Read The Warlock Heretical Online

Authors: Christopher Stasheff

Tags: #Fiction - Science Fiction, #Science Fiction, #Science Fiction & Fantasy, #Fantastic fiction, #General, #Fantasy, #Science Fiction - General, #Fiction, #Gallowglass; Rod (Fictitious character)

The Warlock Heretical

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Christopher Stasheff

The Warlock Heretical


"One... two... three—shoot!"

Four small fists swept down into a circle—and changed form. One turned into a rock, one turned into a pair

of scissors, and two turned into sheets of paper.

"I win!" cried Cordelia. "Scissors cut paper!"

"Nay, / win!" Geoffrey corrected. "Stone doth dull scissors!"

"Then we two do win, " Magnus pointed out, "sin that paper doth wrap stone. "

"Yet I then win, after all!" Cordelia maintained, "for my scissors will cut thy paper from off this stone!"

"We all do win. " Little Gregory beamed. " Tis fine. "

"Nay, 'tis horrible!" Geoffrey's chin jutted out. "If all win, none win!"

"Thou wouldst think thus!" Cordelia snapped.

"Only a lass could ha' thought of so silly a game at the outset!" Geoffrey retorted. "Who e'er did hear of playing 'Scissors, Stone, and Paper' with more than two?"

"You must not let newness itself keep you from attempting new ideas, Geoffrey. " The voice was in the children's minds, not their ears, and it came from a huge black horse that stood nearby, watching. "Still, in

practice it proves to have been less than effective. "

"Any could see it would not work, Fess!"

"Not that thou didst attempt it with any great effort. " Cordelia glared at Geoffrey. "I could see thy fist through

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thy rock. "

"Thou couldst not! Yet I did see two fingers on thine hand, with but the barest suggestion of paired blades!"

" Tis a lie!" Cordelia squawked.

"Children, children!" Fess reproved. "Please limit your use of hyperbole. "

" 'Twill avail naught, Fess, " Magnus said wearily. "They persist, though they know full well that Gregory doth

cast the best illusions of us all. "

"I know naught of the sort!" Geoffrey glared at Gregory, who shrank back wide-eyed.

" Tis true—thou knowest naught, " Cordelia agreed.

"Wilt thou not cease!" Magnus cried. "Art thou so desperate for summat to do that thou must needs quarrel to

pass the time?"

Cordelia subsided, glaring, but Geoffrey only shrugged. "Wherefore not? Or wouldst thou prefer combat,


Magnus gave him a slow grin. "Assuredly, an thou art foolish enough to attempt it. Wilt thou wrestle or box?"

"Nay!" Cordelia cried. "Thou knowest what Mama hath told thee of fighting!"

"We do but practice. " Geoffrey unbuttoned his doublet. "Let us grapple—'tis hot weather. "

"Let them go, Cordelia, " Fess advised. "It will channel their excess energy—and, to some extent, boys need to

wrangle. "

Magnus grinned, pulling his doublet off. "I warn thee, brother, I've weight and height on thee. "

"Yet I have the skill, " Geoffrey retorted.

"Thou must needs stop!" Cordelia cried. "Even Papa would... " Her voice trailed off in despair as her brothers

started circling each other, crouching. "Oh! Gregory, canst thou think of naught to stop them.... Gregory!


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hast thou fled?"

Magnus looked up, startled, the match forgotten in a sudden surge of concern. Geoffrey saw the opening and dived in to catch Magnus's knee and pull hard with a yowl of victory. Magnus

slammed down backwards. "Geoffrey!" Fess scolded. "Foul!"

Magnus scrambled up with blood in his eye. "How unfair canst thou be, to attack when I'm distracted with

concern for thy brother!"

"Distracted thou wert, " Geoffrey agreed, "and combat is ever unfair. Even Papa doth say so. " Magnus's face reddened, and the fight was about to become real, when Gregory appeared with a bang.


His brothers straightened up, their quarrel forgotten. "Strangers! Where?"

"In the meadow yon. " Gregory pointed. "I thought I sensed an errant thought, so I skipped aloft to look—and I

did behold a great sort of cottage there, with men in brown robes who did till the earth!"

"But that meadow was barren only last Sunday!" Geoffrey cried. "We did picnic there!"

"Two Sundays ago, actually, " Fess corrected. " 'Tis filled now, " Gregory answered. "A score of men can raise a

house of wattle and daub in a few days' time. " Magnus frowned. "Yet what are these brown robes, brother?

Peasants wear smocks and biashosen!"

"What know I?" Gregory said, with wide-eyed innocence. "I am but seven. "

"Even so. " Magnus caught up his doublet and shrugged into it. "Let us go see—yet quietly!"

"No, children! There might be danger!" Fess warned. But Magnus was already in the air, arrowing away between

tree trunks. Geoffrey whooped and flew after him, pulling on his doublet as he went.

"Do not go too close, " Fess cautioned, resigned. Cordelia caught up her broomstick from a nearby tree.


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done, little brother! Thou hast most ably distracted them from bruising one another!" Gregory smiled, pleased,

and darted off after her.

The house was everything Gregory had said it was—large, thatched, and mud-plastered, at least on one

wall. The other three were still basketworks of twigs, with a couple of two-man teams busily spreading more

mud over them. A fence stretched around a quarter of the acre surrounding it, with two more men in brown robes

working at extending it. Their cowls were thrown back, and sunlight gleamed off the bald spots in the middle of

their scalps. Around them a third of the meadow had already yielded its long grass to the two teams of monks

with wheeled plows, each with one steering and two pulling, leaving the dark brown of turned earth behind them.

"By whose leave do they take the whole meadow for themselves!" Geoffrey cried. Gregory shrugged.

