Meeting the Powers
He was born in 2426 in Srethun, the son of a magician. The ruling Nyuam had decreed that sons must follow their fathers’ career, a measure intended to maintain productivity in the chaos that followed their conquest of the country seventy years before. (Uytainese assigned to Nyuam estates had a way of fleeing at all costs.) The ruling was difficult to apply to magicians, who were so often failures that they had traditionally cast a wide net for recruiting. However, Hensaut’s father was reasonably successful.
Uytainese magic had now been practiced for more than a thousand years, and was encumbered by arcane scholarship and rigid bureaucracy. Only a fraction of those who attended the Ħrunmon Nrulso, the Academy of Magic, succeeded in doing any magic at all. In its early vigorous years, the Academy would get rid of them; but now they were used as scholars or bureaucrats— as often opposing or obstructing as helping the real magicians.
Hensaut quickly mastered the lore of the magicians, including what was contemptuously known as phamhret, “book powers”— a motley collection of herbs, cantrips, and prayers that a magician could fall back on when the Powers were silent. But even in these debased times, the real test was whether a budding magician could contact the purhyet, the Powers.
At the age of eleven, Hensaut was allowed to begin seeking the purhyet. For some magicians this could take decades. Hensaut succeeded in making contact two years later; his Power was a being that called itself Phrauwel. Hensaut later wrote about this first encounter:
- I was meditating in an empty cell in the Academy, but I had grown discouraged. Instead of supplicating or studying, it came to me to sing. I sang tunelessly, making up foolish words: “I want a purhyet, I don’t care which, why not come here, what will you lose?”
- Very clearly, I heard a voice. It said, “I like that.”
- You will ask what sort of voice, and I truly say, it is of no sort. It is not male or female, young or old. It does not sound whispery or strange, as Powers are played on the stage. It is this characterless quality that marks it as nonhuman.
- Nonetheless I supposed at first it was a passing fellow student; I looked out the door and saw no one.
- The voice laughed, and commanded me to sing again. Now I knew it was a Power.
- I sang, though I shivered.
Hensaut got to know his purhyet, who turned out to be moody, whimsical, often cruel. He later described it as “not tsrat (evil), but khowm (malevolent)”. It seemed to delight in small humiliations— it would order him to masturbate, or fast for a week, or speak only in rhymed couplets— but it didn’t always delight in slavish obedience; sometimes it seemed most content when Hensaut angrily rebelled, or made jokes.
Serving two masters
The Eighth Imperial Book of Magic, compiled in 1905, was very clear on the balancing act required of a magician:
- You have a purpose in dealing with the Power— that given by the State you serve. Do not expect the Power to show much interest in this purpose— you are not an emissary beseeching a lord and will not succeed by focussing attention on your plea. From the Power’s point of view, our requests are only rewards for a favored companion or servant.
- What are the rewards for? This only your Power can answer. It may be a trifle— you amuse them. It may be an arduous and dangerous task which takes much out of you. Magic, like war, guarantees peril and not success.
If anything, the next bit was even trickier: out of this precarious relationship with a supernatural entity, get some useful work done for the Uytainese state— these days, that is, Uytai as run by the barbarian Nyuam, who had taken over the Academy along with all other Uytainese institutions.
The Nyuam emperors’ needs fit almost entirely into two categories:
- Personal comfort: luxuries for the palace; intriguing sensations; amusing toys.
- Military needs: strong defenses, weapons, transport.
The practical needs of the people were ignored, unless they were of military use. Magical mills were constructed in Srethun, for instance, to ensure that the capital’s garrison was well fed and the city less prone to revolt. Roads were built and ports dredged in order to support the military, but these helped trade and communications as well.
The emperors were keenly interested in anything that prolonged life. They envied magicians, who tended to live long lives; but this seeming gift of the purhyet could not be transferred to others. The rulers also clamored for tools to spy on others— couldn’t they produce an amulet that tested a courtier’s loyalty? This couldn’t be done, but some magicians came close— e.g. they produced items that allowed one to hear words spoken in someone’s room. It wasn’t wise to say no to the emperor, so the gaps were filled by promises and charlatanism.
Phrauwel gave Hensaut a staff which, when pointed toward someone, caused them to be knocked to the floor. Hearing about this, I’m sure you want one... and certainly Hensaut appreciated it, using it to teach many an impertinent person a lesson in the respect due to magicians. But it was typical of the mixed utility of magical gifts. It was a one-off item— Phrauwel was not going to create staffs for a battalion of policemen. It made an impressive demonstration for the Nyuam emperor without being particularly useful to the state.
For most of his long career, Hensaut was of middling utility to the empire. He delighted the emperor Katir by creating a moving model of the cosmos, complete with a lighted sun which circled the large round circle of Almea. He helped keep the magical mills running and created arrow-resistant cloaks for officers. He also taught new students at the Academy, and wrote a manual addressing what he considered frequent misconceptions about magic.
