Chapter 13: Great Balls of Fire

Once started on my magical journey the rest came pretty quickly, or at least the basics of it did. It was like anything else, you learn how to do it, then you have to work hard to learn how to do it well. Nobody’s an expert from Day One.

I alternated between believing in magic and believing in psi powers. Okay, so I was kinda-sorta sometimes clairvoyant. Clairvoyance falls under the heading of pseudoscience, even though I’d just honest to goodness done it. Believing in one was pretty much the same as believing in the other, I guess. There’s not much of a difference between pseudoscience and magic.

So then it was lunch time and I had another try at starting the fire. That worked effortlessly, kind of like everybody else could do it, almost. When Nannakussi or Chulëntët started a fire, they could wave a hand and the target would just start burning. Poof, you’re on fire. Mine was a little more spectacular: A cool blue spark would seemingly grow out of nothing in the palm of my hand, and I could then toss it where I wanted it to go. By the time it got there it was red verging into white. Depending on the distance it traveled, it could be anywhere from an inch to a foot across, and hotter than blazes. Or maybe just as hot as blazes, since that’s what it was. Nevy’s was kind of like mine, but not quite as spectacular.

So that made three paranormal, pseudoscientific skills that had come to me with a little coaching and some practice. Now all I had left to learn was casting spells, transformation, curses, charms, potions, poisons, and maybe necromancy and calling up elementals – imps, devils, or… well… demons.

I think the last two bothered me the most, even though I was theoretically unable to do one of them. Imps, devils, and demons required a virgin in trade, so I was too late for that one. Necromancy also required a trade, though the victim need not be a virgin, nor even human. It had to be substantial (no chickens or mice), of value, freely given, and freshly dead.

At least that cut my curriculum down to a slightly more manageable size.

“Now thou musst slæpe, my lord,” Nevianne told me after we had eaten our prandium, which had consisted of greasy duck meat sandwiches.

“I could probably do with a siesta,” I agreed. We were in the habit of grabbing a half hour in the afternoon.

“Ye erchebischop (archbishop) desireth to cast œn galdorléoð (spell) ‘pon thee.”

“What kind of spell?” I asked, hesitating. Since magic actually worked, I was now leery of having it used on me.

“Ist to hilf med thine… thine… acoent? Nicht ic becnāwe… (I don’t know.)

“’Accent?’” I suggested. My sweet was getting flustered, which meant she was stumbling in trying to make herself understood. Usually she was a little more clear. She’d been stumbling since she started the conversation.

Aye, aye! That word we hæbben...”

Anything that would help us all communicate better was fine with me. I wasn’t sure how a spell might help my accent, but I was willing to give it a try, especially if all it took was taking a nap.

Are you going to join me?” I asked, stretching out invitingly on my blanket.

Nay, sir. We alle beoð…” She lost her place looking for the word she wanted. I probably wouldn’t have understood it anyway.

Okay,” I said gently. “You’ll all be working on this spell. If I manage to get to sleep, have at it!”

At that point I nodded right off, helped along by a wave of Madame Archbishop’s hand and a mouthful of mumbo jumbo.

I slept well and for considerably longer than I had expected. It was dark outside, with the moon high in the sky, by the time I woke up again. I had slept clear through cena (dinner, the main meal of the day) and was barely in time for vesperna (a late evening snack). Nevy was kneeling astride me, shaking me gently and poking me to get me to wake up.

I did. The position she was in, I was staring right down her cleavage, all the way to her knees. I had seen my pretty that very morning, wearing an eye-catching birthday suit. The view down her dress revealed much, though not as much as the morning’s vision. I’m not sure why I felt like such a perv for looking. It was familiar territory, only with an original presentation.

Are you all right, lover?” she asked. The words were all Later Saxon, but her meaning, complete with nuances and the bit of worry, was clear as a bell.

I’ve never been better,” I replied in the same language.

“I’m so happy!” she said, taking my hands and helping me to my feet.

“It worked then?” the archbishop asked in Later Latin. I also understood him.

“It seems to,” I replied in the same language. “How did you do it?”

It’s a very, very complicated spell,” he told me, while Nevianne, who didn’t speak very much Latin, stood by looking impatient. “It was actually four spells, since we had to put three in and take one out.”

“One out?” I asked.

Speak to your intended in your own language,” he suggested. He was smiling proudly, all his teeth showing. It was pretty ghastly.

You can understand me, Nevy?” I asked her in American English. She was a smart girl. She had been coming along well in the very basics of the language, given the very short time we’d actually been together.

