In the kitchen, after a silent breakfast, it had suddenly hit him. Going away! Not to sleep in his own bed or ever again have porridge the way his mother made it. He saw all his future as a stone rolling to crush his happiness, blotting out the timeless days of playing in the sunshine outside their little cottage. He ran to his mother.
‘I don’t want to go,’ he cried. ‘I’ll never see you again.’
‘It’s a week’s journey at most,’ said his mother. ‘You’ll see us so often you’ll be sick of it.’
She stroked his hair, but he knew the calm manner was just her way of dealing with distress.
Through his tears he saw the Arch Mage looking at him. ‘I don’t blame the lad. But, Forge, you’re a magician born. That’s not a hook you can ever get out.’
His sobs became quieter. He was old enough to feel both the terrible wrenching heartache and also the humiliation of being thought a overwrought child. The older Forge, revisiting this sweetly painful memory, was glad he’d had that tantrum. He often felt guilty that he’d been too eager to leave his parents, but that scene in the kitchen must have made it clear he did love them. Now, in the present, with Lord Grazen’s threat hanging over them, that was more important than anything else.
‘It is the last time you will see him as the child he is now,’ the Arch Mage had told his parents. He was never one to coat the truth, however much it hurt. ‘The next time you may see him is in a year and a day, and by then he will have begun his journey on a new path.’
The way to the crossroads lay across Hetch Greyson’s fallow field. ‘There’s no coach due,’ his mother told the Arch Mage. Not for days, Forge knew. But he also knew it wouldn’t matter. They set off right after breakfast, through the gate (ninety-two swings now) and across the stile that was still darkly wet and slippery from a rainfall in the night. Forge was over and running, letting the long wet grass slap his legs, the Arch Mage following with Forge’s father carrying his pack. After his outburst at breakfast he felt free. He was ready.
He drank it in, not knowing when he’d be back. The way the sun’s rays awoke a million pinpricks of light in the dew. The thick shadows, liquid black under the hedgerows, and the dazzling blaze of coming day that haloed the trees. The rich reek of dung in the fields, the fragrance of honeysuckle, the drifting scent of wood smoke and cooking from surrounding farmsteads. He watched the Arch Mage’s robes swish through the long grass, the dampness on his silver-buckled boots.
‘The shimmer,’ said the Arch Mage, answering his unspoken thoughts. ‘Things within the shape of things, that’s what you’ll learn to see.’
His manner was more aloof now. He swept on across the field, not looking at Forge as he spoke. In the years to come, Forge was often to seek his approval, and sometimes earned it. But they would never again have that near-fellowship they had briefly shared in the early hour before the dawn.
The older Forge, watching it all in memory, was conscious of this as the last morning of his childhood. All the things he took for granted, that swept out behind him as he ran. Sensations that tumbled past, disorderly as dreamtime, never noticed but always there. These things were coming to an end. He was on the brink of a world where all phenomena were recorded, catalogued, studied and manipulated. The age of his innocence ended now, and the age of power began.
The Arch Mage had left his other cases to find their own way home. ‘They’re too impatient for a leisurely trip,’ he’d said. He carried only one small wooden box. As they reached the crossroads, he slid back the lid and took out a black-lacquered toy coach.
‘Travel a long road, you might as well travel in style, eh?’ He set the toy coach carefully down in the middle of the road, where the finger-post pointed to the coast. Crouched over it, he whispered some strange lilting words to it, the disquieting lullaby you might sing to a changeling. Straightening, he took Forge’s arm and turned him round. ‘Look over there a while. A thing like this is like pots boiling. It never happens if you watch.’
Forge’s mother hadn’t come. His father’s stolid calm was better suited to goodbyes. He put Forge’s pack down by the roadside and scratched his head. ‘A year goes faster than you’d think,’ he said. ‘And we can write.’
‘I could stay,’ said Forge, a little daunted as he felt a tingle of magic in the air. ‘I could be a blacksmith like you, Poppa.’
His father laughed. ‘Reminds me.’ He pulled a book out of his pocket. ‘Left this in the forge, you did, while “helping” me.’ He pretended to clout Forge on the head with it, then stuffed it into the pack.
‘Poppa – ’
‘It’s right for you, son. Some people are too big for the village. Not me, though you wouldn’t think it to look at me. But your mother nearly is, all five foot three of her. She just about squeezed herself into this way of life, but you couldn’t. Right from when you were a toddler I knew that, even before the Arch Mage came to tell us.’
The scrape of a hoof on the stones. Turning, they saw an elegant coach. The team of four horses stood silent but with an air of pent-up ferocity, as if ready for a race. The driver, hooded and unspeaking, gestured impatiently for them to get aboard.
The Arch Mage already had Forge’s arm and was leading him towards the coach. The pack was in his other hand. Forge cast a look back at his father. Suddenly there wasn’t enough time. The future was happening like plunging over a cliff.
The older Forge seemed to see this all from a view already inside the coach. His younger self could have broken away. The Arch Mage wasn’t holding him tightly, just hurrying him along. He could have run back and given his father a last hug. But, overwhelmed by the moment, he didn’t.
If only he could rewind time now. Yet that is what he was doing, only to watch it again as a helpless observer. His father stood, big and awkward, and the younger Forge was already eagerly climbing up onto the black leather seats, entranced by the drapes that had been thimble sized a moment earlier. The Arch Mage closed the door to shut them in.
A jolt. Forge wasn’t braced, and was thrown back in his seat as a glimpse of meadows and woodland went flying by. From outside came a shout of alarm, but by the time he’d dragged himself to the window there was just a tiny figure far behind.
He thrust his head right out. It was a hurricane! The countryside swept past like green and golden clouds. The road was a blur beneath the sparks struck from the horses’ hooves. An inn loomed and then fell away behind. He glimpsed a gawping group of pilgrims, forced to scatter as the coach came through.
The fields and trees gave way to scrubby heath. Salt tang and seagulls’ shrieks. No cottages here. No more inns or wayfarers. And then, his first glimpse of the grey immensity of the sea.
Dweomer came in sight then, with its crashing waves and ramparts of rock. He knew it as home at that first glimpse. He waited tense in the seat, teeth bared in the rush of wind as the carriage hurtled on, eager to jump down and rush in under the great rune-carved lintel.
It was only the older Forge, watching the scene in his memory, who realized he’d never waved his father goodbye.