A Tale by Michael DeAngelo
A stark blast of energy burst across the field like a bolt of lightning. Far from hitting its target, it instead struck a distant tree, smashing it to splinters and sending a loud report echoing through the region.
“Master Augustus, please stop!” the young lad pleaded.
For a moment, it seemed as though the old wizard was willing to relent as the purple-robed youth requested. Augustus’s eyes were opened wide. Indeed, the arc lightning was not the spell he had prepared to cast. As the stump of the tree he had hit smoldered on the other side of the field, he scrunched up his face, trying to recall what it was he had planned for his foe—another wizard on the opposite side of the battlefield. Augustus’s features—his bushy eyebrows and his thick, snow-white beard and mustache—framed his face in such a way that even from afar, he looked to be stricken with emotion.
His expression was not lost to the other arcanist upon the field. Clad in sapphire and lavender wizard’s attire, including a tall, blue, pointed hat, that other spellcaster, perhaps only a few years younger than elderly Augustus, was deep in thought. He brought his fingers up toward his yellow-bearded chin, passing the bands that tidied it as he went, and stroked his whiskers as he collected his thoughts.
The sole witness to the peculiar duel watched the old man’s gears turn and knew that nothing good would come of it.
“Whatever you’re thinking, Master Yarborough, let it go from your mind. You two are fighting for no good reason!”
Hearing his name almost seemed to help the blue-and-violet dressed wizard find some clarity. He looked to the lad, his apprentice, and his features softened. But as his gaze swept out across the field, and he spotted Augustus across the way, he remembered the deadly electrical blast he’d just cast out at him. With the hood of his golden-trimmed, dark brown robe pulled over his head, Augustus looked to be filled to the brim with the potential for sinister deeds.
“Get to the tower, Percival,” Yarborough ordered. “You’ll be safe in there while I deal with this ruffian.”
“Ruffian?” Augustus echoed. “How dare you!” He didn’t have time to offer up a cleverer retort before his opponent’s own spell began to materialize.
A meandering blue path appeared on the ground between the two wizards, a cobalt glow snaking along the grass toward Augustus. His snarky threat caught in his throat, and he raised a bushy eyebrow as he tried to make sense of the conjuration coming his way.
All along the path then, sharp and jagged icy spikes ripped upward into the air. One after another they burst forth, each outpacing the last and growing louder as they snapped into existence.
Augustus’s eyes went wide as he traced their preset path, and looked between his feet, where the trail came to an end. As the spikes erupted from the ground, he heaved himself to the side, crashing to the ground just as the final spike surged into the air. He thought he heard a crunch as he landed, and he couldn’t be certain whether it was the cracking ice, or one of his old bones, though he hoped it was the former.
The field was eerily quiet then, as Yarborough held his hand up and turned it toward his face.
“That was supposed to be a fireball,” he muttered.
“A likely story,” Augustus grunted as he labored to his feet. He winced as his bones set in place, and after a deep breath, he straightened out, looking imposing once more despite his aches and pains. “You meant to skewer me!”
“Why would I do such a thing?” Yarborough mocked. “I’d be better off if you were just a trail of smoke wisping out of your old loafers!”
Locking his jaw, Augustus couldn’t hide his incense as he drew closer to his adversary. “Perhaps you’d be better off underground!” He set his own hand before him then, moving it in small concentric circles parallel to the ground. To his side, behind the wall of icy spears, a fretful protest was lost beneath the sound of a high-pitched hum entering the air.
A disc of green energy launched forth from beneath Augustus’s hand, spinning forth with uncanny speed. It knocked the angry wizard back a step, and he watched it race across the field with confusion upon his face.
Yarborough gasped as he watched the glowing disc rush toward him. In a desperate attempt to avoid the dangerous invocation, he quickly gestured with his hands, crossing them over one another and raising them into the air as though he were mimicking a bird.
A wall of dirt and mud and clay ripped through the ground, settling into place before him. Augustus’s magic disc tore into the enchanted barricade but was halted halfway through.
That didn’t stop a gasp from escaping Yarborough’s lips. He turned to his apprentice, worry etched on his face.
“I wanted to fly into the air,” he said. “Why aren’t my spells listening to me Percy?”
The young apprentice hunched his shoulders and ducked his head. “Well, it’s because…I…”
“It’s because you’re an old coot!” Augustus yelled.
All the concern and worry on Yarborough’s face seemed to fade away then, replaced by a stern reproach. “You think I’m old? Bah! The ancients used to come visit you to listen to the old tales!” He waved his hand, and his summoned wall exploded, cast out in all directions but backward. Far ahead, the spiny pillars of ice he’d summoned earlier did the same, but they quickly turned to frost and snow, dissipating in the warm spring air.
“Only after they were done being swaddled by you!” Augustus countered.
The two men approached each other, stomping along as they crossed the field.
Their lone witness, the young, hooded apprentice, watched their hands begin to glow as they attuned to the aether.
“I’ve had enough of your…your codgering!” Yarborough sneered.
“Well I’ve had enough of your bleating, you old goat!” Augustus slung back his way.
Yarborough stood taller and his nostrils flared as his eyes went wide. “Better to be an old goat than a shrill old bat!”
“I’m shrill?” Augustus, forcing a gruff voice, protested. “What about you, you crone!”
With a gasp, Yarborough placed his hand against his chest. He pursed his lips and grumbled, but it was indeed a mite higher pitched than his opponent had been. “Geezer!” he cried.
