The Warlock's RefugeThe Warlock's Refuge

by Lawrence Watt-Evans

 
Hanner the Warlock looked at the tapestry without really seeing it; that constant nagging whisper was distracting him. He closed his eyes for a moment to clear his thoughts, but that only seemed to make it worse. He clenched his jaw, shook his head, and balled his hands into fists.
      "Is this not what you had in mind, Chairman?"
      The wizard's voice brought Hanner back to reality for a moment. He opened his eyes and forced himself to focus on the tapestry.
      The silky fabric hardly seemed to be there at all; the image woven into the cloth was so detailed, so perfect, that he seemed to be looking through the tapestry into a world beyond, rather than at the material itself. In that world gentle golden sunlight washed across a green hillside strewn with wild flowers beneath a clear blue sky above. In the distance he could make out a cluster of handsome golden-tan buildings, though details were vague.
      "Does it work?" he asked.
      The wizard beside him glanced at the tapestry. "It does," Arvagan said. "My apprentice tested it before I sent for you. The tapestry that can return you to Ethshar is hanging in that house there, on the right." He pointed, but was careful to keep his finger well back from the cloth --the slightest contact would trigger the tapestry's magic and pull him into that other world.
      "The tapestry that comes out in the attic of the Council House?"
      "Precisely."
      "And the tapestries will work for warlocks?"
      The wizard hesitated. "I think so," he said at last. "You understand, without a warlock's cooperation we have no way of testing it. Divinations are unreliable where warlocks are concerned. We know some tapestries work for warlocks, in fact we've never found one that doesn't, and I don't see any reason these wouldn't, but magic is tricky."
      That brief hesitation had been enough for the Calling to once again start to work on Hanner; he had turned his head away from the tapestry as if to listen to the wizard's reply, but then the motion had continued, and now he was staring over the wizard's left shoulder, to the north, toward Aldagmor.
      He needed to go there, and soon. He needed to forget about all this Council business, forget about the wizards and their tapestries, forget about schemes to avoid the Calling. He needed to forget about Mavi and their children, and about his sisters and his friends, and about the other members of the Council of Warlocks, and just go. Whatever was up there in Aldagmor, it needed him, and he needed to go to it...
      "Chairman?"
      Hanner bit his lip. What he needed, he told himself as he forced himself back to reality, was a refuge where he couldn't hear the Calling, couldn't feel its constant pull.
      That was what these tapestries were supposed to provide. That was what he had paid the Wizards' Guild the insane sum of eight thousand rounds of gold to obtain, a fortune that had completely wiped out his own assets, and half the Council's money as well.
      "I'm sorry," he said. "What were you saying?"
      "I was saying that we do not actually know whether this tapestry will do what you wanted. We don't understand your magic, any more than you understand ours, and we have no way of testing how those two magics will interact, other than sending a warlock through the tapestry. We know that warlocks have used other tapestries safely, but wizardry can be... erratic. We can't promise what this tapestry will do until a warlock tries it."
      "You haven't tested that?"
      "Chairman Hanner, you specifically forbade us from telling any other warlock anything about this project. That was part of our contract, and we have abided by it."
      "Of course," Hanner said. "I didn't want to get anyone's hopes up. So you don't know whether I will be able to hear the Calling from that other world?"
      Arvagan sighed. "Chairman, we have no idea what the Calling is. We don't know how it works, or whether it extends into the new universe we created for you --assuming we did create it, and not just find it; we don't really know that. We know that you can breathe the air there, and drink the water, and that my apprentice suffered no ill effects from doing so. We know he chewed on a blade of grass and wasn't poisoned. We know that the village in the tapestry was uninhabited when he got there, though we can't say with any certainty whether its builders, if it was built, might still be around somewhere. We know he says that he walked three or four miles around the area without finding any people, or any animals larger than a rabbit, or any edge to the world he was in. But that's about it as far as our knowledge goes. We don't know whether warlockry will operate there. We don't know whether there are natives dwelling somewhere in that world. We don't even know how long the day is there --he didn't stay long enough to determine that. Creating or finding new worlds is an unpredictable business, Chairman; we told you that when we first agreed to this."
      "You did," Hanner admitted.
      This had been a tremendous gamble, paying the wizards to open a way to another world, and there was only one way to find out whether it had worked, or whether he had thrown away an immense fortune for nothing. All he had to do was reach out and touch the tapestry, step into it, and he would be in that other world, that beautiful refuge.
      He started to raise his hand, then stopped.
      "Not here," he said. "I might not..."
      He didn't finish the sentence; when he realized what he had been going to say, he forced himself to stop.
