stake as a result of the people's fear of what unlicensed magic practitioners might be up to. (Somehow, it almost always seemed to be women rather than men who were burnt, even though mages could be of either sex and in fact most licensed mages were men.)

Fred came to a decision. He would rather be weaponless than rely on such a blade. He drew the sword from its scabbard, startling Dokken and Lem, who wondered if he was about to attack them. Their hands went to their axes. Then Fred threw the sword as far away from him as he could. Or rather, that was what he intended to do, for his fingers refused to let go of the hilt. The momentum he had given the heavy sword almost pulled his arm from its socket. He let out a howl of mingled pain and frustration, receiving another startled look from the dwarves. Then, accepting that he could not get rid of the blade, he returned it to its scabbard. Did he own the sword, or did it own him?

Had he been less befuddled by the strange events of recent days, combined with having had little sleep, it would have occurred to him to unstrap his sword-belt and simply drop belt, scabbard and sword. Perhaps the sword might have been able to prevent that too. At any event, he did not think of it.

"What was all that about?" asked Lem. "I was trying to get rid of my sword, but it won't let me," said Fred. "But why should you want to? It saved our lives. We dwarves may distrust magic, but we are pragmatists, and I can't see one of us trying to get rid of what had just saved him." Dokken glowered. Perhaps he did not altogether agree. "Maybe not," was all Fred said in reply. He felt that just for once he would have liked to have felt in control, even in such a comparatively minor thing as disposing of his sword. It seemed that ever since his quest had begun he had been under the control of others, rather than having any opportunities to shape events to his will, as a knight on a quest should. First he had had to dance to Minestus's tune, then to Rift's, then to the bandits' and finally to Tarin's.

  1. The sky began to lighten in the east as dawn approached.

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12/18/1999 1:54:41 PM

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