"He is a highly respected warlock," said Magnus. "You are, in fact, getting two warlocks for the price of one."
García had not made his fortune by turning his nose up at bargains. He was instantly and forevermore silent on the subject of sea monsters.
"Welcome," he said instead.
"I dislike boats," Ragnor observed, looking around. "I get vilely seasick."
The turning green joke was too easy. Magnus was not going to stoop to make it.
"Would you care to elaborate on what this job entails?" he asked instead. "The letter I received said you had need of my particular talents, but I must confess that I have so many talents that I am not sure which one you require. They are all, of course, at your disposal."
"You are strangers to our shores," said Edmund García. "So perhaps you do not know that the current state of prosperity in Peru rests on our chief export – guano."
"What’s he saying?" Ragnor asked.
"Nothing you would like, so far," Magnus said. The boat lurched beneath them on the waves. "Pardon me. You were talking about bird droppings."
"I was," said García. "For a long time the European merchants were the ones who profited most from this trade. Now laws have been passed to ensure that Peruvian merchants will have the upper hand in such dealings, and the Europeans will have to make us partners in their enterprises or retire from the guano business. One of my ships, bearing a large quantity of guano as cargo, will be one of the first sent out now that the laws have been passed. I fear attempts may be made on the ship."
"You think pirates are out to steal your bird droppings?" Magnus asked.
"What’s going on?" Ragnor moaned piteously.
"You don’t want to know. Trust me." Magnus looked at García. "Varied though my talents are, I am not sure they extend to guarding, ah, guano."
He was dubious about the cargo, but he did know something about Europeans swooping in and laying claim to everything they saw as if it were unquestionably theirs, land and lives, produce and people.
Besides which, he had never had an adventure on the high seas before.
"We are prepared to pay handsomely," García offered, naming a sum.
"Oh. Well, in that case, consider us hired," said Magnus, and he broke the news to Ragnor.
"I’m still not sure about any of this," Ragnor said. "I’m not even sure where you got that hat."
Magnus adjusted it for maximum jauntiness. "Just a little something I picked up. Seemed appropriate for the occasion."
"Nobody else is wearing anything even remotely like it."
Magnus cast a disparaging look around at all the fashion-challenged sailors. "I feel sorry for them, of course, but I do not see why that observation should alter my current extremely stylish course of action."
He looked from the ship deck across to the sea. The water was a particularly clear green, with the same shading of turquoise and emerald as in a polished green tourmaline. Two ships were visible on the horizon – the ship that they were on their way to join, and a second, which Magnus suspected strongly was a pirate ship intent on attacking the first.
Magnus snapped his fingers, and their own ship swallowed the horizon at a gulp.
"Magnus, don’t magic the ship to go faster," Ragnor said. "Magnus, why are you magicking the ship to go faster?"
Magnus snapped his fingers again, and blue sparks played along the weather-worn and storm-splintered side of the ship. "I spy dread pirates in the distance. Ready yourself for battle, my greenish friend."
Ragnor was loudly sick at that and even more loudly unhappy about it, but they were gaining on the two ships, so Magnus was overall pleased.
"We are not hunting pirates. Nobody is a pirate! We are safeguarding cargo and that’s all. And what is this cargo, anyway?" Ragnor asked.
"You’re happier not knowing, my sweet little peapod," Magnus assured him.
"Please stop calling me that."
"I never shall, never," Magnus vowed, and he made a swift economical gesture, with his rings catching the sunshine and painting the air in tiny bright brushstrokes.
The ship Magnus insisted on thinking of as the enemy pirate ship noticeably listed to one side. It was possible Magnus had gone slightly too far there.
García seemed extremely impressed that Magnus could disable ships from a distance, but he wanted to be absolutely sure the cargo was safe, so they drew their vessel alongside the larger ship – the pirate ship was by now lagging far, far behind them.
Magnus was perfectly happy with this state of affairs. Since they were hunting pirates and adventuring on the high seas, there was something that he had always wanted to try.
