about iFiction

reading material

for authors

contact iFiction

a project by

 Like 24?

  Privacy Most Public 
 welcome to iFiction
recent fiction links
beyond the last star   a bird in hand

You can read the first 20% of this story for free; if you like it, you can read the rest for $1.25 (payable by paypal or credit card.)

[ Read more about author Bud Sparhawk ]

Font: pt (other font:)

Arthur, the magician, must discover how to release a captive princess, rid the village of a curse, deal with the romantic problems of his helper, deal with the bureauocracy, and do something about that spavinned flying horse he's been saddled with. This is a comic mystery story, of course.

An Affliction of Wyrms

by Bud Sparhawk


Bud Sparhawk



The sway-backed pegasus shook its head impatiently and let out a fluttering whinny through its slobbering lips. The old horse ambled this way and that between the house and the fence that surrounded the yard, nibbling on the grass and shrubbery.

    "It's a fucking horse!" Wil complained to the short figure with the clipboard. "I ordered a bird -- preferably a phoenix -- not this . . . this . . ." his complaint sputtered away as he searched for a word that would adequately express his disappointment.

    "We can't rent you a phoenix," the imp said as it removed a pencil from behind the badge on its delivery cap. "MSHA said the phoenix are freaking fire hazards. They had so many incidents that they had no choice but to issue a general recall. Sign here." It touched a line on the pink contract sheet with the tip of its claw.

    Wil seethed as he accepted the proffered pencil. MSHA, the Magic Safety and Health Authority, were going to be the ruination of society. Their pesky bureaucratic tendrils reached everywhere, first into his trade so that he couldn't even cast a simple thaumaturgic spell without first getting certificates from a coven of local officials, and now into ordinary commerce. Someone, he determined, would have to put a stop to this before it was too late.

    "This here pegasus meets all of the safety and health rules," the imp added helpfully. "Solid base, adequate power, crash resistant, and," it added with a triumphant note in its voice, "she's fireproof!"

    Wil looked up from the sheet, halting the complex formulation of his signature in mid stroke. "Did you say she?" he asked incredulously. "I specifically said that the phoenix couldn't be a hen!"

    The imp snatched the clipboard back, glanced at the closely packed text that described the shipment, and glanced at the fractious mare in the paddock. There was a puzzled look on his face as if he had never heard such an insane observation in his entire life. "But, as you can see, this pegasus isn't a hen - she's a horse! Besides," he added, "Spitfire's the only thing we had on the lot - vacation time, you know. Lots of demand."

    "Spitfire!" Wil said incredulously. "That is the most inapt name I ever . . . Oh,what's the use. Give me the damned clipboard!" Wil snatched it back from the imp and scribbled the remainder of his sign across the bottom. "There! Take it and be damned!"

    The imp paled visibly and then returned to its normal green complexion when it realized that the wizard had spoken only a casual curse, not a curse. "Have a nice day," the imp mumbled seconds before it vanished in a puff of cerulean smoke. A yellow receipt fluttered to the ground where it had stood.

    Wil looked at Spitfire with distaste. How would Lady Helen Contraxx receive him were he to show up on something so inelegant, so pedestrian as this ancient bag of bones? Lords of the night, a pegasus was something that a common burgher, someone more concerned with transport than style, would use. No, he would have to leave the damned thing somewhere where Lady Contraxx wouldn't see it and walk the rest of the way.

    Lady Contraxx was a big enough problem for him already. She had been on the fence for months over using his services. If it hadn't been for the influence of Thomas Fleth, her closest advisor, a man who honored his bribes, she would probably have picked another, or even that unethical hack and arch rival, Geoff Kentridge!

    Geoff had several things going for him: he was younger, as personable as Wil was reticent, and had a very impressive vitae for his age. In addition, his arsenal of tools was far more extensive than Wil had acquired at the same point in his career. But competition wasn't so great a concern at present, thanks to Queen Maude's enlightened rule. The kingdom was prosperous and expanding, providing more than enough business for all of them.

    For the present, however, Lady Contraxx's commission was important to Wil, for its successful execution would bring with it a certain cachet, credentials that he could build upon.

    "Ain't you gone yet?" a withered crone said as she shuffled into the yard. "You said you had to be at Castle Contraxx by mid-day!"