From the purhyet’s point of view, of course, these were mere by-products, toys given to a favorite pet. What Hensaut did to keep Phrauwel happy he only hints at. It was apparently not always pleasant; he struck others as gaunt and consumed, though (or perhaps because) Phrauwel required of him a constant amusing, joking demeanor. As he complains in his manual:
- For one moment of adolescent levity I have paid my whole life. How I curse the maddening, moronic idea of ‘wit’! But the only thing that pleases Phrauwel is to be surprised, and the surest means to this is wit.
During this time Hensaut was able to marry and have several children, of which two sons lived to adulthood. They were, of course, enrolled in the Academy as magicians, though neither of them showed much promise.
The emperor Jatab was chiefly interested in his harem, and demanded spells or magic items to increase potency, prolong sexual pleasure, preserve beauty, or ensure male heirs— none of which the Powers could do. In an angry fit he sent half the magicians to work digging ditches, including both of Hensaut’s sons. Both died from the unaccustomed effort.
The surviving cashiered magicians were recalled by the next emperor, Jatab’s son Ga-Jatab, to focus on the increasing threat of the Gleŋ, a nation of Kemic nomads which dominated the eastern highlands of Arcél and, under their emperor Nraŋga, were making a serious bid to conquer Uytai.
The magicians built city walls, produced war machines, came up with a smattering of magic items of direct use to officers. These certainly helped the Uytainese infantry; but most of the war consisted of skirmishes between Nyuam and Gleŋ archers out in the highlands. Magic had not saved the Uytainese from Nyuam conquest, and it seemed unable to directly confront the Gleŋ.
Magicians could retire at 72; Hensaut was reluctantly allowed to do so by the emperor Dujiz in 2498. Tired of court life, he retired to a small town on the coast. His wife died a few years later; this was to be expected for magicians’ spouses.
Magicians could live extended lifespans— so long as their purhyet still cared for them— and so long as their mind held up; they were prone to insanity.
Defense against the Gleŋ
But he was not to live his final years in peace. Just seven years later, the situation of the empire was grim. The Gleŋ had taken Uykhrai and the entire Hurtso valley. The old man was summoned back to the Ħrunmon Academy as Vice Dean. He found it a shadow of itself. Many magicians had fled the profession, more were lost along with the armies or towns they were protecting. Even the building was run down, as its maintenance crew had been diverted to other purposes. For some time he was preoccupied with organizing the school, finding teachers and ensuring that they and the students had enough to eat.
Then, starting in 2511, at the age of 85, Hensaut somehow interested Phrauwel and several other Powers in the fate of the kingdom. For once, it was not a matter of a few magic staffs and fortifications. An army of nimthal, the invisible servants of the purhyet, pushed back the Gleŋ. Stones seemed to rise and hurl by themselves at the enemy; waters flooded to block their retreat, purple flames appeared to engulf them. Terrified, many of the Gleŋ threw down their bows and ran, only to be struck down by unseen hunters.
The Nyuam retook Uykhrai and Tsopwan. Irta lavished titles on Hensaut and gave her own niece to him in marriage; she promised to rebuild the Ħrunmon Academy to its former glory. Only recently resigned to destruction, the Nyuam began to talk of once more reigning over Uytai and pushing their rivals to the mountains. And why stop there? With such powers they could conquer all Arcél.
A number of iliu were seen, clad for once in strange bulky robes, carrying what might be weapons or magical equipment. This was a great omen: the iliu had never before fought for Uytai.
But in the summer of 2513 Hensaut, supervising the battle near Twot, was struck by an arrow and killed instantly. The arrow was curiously decorated with symbols known to belong to the Gleŋ god; its tip was made of an unknown metal. It was quickly concluded that the special arrow had been prepared by Gleŋ priests or magicians.
The supernatural assistance evaporated like a dream. The Gleŋ hesitated, for who knew if the Last Magician— or as they called him, the Demonic General— would shrug off death and return to the battlefield? But after a few months it was clear that he would not, and the Gleŋ returned to the offensive.
The Gleŋ emperor Krišip occupied Srethun in 2518, and the remainder of the delta by 2522. Irta died in the battle for Thestyet; her young son Ȟnač was spirited away and served as a figurehead to rally Nyuam resistance for another decade.
To the Gleŋ, Uytainese magic was an abomination; the appalling powers of the Demonic General came from consorting with devils. They abolished the Ħrunmon Academy and outlawed the practice of magic.
Magic did not disappear, and much later with the fall of the Gleŋ it could again be practiced openly; but it never became a major support of the regime, as it had for classical Uytai and for the Nyuam. Later rulers felt that magic had failed both of these; the near-success of Hensaut only showed how deadly it was to depend for one’s defense on magic.
What were the iliu doing? They wouldn’t say, but scholars generally agreed that their presence was no coincidence. Very likely they intervened with the Powers: this degree of interference in human affairs was not something they would want to see continue.