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an extract from the novel
by Jonathan Wylie

There was no globe of The Maiden with the Daffodil in the library, and exhaustive enquiries revealed that none had ever been made. So for that I had only the script I had been given. It was a magery solo, which gave the impression of having been completed in a very short space of time, and was light-hearted and uncomplicated. The serial images skipped along with hardly any overlapping, and with no sound, scent or other sensations to distract either performer or audience, it made a very direct statement. It was a simple, unaffected expression of love, infused with an almost overwhelming mass of emotion, so that even the briefest picture invoked a powerful response. If this was the strength of feeling in only the slightest of the pieces that Beck had written for Eleanor, then his love for her had been profound indeed. Such passion could shatter worlds.

All this I could deduce from the script, but the full effect would only be felt in performance. I thought about asking one of my colleagues - Emma or Mary - or even my tutor Jacqueline Erlanger, but in the end I knew I must do it myself. And for it to have any meaning I needed an audience of at least one person. Sophie agreed eventually, although reluctantly. Her innate antipathy for the processes of magic had been reinforced by my last efforts in her presence. After Pandora's box I couldn't really blame her, but there was no one else I would feel comfortable with, and she recognized my need. I booked one of the Academy's rehearsal rooms, and studied the piece so that I would be ready at the appointed time. We arrived together and, after closing the door, Sophie kissed me before we both made ourselves comfortable. I spread the script on a stand, and relaxed.

For a magical artist the world splits into segments during a performance. The very best artists have consummate control over these separate facets, which enables them to project and receive telepathic signals, to experience them fully, and yet simultaneously retain a conscious awareness of their own performance and the directions of both script and overseer. This 'separation' is almost impossible to describe to someone who has not experienced it, but the closest I can come is that you somehow see, hear and feel on at least two different levels, each superimposed upon the other while seeming quite self-sufficient. A true master of his art will also be able to achieve absolute selectivity, choosing to accept only the stimuli from the real world necessary to the performance and discarding everything else. For a member of an ensemble this means that although his colleagues, the overseer and his script are still there, the hall, the audience and any possible distractions simply cease to exist. For a soloist it is even simpler, if more demanding. All he is aware of is the script, and the vision that he is producing. I do not claim to be a virtuoso, but I am reasonably proficient when properly motivated, and so I saw what Sophie saw even as I recreated the images.

A daffodil bud opened out its tightly curled leaves, and with its birth came an inexplicable joy, a blossoming of the spirit. Sunlight glowed on springlike colour and glistened in the drops of water that had given the flower its life. Nature's gems then gave way to a rush of fleeting images, each lasting only a few moments but leaving an indelible impression: a pair of dark eyes; a small hand, the fingers stretching and then curling; a sweep of black hair as a head turned away; the sinuous movement of a body in silhouette, outlined in gold. Each picture held a significance far deeper than its surface value, as if each was already familiar from dreams or second sight, as affecting as deja vu. Then came a sequence of more languorous scenes, the focus spread wider, expanding ever outwards: a garden; a panorama of green rolling hills; mountains and the endless oceans; the moon, the sun and all the stars. And in the end, all of these together were revealed to be inside the bright yellow petals of the daffodil. All Beck's universe was contained within that single flower.

I came back to the mundane world to find Sophie curled up in her chair, her head down and her hands in front of her face. Her shoulders shook.

"Are you OK?" I whispered, going to kneel before her.

She looked up and I saw that her cheeks were wet.

"That was so beautiful," she sobbed, tears falling again. "Why haven't you ever written me anything like that?"

I was so astonished that I could think of nothing to say. She found a handkerchief and dabbed at her face, and I could see that she was half ashamed of her reaction but was too honest to try to deny it. I felt my heart swell.

"I never thought you'd want me to," I said quietly.

She nodded, half smiling now, her eyes bright.

"There must be some weird link between you and Beck," she said. "I knew everything he was saying, everything he felt. You made it so real."

I was moved beyond words. If I had managed such a conversion, then anything was possible. I knew that it had been Beck, and not me, who had been responsible, but I must have been an effective go-between. I had begun to think that the link between us was more than just that between a researcher and his subject, and now Sophie believed it too.

© Jonathan Wylie 1997

Magister was published by Orbit in December 1997.

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