“What are you hissing about?”
The lizzie pointed toward the foyer. Two men were standing there, their mouths hanging open. The sorceress looked down at herself. Her dressing gown had ridden up almost to her armpits, and with nothing on beneath it, it left almost everything below exposed. She stood up and pushed down the layers of Mirsannan silk. Then she snapped her fingers and she was once again attired in what so many referred to as her “scary sorceress clothes”—black leather bustier, with nothing over it, and a black pleated skirt short enough to leave quite a bit of exposed thigh between it and the tops of her leather knee-high boots.
“Get a good look, perverts?” she snarled. “Why are you here in my house?”
“We were invited for tea,” said one of the two, a bald man with a goatee.
“You were? Oh, you’re that sorcerer and his brother, the podiatrist.”
“Archaeologist,” corrected the man with a full head of hair and a mustache.
“Almost the same thing.”
“Not even remotely related,” he said.
“Thonass,” she said, turning to the lizzie. “Tell Cook three for tea.”
The lizzie hissed in reply and turned toward the dining room.
“Come in and have a seat,” said Senta, waving toward the furniture.
The two men approached cautiously. The man with the mustache took the chair that had earlier held Senta’s daughter, forcing his brother, the bald man with a goatee, to sit on the sofa with the sorceress. She sat at the other end, leaving an empty cushion between them.
“It’s Vern and Percy, right? Which one of you is the sorcerer?”
“It’s Karl and Willie,” said the man with the mustache: Karl, pointing to himself and his brother. “He’s the sorcerer.”
“She knows,” said Willie.
“I did, though I confess to having forgotten your names. So, what’s your story, gentlemen? Karl, you sound like a right proper Brech fellow, but your bother has a bit of an accent.”
“We were born in West Brumming, just north of Brech City,” said Karl. “I lived there until I went to university. When we were young, Willie was taken away.”
“My father took me to Bordonia,” said Willie, “for my safety. He took me to a woman there who taught me magic.”
“An enchantress. She practiced both sorcery and wizardry.”
“Interesting. What was her name?”
“I would prefer not to say,” said the sorcerer.
“Oh, come come,” said Senta. “It’s not like I go around killing other magic users, reducing them to a fine powder, and keeping their remains in snuff boxes in my library.”
“That sound like an awfully specific denial,” said Karl.
“I think tea is ready,” said Senta, noticing the lizzie in the doorway.
She stood up and led the two men past the foyer and into the dining room. The table was set, and the lizzie cook was delivering platters of food. Tiny egg salad sandwiches, fruit cake, berry scones, and gypsy tarts were all arrayed across the table.
“You’d better not be telling me there’s no chips,” Senta told the back of the lizzie. “How can you have tea with no chips?”
The reptilian returned with two platters of golden chips.
“That’s better,” said Senta, as she took her place at the head of the table.
She waved toward chairs on either side that had place settings in front of them. Both men sat, Willie to her left and Karl walking around the table and taking the chair on her right.
“They’re fascinating,” he said.
“What is?” wondered the sorceress warily.
“Oh, yeah. I suppose. You said you wanted to get a look at them, right? You can stare at the ones here, I guess.”
“I was hoping to learn about their culture—maybe take a trip out to one of their cities. I hear they’re spectacular.”
“Mm-hmm,” said Senta, scooping chips onto her plate. “You really should take your brother along with you. Some of the wild ones can be dangerous. Don’t stand on ceremony. Help yourselves.”
The men nodded and began picking items from the platters.
“So, Willy,” said Senta. “You’re quite a surprise to me. You’re very powerful, aren’t you?”
“I think I could hold my own against just about any wizard,” he said, pausing to stroke his close-cropped beard. “I’m obviously not in your league.”
“Willie was shocked when you met us on the boat,” said his brother. “Something about you not saying your magic words. I have some understanding of how magic works, but I don’t really understand the details.”
“A thousand years ago,” said Willie, “and for thousands of years before that, magic users needed three things to cast a spell. They needed a gesture, a word, and an item to focus their power. Ancient wizards carried around pockets of holly berries, ground mummy, lotus petals, and the like. Then, like I said, a thousand years ago, some spellcasters realized that they didn’t need these items. They could focus all their magic with just a gesture and a word.”
“I didn’t know that,” said Senta.
“It’s in Matter and the Elements.”
“Yes, well I skimmed most of that.”
“I guess you didn’t need it. You can cast your spells with only a gesture.”
“I still usually say the words though,” smiled the sorceress. “Otherwise it’s too much concentration. Do you want to know a secret? No, I shouldn’t tell you. But it’s just too juicy not to tell someone who can appreciate it like you can. So, I’ll tell you. But, just be aware, if you tell anyone, and I’m not joking when I say anyone, I will kill you both.”
The two men looked across the table at one another.
“Okay,” said Karl.
Senta looked at him and suddenly he and his chair rose up from the ground and floated toward the ceiling. He grasped the chair arms frantically, and kicked out his feet for balance, as he teetered first one way and then the other.
“You don’t need a gesture or a word?” gasped Willie.
“I know,” she grinned. “Isn’t it fun?”