    Wil recognized from her clothing that it was Helga, his housegirl, and only then did he recognize the young girl's face beneath the crone's aged features. The day before Helga had been comely, a buxom and strong young woman that many of the young men, no doubt, found quite attractive. Wil stroked his white beard and gave thanks that he was above such frivolous concerns.

    "Are you feeling well?" he asked solicitously. "I cannot help but notice that you are not quite yourself this morning."

    Helga sighed, a exhalation that seemed to wilt her ancient body even more. "It's that time of the month again," she said bitterly. "You know, that blasted curse!"

    Wil felt his face flush with shame. Helga's present appearance was the direct result of one of his corrective spells. A few months before, the village had experienced an infestation of wyrms. The fire-breathing pests had become a definite threat to the well-being of every home-owner. Their habit was to hunt in the thick roof thatch for mice and small birds and, sometimes, the flames would ignite the straw.

    One night it had taken the entire Gnomish Fire, Rescue, and Whist Society, plus a localized thunderstorm Wil had invoked while standing in his nightshirt, bare knees shivering in the cold night air, to put it out. Clearly, the mayor had declared, the wyrms had to be excised and the sooner the better.

    Wil offered to cast a Class III protective spell that would fireproof the thatch. But, protested the mayor and council, such an expensive s pell would exceed the town's meager budget. Couldn't he do something else to fit the budget, they asked? Couldn't he make it specific to these wyrms, or at least this generation of the things or just make the pest go away for a year or two? Yes, a year would be long enough to fire-proof the homes by more conventional and inexpensive means.

    By the time they finished chopping away at his bid it was no longer either sufficient or effective. When Wil protested that he could not, in good conscience, invoke a cheap spell so deficient in safeguards and limitations they took a vote on the spot and ordered him to act, citing the Dire Needs Act {cf Maude 316f.1.c(d)} which, being a licensed wizard of the realm, he was bound to perform were he to retain his license.

    The side effect --and there were always side effects when safeguards were unnecessarily cut-- was that the menstrual cycles of the village women were disrupted. Wil tried to adjust their discomfort by adding a minor spell that drew upon the women's youthful energy, but something unexpected had happened and the women turned into aged crones during their menses. Helga's aging was only temporary and she, like the others, would regain her normal youthful appearance within a few days.

    "You'd better get going," Helga chided, her cracked voice bringing his thoughts back to the present and his scheduled meeting with Lady Contraxx. "And put on a fresh set of clothing - you look like a beggar in that rumpled outfit."

    Wil sighed and went back into the house. Were it not for Helga he would probably ignore all of the civilized niceties.


    The trip to Castle Contraxx on the back of the slow-moving Spitfire was uneventful. The sedate speed provided him an opportunity to enjoy the scenery as the old pegasus plodded along, the wings beating a slow but steady rhythm that moved them barely faster than a crawl. It was a wonder that the animal could remain aloft at such a pace, Wi l thought. Now, if he had gotten the phoenix he'd already be at the castle, swooping into the courtyard in a shower of multi-colored feathers, the bird's jeweled eyes flashing a rainbow as its golden talons struck sparks from the cobbles. He could imagine how elegant he would look as he leaped from the phoenix's back and . . .

    Wil sighed. Such a leap would probably pay hell with his sciatica and bad knees. No, the reality was that he would have alighted more gracefully, as befitting a senior wizard, that is, if he had a phoenix instead of this slow, common, miserable excuse of a nag - wings it may have, but it was still a damned horse and a mare to boot!


    "Ser Wil," the Wilowy Lady Contraxx remarked as he entered her chambers. She rose from her seat near the window. As she rose her long raven tresses tumbled down her back, a cascade of silken hair that moved as if it had a life of its own. She took three steps toward Wil, extended her hand, and gave him a sweet, guileless smile. "How very nice of you to be so prompt."

    Wil took her hand, pressed it perfunctorily to his lips, and stepped back. "As agreed upon in our contract," he replied. "You did specify that I commence my work no later than mid-day on the first day of the new moon."

    "Yes, so I did. Well, what will you do now that you are here? I noticed that you didn't bring any of your apparatus with you."

    Wil glanced to where she had been seated, and the window just beyond. From this height, and in that direction she must have observed him trudging up the road like a common serf. What was worse, he realized with chagrin, she might have seen him landing that decrepit pegasus in the pasture just beyond the wood. Was amusement at his stubborn pride the reason for her smile?

