a novel of the Collegia Magica
The Spirit Lens - Excerpt
by Carol Berg
Of a sudden Maura's brows lifted and she tilted her head as if to see better beyond my shoulder.
She leaned forward slightly and spoke directly into my chest, "On your guard, good sir. Your nemesis approaches."
I shifted around slowly, hands behind my back, as if adrift in the sea of conversation. Framed in the doorway to the outer passage stood Dante. Clean shaven, dressed in black knee breeches and hose with Lady Susanna's elegant short cloak swept over his left arm, he cut a fine, if sober, figure. A plain silver earring adorned one ear. Foolishly, I felt quite proud. And relieved. He did not carry his white staff.
Across the room, Lady Antonia embraced a diminutive dowager who had moved into her circle. Mage Orviene laughed with another admirer. Ilario's prattling floated atop the general buzz of voices like a gemsflute against a room full of hurdy-gurdies.
Dante's green gaze swept the room like a sea storm, and I felt a first tremor of uncertainty. Voices faded. Heads turned. His attention seemed to settle on a destination, and as he moved forward, the guests parted to let him through. Only then did I notice a glittering heap of glass or jewelry in his broad left hand.
Ilario aborted his monologue in mid-sentence, when Dante halted in front of him.
"A serving man brought these things yesterday along with your requirements for 'an enchanted musical gaud, suitable for a gift to an aged baroness.' " None in the large chamber could fail to hear the measured menace in Dante's quiet statement. "I thought to clarify a few matters as to your request." With a twist of his hand, he tossed the heap into the air.
Ilario's jeweled ladies gasped, and the lord himself jerked backward. Yet the bits and pieces did not strike any guest, nor did they fall to the ground, but rather hovered in the air before Ilario's long nose - a jumble of colored glass shards, small mirrors, strings of pearls, lapis, and jade, and slips of metal.
The guests withdrew from the center of the room, crowding into a gaping circle. And as every eye watched in wonder - mine not least - the shimmering mass rose toward the coffered ceiling and began to organize and collect itself into a revolving fountain of light and music. Rings of glass prisms focused light into crossed beams; rings of mirrors reflected the light in a hundred dazzling directions. The colored beads were twisted and draped like a canopy of ribbons; dangling bits of bronze and silver rang clear and joyous as the structure spun.
The guests pointed and gasped, shocked murmurs growing into laughter and expressions of awe and admiration. Yet how many of them could truly comprehend the magnificence of what they saw. This was no illusion, no scant veil of sensory deception draped over a decorated wire frame. Naught supported these glittering elements or interlaced their light beams but purest magic.
"Is this what you had in mind, great lord?"
Ilario moved underneath the sparkling font of light, bobbing his head, whirling on his heeled boots. "Magnificent! Marvelous!"
Only those who heeded the mage's tight voice, only those who tore their eyes from the creation to the creator, would have seen Dante brush his silver earring, then point that imperious finger at the spinning enchantment.
The glancing light soured to a thunderous purple; the melodic jingling rose to a mind-jarring cacophony.
"Lord, beware!" I darted forward and yanked Ilario from underneath the quivering folly just as it shattered, raining splintered glass and fractured beads upon the priceless Arothian carpet.
Ladies screamed. Gentlemen shouted and pressed the circle of onlookers backward. Ilario tripped on my feet and stumbled to his knees.
Dante stepped across the glittering debris to stand over Ilario, pinning him to the floor with his scorn. "I do not make gauds. I do not take orders from trivial men. Sorcery is not an amusement."
Before a speechless Ilario could rise, Dante had gone.
Copyright © Carol Berg, 2019