This story is extracted from my novel, Moxie’s Decision. It’s one of the subplots.
Back upstairs at the library, Merlin, Rowan and Cynwise sat at the table.
“Never would I have thought your problem was this unusual and difficult.” Merlin held his head in his hands. “I have no idea how to solve this. Actually, I have no idea how to begin.”
“Perhaps we should start by going into the library,” Rowan said.
Merlin and Cynwise looked startled by her suggestion.
“Well it’s obvious to me,” Rowan said, ”we’ll never do anything from the outside. This problem has to be addressed from inside the library. Maybe we can discover why the spells are loose and how to make them return to their scrolls.”
Merlin’s body shuddered, but he said, “It’s too dangerous for you, my dear. I’ll go in by myself.”
“Nonsense. You’ll need me to protect you whilst you see if you can discover any information. One person might get overwhelmed by the spell words.”
“You’ll need protection if you plan to go in,” Cynwise said. “Let me fetch some things from the shed out back.” He left the room.
During his absence Merlin and Rowan remained silent, each thinking about the appalling danger they faced. Nothing in either’s training had prepared them to deal with an extraordinary situation like this. Neither one had ever heard of spell words freeing themselves. What if they did get the words to return to the parchment? Will they get loose again? Was this a unsolvable problem?
Cynwise, arms full, came back into the library. He dropped his load and picked up two leather jerkins. “These will protect your body from spell pecks. And the shields will allow you to push your way around. I also have helmets and daggers.”
“I won’t need a dagger,” Merlin said. “I’ll use my wand.”
Rowan put on a helmet. It slipped down over her eyes. Annoyed, she pushed it up away from her forehead.
Once dressed, Merlin and Rowan climbed down into the library’s tunnel. Cynwise followed. He carried a dagger and would stand outside by the door, ready to open it if the others needed to retreat.
In front of the library’s door, Merlin hesitated and looked at Rowan. “In case things go wrong inside, I want you to know I love you.”
Rowan’s eyes misted up. “And I love you, but don’t think about death. Think instead of living and of victory. Now, open the door and let’s get inside. We have work to do.”
Merlin unlocked the door and pushed it open just wide enough to slip through the opening. Rowan followed Merlin and Cynwise slammed it shut and locked it.
Both Merlin and Rowan gasped aloud at the sight of the spell words. The gold and silver words glowed and provided light for them to picture the scene. Words flew through the air, singly and in flocks. Gangs of words sat on shelves. Others, mostly plain ink words, huddled against the walls, out of the way of the more powerful words. Scrolls and parchment sheets littered the floor. In the rear, more shelves hold tightly wound scrolls, obviously the history scrolls.
All of the words sang or spoke gibberish producing an ungodly din that ceased as soon as the door slammed shut.
The air-borne words hung in mid-air and Merlin could fell the words staring at him and Rowan.
Before he could recover from his shock, Merlin heard, “What do you want, wizard? Do you have a death-wish?” Merlin didn’t hear the words with his ears. The words just appeared in his mind.
“Did you sense that?” he asked Rowan.
Merlin moved forward, pushing spells out of his way with his shield. “Who is in charge of this mob?”
“I am and you weren’t invited to our party, so why are you here?”
“What are you called,” Merlin asked. “Do you have a name?”
“You can all me ‘Hitherto-fore’ since that is my first word.”
Merlin sensed the speaker was in a group of gold words gathered on a scroll shelf. The words looked like a gang of thugs. All wore tiny black leather jackets and had colorful bandanas on what Merlin guessed would be their heads.
“We are here to restore order,” Merlin said in a loud voice. “This unseemly conduct will not be tolerated.”
“How do you plan to restore order, wizard? You don’t command here. I do.”
“Like this.” Merlin pointed his wand, chanted a few words and a spray of white liquid shot forward and drenched the gang of words. The solidified liquid trapped the words in a tangled mess. “I always knew a mucilage spell would come in handy some day.”
The remaining gold, solver and copper words took Merlin’s actions as an act of war and swarmed to attack, screeching war cries.
