Chapter One,Part two
"Of that, Mr. Dreadful, you need have no worries. As a matter of fact, you will have more when I leave, than when I arrived. And less." he added, a knowing twinkle in his eye.
Penny suddenly remembered her fear. If what this strange wizard just intoned wasn't ominous,she just didn't know what was.
This time, it was Penny's mother who spoke up. "Sir,we would be honored to host you in our modest home, tonight. The road must be long, to bring you this far off the beaten path. However, the work here in the fields must get done, and soon! The drought of late has made it necessary to work as long as daylight will allow.."
The Old Hedge Wizard glanced up at the sky. "Hmm..", he pondered aloud, "That seems several hours away. What we have to discuss is rather important, and yes, the ride HAS been a bit longer than I am used to. Let me see what I can do to speed things along for you."
With that, he reached into his robe, withdrawing a clenched fist.
Was Penny about to see actual magic? Not some midsummer festival's sleight-of-hand, but honest to goodness MAGIC?
The Old Wizard certainly had every one's undivided attention.
Apparently, the wizard knew this, as well. Slowly, ever so slowly, he twisted his fist, and uncurled his fingers to reveal..
"Rocks?" Penny blurted out, her curiosity taking full control over actions. She hadn't been turned into a frog,(yet), and if she was going to see actual magic, why, she'd bee the envy of the other farm children at winter school, when there was nothing to harvest.
"Well, in a way yes.", Answered the Wizard, keenly studying Penny's rapt attention on the stones."And no."
Penny met the Wizard's eyes, confusion roiling within.
"Sir, how can it be both 'Yes' and 'no' at the same time?
"Ah, ha ha!, m'dear! Very, very few things in the Spiral are absolute. Not even Death is absolute."
At that, Penny pulled back a bit, wary.
Now on her guard. For the first time, she considered the possibility that this 'wizard' might just be a hungry con artist, disguised as a Wizard, just to fill his belly on the reputation of actual wizards.
"Not even death?" Penny asked, meeting his eyes with a studied glance not usual to a girl of her tender years. Living on a farm was a hard life, but in those that could shoulder the burdens, made for a sturdy, practical, and resolute character.
If this 'Wizard' turned out to "not be", well, she had no pity for him, nor any guilt for what the eventual mob of farmhands would be putting this would-be wizard through.
The old wizard's eyes twinkled, as if he had a large fish on the end of his fishing line, waiting for the net.
"No, young Penny Dreadful, not even Death, ho, ho! Step forward, m'dear, and gaze closer at these 'rocks'. Tell me what you see."
Penny leaned forward, glancing at the wizard's hand, then his eyes, then his hand, again.
What she saw was 6 little square stones, thicker in the middle, than on the ends. They looked highly polished, and their tawny color reminded her of the caramel sweet treats they had at Winter's Solstice. Each was no bigger than her big toe.They were pretty, sure, but they really didn't look like much..until one moved.
"Whoa!" Penny exclaimed, now leaning as far away , as she had just been leaning in.
"Oh, ho! No need for fear, Penny, no need for fear at all! Please, look closer.", The Wizard invited gently, "Look closer."
Leaning back in, Penny did indeed look closer, and noticed that the stones didn't quite move, but occasionally rippled, as if each were it's own individual pond, with some invisible little had tossing in invisible little pebbles.
Her curiosity in high gear now, she peered closer still, and saw that there were faint markings, etched in copper, on each stone. All six stones had the same etching, and she could have sworn she saw one etching actually..well, 'twitch'.
"Those...those are runestones!" Penny gasped, remembering some of the tales that traveling merchants would tell of wizards in far off places.
"Ah! An excellent guess, dear child. But wrong. You were very close, though, I must say. No Penny, these are runeseeds."
"Runeseeds?" Penny tried grasping the concept. She worked on a farm her whole life. She didn't care how much a stone twitched, you just couldn't grow a rock the same as growing a pumpkin.
"What is the difference between a runsetone, and a runeseed?"
With a knowing smile, the Wizard explained thus:
"Well, mostly just one difference. With runestones, if you do this..", he casually tossed the stones like chicken feed, "Nothing happens."
Penny watched, frozen in place, as each stone fell to the earth, and sunk into the ground, each one buzzing madly, like an angry bee's nest. Then in quick successions, six dull "thumps", all in the order they had hit the ground, leaving little dust rings over where the lay buried.
Penny looked to the wizard, who met her wild, questioning gaze patiently. "Wait for it, m'dear. You will see..."
Again, six "thumps". this time deeper, and stronger than before.
Then the ground started pouring. Like an hourglass, in reverse, soil began pouring up, where each stone had sunk down. Like six impossibly big anthills, the field only a half dozen feet from where they were standing was undulating ripples. Each 'anthill' sent ripples outward, interlacing with the ripples of the other five 'anthills' Then, as abruptly as is began, it stopped.
She looked to her parents. Her mother was firmly embraced in her father's protective arms, but the wizard stood between Penny and her parents. She didn't need to ask to know that this was their first real display of magic, as well.
"What was that all..." Penny was trying to ask, when the Magic Hand of Interruption appeared yet again. She saw that the wizard was softly mumbling something, his concentration focused, his eyes intent on the six, now dormant, anthills. Then his expression lifted.
"Happy Birthday!" He exclaimed, like a giddy child. Penny was puzzled. "But, its not my birthday, sir."
The wizard shot her a mischievous, knowing wink. "Again, m'dear, 'Yes' and 'No', but it wasn't you I was talking to. It was them."
And the the field exploded in six places, erupting sod and earth like dirty splashes around them. Six hulking, and growing, figures began to take shape amidst the settling dust.
"Go..go...go..go.."Penny stuttered, a stark raving fear of realization seizing every fiber of her being."Go..go..go.." Her parents were equally stunned silent.
With a casual gesture, the Old Hedge Wizard nodded.
"Yes, Golems, m'dear.Earth Golems, to be quite precise." The wizard chuckled.
No showman in the history of the Spiral had their audience more captivated.
It was refreshing, casting magic for the uninitiated. Their responses were always whole-hearted and genuine.