“There are places that have been so altered by men, that their very nature has changed, son. I’ve heard there are countries where poor people have started to lick the asphalt roads in the city where they live. As though asphalt could feed them!”
“Asphalt lickers? Are you laughing of me father?!”
“No, not at all my son. I wouldn’t laugh on so grave and sad a matter. The world has changed. It was a dangerous place, but now it’s become even worse. Men have gone too far with their technology advancement that has not been matched by a progression of their consciousness. They are kids, automats, to whom have been granted very dangerous tools. And there’s far worse than the asphalt lickers. Those are just a poor lot.”
“Father, are we threatened here in Maaderdeen by their recklessness?”
“To that question I cannot fully answer son. This is I suppose one of the motives for which the Great Council of Iqtissad has been convened. All the scientists, wizards and wisemen of our nations will be there. Now let’s pack provisions for a two weeks hike, and walk to Iqtissad.”
From Miizen the shortest road to Iqtissad was to follow the Harnoush river, until the bridge of Iqtissad leading to the hilly, fortified town.
Zehel and his son, Wahrid were carrying all their provisions on their backs, following the large river that stretched and stretched southwest, till the Aamiq Ocean, but they wouldn’t need to walk the way till there, as they’d find Iqtissad much earlier on their path.
They could have found some boatmen on the Harnoush River to travel by the water way, but the trip was quite uncomfortable as the Harnoush was quite capricious and Zehel preferred to travel by foot.
Wahrid was quite excited as it was the first time in his thirteen years of life he was going so far from Miizen, to Iqtissad, the most renamed city of the Maaderdeen. Miizen was but a small town on a hill surrounded a sea of cultivated fields, and a dark green streak at the horizon indicated the start of the Maaloul forest, one of the four great forests that surrounded the nations of Maaderdeen.
Wahrid asked a lot of questions to his father along the path, but Zehel preferred to walk in silence and meditate, watching the landscape they were passing, listening to the sounds of nature, breathing the scents in the air, or just focusing on himself. So he just asked Wahrid to stop his chatter and get used to travelling as an adult man.
Wahrid was tired to walk after a few days of forced march from dawn to dusk. And he told to himself they could have travelled through other, more mysterious, means. They could have travelled magically. But his father was no wizard, and as all the people who weren’t able to perform magic for themselves, he was diffident of it, almost hostile, especially when it concerned him. When magic was used to protect Maaderdeen, it didn’t disturb him. But he didn’t like to have conversations with someone he knew outwitted him, could play tricks on him.
At the contrary, Wahrid had a mild fascination for magic and burnt to know more about it. In Miizen there was a wizard, but he wasn’t often in the village, as there never are enough wizards for the entire nation, and there are plenty of more urgent matters keeping them busy. Therefore Wahrid had never really had the occasion to take lessons from the wizard. Not that he had spoken of that desire of his to his father. He intuitively knew his father wouldn’t take it well. The sad thing was that Wahrid had no inkling of how magic worked, what to look for.
Could he be gifted for it, he ignored, and he didn’t dare dream.
On their way to Iqtissad they met several other travellers that had the same destination. But Zehel refused obstinately to join any travelling group. He liked to travel at his own pace – fast – and in silence. Wahrid was missing Mounya, his mother. She had sweeter tempers and balanced the sternness of his father. But someone needed to stay home with Malyna, Wahrid little sister, and Mounya had stayed back instead of coming with them, as she would have otherwise. Wahrid’s family was an important one in Miizen, and that was why they needed to ensure a presence at the Great Coucil of Iqtissad, that was held only on exceptionable occasions. The last one had taken place around fifty years ago, to enforce a peace plan and stop the civil war between the Shoumen and the Raheb provinces, at the east of the Harnoush river.
Therefore it was the first time both Zehel and his son participated to a council, as he was born the same year as the civil war had ended. The civil war had marginally involved Miizen that was quite far from the conflict zone.