      He had been about to say he couldn't use the tapestry because it might cut him off from the Calling, but that was what he had wanted; that was the whole point. This tapestry was intended to let warlocks escape from the doom that eventually befell them all.
      Every warlock knew that the farther he was from Aldagmor, the weaker the Calling was --and the weaker his magic was, as well, but that was only a secondary consideration. That weakening had given Hanner the idea to find, or make, a place so distant from Aldagmor than the Call couldn't reach it at all.
      The Calling reached to every corner of the World; warlocks had established that. From sun-baked Semma in the southeast to frozen Kerroa in the northwest, there was no place in the World where a warlock was safe. So obviously, the warlocks needed a refuge that wasn't in the World at all, and that meant they needed wizardry. The only three kinds of magic that could reach out of the World into other places were demonology, theurgy, and wizardry --herbalism, witchcraft, ritual dance, and the rest were limited to everyday reality.
      The gods didn't recognize warlocks as human beings, and had trouble even acknowledging their existence, so theurgy wasn't going to help. The Nethervoid, where demons originated, wasn't anywhere anyone would ever want to go, and trusting demons was usually a stupid thing to do, so demonology was out, too. That left wizardry. Wizards had various spells that could reach other planes of existence. It wasn't clear whether these spells opened a path to places that had existed all along, or created new places out of nothing, but they could definitely provide access to other worlds. Hanner had even visited one, long ago, and found that warlockry did not work there, and that presumably the Calling did not reach it.
      So here it was, the wizardry he had asked for --a Transporting Tapestry to another world that just might be the refuge the warlocks needed.
      It looked lovely, but that didn't mean much. Arvagan's apprentice had survived a visit there, so it couldn't be too hostile, but would it really be a decent place to live? Would it be a safe home for his wife and children?
      He grimaced at that. He was assuming that Mavi would want to accompany him, but he had not actually asked her yet. He knew she was worried about the Call, but worried enough to give up her life in Ethshar of the Spices, the city that had always been her home? It wasn't as if she was in any danger; he had invited her to become a warlock, to have that little adjustment made that would let her draw magical power from the Source, but she had never done it. She was content to leave the magic to him and the other warlocks while she attended to more mundane matters.
      But she loved him, and wanted to be with him, so of course she would want to come with him. She wouldn't need to stay; she could go back and forth at will, while he would need to remain in that other place once the Calling became too strong.
      That assumed, of course, that it wasn't just as strong on the other side of the tapestry. He really would need to try it out someday, when the Call reached a dangerous level --maybe after he got back from Aldagmor...
      He closed his eyes and clenched his teeth and held his breath.
      He was not going to Aldagmor. He was not going to give in. The Call was obviously already dangerous. It was always there, every second, day and night, nagging at him, working insidiously to draw him away. Every time he used even the slightest bit of warlockry, or took a single step to the north, it grew a little stronger. Simply facing south was becoming difficult; his head kept turning involuntarily, and his neck was getting sore from his struggle to resist. He was leaking magic, he knew that; small objects tended to levitate around him without any conscious effort on his part. He needed a refuge.
      And now, just in time, he might have one. All he had to do was reach out...
      But the wizards didn't know, didn't really know, whether it was safe, or whether it would work. He should go home and discuss it with his wife before he did anything more. He should go home, to Warlock House, on High Street, just a mile north of this secret room on Wizard Street.
      A mile north. A mile closer to Aldagmor. He shuddered at the thought, and at the same time he felt a deep longing.
      It was very bad. He wasn't going to be able to hold out much longer. He couldn't sleep anymore; when he did, he dreamed of fire and of being cast down from the heavens and buried deep in the earth of Aldagmor, he dreamed of a need to go there and help, and he always awoke to find himself moving northward. He hadn't dared to sleep at all for the last two nights, and he had made do with brief naps for a sixnight before that.
      He just had to reach out and touch the tapestry, but he couldn't lift his hand. He was so tired, so weary of fighting the Call --not physically, no powerful warlock's body ever tired, but mentally. If he gave in he could rest. He could fly, any warlock worthy of the name could fly, he could be in Aldagmor in no more than a day or two. He had been refusing to fly at all for about a month, so that he would not fly off to Aldagmor, but now that just seemed foolish. Why not get it over with?
      "Tell my wife I love her," he said. "Tell her to wait for me in the attic of Warlock House. If this works, I'll meet her there and let her know. If it doesn't, well..."
      "Should we tell her any details? About the tapestries?"