Now I can,” she assured me. “I think my tongue might get tired talking like this!” She had an accent, the one I had heard in my vision, but she had vocabulary and grammar down.

“And now you can tell the difference between one tree and another, lord?” Nannakussi asked in Lenape.

First I have to recognize them,” I told him in the same language. “Then I’ll know what they are.”

I promise I’ll point them out, lord.”

And then we’ll go to them, by them, and around them,” I laughed, hoping my own lips and tongue, and probably my tonsils, and my brain would recover from the phonetic strains of Algonquian.

Eat, lord,” my prospective mother-in-law suggested in Saxon. “You’ve been working hard all day. Now you need to get your strength back.”

Life had suddenly become a lot easier. Simple conversations that had taken up to an hour before now took minutes, or even seconds. Body language and facial expression became less important, hearing more natural. I was pretty happy. It was like magic.

I also ate like a horse. Luckily cena had been a lot more like an early vesperna, and vesperna more like a feast. There weren’t any hummingbirds’ tongues or sows’ uteruses (uteri?), like Lucullus had feasted on, but what we did have was mighty tasty. There was fried fish, pheasant, mutton, cabbage boiled in a thin tomato sauce, pasta et renibus faba (pasta fazool), and honeydew melon with honey drizzled on it for dessert.

Are you ready to go for a walk, my love?” Nevy asked, using English as I forced a last bite in.

“More of a waddle, I think, after all that,” I replied, suppressing a burp. We went down to the first floor and out onto the street, locking the door behind us.

The archbishop knew you’d be ravenous,” she told me, sounding serious. “Actually, all of us involved were starving. The spell uses an awful lot of energy. You saw me eating all that would fit in my mouth that didn’t bite me first!”

It was a pretty impressive display of gluttony, my love,” I admired. “I’m still trying to figure how he worked it.”

“The spell, you mean?”

“The spell,” I agreed, trying not to breathe too deeply since the sewer we were strolling by was both open and full.

“It’s way more complicated than the one I used to call you up, and that was the most complicated spell I’ve ever worked!” she assured me.

“How did it work?” I asked. “The archbishop’s spell, I mean.”

“I have only a hazy idea of the outside mechanics. Lots of gunpowder in precise quantities and sequences, incantations in Latin, Greek, Hebrew, Egyptian, and Tamazig...”

“Tamazig? That’s a new one on me.”

“The native language of North Africa,” she told me, “west of Egypt anyway.”

“Hmm… In my realm I think it was displaced by Arabic.”

“Here Arabia’s just a poor backwater of the Empire,” she shrugged.

“No Mohammad?” I mused.

I guess not,” she said. “I’ve never heard of him. I could look him up, I guess.

And the spell took a precise area of knowledge out of your head and put it into mine?” I guessed.

It’s a teaching spell, so it can be very dangerous. You know: Teaching you all the wrong things. Archbishop Simon says it’s derived from a love enchantment.”

“That does sound dangerous,” I agreed.

I had a quick suspicion. I had never fallen head over heels for a woman like I had for Nevy. If I’d fallen any harder I’d have broken bones, and if I’d fallen any quicker I’d have been there before I left. Even as I had the suspicion, I got a poke in the ribs. “I did not use it on you. I don’t even know the one he was talking about.”

“You know others?” I asked.

She stopped and pulled me to her. “Tell me honestly,” she demanded, her face enchanting in the moonlight. “For the past ten years have you had any serious interest in any woman?”

Serious interest?” I mused.

“Aye, my lord. Serious.”

There was Heather…”

For a month, you told me. And it was serious?”

“Sometimes,” I defended.

“Out of bed?”

“No, dear heart.” Heather had been mighty serious in bed. With our clothes on I’d had a hard time talking to her, though the way she wore the clothes did maintain a bit of interest. Next to Nevy she wasn’t much at all, not even naked and with a fire in he eye. Conversation with her was like talking to someone whose attention was elsewhere. When she spoke to me my attention tended to wander.

You see? We were arranged by the gods. You don’t think I’d have let any other man bundle with me the first time I ever saw him? The very idea!

“I didn’t know. I didn’t know your customs. I still don’t know lots of them.”

“Ask, my love. Ask and I will answer.”

I don’t know where to start, there are so many! Do you know where to start asking about my reality stream?”

“It’s easier for me. We aren’t there yet. I can pick and choose. When we’re there, I doubt if I’ll shut up!”

