The Disappearing Act
NOTE: This story is part of a series. For the recommended reading order, see Beryl's Storyline.
As the first of his juggling balls vanished into thin air, Nasperge could sense that he was losing the crowd. He had spent enough lifetimes as a showman to know what it felt like when an audience’s attention began to waver, and he could see the warning signs across the sea of faces arrayed before him. He saw the danger in their relaxed posture – no tension in their jaws, no sense of anticipation – and in the idle way that their eyes flitted back and forth between the Magician’s face and the brightly-colored balls which flew through the air above his head.
They were looking at him, sure enough, but they weren’t watching him.
So, as the next ball reached the top of its arc, Nasperge made it disappear with a little puff of blue smoke. That, he noted with some satisfaction, at least earned him a surprised blink or two.
Partly, the problem was the heat. It was the height of the long Aliavelli summer, and, even beneath the shade trees in the Court’s great garden, the air was hot, and humid. Nasperge felt unpleasantly warm inside his black suit and cloak, and sweat beaded mercilessly on his forehead, where it either soaked into the brim of his tall hat or ran down his face to sting his eyes. As uncomfortable as he felt, though, the Magician could see that the scores of young teens who comprised his audience were even less pleased with the heat. They lay scattered across the green, grassy lawn in a series of rough, concentric circles, where they languished atop silk cushions and fidgeted awkwardly beneath their formal robes.
They were, the Magician thought ruefully, as the next ball exploded above his head into a shower of red and blue fireworks, at precisely that age when sitting still for any length of time was difficult enough, even before factoring in the stifling summer sun. Occasionally, a light breeze would drift through the garden, and set the broad leaves of the shade trees rustling, but even that did little to relieve the oppressive heat.
As the next-to-last ball passed above Nasperge’s head, it vanished into a cloud of green smoke. At least, the Magician thought to himself, the finale was close at hand.
The only ball which remained was the sole black one. Nasperge always liked to save the black ball for last – doing so imbued it with an extra, mysterious significance. For a few moments, he tossed the black ball back and forth, passing it from one hand to the other, before sending it on a series of increasingly high tosses, while he allowed the tension to build just a little longer.
Then, as the black ball reached the apex of its final toss, the Magician clapped his hands together, and the ball burst open with a shower of silver and gold confetti, which swirled on a magically-enhanced breeze before raining down across the upturned heads of the silent audience.
Nasperge removed his hat with a theatrical flourish, and he was about to summon another burst of confetti to accompany his final bow when he felt a strange ripple of magic in the air around him, followed by an audible pop. Suddenly – almost before he realized what was happening – the simple spells he had woven together over the course of his trick collapsed, and all five of his juggling balls reappeared, hanging conspicuously in the air just above eye-level. For a single, heartbreaking second, the balls seemed to hover in place, as though in defiance of gravity. Then, one by one, they fell, landing on the soft, grassy earth with a short series of dull thuds.
As the last of the balls rolled away, the crowd fell deathly still.
Nasperge swept his eyes across the audience, searching for the source of the ill-intentioned counterspell. Row upon row of embarrassed faces looked away from his. One boy tried – and failed – to suppress a burst of nervous laughter, which he attempted to cover with a cough.
Only one face in the crowd met the Magician’s gaze. That face – which bore a small, self-satisfied smirk – belonged to the auburn-haired and amber-eyed girl who sat at the very center of the audience.
For a moment, Nasperge’s eyes lingered on Astria Trevanei’s, and a series of dark thoughts flashed through his mind. But, just as quickly as those impulses flared up, he tamped them back down again. Instead, the Magician threw both his arms out wide, and he worked one final spell. As he did, the five scattered balls exploded into puffs of white smoke, from each of which emerged five white doves. Taking flight, the birds soared up through the trees with a flutter of wings, and they cooed as they disappeared into the high summer sky.
Nasperge gave his hat a little twirl, and he offered the audience a deep, showman’s bow.
From the very back of the garden, the Magician heard a single cry of “bravo!” followed by hearty – if, he thought, perhaps a bit overenthusiastic – applause. Glancing up, Nasperge could see Moira Trevanei resting the weight of her pregnant body against the red-barked trunk of a cypress tree, and clapping her hands loudly. This emphatic display of approval from the High Sorceress seemed to shatter the tension which still hung in the air, and the younger members of the crowd soon joined in with their own polite smattering of applause.
Nasperge bowed again in acknowledgement. Then he bowed a third time – albeit a bit stiffly – in Astria’s direction. Provocation notwithstanding, it was, after all, her name day.
