When Jeremy Cross gets his scholarship to the Mabuse School for New Magicks in Germany, he has no idea what he is in for: the only Englishman in the academy, he receives all sorts of ribbing, yet he makes friends. When some of those friends, Elke, Gert and Oswald, come up with a wild scheme to break into the old Castle Godesburg and search for an ancient treasure, he goes along with them. None of them imagine they'll discover an ancient talisman of power or that poor Jeremy will become the victim of ancient magicks so powerful that none of his instructors can control them.
Things go from bad to worse when he becomes the pawn of fellow students in an incredible plan to kill a king and take over an empire. Old school days have never been like this!
Word Count: 37,800
Pages to Print: 131
The War Girdle
Breaking into a Donjon is Just Wrong!
I must say in all honestly, had alcohol not been involved in the incident, perhaps my life might have been different; perhaps not better, but certainly different.
The circumstance came about when we were sitting in the rathskeller in Bad Godesberg after classes. I was taking the usual ribbing. I was the only English student at the Mabuse School for New Magicks, but that was not the reason they hazed me. They would have tormented me, were I full blood Prussian like they, or French, or what have you, because I was the new student.
I had only been at the school for six months, having transferred in from the Academy D’arc in Ireland. My parents had decided the continent was where the best in alchemical arts could be studied and, since the opening up of the European conference of Magicks and Science had normalized such studies—even over the objections of the Papacy—it was now a respected profession.
I had been interested in Magick since as a child I had seen a minor conjurer at a fair back in Wycombe change a rabbit into a hawk. It was just before Germany won the World War using those principles when it was still frowned upon.
“Stop wool gathering, Englander,” Gert Von Handler said. “You have to throw the dart.” He stroked along the smite scar on his left cheek from his mensur dueling. He was very proud of his Schmiss.
I was standing in the underground, smoke-filled pub and had already had several tankards of good German beer. I had gained a reputation as the dart man in the underclass during the months I had been there and was straining to uphold it against my archrival, Gert.
“I’m just waiting for the spirit to move me,” I said. “One cannot rush perfection.”
This made Oswald, my rotund friend and Elke, the beautiful blonde classmate who seemed to always hang around with our group, break into gales of laughter.
“Oh shoot, Jeremy,” Oswald sneered. “I am growing old while you wait for ghosts to move you.”
I shot him a dirty look and went back to sighing my dart.
“Take your time,” Elke said with that pout that drove us all crazy. “He just doesn’t want to pay for another round of drinks.”
Gert made a disgusted sound and I knew her barb had struck home. I squinted at the board and launched my own missile. It struck true to the center of the board.
“Have you ever paid for a round of drinks?’ Elke asked me when Jenna the bar maid brought our new drinks.
“Many,” I said, “but not for a time; I led a wasted youth in many pubs.”
Gert snorted at that. He was the poser image of the New Germany; a blond tall, well-muscled demi-god with piercing blue eyes and a dueling scar on his left cheek that proclaimed him as a child of the Junkers. He was the apple of his military family’s eye and had shocked many of the traditionalists when he chose to study the Magickal arts, but as he put it, “We won the war, in part because of the Sci-Magickal advances that great men like Mabuse and Himmler brought to bear. It is only logical that I learn all there is to know about it.” I remember he had smiled a predator’s smile when he added, “I will not beat my sword into a plow shear; simply add a wand to my arsenal.”
I had no such lofty or nationalistic goals. My parents were modest merchants who ran a hostelry outside of High Wycombe and simply had hopes for me to make it through university and find a profession. They were shocked when I took the entrance exam for the Academy D’arc, and more so when the inquisitor said I had true Magickal talent.
A year in Ireland, however, left me feeling that somehow I was not getting the instruction I could be. And when representatives of the Mabuse School had visited and presented a seminar on transformational energy, I knew that I had to study there. I had been able to convince the professor, one Herr Magus Shikelgruber, to allow me into an exchange student program.
My parents, especially my mother, were not happy with me being among the Irish, and now the thought of being in the midst of our former enemies and conquerors was almost too much for them. But it was a scholarship and they relented.
So now I was the new boy on the block, the Englander, to all in the school and often the butt of jokes.
I took it all in stride, for it meant I was learning things in the way I wanted. The instructors were the finest in the world and the students—even the self-possessed Gert—were some of the most talented in the arts. They, and I hoped I, would be the true future of the world.
