by Matsu Kasumi
Florence, June 1633.
The night had already fallen when Professor Leandro Lazzaro left the university to go home. He had been staying late to work on a new theory every evening this week and today was not different. He was hoping to finish a new book about the relation between the moon’s phases and one’s spell-power before the end of the month – he would have finished it long ago if it weren’t for his current problems with the Church.
Leandro was a man in his mid-forties, but looked a bit older, due to his hair’s having turned completely gray in the last few months. He was of average build and, if asked, he would say there was nothing noticeable about his appearance. If you asked the ladies, though, they would tell you about his kind hazel eyes, his charming smile, or his enchanting voice. Among themselves they would also whisper about his wealth, since an unmarried professor, with no children or living relatives, was an interesting party to say the least.
Leandro was not worried about marriage. If the right person appeared in his life, then so be it. His main concern was his job, which he liked more than anything else – including taking care of himself. He had once passed out from exhaustion after working too long on a theory.
His job was to study (and teach) the theory behind magic, how it worked and why. That was his life.
Leandro had been just shy of turning six when he’d discovered he could do magic. The priest of their little town had asked every child of his age to try. Unlike most of the others, he had managed to fulfill the incantation and light a candle with nothing but his mind; his life had changed. Before that, he had not been really interested in magic. He had no real passion for learning, aside from perhaps favoring mathematics more than languages or history. Magic changed that. Magic changed his life.
His father, Vincenzo Lazzaro, a locally famous luthier, and his mother, Guilia, third daughter of the sixth son of a provincial viscount, had been thrilled and put as much money as possible into his education. He started, with the few other Chosen, to follow classes once a week with the priest, who explained them the basis (starting every lessons with the phrase “magic is a science” until all the young Chosen repeated it as a salute when he entered the room). Then, at age ten, they had been sent to the Santa Lucia Abbey for three years during which the monks would tutor them in everything, especially magic. After that, they were free to do as they pleased… join the Clergy to become a priest, stay as a monk, enlist as an army wizard or, like Leandro had decided to do, study more at university.
His parent had sent him to Florence, where he had studied with the greatest masters and learnt everything known about magic. Then he had decided there must be more to it and started doing his own research. He had started as a teacher’s assistant before earning a chair as a Professor at age thirty-nine. He was young for a professor, but he was gifted with magic and all the authorities acknowledged him as an unavoidable member of the Magical Academy of Florence. The Pope himself once had come to hear one of his lectures on how magic worked.
Leandro’s life had been happy like that, until last year, when he had published a paper about one’s mana that was quite different from what the Church taught. That had been the start of far more trouble than he had ever intended to have, and he tried most of the time not to think too much about the trial that had been going on for months.
Leandro had simply published his new theory like every other scientist would have. But his discovery had been too much, too opposed to what was written in the Bible and the Church, who had so far pushed him to research more and more, backed up and summoned him to court. The trial was led by an inquisitor and while Leandro had first thought he could win, time starting to prove him wrong.
He was right; he knew it. But knowing it and proving it were two different things. He had tried to explain, and some fellow scientists understood. Those who studied magic and knew how it worked accepted his theory. And most of the physicists and chemists liked the idea and approved of the theory behind it. But that was not enough.
The Church had its own scientists, people as well educated as Leandro and of higher reputation. And they had theories of their own to counter Leandro’s. Then some of the people who had first believed Leandro started to change their mind and turn their back on him. Some were probably genuinely convinced by the Church’s arguments, but most had likely accepted bribery or been blackmailed. Either way, Leandro was almost alone now.
And as the trial went on, people lost interest. The Church had successfully hidden the real discovery and made it so the masses would think of it as yet another fight between academics. It was probably better that way, because if people had started to take sides, there would have been riots, because there had been wars when the Church first had gone from seeing magic as a pagan heresy to teaching it as a gift from God. Leandro didn’t want people to die because of his discovery, so he kept a low profile.
That particular night of mid-June, on his way home, he decided to stop for a drink at his favorite tavern, the Draconica, hoping that at this late hour the place would be quiet. Indeed it was, save for the few usual customers at the bar and a merry band of merchants playing cards at one of the tables.
Leandro sat next to the fireplace and ordered his usual drink. Before he could decide whether or not to take out a pen and some parchment to continue his work, a man stood from the bar and walked to him, sitting at his table as if he belonged there.
