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To each there comes in their lifetime a special moment when they are figuratively tapped on the shoulder and offered the chance to do a very special thing, unique to them and fitted to their talents. What a tragedy if that moment finds them unprepared or unqualified for that which could have been their finest hour.

 - Winston Churchill

Chapter Three


            Having no idea of where else to go, Margaret ran to the sprawling residence of The Sage. It had been a while since she had last come to this place. She found the entrance to be unlocked, and quickly ducked inside. Even after an extended absence, the old man seemed unsurprised to see her. It was as if she had just visited a day or two ago.

            The Sage looked up at her from a manuscript he had been reading while seated at the worktable of his great hall. Smiling, he announced, “It is so nice to have you back here, princess. I must admit that your presence has always added greatly to my waning interest in life.”

            The familiar surroundings served to calm Margaret a bit, and to take the edge off of her fear. The Sage had not changed noticeably since their last talk. The room looked, felt, and even seemed to smell the same. The worktable may have held the same books – or at least some of the same books. As always, the place was well lit, though it was dark outside, and no candles seemed to be burning.

            A loud pounding shook the front door. A gruff voice demanded, “Open at once, in the name of the king!”

            Margaret looked at The Sage desperately. He was no fighting man, and his house was not a fortress, yet she had sought him out in the belief that he was somehow able to protect her. She looked to the windows, the floor and even the vaulted ceiling for a means of escape. Finding none, she stood frozen in the middle of the great hall.

            Again, the pounding at the door, more insistent this time.

            Irritated, The Sage rose from his seat and wandered over to the door. “Hold on, then. I am not a young man any more, as you all well know.” He shouted.

            “Stand where you are, and do not move – heed me well!” he ordered Margaret.

            Standing in the middle of the room, she watched The Sage go to the door, unfasten the several bolts, and open it to the soldiers who had come to take her. Briefly she worried. The Sage was no perfect man, as she well knew. Presumably he was no stranger to the greed and fear that often seemed to motivate people. Perhaps he had sold her out, or was to turn her over out of fear. Her misgivings were confirmed when he invited a small troop – three soldiers and their officer – to enter and search.

            She stood stock-still and staring in fear. They would have her now. The sense of betrayal was far stronger than the fear. The Sage was the one man that she thought she could trust, a man who had nurtured her and known her all of her life. When even her own father sought her destruction, The Sage had seemed to be her refuge.

            Even now, her mind was contemptuous of the soldiers. She was standing in the middle of the room and could hardly have been missed, yet they still methodically searched closets, cupboards, and cabinet’s – slaves to orders and procedures as always. Eventually, they got to her. The officer advanced upon her, grasped her by the shoulders, and moved her aside. He then opened a hamper behind where she had stood, and searched it. Having finished, he once more grasped her by the shoulders and moved her back to her original spot.

            The troop passed her and continued on, searching the rest of the great hall before moving on to the rest of the house. For the better part of an hour, she heard the various thumps, crashes and clatters that indicated a thorough and violent rummaging of the house.

            Finally the men came back into the great hall. They were covered with dirt, and a bit disheveled from their efforts. Coming upon The Sage, the officer of the troop warned him, “If she should come here, you must advise us at once. There will be a reward for any aid tendered, and a very severe punishment should you conceal her from us.”

            The Sage nodded in understanding, and answered, “Should I see her outside, I will refuse her entry, and immediately call out an alarm.”

            The officer nodded in approval, and led his men outside. The sage then bolted the door, and turned to look at his guest.

            Knowing that The Sage never did anything without thought and purpose, Margaret commented, “An interesting way to phrase your response. You took care to avoid lying, while at the same time withholding any useful information.”

            The Sage nodded and replied, “I have certain protections and liberties, provided I always speak the truth and always hold to my word. It also clarifies my mind for my studies and for certain work that I am advancing. Nothing twists, clutters, and interferes with the workings of the mind as much as the habit of lying. The whole of the mental apparatus is opposed to it. Of course, this means that once you leave this house, you must not attempt to return. Doubtless, there will be a watch on the house; but they will not come back, as long as they see nothing suspicious. You are safe for now.”

            “What can I do?” she asked.

            “You once made a brash promise to change the facts and thus alter the truth. You hoped to become a great scholar and a great queen who ruled her kingdom like a king. You have now been given the gift of a curse to force you to pursue that which you most desire.” The Sage replied.

            “I hardly know where to start. Certainly I am no heir to my father’s kingdom.” She said.

