This contest had a strange theme: the title had to follow the format “The [NOUN] Who [VERB] [NOUN].” Which posed more of a problem than you might think, since it was hard to be vague when you pretty much had to spell everything out in the title. After a failed first attempt with a completely different story, inspiration hit, and out popped this tale of a grumpy wizard who at times bears more than a passing resemblance to the guy who wrote him. And a bonus! This version contains the original ending I was unable to include initially as it would have violated the word limit. Consider this the director’s cut!
Semagremus felt it as he woke, like someone standing behind him staring at him. That same tingling call of vast power that had awaited him every morning for the last 200 years.
And he was completely and utterly sick of it.
There had been a time, feeling it blossom as Orovil instructed him at the Conclave, when magic was exciting, full of possibility and wonder. After Semagremus became the youngest court magician in the history of Altethis, he’d looked forward to many years of productive and important magic.
What followed instead had been more than a century and a half of predicting rain, mixing cure-alls, and making the flowers in the Royal Gardens bloom just the right shade of purple for a seemingly never-ending string of botanically obsessed queens. He hadn’t cast a fireball in over twenty-five years, not since the thousand year anniversary of the founding of Altethis, an occasion he thought called for something a little grander than trumpet calls and knights on parade. King Temerand had scolded him for frightening little Princess Glyssenda, and Semagremus had bitten his tongue hard to keep from mentioning she probably saw more frightening things when she looked in the mirror each morning.
Glyssenda had long since been married off to some unfortunate noble somewhere down south, and her brother Mikeldon had ascended to the throne and proceeded to treat Semagremus as his own personal thermometer. Every morning the wizard would pull himself out of bed, trudge down to the Hall of Ages, and try to add some kind of sage gravity to whatever variation of, “A bit of cloud today, Your Majesty,” the forecast called for. Never mind that he’d wrestled with the fundamental questions of all of creation; his most difficult question these days was, “But will the croquet match be spoiled by unexpected hail this afternoon?”
A timid knock came from the door. That would be Lorrel, the apprentice he’d neither wanted nor asked for. Why in the Greener Realms anyone would want to follow him down this path of nuisance and bother was beyond him. Better to drink yourself stupid down in the tavern district every night. You’d still have a headache, but one that would at least go away eventually, and you might end up with a roll with one of Calder’s wenches in the bargain. You’d also die a lot sooner and be rid of the bother all that much faster. But Lorrel had been annoyingly persistent, and despite his best efforts, Semagremus had accidentally managed to teach the lad a thing or two over the last five years.
“You’re late!” He wasn’t, but Semagremus felt like yelling.
“Forgive me, master, a convoy from the Southern Expanse had the courtyard nearly blocked solid.” Lorrel’s voice didn’t crack, but it definitely wavered in that direction.
“Wait there!” He pulled on his least-wrinkled robe, and thought about adding the misshapen lump of a hat some forgotten king had deemed appropriate headwear for a wizard. Instead, he shook his hands through his hair and beard until his white locks stuck out and up and all around, a fuzzy aging mane about his head. Most of the court thought him crazy as it was; no sense in not having a bit of fun with it.
Semagremus yanked the door open as hard as he could, startling Lorrel into dropping the stack of books Semagremus had asked him to collect from the library last night. “Come on, let’s get this over with.” He didn’t wait, but started towards the 752 steps leading from his tower. He could have levitated down the stairs, or teleported straight to the bottom. But he’d cast those spells so many times, the thought of doing either again made the walk down seem absolutely delightful by comparison.
“You learn Brellicor’s Theorem like I asked you to?”
Lorrel’s face brightened. “Yes! Would you like to hear it?”
“Not particularly.” Despite the physical strain, the trip down the stairs would instill just the right amount of irritability for his visit with the king. He’d named each step after some royal or noble who’d annoyed him over the past 150 years. As he did every morning, he spat out their names as he trod on them. “Fenden … Tessella … Ramdell…”
“Did you say something, master?”
“Yes.” He ignored Lorrel for the rest of the descent and the walk to the Hall of Ages.
Semagremus was announced into the presence of the king, Lorrel trailing behind. Mikeldon sprawled on the throne, a penchant for sweetmeats having left the athletic youth he’d once been buried under pounds of fat. His petite queen Merris only just managed to hide her displeasure.
“Ah, Semagremus!” Mikeldon’s voice was breathy with effort. “And what will the weather offer us today?”
“Your majesty…” Semagremus paused as he felt something snap. All the years, all the inanity finally came to a boil. He felt as if a weight had been lifted, and what had once seemed like damp clothes clinging to him after a cold rain now became light and warm. He smiled.
“Your majesty, I wonder if you might like a bit of instruction in some magic of your own.”
Mikeldon sat up, a rather laborious process. “Magic? Me?”
“Yes. I can teach you the spell for knowing the weather. It requires but two components.”
The king beamed at Merris. “Yes? What are they?”
“Your head and an open window.” He nodded to Lorrel. “He’s all yours, boy.” And with that, Semagremus willed his spirit skyward with a bright flash, his aged body crumpling to the floor.
Later, when Semagremus arrived at the Higher Planes, he was greeted by Orovil, his old master. “Took you long enough.”
“I always was the stubborn one.” He took in the vast, sprawling expanse of glowing clouds and arcs of power that surrounded them. “So what’s it like up here?”
Semagremus stared at his old master. “What?”
“It turns out we’re in charge of the rain.”
Lorrel stared up into the gray sky, the raining falling as it had for the last thirty days. King Mikeldon had stopped asking for weather forecasts more than a week ago, and had taken to sulking around the throne room bemoaning the state of the croquet grounds. Certainly the king would eventually begin asking for ways to stop the rain, but for now, Lorrel had time to himself. Time for books and scrolls and spells and magic.
A flash of lightning lit the courtyard. Lorrel counted quietly to himself, barely reaching three before thunder boomed above him.
And as every time before, if he listened closely, he could swear he heard in it the sound of his old master, laughing.