It took Leandro a few seconds to recognise the man, but, when he did, his face lit up with a smile.
“Leandro!” said the newcomer with a warm smile. “I knew I’d find you here. You’re such a creature of habit.”
While it was unexpected, seeing him made Leandro happy. Illario had been a friend for years and their meetings, while long apart and often random and short, were always treasurable.
They had met at fourteen, both of them arriving in Florence for the first time, in awe at the city’s gates. Leandro was heading for the Church’s University to study the fine arts of magic, while Illario was visiting a great aunt of his. They bonded over being young and somewhat lost despite their determination and argued about life choices – Leandro was a studious future mage, while Illario was a noble’s son who wanted to travel the world and have adventures.
Since they were both new to the city and were headed to different parts of it, they had decided to meet again a week later and tell the other what interesting places they had found. They had met at the Draconica, and it somehow became a habit. Every Thursday, they met and talked for hours. They saw each other become men; Leandro graduated from the University with honors while Illario trained with the most famous sword-masters and somehow avoided marriage. Then Illario left for Napoli, where he had hoped to find a ship and sail to the New World and Leandro stayed in Florence to do more research about magic.
They had met a few times after that, whenever Illario was back in town. And sometimes Leandro received letters from Illario, who was at the other end of the world but somehow still thought of him and sent him a sample of some local herb that the natives believed to be magic, or an amulet with a local charm. Those had been precious help for his studies.
It had been just over two years since the last letter and Leandro was, as always, expecting not to see Illario. He had long ago resigned himself to his friend’s absence, for the life of a sailor and adventurer in the New World was far more dangerous than any other. So it was a very good surprise to see the man.
Leandro took a moment to study his friend. He still looked the same, his dark hair lightened by the sun and the salt, his skin tanned by that same sun, and his eyes shining with his usual joy. A quick glance at his right hand, the one around his beer, gave Leandro the reassuring sight of all five fingers. He knew that Illario’s left hand was missing the last two knuckles of the ring finger, after a meeting with hostile natives on his first trip to the New World; since that incident, checking for more injuries was always the first thing Leandro did when meeting the man.
Illario indulged him. Ever since that one time, when they had been sixteen and he had taken a nasty blow to the shoulder that would have left him unable to hold a sword if Leandro had not used magic to mend the muscle, Illario had no objection about letting Leandro fuss over him.
There had been no wooden sound when Illario had walked to his table, so Leandro took it for granted that the man still had as many limbs as the last time they met. So Leandro smiled back and said:
“Illario, it’s been a long time.”
Illario tensed and quickly glanced around before whispering, “Don’t call me that! I’m Terence now.”
With anyone else, Leandro would have been doubtful about the whole name-changing thing, but with Illario… he just raised an eyebrow.
“What kind of trouble have you put yourself into this time?”
“Nothing bad, really… I’m just… Let’s say I’d prefer if some people didn’t know that I’m here.”
Of course, Illario’s family had never been keen on his travels and was always trying to keep him home. Ten years ago, Leandro had had to help Illario out of his own palazzio in the middle of the night so he could get back to a ship.
“So you made yourself English?”
“Sort of… I’ve been getting back here on an English ship and the other crew-members found my name too foreign so they nicknamed me Terence. Figured it’s as good a name as any other I’ve been given.”
They shared a smile had that; an old memory from their youth resurfacing. Illario had once courted two maidens at the same time, using different names for each of them… Of course they had found out and both left him with much slapping and death threats should he ever talk to them again. That had happened at the Draconica and the patrons had then been calling Illario a different name every day for almost a year. Some of these names were not exactly gratifying… and at least Terence was a variation of Illario’s last name, Terentius.
It had been more than twenty years ago and the tavern had changed owners three times since then. So much time had passed, and yet they were still able to laugh at the same old jokes. That was why Leandro liked Illario so much; there was no worry, no doubt, no lies or artifice… just plain old everlasting friendship. He sometimes wished he had more friends like that, but was happy to know what a real friend was. Most of his fellow professors at the university didn’t seem to have this chance.