“I overheard Magus Maurius shouting at old Adolph today,” Elke said. She was a lovely girl, almost as tall as me, with a girlish figure blossoming to womanhood in the most pleasing way. Her eyes sparkled all the time, and I think half the underclassmen had a crush on her. I know I did.
“What were they on about?” Oswald asked as he stuffed yet another piece of strudel into his maw.
We all leaned in to hear the details; the two professors seemed always to be at odds over issues Magickal. Their arguments were almost legendary.
“Maurius was going on about the Halbesel formulae that Adolph uses and saying it was nonsense.”
“No!” Gert said, “He actually said that?”
“Yes,” Oswald insisted, “he said nonsense! Then Adolph started that sputtering speech of his about the great past of Germany and Heimat historians using the spells and how could someone like Maurius who was not part of the Volk community . . .”
“No!” Elke gasped, then she giggled. “I wish I could have seen Maurius’ face.”
“I didn’t dare peek around the edge of the doorway to look,” Oswald said as he cleaned his third plate of the evening. “But Maurius went on about how it was pure speculation that the pre-Christians used the Halbesel spells that Skiky was so up on.”
“And Adolph let that sit?” I said. My sponsor was known for his powerful speeches and arguments.
“Oh, he shot back with, ‘the Heimat inhabitants used many peaks to call to the god Wotan the god of war, death and the hunt, and with such symbols as warrior girdles were able to effect changes like even to the bear shirts or Berserkers.’”
Elke laughed. “He gave that same speech last week when we asked him about the Godesberg references in the old spell book.” I noticed that the tip of her nose moved like a bunny’s when she laughed: a little thing, but a delightful one.
“Yes,” Gert said, his angular features taking on a stern cast. “I remember he talked about his theory about a secret vault from the late 14th century, somewhere up in the old fortress from when it had become the repository of the Elector’s valuables and archives.”
“Do you think it could be real?” Elke asked, “I mean, if it was, wouldn’t they have found it by now?”
“Not necessarily,” I said. “I remember when I first got here I read in the guide book that the old castle was under the district’s historical agency and we weren’t supposed to go near it because of jurisdictional concerns.”
“I have heard something of that,” Gert said. “The Bonn city council claims it and Bad Godesberg claims it and the state historical council wants to restore it. And they have been fighting over it for years.”
“That’s what I love about your German courts,” I said, for once enjoying being the outsider. “If a thing can be drawn out for a day, it can be drawn out for a decade!”
“Do you think there really is a secret vault in the castle donjon, like Adolph says?” Elke asked.
“I trust what he says,” I said. “The fort itself was established on an ancient cult site, or so he said.”
“No matter how silly his mustache is?” Elke said with a grin.
“Yes,” I said, sticking my tongue out at her. “I think if he says it’s there, it’s probably in there.”
“We ought to just sneak in and see,” Oswald said casually as he slurped up another ale.
There was sudden silence at the table and the other three of us looked at each other with the same startled expressions.
“What are you all looking at?” Oswald asked when he realized we had stopped our usual banter.
“You are a genius, Oswald, my round friend,” I said. I knew by their look that the other two had indeed come to the same conclusion.
“What do you mean?” he said.
“We can get into the old castle and look for the vault of spells!” Gert said. “It would be a great coup, and the information we could find is rightfully the Fatherland’s!” He looked at me when he said it, and I knew he was already thinking of some way to exclude me from the expedition.
I was having none of that.
“Come on, then,” I said, rising from the table a bit unsteadily from the tankards I had consumed. “Let’s go!”
TEEL JAMES GLENN has traveled the world for thirty years as a stuntman, fight choreographer, swordmaster, jouster, illustrator, storyteller, bodyguard and actor. One of the things he’s proudest of is having studied under Errol Flynn’s last stunt double. Mr. Glenn continues to teach swordwork in New York.
His stories have been printed in scores of magazines from Weird Tales to Mad to Black Belt to Fantasy World Geographic, Blazing Adventures and Tales of Old. He has over two dozen books and anthologies in print in many genres including Steampunk, Western, Mystery and the bestselling SF Thriller series, The Exceptionals. One was a finalist in the EPIC eBook awards in 2009.
He is the winner of the 2012 Pulp Ark Best Author of the Year. Epic eBook award finalist. Preditors and Editors Readers Poll winner: Best Steampunk Short finalist, Best Fantasy Short Collection, Best Fantasy Short Story, Best Horror Short Story and in the Thriller and Mystery Novel categories; Author of The Maxi/Moxie Series, The Dr. Shadows Series, Jon Shadows Series and others.