Three days can work magic—in a world where magic works. The planets swung along their paths again and the sun was in the most favorable house for conjuration. The universe was stable again.
There was food for all, and houses had been conjured hastily to shelter the people. The plagues were gone. Now the strange commerce and industry of this world were humming again. Those who had survived and those who could be revived were busily rebuilding. Some were missing, of course. Those who had risen and—hatched—were beyond recall, but no one spoke of them. If any Sons of the Egg survived, they were quiet in their defeat.
Hanson had been busy during most of the time. It had been taken for granted that he would tend to the orrery, setting it for the most favorable conditions when some special major work of magic required it, and he had taken the orders and moved the controls as they wanted them. The orrery was housed temporarily in the reconstituted hall of the Satheri in the capital city. They were building a new hall for it, to be constructed only of natural materials and hand labor, but that was a project that would take long months still.
Now the immediate pressure was gone, and Hanson was relaxing with Bork and Nema.
"Another week," Bork was saying. "Maybe less. And then gangs of the warlocks can spread out to fix up all the rest of the world—and to take over control of their slaves again. Are you happy with your victory, Dave Hanson?"
Hanson shrugged. He wasn't entirely sure, now. There was something in the looks of the Sather who gave him orders for new settings that bothered him. And some of the developments he watched were hardly what he would have preferred. The warlocks had good memories, it seemed, and there had been manifold offenses against them while the world was falling apart.
He tried to put it out of his mind as he drew Nema to him. She snuggled against him, admiring him with her eyes. But old habits were hard to break. "Don't, Dave. I'm a registered and certified—"
She stopped then, blushing, and Bork chuckled.
Ser Perth appeared at the doorway with two of the mandrakes. He motioned to Hanson. "The council of Satheri want you," he said. His eyes avoided the other, and he seemed uncomfortable.
"Why?" Bork asked.
"It's time for Dave Hanson's reward," Ser Perth said. The words were smooth enough, but the eyes turned away again.
Hanson got up and moved forward. He had been wondering when they would get around to this. Beside him, Bork and Nema also rose. "Never trust a Sather," Bork said softly.
Nema started to protest, then changed her mind. She frowned, torn between old and new loyalties.
"The summons was only for Dave Hanson," Ser Perth said sternly as the three drew up to him. But as Hanson took the arms of the other two, the Ser shrugged and fell in behind. Very softly, too low for the hearing of the mandrakes, his words sounded in Hanson's ear. "Guard yourself, Dave Hanson!"
So there was to be treachery, Hanson thought. He wasn't surprised. He was probably lucky to have even three friends. The Satheri would hardly feel very grateful to a mandrake-man who had accomplished something beyond their power, now that the crisis was over. They had always been a high-handed bunch, apparently, and he had served his purpose. But he covered his thoughts in a neutral expression and went forward quietly toward the huge council room.
The seventy leading Satheri were all present, with Sather Karf presiding, when Hanson was ushered into their presence. He moved down the aisle, not glancing at the seated Satheri, until he was facing the old man, drawing Nema and Bork with him. There were murmurs of protest, but nobody stopped him. Above him, the eyes of Sather Karf were uncertain. For a moment, there seemed to be a touch of friendliness and respect in them, but there was something else that Hanson liked far less. Any warmth that was there vanished at his first words.
"It's about time," Hanson said flatly. "When you wanted your world saved, you were free enough with offers of reward. But three days have passed without mention of it. Sather Karf, I demand your secret name!"
He heard Nema gasp, but felt Bork's fingers press against his arm reassuringly. There was a rising mutter of shock and anger from the others, but he lifted his voice over it. "And the secret names of all those present. That was also part of the promised reward."
"And do you think you could use the names, Dave Hanson?" Sather Karf asked. "Against the weight of all our knowledge, do you think you could become our master that easily?"
Hanson had his own doubts. There were counter-magical methods against nearly all magic, and the book he had read had been only an elementary one. But he nodded. "I think with your name I could get my hands on your hearts, even if you did your worst. It doesn't matter. I claim my reward."
"And you shall have it. The word of Sather Karf is good," the old man told him. "But there was no mention of when you would be given those names. You said that when the computer was finished you would wait for my true name, and I promised that you should have it when the time came, but not what the time would be. So you will wait, or the agreement shall be broken by you, not by me. When you are dying or otherwise beyond power over us, you shall have the names, Dave Hanson. No, hear me!"
He lifted his hand in a brief gesture and Hanson felt a thickness over his lips that made speech impossible.
"We have discussed your reward, and you shall indeed have it," Sather Karf went on. "Exactly as I promised it to you. I agreed to find ways to return you to your own world intact, and you shall be returned."
For a moment, the thickness seemed to relax, and Hanson choked a few words out through it. "What's the world of a mandrake-man, Sather Karf? A mandrake swamp?"
"For a mandrake-man, yes. But not for you." There was something like amusement in the old man's voice. "I never said you were a mandrake-man. That was told you by Ser Perth who knew no better. No, Dave Hanson, you were too important to us for that. Mandrake-men are always less than true men, and we needed your best. You were conjured atom by atom, id and ka and soul, from your world. Even the soul may be brought over when enough masters of magic work together and you were our greatest conjuration. Even then, we almost failed. But you're no mandrake-man."
