Idle Afternoon

by Christopher Hughes

I knocked again at the door to Magus' room. Some moments ago, he had said, "Just a moment," through the door, then had gone silent. I stood tapping one foot, silently counting away the seconds until he opened the door. After a minute, when no-one presented himself, I knocked again at the door. "Magus, are ye in there?"

"Hmm? Oh, just a moment, let me finish this..." His voice, muffled by the heavy oaken door, trailed off again.

I closed my eyes, took a deep breath, counted again to fifty, and then at the top of my lungs, I bellowed, "MAGUS!"

After a short pause and some odd fumbling noises from the far side of the door, I heard the bolt slide back and the door creak open, revealing the red-furred face of the Keep's High Wizard. he blinked several times, as if still shaking the sleep from his eyes. He looked up and squinted. "Oh, Christopher. Umm, just a moment. I'm right in the middle of something." With that, he turned and wandered back into his room, leaving the door open.

I stuck my muzzle into the dimly-lit chamber beyond. The scent of well-aged parchment and past experiments met my nose. My eyes caught little, but from what I could tell, books covered almost every flat surface within the room. A well-made bed stood waiting in the corner, the only place other than a small section of Magus' desk that didn't house tomes of every variety. I stepped gingerly into the room and waited while Magus resumed his seat and promptly buried his muzzle into a stack of paperwork.

I waited for about the span of a minute, standing in one of the few spots in Magus' room that wasn't piled high with books. However, it quickly became obvious that the fox had become engrossed in his work.

I sighed heavily. "Magus?"

"Hmmm?" He looked up and around at me. "Oh, Christopher. Just a moment, I'm in--"

Before he had the time to turn his attention back to his notes, I interrupted. "Magus, when was the last time ye took the time to relax? Even Pascal permits herself the occasional day off."

Magus' muzzle contorted into a confused expression. "But I've got to..." He waved a paw at the stack of books and papers on his desk. "And, well... but Pascal doesn't have to... er..."

I couldn't help but find the High Wizard's seeming confusion mildly amusing. At the same time, however, I was concerned for his health. "Tell me, Magus. What did ye do to enjoy yeself, before?"

His ears went up and, if possible, he looked even more confused. "Before?"

I rolled my eyes. "Before. Seven years ago, it would've been now."

"Oh, before." He relaxed a little bit, then raised a paw to the underside of his muzzle, rubbing the fur idly. "I... well, that is... I think..." His voice trailed off again. With a start, he stood. "Oh, pardon, by the way." He then reached up and opened the shutters to his window, flooding the room in sunlight.

I took the opportunity to raise my monocle to my left eye and study Magus' quarters in more detail. The room was large, but the collection of heavy texts and librams filling the room gave it a cramped feeling. I inspected some of the book titles; even by just a casual glance, I could tell that they were quite old. "Ye've quite a collection here."

Magus' voice floated to me, distant again. "Yes, I probably have several that Foxeris will want back."

I chuckled at that and turned my attention back to the fox, only to find his muzzle buried in his work again. "Magus."

He looked up. "Oh, right. Did you have a reason for coming by, by the way?"

I shrugged. "To be truthful, none beyond wishing to get to know ye. It occured to me that in the seven years I've lived in the Keep, beyond seeing ye at official functions, I've never had much of an opportunity to speak with ye. I thought mayhap if ye could spare some time, ye might enjoy some company." I spied a disused chess set on a low table near the wall. "D'ye still play?" I asked, indicating the marble pieces.

He stood again and sighed, gazing out the window. "Not in some time. But then, I suppose if you don't do something, it's because you don't really miss it. We make the time for those things which are important to us."

"Why d'ye not make the time, then?"

Magus swept a paw about the room, indicating the various books and piles. "With so much to do, other activities haven't been a priority."

I snorted. "And how much of this is so critical that taking the time t'enjoy yeself on a day of rest would spoil its results?"

"I can get so much more done on the days when court isn't in session, though. It's important enough that someone ask me to do it all, so should I not give the same attention to it?" he sighed wearily. "Chris, you shouldn't be so concerned over me. It's a nice day; you should be outside enjoying the spring."

"Magus, I'm concerned about ye because 'tis my job to be concerned. If ye're up here working yeself into an early grave, then mayhap ye should do something something about it."

The foxmorph's ears fell, his attention turning back to the window. "Don't worry, Chris. Your concern is touching, but unnecessary."

I smiled grimly. "An' ye realise that by telling me not to do so, I'm going to all the more."

Magus raised a paw and rubbed the back of his neck. "So... what have I missed? About the keep, that is?"

"Oh, not much." I managed to keep my voice level. "Michael has finished adapting, we've several other new additions to the keep, ye've completely missed Equinox again, and I've gained a geas. Beyond that, not much."

Magus turned his attention to me and regarded me with a weary smile. "Such festivites are hectic. Had I attended, I'd've been bedridden for a week." He paused, then continued. "Into what did Michael finally change?"

