Tuesday, 18 January 1994

Anglo-Force: Stargazer Chapter 2

    The Stargazer and his group had returned to their dwelling, some three miles away from the village. Magus and Thomas meanwhile had returned to the village. They sought the dwelling of the village elder, Urko. They had some difficulty finding it, but they eventually did. When they arrived they were surprised to find that Urko knew Magus.

    “The records showed that you would return two hundred years after your visit, Magus.” said Urko. “But I regret that you did not return to happier times here on Rainus.”
    “What happened here?” asked Magus. “When I left Rainus was a beautiful place with a wealth of riches and resources. How did everything get so barren and desolate?”
    “It all started just over twenty years ago.” said Urko. “There was a famine. For one year the crops did not grow, and the people went hungry. The next harvest was only slightly better, but there was enough food to go around. Then, the famine returned. Many blamed the gods for this. It was as if they were punishing us for something. Then, a few years later, the man we call the Stargazer came down from the mountains with his friends, and he promised us a return to the glory days. He promised that the gods would listen to him. But in order to speak to the gods we would have to build for him a mighty tower of stone, a tower higher than any of those we have built before.”
    “Yes, I’ve seen that tower.” said Magus. “It almost reaches the clouds.”
    “The Stargazer told us that if the tower reached the clouds he would be able to speak to the gods. He also told us to collect all of our riches, and he would present them to the gods.”
    “You mean pay the gods to return the glory days to Rainus?”
    “Yes. That is why our fields are so barren. We haven’t been able to pay for any seeds, so we haven’t been able to grow any food.”
    “Then how do you survive?” asked Thomas. “How do you eat?”
    “The Stargazer uses his mystical powers to create some food for us.” replied Urko. “He cannot create much however, because he has to conserve power for his flight to the gods.”
    Magus leaned back into his chair.
    “There is something strange about this Stargazer fellow.” he said. “Tell me, Urko, do you still keep records here in this village?”
    “Certainly.” Urko replied.
    “May I see them?” asked Magus. “I may be able to find a way of helping this Stargazer. I may be able to find a way of making your fields fertile again.”
    A short time later Urko led Magus and Thomas in a darkened room. The walls were lined with shelves, and on these shelves were hundreds of books.
    “All the records are here.” said Urko. “The records of our harvests, our wealth, it is all here.”
    “Thank you, Urko.” said Magus. “Are there any records about the Stargazer here, about his past, perhaps?”
    “That I do not know.” said Urko. “Our records keeper would have been able to tell you, but he has been chose as one of those to finish the tower of stone.”
    “Very well then.” said Magus. “And again, thank you.”
    Urko then left the room and closed the door behind him. Magus then switched on one of the lamps, and some light then filled the room.
    “What exactly are we looking for?” asked Thomas.
    “Something that could tell us about the Stargazer.” replied Magus. “Although I have a feeling it would be like looking for a needle in a haystack!”
    And so Magus and Thomas began their search through the record of Rainus. After an hour or so Thomas found something interesting.
    “I’ve found the records concerning your first visit here.” he said. “It makes reference to a strange craft which came down from the sky, and of a friendly old man who taught the village elders much.”
    “I merely showed them how to make a decent steak and kidney pudding with mashed potato.” said Magus. “To them that was quite an exotic dish.”
    Their search continued for the next few hours. Then Magus leaned back into his chair.
    “What’s wrong?” asked Thomas.
    “Everything.” replied Magus. “From what I can tell the famines were a natural occurrence. Every land must go through that at some time or another. But apparently the soil tests showed that it should have been able to grow crops, but for some reason it couldn’t. That seemed to start not long after the Stargazer came down from the mountains. I think it is time I introduced myself to this Stargazer fellow.”
    “What about me?” asked Thomas.
    “You stay here and continued looking through the cords. You may find something interesting.
    Magus got up from his seat and soon left the room.
    Soon he was standing in the Stargazer’s house. The Stargazer looked at him coldly.
    “Who are you?” he asked.
    Magus smiled, and made his piper appear and lit it.
    “You may have heard of me, for I was here about two hundred years ago. I am Phineas Magus.”
    The Stargazer snorted.
    “Listen, chum.” he snarled. “I’m on to a good thing here. These fools have given me everything I asked for and more. I don’t need another con man muscling in on my turf.”
    “What makes you so sure that I am a con man?” enquired Magus.
    “You’ve just done what I did, read up on their legends. When I saw you in the crowd today I thought you looked familiar. I can see why now, you really have made yourself look like that Magus.”
    At this, the Stargazer leant over in a confidential manner.
    “I thought about becoming Magus myself, but he sounds like an awful old pillock. I mean, if he’d existed with the powers he was meant to have then he could have ripped this lot off good and proper.”
