"Bloody Sunday-afternooners," cursed the boss.
Even after a year in training, I still couldn't quite come to terms with the tension that could be stretched across such a serene place. The convergence was in a beautiful spot, a water-meadow just outside Hoarwithy and right beside the River Wye. Trees on three sides sheltered it from the elements. On the fourth flowed the river, turbulent but silent, with a sparse willow coppice on the far bank. So peacefully idyllic, it should have been, but instead, as on so many Sunday afternoons, it was gaining a reckless edge.
"I can't stand those hats," said the boss irritably. His feet fidgeted. A sure sign of trouble on its way.
I tried to calm him. "It's just a fashion."
To the right, as we viewed it, stood the wizards. All the young wizards in training from forty miles around. And of course they were all wearing the latest style. Yes, those tall pointy hats with coloured stars on. And to the left, on the other side of the power centre, were the young witches, in similar headgear, theirs minus stars but instead bent slightly crooked in rebellion.
Where they met, the two sexes mixed. Little knots of people stood and gabbed and rhubarbed. A party buzz. A slightly dangerous one.
Other revellers rested on the little fallen monoliths scattered around the field. There were so many of these at the power centre itself that they formed a jagged pile. My boss and I watched as a young man climbed the mound, drew out his wand and cast his spell into the sky. A dragon appeared, floating in mid-air. But it wasn't a very good dragon. You could look through it and see clouds behind. It tried to breathe fire but wheezed instead.
"Time was," recalled the boss, "with a wand half that size you could get a whole bloody flock of dragons and put most of the forest to flame."
"Yeah," I agreed, though of course I knew nothing of those days. The boss was twice my age and it seemed to me, in my innocence, it would always be that way. But I could remember the convergence being much stronger. Only a few days ago I'd tried for a troll and finished up with an elf.
"Same wherever you go." The boss shook his head. "The MysticNet's so weak I don't think it will survive."
"Mmmm," I mumbled.
He motioned at the crowd. "It's all these idiots."
Another young man had taken the place of the first. This one used his wand to drag a fireball around the sky, like a clever kite. Unfortunately, it wasn't a good fireball. The first time it hit some low cloud; puff! Out it went.
"It's all that kind of stuff that does it," continued the boss. "I mean. He didn't need that fireball, did he? Just wasteful. Now the MysticNet's another thousand units down."
"But surely it'll recharge."
"No it won't. We just assume that, but it's not true. You've seen for yourself it's getting weaker every day."
My turn to shuffle my feet. "Hmmm. But it's not illegal to use it like that."
"No. Just stupid, that's all."
One of the witches was trying out a friend's broomstick. She launched herself from the central pile and made about ten yards before ploughing into the ground. Her friends applauded and gathered round to administer first aid.
"Look at that," said the boss. "Can't even glide one of those things nowadays."
"Was that broomstick regulation size?"
"Well I... I tend to turn a blind eye to that. I mean... it's a bit tough on the witches having to walk everywhere. I try to let them have some fun."
I smiled. It's nice to work for a man of compassion.
"But talking of regulation size," started the boss. He was readying himself for action. I could tell. "Look at young Smithers over there." He nodded in the general direction. "What's he showing everybody so secretively?"
I hadn't noticed. But I did now. Smithers, who'd always been a bad 'un, and who even now was wearing his pointy hat at a ludicrously rakish angle, had a little pack of the worst around him, and was giving them glimpses of something underneath his gown. And nobody was giggling, so it couldn't have been what I was first thinking.
"Let's take a look," said the boss. We made a beeline through the crowds, or rather I did. "Put the bloody beeline away," said the boss. "Do you want everybody to know what we're up to?"
It wasn't a very good beeline anyway.
At first the crowd tried to ignore us, but as we got closer to Smithers the hubbub stilled. This was going to be troublesome. Suddenly the knot surrounding the villain unravelled and he faced us. In a flash, he drew. Oh Sol. It was the most impressive I'd ever seen. There was a dab of gold at the end and a few notches down the side. Nothing unusual there. But at almost three feet long it was twice the regulation size.
"Sod off, old man," said Smithers. "And take the flunky with you."
How dare he! I was promoted from flunky five weeks ago. I'm a proper sidekick now.
"Now then, Smithers," began the boss, calmly. "Don't do anything hasty. Just give me the wand." He held out his palm. "You know it's over regulation size. You can't flaunt the MysticNet conservation laws.
"Well what are you going to do about it, old man?" Smithers waved the wand menacingly.
The boss fixed his gaze on Smithers' eyes and took a step forward. Smithers called down a giant explosive fireball. Bang! And the boss was gone. Smithers then pointed the wand at me.
"Oh Sol!"I hadn't been expecting things to turn out this way. "Oh Sol."
"Say; I am a pathetic flunky," said Smithers.
"I am a pathetic flunky," I repeated, as fast as I could.
"Good," said Smithers, and that was the last word he said before the boss landed on top of him, unless "Ooof!" counts.
"Sorry about that." The boss picked himself off the flattened body, casually taking the illegal wand from Smithers' hand as he rose. "Nice soft landing though."
Smithers, still conscious but with all the breath taken out of him, looked up in defeat.
"Now." The boss scratched his chin. "Punishment. Let's see. That's ownership of an offensive weapon, threatening behaviour, attempted murder and insulting a sidekick. I make that... two thousand years, close enough." Smithers groaned. The boss pointed his own regulation wand at Smithers and clunk! - with a noise half way between a crack and something closing, our field suddenly had one more of those small stone monoliths lying on its side. The buzz of conversation gradually picked up again. The boss and I sat on the new addition.
"So when will he come back?" I asked my wonderful mentor.
"Let's see," he pondered. "Two thousand years... that's er, one and nine, carry over two... er, 2001. That is..." Carefully he wiped his wand on a corner of his gown. "That is, provided the MysticNet lasts that long."
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Copyright Andrew Starling 2000 www.foxglove.co.uk