As they called one another names, and drew closer to one another, the glowing on their hands grew brighter and bolder.
Against his better judgment, Percival charged forward, and came to a halt between them, ducking down and holding out his hands.
“Please stop, both of you!” he begged. “You’re friends, and you’ve nearly killed each other.”
A quiet harrumph shook Yarborough’s narrow frame. He locked his jaw and turned aside, looking away from his peer and his apprentice. “Tell this old fool that I wasn’t trying to hurt him, only shave off a few extra pounds.”
Augustus sneered, folding his arms over his chest. “Tell the pompous windbag that I can hear him just fine,” he told Percival. “Also tell him I thought he was a giant, feral raisin, and I was trying to fight him off to save all our lives. Perhaps he needs a good steam and press to get rid of all those wrinkles.”
Despite the insult, Yarborough couldn’t prevent a flash of a smile from appearing on his face. He bowed his head, hoping the brim of his hat would hide the reaction. “I don’t even remember why we were fighting, my old friend.”
Percival swallowed away his embarrassment, and ventured glances at both of his mentors. “Well, that’s because I…”
“Nor I,” Augustus replied. “It’s this heat, isn’t it? Spring really is finally here.”
Yarborough nodded, a look of regret upon his face as he dared to look at his friend once more. “We should head back inside. I’m sure you could use a nap,” he teased. He took off his hat and wiped his brow, removing the sheen of perspiration that had built up there since the beginning of their contest.
As he neared his friend, he wrapped his arm around Augustus’s far shoulder, and the other wizard grabbed him around the waist. Together, they proceeded onward, toward their tower, not so far to the east.
Behind them, Percival hunched his shoulders, and drew the hood of his robe further over his face. He hurried ahead, catching up with his instructors before they reached their home.
The door opened with a creak, and the cold of the hewn stone tower seemed to creep out of the tall building. Percival left the door ajar for the two wizards while he sped inside to set their places along the first floor.
All around the walls, books sat nestled in cases or shelves, except for a small stretch just along the southeast wall. There, a kitchen table sat at the ready, with two empty cups sitting upon it. Further back, another shelf held some dry goods and some water, and a woodstove sat beside it.
After Percival finished his tasks—putting blankets over some plush chairs, fetching the wizards latest books and lighting the lamps—he rushed to the kitchen.
“Could I get either of you some tea?” he ventured, though the sound of his anxiety was not lost to the elderly arcanists.
“No, Percy,” Augustus said. “I think this calls for something a bit stronger. Why don’t you get us some coffee?”
The lad’s muscles tensed up, and he gripped the table, knowing that the next few moments would be decisive indeed.
“I’m afraid I can’t do that, Master Augustus,” he replied.
“And why not?” the brown-robed wizard asked.
“Easy on the child,” Yarborough chimed in.
“Did we not give you money just yesterday to go to the town to fetch our supplies?” Augustus pressed.
“Well, yes,” Percival confirmed. “But I tried to tell you yesterday that they were all out at the market, and that I might need help getting to—”
“I remember no such thing,” Augustus harrumphed.
“Well… It happened when you both were reading,” Percival said. “I didn’t want to interrupt you, but I did, and we had forgotten about it until later in the evening.”
“Oh, so now it’s my fault?” Augustus grumbled.
“Settle down now, my friend,” Yarborough said, patting his friend on the back. “So, we haven’t had our coffee yet. That explains a lot. We’ll just have some, and then we’ll be as good as new. Percival, why don’t you brew us a few cups, and then…” His words trailed off as he saw their apprentice’s confused look. Yarborough threw his hands up in the air, and blinked a few times, as though that would help him make sense of things. “Of course. Ugh, well you can see why we need it. Just some tea to start then.”
Percival nodded enthusiastically and rushed to throw some wood in the fire. While Augustus grumbled and stomped toward his seat in the center of the tower, Yarborough stood near the table, musing on the happenings of their slightly unusual morning. After a few moments of watching Percival pour water into their kettle, Yarborough tilted his head and arched his eyebrow.
“Percy, why did Augustus and I nearly duel ourselves to death this morning?”
The lad turned about and looked at his instructor. “What do you mean, sir?”
“It’s because you let him get away with too much,” Augustus groused from his comfortable chair.
“I mean, what started such an argument in the first place?”
“Well, you—that is, we—we couldn’t figure out who was going to get me to one of the more distant settlements to find the stuff. You two kept mentioning your other tasks, and before we knew it, the sun was setting, and…”
“Percy,” he said, his voice growing sterner.
“This morning when I mentioned we still didn’t have any coffee, you both started calling each other names and blaming each other. Before I knew it, you two were storming out into the field to duel each other.”
Augustus leapt out of his chair, his bones crackling as he landed on the hard, stone floor. “You nearly let us kill each other!” he yelled. “After all we did, taking you in and beginning to tutor you.”
“Easy Augustus,” Yarborough said, holding his friend back.
“No!” the slightly older wizard cried. “He doesn’t appreciate us enough!” By that point, his eyes had firmly shut, and his bushy eyebrows swept upward as he began another emotional fit. He directed his finger at the lad and shouted. “After all the magic we’ve been teaching you, and this is how you repay us?”
“It’s alright, Percival,” Yarborough said in as soothing a voice as he could muster. “Let’s all share a pot of coffee, and we’ll work our way through this.”
All the lad could do was stand there, staring at the unsettled wizards and wondering when the cycle would end.