“Let us have one more thanks for our wonderful magician,” Moira said to the crowd, leading the party guests in a final round of half-hearted applause. As she did, her eyes caught Nasperge’s, and, in them, the Magician could read her wordless apology. Holding Moira’s gaze, he gave his head a small, subtle shake.
Standing slowly from her spot at the base of the tall cypress, Moira drew herself upright, and she began walking towards Nasperge.
“I’m going to have a final word with our honored guest,” she said to the restless ranks of youths. “In the meantime, why don’t you all return to the parlor, where I believe that cakes and lemonade are waiting?”
At the mention of cold drinks and dessert, nearly four dozen young teenagers – the next generation of the Aliavelli aristocracy, with Astria at their fore – quickly scrambled to their feet and scampered off across the lawn. For a moment, Nasperge watched the partygoers depart, until they merged into a distant mass of rustling silk and excited conversation, and disappeared behind a neatly-sculpted hedgerow.
Just then, the Magician felt an unexpected tug at the hem of his cape. Looking down, he saw a pair of deep green eyes staring up at him though wispy strands of black hair.
“I liked the part at the end,” the green-eyed girl said to him, her voice a sort of hushed whisper. “How did you make the birds appear?”
A smile forced its way across Nasperge’s face.
“I could ask you the same question, little enchantress,” he said.
Bending down, the Magician held one hand up, palm outward, in front of the little girl’s awestruck face. He wiggled his fingers, to show that they held nothing. Then he slipped his hand behind the green-eyed girl’s ear, and closed it into a fist. Bringing the hand back around to where she could see it, he opened it up, revealing a small, blue egg nestled in his open palm.
“Look what you had in your ear!” the Magician said. “You really should wash back there more often.” Then, seeing the hesitant look on Beryl Trevanei’s face, he added: “Go ahead – take it.”
With trembling fingers, the green-eyed girl reached out and took the egg from the Magician’s grasp. And no sooner was she holding it between her cupped hands then the little blue egg began to shake. A crack appeared down the length of the egg’s shell, and it split open to reveal a baby robin.
Beryl’s green eyes danced with wonder as she cradled the newly-hatched bird. The little robin began to rustle its tiny wings, and to cheep up at her in short, excited bursts.
“He needs a nest!” Beryl declared, her voice suddenly urgent, and she held the little bird carefully out in front of her as she ran off in the direction of the Court.
“I almost hate to wonder which drawer of mine is to be commandeered for that purpose,” Moira Trevanei said, as she drew up next to Nasperge. For a moment, she turned to watch her younger daughter scamper away, and a beatific smile flashed across her face.
“I can provide more suitable accommodations, if you like,” Nasperge said. With a little wave of his hand, he reached inside the folds of his cloak, and produced a gilded birdcage, made from delicately-woven strands of thin, golden wire.
Turning back to face the Magician, Moira offered him a knowing smile.
“If you know my daughter, then you’ll know that bird won’t spend a day of its life inside any cage,” she said, giving her head a little shake. “Before the night is out, she’ll be feeding it cake crumbs from my best teacups. I daresay that little creature will have the run of my home.”
Nasperge tilted his head a bit to one side. “You disapprove?” he asked.
“I do not,” Moira said. Leaning forward, she placed a quick kiss on each of the Magician’s cheeks. “You were wonderful, as always.”
For a moment, Nasperge closed his eyes, and he sighed. He slid the little golden birdcage back beneath his cloak, where it disappeared into the pocket that he didn’t have. Then he ran a hand across his short, gray beard.
“I get the sense that your older daughter wasn’t quite as satisfied with my performance,” he said, sighing again. “I gather that Astria feels like she’s a little too old for magic shows?”
Moira shot him a teasing glance. “I still enjoy your shows,” she said. “What does that make me, then?”
Nasperge’s mouth drew up into a small smile. “Young at heart,” he said.
Moira placed a hand on the Magician’s shoulder. “You always do tell the kindest lies,” she said, smiling back. Then, nodding in the direction in which her daughters had run off, she added: “I’m afraid Astria has reached that awkward age where her knowledge exceeds her humility.” Moira sighed herself, and her eyes turned wistful. “I daresay that you and I likely went through a similar phase in our youths, loathe as we might be to admit as much today.” She gave her head a little shake. “Astria still needs to learn that greatness and goodness are seldom the same thing, and that the latter is both rarer and more worthy than the former.”
Nasperge glanced off into the distance, and a slight edge appeared beneath his voice. “She needs to grow up,” he said.
Moira’s eyes offered the Magician a gentle rebuke.