Wahrid knew little about the civil war because he had not studied it at school, and his parents never mentioned the topic. He suspected it had something to do with wizards and non wizards, but he’d never had the chance to discover anything about it. Not that he actively searched, the war seemed far away. Apart from that war, Maaderdeen history had not known conflicts for hundreds of years.
After nine days of journey, Zehel and Wahrid arrived in proximity of Iqtissad’s bridge that spanned the Harnoush River and the grandest city of Maaderdeen towered over them, Wahrid had never seen something so impressing and grand. There were at least a dozen towers that rose in white-gray stone on a tall hill. The city seemed large, and well-defended with sturdy walls all around, and it seemed to look more at the sky than at the earth, with all these needles. One could probably see very far into the Maaderdeen nations from above, and one could also gaze at the stars. It was fascinating to be in this place, that clearly wasn’t a remote province as Miizen was, but a place that concentrated all of human knowledge and inventiveness.
They crossed the bridge that was the largest and the tallest Wahrid had ever seen, with two towers guarding it on its far side. As they passed, a guard asked them who they were and what was their business. They let them pass as they heart they were from the Sheereban family in Miizen.
Father and son walked the two miles that still separated them from the base of the hill bearing Iqtissad on its back. Then they started ascending the steep slopes, passing three gates as the town was surrounded by several rings of walls. The two outer rings contained a lot of habitations, merchant places and crafts. While the innermost ring were the siege of power, knowledge, instruction, and living place of the most important citizens of Iqtissad and the whole Maaderdeen nation. The city was quite large, perhaps home to twenty or thirty thousand souls. Surely the largest in all the Maaderdeen.
They asked for their way until they arrived in front of a shining white building where the Grand Council was supposed to take place.
Then my father told me we needed to find a small room where to leave our baggage. Not that we had much left since we had eaten all our provisions. But at least we’d have a warm bath and change our clothes to be presentable when the assembly would meet, and not stink of dirt and sweat after nine days of walking on the road.
It wasn’t very easy to find an inn with beds, as there was an afflux of visitors in the city and inns were all full. We ended finding a tiny room in the third city ring, with a unique window and a view on an inner courtyard where a fountain was gurgling. We took a bath perfumed of lavender, combed our hairs, and my father shaved. Then we dressed quite nicely, and climbed back to the city top, close to the council house. Several towers rose in the innermost ring of Iqtissad, and I craved to explore and climb them. But right now my feet were tired of all the walking, and I looked forward sitting in the assembly. The Great Council would start only on the morrow, they told us, but there were many informal discussions going on. When we entered the great audience room, I was shocked to see so many people with variegated clothing indicating whence they came, and also the profession they exerted in life. Wizards wore long dresses of different colours, and I wondered if there were different orders of them, or if they indicated the region from where they came.
We didn’t mix much with the throng as my father was quite reserved, but he used the occasion to explain me the clothing and manners of each region of Maaderdeen, so that I’d stick to the appropriate etiquette. Sometimes some people came to greet us and my father could not turn his back without seeming rude, so he simply listened to what they had to tell saying he had no opinion, knew little about the matter, as he came from a remote province.
The next morning the Great Council started. The king of Iqtissad started talking, discussing on how the strength of all the nations of Maaderdeen had always relied on the great coexistence between magic and science, wizards and non wizards. The wisdom and vision of wizards was necessary to ensure the longevity of Maaderdeen. And the hands and crafts and inventions of non wizards was needed to man and help the nations progress. One could not do without the other. Let the wizards alone, Maaderdeen would be no nation. Let the non wizards alone, and wars of power and techniques would destroy all what was left, as so frequently happened in other realms. Therefore, all decisions had to be taken hand in hand.
