Nicholas Rasputin is a low-level history professor at Oxford University. He's also the son of Andre Rasputin, Britain's last great wizard/spy and one-time leader of MI-6's Special Section, and he's the great-grandson of Grigori Rasputin, perhaps the most powerful and infamous evil wizard in all history. However, none of that explains why two American Army officers have come to Nick's classroom to try to strong-arm him into giving them Durandel, the legendary Sword of Kings.
My father and I had both loved Chinese food, and The Golden Dragon had been one of our favorite places. We headed over there on foot, and as we walked, Rupert and I caught up. I was pleased to learn that he’d been made the new Chief of the Special Section. That was as it should be, I thought. He’d been my father’s protege and partner for more than two decades over there, and giving him the section made sense. Anyway, it wasn’t like I was going to do it.
I shook my head, not wanting to recount the old arguments, even to myself. At least with Rupert in charge, I could assure myself that the Section was in good hands.
Rupert seemed to sense my mood shifting and changed the subject. “So how’s Amy?”
I groaned. I’d almost rather have kept talking about my father. “Don’t ask.”
“Really?” Rupert seemed surprised. “I thought you two were going to make it.”
I shrugged. “So did I.”
“Well,” he said, “it’s really lousy of her to drop you like that. Right after your dad… I mean, what’s wrong with her?”
“That’s not really fair, Rupe. It’s been more than a year. And anyway, you can hardly blame the girl for wanting to get on with her life. I mean, it’s not like it was her father who died. And besides, she didn’t drop me.”
“You dropped her?”
I shrugged again. “It hadn’t been right for a while, y'know? And there’s no use hanging on when it’s over. I had a good cry, but I still think that it was for the best.”
Rupe touched my shoulder. “I’m sorry to hear that, Nick. I really am. You’ve had a lot of it lately.”
“Yeah, well… I’ll live.”
“You will.” Rupe agreed. He smiled. “Maybe I should have Jessica invite one of her friends over for dinner. You could stop by, and you know—“
“Ahh...” I shook my head. “I don’t think I’m ready to be set-up just yet. Besides, I don’t know that I want to date any of your daughter’s friends. It’d feel weird, and anyway, they’re mostly Normals, aren’t they? I don't think I could date a Mark.” I realized what I’d said and tried to play it off with a little half-smile. “That didn’t come out quite right, did it? Besides, aren’t we going to America?”
“We?” asked Rupe. “You don’t even know what this is about yet.”
“You wouldn’t have followed these guys all the way to Cambridge if it wasn’t important.”
“Maybe. Or maybe I just wanted to see you.” Rupe leaned forward and cocked an eyebrow. “Or maybe I’m just trying to keep an eye on you. I am the Chief of Special Section now.”
I laughed. “You see Colonel? A real magician never reveals his secrets—or his reasons for doing something, apparently.”
The Colonel brightened a little. I realized that he’d probably been feeling a neglected while I’d been catching up with Rupe. But so what? He’d had it coming, hadn’t he? He’d let his bully boy try to hex me after all.
He asked, “How’d you know I was a colonel?”
I looked at him meaningfully and tapped my forehead. “I’m a magician. You don’t have any secrets from me, sir.”
Rupert laughed. “Don’t let him pull your leg, Colonel. It was a lucky guess. Remember, even though Nick is just a teacher now, he spent a good bit of time in the Regiments back when he was just out of University. And his father used to bring home the occasional American spook back in the day. With your haircut and your accent, I’d guess that Nick knew right off that you were an American officer. From there, well, you’re too old to be a major, and they’d never send a general to handle a matter like this, would they? I mean, it is still the official position of the American government that there's no such thing as magic, isn't it?”
I glared at Rupe. “Well. I can see that my secrets are safe with you.” I turned back to the Colonel. “Since turnabout’s fair play, Colonel, let me tell you one on old Rupert here. Maybe you're wondering why he didn't just bring you to me himself instead of sending you along and then following? It would made things a lot easier if you'd all walked in together, no? But he didn't do it that way precisely because it would have made things easier. He’d already seen that depleted uranium pig-sticker that Chris carries, and old Rupe here wanted to see what your boy could do with it. He figured that if he let events take their course, things would most likely get dodgy, and he'd get a free shot at seeing the new American war-wizard program in action.” I looked back at Rupe. “Plus, I'm pretty sure that he didn’t want to take a chance on getting caught in the back blast.”
“But how did he—?”
“This one’s for free, Colonel, because we already talked about it,” I said. “I’m the great-great-grandson of Grigori Rasputin, the famed ‘Mad Monk’ of Russia. The original bad-ass evil wizard. The one dark mage in all history who actually succeeded in taking over one of the world’s Great Empires and making it stick. I’m also the son of Sir Andre Rasputin, the greatest war-wizard in my country's recent memory.” I tried to play it casual, but you can't say something like that without an edge of pride in your voice. “With a family reputation like that, I have to be prepared to take on all comers, all the time. Practically every new mage I’ve ever met wants to try their hand at the legend, and sadly, I’m the closest thing to it that’s left anymore.”
Chris had the decency to look abashed at this. “I'm sorry, professor. I didn’t mean to be rude. Besides, you have a bit of a reputation yourself.”
At that point, we arrived at the Golden Dragon. I spoke briefly with the hostess, and soon enough we were seated in a quiet back corner. By that time, it was getting on late afternoon, and the Dragon was perfectly empty. Even the wait-staff left us alone while they prepared for the evening rush.
Once we were seated, the Colonel relaxed visibly. “We really do appreciate your time, professor. As I told you back in your classroom, it’s a delicate kind of a situation we’re in, and we weren’t sure who to turn to with it. We've established a new program out at Camp McCall, and though I’d like to say it’s running well… Well, you’ve seen the results. Chris… uh, that is, Major Forsythe… is the best we’ve got right now, and though he’s a good enough officer, he’s not quite the bad-ass sorcerer—to use your phrase—that the U.S. government feels it needs at the head of its new special security program. We’d like for somebody outside the organization to come in and take a look at it. You know, to tell us what we’re doing wrong, beef up the training, that sort of thing.”
“And you had to come all the way to England for that?” I asked. “Why didn’t you just call me on the telephone?”
“Well, to be honest, that's not why we've come to see you. What I'm about to tell you is strictly classified. Truth is, my government would prefer not to share this, but without a working program of our own...” The Colonel leaned in close. “We've come to see you, Nick, because of some of the electronic chatter that the NSA has been monitoring. There's been a lot of talk lately about your father's sword. The Sword of Kings. We think somebody's after it, and we think that it's in the best interests of the United States that they not get it.”
I interrupted. “The Sword of Kings is a myth, Colonel. Truly.” Rupert started to say something, but I cut him off with a glare. “I'm telling you both right now. Durandel, Excalibur, or whatever you want to call it... it’s not real. There is no such thing as the Sword of Kings. There's nothing for anyone to come after. This is not something that you need to worry about.”
“But it is, Nick,” the Colonel responded. “Because real or not, if someone thinks that you have the sword, they will come after you.”