They talked for hours about Illario’s travels; what he had seen; what he had done, people he had met… And suddenly, after a tale of how he gained honorary citizenship of some tribe by helping them repel pirates who thought the local divinity’s forbidden cavern was the perfect place to hide a treasure, Illario looked at Leandro and said:
“What about you?”
That was also something Leandro liked about the man. He had the most thrilling stories to tell and had lived impossible adventures, but was always willing to know about Leandro’s boring and monotonous life. He would listen to him complain about petty things like colleagues and students without complaining. Leandro’s cosy life seemed as interesting to Illario as any other. Even more, maybe, for all the academical worries were exotic to him.
Leandro looked at his beer, hesitating. Where should he start? But Illario seemed to know exactly where he wanted him to start, for he added:
“I heard you’re starting a revolution.”
Leandro had to deny that wholeheartedly.
“I’m not starting anything!” he said, a bit too loudly, but the few remaining customers were too drunk to care. “I discovered something, okay? It just happened to be the exact opposite of what the Church has been saying for centuries.”
“So that’s true. Tell me more, the rumor is just that you’re going to get yourself burned for heresy.” Illario’s tone was light, because he probably believed this was just an exaggeration, as rumors always were. But Leandro knew that it was actually the closest thing to the truth. It must have shown on his face, because Illario’s smile faded.
“They’re not really going to burn you, right?”
“Well… not if I yield and admit I lied about my theory to get attention.”
Illario pulled a face.
“Getting attention? You?! You’re the most discreet person I’ve ever met!”
“I know… It’s just what they want to hear before they leave me alone.”
Illario shook his head and gestured for the bartender to bring them another round of drinks.
“Tell me more,” he said. “What’s exactly that theory of yours?”
Leandro bit his lip and took a minute to order his thoughts. Explaining magical theories was difficult when talking to people who had devoted their whole life to science; explaining it to someone who had never studied more than what was required to sail a tall ship was yet another story.
“What exactly do you know about magic?” he asked first.
“Well… The Chosen can do magic. It’s… it’s magic, you don’t explain it! It just is. It can be tiring though, I know that.”
Of course Illario would know… he had seen Leandro with shaking hands, unable to even stand after a spell drained him from his energy when they were youths. Leandro had had to learn his limits… a lot of Chosen never made it to being a mage because they overestimated themselves and died trying to cast a complicated spell without training. Last week, Leandro had lost one of his students like that. He blinked and went back to what Illario was saying.
“I think you once said casting a spell was pretty instinctive. Oh and I also know that there are Chosen all around the world… which means either God gives to even those who don’t believe in Him, or He’s not the origin of magic.”
Leandro had always known Illario to be a bit critical about what the Church said, but it was still reassuring to hear that. At least he would hear him without being biased by his faith. In fact, he might even agree with him just out of principle.
So Leandro took a sip of his beer and started his explanation.
“Magic is an instinctive art, you’re right about that. But it’s also a science… a complicated one, for we don’t know everything about it yet, but a science nonetheless. It is possible to quantify it and calculate beforehand how it will react, more or less. We’ve made good progress these past years in understanding how it works.”
“By ‘we’, you mean you, right?”
“I’m not the only one who studies magic, Terence.”
Illario flinched slightly at the way Leandro said his fake name.
“And most of my theories and studies are based on the previous works of people like Paracelsus and Flamel…”
“Who died at least a century ago!”
“They were the best in their field, that’s all I’m saying.”
“Yeah, and now you are.”
Leandro blushed slightly. He knew he was among the best when it came to the studies of magic, but he didn’t like to brag about it. All he wanted was simply to understand magic… and maybe make other people understand it too.
“Anyway,” Leandro continued, “the thing is… Do you know what one’s mana is?”
“Hmm… it’s one’s magic, isn’t it?”
“It’s not that simple. Magic can be quantified. The unit is called the Thaum.”
“Yeah, I know that, I went to school… once… long ago.”
Leandro just rolled his eyes.
“So… mana is an amount of Thaum or something?” asked Illario.
“Yes and no. A person’s mana is the amount of Thaums they have. Then a spell’s mana is the amount of Thaums needed to cast a spell.”
“So you sort of compare the spell’s and person’s mana to see if the spell is castable?”
“I wish all my students were that quick to understand this part,” Leandro said with a tired smile.
Illario pulled a face at that.
“Aren’t they, like, intelligent? This part seems quite easy.”