"You do it too," he urged Ragnor. "It will be dashing. You’ll see."
Then he seized a rope and swung, dashingly, across fathoms of shining blue space and over a stretch of gleaming deck.
Then he dropped, neatly, into the hold.
Ragnor followed him a few moments later.
"Hold your nose," Magnus counseled urgently. "Do not breathe in. Obviously someone was checking on the cargo, and left the hold open, and we both just jumped directly in."
"And now here we are, all thanks to you, in the soup."
"If only," said Magnus.
There was a brief pause for them both to evaluate the full horror of the situation. Magnus, personally, was in horror up to his elbows. Even more tragically, he had lost his jaunty hat. He was simply trying not to think of what substance they were mostly buried in. If he thought very hard of anything other than the excrement of tiny winged mammals, he could imagine that he was stuck in something else. Anything else.
"Magnus," Ragnor said. "I can see that the cargo we’re guarding is some very unpleasant substance, but could you tell me exactly what it is?"
Seeing that concealment and pretense were useless, Magnus told him.
"I hate adventures in Peru," Ragnor said at last in a stifled voice. "I want to go home."
It was not Magnus’s fault when the ensuing warlock tantrum managed to sink the boat full of guano, but he was blamed just the same. Even worse, he was not paid.
Magnus’s wanton destruction of Peruvian property was not, however, the reason he was banned from Peru.
The next time Magnus was back in Peru, he was on a job with his friends Catarina Loss and Ragnor Fell. This proved Catarina had, besides magic, supernatural powers of persuasion, because Ragnor had sworn that he would never set foot in Peru again and certainly never in Magnus’s company. But the two had had some adventures together in England during the 1870s, and Ragnor had grown better disposed toward Magnus. Still, the whole time they were walking into the valley of the Lurín River with their client, Ragnor was sending Magnus suspicious little glances out of the corner of his eye.
"This constant air of foreboding that you have when you’re around me is hurtful and unwarranted, you know," Magnus told Ragnor.
"I was airing the smell out of my clothes for years! Years!" Ragnor replied.
"Well, you should have thrown them out and bought clothes that were both more sweetly scented and more stylish," Magnus said. "Anyway, that was decades ago. What have I done to you lately?"
"Don’t fight in front of the client, boys," Catarina implored in her sweet voice, "or I will knock your heads together so hard, your skulls will crack like eggs."
"I can speak English, you know," said Nayaraq, their client, who was paying them extremely generously.
Embarrassment descended on the entire group. They reached Pachacamac in silence. They beheld the walls of piled rubble, which looked like a giant, artful child’s sculpture made of sand.
There were pyramids here, but it was mostly ruins. What remained was thousands of years old, though, and Magnus could feel magic thrumming even in the sand-colored fragments.
"I knew the oracle who lived here seven hundred years ago," Magnus announced grandly. Nayaraq looked impressed.
Catarina, who knew Magnus’s actual age perfectly well, did not.
Magnus had first started putting a price on his magic when he was less than twenty years old. He’d still been growing then, not yet fixed in time like a dragonfly caught in amber, iridescent and everlasting but frozen forever and a day in the prison of one golden instant. When he was growing to his full height and his face and body were changing infinitesimally every day, when he was a little closer to human than he was now.
You could not tell a potential customer, expecting a learned and ancient magician, that you were not even fully grown. Magnus had started lying about his age young, and had never dropped the habit.
It did get a little embarrassing sometimes when he forgot what lie he’d told to whom. Someone had once asked him what Julius Caesar was like, and Magnus had stared at him for much too long and said, "Not tall?"
Magnus looked around at the sand lying close to the walls, and at the cracked crumbling edges of those walls, as if the stone were bread and a careless hand had torn a piece away. He carefully maintained the blase air of one who had been here before and had been incredibly well dressed that time too.
"Pachacamac" meant "Lord of Earthquakes." Fortunately, Nayaraq did not want them to create one. Magnus had never created an earthquake on purpose and preferred not to dwell on unfortunate accidents in his youth.
