This Rough Magic I Here Abjure – a Short Story

Note: this has been magnificently dramatized and brought to life by the Alternative Stories Podcast! Click here and go give it a listen.

As they say, there’s the door.

It’s waiting for me – the whole world, yeah? All of it, all its peoples, all its quirky variations, just waiting.

Oh, I’m not waiting. I’m certainly not scared. I just need to swallow around this lump of something first before I go. It’s a logistics thing.

“They’d eat you alive,” my teachers said, responding to my absolutely brilliant essays about the human world.

“It is not a place for us,” my father said, his voice still grinding-rough from the poison he swallowed when a child.

The Throne said nothing, but she surely did think at me, and I like hers least of all: You’ll be back.

Look, I have no reason to be afraid. I’m gorgeous, intelligent, and very skilled with voice and fingers. I can weave magic through the mousiest human, summon passion from the most obstinate vampire, sing desire into the most cold-hearted troll. And of course, I’ll have to.

No, I bloody well won’t be back. Just one more step. One turn of the handle, and –

John. Do you think to flee in the middle of the night like a coward?

Oh, no.

Even now, her certainty of my return drives me to reply. “I’m no coward. I am the crown-bloody-prince, and I do what I want. And don’t call me John.”

She ignores my demand. None of us may do what we want. That is not our role.

“I know that, damn your eyes!” And I do.

This isn’t simple.

I live in the Silver Dawning. It’s beautiful and perfect (rather like me), and our suns shine bright and our stars spark blue and our water drips clean and our soil grows only magical things. Our metropolises make human “smart cities” look like caveman rubbish. The Silver Dawning is everything mad mortals hope for in fantasy and science-fiction stories. We are unassailable. We are safebecause of the Throne.

The Throne steals its power. It robs us, siphoning all the magic we Fey naturally produce, leaving us gasping for air and desperate and starved. She hoards it; keeps our magic against some imaginary threat, and yes, it makes us unassailable, but it also makes us slaves.

Stay here, toe the line, and she ekes out magic to you. Leave – rebel – and you’re on your own.

Growing up, I pitied the Fey out there in the human world. Those poor bastards scrimp and slave and do everything they can to keep from starving to death. Now I’ll be one of them. Once I leave, I’m cut off. It’s the law. Rebellion is not rewarded, not even when you’re the heir.

Oh, but she isn’t done. Answer me, John. Do you truly intend to abandon your people, rob them of life and breath, so you can go… slumming?

How dare she? “I am not the one robbing anybody!”

I have sacrificed all to keep our people safe. So must you. They suffer if you leave. So will you. You’ll die, suffocating like a fish on a rock, ugly and stinking and alone.

Fear tactics. Oh, very nice, very classy. “I won’t starve. I have friends. I know to refill my magic.” I can weave it from emotion, I can harvest it from sex, and I’m willing to barter for it – meager capfuls from those willing and able to trade. Better to be humiliated than trapped.

But you don’t have to. Don’t you understand? You never had to. This is the blessing of my line: your magic has never been taken from you. Once you leave, child, it will. If you choose to live like them, you will starve like them, too.

I laugh to cover the tightness in my throat. “What’s my alternative? Eternal enslavement, soul entanglement with you, and responsibility for all the magic of the Unseelie Fey through history? I can think of better ways to spend my time. Being buried alive, for example!”

My breath is rough in the hewn stone passage, and I’m surprised all this shouting hasn’t alerted the guards to my goings-on.

Maybe she’s stopping them. For the first time in my life, maybe anyone’s life, the Throne sounds… unsure.

Why this choice? she thinks at me.

I don’t even know why I answer. “There’s a play by a human called Shakespeare, and in it, a magically powerful fellow named Prospero willingly gives up his magic.” I take a deep breath. “We had to do character studies on this because it’s a mad thing to do. Willingly throw away power? Willingly give up the ability to move mountains and sunder seas? What the hell, Prospero? Who would do that, yeah?”

She says nothing.

Well, in for a penny… “It’s guilt that does it. He says something like, this rough magic I here abjure, before breaking and burying the tools of his sorcery. And why? Well, externally, because this was the playwright’s farewell speech before retirement, but thematically, because he’d become obsessed with magic – ” as if that’s a thing – “to the point of neglecting regular life, and instead of finding balance, Prospero chooses to rejoin the world by walking away from it all.”

Foolish. Short-sighted. Ever-Dying human fantasy.

Yeah. I know. “I thought so, once. Grandmother, I’m done. I won’t be part of this. I want my freedom. I’m out. I won’t be tied to you, to this people, to this system. Besides: dear old dad says I tend to make everything all about myself, so my little escapade shouldn’t really surprise anybody.”

She actually sounds sad. Your actions here will not harm me, child. But they will harm you.

She might actually care. I don’t know. Does it matter?

Look, I know this won’t stop anything. It will leave my dear old dad in a lurch because he needs a blood heir to bond with the Throne and control this madness, and we Fey are very slow at reproducing. But if I stay, I lose the power of choice. That makes it simple after all, yeah?

Goodbye, Silver Dawning. Goodbye, everybody who knows who I am and kowtows whether I deserve it or not (which I do, but that’s not the point). Goodbye, father. And most of all, goodbye Throne. “I’m sorry. I’m out.”

And her calmness, her eerie faith, feel like chains: You’ll be back. There is no choice, in the end.

We’ll see.

There goes the door.