“It is but… they think my classes will teach them to be more powerful. They just… I think most of them don’t care how magic works, they just want to be the most powerful. And they know I can cast spells far more complex than what I should.”
“Oh yeah, I heard that! Can you really complete a summoning ritual without help?”
Leandro just shrugged.
“But it takes like fifteen people to do that!”
“Only if you don’t know what you’re doing. Rituals don’t use the Thaums the same way an immediate spell does.”
Illario just blinked curiously and Leandro continued.
“See a basic spell like a fireball is just a question of concentrating oneself and visualizing the fireball and it will appear in your hand so you can throw it at your target. The Thaums simply follow your imagination on that one. But a ritual… you need to first put together the mana of every ritualist and then all of them must imagine the ritual accomplishing the exact same result. Otherwise if I imagine summoning a red devil in a circle of flames while you imagine summoning a gargoyle-ish stone creature that spits venom, the Thaums won’t know what to do and something random will be summoned. Whereas if we both know exactly what we’re calling forth and both imagine it the same way, it will appear, easily.”
“So you’re saying a summon is easier alone?
“But how do you get enough power to do that?”
“You simply need a bigger pool of mana. Which is usually accomplished by summoning in groups so everybody’s pool put together makes a bigger quantity of mana with enough Thaums to summon any random entity.”
“I suppose the key word is ‘usually’?”
Leandro smiled at that.
“You’re quite a brilliant student, for someone who went to school long ago.”
“So, what’s your unusual way?” Ilario asked back, not responding to the teasing, which meant he was really interested by Leandro’s theory.
“You simply need to add to your mana with stored Thaums. Because Thaums can be stocked in objects, like crystals and amulets.”
“Wait, aren’t those already magical?”
“Yes! We’ve been using them for ages but without understanding their full potential. With the appropriate preparation, a crystal not bigger than your hand can store a pool of mana as big as mine.”
“You’re kidding, right?”
Illario’s doubts were understandable. As far as the public knew, to store half the mana of an average Chosen, one needed a crystal that was at least twice the Chosen’s weight. This meant crystals were simply used in hospitals to recharge exhausted Chosen and keep them from dying of Thaum-loss. And of course it took a very long time to charge a crystal back to its full potential… and that was only when said potential was believed to be extremely small, according to Leandro.
But the professor didn’t look like he was joking, and while Illario was not a credulous man, he had no reasons not to believe his longtime friend. So he just poked where the reasoning seemed weak to him.
“Wait… If that’s true, then it must take centuries to charge a crystal properly.”
“No, not at all! And that’s where the Church starts to disagree with me, but… in fact you just have to let it be.”
“See, the Church teaches us to charge a crystal by concentrating on it and putting our Thaums in it… but if we just leave it alone, it will charge itself.”
Leandro smiled at Illario’s disbelief and took a sip of his drink before adding:
“And that’s just part of the bigger discovery. In fact, it’s what led me to it.”
“There’s more than this?”
“So much more, Illario. You have no idea!”
Illario didn’t even bother with the use of his real name. Leandro was looking at him him intently, hoping his gaze would convince him of the importance of what he was about to say. At first, Illiario looked slightly doubtful, but he finally seemed to accept that Leandro was serious and so he said:
“Tell me, then.”
“Everybody can do magic!”
It took Illario a second to process that.
“Everybody. Can. Do. Magic,” Leandro repeated, slowly.
“That’s impossible! I mean… we would know if we could do magic. I sure as hell can’t!”
“Yes you can! Just not alone.”
“Shhhh, let me explain.”
“Yeah, I think I could do with an explanation. One that involves you getting hit on the head by a summoned gargoyle would make sense.”
Leandro shook his head to dismiss the idea of him not being in his right mind and explained:
“So I had this uncharged crystal in my bag once and I forgot said bag here, at the Draconica. When I went back to retrieve it, the crystal was charged! Fully charged, with far more Thaums than I could ever have put in it! I couldn’t believe my eyes when I measured it, but the results were there. I ran a lot of tests and made some experiments at the university and here. And I finally understood! When a Chosen tries to load a crystal, they bind it to themselves and so the crystal, obliging thing that it is, will only take the Thaums the mage gives it. And since magic is a question of imagination, if you’re sure that the crystal cannot take more than a few Thaums, you won’t give it more than that. But here, the crystal was alone, forgotten in a bag that the bartender – bless him by the way, had he been less honest I would never have known – kept behind his counter. And it was not yet bound to me or any mage so it just took all the Thaums it could find. Do you understand?”
