Telling Tales 140
One Man’s Warning Is Another Man’s Dare
People like to say that there are many kinds of magic, but they’re wrong. There is only one kind of magic, and that is surprise, the moment of serendipity when two or three things that shouldn’t make sense come together and they do make sense, perfect and complete. When most people talk about magic, what they mean are potions and spells, but those are nothing more than ways of manipulating the world into having it do what you want it to do. A girl wants a boy to fall in love with her and goes to get a spell for love. Or the other way around, a boy wants a girl not to notice the other boy and see only him. Someone wants a recipe for luck. A guarantee of good weather. That’s not magic. Magic isn’t control. Magic is wild. It’s true that magic is something we don’t understand, but it doesn’t follow that what we don’t understand is magic.
Sami was one of those people who wanted control. He was a big man. Strong. He had dreams of owning a large farm and a large household and of being father to many children, all of whom would succeed after him. He was good with animals and good with the land and he understood plants and animals and diseases as well as he understood a conversation over a beer with friends. He knew, because he looked down the line, that if he was going to have many children and if he were going to leave them all something, he would need a great deal of land, so he went to Kareliya, where he knew that people were far and few between. There would be many opportunities for a man such as himself to take what he could take and make of it what he wanted.
He had neighbors, families some two days horse-ride distant. Plenty of room for everyone to grow. And Sami was polite. He went to those families and sat down with them and made sure that he would not encroach upon their territory. He was nothing if not proper. There were several young women he noticed at some of those households and he thought to himself than one or another of them might make a good bride – once he had a holding, at least. There was too much work to do right away.
“You know about the väki,” said one of the neighbors. It sounded like a question and a statement all at the same time.
“Elves,” shrugged our Sami.
The neighbor tilted his head in such a way as to say, not quite elves, no, not really, but that word may do as well as any other. Then with speech he added, “You’ll want to ask permission.” Sami thought he was asking permission by meeting with the neighbors. “From the väki. Do right by them and they’ll do right by you.”
Sami understood favors for favors, but the more his new neighbor explained the less he liked the description. There were rules that the väki demanded be followed. Do not work by the light of the moon. For every four trees you cut, leave one standing. Destroy no burrows, dens, or nests. Our Sami thanked his neighbor and began his ride to the next holding where he would meet the next family and thought about what the family had told him, the man, the woman, their children.
One man’s warning is another man’s dare.