The ceremony for announcing the royal wizard was always done in open-air, for reasons Ashna never understood. It was autumn, and a cold wind blew through the deer park. Ashna sat in his chair in the front row with the rest of the council wizards, shivering a little. He drew his cloak closer around him. He could hear the throng of people standing behind him, whispering, gossiping, speculating about the next royal wizard. He was in the running for the post, but that didn’t mean anything. The politics of the court had its own flow, its own shape, and Ashna had long back given up on capturing it.
Instead he focused on the remaining leaf of a tree he could see at the end of the deer park, behind the king’s make-shift throne. The leaf fluttered violently in the wind. Ashana felt it and tried to hold it with his mind. It was difficult, given the distance and all the noise. He focused his attention more and excluded everything.
Slowly, he steadied the leaf. Then he held it and plucked it gently from the tree. The leaf started moving towards him. It glided through the air, above the crowds, almost majestically, passing the throne, passing the stage, and dropped in his lap. Ashana smiled.
He felt a touch on his shoulder and turned to look at council wizard Sampita.
“Ashana,” Sampita said gently, “you’re the next royal wizard.”
Ashana looked at the throne. The chief advisor stood on the stage, looking at him expectantly. He felt the eyes of the entire crowd focused upon him. He took a deep breath and stood up.
“Thank you, Sampita,” he said. As he walked towards the stage, his mind filled with the memories of a similar day, more than fifty years ago. It was a similar crowd, and a king stood on the throne, and a royal wizard was to be announced …
Ashana felt the electricity of the crowd pulsating through his body. He stood in the crowds with his fellow students. Their master, wizard Amatog, was the front runner for royal wizard and sat in the front row.
“I don’t even know what it would feel like to be the student of the royal wizard,” One said.
“It’ll feel the same. Master Amatog makes me work so hard I have no time to feel anything except the ache in my muscles,” another exclaimed.
“Well, he’s making us work so hard so that one day we could be royal wizard like him!” Ashana said.
Suddenly the crowd grew quiet. People always knew when the time had come for the announcement for the royal wizard.
“And after much deliberation,” the chief advisor was speaking, “we’ve selected our next grand wizard to be … Nundul.”
What? Ashana felt sick to his stomach. Amatog wasn’t going to be the grand wizard? But he was the most skillful wizard in the kingdom, the most talented. Amatog’s master had been a grand wizard himself, and Amatog was his best student. It was a no-brainer. There must’ve been a mistake.
“Duh, it was expected. Amatog didn’t make enough trips to the capital.” One student said.
“Yes, it’s not enough to be just good, you must convince the right people,” Another student.
“What’s going to happen to me? My father sent me to Amatog expecting he’ll turn me into the next grand wizard.”
“That Nundul, he really played his cards well.”
Ashana felt a large gap open in his stomach in which all his thoughts collapsed. He was dumbfounded. That evening, when they walked back to their dwellings, three students out of ten did not return with them.
Amatog kept training the students like he always did. His technique was to give the students a challenge for the day, then let them work on it while he meditated. Slowly, the students started to leave. That didn’t seem to affect him at all. Instead, he seemed to be completely focused on a new problem. It started the day after the announcement.
After giving the students their problems for the day, Amatog asked Ashana to bring him a jug of water before leaving for his exercises. Wondering what this was about, Ashana did as asked.
“Now throw the water at me,” Amatog said.
Had he gone completely crazy?
“Are you sure master?” Ashana inquired.
Amatog smiled and closed his eyes. Then he held his hands up.
“Now!” he said.
Ashana threw the water. Amatog moved his hands swiftly together, and the water was held in mid-air, coalesced into a glittering, fluid sphere.
“You may leave now,” Amatog said, still his eyes closed, the viscous sphere in front of him slowly starting to rotate.
Ashana left. As he went about his work for the day, he stole glances at his master, who seemed to be completely pre-occupied with the water sphere. He seemed to be trying to get it to a specific shape.
Over the next few days, they followed the same routine. If there was any doubt among the students that their master was of no use to them anymore, the water experiments had confirmed it. Soon, only Ashana remained.
“Master, what are you doing with this water exercise?” Ashana asked one day. “You’re the finest wizard in the kingdom. Shouldn’t you be working on bigger problems?”
“This is the problem that lies beyond my skill right now,” Amatog told him. “And I must focus on it. I have ignored water, and that’s a gap in my knowledge. I must fill it.”
“It doesn’t seem to be something that’s needed to become royal wizard,” Ashana said.
“No,” Amataog said. “But the day I let that desire control the shape of my skills, I would let go of my freedom.”
Ashana said no more. But that night, he left.
He joined a new master, who taught him more magic but also helped him understand the intricacies of royal politics. He made frequent trips to the capital and took Ashana with him. He showed him how to flatter courtiers, how to get small magical projects that made him look good in front of the king.
Ashana was excited. But slowly, the fun of magic was leaving him. The deeper he sunk into the labyrinths of court, the farther he felt from the magic. One day, he woke up sweating. He had a dream where he was asked to do a simple thing, convert a rope to snake, but couldn’t. He had forgotten magic. Amatog was standing there too, smiling.
“I must talk to Amatog,” Ashana thought. “God knows what he’s doing. Still playing with the water globe I imagine.”
He made the trip to Amatog’s cottage. On the way, he saw some men cutting trees and digging the ground. The trees around the area were frozen, so they only needed a few blows before the trees came crashing down. He asked what was going on.
“A new road was commissioned through the forest,” one of the men told him. “The royal wizard sent a freeze wave through this section of the forest to make cutting the trees easier.”
A channel of frozen trees ran into the forest. Wait, what direction was this? Ashana started running through the frozen trees that stood motionless and dead.
By the time he reached Amatog’s hut, darkness had started to engulf the forest. Ice hung in crystals from its roof.
Amatog sat motionless beneath his tree. Ashana checked his heartbeat. Nothing. He had been dead a few hours. In front of him on the ground lay the water sphere he had been practicing with, now frozen.
Except, it wasn’t a sphere. It was a perfect cube. Amatog had a satisfied smile on his face. Ashana knew then that this was the last lesson he needed from his true master.
Ashana stood on the stage and looked at the crowd. He hadn’t let the court shape his life. He had no students. They would come now, for sure. And he would teach them what his master had taught him. He would teach them the shape of magic.