One thing nice about writing a rough draft and then going back to re-work it, is that you get the perspective of time-distance. I like this scene, but there's a couple of things that I intend to change about it, and I look forward to doing so. Until then, you get to enjoy the rough draft version. :-)
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The next day, they arrived at the professor’s office shortly after breaking their fast. Balfrith carried Branulf uncovered, slung in its baldric over one shoulder. Approaching the door, they found it slightly ajar, and pushed it further open to step in. Ducca was already there, and it appeared that he was just finishing some preparations, for he said, “Ah, good morning to you both! Please take a seat, I am almost ready.”
Balfrith and Eldamir sat in the same chairs as they had the previous day, and Ducca went about the room, picking up several books, as well as a few other odds and ends that Balfrith didn’t recognize, and putting them into a satchel that he had slung from his shoulder. Finally he turned back to them, nodded, and said, “Alright then, I’m ready - let us go.”
Leading them out of his office, Ducca turned back and closed the door, locking it, before preceding them through a branching hall and then down some stairs, before finally approaching a closed door at the end of another hall. Pulling a key from his satchel, he opened the door, and led them in.
Balfrith was amazed at what he saw inside. There were shelves upon shelves of books and scrolls, so many that Balfrith wondered why Ducca had brought even more with him this morning. In addition, there were several long tables with glass and metal apparatuses that Balfrith didn’t recognize - he assumed they were some sort of magical implements.
Setting his satchel on the closest table, Ducca turned to Balfrith and said, “Please remove the sword from its scabbard, and lay it here on the table.” Balfrith did as he was asked, and waited as Ducca emptied the satchel onto the table. The books were set in a small stack off to the side, and the other items - still unrecognizable to Balfrith - were clustered together.
The professor took two of the small objects, set them about three feet apart, and Balfrith realized that they were small stands. Sure enough, immediately after that, Ducca lifted the sword and laid it on top of them, so that one stand was under the grip, and the other was out near the blade tip. The sword now rested a few inches above the surface of the table.
Taking five more of the small metallic objects, different than the previous ones, Ducca set them at evenly-spaced points surrounding the sword: one at the blade tip, two on either side of the pommel, and the other two about a third of the distance between the blade tip and the hilt, set further away than the two near the pommel, so that they were laid out in a pentagonal shape surrounding Branulf. These objects were pyramidal in shape, and had some sort of glass jewels at their peaks.
Ducca set one last object, a lens of some sort Balfrith thought, a few inches away from the pyramid nearest the blade tip. Finally, he set a small candle next to the lens.
Eldamir interrupted his preparations, “Professor, what are these implements, and what are you planning to do with them - if I may ask?”
Ducca said, “These, my Elefdar friend, are the foci of a spell which I’m about to cast. One which will hopefully give us some indication of whether there is any enchantment upon the sword, and if so, what kind. Now, if you don’t mind, I need you to remain silent while I complete my preparations for the spell, and also during the casting of the spell itself.”
Balfrith, growing excited at the prospect of seeing real magic, said, “How will we know when the spell is cast? Will there be a flash of light, or a cloud of smoke, or something?”
Ducca smiled, “Nothing quite so crude, I’m afraid, master Balfrith. There will be a light, however, and it will fade when the spell is complete. But after it fades, wait for me to speak first, for it may take me some time to come out of the trance. Now, please take a seat over there, and I will begin the spell. Remember, no interruptions.” He said the last while waggling a finger at Balfrith.
Balfrith and Eldamir sat on the chairs, which were set some distance back from the tables and other apparatuses, presumably to keep observers at a safe distance. But safe from what? thought Balfrith.
Ducca reached into his satchel and pulled out one last item, a scroll case made of bone and heavily engraved with unrecognizable symbols. Removing the stopper at one end, he gently pulled out the scroll within, setting the case aside and unrolling the parchment. Ducca scanned the text for some minutes, and Balfrith watched as his eyes flitted back and forth, from row to row. It looked like he was memorizing it, Balfrith thought.
Finally he sat the parchment aside, and it sprang back to its rolled-up state, having been encased that way for so long. Raising his hands, Ducca began to recite words in a language that Balfrith had never heard. Were they words of a magical tongue, or just another tongue of Men? he wondered. There were some that sounded like Elefdar, but he couldn’t be certain. Eldamir, too, watched closely, but he showed no reaction to the words.
Ducca spoke on, and with a gesture to the candle, it spontaneously burst into flame. Balfrith jumped, but the flash subsided quickly and all that was left was a small tongue of flame, burning steadily. The professor spoke again, waving his hands over the blade, and Balfrith saw a beam of light, like sunlight through a cloud, emanating from the lens and striking the nearest of the pyramids - the foci, Ducca had called them - surrounding the sword.
And then the light changed color, from soft yellow to warm red, as it passed from pyramid to pyramid, the jewels glowing with the same crimson color: Branulf was encircled by rays of reddish light. Balfrith continued watching, entranced, as the professor continued chanting in the strange tongue, passing his hands over the sword and swaying where he stood. His eyes were closed, Balfrith noticed, and yet he appeared to be watching a scene play out in the air above the sword.
After a few more minutes, Ducca stopped speaking. He passed his hands over the candle, and the flame puffed out as suddenly as it had appeared, taking the crimson beams of light with it. Balfrith caught the scent of brimstone, and wondered, What was that candle made of, anyway?
The professor stood, still swaying, eyes closed, saying nothing. Balfrith and Eldamir waited, as they had been instructed. After a few minutes, Ducca’s eyes opened, and he leaned forward on the table, resting his weight on his hands. Breathing deeply, he said, “That was… more taxing than I would have expected. Please give me a moment to clear my head.”
