A Legend of Ethshar
Everything beyond Chapter Two has been removed in favor of the final version, which is available in various places and formats. (See The Spriggan Mirror for links to booksellers.)
The Spriggan Mirror
by Lawrence Watt-Evans
Once Dina was safely on her way with a fresh bottle of blood, Gresh locked the front door and settled on the other velvet chair while Twilfa made a few quick entries in the account books, then slipped out the back. Gresh watched her go, then turned to his customer.
"Now, my dear, if you could explain to me what you know of this mirror, I will consider whether or not I can obtain it for you."
"Thank you." The woman nodded an acknowledgment. "My name is Karanissa of the Mountains, and about four hundred and seventy years ago, in the course of my military service, I met a powerful wizard named Derithon the Mage, or Derithon of Helde. He was much older than I, but we thought each other to be good company, and before long I found myself living in his castle -- a magical castle floating in a void outside the World entirely. Are you familiar with such things?"
"I've heard of them," Gresh said cautiously. He was wondering now whether he was dealing with a witch or a madwoman; while nothing she had said was impossible, Gresh had never before met anyone other than wizards who claimed to have lived more than a century, and places outside the World were extremely scarce and notoriously dangerous to create.
"Well, Derry had made one, reached through a Transporting Tapestry. We lived there happily for a time, but one day Derry was called away, and never returned -- and the tapestry leading out of the castle stopped working, stranding me there alone. I found out later that Derry had died just the other side of the tapestry, altering the appearance of the room -- you know how Transporting Tapestries work?"
"In theory," Gresh said. He had heard them described, but had never personally used one. He knew that one could simply step into the image on the tapestry and instantly find oneself in the actual place depicted, no matter how far away it was -- but the image had to be exact, or the tapestry would not work properly, if at all. "I don't quite see how his death would change anything, though."
Karanissa sighed. "The tapestry came out in a secret room, and Derry died there, and no one found his body; the tapestry didn't work as long as his bones were lying on what was depicted as empty floor."
"Oh, I see."
"The point is, I was stranded in his castle for more than four and a half centuries. I didn't know it was that long -- he'd put a spell of eternal youth on me, and the castle was magically supplied with food and water, and I used my own witchcraft to let me pass the time swiftly, so I lost track of time, and had no idea it had been that long. At last, though, a young wizard named Tobas of Telven happened to find the secret room and the Transporting Tapestry, and found his way into the castle, and eventually figured out how to get us both out again. While he was there, though, he went through Derry's book of spells, studying the situation and learning more magic, looking for that way out. And one spell, Lugwiler's Haunting Phantasm, went wrong, and instead of producing the phantasm it produced a spriggan."
Gresh held up a hand. "What do you mean, produced?"
"Do you know how the spell works?"
"I think I've heard of it." He knew about the spell, at least as Dina used it, but he wanted to hear his would-be customer's version.
"Well, it requires a mirror, and in this case, instead of creating the phantasm it was supposed to create, the spell enchanted the mirror, and the spriggan climbed out of the mirror as if the glass was a hole in the table, or a door. And a minute or two later, another spriggan did the same thing, and a moment after that a third, and they kept coming. That's where all the spriggans came from. When we got the tapestry working again they came through with us, and stole the mirror so we couldn't break it, and hid it somewhere, and it's been popping out spriggans ever since."
Gresh stared at her, considering this, keeping his face expressionless.
Spriggans had started appearing a few years ago, without explanation; they had just been there, getting underfoot, poking into everything, babbling nonsense. Divinations had not, so far as he knew, been able to determine their origin, although everyone was fairly certain they were a product of wizardry. They were, as Dina had said, drawn to magic in general, and wizardry in particular -- but, annoyingly, most magic did not work on them.
That was typical of wizardry; other spells almost never worked properly on something that was already enchanted.
And here was this person, claiming that someone named Derry... no, someone named Tobas had created them accidentally by miscasting Lugwiler's Haunting Phantasm.
Despite his feigned ignorance, Gresh knew perfectly well how the Phantasm worked; it was his business, as a wizards' supplier, to know as much about wizardry as possible, so he had made a point of coaxing as much information as possible from not just Dina, but every wizard he sold to. He did not think he had actually picked up any Guild secrets yet, but he certainly knew more about wizardry than the vast majority of people.
And the Phantasm was an easy spell, one many wizards had learned before they had finished the second year of apprenticeship. Who was this Tobas who had botched it so spectacularly?