Illario bit his lip slightly, trying to understand how that worked. it still seemed quite obscure to him.
“I don’t get it… If the crystal charged itself… where did it take the Thaums? Are you sure it didn’t empty a mage that was drunk at the bar or something?”
“Certain! Mages wear amulets that protect them from having their mana stolen against their will. So of course the discovery couldn’t have been made in the university where everybody has those amulets. But here… townspeople go about their life without caring for magic. And the Thaums come from them.”
“What?! That doesn’t make sense! I thought only the Chosen had Thaums.”
“No. That’s where the Church is wrong. Chosen are the only one with mana, but everybody produces Thaums. You, me, the bartender… everybody!”
“It’s not. It’s the truth! The difference is that I keep my Thaums into my mana, whereas yours get lost into the world. I don’t know yet why some people have mana and other don’t. I’ll be working on it, but I think it’s like having blue eyes or something. Not my field at all…”
Illario finished his beer in one long gulp and looked at the bottom of his tankard, then at Leandro’s earnest smile…
“This is crazy”, he finally said. “And even if I were producing Thaums, without fixing them into mana how could I ever cast a spell?”
“With a crystal that would act as your mana. You’d need training, it’s not as instinctive as one can imagine when you never used it, but you could. Wait, let me show you.”
Leandro produced a small crystal from one of his pockets and gave it to Illario.
“Here,” he said while gesturing to the candle that was on their table, “just hold on to the crystal and concentrate on the candle. Memorize its look.”
Illario looked intensely at the candle, then Leandro blew it out.
“Okay, now I want you to imagine it still burning.”
It took more than two minutes and Illario was ready to give up three times but every time he looked at Leandro, he saw his encouraging look. He couldn’t disappoint him like that. So he kept staring and imagining the candle burning bright and suddenly it was burning again!
“Oh my God!”
Illario stared at the candle, mouth agape, eyes wide.
“You… you didn’t do it to please me, right, it… it really… I did magic… I did magic!”
Leandro smiled widely but still had to put a hand on Illario’s arm to keep him calm. They couldn’t afford to be heard.
“So, do you believe me now?”
“That’s… Leandro! That’s not a revolution you’re starting, you’re changing the world! All of it!”
“I’m not changing anything. The world was already like this before I wrote my theory.”
“You’re far too humble for a genius.”
Leandro just shook his head and Illario called for another round of drinks.
While Illario seemed just amazed by what he had just done, Leandro was thrilled. Not only because his friend did magic but also because he had believed him straight away and been wanting to try and prove him right. A few months ago, he had tried to explain his theory to a chemist who hadn’t believed him, but also had refused to try and do magic, because that would have been both a waste of time and a heresy. This, coming from a man whose work was entirely based on experimentation, had been a low blow to Leandro’s morale.
“So,” Illario said later while sipping his new beer, “to sum it up… magic doesn’t stick to everybody but everybody can use it because it’s alive.”
“I wouldn’t exactly say it’s alive.”
“But it moves…”
“Yes, it moves.”
At that moment, Leandro was starting to feel the buzz of alcohol and decided to call it a night. He could have stayed until dawn here, talking with Illario about magic and other things, but his trial was still going on and he needed to be fresh the next day to face the Inquisition.
Illario was staying in a modest hotel near the marketplace, which was in the opposite direction of Leandro’s home. Yet he insisted on walking Leandro home and Leandro agreed wholeheartedly. He knew very well that Illario was offering more than just a companionable walk, but that was exactly the point. Leandro would never be the one to ask for it, which Illario knew so he did it. And really Leandro should refuse but it had been so long since he could do that with someone he trusted to keep his preferences a secret.
Having an affair, even for one night or just a few hours, was always taking the risk that the other person would turn him over to the Inquisition. But Illario wouldn’t do that, Leandro knew. He knew he could just enjoy a night with his friend without worrying about consequences. Illario was aware of Leandro’s attraction for men and didn’t think it an heresy. Illario himself was fond of men and women alike but he didn’t judge.