"None said

them nay, brother." Geoffrey strode forward, pushing up his sleeves. "Thou wilt not!" Magnus caught him by the

collar, then ducked aside from his punch with the ease of long practice. " Tis not thy meadow, to say yea or nay

to it—'tis the King's!" "Yet it hath been our place of play all our lives!" "As hath the whole wood, and every

grotto and clearing within it," Magnus reminded. "Surely we can spare one such place for the good fathers."

"Fathers?" Geoffrey stopped swinging and frowned up at him. Then his eyes widened. "Aye! The cowls, the

brown robes—how foolish I am not to have seen it!"

"Thou art," Cordelia assured him. "They are monks." Geoffrey turned back to the clearing, puzzled. "Yet what do

they here? Monks dwell in the monastery, so far to the south. . . . Hist! What comes?"

"What indeed?" Magnus frowned, peering over Geoffrey's head at the meadow.
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" 'Tis another band of strangers!" Cordelia exclaimed. "These are not goodly." Gregory's face darkened. They

certainly did not appear to be. They wore grimy clothes, untrimmed beards, and tangled hair, and they came out

of the forest from several different directions, converging on the monks. Each carried a shield and a quarterstaff.

One or two had swords.

One of the brown-robes saw them coming and shouted a warning. His fellows looked up, startled, then leaped to

catch up steel caps and quarterstaves from the long grass. The other plow team did, too, and came pelting across

the meadow, jamming their caps on their heads. The fencers and plasterers dropped their tools, caught up caps

and staves, and came running to join the plowmen.

Geoffrey's face darkened. "What manner of monks are these, who bear weapons?"

"Is't not fair, then," Cordelia jibed, "for men of the cloth to defend themselves 'gainst men of arms?" Geoffrey turned on her, anger flaring, but Magnus clapped a hand over his mouth and hissed, "Be still!

Dost thou

wish them to turn upon us?" He saw Geoffrey's eyes light up, and bit his tongue.

"Indeed, be most cautious." Not being able to fly as easily as they did, Fess had taken a while to catch up. "In

fact, children, come away—here is danger."

"We are far from them," Geoffrey protested, "and none can see us."

"There is no hazard, Fess," Cordelia pleaded. " 'Tis not as though we did attempt to fight them." "Not yet," the

black horse muttered. "The bandits slacken their pace," Gregory reported. Geoffrey twisted out of Magnus's hold

and stepped up next to his little brother. "Thou canst not know they are bandits!" "Who else would dress so

slovenly, yet bear arms?" Gregory answered.

The bandits slowed, seeing the weapons, but still came on to surround the monks on three sides,
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grinning. "Dost'a

truly think to bear weapons 'gainst us, men of God?" The tallest bandit made the last three words an insult.

The lead monk stepped forward a pace. "We hope not to. Who art thou, and what is thy business?" For some reason the bandits seemed to think this was hilarious. They broke into guffaws, and the tallest one said,

"Why, we are gentleman, good friar—canst thou not tell by our comely appearance and costly garments?"

"Thou dost mean thou art bandits." The lead monk let a touch of contempt show. "Well, I am Father Boquilva.

What dost thou think thou canst have of us?"

The bandit's grin turned into a snarl. "Have? Why, only such goods as thou dost own, gentle monk—all of them."

Father Boquilva shrugged. "Take all thou canst find that is ours, and welcome—Christ will provide us with


The bandits stared at him, not believing their ears. Then the leader's grin widened with a chuckle. "The more

fools thou, then! Come!" He trotted off toward the house, beckoning to his men. "The sheep are primed for

shearing!" The other bandits jogged after him. The monks watched them go. "I do not think they will take my

breviary," said one.

An older monk shrugged. "If they do, what of it? I can pen it anew for thee, from memory." "Wherefore do they

give way so easily!" Geoffrey hissed.

"They have staves and helms! How can they care so little for their goods?"

"They are men of the spirit," Gregory answered. "Things of wood and stone mean little to them."

"Who asked thee, wight!"

"Then I'll ask thee." Gregory frowned. "How can men so godly take up weapons?"
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"There is, unfortunately, precedent for it," Fess sighed. "Monks of every religion have, sooner or later, learned to

fight—or taken weapons."

" 'Tis shields they take up now." Magnus's hand clamped down on his shoulder. "Mayhap they but sought time to


Geoffrey spun to stare, then shook his head. "Only shields. There's not so much as a paring knife among them."

"The bandits come," Cordelia said, with dread.

Indeed they did, boiling out of the house with yells of rage. "What mockery is this!" the biggest bandit demanded

as he pounded up to Father Boquilva. "Hast thou naught but meal and pease?" The priest nodded at another robber. "I see that thou hast found my missal. Take it, an thou wilt; Christ will


The bandit threw it away with an oath.

Father Boquilva's jaw firmed. "There is naught more, save a little meat, some sacramental vessels, and each

man's curios."

"Naught more, is it?" The bandit grinned and held up a dirty sack. "What of this?" He lifted a golden chalice.

"One of the sacramental vessels I but now spoke of." The lead monk paled. "That is not ours—'tis God's. I pray

thee, place it back upon the altar from which thou hast taken it!"

"Thou hast but now said Christ will provide. He hath, then, provided us with this bauble of His."

"Assuredly thou wilt not desecrate a chapel!" "Wherefore—would not God wish to share with the poor?" "Thou

dost blaspheme. Give back that sacred cup—or wouldst thou violate the Lord's house?"

"Nay, but I'll steal from thine! What else hast thou hid here, eh?"

"Naught, though thou hast missed our glass cruets. Thou hast in thine hand such gold as we do hold."
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"I'll not credit thee," the robber snarled, "sin that thou hast already withheld this from me. Nay, speak!" He

slashed a backhanded blow into Father Boquilva's face. The priest's head

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