As they walked through the day they passed through a number of villages, but not once did the magician stop and gather a crowd with his tricks and sell chances to out-guess or out-trick him, or to wrestle or mock-swordfight the boy. This odd behavior only increased Aithan’s sense of urgency.
In the afternoon warmth the magician finally seemed to relax, and he began one of his travelling pastimes, magicking rocks out of the road with his staff. Aithan slowed down and kept the donkey with him as the magician moved further ahead. Soon, as Aithan knew would happen, the magic began to turn and the rocks began to fly off in random directions, not where the magician urged them. Then a few of them made a wide loop and came back at the magician, who swatted each one down with a sharp curse and a practiced swing of his stick. Finally the rocks began to seek out Aithan and the animal. After one struck the donkey in the flank causing him to buck and dump part of his load, Aithan called out “Uncle Fri, please!”
The magician stopped without looking back. “Damned foul magic!” he yelled. “I should never have learned it.” He took a few steps and then turned, raised his staff to the boy and shouted, “And you should never learn it either!”
“Uncle Gaufridus, you know we cannot talk about this when you are angry at the magic,” the boy answered, allowing a hint of challenge into his own words.
The magician paused and watched as the boy and the donkey came closer. “Now, don’t scold your old uncle for being a fool,” he said after a moment. “A fool for learning this filthy magic,” he added. “I promise we will discuss it when I believe we are safe again.”
At that the boy hugged him like a bear, and the magician’s eyes glistened, and they continued along the road, each making a quick scan of the skies whenever he thought the other was not looking.