I just want you to realize,” I told her, “I’m not a demon. I’m not the prince of anything. I have a shop that sells souvenirs – sea shells and tee shirts and key rings and caps. I’m nothing at all special.”

I Saw,” she reminded me. “I don’t understand but I Saw. Still, you knew how to make… what did you call them? Bombs?”

I was a soldier for six years. Building the bombs was all theory, not practice. The bad guys used them against us. Our side had equivalent things, but they came prepackaged. Demons are the embodiment of evil.”

But demons are fallen angels, so the archbishop tells us. Perhaps thou hast unfallen?

“I never asked,” I recalled, “but what religion do you follow? Are you a… Simonite?” I didn’t know if I could actually refer to a follower of Simon Magus as a Christian, though the archbishop was a nice enough fellow.

Nay. Usually I dance by the light of the moon in the rites of Diana. When we are wed, I’ll expect the Secrets of Venus – initiates will dress me and sing me the hymns of the goddess and conduct me to our marriage bed. You can take it from there. Maybe we’ll take part in some rites of Bacchus before we devote our house to Juno and Vesta.”

How do angels and demons and such fit in with that?” I asked my pretty pagan. “They don’t seem part of Roman religion?”

Demons are creatures which are lower than gods, but greater than men. We don’t see them as good or evil, but they are said to be irritable. You would know more about that than I. We don’t have angels in our belief, not specifically. The archbishop says the gods created them to serve them before they made men, and that is where the Simonian demons come from. The Light Bringer is said to have rebelled against the gods and was cast out, along with his followers.”

“You’re talking about Lucifer?”

Nay. Lucifer is the Morning Star, the planet Venus. The Evening Star is Noctifer. Bringer of Light, Bringer of Dark, but I don’t think they’re the same as the Fallen Angel.”

We had wandered out of the seedy neighborhood of the Simonian basilica and into a worse neighborhood in our theological musings. I snickered mentally at a scrawl on the wall as we walked by that said “Sabina sucks, but not very well.” A woman I took to be Sabina stood in the doorway, offering her services. She looked like she was approaching forty, which made her probably barely my age. Her mostly transparent outfit showed her sags and some bruises, and a few patches of unhealthy-looking scabs. Her skin showed the brown mottling those kinds of scabs leave when they fall off. She had a mildly ridiculous-looking hair-do that was about four inches high in the front. Street hookers were required by law to wear their hair approximately like that so they could be recognized at a glance. In the movies whores are sexy, usually accompanied by the sounds of saxophones. Sabina was the reality of the profession, a tired-looking woman who may have been moderately attractive once.

A guy I took to be Sabina’s pimp walked toward us, holding about three feet of club. He was looking us over eagerly. Given a hypothetical Miss Flumen Martii contest, the babe I was with would win hands down, even without twirling a baton or Caring Deeply About World Peace. The tough guy was looking at Nevy and seeing five years of high living with Nevy working and minus me.

There are two more behind us,” I told Nevy, not even bothering to lower my voice or look around. I didn’t know how I knew but I could tell. Both were in their early twenties, one an Indian but not a Lenape – different hair, different tats, even different features. The other was the dark Latin type. They both exuded a heavy aroma of hoodlum. The Latin type had carefully arranged curly black hair that was rapidly thinning in the back, and he had an Elvis sneer. I disliked him on sight, even without seeing him. He was the leader, the guy in front of us was a diversion. The Indian was just muscle. Sabina was just a slave.

I felt a sudden surge of intense irritation. Us demons really are an irritable lot, I guess. I had my generation’s cultural abhorrence of the whole slavery thing, and here I owned three of them. They wanted to abduct my honey and make her one. Plus, I was really, really getting angry at this bottom-of-the-chamber-pot neighborhood. We couldn’t even take a stroll from the basilica to the forum without some bad guys making a play for my babe. This was two nights in a row! I felt like steam was going to come out my ears!

Steam came whistling out my ears, emitting a high-pitched squeal like a tea pot.

We all stopped – me, Nevy, three bad guys and Sabina. I started laughing uncontrollably. I mean, steam coming out my ears? Like Elmer Fudd? Okay, so it was in one of the Harry Potter movies too, so I guess it was maybe magical. But it was dumb. Other than as an attention getter it was a useless talent. It would have been a lot scarier if I’d swelled up to nine feet tall, grown tusks and six inch claws, turned green, and emitted a lion’s roar.

So that was what I did.

Letting off the steam had shown me how to do it. The energy was there, all around me, so all I had to do was gather it and use it. The whole thing was almost automatic, maybe instinctive.