Then, a non wizard of Shoumen started speaking. He said that he greatly admired magic people, but non magic people had the right to improve their ways of living. A man from Shoumen had travelled to the realms from the other side of the Shamel Ocean, and he had been marvelled by what he had seen. Men there who had been deprived of magic long ago used a different sort of “magic” they called technology that was accessible to non wizards. They had great machines that allowed them to travel fast across the land and the air. They had machines that did all the tiring and dangerous work at their place, in mines, on construction sites, on agricultural fields. They had roads and buildings everywhere, always plenty to eat, and a great deal of comfort. The man had come back to Shoumen and told his tales, and people of Shoumen now wanted to know why they didn’t have the right to all that. Why could they not use the so called steam engine to replace the mills they had powered by animals or waters. Why could they not use machines to build their buildings instead of their own hands. Why could they not fast travel from Shoumen to Iqtissad in three or four hours instead of one week. He continued his talk by stating that wizards perhaps didn’t feel this need for more comfort, because their life was easier, they could shape all around them with their thoughts, but for non wizards, life was very harsh, and it was not fair.
The wizard from Raheb who came next to speak didn’t seem to have appreciated at all what the man from Shoumen had said. He said that Jurzi words set dangerous precedents. That Maaderdeen could not be like the nations from the other side of the Shamel Ocean. There magic had been wiped out a long time ago. And what made Maaderdeen unique is that it still was a land where magic was possible. Magic brought great advantages, but it also bore some limitations. But it would be a great loss for all Gohir if magic was wiped out from Maaderdeen too. Bringing the industrial revolution in Maaderdeen would be the end of magic.
“Why so?” asked the man called Jurzi, “excuse me, but I think I am not the only one in this assembly who doesn’t know much about magic.” Some people chuckled in the assembly, and they were silenced by others.
“A long time ago, all of Gohir was a magic land, a place where great, great magic could be performed. But as you know, only a fraction of people uncover their gift. We, magic people, believe that the gene is present in each and every one of us, but in some people it comes into expression, while in others it remains a potential. What happened unfortunately over the continent from the other side of the ocean is that magic people used magic to dominate society in an unfair way. After thousands of years, civil wars erupted, and magic factions were driven away or killed, century after century. New policies were set that if a child manifested magic abilities, he would be tortured and killed. Soon being a witch or a wizard became a crime. And thus less and less people dared to explore and declare their gifts. Until people started to say magic never truly existed, as its last memories were centuries away, and as more and more people became convinced of that, even the individuals who would have been gifted magicians in Maaderdeen could not perform the least bit of magic over the continent. And they’ve lost ties with us too, as their reality strayed so much from ours. And they lost the ability to pass through the haze barriers on the ocean. Magic has been wiped out you will tell me, but look how happy and comfortable their lives are. They do live in greater comfort than we do, but does this mean they are happier? They’ve lost their bond with nature. They started to kill animals and plants and rocks and rivers indiscriminatingly. And they based all their success, all their grandness on this growing unbalance between them and nature. We can feel it already, that nature is a few steps from a breaking point. And when it will happen, it will sustain them no longer, and wars and conflicts will erupt, and things will become worse and worse, until all the comfort you admire will be gone. And they will be more backward than you think we are. Is that the fate you wish for Maaderdeen? And unfortunately, our land too is already affected by their excesses. If you are not happy in living in any of Maaderdeen provinces, nothing prohibits you to migrate to the other world and live in as much comfort and technology you wish to.”
“From what you are saying, all of Gohir is going to suffer the so called consequences of destruction. So why not live as we wish and bring back Maaderdeen to the world where it belongs, instead of living secretly and poorly as we’re doing.”
“As long as Maaderdeen remains a magic land, magic will offer it some protection preventing the consequences of men reckless actions to be too negative. But if magic is wiped away, this land will wither as the rest of Gohir.”
“What if we want to use technology without persecuting magic, so that both you and us live as we wish to live?”
