THE SANDS OF TIME
Being an apprentice to a sorcerer is tough. You never know when something that you touch, or some words out of a book, could have drastic results.
The turreted towers and high peaked roofs of Wickedcliff, home of Johannes the Sorcerer, stood on a rocky pinnacle surrounded by a dense primeval forest. Only a narrow footpath at the edge of thousand foot drops wound its precarious way from the valley. Although the castle had over a hundred rooms, only Johannes and his apprentice, Brian of Dunwich, lived at Wickedcliff.
Thus, poor Brian was busy day and night scrubbing floors, dusting furniture, running errands and aiding in magical experiments, prodded and harassed by an impatient, foul tempered, eccentric and capricious employer. For he alone did all the chores needed to keep up the enormous castle. Nonetheless, Brian, a strapping youth of eighteen and opposite of Johannes in temperament, took abuse and labor in his stride, going about his business with a grin and a song in his heart. After all, he hardly knew any other life than the harsh one he had endured since the age of seven.
Brian's ambition was to become a master sorcerer like Johannes. This seemed hardly likely since his master kept him working night and day without teaching him any necromancy. Oh, he had learned some minor magic to help him keep the castle clean, cook meals and perform other duties by sneaking peeks into Johannes spell book.
One morning, while Brian was preparing lunch after spelling a mop to scrub the floor and a brush to clean the stove and counters, the kitchen door flew open. Johannes rushed in, skidded across the room on the wet floor and grabbed Brian to keep from falling on his keester. After regaining his poise, the sorcerer, in an agitated state, shouted, "Down to cellar immediately. The sorceress Splendlinda is coming. She'll want to see my laboratory. Make it sparkle. " He paused to take a breath. "Oh, there'll be two extra for lunch; Splendlinda and her familiar. Make something fancy. I want to impress her. Hurry. She'll be here within the hour. " Without waiting for a reply, he stalked away.
Brian knew the consequences would be dire unless he complied. Although guests were a rare occurrence, Johannes liked to have everything perfect when people were expected. When Brian accidentally spilled a glass of wine on Achmedous the Powerful, Johannes had turned him into a toad for two days. He quickly tossed a chef's salad, made sandwiches with the crust cut away and decorated with olives on toothpicks, and brewed herbal iced tea.
Just as he was about to run down to the cellar with his enchanted mop, brush and dust cloth, Johannes popped his head into the kitchen and wagged his finger. "And Brian, you clumsy oaf, when you're cleaning my lab, don't touch anything magical. Everything must absolutely sparkle, mind you."
"Yes master." Brian shook his head at the contradictory commands, wondering how to make things sparkle without touching them and how to know which things were magical.
Because Brian wasn't usually allowed in the laboratory, it was a mess of spillage, broken glass, books thrown about, shelves and tables in disarray, an overflowing trash barrel and thick layers of dust. An awful stench, a combination of rotten flesh, sulfur and evil, was overpowering. To clean the lab properly should take days. Brian had less than an hour. He spelled a broom to sweep, with the mop following, whistling as he dusted and set things in order. Once this was done, he emptied the waste can with an enchantment and cleared the air with an invocation.
Brian's efficiency completed the task before the deadline. Curious, he examined the lab's more exotic items. He paged through an enormous book of magical formulas, scheming to sneak back into the cellar someday to take notes. Next he peered at jars of pickled lizards, human brains, body parts and indescribable things. After nausea made him turn away, he picked up rune stones, which were warm to the touch. As their power entered his body, he hastily set them down. He gazed into a crystal ball only to see himself wandering through a fairy forest, lost. Finally he spotted an ornate hourglass with a gold frame beautifully carved with dragons and leafy vines. The sand sparkled like precious stones ground fine. Only a few grains were in the top half; so he turned it over.
Instantly he was back in the kitchen working on lunch while his magic mop mopped the floor. The door flew open, Johannes rushed in, skidded across the room on the wet floor and grabbed Brian to keep from falling on his keester. After regaining his poise, the sorcerer, in an agitated state, shouted, "Down to cellar immediately. The sorceress, Splendlinda is coming. She'll want to see my laboratory. Make it sparkle. " He paused to take a breath. "Oh, there'll be two extra for lunch. Splendlinda and her familiar. Make something fancy. I want to impress her. Hurry, she's due here within the hour. " Without waiting for a reply, he stalked away.
Wait a minute, Brian thought. All this happened an hour ago. What's going on? Nevertheless he knew the consequences would be dire unless he complied. He hated being a toad. He made the chef's salad, sandwiches, and herbal iced tea again. As he opened the cellar door, Johannes popped his head into the kitchen and wagged his finger. "And Brian, you clumsy oaf, while you're cleaning my lab, don't touch anything magical. Everything must absolutely sparkle, mind you. "
"Yes master. " Brian wondered why he was reliving the events of the previous hour.