      Hanner shook his head. "No," he said. "I'll tell her. She knows I was planning something, and I want to be the one to tell her what it was." He paused, then added, "If it works. For all we know, the Call will be even stronger in there."
      "I suppose it might be," Arvagan admitted. "Though I don't see why it would be. Wherever that place is, it's not Aldagmor."
      "But it could be near Aldagmor, somehow."
      "I suppose."
      Hanner turned to Arvagan. "You'll tell her?"
      "The instant I see you enter the tapestry, I'll send word for her to go to meet you."
      "Good. Good." He turned back to face that shining image of green fields, and tried to step toward it, but his foot would not lift.
      Inspiration struck. "Arvagan, would you do me a favor?"
      "What sort of a favor?"
      "Would you move the tapestry to the north wall? Or just turn it so it faces south?"
      "Is it that bad, Chairman?"
      "Yes, it is," Hanner said. "I didn't know... It took so long..."
      "We told you when we started that it took a year or more to make a Transporting Tapestry."
      "Yes, you did --but I hadn't realized how close I was to being Called. A year ago it was nothing, just a little murmur in my head; now it's... it's everything, it's constant, it's so strong."
      Arvagan nodded. Then he reached up and pushed at the rod supporting the tapestry, being careful not to let his hand come too close to the fabric. Like the sail of a ship clearing the breakwater, the tapestry swung slowly around.
      Hanner turned with it, and when it was due north, between him and Aldagmor, he found he could lift his arm and step forward, step northward. His finger touched the silky cloth.
      And the secret room was gone, the wizard's house was gone, Wizard Street and the Wizards' Quarter had vanished, the entire city of Ethshar of the Spices was gone. He was standing on a gentle, grassy slope sprinkled with white and gold flowers.
      He didn't notice.
      A sun was shining warmly on his face, a sun that wasn't quite the same color as the one he had seen every day in Ethshar, and a soft wind was blowing against his right cheek; he didn't notice that, either.
      Sky and sun and wind and grass and flowers, a sound of splashing somewhere in the distance, a cluster of strange buildings --Hanner ignored them all.
      He was too busy listening to the silence in his head.
      The Call was gone. The constant nagging, the murmuring voice in his head, the wordless muttering that he had somehow been able to draw magic from, was gone. There was nothing in his head but him.
      He hadn't experienced such total mental freedom since the Night of Madness, seventeen ten years before. Even before he had consciously noticed it, he had lived with the whisper of magic constantly for so long that its absence was overwhelming. Now he simply stood, listening for it, for several minutes.
      At first he didn't show any reaction; the change was too sudden, too complete, to comprehend. Then the rush of relief swept over him, and his knees gave way, and he tumbled onto the grass, trembling with the impact of his release from bondage --and trembling with terror, as well. His magic was gone, and it had been central to his existence for so long that he barely knew who he was without it.
      He lay on the grass for several minutes, and gradually began to notice his surroundings --the sun, the breeze, the grassy slope. He tried to stand up.
      It didn't work.
      He took a moment to absorb that, and to realize that he had become so accustomed to levitating any time he stood up that trying to rise using only his own muscles was difficult, surprisingly difficult. He had forgotten how to do it.
      He had tried to spring directly to his feet --or really, since of late he had usually hung in the air with his feet an inch or so off the ground, "to his feet" wasn't quite right. He had tried to fling himself upright, but without magic it hadn't worked. Now he rolled onto his back and pushed himself up into a sitting position, then set his feet on the ground, one by one. Then he stood up, leaning forward and straightening his legs.
      That time it worked.
      He stood for a moment, taking in his surroundings and his situation.
      He had no magic. Wherever he was, he wasn't a warlock here; probably nobody would be. All the little things he had done magically he either had to do with his own muscles, or not at all.
      He was dismayed to realize how many of them there were. He had been using warlockry to stand up, to walk --or rather, to fly; he realized now he hadn't actually walked in months, even when he told himself he wasn't flying and tried to stay close to the ground. He had been summoning things to his hand, rather than reaching out to take them. Magic had infiltrated every part of his life. Now that his head was clear he could remember any number of ways he had used magic --walking, lifting, cooking, cleaning, heating, cooling, playing with his children, even making love to his wife. He had done it all without thinking. Even when he had begun to feel the Call, when his dreams had become nightmares and the whisper in his head had become a constant nagging, and he had tried to stop using warlockry because it made him more susceptible, he had unconsciously continued doing all those little, everyday magics. The power wanted to be used, so he had used it. Only now that he couldn't use it did he realize he had been doing so. He was standing here on a grassy hillside, and his legs were supporting his entire weight, his skin was unprotected from sun and wind, and it felt strange.