“Unfortunately all the vibration of Gohir has fallen apart from magic, and the balance we still have in Maaderdeen is very fragile. Make life but a little easier, and magic will disappear because young ones will not have the incentive to use it anymore. But the problem is deeper than that. As you bring machines to Maaderdeen, most of people will appeal to machines instead of appealing to wizards. They will start thinking in terms of machines and science. And so the belief in magic will wane, and this will weaken magic in turn. Remember that all the world is based on belief, as each of our lives are. Very strong beliefs will be needed to perform magic. Already nowadays there are less wizards – less people that have enough faith in their magical abilities – than in the past, because of this change in vibrations in Gohir. Disrupt the balance and magic will fall, and Maaderdeen will just become another province of the world. Moreover you’re forgetting the continental’s greed. Do you think that if they discover a new land, a country that is 500 years backward, they’re going to let us enjoy our peace? They’re going to come here, colonize us, exploit all the resources they find, cut the forests, dig the undergrounds. Haven’t you all read the books in your libraries about how the continent is nowadays? If we resist they will make war to us, they will settle colons here, that will build huge cities, and chase us away from our lands. And Maaderdeen will stop existing altogether. Even you, Sid Jurzi, may have this fate because these men won’t make any difference between us.”
Another wizard came up to the front stage, and asked if it wouldn’t be wise to intervene in the continent affairs to stop their folly.
Waraki, the wizard from Raheb who had spoken at length, replied. “Even one thousand years ago, when persecution against magic people started, we couldn’t do anything but shelter them in our lands. At the times there were much less men than they are nowadays. I don’t know if you realize. We are a few hundred thousand in Maaderdeen. When there are several billions men in the rest of the world. If they lived in Maaderdeen, there would be at least ten million people.”
Jerzi interrupted him. “So you’re saying it is good some of our kids die at birth because we do not have modern equipments and advanced medicine to save them?”
“Sid Jerzi, this is the natural course of things we must accept. Maaderdeen has not the capacity to nourish more than the population that now lives in our nations. If there were ten million persons, we’d have to exploit nature in a destructive way, fish all the fishes from the ocean, fill the soil with growing products, and it wouldn’t be enough, we’d need to bring ships and ships of food from other places. This is how the rest of Gohir works. To continue with what I was saying in response to the young wizard, already at the time, we chose not to intervene. Nowadays we’re entirely impotent before human’s folly. We should bring back their lands to the magic realm by force if we wanted to stop what they’re doing.”
“Is that possible?” asked enthusiastically they young wizard whose name was Saril.
Waraki considered his question for a moment. “This has never been done. I don’t know for sure, and it would involve using our gift to destroy and kill, which is not allowed by the code.”
Jerzi seemed to be decided not to surrender to Waraki’s arguments no matter what. “Why are you so secretive about your magic codes? Why can’t we know for sure what can you do, and what can’t you? This is a danger for our nation in my opinion!”
“Jerzi. Your forefather chose to trust us…”
“Was forced to bow to you,” you mean.
“Enough! We never used magic to force or harm anyone. The words you are using are treasonous Jerzi. Isn’t it anyone else in the assembly who wants to represent more fittingly the women and men of Shoumen?”
“Jerzi is our rightful leader!” someone shouted in the assembly.
“Yes, he is!” other repeated in chorus, “we have chosen him.”
“Fine,” Waraki said, “let the will of the people be respected.”
“What if the people want to start building steam machines?” asked Jerzi. “Will you respect their will, if the majority wants it. If they want to move in trains instead of walking for days half-famished, will you let them build railways?”
“Jerzi, you don’t seem to understand I can’t stop anyone from doing anything. I can try to do that politically, diplomatically. But if the decision of Shoumen’s province is to go against what the rest of Maaderdeen nations wish, then they might face expulsion from the confederation, as it is something very grave at play. But if it is the will of people, and that they know to what they’re exposing themselves, then I can’t do anything about it, but mourn your lack of wisdom.”