A load of sickness seemed to leave Hanson's mind. He had never fully realized how much the shame of what he thought himself to be had weighed on him. Then his mind adjusted to the new facts, dismissing his past worries.
"I promised you that we would fill your entire lifetime with pleasures," Sather Karf went on. "And you were assured of jewels to buy an empire. All this the council is prepared to give you. Are you ready for your reward?"
"No!" Bork's cry broke out before Hanson could answer. The big man was writhing before he could finish the word, but his own fingers were working in conjurations that seemed to hold back enough of the spells against him to let him speak. "Dave Hanson, your world was a world of rigid laws. You died there. And there would be no magic to avoid the fact that there you must always be dead."
Hanson's eyes riveted on the face of Sather Karf. The old man looked back and finally nodded his head. "That is true," he admitted. "It would have been kinder for you not to know, but it is the truth."
"And jewels enough to buy an empire on a corpse," Hanson accused. "A lifetime of pleasures—simple enough when that lifetime would be over before it began. What were the pleasures, Sather Karf? Having you reveal your name just before I was sent back and feeling I'd won?" He grimaced. "I reject the empty rewards of your empty promises!"
"I also rejected the interpretation, but I was out-voted," Sather Karf said, and there was a curious reluctance as he raised his hand. "But it is too late. Dave Hanson prepare to receive your reward. By the power of your name—"
Hanson's hand went to his pocket and squeezed down on the blob of sky material there. He opened his mouth, and found that the thickness was back. For a split second, his mind screamed in panic as he realized he could not even pronounce the needed words.
Then coldness settled over his thoughts as he drove them to shape the unvoiced words in his mind. Nobody had told him that magic incantations had to be pronounced aloud. It seemed to be the general law, but for all he knew, ignorance of the law here might change the law. At least he meant to die trying, if he failed.
"Rumpelstilsken, I command the sun to set!"
He seemed to sense a hesitation in his mind, and then the impression of jeweled gears turning. Outside the window, the light reddened, dimmed, and was gone, leaving the big room illuminated by only a few witch lights.
The words Sather Karf had been intoning came to a sudden stop, even before they could be drowned in the shouts of shock and panic from the others. His eyes centered questioningly on Hanson and the flicker of a smile crossed his face. "To the orrery!" he ordered. "Use the manual controls."
Hanson waited until he estimated the men who left would be at the controls. The he clutched the sky-blob again. The thoughts in his mind were clearer this time.
"Rumpelstilsken, let the sun rise from the west and set in the east!"
Some of the Satheri were at the windows to watch what happened this time. Their shouts were more frightened than before. A minute later, the others were back, screaming out the news that the manual controls could not be moved—could not even be touched.
The orrery named Rumpelstilsken was obeying its orders fully, and the universe was obeying its symbol.
Somehow, old Sather Karf brought order out of the frightened mob that had been the greatest Satheri in the world. "All right, Dave Hanson," he said calmly. "Return the sun to its course. We agree to your conditions."
"You haven't heard them yet!"
"Nevertheless," Sather Karf answered firmly, "we agree. What else can we do? If you decided to wreck the sky again, even you might not be able to repair it a second time." He tapped his hands lightly together and the sound of a huge gong reverberated in the room. "Let the hall be cleared. I will accept the conditions in private."
There were no objections. A minute later Hanson, Bork and Nema were alone with the old man. Sunlight streamed in through the window, and there were fleecy clouds showing in the blue sky.
"Well?" Sather Karf asked. There was a trace of a smile on his face and a glow of what seemed to be amusement in his eyes as he listened, though Hanson could see nothing amusing in the suggestions he was making.
First, of course, he meant to stay here. There was no other place for him, but he would have chosen to stay in any event. Here he had developed into what he had never even thought of being, and there were still things to be learned. He'd gone a long way on what he'd found in one elementary book. Now, with a chance to study all their magical lore and apply it with the methods he had learned in his own world, there were amazing possibilities opening up to him. For the world, a few changes would be needed. Magic should be limited to what magic did best; the people needed to grow their own food and care for themselves. And they needed protection from the magicians. There would have to be a code of ethics to be worked out later.
"You've got all the time you need to work things out, Sathator Hanson," Sather Karf told him. "It's your world, literally, so take your time. What do you want first?"
Hanson considered it, while Nema's hand crept into his. Then he grinned. "I guess I want to get your great granddaughter turned into a registered and certified wife and take her on a long honeymoon," he decided. "After what you've put me through, I need a rest."
He took her arm and started down the aisle of the council room. Behind him, he heard Bork's chuckle and the soft laughter of Sather Karf. But their faces were sobering by the time he reached the doorway and looked back.
"I like him, too, grandfather," Bork was saying. "Well, it seems your group was right, after all. Your prophecy is fulfilled. He may have a little trouble with so many knowing his name, but he's Dave Hanson, to whom nothing is impossible. You should have considered all the implications of omnipotence."
Sather Karf nodded. "Perhaps. And perhaps your group was also right, Bork. It seems that the world-egg has hatched." His eyes lifted and centered on the doorway.
Hanson puzzled over their words briefly as he closed the door and went out with Nema. He'd probably have to do something about his name, but the rest of the conversation was a mystery to him. Then he dismissed it. He could always remember it when he had more time to think about it.
It was many millenia and several universes later when Dave Hanson finally remembered. By then it was no mystery, of course. And there was no one who dared pronounce his true name.
- - - The End - - -
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