The laboratory was again an awful mess and Brian went to work as he did before. While dusting, his eyes alighted on the hour glass. Aha, that's it; when I turned the glass over, I went back in time an hour. It's magical. Nonetheless, curiosity got the better of him. When he completed his work, he cautiously picked up the hourglass. As he examined it, Johannes entered the laboratory. Sweeping into the room as though she was the castle's mistress and Johannes the guest was the most beautiful and mysterious woman Brian had ever laid eyes on. She was tall, slim, curvaceous and full hipped, with long flaming hair. A long slit in her tight carmine dress showed glimpses of bare thigh. Her face was perfection, oval-shaped with high cheek bones, long lashes and full lips. Only her eyes were strange; they seemed pupiless and glowed like lamps.
As this vision entered, Johannes shouted, "Put that down, Brian. "
His warning was too late. Brian, mesmerized by the lovely sorceress, forgot that he had anything in his hands, sighed heavily and dropped the hourglass. With a loud crash it broke into a thousand shards and sand splattered everywhere.
Suddenly Brian was back in the kitchen, which looked as though it hadn't been cleaned in years, as thoroughly neglected as the lab had been. Roaches and rats skittered through garbage and puddles of liquid, flies buzzed about and enormous cobwebs hung from the ceiling. The thick dust could be scooped up with a shovel.
The door opened and Johannes shuffled in, leaning on a cane and terribly aged, wrinkled and bent, his dark hair and beard white. He gazed at Brian owlishly through thick glasses, a big gob of drool dripping down his chin. "Oh my gosh! Brian, is it really you, after all these years? " The old man took many tiny steps, put his arms around Brian and laid his head on Brian's chest. This perplexed Brian sorely, for he had never known Johannes to show affection, not ever, not to anyone.
Johannes held Brian at arms length and gazed into his face. "Let me look at you, my boy. I can't believe it. You haven't changed at all. I had given you up for dead. "
Brian did not know what to say. Whatever had happened to Johannes must have to do with the broken hourglass. But what? Did its magic age the man and drive him mad? How did the kitchen get into such a mess after he'd just cleaned it? And why did Johannes act as though Brian had been away for a long time?
Johannes asked, "Did you find it? You must or you wouldn't have dared return. Let me see. " His eyes squinted greedily and he held out his hand.
"Find what, master? "
"The Sands of Time, of course. That was the whole purpose of your quest. "
"What quest? "
"Look Brian, I may be getting a senile, but I recall the day you went away, forty years ago. I had a guest. When she and I entered the laboratory, you dropped my Magic Hourglass and spilled the Sands of Time. Then you disappeared. I assumed you went to hunt for more sand. I even bought a new hourglass in anticipation. "
Brian finally realized what had happened. Spilling the magic sand had sent him into the future. He hung his head in shame. "I'm terribly sorry master for the trouble I've caused by my carelessness, but I was not looking for the Sands of Time. The hourglass sent me into the future. To me, that incident happened moments ago."
"Oh! I see. This is bad. Time has gone wacko since you left. You must find more sand so that I can conjure things right again." Johannes looked concerned.
Brian saluted, happy that the sorcerer was not going to turn him into a toad or worse. "Immediately master." He started for the front door.
"Wait, you are unprepared. Let me get the items that you'll need. Pack a knapsack with food, drink and a change of underwear." Johannes toddled slowly down the cellar steps.
Brian went to his room, packed underwear, pajamas and a heavy cloak in his knapsack. From the kitchen larder, he stowed anything edible among all the rotten food. It was not much, only stale sandwiches decorated with olives on toothpicks. While he waited, he cleaned up the kitchen. Hours later, Johannes toddled up from the cellar burdened by several items which he dumped on the table. He handed a sword and scabbard to Brian. "There will be danger from wild beasts and men. You'll need to protect yourself."
After Brian strapped on the sword, Johannes handed him a pendant on a chain. "This Talesman will protect you from evil spirits." When this was around Brian's neck, he gave him a bag of coins and a quiver of arrows. The last item was an empty hourglass as ornate as the one Brian had broken. Johannes showed him how to pour sand into it and seal it up. "Be careful with the sand. It's powerful stuff."
Brian stowed everything in his knapsack, his underwear cushioning the glass against breakage, and headed out the door. As his hand twisted the knob, he had an afterthought. "Uh Master, where do I find the Sands of Time?"
Johannes rapped himself on the head. "I'm getting so forgetful. I forgot the map." He handed a scroll to Brian. "Also, I must warn you, trust the dragon and beware Splendlinda."
Brian wondered what dragon he should trust. He was hoping not to meet such beasts. As for Splendlinda, he could understand being wary of that temptress; look at the trouble she'd caused him by simply existing. He opened the door, but before he stepped out, Johannes had one more bit of advise. He rubbed his head. "I can't seem to remember anything anymore. Did I tell you to beware the dragon and trust Splendlinda? Well, why are you standing there gaping at me? On your way, boy." He pushed Brian through the door and slammed it.
So which was it to be, Brian thought as he strolled down the precarious trail, trust the dragon and beware Splendlinda, or beware the dragon and trust Splendlinda? Ha, I hope I meet neither and I'll beware both.