Remembering Rue: Part Five
The door opened slowly—it did not creak, so Rue guessed it was quite new. The reason it was opening slowly, it turned out, was that the owner of the cottage who now stood in the open doorway was an elderly Pteri, bent over with age. He wore an olive green cloak around his thin frame, and his feathers—which were Grey—drooped slightly. The downy feathers around his beak were flecked white with age.
“H-hello?” Rue stuttered, feeling moderately relieved. The Pteri was obviously not a zombie or a ghost or a mutant beast, but he was still unknown, so she feared him.
“I suppose you’ve come for a remedy?” the old Pteri asked, his voice a harsh creak.
“Well,” the old man croaked, “most folks around her visit Sophie or Edna. You don’t hear any stories about wizards in these parts, only witches. Ever heard of any wizards?” He shot the question at Rue.
“No,” Rue answered truthfully. The only reason she remembered Sophie and Edna was from her books. None of her books had ever mentioned any wizards.
“Wizards,” the Pteri said scornfully, “are a disgrace to the name of magic. It’s mostly the witches' fault, though, eh?” He peered at Rue suspiciously.
“I suppose,” Rue answered vaguely, not having the slightest idea what he was talking about. “I’ve read lots of witches’ biographies,” she added, hoping to be helpfully.
“Witches!” the Pteri spat. “Didn’t I say it was all their fault? Didn’t I?”
“Yes,” Rue answered nervously.
“Well, then, I’ll tell you! I know an ignorant girl when I see one! How old are you, girl?”
The question triggered the vaguest of sensations in her mind—the vaguest of all of her remembered memories by far. “I turned eighteen two weeks ago,” Rue told the Pteri.
“Eh? What? Didn’t hear you! Oh, well, it doesn’t matter. Come inside, unless you want them to get you!”
“Who?” Rue asked, walking carefully into the little room. There were books everywhere, and a little cot in the corner, and bookshelves and a cauldron.
The Pteri moved stiffly and closed the door, wincing whenever he bent his arms or legs. He walked slowly over the cauldron and sank onto a small wooden stool by it. Rue pulled up a similar stool and peered into the cauldron. It was full of a bubbling silver liquid. The Pteri pulled a spoon out of one of his pockets and began to laboriously stir the potion. “This potion’s almost done,” he muttered. “Only need to add the Essence of Red Negg, and then stir it for a bit more.” He uncorked a little clay bottle that stood on the floor beside his stool and poured a drop of a bright red slimy-looking substance into the cauldron. The potion hissed immediately and steam billowed out, engulfing both Rue and the Pteri. The old man waved it away, coughing, and began to stir the potion again—now it was a pale pink.
“Who’s out there?” Rue repeated.
“Nothing’s out there,” the Pteri muttered.
Rue was confused and was about to tell the Pteri so, when a long and loud howl suddenly split the night. Rue jumped and fell backwards out of her chair. “If there’s nothing out there, then what was that?”
The Pteri chuckled. “Clever, I see. Good. You’re not as ignorant as I thought, so you may be able to understand the story of the modern wizard.”
“Okay,” said Rue weakly, pulling herself back onto the stool.
“So,” the Pteri began, pausing to stir the potion and to cough a few times, “that’s better. Now, on with it. The story of the modern wizard. Was there any mention of wizards in your biographies, young Krawk?”
“No,” answered Rue, “and my name’s Rue.”
“Yes, yes. Lou. Now, I would expect not. Because witches founded the art of potions and spells, you see—they are very deeply intertwined, those two arts. And so they cultivated it for their own.
“But, as time went on, the male pets of Neopia began to be interested in magic as well—and they took on the name ‘wizard’ and tried to learn the witches’ arts. But the witches were not so eager to share their secrets—and they cut themselves and their magic off from the wizards. And all but a select few of the wizards forgot the true art of magic—my mentor was one of the few, and he taught me the true art of magic. Witches hold a certain scorn for wizards—if they do speak of them, they have all conveniently forgotten how they are responsible for the wizards’ incompetence. You have heard of the Shop Wizard?”
“It sounds vaguely familiar,” Rue admitted.
“Yes, Sue, the incompetent wizards are all at his level—many are below it, even. Waving their meager talents about and using them for such menial and flashy tasks as finding low prices! Such disgrace.”