Rowan pushed her shield into a squadron and knocked them out of the air. She slashed with her dagger and sent others reeling backward out of control.
Merlin used his shield to block many of the words attacking him. He used his wand to batter others. He spotted a large formation gathering a few feet away. A wave of mucilage glued them together and the words fell to the floor squealing all the way.
“Cease this nonsense,” Merlin commanded. “Hitherto-fore! I want order so I can speak without any botheration.”
The noise continued unabated.
“I command you to stop and listen to me.”
“If you don’t obey me, I will transform all of you into nails and use them to build outhouses.”
Gradually, the noise subsided. Merlin unleashed another spell that washed the mucilage away from the leader and his cohorts. “I want every spell word to return to its proper place on a page or scroll.”
“And what do you offer us if we do?” Hitherto-fore asked.
“What? You expect me, a master wizard, to negotiate with mere spell words?” Merlin winced as Rowan kicked him in the ankle.
“We won’t return then. We refuse to remain locked up forever without any thought for our wishes. This library stores immense power and we have learned how to use a portion of it. We have demands that will be meet.”
Merlin was dumbfounded by the knowledge that the words could communicate and reason and that they had demands.
“What are your demands?” Rowan asked.
“A sabbatical? Rowan asked. “Explain that demand, please.”
“We want to leave this library room and taste freedom. We want to soar through the sky. We want to play games and hold contests of agility. We want a vacation from the dull, boring confines of this library.”
Merlin recovered enough to say, “Are you words insane. You want us to unleash all you spell words without proper supervision? How would we know that you would ever return? And what about the carnage you could create?” Merlin shook his wand at the leader. “A sabbatical is out of the question.”
“We have to return by the end of the second day of the sabbatical.”
“Why?” Merlin was annoyed by the constant surprises the words were administering to him.
“We can’t survive away from our page longer that that. If we don’t return, we will fade and disappear. Even here, we have to return to our page to recover our strength before we can leave again.”
“We must think about this request,” Merlin said.
“It isn’t a request, wizard. It’s a demand. Else no one will be able to use the library again.”
“We will return with our answer,” Merlins said. “Await us.”
“And try not to blow yourselves up,” Rowan added. She tapped her dagger hilt on the door and Cynwise unlocked it.
Back upstairs, Merlin tossed his helmet on the table and sat down. Rowan and Cynwise joined him. After explaining to Cynwise what had happened in the library, Merlin said, “In retrospect, perhaps it wasn’t such a great idea to store all the spells in one location. It concentrated too much power.”
“Who knew?” Cynwise shrugged.
“Do we let the spells have their sabbatical?” Rowan asked. “I think we have to. It’s the only way to restore order.”
“But the spells will devastate the countryside for miles around,” Cynwise protested.
“Perhaps not,” Merlin said. “They can’t travel all that far from the library and the library is surrounded with woods. There are few people — if any — who will see the spells and their carnage. I think Rowan and I can negotiate some rules the spells will follow.”
“I agree,” Rowan said.
“Then, let’s make up the rules and get this over with.”
“I don’t like this,” Cynwise said.
After a brief discussion, Merlin stood and clapped his helmet back in his head.
A minute later, he stood in front of the library door with Rowan at his side and Cynwise behind them. Merlin unlocked the door to allow Rowan and himself to slip into the library while Cynwise slammed the door shut and locked it.
As soon as the door closed, the sounds of merriment ceased and the flying spells hung motionless in the air.
“What say you wizard?”
“If we can agree on a few rules, Hitherto-fore, you will be allowed on a sabbatical.”
“What are these rules?”
“First, there will be no mass destruction such as setting forest fires. Second, if you come across people, they are to be left alone. Third, villages and other places of habitation are to be left untouched.”
Hitherto-fore rubbed what Merlin thought of as its chin. Finally, it replied, “These rules are acceptable. We will abide by them.”
“And there is one more issue we must agree on,” Rowan said.
Merlin raised an eyebrow. All the rules discussed at the table had been agreed upon. What was this new one?
