King Sigisbert’s laugh echoed off the royal chamber’s walls, through the Great Hallway, up the stone staircase, winding around the turrets, and into each of Castle Eithne’s ninety-nine rooms.
The Queen, sitting in her own chamber, heard the King’s infectious laugh and laughed, too, as did her parrot.
Even the King’s assassin, who was at that moment, sharpening his battle-axe against a whetstone in the dungeon, joined in the King’s glee.
Morcant, the King’s sorcerer, however, did not laugh. He stood grim-faced, cheeks pale, hands trembling, eyes glassy, and lips blue. Morcant rolled his eyes at Leofwine, the Court Jester, who was now a self-proclaimed magician, whatever that was.
“Do it again!” the King commanded Leofwine.
Leofwine smiled and opened his purple satin satchel. A soft cooling wafted out of the opening. Leofwine retrieved a dove from the bag, which he cupped in his hands. He spun three times, uttering words in a language that neither the King nor Morcant nor anyone else in the chamber understood. He shut his eyes tight, held a deep breath, and released the dove. But instead of a single bird, three took flight.
The King rocketed laughter again for many minutes. When he could finally speak, Sigisbert said, "Show me a brand new magic."
Leofwine scratched his chin and surveyed the room. With deliberate drama, he paced the room's perimeter. When the King cleared his throat several minutes later, Leofwine declared, "I know what will entertain your majesty." Leofwine pulled an impossibly large, orange, wool blanket from his satchel, and in the blink of an eye, tossed it over Morcant.
The King leaned forward on his throne.
In one swift movement, Leofwine snatched a sword from one of the King’s guards and stabbed the blanket, piercing it through to the other side. Leofwine released the sword, which, along with the blanket, fell to the floor. There was no Morcant under the blanket.
The King gasped. “Where is my wizard?”
“I’m here, my Lord.” Morcant’s voice was soft and tentative, like a child hiding under a bed from a monster. “I’m behind you.”
The King looked back from his throne. His claps reverberated through the castle and into the surrounding forest.
“How did you do that, Leofwine? That’s amazing magic.”
“My Lord,” Morcant said. “Leofwine’s tricks are clever, but they’re just that. Tricks of the eye. Entertainment. They’re not sorcery.”
The King offered a wry smile. “Morcant, are you jealous?” He chuckled. “Of course, it’s sorcery. Leofwine is a wizard, just like you.”
Leofwine shot a wink at Morcant that the King did not see.
Mocant shook his head and muttered to himself.
“I am at your service,” Leofwin said to the King.
“My Lord,” Morcant blurted. “Leofwine may be clever, but he’s just a parlor tri—”
“Enough!” the King shouted. “Leofwine is a wizard.” The King motioned Leofwine to return to in front of the throne. “Let’s see more magic, wizard.”
Leofwin revealed a deck of red-backed playing cards. He fanned the cards, face down, and said, “Pick a card but don’t show it to me. Do show it to Morcant.” After the King and Morcant looked at the card, Leofwin told him to place it back in the deck face down. He then handed the deck to Morcant. “Put the cards in your pocket.”
Just then, one of the King’s servants entered the chamber with a bottle of mead. His wooden shoes clip-clopped as he approached the King. He bowed and said, “More refreshments, my Lord?”
“Yes, and another glass for Leofwin and Morcant, too. I think we’re celebrating a new sorcerer tonight.”
“What is it, Leofwin?” The King glared at his servant. “Is the mead poisoned?”
One of the King’s knights unsheathed his sword, rushed to where the servant stood, and pressed the sword's tip against the servant’s neck.
“No, my Lord. He’s no danger. But would the servant mind reaching into his left pocket before pouring us each a glass of mead?”
The King waved his hand at his servant and said, “Proceed.”
The knight returned to the King’s side.
The servant removed the Queen of clubs from his pocket. He held the card up.
The King gasped, as did Morcant. Not only was that the card the King chose, but the drawing of the Queen was a perfect likeness of Queen Annora, Sigisbert’s wife. “That’s amazing. Your magic is powerful.”
The fireplace crackled. Embers flew through the room like fireflies in a storm.
Morcant grimaced. Morcant towered over Leofwin by a head, but at that moment felt as small as a boy. He touched his wand and felt the prickling of its power, the vibrations between metal and flesh. He curled his fingers around the wand. I will cast a spell on Leofwin. I will reveal him for the trickster that he is. A sorcerer cannot cast a spell on another sorcerer, but Leofwin is no sorcerer. The King will know the truth.
As Morcant slowly withdrew his wand from under his robe, he thought about the best curse. Morcant smiled wryly as he imagined Leofwin as a wart-covered toad, croaking as he hopped from room to room, avoiding the underfoot of knights and handmaids. The spell for turning a man into a toad reverberated in Morcant’s brain. Lammella ja liljatyynyllä sekä auringonvalon ja keijupölyn kimalluksella muutan sinut rupikonnaksi. An easy spell with only three waves of the wand.
Morcant’s wand was halfway out from under his robe when the King asked, “What about Prince Harlow?” The King banged his ruby-topped staff against the floor. “He will invade, and soon. Whose magic can save the kingdom?”
“My Lord, sorcery only works on one person at a time, and that person must be close by.” Morcant bowed his head. “I cannot protect Castle Eithne from an entire invading army.”
“But I can hide ours,” Leofwin said. “I can make our knights appear invisible to Harlow’s army. We can attack, and they won’t see us coming. Victory will be King Sigisbert’s.”
“This has nothing to do with sorcery,” Morcant said.
“Perhaps not, but the age of sorcery is over. The age of magic has begun,” Leofwin said. "You and the wizards who came before you had a good run, but what I can do is even better. You manipulate matter, but I trick the mind."
Morcant’s lips quivered. His hands shook, and gray streaks shot through his blond hair. His legs wobbled, and a profound weakness filled his body. His back bent like he had turned one hundred years old. His conical, velvet hat with the moon, sun, and stars sewn into it turned to dust, which fell around his feet.
“I could use a magician’s assistant,” Leofwin said. “I offer you that, Morcant.”
Morcant cradled his wand in both hands. It no longer pulsed or shimmered or glowed. The wand was cold and stiff, like the corpse of a fallen branch in winter. The star points on the wand’s tip bent toward the floor. He tried to remember a spell that might put magic back in his wand, but could not. The wand slipped from his hand to the stone floor, shattering into a hundred shards.
“Come on, old man. Let’s start your training with card tricks.”
If you enjoyed The Last Wizard, I think you’ll also like my story, How to Slay a Monster.
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