The effect was fairly spectacular.

No. Delete that word “fairly.” Sabina’s eyes rolled up in her head and she fainted dead away. Nevy tried to jump out of her lovely skin. The guy with the club hollered something like “merda sancta!” (holy shit!) and showed us his heels. I think the two guys behind us discovered Alabama, they were headed that general direction at a goodly pace and showed no signs of stopping.

I shrank back to my normal size. I was going to have to buy a new tunic, since my Fenwick Island tee shirt had been stretched past its ripping point. My running shorts at least had stood the strain, so I wouldn’t have to walk back to the basilica bare-assed, though they’d stretched so bad they kept trying to fall down.

My Lord Asmodeus,” Nevianne said, turning to face me, her lips quivering and her voice squeaking even though she was trying to holler. “King of Demons, Lord of Lust, Prince of Wrath,” her voice regaining strength with each title, “Wielder of the Bloody Mace, Count of the Corpse-Strewn Field! THOU JUST MADE ME PEE MYSELF!!”

“Sorry, honey,” I said contritely. “I guess I should have stuck with fireballs.”

No, no!” she said, back to her normal voice but still quavering. She knelt in her wet dress and checked to see if Sabina had fainted or had a stroke or a heart attack or something. She slapped the woman across the face lightly a few times until the girl groaned. “I could see you were enjoying yourself,” my Ideal Woman said, talking as she slapped. “How did you do that?”

I gave her the remains of my tee shirt and watched as she tried to scrub the contents of her bladder from her legs. “I’m not really sure,” I said. “There’s all this… power around us. Look, you can see it, if you focus just right. I just took some of it… Well, I did the steam thingy first. I was so mad that I expected steam to come out my ears, so it did. That was almost unconscious. But then I thought it was stupid. It didn’t really do anything. So I thought of something more effective…”

Like assuming thy true form?” she asked, squeaking again on the last couple words.

I told you, sweetheart,” I reminded her patiently. This is my true form. That was an act, maybe even an illusion. I’m not a demon. I kind of stole the look from a Star Wars movie. Y’see Jabba the Hutt had these piggy-looking guards…”

“Thou art babbling, my love. Stars have wars? What is a ‘movie?’ I know the word, because it came out of thy head, but I don’t know what it is.”

It’s… it’s a story, performed by actors, projected on a screen… It’s kind of hard to describe…”

Perhaps thou canst take me to see one when we go to thy realm,” she dismissed, having no idea what I was talking about. Actors here weren’t the same as actors in my reality stream. There had been a troupe of them in the forum the day before. They had looked kind of like a Commedia del Arte with elements of Punch and Judy and without Harlequin and Columbine, if you can imagine such a thing. The Empire had never developed a realistic theater. The entertainment was in the jokes and the dancing girls and the slapstick, and maybe shagging the actresses after the show. Our own theater had evolved over a long time; theirs was evolving over an even longer time and only possibly in the same direction.

Sabina was awake and sitting up. She looked at me and shuddered, hiding her face. “Please don’t kill me!” she whimpered. Nevianne informed me that I now owned her too. I’d defeated her owner and now she and theoretically he belonged to me. Those were the rules. I didn’t write them. I wasn’t close to overjoyed with another mouth to feed. Still, Nevy had to coax her to come along. Her undies, had she worn any, would had been soaked too.

We looked for someplace for them to actually clean up. There was a fountain in the middle of the forum. I stood guard while Nevy did the Rita Hayworth scene out of that Italian movie. Or maybe it was Anita Ekberg. One of those two anyway. When she was clean again, she wrung her dress out, grumbled a bit, and adjusted it here and there. When all was satisfactory she took my arm. Sabina simply took her costume off – I wouldn’t term it a dress – washed it, and went for her own wade clad in skin. She wrung the costume out when she was done and hung it over her shoulder. I’d never seen a woman with as much pubic hair as she had; her fur pie was the size of a basketball. She walked with us naked, being careful not to get too close to me. There was a brand in the hollow of her shoulder, an S for slave. It had been about the only thing that hadn’t shown through the material. Nevy explained the brand meant that she had tried to run away at some time in the past.

Should we tell everyone the good news?” my sweetheart asked as we strolled, or maybe promenaded. “Or should we surprise them all and see how many of them pee themselves?”

Don’t joke like that when I’m grumpy, honey,” I replied. “You know how I get.”

I got a punch in the ribs for that remark. Some demon, I.