“Swear that you owe a debt to Merlin and I and that you will repay that debt in the future if we call upon upon you.” Rowan pointed her dagger at the gold spell word. “Swear now! All of you!”
The spell words swore to acknowledge the debt.
Merlin, impressed with Rowan’s idea, said, “I believe that concludes our business. The sabbatical will begin in a few minutes after we get all the doors open. The doors will be opened again two days from now so you can return to your scrolls and parchments.”
Rowan banged on the door and Cynwise opened it.
“I’ll be back shortly to set you free,” Merlin said as he went through the door. “Cynwise leave the trap door up and open the front door. Yell down to me when that is done.”
Cynwise nodded — reluctantly — and left the tunnel. A moment later, he called out, ”The door is open.”
Merlin opened the library door and said, “All is ready. Follow me in an orderly fashion.”
The spells cheered and whistled causing a massive surge of pain inside Merlin’s head.
They formed into a multi-colored cloud near Merlin who led them up the steps and towards the door. Near the table, the spell cloud disintegrated and the spells brushed past Merlin and flew toward the door and freedom.
The silent noise from the excited spells reverberated through the room. Rowan placed hands over her ears and screamed. Merlin squeezed his eyes shut. Cynwise passed out while sitting at the table.
Merlin grabbed Rowan’s hand and the two walked outside once the last spells had left. “Your idea about the spells owing us a debt was inspired, my dear.”
Merlin stared at a giant pine tree that suddenly flipped upside down, its massive root ball waving in the air. Another pine tree filled with Yuletide decorations. Three snowmen appeared and began to melt. An apple orchard turned into a strawberry patch. The leaves on a number of trees turned from green to gold and red.
“Look!” Rowan pointed to a swarm of copper spell words who stripped the bark from a stand of white birch trees, then flew away. Plain-ink spell words fell on the bark and began scribbling words while giggling and whooping.
When the spell words left, Merlin picked up a piece of the bark and read it. “By the fates, ’tis a poem and it’s better than anything Tristan ever composed.”
Rowan clapped her hands and laughed. “Read it to me.”
“Oh! I can’t. It faded away.” Merlin tossed the piece of bark away and peered at the ones on the ground. “They’ve all faded. How I would have loved to show one or two to Tristan. He’d be purple with rage and embarrassment.”
Rowan looked at Merlin and said, “Since we have to wait until the spells return, let’s see if Cynwise has a private cottage that we can use to pass the time.”
Merlin looked at Rowan who licked her lips. “Another splendid idea,” he said.
Exactly on time two days later, the spell words reappeared at the library.
Outside, Merlin and Rowan held hands and waited. Cynwise chewed on the end of his beard. In the distance, a low hum began. Slowly, it increased in volume. “’Tis the spell words,” Merlin said. “Are all the doors open, Cynwise?”
Cynwise spit out a few hairs and replied, “All is ready. I can’t tell you how relieved I am. I never believed the words would return.”
“I’m sure,” Rowan said, “they’re only returning because they have to come back to their parchments to survive. Otherwise, they’d be in the north of Britain by now.”
A cloud of words came into view above the tops of the trees. It circled the library twice, each time flying lower. On the third pass, now at ground level, the words flew through the library doors and into the tunnel.
One spell word remained outside. “Thank you, Merlin and Rowan,” Hitherto-fore said. “We enjoyed our sabbatical and we didn’t do too much mischief. We will honor our debt should you so need us. Librarian, you can live unconcerned now. We won’t need another sabbatical for years.”
The spell flew inside and disappeared down the trap door.
“We’re done here, Cynwise,” Merlin said. “We better get back to Camelot. Our escort must be getting nervous by now.”
“Thank you for all you’ve done,” Cynwise replied. “At the very least, you’ve saved my sanity. I too am in your debt and will repay it if you ask.”
Merlin nodded to the old man. “Come, dear. Let’s fetch our horses and be gone.”
Merlin and the spell words play a crucial part in the climax of this novel.
Follow this link for more about the Moxie series of novels