      He thought he could get used to it, though. After all, he hadn't been born a warlock; he had grown to adulthood without any magic. Most people managed just fine without warlockry.
      He sniffed the air, and caught the scent of the sea, or something very like it. He walked cautiously down toward the cluster of buildings that he could not help thinking of as a village, though he had no idea whether that was really an accurate description.
      As he drew near he decided that they were indeed houses, and did indeed comprise a village. They were built of some hard, golden-brown material --stone or brick or dried mud, he couldn't tell which. There were many small windows, and a few arched doorways. Arvagan had said that the builders might not be human, but the proportions looked right for humans; Hanner didn't see anything particularly odd about the houses.
      Beyond the village the land continued to fall away, and he could see the ocean, or something very like it, spreading out in the distance. A tree-lined stream gurgled its way past the village, which accounted for the splashing he had heard, and the leaves rustled in the gentle breeze.
      It was very pleasant, really. Arvagan had said that he couldn't guarantee anything about this place, that there might be hidden dangers, anything from insidious poisons to rampaging monsters to distorted time, but to Hanner it looked calm and inviting. The stream would presumably provide water, and the land looked fit for growing food; there might be fish in the sea, or even clams to be dug along the shore.
      Or if appearances were deceiving, and that somehow proved impossible, if the tapestries continued to work as promised he could still have food and even water brought in from Ethshar. Unless there were some nasty surprises awaiting him, he had his refuge --a place where warlocks could come to escape the Calling.
      He wandered around for what felt like an hour or so, exploring the houses. They were largely unfurnished, as if their intended inhabitants had never arrived, never brought their belongings.
      That was fine. That was perfect.
      The air was sweet, the sun was warm, and there was no Call. It was everything Hanner had wanted.
      In the one house, just as Arvagan had said, was the other tapestry, the one depicting the attic of Warlock House, the mansion that had once belonged to Hanner's uncle, Lord Faran. That bare, dim room looked dismal compared to the bright sunlit refuge, but Hanner did not hesitate; he knew his wife was waiting for him there. Mavi and the children had been worried about him; this refuge would be a relief for them all, even if none of the others ever set foot in it. Hanner walked up to the tapestry, and put a hand and a foot out to touch it, eager to tell Mavi the good news.
      He knew the Calling would return, but he assumed it would take a few seconds to reach its old force. He thought he was ready for it.
      Then he was in the attic, back home in Ethshar of the Spices, and he was wrong. There was no delay at all. The Call was instantaneously a deafening, irresistible screaming in his head, and he had had no time to prepare, no chance to brace himself. After an hour of freedom his resistance was gone, and he could not restore it quickly enough. There was one final instant of clarity, one glimpse of Mavi waiting, a glimpse of her staring at him as he appeared out of thin air, and then there was no room in his mind for any thought but the desperate need to get to Aldagmor as fast as he could, by any method he could. Nothing could be permitted to stand in his way, and with a wave of his hand he shattered the sloping ceiling, splitting the rafters and tearing wood and tile to shreds as he soared out into the sky. He could not spare so much as a second to tell his wife goodbye before flying northward.
      He did not hear Mavi call his name, did not hear her burst into tears as he vanished. He did not see Arvagan's apprentice rush up the attic stairs to her side, to catch her before she collapsed.
      By the time the apprentice brought Mavi to Arvagan's shop, Hanner was thirty leagues from the city. By the time word went out to the Council of Warlocks, Hanner was in Aldagmor. He could not tell them what had happened. He could not tell them that the refuge was a success, and only failed because he had been caught off-guard by the sudden instantaneous return of a Calling he had only barely been able to resist before he stepped through the tapestry. No one knew how very, very close he had been to giving in before he touched the fabric and was transported to that other reality. All they knew was that Hanner, Chairman of the Council, had stepped through the Transporting Tapestry still able to fight the Call, and upon emerging had instantly flown off to Aldagmor.
      There were some who theorized that the Call was somehow stronger on the other side of the tapestry, some who thought the magic of the tapestry itself somehow added to the Call's power, some who really didn't care about the details, but the Council as a whole agreed: The Chairman's attempt at creating a safe haven for high-level warlocks had failed.
      The tapestry was rolled up and stored securely away --after all, it was bought and paid for, and belonged jointly to the Council and Hanner's widow Mavi, and perhaps someday some new spell or divination would allow them to use it safely. A new Chairman was elected.
      And the Calling, that inexplicable melange of nightmares and compulsions, continued to snatch away any warlock who grew too powerful.