One Spell Wizard

A short story by Andre Norton.

Plot: Saystrap the wizard lives in a dank, bat-infested cave. He would like to live in a castle, but he can only get his spells to last twenty-four hours at best. He comes up with a scheme and takes on Joachim, the second son of the landsman Ladizwell, as his 'apprentice'. Joachim is clumsy and can't speak very well, but the later trait makes him perfect for Saystrap's schemes - he cannot learn magic if he cannot recite the spells.

Saystrap changes Joachim into a young horse and sells him regularly at fairs. At night Joachim turns back into human form and escapes. One day, however, Joachim was out gathering ingredients for Saystrap and ends up facing a snow cat. Desperate, Joachim recites the words to the change spell in his head and the snow cat changes into a rat. He then turned himself into a snow cat temporarily before resuming human form. With knowledge that he might try some spells of his own, he tries to learn more magic from Saystrap without seeming to do so, but Saystrap never reveals more spells.

Finally Saystrap hopes to make a lot of money by selling Joachim as a hunting falcon. He sells him to Lord Tanheff, but when he sees the lord's daughter, Lady Juluya, he decides that winning a bride would be better than any magic. Unfortunately for him Joachim is also smitten with the Lady Juluya and conceives his own plan.

Later that night, Joachim is trapped in the mews when the change spell wears off. Unfortunately for him, the falconer and his assistant come in just as he changes back to human form (Saystrap was hoping to conjure him out of the castle just before, but could not do so due to bad weather). He then changes himself first into a snow cat and then into a golden ring, which the Lady Juluya finds in the mud the next morning. With all the commotion Saystrap knows that a more powerful sorcerer will be summoned to sort things out, and he becomes desperate.

One morning Saystrap changes into a pigeon and tries to cast a spell on Lady Juluya to bind her to him. Joachim interrupts the spell by slipping off her finger and turning into a cat, running away with Saystrap. Saystrap counters by turning into a dog. Joachim then turns into a falcon to escape the dog, only to have Saystrap turn into a griffin and follow. Joachim falls from the sky but turns into a pebble.

Saystrap, as a griffin, tries to make away with the Lady Juluya but Joachim returns to his human form and fights Saystrap, shouting the counter-spell that returns Saystrap to human form. Just then Lord Tanheff's men return with items from a sorcerer - apparently smoke bombs. Saystrap turns himself into a black spider and flees, only to be eaten by a rooster. Joachim is held by Lord Tanheff's men, but Lady Juluya makes them leave him alone. When asked to tell his tale, Joachim does so amazingly well. Lady Juluya wants to get to know him better, and it is hinted they might get married.

The rooster, which had eaten Saystrap, was forced to release the spider wizard. How badly Saystrap was wounded was never known since he disappeared and was never seen again.

Publishing History

  • Garan the Eternal, DAW, 1972
  • Moon Mirror, ed. Ingrid Zierhut, Tom Doherty Associates, 1988

Timeline Notes

  • Set in High Hallack - no indication of when it is set but it appears to be before the Invader's War.
  • It has become a song by Eydryth's time (mentioned in Songsmith).

Discussion

This story reads very much like a fairy tale. It says at one point: "There were magicians in High Hallack of whom nobles were quick to speak with reverence when in company; what they said in private remained private if they were lucky. (p. 139)" which is very much out of character for the Dales and how their attitude towards magic is portrayed in other books. Similarly Saystrap uses a cloud of smoke to teleport himself (and others) around and can conjure up two apple trees (and, briefly, a small dragon) without much effort. While they might just be illusions for show, there is not much much similarity between this spell casting any anything anyone else does in most Witch World books. If it weren't for the mention of High Hallack it might not belong to Witch World at all.

This tale is very similar to the fairy tales Master and Pupil, Farmer Weathersky, The Thief and His Master, and Maestro Lattantio and His Apprentice Dionigi - all of which involve an apprentice being sold as an animal and a final duel between an old wizard and the young apprentice in shapeshifting. The apprentice always wins and ends up marrying the daughter of a king.

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