But that wasn't entirely fair, he told himself. Dina had told him that if a spell went wrong, there was no way to predict what it would do. The famous Tower of Flame in the Small Kingdoms had supposedly been created when someone sneezed while performing a simple fire-lighting spell, after all. Perhaps this spriggan-generating mirror was the result of just as innocent a mistake.
"When did this happen?" he asked.
"5221," Karanissa replied. "Some time in Leafcolor, or possibly at the very end of Harvest."
"Six and a half years ago, going on seven." That was well before Gresh had ever heard of spriggans, so that fit the facts. "Why are you only looking for the mirror now?"
"We were busy." She turned up an empty palm. "And we thought the spriggans were harmless. And we didn't know the mirror would produce so many."
"You say we?"
"My husband and his other wife and I."
Other wife? The husband staying with the baby while Karanissa saw to business suddenly made sense. "And your husband is this Tobas of Telven, then?"
"You hadn't mentioned that he had another wife."
"It wasn't relevant."
"She wasn't involved in creating the mirror?"
"No. She's not a magician."
Gresh nodded and inquired no further about that, although he was curious. Other people's family arrangements were not his business.
Magical objects sometimes were, though. "And you want me to find this spriggan-generating mirror for you."
"Yes. You come highly recommended; Telurinon and Kaligir both spoke well of you."
Once again Gresh found himself staring silently at the woman for a moment before he spoke. Telurinon was one of the most powerful wizards in Ethshar of the Sands, and rumored to be a high official in the Wizards' Guild. Kaligir, here in Ethshar of the Rocks, was definitely a high official in the Guild -- when his name and the question of his status came up a year or so back Dina had admitted he was a Guildmaster, and hinted that he was perhaps the city's senior Guildmaster.
"You know them?" he asked.
"We know Telurinon; we helped him dispose of poor Tabaea. We've met Kaligir once or twice; he was the one who directed us here, at Telurinon's suggestion."
The mere fact that this woman knew those two names made it much less likely that she was mad, but her story was more outlandish than ever -- she and her husband had helped defeat the self-proclaimed Empress of Ethshar who had briefly usurped power in Ethshar of the Sands last year? They got their shopping suggestions from the upper echelons of the Wizards' Guild?
Add that to a magic castle, eternal youth, the accidental creation of the spriggans that plagued the World, and it was a little much...
"How did you come to be asking their advice?"
Karanissa frowned -- the first time Gresh had seen her do so. "They weren't advising us as much as ordering us," she said.
"The Wizards' Guild holds my husband responsible for the spriggans," Karanissa explained. "They summoned us to a meeting and told us as much. A good many wizards have been complaining about the silly things, and demanding the Guild do something -- there's a man named Ithanalin who got turned to stone or something when he tripped over a spriggan, and was petrified until his apprentice taught herself enough magic to cure him..."
"Kilisha," Gresh said. "I know Ithanalin and Kilisha." That was a mild exaggeration; he had met them, even sold them a few things, but no more than that. He remembered the fuss about Ithanalin's accident; he hadn't been petrified, exactly, but Gresh supposed the exact details didn't matter.
"Yes, well, that was one instance," Karanissa said, "and he's been very persistent in demanding Kaligir do something about it. There have been any number of other ruined spells and spilled potions and wasted ingredients..."
Gresh remembered Dina's foetus blood, spilled on her cat. "Yes," he said.
"No one's been killed yet, so far as we know, but it seems almost as if it's just a matter of time, and the Guild wants Tobas to do something about the spriggans before it comes to that. He created them, Telurinon says, so it's his responsibility to destroy them. And that starts with destroying the mirror -- if we don't do that, it'll just make more."
"But first you need to find it."
"So you came to me."
"When nothing else worked, yes."
Gresh did not like the sound of that. "What else did you try?"
"Well, since the Guild wanted us to do it, we thought it was only fair to ask them to help us, so we did. We had Mereth of the Golden Door use every divination in her book, and half a dozen other wizards as well, but none of them could locate the mirror. We consulted theurgists and even a demonologist, to no avail -- the gods apparently can't even perceive spriggans, let alone identify their source. The ritual dancers didn't do any better. So when magic failed us, we decided to try other methods. Lady Sarai can't leave her duties and didn't know where to begin, but Telurinon said you were the best in the World at finding hard-to-find things without magic -- so here I am."
