When my grandfather, the humble and ordinary wizard Caducus, first heard the whispers of the afterworld summoning him, he decided to heed the call, but only after achieving his last wish.
He was known as “Cadu” to most, and Cadu’s best talent was in forging enchanted ornaments. Though he was but a humble and ordinary wizard, he once forged a crown of copper for a local queen. The crown granted the queen the power to appear in the form of her husband, the king. And so she became one of his best spies, and a decoy, and even a trickster to confuse their children—at least when they were young. And he once crafted a candlestick holder of brass such that when the words inscribed around the base were spoken aloud, the candle set in the holder would alight.
When he was young, he carved a set of wooden cups for his dearest friends. The cups were enchanted so that any water poured in them, no matter how foul or gritty, would turn fresh and safe to drink. Nothing special happened to any other liquid poured into the cups, as his friends soon discovered (though he had warned them.)
Many a gambler attempted to hire Cadu to craft for them enchanted dice. He would slap them on the shoulder and say something like, “My name may be Caducus, but you sir are the true cad.” And he would laugh. And they would laugh, even as he guided them to the door of his shop and said goodbye just outside of the threshold.
But whenever a child asked him to craft something—even if it was something naughty, like a pen that would write all the correct answers to an exam—Cadu would find a way to craft the requested ornament (sans any naughty intent). He made a pen that drew perfect circles for a girl who wanted a pen that would copy her guardians’ signatures. For a boy who loved birds, he sculpted a clay bird that flapped its wings, blinked, and turned its head when its name was called. And though he was but a humble and ordinary wizard, he stitched together a doll for each of his three daughters according to their interests. One doll was enchanted to sing. One doll to dance and tumble. And the third to vanish and reappear somewhere unpredictable.
These daughters grew up, and they grew older. And so did Cadu.
My grandfather’s trade always gave him strength, even as time drained that strength away. The race could not abide forever. One of the runners must lose. And in the race against time, time never lost.
Cadu had nine grandchildren when he first heard the whispers of the afterworld summoning him. The youngest of them was me, Augusta. I was known as “Gus” to most in those days.
I was very young. Barely able to stand. Unable to walk. I had uttered sounds, some of which seemed to have some meaning to those who knew me well, but no words.
Aside from crafting enchanted ornaments, Cadu’s best love was conversing with his grandchildren. But he could not converse with me yet. And if time progressed as it had been doing, he never would.
Cadu was most puzzled and irritated that he and I would never speak, more so than he was puzzled and irritated at the thought of all the ornaments he would never craft, and all the ordinary days with kin and companions that he would miss.
After all the practical arrangements were made—apprentices reassigned, bequests apportioned, farewell letters drafted—Cadu decided upon his last works. And he decided that his last works should serve his last wish.
He wanted to speak with me.
Cadu worked by day for three moons (by night, he rested as wise workers did). At last, he was done. He had crafted two rings. The rings were of some silvery metal that my grandfather had intertwined with lodestone. So when the rings were brought close, they stuck together. They were plain, these rings. They were almost identical, even in size, save that one seemed to show glints of light.
This glinting ring, Cadu presented to me. He threaded the ring through a black cord, and tied it loosely about my neck. (Even if it had fit one of my nubby little fingers at the time, I would have only lost it.) Cadu slipped the other ring over the middle finger of his right hand.
While he waited for the rings’ enchantment to work, an enchantment he had never cast before, he helped me practice standing, by taking both of my hands in his, and shifting my balance to keep me upright. Despite his help, I tipped to one side and fell to the ground, landing on my bottom.
My grandfather laughed.
“Hello, down there,” he said.
I grinned up at him. Grand Cad!
Cadu’s eyes widened at once. He knelt before me. “My darling Gus. Did you just speak to me?”
Grand Cad, yes. Yes…I speaked.
Cadu glanced at the ring tied around my neck. And he glanced at the ring around his finger. I had uttered no words with my material voice. My throat would not push out the air properly. My tongue was too clumsy. My lips too fidgety. I had uttered the words only in my mind.
But somehow, my grandfather had heard me.
Cadu placed a hand atop my head, pressing down my rambunctious curls. “It’s ‘granddad,’ to you, young rascal. Say something else.”
Grand Caddad. You listen me?
“Hear you. Yes, I can hear you. With this.” He held up his hand and pointed to the ring. “And this.” He pointed to the ring around my neck, and I felt its cool solid form trapped between folds of skin as I lowered my neck to try and see it.
My grandfather’s eyes suddenly filmed over with tears. He knelt down and kissed the top of my head. Then he leaned back, sat on the floor, threw back his head, and began laughing.
I mostly understood why he was laughing, so I too began laughing. We laughed so long and so hard that my grandfather was near gasping for breath by the time we stopped. Aftershocks of silent chuckles shook his shoulders.