"A beaver." I shrugged. "More members for Matthias' support group, I suppose."

"Oh dear. Did he take it well?"

I sighed. "Well, as well as the poor boy seemed to take anything else that happened since his arrival."

Magus nodded, stretched and then looked almost longingly back to the books on his desk. He took in a deep breath and sighed slightly as he exhaled. "I suppose that I could take a brief respite from all this work."

"That's the spirit, my friend. Come with me down to the Mule. Take a break from all stress."

The fennec foxmorph smiled. "I've not had a drink in years."

I grinned in response. "So ye'll come?"

"Aye." He took a cloak from his closet, then dug a walking staff out from beneath a pile of scattered parchment. "After you, good sage."

I carefully stepped back out of the doorway, unsure if I were to try to turn around what I might knock over. Magus exited his room, pulling the door closed behind him. He squinted, apparently still not used to the light. I noticed for the first time in the light that the fur around his neck and face was beginning to show the telltale grey streaks that signaled age.

His head turned from side to side, taking in all of the changes that must've occured since last he left his tower. Thinking about it, that could have been quite a few, indeed. "It would seem things have changed a bit more than I thought they would've."

I smiled and kept walking. "Since ye last left the tower, or since ye last paid attention to aught but yer thoughts while about?"

I caught the scent of his embarrasment but said nothing. For a while longer we walked in silence, until almost as an aside Magus remarked, "You know, had I been a grey fox, I'd still look rather young."

"Ye don't look old now. The grey is distinguishing."

"Bah," the fennec scoffed. "I'm long past my prime." He chuckled at that. "I'd rather not dare to think of what the younger ones think of me, let alone what I'm like." He paused for a moment before continuing. "And what've you? When do you plan to get a mate and have cubs of your own?"

A soft smile came to my face. "All the children of the keep are my cubs. I doubt any here would have interest in me as a mate. I've no prestige or fame to speak of."

Magus chuckled softly. "It doesn't matter if you have prestige or fame. What matters is what you have in here." He tapped my temple with a claw. "And here." He placed the clawtip on my chest. "And I think you already know that. So when will the wedding bells toll for you?"

I shrugged. "I've ne'er had the time to seek a mate."

The foxmorph laughed aloud. "And here you've been telling me about what I should be making time to do!"

I couldn't help but chuckle. "Aye, I'm guilty of that same offense."

Magus nodded sagely, then smiled. "Well, somebody's got to be making babies around here, or it seems we're in trouble!"

"Well, should Scratch and Pascal, or Pascal and Michael, make up their differences, there should be no shortages. And mayhap Lady Malisa and her wife will be gracing the keep with newborns. I understand that Genn still can make his appearances from time to time."

The fox nodded again, then stopped. "Just where were we going again?"

I smiled. "To the Mule for a drink, I believe." I pointed to the entrance to the bar. "There."

Magus looked beneath his cloak into a bag I'd not seen him pick up. I scowled as I watched him pull forth a few scrolls.

"An' what be those, now?"

The mage looked up and blinked. "Hmmm? Oh. Just some work I brought with me."

I rolled my eyes. "An' here I thought the idea was to get ye away from yer work for a span. Ah, no matter. After ye." I opened the door to the Mule for him.

Magus opened the door and stuck his muzzle inside curiously, then looked back at me standing behind him in the doorway. He appeared to deliberate for a short time, then walked into the pub. The conversation dimmed a bit as he entered, most of the inhabitants unused to seeing the High Wizard of Metamor Keep in such a place as this. He paused, then glanced uncertainly over his shoulder at me again.

I walked past the hesitant mage and took a seat on a low stone bench at one of the far tables, leading him through the mid-morning crowd. He followed behind, then took a seat across from me. An odd expression crossed his muzzle as he sat.

I looked at Magus quizzically. "Is something amiss?"

He chuckled. "Why isn't the chair in my room this comfortable?" A smile slowly grew on his muzzle.

I grinned. "Probably because ye sit in yer chair most of the day. Any single seat will become uncomfortable after a time." I studied the fox as he squirmed in his seat. "Are ye sure yer alright?"

He sighed. "I'm just... frankly, I'm not used to not working."

I flagged down a waiter and ordered a brace of ales, then turned my attention back to the fox. "How'd ye get into the habig of just working constantly?"

Magus rubbed his brow with a pensive expression. "A myriad of reasons, I would guess."

"Any ye'd care to share?" I leaned forward on the table, paws folded in front of me.

He shrugged. "I didn't see any point to doing aught else. It all seemed to be a waste of valuable working hours." He sighed and sat back. "Perhaps I had this foolish notion of finding something big."

"It sounds as if ye just never learned to take the time for yeself. And I don't think it's foolish, but what d'ye mean by big? I mean, ye're the High Wizard of Metamor, by Kyia."