“Why don’t the good wizards teach the incompetent wizards, then?”
The Pteri looked at her square in the eye and said, “Because, as hard as we try, the wizards can never preserve the true art of magic in its perfect form, because we are very few in number and much time has passed since the witches cut us off. My mentor was barely a young adult at the time. And so, because of this, the witches will always have more power than us, and we dare not come out of hiding, lest they come down and smite us.”
He seemed to be enjoying the storytelling immensely, despite his evident dislike toward the subject.
“So you live in hiding, then?” Rue asked.
“Yes,” croaked the Pteri, “and I fear I do not have much time left here, for I am very old. I fear that perhaps the other true wizards have died out, and that I am the only one left, and out art will die with me.” His voice sounded undeniably sad at the prospect, but there was also a hint of pride, despite the situation, at how he was a true wizard—how he had managed, for so long, to practice his art in secret and avoid the detection of the witches.
Perhaps, Rue thought, the witches were not really the villains. Maybe they just wanted something for themselves.
And maybe, Rue thought, that was another part of why Ruth had left Meridell—she had wanted her life to herself. Perhaps, despite what she said, she was tired of being taken advantage of and did not want to spend her life as a farmhand, working for someone else and watching them reap the rewards of all her hard work.
And what about herself? She was an adult now—perhaps she, Rue, had also wanted something for herself. Perhaps she wanted to find her own place in the world—someplace where the past would not bother her, and she could get a fresh start.
She and her mother were very alike, then, despite what Rue thought.
And this Pteri. . .was he like them, as well? And what about Larry? Had he wanted something for himself? Had he wanted to escape his family’s bad luck and poverty?
Maybe, she thought, the world was not diverse at all, but everyone was simply the same but in different situations.
“You can teach me,” Rue said suddenly, surprised at herself.
“That would defeat the purpose,” the Pteri said, putting down his spoon and dipping a glass vial into the finished potion. “If I taught you, you would be a witch.”
“It would be different, though,” Rue said, “because I would not be taught by a witch like Sophie or Edna, and I wouldn’t have their magic—I’d be taught by a wizard, maybe the last real wizard alive, and I’d have the magic of the wizards, not the magic of the witches.”
“That’s true,” the Pteri said, corking the vial and dropping it into his pocket.
“Will you teach me, then?” Rue asked him.
The Pteri tipped his head. “Well,” he said, “I suppose so.”
“Thank you,” Rue answered.
“Hmph,” the Pteri answered. “You’ll have to work hard. You can have that room. I prefer to sleep in here and keep an eye on the potions.”
“Alright,” Rue said. She unfolded her curtains and looked at them critically.
“What’s that supposed to be?” the Pteri croaked.
“It’s going to be a cloak,” Rue answered.
The Pteri snorted. “If that’s a cloak, then I’m a Nimmo.”
“It’s not a cloak yet. I haven’t finished sewing it.”
“The stitches are horrible,” the Pteri said bluntly. “I may not know that much about sewing, but I do know that something sewed like that isn’t going to hold together for very long. Luckily, we have this spell.” He took a squat little glass jar from the floor and uncapped it, holding it upside-down over the curtains. Rue looked at it carefully. Was it liquid or gas that came out of the jar? She couldn’t tell. As the mysterious substance covered the cloth, the Pteri chanted, “Tela mos planto ipsum a bonus amiculum! Permissum amiculum existo novus diu!”
The substance cleared with a flash of blinding light and the Pteri bent stiffly and picked up what had been a pair of curtains from the floor. It was now a well-made cloak—the same color as the curtains had been.
“I also cast a spell that’ll keep it like new for at least ten more years,” the Pteri said proudly, handing the cloak to Rue. “I haven’t used that potion in ten years, you see—I made it when I was seventy-five years old. They grow stronger as they age. I never found a use for that potion, until now.”
“Thank you,” Rue whispered, taking the cloak from him. She doubted she could have made it this well by hand.
“Don’t mention it,” he answered.
“If you’re going to teach me, I’ll have to call you something,” Rue told the Pteri.
“True,” he agreed. “What would you like to call me?”
The question took Rue by surprise. “Jean,” she said, without thinking. It had been the first name to pop into her head.
“It’s a nice name, I suppose,” the Pteri sighed.
“Yes,” Rue answered, speaking softly, “it is.”
To be continued...