At last, he sighed and gazed at me. I had seen my grandfather laugh before. I had seen him laugh that hard. But this time was different. And I already understood why.
Grand Caddad, I tickled you.
My grandfather chuckled, his dark eyes gleaming. “You did indeed.”
My mother and father were elated. But they were also concerned. I had not yet spoken any words in any language other than the charming but nonsensical babycoo. My siblings had both been speaking for many months by the time they were my age. They worried that my grandfather’s rings might slow me further, as I would have no need to speak aloud when I could speak with my mind.
But they also longed to hear my voice, in whatever manner they could.
So each of them donned my grandfather’s ring in turn and tried to speak to me.
I answered, just as I had answered my grandfather. But both my mother and my father peered at me with no sign that they heard my thoughts.
Fearing the ring had lost its power, my grandfather took it back and put it on again.
“Gus, can you still hear me? Can you answer?”
I listen you. I listen Mama. I listen Dada.
My grandfather sighed and nodded. He turned to my mother and father. “Perhaps I am the only one who can speak her language,” he joked.
But he too was concerned. The enchantment he’d cast was among the most challenging he had ever attempted. He had made certain it would not harm me. But in making those assurances, he had made some adjustments to the enchantment. He had not thought the adjustments to be significant, or rather, he had hoped they would not be, foolish though that hope was.
After some research, he discovered the trick of the rings.
He told my mother and father, and then he told me.
“The rings have linked us, little Gus. I fear I am the only one who can hear you…at least until you find your other voice.” He rubbed his own throat.
I nodded in that way that people my age nodded, throwing my shoulders back as my head bowed.
“In the meantime, I can ferry messages for you.” He smiled at me.
Tell Mama, no cauliflower, I said profoundly.
And so my grandfather’s last wish was fulfilled. We had many a conversation. I asked my grandfather how the “buttooflies” learned to fly, and why mud was forbidden to children even though it felt so satisfying to squish through my fingers. And my grandfather told me stories about how the moon was once the sun’s shadow and the time a cloud challenged lightning to a race.
The tale of the butterfly was my favorite story. I made my grandfather tell it often. I remember the last time he told it.
“A worm there was once, who was envious of all the creatures in the world who had legs,” my grandfather said. “So envious that he decided to throw himself a party, and he invited all his friends. He told them there would be food and entertainments. It was customary in those days for guests of parties to bring gifts. And he hinted to each person he invited that the gift he most desired was a pair of legs.” Grandfather patted his legs, prompting me to pat my own. “Now the worm hoped that at least one person remembered his request and brought him a pair of legs. Well…wasn’t he surprised when every single guest he invited brought him a pair of legs.”
“At first the worm was overwhelmed,” my grandfather continued. “But then, he realized what a great treasure he had amassed. He thanked all his guests and asked if he should try to put on all of the legs. And so he too became one of the entertainments. He put on all the legs, and though he walked clumsily at first—much as you do now—he soon mastered the use of his legs—as you too will. And so proud was he of his legs, and so delighted to be able to walk, that he put on colors and decorations whenever he went walking about, and he even took on a new name…caterpillar.”
I clapped my hands.
“Ah, but our friend, the caterpillar, did not stay satisfied for long. Whenever he went out walking, he would notice the creatures who flew overhead, the birds and the bees. And he soon became envious of them. So, what do you think our friend, the caterpillar, did next?”
My grandfather, the humble and ordinary wizard Caducus, shook his head. “Excellent guess, but no. The caterpillar was envious, but not greedy. This time, he aimed to earn what he longed for. So he studied the flying creatures, and he even spoke to them when it was safe to do so, and he planned, and he planned. And at last, he knew what to do. He built himself a special chamber, which he called a ‘cocoon,’ and within this chamber he locked himself. He would be safe from harm while he worked. He would dismantle his body and rebuild it into a new form. It took much work, and by the end, the caterpillar was so tired, he was not certain that he had the strength to break through the cocoon. But he did, and when he emerged, oh his form was most beautiful and glorious to behold. He once again took another name. And do you know what that name was?”
“Ha! Close enough for now. Yes, ‘butterfly’! And the butterfly was at last happy with his form and his life.”
“Not quite. The butterfly had enjoyed being a caterpillar, and he enjoyed working hard to earn his butterfly form, so when he had children, he asked the spirits of creation to make them caterpillars. And he taught them how to build cocoons and become butterflies, so they too would cherish both their forms. And so it continues to this day.”
“The end…for now.”
I did not know any grand stories to tell my grandfather, so I would try to tell him shorter stories. Stories that would tickle him. Stories that I often began with a question.
What did the buttoofly say when he came out of the coocoon?
“Hmm, I don’t know. What did he say?”