Magus rolled his shoulders again. "Something monumental. Defeating some great army, curing a plague, solving some great riddle. Something of that sort."

I nodded slowly. "Undoing Nasoj's magic, perhaps? Being one of those about whom the sages tell tales in centuries to come, and about whom ballads are sung by troubadors at courts a hundred years from now?"

"No, no, no fame. I don't want praise." He shook his head violently. "I just strive to make life better for others."

"Ah," I nodded. "Ye seek the knowledge and security that ye've made a mark on history. Perhaps not glory or honour or fame but the satisfaction that ye've improved life for some. The knowledge that by yer efforts, history's course has been changed for the better."

Magus ran a paw through the greying fur on his temples and chuckled softly. "Heavens know I haven't too long afore I haven't that chance any more. So much magic has certainly not lengthened my life."

"Perhaps not, Magus," I said. "But consider how much ye've already changed. Wasn't it ye with Posti and Kindle who stood at the circle and brought the ancient shields to bear, stopping Nasoj's assault? Wasn't it ye who countered enough of his dark magic to permit the rest of us to drive him back? Had it not been for the three of ye, we would've all died that day. Ye've already made a mark on history. And a positive one at that."

The fennec sighed and his ears fell. "I just feel as if I could've done more." He glanced up as the waiter returned, setting two mugs down, one in front of each of us. He lifted one, took a draught, and then closed his eyes. "I'm tired, Christopher. Bonewearyingly tired."

I took my mug in one paw. "Tired? How so?"

Magus didn't answer, instead taking his scrolls out of his shoulderbag and placing them, rolled neatly, on the table. He pushed them across. "Take these. And if I should die, for heavens' sake, please carry on where I stop." He rubbed a temple again. "I'm probably just being paranoid, but it would make me feel better." He tried to smile at that last statement.

I lifted the scrolls, then looked at the High Wizard of Metamor as if he had truly gone mad. "Magus, are ye daft?" I tried to keep my voice level. "I'm not a tenth the mage ye are. Shouldn't this fall to Posti? Or..." I paused, then realised something. "Magus, ye've never taken an apprentice, have ye?"

He shook his head, still not answering my questions. He gave a good facade of a pleasant smile and lifted his mug. "Shall we drink?"

I shrugged and nodded, draining half my mug and setting it down. "Magus, might I ask what brought this on?"

Magus sipped at his ale. "I just haven't felt well in some time. It's probably from a lack of sleep. Don't worry about it; I doubt it's of much importance. But don't lose those, please." He pointed the the scrolls.

I gathered up the scrolls and placed them on my side of the table. "Very well, but ye'll forgive me if I wait until ye die before trying to take yer place."

I had meant my statement to be humourous, but Magus must not have understood that for he sat staring into his ale with a solemn expression. I reached out and put a paw on his shoulder. "Magus, what's wrong? Ye've a thousand-league stare growing int'yer ale."

He looked up and blinked as if startled. "Hmmm?"

At his expression, I couldn't help but chuckle. "E'en away from yer desk, ye lose yerself in work. Come, Magus. What's on yer mind?"

He blinked again. "Oh, sorry. I suppose I must be daftly boring company." He smiled as he spoke.

I smiled in response. "Not at all, Magus. Truth be told, ye fascinate me. Most of the mages at the University were overblown, arrogant, self-important elitists of one brand or another. Yet ye've managed to avoid all the vanity, gloryseeking and other negative character traits I've seen in almost every other wizard of any power. In truth, part of the reason I came to Metamor was to mayhap study under ye or Posti. Like it or not, Lord Thomas' court wizard is spoken of in high praise at the University of Elvquellin."

Magus chuckled and took another draught of his ale. "Thank you, Christopher. For many things. If it hadn't been for you, I'd still be working. And I wouldn't have a thing to drink." He grinned at his wit.

I grinned. "Mayhap when next we do this, we should bring yer chessboard. I haven't played a good match since my time at the University."

The fennec's eyes lit up. "You play chess?"

"Aye! I've not played in earnest in well nigh unto a decade but at one time I was quite good. I fear I'm a touch out of practice now, though."

Magus snickered. "iYou'ren out of practice? I haven't played in spirits only know how long."

I smiled. "Well, then we should be evenly matched. What say you?"

Magus nodded and finished his ale. I glanced out the window. "Egads. It must be nearly time for evens!"

Magus stood and stretched. "Well, you'd better be off. And I do need to go back to work now, anyway." He removed his glasses and smiled, polishing them on his cloak.

I drained my mug and stood as well. "Aye. Shall we plan on picking this up next week, then?"

The fox nodded, smiling wistfully. "I don't think that should be a problem."

I clasped arms with him. "Excellent. I'll see ye in a week then, if not before. Don't forget yer chessboard. And don't work yerself so hard. Magus, take care."

He smiled. "Aye. And you as well, Christopher." And with that, he turned and left the Mule. I then sat down, opened the first of the scrolls he left me, and started to read.