Most of the time, they didn’t talk about it, didn’t even act on it, but, sometimes, they would have sex, because it felt good. It had taken Leandro a long time to accept that he enjoyed being with a man, and even more to realize that he could enjoy it without necessarily falling in love. Once it was set in his mind, what he had with Illario had been perfect. They were the best of friends, and sometimes they had sex. They cared for each other and shared everything, including pleasure. Maybe it was love… It probably wasn’t, but Leandro didn’t think he wanted or needed anything else. And, as far as he knew, neither did Illario.
As soon as they had reached Leandro’s place and were locked inside, Illario kissed him. It was messy and tasted of beer, and Leandro loved it. He let himself let go and stopped thinking, just grabbed Illario, pulling him close so he could feel his hardening cock through their clothes. Illario moaned and pushed him against the nearest wall, leaning on him with all his weight. Leandro responded by grabbing Illario’s ass.
They broke the kiss after a while but stayed extremely close, breathing the same air, looking into each other’s eyes to see the same look of trust and desire.
Leandro leaned in and kissed the stubble that was growing on Illario’s jaw, before whispering in his ear:
“We should get to my room.”
Illario nodded and took a step back, letting go of him completely. Then he smiled and ran to the bedroom.
“I bet I’ll be naked first!”
Leandro laughed and took a few seconds to marvel at how Illario managed to stay foolishly young despite the years. Then he followed, trying to get rid of his clothes while crossing the corridors.
When he reached his room, Illario was already naked, sprawled on his bed like he belonged there. Leandro enjoyed the sight for a moment before joining him. He lay on top of him and kissed him passionately, enjoying the warmth of another body against his own. Illario’s hands immediately circled him, one of them grabbing his head to push him even more into the kiss and the other cupping his ass. Leandro groaned and rocked against his friend, trying to create as much friction as possible between their bodies.
Illario made a sudden movement and rolled them around. Then he broke the kiss, but Leandro didn’t protest, as Illario immediately started to go down, caressing Leandro’s torso with one hand and wrapping the other around his cock for a few erratic strokes. Leandro moaned and Illario waited until he was looking straight at him to lick his lips seductively, eliciting another moan from Leandro. Then he moved his hand away and put his mouth around Leandro’s cock.
Landro didn’t even try to stay still, knowing it was useless and not necessarily what Illario liked best. Instead he grabbed Illario’s hair with both hands and thrust into his mouth. Illario groaned, pushing Leandro’s thighs apart with both hands and moving his head in rhythm with Leandro’s thrusts, taking him in deeper and deeper each time.
And suddenly he let go and Leandro, after he realized there were no more hands on his thighs, stopped too. They hadn’t done that in years, but no more hands on thighs meant Illario needed to breathe, and the signals had no reason to change. Illario was indeed breathing heavily, but he soon put his head back down on Leandro’s cock. He didn’t suck it this time though, simply licked the length, while he fondled Leandro’s balls with both hands.
Leandro let out a whimper that sounded a lot like Illario’s name and, with one last lick to the head of his cock, Illario went back to kissing him.
Leandro took advantage of the kiss to turn them over again and, once he was on top, he wrapped his hand around both of their cocks, stroking them together. Illario let go of his mouth to bite slightly at his shoulder and Leandro quickened his rhythm.
Leandro felt Illario’s hand move down along his back and cup his ass again, thumb circling his entrance. Leandro enjoyed the teasing for what it was, knowing that if Illario had intended to take him (or be taken, for that matter) tonight, he would have asked about lubricant. He was therefore not expecting it when Illario pushed his left ring finger into him. Leandro let out a grunt, but the intrusion was not more than what he could handle without warnings nor preparation, for Illario’s missing knuckles made his finger short enough not to hurt.
Leandro rocked back and forth between Illario’s finger and his own, grip on their cocks, getting lost in the sensations. Illario bit his shoulder again and Leandro came hard and fast, Illario following him a few strokes later.
They lay there for a while, before Leandro gathered the willpower to extend his arm and magicked a cloth from the cupboard to his hand. He called for warm water to dampen said cloth and used it to clean their stomachs. Then he dropped the cloth on the side of the bed and let himself drift off to sleep, curled against Illario, whose breath was evening too, while hand was gently stroking his hair.