He continued breathing slowly, deeply, muttering something under his breath that Balfrith couldn’t quite catch. Was it another spell, maybe something to clear his mind?
Finally Ducca opened his eyes again, stood upright, and he smiled. “Ah, that is much better. Now, Balfrith, Eldamir, would you be so kind as to help me pick up my things? Balfrith, you may take the sword back as well. Then we will retire to my office, and I will tell you what I have seen.”
Balfrith said, “Can you at least give us a hint? The tension is killing me!”
Ducca smiled and replied, “Nay, master Balfrith, for my mind is not yet fully clear, and anyway I would not speak openly of what I have seen. We will have more privacy, and freedom to talk openly, in my chamber.” He continued packing away the implements of the spell: the candle, the lens, and the foci. After Balfrith lifted the sword away, Ducca also retrieved the small stands, and stuffed everything back into his satchel.
Eldamir was looking at the scroll, eyes open wide as he scanned the text, and Ducca said, “Can you read it, master Eldamir?”
Eldamir nodded slowly. “Indeed, though it is an ancient dialect, long dead. It is Shandollëan, is it not?”
“It is. Part of a larger codex that remains from the final days of the empire, before it collapsed.”
“But why not translate it to a modern tongue?” asked Eldamir.
Ducca shrugged and said, “I do not know the answer to that question, master Eldamir. For I have seen chronicles from that age translated into modern Common, and it seems to be not overly difficult for one who has studied the language long enough. But magical writings such as this scroll, or indeed anything having to do with the science of magic, are left in their original tongues, untranslated. I do not know why, as this is not my area of specialty. Perhaps, if you have time, you might ask one of the older lore-masters. If anyone knows the answer, I would think they do. And if not - well, perhaps no one does.” He grinned enigmatically then, and winked, showing that he wasn’t particularly serious about the last comment.
Having finished packing, Ducca led them back up the stairs and around the halls to his office once again. He laid the satchel upon a shelf, no doubt a temporary resting place until he could put everything back where it belonged, and sat behind his desk while Balfrith and Eldamir took their own seats.
After everyone was comfortable, Ducca said, “You want to know what I saw in the vision. But before I describe it, I should first tell you something of how the spell works. According to Man’s best knowledge, magic has several major roots of power. It’s not important for me to define them here, but suffice to say that each root has its own peculiar feel, and one can learn to discern between them, just as one can learn discern the scent of a rose from that of a lily.
“With enchantments, it isn’t always possible to feel the magic that is imbued within an object. But it is possible to use one kind of magic to try and locate, and discern, other kinds of magic. So in this case, I used a simple spell to discern magic within the area defined by the candle and the foci, where we had placed the sword.
“So now we come to it: what did I see? Or more accurately, what did I discern? And what I can say with certainty is, the sword Branulf is not enchanted by any magic known to Man. I have spent many years training myself to be sensitive to all forms of magic - this is required when studying enchantments, as you may have guessed, for one must first be able to discern and understand all different kinds of enchantments, before one can imbue them. And I tell you this: there is something about the sword, some special property or essence, that I can barely sense, as of something at the outer edge of my vision. But though I sense it, I do not understand it or discern its nature. I can only say that the sword is more than an inert piece of steel, yet it is not enchanted in the way that I would normally expect to see.
“And that is all I can say with any certainty. I am sorry, masters Balfrith and Eldamir, for I had hoped to serve you better. But know this: there is certainly something special about the sword, though I do not fully understand it. I have already said that we are not permitted to study curses, but still I expected that if there were such a thing on the sword, then it would be discernible as some sort of enchantment. And in this case, since I have found no evidence of any enchantment known to Man, then I also expect that there is no real curse upon the blade.”
Eldamir said, “Professor Ducca, I am somewhat familiar with the several roots of magic that you mentioned, but is it possible that there is some other magic, as yet unknown to Men, which might be responsible for the curse? For my own father declined to dismiss the idea of a curse on the blade, and if he, with long years of accumulated wisdom, allowed for such a possibility - should not we do the same?”
Ducca hemmed and hawed for a moment, before saying, “Well, of course I suppose anything is possible. Never let it be said that I’m not open to other possibilities! But according to Man’s best knowledge, and my ability to discern magic, I have found no enchantment known to Men upon the blade. If there is something else, something outside of our current lore, imbued within the sword… well, as I said, anything is possible.”
Ducca stood then, and Balfrith and Eldamir did as well. Balfrith said, “Professor, you have my thanks for your efforts in assisting us in this matter. Though you weren’t exactly able to find a curse, you were at least able to determine that if there is a curse, or indeed any kind of enchantment, upon the sword, it is something unknown to the arts of Men. And that may save us time in our further searching.”
Ducca replied, “Speaking of further search, stop by my office tomorrow morning, and I will give you a letter of recommendation to a colleague of mine at the School for Learned Studies in Sildara. Though I do not expect him to be able to discern any more than I have, it can’t hurt to have another person try, and he is equally knowledgeable in the area of enchantments and discernment as I am. And even if he is unable to help, he may have other ideas.”
Balfrith nodded and said, “Again, professor, you have my thanks. We shall stop by tomorrow morning after breakfast.”
They departed then, saying their goodbyes to the professor as he closed the door. Walking back to their own rooms, Balfrith said, “I suppose we should plan to depart tomorrow, after we meet with Ducca. There’s nothing holding us here, and I would be on a ship bound for Sildara sooner, than later.”
Eldamir agreed, saying, “Aye, it will be good to have the road under our feet again - and soon enough, the sea. I’ve not breathed the sea air in some time, and it calls to me even now.”
Balfrith could only nod, never having seen the sea. The great Kingfisher Bay was as close as he’d ever come, and while it was quite large - too wide to see the far shore - it still wasn’t the actual sea. But that would change soon.