What Nayaraq wanted was the treasure that her mother’s mother’s mother’s mother, a beautiful noble girl living in the Acllahausi – the house of the women chosen by the sun – had hidden when the conquerors had come.
Magnus was not sure why she wanted it, as she seemed to have money enough, but he was not being paid to question her. They walked for hours in sun and shadow, by the ruined walls that bore the marks of time and the faint impressions of frescoes, until they found what she was looking for.
When the stones were removed from the wall and the treasure was dug out, the sun struck the gold and Nayaraq’s face at the same time. That was when Magnus understood that Nayaraq had not been searching for gold but for truth, for something real in her past.
She knew of Downworlders because she had been taken by the faeries, once. But this was not illusion or glamour, this gold shining in her hands as it had once shone in her ancestor’s hands.
"Thank you all very much," she said, and Magnus understood and for a moment almost envied her.
When she was gone, Catarina let her own glamour fall away to reveal blue skin and white hair that dazzled in the dying sunlight.
"Now that that’s settled, I have something to propose. I have been jealous for years about all the adventures you two had in Peru. What do you say to continuing on here for a while?"
"Absolutely!" said Magnus.
Catarina clapped her hands together.
Ragnor scowled. "Absolutely not."
"Don’t worry, Ragnor," Magnus said carelessly. "I am fairly certain nobody who remembers the pirate misunderstanding is still alive. And the monkeys definitely aren’t still after me. Besides, you know what this means."
"I do not want to do this, and I will not enjoy it," Ragnor said. "I would leave at once, but it would be cruel to abandon a lady in a foreign land with a maniac."
"I am so glad we are all agreed," said Catarina.
"We are going to be a dread triumvirate," Magnus informed Catarina and Ragnor with delight. "That means thrice the adventure."
Later they heard that they were wanted criminals for desecrating a temple, but nevertheless, that was not the reason, nor the time, that Magnus was banned from Peru.
It was a beautiful day in Puno, the lake out the window a wash of blue and the sun shining with such dazzling force that it seemed to have burned all the azure and cloud out of the sky and left it all a white blaze. Carried on the clear mountain air, out over the lake water and through the house, rang Magnus’s melody.
Magnus was turning in a gentle circle under the windowsill when the shutters on Ragnor’s bedroom window slammed open.
"What – what – what are you doing?" he demanded.
"I am almost six hundred years old," Magnus claimed, and Ragnor snorted, since Magnus changed his age to suit himself every few weeks. Magnus swept on. "It does seem about time to learn a musical instrument." He flourished his new prize, a little stringed instrument that looked like a cousin of the lute that the lute was embarrassed to be related to. "It’s called a charango. I am planning to become a charanguista!"
"I wouldn’t call that an instrument of music," Ragnor observed sourly. "An instrument of torture, perhaps."
Magnus cradled the charango in his arms as if it were an easily offended baby. "It’s a beautiful and very unique instrument! The sound box is made from an armadillo. Well, a dried armadillo shell."
"That explains the sound you’re making," said Ragnor. "Like a lost, hungry armadillo."
"You are just jealous," Magnus remarked calmly. "Because you do not have the soul of a true artiste like myself."
"Oh, I am positively green with envy," Ragnor snapped.
"Come now, Ragnor. That’s not fair," said Magnus. "You know I love it when you make jokes about your complexion."
Magnus refused to be affected by Ragnor’s cruel judgments. He regarded his fellow warlock with a lofty stare of superb indifference, raised his charango, and began to play again his defiant, beautiful tune.
They both heard the staccato thump of frantically running feet from within the house, the swish of skirts, and then Catarina came rushing out into the courtyard. Her white hair was falling loose about her shoulders, and her face was the picture of alarm.
"Magnus, Ragnor, I heard a cat making a most unearthly noise," she exclaimed. "From the sound of it, the poor creature must be direly sick. You have to help me find it!"
Ragnor immediately collapsed with hysterical laughter on his windowsill. Magnus stared at Catarina for a moment, until he saw her lips twitch.