    Magus rose from his seat.
    “I think you should know that Magus does exist.” he said.
    “Wizards don’t exist. It’s all a fairy tale.”
    Magus raised one hand. It caught fire, then a dove appeared, perched upon his fingers.
    “If I don’t exist, because I am a wizard, then who am I?”
    The Stargazer looked momentarily unnerved by this. Then, just as quickly, he regained his composure.
    “You don’t scare me. They won’t trust you, you left them and didn’t return when they needed you.”
    Grimly, Magus left. He found Teddy outside, waiting.
    “I have a job for you, old friend.” said the wizard. “I want you and the others to go out and about in the village. Try to find out what sort of hold this Stargazer has over the people. Off you go now.”
    The dog disappeared. Magus returned to Urko’s house and told him of his meeting.
    “If the Stargazer is nearly ready to complete his trickery then he may have some way of escaping. Go back to the ship and see if you can find any trace of a vessel in orbit.”
    The word had spread through the village like wildfire. Magus had returned but the Stargazer had told him he was not needed. The Stargazer, furthermore, was to ascend to the tower that very night to speak to the gods.
    Magus sat once more reading through the records to find the cause of the famine when Urko entered once more.
    “You have not found the cause of our famine?”
    Magus shook his head.
    “Tell me, Urko.” he said. “What was the last good harvest like?”
    Urko smiled.
    “A traveller came from afar, bringing with him a wondrous liquid which made the trees heavy with fruit. Out cattle grew fat. Then, the next year, the crops failed. The cattle died. We put the liquid into the ground each year but it was no use. Then, ten years ago, the Stargazer came.”
    “Do you have any of this liquid left?” asked Magus.
    “A little.” replied Urko.
    “Bring it to me.” ordered Magus.
    In his lab on board the Lord of the Isles Magus swiftly analysed the liquid.
    “This, Urko, is something beyond the knowledge of your people, but they have been fools to place their trust in this. This is a liquid fertiliser. It contains things which would make your crops grow, but only for a year or two. Did the farmers of Rainus continued to use the manure from their beasts, and did they move their crops year by year as I told your people to two hundred years ago?”
    Urko looked crestfallen.
    “The bringer of the liquid said your words were false.”
    Magus gave Urko an angry look.
    “I would guess that your Stargazer looks very much like the Bringer. Urko, you have been the victim, along with your race of a most audacious con trick.”
    Just then Thomas entered.
    “I’ve found a ship in orbit.”
    They returned to Magus’ study. Magus opened a hailing frequency.
    “This is Phineas Magus. I strongly advise you to surrender.”
    Aboard the orbiting vessel one of the crew looked at the other.
    “Do you reckon it is?” he asked.
    “I don’t know, but him down there can take his chances. I’m off.”
    “They’re leaving orbit.” said Thomas.
    “Let them go.” replied Magus. “I want the Stargazer.”
    He strode angrily out of the ship, making his way to the tower. The Stargazer was already on his way up.
    “Hear me, all of you.” cried Magus. “The Stargazer is a fraud. He has exploited your misfortune for twenty years, first as the Bringer, now as the Stargazer.”
    “False, false!” cried the crowds. “He will save us!”
    Then from high above came a voice.
    “You fools, he speaks the truth. You cannot stop me now!”
    The tiny figure, so high up, disappeared into the clouds. Magus began to rise, but before he could reach the top a figure plummeted down past him, so quickly that it caught him off guard. He returned to the ground.
    The crowd parted as he landed. In the centre there lay the shattered body of the Stargazer, every pocket crammed with gold, bags of jewels slung around his neck.
    “You would never have caught him.” said Thomas. “He fell so quickly with all that weight around his neck.”

    Three months passed. The new harvest approached. Magus and his friends had remained on Rainus, Magus working his subtle magic to make this harvest such a good one that no one need go hungry. He had also arranged for aid from Xerxes, the next planet in the system, which was still fertile, and would probably have been the next target.

    At last the day for their departure came. Urko and the villagers came out to see them off, the landing field was now once more green and lush. Magus left them with these words.
    “I have given you a good harvest by magic, but be warned. I cannot always be here. You must take responsibility for your own lives and not trust your destiny to those not worthy of your trust.”
    They boarded the ship, and as they took off Magus turned to Thomas.
    “What did you gain from your time on Rainus?”
    “I learned not to take everything at face value.” he smiled. “And I left them something of me behind too.”
    “And that was?” enquired Magus.
    “They know how to make pizza now!”

    It is said that seven hundred years later when Rainus applied for and was granted membership of the United Federation of Planets that the delegation from the Federation were served pizza, steak and kidney pudding with mashed potato, and that President Watt recognised the recipe for both. But that is another story.