Words have power. Everyone knows this. At least everyone who has ever seen a mage invoke a spell. Words are spoken, their sounds strike the air, and magic gives them form. Tongues of flame, rising stone, the stopping of a beating heart. A mage’s power lies in those words, and it is terrifying to see.
But no mage will ever tell you the truth. That it is only the words that have power. The mages are a secretive bunch and protective of their knowledge. When they invoke a spell there is always a flourish of hands, a furrowed brow, the semblance of physical strain. Common folk always assumed that the words of a spell were only part of the thing. There must be a magical connection to a plane of power or a mental state that required supreme concentration to achieve. But no, a spell is just words. Say the words correctly, and the power comes, like the command of God.
True, there is a manner of skill to it. The linguistics of magical language is subtle, and minor errors mean the spell will fail. But this is only a skill. You need not be mage-born to be a mage. You only need to know the language.
That is the secret they protect. They do not use the magical language among the mundane, and since the subtlety of the language requires training at a very early age, only those born into it can hope to master the spells. Unless you happen to be good at languages, and I am very, very good.
I didn’t know I was good as a child. Sure, as a bard’s son I knew a bit of the tongues from across the five kingdoms, but I always struggled with memorizing stories and songs. My brother could recite an hour-long story by the age of four. He even knew when to pause for effect, or pretend to struggle with remembering words. My father knew five hundred tales in seven languages, and he saw me as a loss.
So at the age of six, I was passed off to the house of a great mage. There I would labor and toil, sunrise to sunset. If I worked very hard, my father told me, I might one day earn a place of status among the servants. Not a bad goal for a dim boy with no mind for song.
At first my job focused on clearing and cleaning bedpans. The servants were mostly from regions we hadn’t visited, so I knew few of their words. Cleaning bedpans is a messy job, but the goal is simple and clear. Even a dumb child can do it.
But within a few months I started to pick up words and phrases. Farish from the glass isles, Moontar from the Wheat Plains, Igni from the Kingdom of Sar. Within a year I had a passing grasp of five languages, and a smattering of others. The kitchen mistress soon had me ferrying messages between the staff. The castle was a multicultural frenzy, and regardless of the servant I could probably grasp a bit of their tongue. But it was still my job to clean the bedpans.
A strange thing happens when you are immersed in languages. You start to notice patterns and similarities. And that makes learning other languages easier. So over time, I started to pick up the words of magic. The high mage never spoke to me directly, but servants are often invisible. As I did my work I would often hear the mage muttering to himself. At times I heard his discussions with other mages. I began to understand.
Of course, none of the servants spoke magic, and I would never be so bold as to address the mage directly, so I never had a chance to use the words I’d learned. Until one evening I was struggling to light the mage’s fire. It was a cold night, and the wood refused to take a spark. In frustration I grumbled at it to light in every language I knew. Nothing helped until I used the mage’s word.
To my surprise the logs instantly grew to a bold flame. I felt no surge of power, no struggle of concentration, I simply said the word and the logs obeyed.
I’ve learned many more words over the years. I’ve learned the syntax, the tonal variants, the rules that work, and the ones that don’t. And in the past year I have started to read as well. Once you master the letters, the magic language is almost phonetic. I know now I can master the most powerful spells in time.
So tonight I prepare to leave. In the evening I will make the mage’s fire, and as he sleeps I will take his great book. I will journey far, and learn the spells, and become a great mage.
And then I will teach them what power truly is.