To walk is fun, buttoofly is…more fun.
My grandfather always laughed at my jokes. I knew even then that they could not be so funny as to earn such uproarious laughter. But I also knew that my grandfather was truly amused.
Thus did we spent many days. Many, many days.
And yet still so few.
Then, the day came.
I sat in my mother’s lap as she sat in a chair beside my grandfather. Arrayed around him were the rest of his children, and grandchildren, and behind them, all else who were dear to him and to whom he was dear. He lay in his bed. He clasped hands, gave and received kisses, gave and received comfort, until at last, he lay his hands on his stomach, lay his head on his pillow, and closed his eyes.
We watched him breathe his last breath, a quiet breath. A gentle breath.
And even I knew that he was gone.
Though I knew he could not hear me, and could not have even if he still lived, for he had already passed his lodestone ring on to my mother, I spoke aloud a thought in answer to the last reminder he gave me.
Yes, I promise. Tickle Mama. But not now. Later.
I was sitting in my mother’s lap. And I had grown accustomed to the halting rhythm of her breathing as she wept and sniffed. But suddenly, she grew still.
I’m sad, Granddad. I’m sad.
I took a breath and my shoulders hitched. But my eyes were dry. I had cried so much already.
Those who would prepare my grandfather’s body for the rituals of passing came forth. My mother rose and carried me outside. She sat under the shade of a tree and sat me on her lap, facing her.
“You were so quiet today, my darling,” she said, her voice thick. “Thank you for being so good.”
A single tear dropped from the outside corner of my mother’s right eye. When she wiped it away, I glimpsed grandfather’s ring on her finger. “Oh Gus, I’m sad too. That’s what you said, isn’t it? Did you say that?”
I felt my eyebrows twitch up.
Mama, you listen me?
Though my mother was exhausted by the end of the day from grief and waking, she told my father about the ring. She told him that she could hear my thoughts when I spoke them aloud.
He wore the ring and tried to hear me. But he could not.
My mother and father spoke to each other, and though they were not enchanters, they realized what my grandfather had not. The rings had linked my grandfather and me, but that link, like my grandfather’s other bequests, had been passed on. It had been passed on to the first person who wore the ring after my grandfather died. My mother.
Some days later, some aunts and uncles and cousins were visiting. After someone told a story about my grandfather refusing to make enchanted dice, and everyone laughed at the fond memory, I crawled toward a wall and uttered, “Dahg!”
My mother rushed to me and sat beside me. She held me up and pointed to the wall where she had painted a picture of a little black dog with a wagging tail.
“Dahg!” I confirmed.
And I spoke many more words thereafter.
The ring was not my only inheritance from the wizard Caducus. He left each of his grandchildren a portion of his books and writings. But everyone else lent me their books and never took them back, so now, I suppose, they are mine. Mine to keep and use while I live, and mine to pass on when I pass.
For I too am an enchanter, like my grandfather. I too have my own shop, though I mostly only make rings. And though I too am a humble and ordinary enchanter, I once forged a ring for an empress from a far realm. She visited our lands and saw one of my rings on a noblewoman. She was intrigued by its design, far more so when she learned that the ring was enchanted to remind the noblewoman of the birthdays of all her dearest friends. That way she was always ready with gifts. I enchanted the empress’s ring to turn colors whenever she uttered a lie. Thinking that perhaps she meant to uncover those who were unfaithful or disloyal to her, I warned her that the ring would not work on anyone else. But she smiled and said that was exactly as she wished it to be.
Many a gambler attempted to hire me to craft them a ring that when waved above a downturned card would reveal its face, or better yet, a ring that could cast an illusion of more favored cards. I would slap them on the shoulder and say something like, “Ah, cheating may be fun, my friend, buttoofly is…more fun.” And the gambler would chuckle confusedly. And I would laugh, even as I guided them to the door of my shop and bid them to “fly and farewell” just outside of the threshold.
I am still learning the enchantment that my grandfather placed on two silvery lodestone rings so that he could speak with a granddaughter who could not yet speak. I would give that gift to others. But it is a grand enchantment. Not humble or ordinary at all.
It was not my grandfather’s wish that I should become an enchanter. That was my wish. My grandfather’s last wish was that he could speak with me. And though I imagine that he satisfied that wish before he passed, I remember it, every year on the day of his passing.
I put on the ring that he gave me. I write a brief note to him—news of me and of our kin. I sign it, “All my love, Gus.”
The ink I use is enchanted, and I draw the ink and my message from the page and into my ring. I walk outside and blow over the ring toward the west. Thus, I send my message in the direction that all souls travel when they are called to the afterworld. Thus, I fulfill the last wish of the humble and ordinary wizard Caducus, the last wish of my grandfather.
Copyright © 2019 Nila L. Patel