Leandro fell asleep happy that Illario hadn’t minded his hair having turned gray.
Two weeks later, the trial was nearing its end and Leandro was in Rome for his last hearing. It had been quick and discreet so far. The Church didn’t want the public to know about how everybody was able to do magic. But today was the last day of trial and it was a public hearing. All the important people were present; the Pope and cardinals, professors from most of the country’s universities and nobles and politicians, including a member of the House of Hapsburg sent by the Holy Roman Emperor Ferdinand II himself.
And then of course there was the crowd. All the curious people who could get in were there, and more were surely outside. The possibility of someone’s ending burned always interested the crowds. But Leandro wasn’t thinking about the crowd. As the Inquisition’s judges were announcing charges and proofs against him for being gravely suspected of heresy, he did his best to stay calm and thought of Illario.
His friend was there, at the door, dressed as a guard (Leandro didn’t really want to know how he had managed that one), watching him intently. Leandro could clearly remember what Illario had said, the evening before his departure for Rome.
“You could just tell them to fuck off and come with me. We could use a mage like you. Hell, you could teach us all magic! Imagine what a crew of mages could achieve in the New World!”
“Illario, you’re crazy. I can’t just leave the country like that…”
“Why not? I did it.”
“The Inquisition is not after you.”
“Let them seek you! The world is so big, they’d never find you! We could go to Spain and get aboard any ship… Or to England! I have a few friends there. We’d just have to call you Leon or something…”
“And how would I leave? The only reason I can be here today is because I signed a promise not to leave the city. They would keep me in a dungeon otherwise.”
“They don’t need to know you’re leaving. In fact, you could even end your trial by telling them they’re idiotic morons and that yes, magic does move! Then, I’ll smuggle you out of Rome and, by the time they finish building your stake we will be in London. From there we can go anywhere… What about the Orient? I heard they still have dragons in China…”
Leandro had pushed the conversation on the subject of dragons, not wanting to imagine too much what it would be like to be running from the Inquisition for the rest of his life.
But now… well now the idea didn’t seem that crazy. Hearing the Archbishop quoting Circe’s work as a proof that Chosen were the only ones able to do magic (and really, wasn’t that ironic that they needed to quote an Ancient Greek pagan witch to make their point?) made his stomach clench. This was a lie! All those people, here in Rome and everywhere around the world… they were lied to, everyday. They could be so much more… If only he had the guts to really start that revolution.
But the people might not be ready for it. Leandro had seen for his own eyes that they were so trusting of the Church and wouldn’t even consider his theory. Maybe it was still too early. Three centuries ago, even Circe’s work was considered an heresy, so if he waited another three hundred years, maybe people would be ready to understand.
For the moment, Leandro had to make a decision. A cardinal had spoken to him just before the trial. Were he to stay in his position, he would not make it out of the room alive. Leandro, for all he wanted to teach the world, wanted to live. So he lied.
When it was finally his turn to speak, he looked at the Pope and cardinals, at the Emperor’s envoy and at the Dukes and said:
“I, Leandro Lazzaro, Professor of Magic at the University of Florence, hereby admit that I lied. The theory that Thaums are generated by everybody and, by extension, that anyone could do magic, is an Heresy. I abjure this heresy. I curse it for its wrongness and detest it for it has tried to pry me away from the true path of God.”
After that, the trial ended quickly. Leandro was sentenced to be imprisoned for the rest of his life for having spread a heresy. The cardinals nodded in approvement and the emperor’s envoy took a few notes.
As he listened to the details of his sentence, Leandro felt a bit better. All these months of trial, with the death threat constantly at the back of his mind, had been difficult for him, despite his determination not to show it. Of course, he was pained to have to stop teaching but things in general were probably better this way. No war would start in his name, whereas he could have been used as a martyr, if he had stayed on his position and been either murdered or executed for it. With this sentence the world would be better and, sooner or later, it would come to realise that Leandro had been right all along.
As he was escorted out of the court, he passed in front of Illario, who was looking extremely anguished. Instead of averting his gaze, Leandro held it and, upon reaching him, he winked at his friend and whispered:
“And yet, it moves.”
Note: About the title, “a divinis” is a Latin locution to design a form of excommunication that means you’re not allowed to do anything related to the offices of God anymore… I thought I was kinda fitting.