“Really, do you hear wizard Waraki, men and women of Shoumen! We will organize a voting and see what the people truly want. If we are expulsed from Maaderdeen for following our lawful rights, then we will make alliance with other more powerful countries from the world. And nothing proves that what wizard Waraki is saying is true, about the end of the world and all the problems he speaks about. For years wizards have claimed the same thing, and yet year after year the continent is more developed and advanced. Imagine they have already visited the space, sent men on our three moons. And we, what have we done? Nothing at all but quarrelling about old rules that have become meaningless. The times of magic have passed I tell you, and those of sciences have started already several centuries ago. We are quite late, but still in time to jump on the train, if I may use this quite appropriate figure of speech. We know all the secret recipes of the world advancement as some wiser wizards have documented them in books. We need a lot of steel and iron and coal and we have them all in the Khenzouk mountains at east. In a few years all Maaderdeen will be transformed and wealthy. There will be a train line from Shoumen to Shaabal, and from Gareed to Raheb. We will all live in cosy houses with electric lights day and night and warm water in a tap. And we’ll all be equal before the law of science. No more stealthy wizards that do not even explain us their rules, and what is possible and what is not. Everything will be open and transparent for all. People of Maaderdeen, don’t you approve of my words?”
Many people cheered and applauded in the room, including Zehel my father, and from a sign of his head he enjoined me to applaud too, whispering in my ear. “What this man – Sid Jerzi – is saying, is very important and historical. No one has ever had the courage to defy so openly the order of wizards. Son, Maaderdeen cannot continue as it has. Some changes are needed.”
I, Wahrid, did not like this Sid Jerzi and did not approve of his words. I did not think he was being very honest. And I had a fascination for magic. I wanted to discover more about it, not to see it abolished. It was stupid to want to do like the rest of the world where clouds of dark smoke rested above cities because of pollution, from what the wizards who had been there told. Only a wizard with a powerful strength can go there and return.
Now Waraki was talking. “The wizard school in every village and town of Maaderdeen are here to let you learn all you need to know about magic. I agree that in the last decades, instruction has not been given very thoroughly because there are less wizards than in the past, or rather there are more people, and wizards have been busy with more pressing issues. But this council has made me realize it was a great mistake to neglect instruction, because now the place of magic in our society is being contested, when you ignore half or all about it. I do not blame you, it is not your fault – even though you could have found all what you needed to know in books. We should have foreseen this problem. But we were so preoccupied with other matters we did not. Let me tell you in few words certain of the bases for magic. First of all, the gift of each wizard is different and unique. There are things that mostly all wizards can do, but there are other things that manifest only for one wizard. Magic is different from science in that. Usually science predicts one unique answer. In magic there are several answers, as many ways as there are wizards. All what I can imagine, I can make happen, but it is not always easy. Now, ask me things to do, and I’ll explain to you how easy or difficult it would be for me.”
A man asked in the assembly. “Could you put this building on fire?”
Waraki thought for a moment. “Potentially, yes. I’d have to find some wood in the building, like on the walls of this room. Think strongly of a spark that arrives on the wood and makes it catch fire. Then a small fire would start. I could go around the building. Or have other wizards with me, each doing the same thing in other places, until several fires in several places are burning down the building. But, but, it is against our code to use magic for destructive purposes, so we wouldn’t do it. Except if it is a building that threatens to fall and that the town’s authorities take the decision to take it down.”
Another man asked. “Could you make this building crumble?”
“That would be more difficult than starting a fire. Because I need to shake its very foundations, which are very heavy, heavier than the weight I can bear alone. I’d need to find the foundation pillars with several other wizards, and attack them one after another, imagining the blocks are disintegrating. Or I could find another weakness of the building. But it requires more thinking, research, time, documentation.”
A woman asked. “How could you kill me?”
Waraki frowned. “Do you only think about destruction? I could set your hair aflame. I could imagine a needle piercing your heart. But it is not that easy, because your body knows it is sane, and well-functioning. I need to enter into your body, and find its weak spots. Some wizards are better at this than others. It is the same for a building. There is a cohesion and harmony between the stones. I need to convince them they will be better off if they crumbled. Each and every object has a soul, a consciousness. There are individual souls, and group souls, family souls, nation souls. For instance as we gather here in this assembly, a soul forms composed of all of that. A knowledge we’re all from Maaderdeen. A knowledge that division and fracture exist among us, while knowing that we would stand together if someone from outside attacked us. There are souls constantly forming and changing all around us. Knowledge of who we are. Unconscious knowledge. This is what magic manipulates.”