“That’s a sentiment which comes easier to you than it does to me,” she said. “I spend most of my days fearing that they’ve both grown up too fast.” Then, running a hand across her pregnant belly, she added: “Although, just now, I feel as though I’m the one doing most of the growing.”
Glancing down at Moira’s heavily-pregnant body, Nasperge raised an eyebrow. “How much longer?” he asked.
Reaching around to rub her sore back, Moira grimaced. “Not long at all, if the Gods have any sense of mercy,” she said. Exhaling deeply, she closed her eyes for a moment. “In most respects, I consider myself to have improved with age. In some particular regards, though, the march of time has been considerably more tyrannical.” Her eyes reopened, and a wan smile crossed her face. “Not that I suppose I ought to complain to you, of all people, about the tyranny of years.”
Nasperge shook his head. “You wear your years beautifully,” he said.
And, for a moment, then, he looked at Moira Trevanei – really looked at her.
In his mind’s eye, he could picture the vibrant face of the young woman he had once known, back when she had worn the white dress of a priestess, and her eyes had brimmed with possibility. Then he let that memory fade away, and he looked deeply into the amber eyes of the mature woman who now stood before him. The first streaks of silver were visible within her long, auburn hair, and her face had been subtly softened by motherhood. But she was still deeply, profoundly beautiful. It was the same beauty he had seen in her since the day they had first met. The passage of time had transmuted it into a different form, replacing her youthful charm with a sort of serene grace, but she still glowed.
With a start, Nasperge realized he was staring. He felt his pulse quicken, and he looked away.
Next to him, Moira Trevanei laughed, and the sound reminded him of nothing quite so much as the pealing of silver bells.
“I look a frightful mess, although you are kind to imply otherwise,” she said. “Now, let’s get out of this heat, before we cook inside our own skins.” She cocked her head slightly to one side, and her eyes held a familiar question. “I don’t suppose you could be persuaded to stay for lemonade and cakes?” she asked.
Wiping sweat from his brow, Nasperge slowly shook his head. “I ought to be going,” he said. “Today is a day for the young, and I know better than to count myself among their number.”
Moira’s smile faded, but she offered a nod of understanding. Nasperge’s visits to Aliavelli were always brief, and his departures were always abrupt.
It had to be that way, and she accepted as much.
“Will I see you again before the autumn?” she asked.
Nasperge shook his head. “I suspect not.”
“You will return for Beryl’s name day? She’s turning nine, and she’s still a great fan of yours.”
Nasperge nodded. “I’ll have a new trick or two up my sleeve, the next time I see her.”
“You’re a good man, Nasperge,” Moira Trevanei said, kissing the Magician lightly on the cheek, “and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.”
Nasperge said nothing in response. He just rubbed his beard again, and sighed, which he did not enjoy as much as he had expected to.
Before he could leave, though, Moira held up a hand to stop him. Digging around inside her leather scrip, she produced a pale blue envelope, which she handed to him.
Nasperge turned the envelope over in his hands. It was made from heavy paper, and its flap had been sealed with Moira’s signet ring in bright, red wax. His name was written on the back.
“What’s this?” he asked.
“That’s something for you to hold on to,” she said, “and to open when the time is right.”
Nasperge ran a puzzled finger across the wax seal. “How will I know when the time is right?” he asked.
Moira fixed him with a wry smile. “You ask me that as though I were the fortune teller, rather than you,” she said.
Nasperge nodded absently as he continued to study the envelope, turning it on its side. It was thin – so thin, he reckoned, that there couldn’t have been more than a sheet or two of paper inside.
“But what’s in it?” he asked again.
“An answer,” Moira said, “to a question which you meant to ask me long ago, but never did.”
Nasperge arched an eyebrow. “How...”
But, before he could speak, Moira Trevanei smiled her knowing smile at him. She placed a slender finger atop his lips, and he fell silent.
“Are you really going to ask me to reveal my trick?” she said.
In spite of himself, the Magician smiled back, and he shook his head.
“No,” he said. “Never.” And he slipped the envelope inside his non-existent pocket.
Then he closed his eyes, and he prepared to ‘walk.
As he did, Nasperge heard Moira say to him: “If it’s a boy, I was thinking of naming him after you.”
Without opening his eyes, Nasperge sighed and shook his head.
“Please don’t,” he said.
Then the Magician bowed deeply, and he performed his oldest, most-reliable trick.
Nasperge is an original character created by RavenoftheBlack for the Expanded Multiverse.
Magic: Expanded Multiverse is not associated with Wizards of the Coast. This is a transformative work of fanfiction, protected in the United States under the laws of Fair Use.
All works copyright their respective creators.