Category: Short Story
Genre: Fantasy short story
Approximately 22 printed pages (or about 18 minutes to read).
When a simple farm boy wins the lottery and becomes the next wizard he discovers the previous, dark wizard is in his head, controlling all of his actions.
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I had never seen so many people around the castle. Street merchants were selling everything from multicolored fabrics to jewelry and other trinkets, from eggs to lamb-cuts, from farm tools to pots and pans. They filled the streets outside the castle with their tables and tents, making passage to the castle courtyard near impossible. Others, besides the merchants, also clogged the streets. There were men walking on stilts and performers juggling, clowns making children laugh and musicians playing instruments of every shape and size. People everywhere. They were standing, talking, laughing, and spending coin. It was a carnival. The wizard lottery only happened once a century.
Still, too many people. I prefer wide, open country over crowds of people.
I hadn’t been near the castle in a year and wouldn’t be here now except the king required it. Every fourteen year old girl and boy had to assemble in the castle courtyard for the lottery.
“Boy, watch yourself.”
I spun around. A tall man, cornstalk thin, glared at me. He held a half eaten turkey leg and pointed at my feet with it. I had stepped on a scattering of pellets, feed of some type. A few feet away, under a table, cowered a small white goat.
“Sorry,” I said, stepping backwards.
Continuing to back away, I tripped over a rope tied to a peg in the ground. The rope connected to a pole supporting the canopy over a merchant’s table. I scrambled to my feet and reached for the pole. Too late. The canopy collapsed onto the table. Angry shouts came from under the canopy.
I jogged away, glancing over my shoulder as I ran. The man with the turkey leg still glared.
Walls surrounded the castle’s courtyard on three sides. Twenty feet above the center wall was a balcony from which the king could look down upon the courtyard. Along the rightmost wall, stone steps extended from the ground to the balcony. I wouldn’t want to climb them. There was no hand rail, nothing to keep you from falling off the side if you tripped—which I tended to do. Half the courtyard, the half closest to the balcony, was cordoned off with ropes. A row of guards, dressed in their bright blue uniforms with shiny brass buttons, stood in front of the ropes. There must have been two hundred kids behind the guards. I didn’t know there were that many fourteen year olds in the kingdom.
I approached the group of kids.
A guard held up a hand for me to halt. “Name?”
“Tayte, son of Barwick,” I said.
The guard scanned a list, found my name, and stepped aside, revealing a gap in the rope. I stepped through the gap into the crowd and scanned the faces, trying to find somebody I knew. I saw Rachain, a boy from a neighboring village. My father traded oats and hay with his father. I turned away, not wanting to talk to this annoying braggart.
That’s when I spotted Gytha. Her family worked the next farm over. She hadn’t noticed me yet and I took a moment to admire her. As usual, her red hair extended halfway down her back in a long braid. She turned, saw me, and smiled. “Tayte.”
For a moment her green eyes captured mine and I couldn’t respond. Finally, I found my tongue. “Ho, Gytha.”
She bounded to me, reached out and mussed my hair. “I see you still fear the barber’s scissors.”
I jerked away. “Why mess with perfection?”
“You call a stringy mop perfection?” She smiled. “Isn’t all of this amazing?”
“Not the word I’d use.”
She cocked her head at me.
I sighed. “I don’t want to be here. Pa’s got to get in the hay on the north field before it rains or the crop’s lost.”
She held a hand over her eyes, shielding them from the sun. “Not a cloud in the sky.”
“And ma’s getting worse. She can’t even get out of bed now.”
She put a hand on my shoulder. “I’m so sorry.”
“I pray I’m not selected,” I said.
“Seriously? Imagine what good you could do as wizard.”
“How could I help pa if I’m forced to stay here and do the king’s bidding?”
She punched me in the shoulder. “You need to think of using something other than your muscles.”
A trumpet sounded. I looked up at the balcony. On a small dais stood King Leofric. The color of his scraggly beard matched his golden crown. He wore a red robe and his belly, as big as a sack of grain, protruded through the robe’s front. Queen Heloise, a tall, thin woman, stood to the king’s right. She stifled a yawn. To the king’s left stood Ealdred the Wise.
I had never set eyes on the wizard before. He dressed entirely in black. A high, starched collar extended behind his head. His face seemed wax-like, without a single wrinkle betraying his advanced age. His hair looked like sun-bleached straw. In front of his chest he held his hands, fingertips touching. A scowl clouded the wizard’s face.
Revulsion swept through me.
The trumpet stopped and the king spoke. “Dear Citizens. Today we continue the tradition passed down through countless generations and select a new wizard to guide me and future kings for the next hundred years. And for the first time in history, young women as well as men have been added to the lottery.”
He glanced at the queen. She smiled at him. Ealdred’s scowl seemed to darken.
“Now,” the king said, “without further ado. Let’s select Ealdred the Wise’s successor.”
The wizard moved his hands apart and a large glass bowl appeared in them.
The crowd gasped.
Inside the bowl, tiny pieces of parchment swirled as if an invisible spoon stirred the bowl’s contents. The wizard held the bowl out to the king and the swirling stopped. The king reached inside and retrieved a single piece of paper.
The wizard looked directly at me and his upper lip curled.
The king unfolded the parchment. “Our kingdom’s next wizard is Tayte, son of Barwick.”
It felt as though a donkey had kicked me. I couldn’t breathe.
The crowd cheered.
“Where is Tayte, son of Barwick,” the king asked.
Still numb, I didn’t respond. Gytha grabbed my hand, thrust it high into the air, and waived it back and forth. “Here he is, your majesty.”
The king waved a hand and the guard stationed at the foot of the balcony stairs marched toward me.
“Congratulations,” Gytha said. “You are so lucky.”
I stared mutely at her. Gytha looked happy, but behind the happiness I detected something else. Disappointment maybe? She had wanted to be the first woman wizard.
The guard reached me and put his arm around my shoulders, attempting to steer me toward the staircase. I balked, ducked under his arm, and put my fists up. The other fourteen year olds crowded around us.