            “You may need to find another kingdom then, or perhaps make one of your own.” He replied.

            “Sage, you must help me.” She said desperately.

            “I am an old man. I no longer go off on quests, or wish to expose myself to adventures.” He said.

            “Give me magical aid then.” She insisted.

            The Sage replied, “So what is it that you wish from me? Should I provide a flying carpet, or perhaps a crystal ball to see into the future? How about a magic mirror? Maybe you want a good luck charm, or a cloak to turn you invisible. These kinds of things, they don’t exist – at least not in the sense that you think of.”

            “Sage, please, you must teach me then.” she implored.

            “But I have taught you.”

            “You must teach me magic, wizardry and all of the dark arts.” she said grimly.

            The sage laughed and shook his head “Whatever gave you the idea that I posses such powers or have such knowledge? I am a man of learning.”

            Looking at him closely, she said, “The men could not see me, and there are other things I remember over the years.”

            He responded, “Like many others of your acquaintance, they saw you just fine, they just didn’t appreciate you for what you are. Still, you may be correct. There might be some bits of knowledge I possess which may be of help to you. I know bits of the old science and philosophy, as well as some crafts from the old times. These are useful arts, and may offer you some profit.”

       “I am talking about real magic, the ordering of elementals, demons, gods, and various spirits.” she explained.

            “Oh, that.” replied The Sage derisively.

            The Sage explained “The various entities that represent themselves as gods are not amenable to being controlled or ordered about. At any rate, most are not true gods, but tend to be demons or some other sort of spirit presuming to godhood. The Christian God does not involve himself in such things and is very disapproving of magic and conjuring. This is largely because most of the agents involved in such things are at odds with him, even to the extent of being in opposition to much of what he stands for. If you want to involve yourself with God, go to church and live a simple life.”

            “Demons then.” she insisted hopefully.

            “Demons are, at best, unsympathetic. More often they are malevolent to a degree that most humans cannot fathom. They live only for hate, and for the opportunity to do harm and spread misery. This is an outlook shared by those who serve them – but even these are not well served by the deals they make. Those who show too much interest in the subject rarely come to a good end.”

            “What of elementals or other agents?” she asked.

            “I have known few men able to control elementals, and have little idea as to their true nature. They were originally perceived as intelligent manifestations of elemental forces of nature. I suspect that it is more a matter of the human will ordering natural forces, than of the forces attaining a will of their own, but I am no expert in this particular craft.”

            “You speak at great length, on subjects of which you claim little knowledge.” said The Princess dryly.

            “I have some knowledge of such matters. This hardly qualifies as expertise.” answered The Sage.

            “There must be something you can teach me, some aid you can give.” she cried.

            The Sage looked down a moment, almost sadly, and then answered, “There was a time when men had great power, wealth, and security. They achieved. They discovered. They mastered all that they saw – everything except themselves. Then it ended. Today, we look upon much of this with awe and superstition; but they were merely men. Today we make gods and legends of them.”

            “You speak of the power of the Romans, and Greeks.” said Margaret.

            The Sage shook his head; “I speak of something older and far more powerful, which has been lost to us.”

            “I have heard stories, and legends;” said Margaret “but never took them very seriously.”

            The Sage explained, “I am one of the last remaining members of a once powerful people. It may even be that I am the last of all. We called ourselves The Free Men, because in the distant past we had rid ourselves of a great dictator. I know these things only from stories my parents told me. The glory days of The Free Men ended long before my birth.

            “The Free Men were a great and powerful people. Sadly they were not greater than their faults, which were great indeed. The civilization splintered, and collapsed, as men sought their own advantage and own interests, to the exclusion of all else. Eventually, the various splinters went to war with each other, to the mutual destruction of all.

            “Those few who remained, sought escape by fleeing to the darkest and most remote places. My parents fled across the mountains and came here. Some small part of our knowledge was preserved; but every year it grows a bit smaller, as the numbers of those who survive and remember diminish. Soon it will all be gone, as if it never was.”

            Margaret insisted “Teach me then. Preserve the knowledge. Maybe it can help us both.”

            With a sigh, The Sage said, “As always, I can deny you nothing. I shall take you on as a student – an apprentice of sorts. We shall study together for one year. Then you must leave to make what you can of destiny.”

            “Sage, may I ask one last question?”


            “How old are you?”

            The man pondered a moment, and finally answered, “I celebrated my eight hundredth birthday three years before the birth of your father.”