Gil was taken aback. He had never expected to be in the business of magic. He was not at all sure he wanted to.
“What is this?”
Staring uncertainly at the stone in his hand, he felt both curious and afraid. He wanted to drop it, but it looked and felt like any other rock.
“Relax. It will not hurt you. That is a completely ordinary stone. No enchantments. And, at this moment. no magic. But like all stone, it has the potential to store magic.”
“I don’t know anything about using magic.”
“How much do you know about mining, smelting, and minting coins? But you know how to use them, right? You just trade them for things you want. Think of that rock as your coin purse.”
“And the magic is the coins? But how does it get in and out? And how do you measure it?”
“That is where the analogy breaks down. Perhaps it would be more helpful to think of it as a bucket you can fill with lamp oil. But you are not buying oil by the bucket full, so you measure it out before it goes into your bucket. Observe.”
Alfvin produced a stone of his own, along with a few smaller pebbles and what looked like a short tube made from some kind of wood. The stone was slightly larger than the one he had given to Gil, and was made of polished marble. The pebbles were perfectly spherical and uniform in size, around as big as a thumbnail.
“For your assistance, I will pay you a small share of the trip’s profits.”
Selecting a sphere made of the same type of marble as his rock, he fitted it snugly into one end of the wooden tube.
“Note the position of the notch. Like an arrow, the magic flows in one direction only.”
Now that he mentioned it, Gil saw there was a notch in the other end of the wooden tube, which Alfvin now applied to his large rock.
Gil was not sure what he had expected to happen, but what he actually saw was nothing. Literally nothing seemed to be happening, but as Alfvin waited patiently, so did he. After a few moments, he realised something was happening, but it was so subtle that he wasn’t sure at first what it was. But soon it was unmistakeable: the colour was draining from the wooden tube between the two stones. Soon all that remained was a narrow band of green on the notched end.
“Is that it?”
“That is it. I have measured out a cup full of oil from my bucket; now it is time to tip it into yours.”
With that he pulled the small marble out of the tube and switched it to the other end. As he connected the notchless side of the tube to Gil’s stone, the colour started to flow again. First the green drained out of the notched end, then gradually began to return while part of the other side paled. After the colours stabilised, Alfvin repeated the first half of the process and handed over the tube and pebble. As Gil completed the transaction, he saw that more of the colour faded this time.
“So green means the stone is empty, and it fades when the stone is full. And right now the little one is drained, which makes my bucket…” He examined the colours closely. “…about a quarter full?”
“Just so. That should be enough to buy you something to eat here, if you are not too fussy. We still have some food left, but I really do recommend sampling some of the specialities imported through the other gates. The variety is quite astonishing.”