    "A wizard at my level does not haul unnecessary paraphernalia around," he chided her. "But whatever tools that I require Wil come later, brought by Sion, my apprentice . Now," he said, rubbing his hands, "may we get down to business?"

    Helen regained her seat on the divan and motioned for Wil to take the nearby chair. He pulled it back toward the center of the room. His knees cracked as he sat down, but he was sure that only he had heard that small sound.

    "As I stated earlier," she began, "the castle, land, and all who live upon it are mine, or whatever heirs I might leave. This has been a burden that I have borne willingly until very recently."

    "Many have admired your dedication to Contraxx since your father's death," Wil prompted. "At the same time, you've generated quite a bit of curiosity over your shy reclusiveness."

    Helen sighed. "Would that it were simple shyness that kept me apart from the duties and entertainments of the kingdom. No, Ser Wil, it wasn't that my reclusiveness, as you term it, was merely an obligation that I must honor. As you know, my father - the Earl - had been bound to the castle, land, and its people by a binding spell of considerable power, as had all of his predecessors.

    Wil nodded. The original spell had been cast by none other than Tarnis Frunker himself to seal the bargain and ensure that the holdings were not misused by the family. Tarnis Frunker was the seminal source of modern, scientific wizardry. Few had ever equalled his skills in formulating and applying the thaumaturgic arts.

    "Yes," he nodded sagely. "The binding of the men of Contraxx is quite well known. It has kept the Contraxx men honest stewards of the land."

    "Men!" Helen spit bitterly. "Ser Wil, somehow the binding spell his gone wrong. It now affects me, the Earl's only daughter." Helen shook her head sadly. "Since his death I have been held here by forces that I can barely comprehend."

    Wil started. Everything he'd heard of Frunker's binding spell indicated that it was malic --specific only to the male side. Fathers passed it to sons, or so ns-in-law when there was no male issue. Helen's father, who had married the old Earl's sole daughter, had inherited the title and the spell when his father-in-law had fallen from his horse and cracked his skull.

    "I would think it impossible for you to be bound by the spell," Wil scoffed. "I can conceive of no way that the binding could have been transferred to you. Frunker's spells are quite sex-specific." He paused, considered the situation, and suggested; "Perhaps it is only your sense of obligation that binds you, a turn of mind that could . . ."

    Helen laughed hollowly. "Do you think that I have not tried to leave this place? That I have not tested and retested the mystic chains that hold me close to this castle, these lands? Listen, grave wizard; when I leave the castle I am afflicted with such remorse, loneliness, and homesickness that I can hardly bear it. When I near the boundaries of my lands my skin grows chill, tiny fears creep through the corners of my mind, my knees grow weak, my spirit, my desire to depart Contraxx flees from me like the rabbits and I, like them, must rush to my burrow, my castle, my single refuge, the sole abode where I can find peace of mind.

    "It is harrowing, ser Wil," she continued, near tears. "This fear, this gnawing creature rides me like a steed back to the barn of bondage. It is this curse that I want you to remove. It is this ungodly spell that I ask you to discharge for me."

    Wil wondered if he had made a serious strategic error in accepting the contract. The removal of a binding spell cast by the acknowledged expert of the field, the Magistre Extraordinary himself, was far beyond the usual practice of wizardry.

    On the other hand this could be the challenge of a lifetime. Yes, he thought, warming to the idea; this was a challenge which could test his abilities to the fullest. He might fail, but it would not be for lack of trying. And, if he did succeed it would secure his re putation - perhaps giving him stature equal to that of old Tarnis himself!

    "I must do some research," he temporized. "But first, tell me everything you can about how this binding manifests itself and what you have discovered about its power over the past five years."


Copyright © by Bud Sparhawk . All rights reserved unless specified otherwise above.

--That's the first 20% of the story. To read the rest of the story for $1.25, please click below, thanks!
(Pay with PayPal, Visa, MC, Amex, Discover)

(Once you've paid for it you can re-read it any time.)

If you previously purchased the rest of the story and want to read it again, enter your private password you received (look at your Paypal receipt):

Or-- Donations for the author, Bud Sparhawk , are also accepted, if you'd like to donate more than the $1.25 for this story because you like this author and want to encourage them to keep writing. Donations of $1.25 or more get you access to the paid part of this story as well. Yes, I'd like to donate $ to the author. (Pay with PayPal, Visa, MC, Amex, Discover)


Site layout Copyright © 1993-2007 Andrew Burt; stories Copyrighted by their authors; check before copying.