"Indeed," Gresh said. He leaned back, keeping his eyes on his guest.
This was, at least potentially, a problem -- and an opportunity.
He made an excellent living supplying wizards with the ingredients for their spells; he had been doing it since boyhood. He had started out running errands for his older sisters -- mostly Dina, since wizards used so many odd ingredients in their spells, but also occasionally Tira and Chira and Shesta.
He had started with his sisters, but then he had begun to fetch things for their friends, and then friends of friends, and then people with no connection he knew of who had heard his name somewhere. Word had spread; by the time he opened his own shop he had developed a reputation for being fast, efficient, honest, and discreet.
He had also developed a reputation for being able to get anything, given time.
This reputation let him charge high prices -- higher, in fact, than any other supplier in the city. Even so, he had never lacked for business. There were always people willing to pay more for the best.
The problem was that he had to stay the best. He had to maintain his reputation as being the man who could get anything a wizard needed. He could never admit that there was something he couldn't find, or couldn't obtain once it was found.
So far, no such admission had been necessary; sooner or later he had gotten everything he went after, and had been able to give good, sound reasons why he would not seek certain things. He would not kill or maim anyone to obtain an item; he would not violate Wizards' Guild rules, and he tried to obey the overlords' laws; and some of the things people had attempted to buy simply didn't exist.
Or at least, he said they didn't exist, and no one had ever proved him wrong.
This spriggan mirror, though, apparently did exist -- if Karanissa was telling the truth, she knew it existed. Fetching it would not break any Guild rules; in fact, the Guild wanted it found. He wouldn't be stealing it, or breaking any other laws so far as he could see, and he could see no reason anyone would be killed or maimed if he acquired it. By his own rules, therefore, he should have no objection to going after it. Unless he could find a new and convincing excuse, refusing the task would severely damage his reputation.
Finding it, of course, would enhance his reputation. If he could become known as the man who eliminated the nuisance of the spriggans once and for all, he could crank his prices up even higher. He would be a minor hero throughout the Hegemony.
The problem was that if he agreed to get it, and failed to do so, his reputation would be not merely damaged, but ruined -- and he had no idea how to find the thing. By Karanissa's account, most of his usual methods would not work.
Of course, no one outside the family knew what his usual methods were -- and he liked it that way. Keeping his trade secrets secret added to his aura of mystery, and kept the competition down.
"Will you get it for us?" Karanissa asked, interrupting his train of thought.
He really had no choice. "Of course," he said. "But it may take some time, and it will be very expensive."
"The Guild has agreed to cover the cost," she replied. "We will pay any price."
Gresh blinked at that. Any price?
He had thought he might scare her away; given his reputation for charging high prices, he had thought that when he said "very expensive" she might reconsider, and save him the trouble of actually finding the mirror. But the Guild would pay?
When the Wizards' Guild said "any price," that meant rather more than when anyone else said it. The Wizards' Guild had entire worlds at their disposal. But the witch might not have meant it literally.
Still, to have access to the Guild's own coffers -- he would be rich! Really rich, not just as well off as he was now. Or perhaps he might be paid with more than money...
That assumed, of course, that Karanissa was telling the truth. Twilfa had not yet returned with Tira, so he had no way of verifying the story.
It also assumed he could indeed retrieve the missing mirror, but he had confidence in his own abilities -- far more confidence than he had in Karanissa's account of herself, certainly.
He considered trying to stall Karanissa, keep asking her questions until Tira arrived -- after all, he would need more information from her before setting out to find this mirror -- but he decided against it. This was probably not going to be a quick and easy errand; he would undoubtedly talk to her a good many times, with and without Tira.
He would probably need to talk to her husband, as well, but first he wanted to do a little preliminary planning.
"It will take me some time to make preparations," he said. "I will need to speak with your husband, and do some research."
"Of course," Karanissa said. "Whatever is necessary." She rose.
"Bring your husband and his other wife here this afternoon, and we will settle the details," Gresh said, rising as well.
She bowed an acknowledgment.
He showed her to the door, and stood in the doorway watching her walk away down the street toward Eastgate Market.
She was a handsome woman, no question about it, and if her story was true, she was a woman with an incredible history. The task she had set him was going to be a challenge -- stupendously profitable, he hoped, but a challenge.
In fact, he had no idea at all, as yet, of how he would do it.
That did not worry him. He would find a way. Various possibilities were already stirring in the back of his mind.
That's it; here's your list of handy exits:
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