Long ago, in the far distant days of February when my blog airship set out from its moorings in the suburbs of Nottingham, I picked a name for it. That name, as the more astute of you will have surmised, (hint, it’s the REALLY big writing at the top of the page) was The Rogue Verbumancer. It’s a name I quite like. The mancer is taken from the general term for wizard, magician or person of great skill that seems to crop up more or less everywhere. From the grim, grizzly and slightly shady world of the necromancer; the reckless self-endangerment of the pyromancer; or the drug fuelled cyber-haze of the neuromancer. As a suffix it’s been about, the whore that it is. The Verbu, or more accurately Verbum (I ditched the m, two of them seemed redundant from a phonetic perspective) is the Latin word for word, or so the internet would have me believe. Even as a supposedly dead language Latin still gets about. I liked how Verbumancer implied a sort of wizardry with words. The rogue was added to signify that I didn’t play by the rules, I didn’t take orders from nobody or that simply, I wasn’t very good. It was also preferable to lacunamancer, because it sounded better and wouldn’t have people associating me with Lacuna Coil or that song from the Lion King.
After a while the idea of a Verbumancer did get me thinking; Mythology and traditional old school fantasy always set great store in words, the power of names in particular. It is something that has, in one form at least, been brought back into the public light by Patrick Rothfuss’ The Name of the Wind.
The concept of a name, and by extension a word, having power over something is quite a fascinating one. I began pondering about a system of magic that wasn’t the fireballs and thunderstorms of most fantasy settings, but one which was infinitely more subtle and in the wrong hands infinitely more cruel. The idea that with a fundamental understanding of a thing or situation a Verbumancer could, through the use of the right words in the right place, achieve things beyond comprehension. The embodiment of the pen being mightier than the sword, the flaps of a butterfly’s wings that spawn a hurricane, the pebble that starts the avalanche; I’ve a little saying of my own, the 2nd maxim of my sordid little life, that when striving to accomplish any task “It’s just a matter of knowing where to push”
What all this spawned was a little piece called Potentia Verborum. I wouldn’t, as of yet, call it finished. It’s merely at a convenient stopping point, both in the narrative and personal sense, a staging ground for something perhaps a little grander, something to work on at a later date.
The hall was full. Were there any rafters people would most likely have been trying to sit on them. The sonorous murmur of a hundred conversations made the hall thick with an unintelligible white noise. If you listened carefully you could snatch the odd word or phrase out of the seething sea of speech before it was swept away again. The banked rows of seats were full, people were standing on the steps, crushed together and jostling for a better view. There were even people clustered around the doors, peering through them in the vain hope of being able to glimpse what was to come. No one was entirely sure what to expect, they’d all been drawn here by the curiosity to find out. Although conversation filled the hall everyone was watching the front of the room out of the corner of their eyes, an empty space bordered by stout oaken benches. The wall behind the benches was dominated by huge boards of scrubbed green slate, streaked with a dusty patina of chalk.
The pervading murmur was shattered by a creek, as a small, unassuming black door at the rear of the hall opened. From it emerged a tall man with hair the colour of weathered ivory. He wore a robe of navy blue and carried himself with the stern air of a man who is perpetually annoyed. As he walked towards the island of calm at the hall’s front people unconsciously parted from his path. He stood before the slate blackboards and turned towards the assembled multitude, fixing them with an imperious glare through a pair of pince-nez. Abruptly the man turned and strode towards the board, picking up a stick of chalk he studied its end with great intensity before beginning to write with it. In great looping letters of cursive script he wrote “Professor Bainbridge”. Returning to the benches the Professor removed a leather bound note book from the voluminous folds of his robes and began to silently scan the pages within. Professor Bainbridge continued to read from his book oblivious to the assembled crowd, as if hoping that they would leave if he ignored them for long enough. The crowd sat quietly watching the Professor, not daring to say anything; they were ensnared by curiosity and fascinated by the movements of the strange old man. Professor Bainbridge licked his finger and turned a page. It was at this moment, nearly five minutes after his initial arrival he chose to look at the crowd once more, gazing at them over the rims of his spectacles. He snapped his book shut and returned it to whence it came.
“Now let us begin” said the Professor in a deep sonorous voice, and with but the merest of pauses he began.
“No doubt you are all curious as to the exact nature of what I am about to tell you. In all likelihood you will have only heard tales and stories about this subject, things which you will think of as half-truths, fabrications or whimsy. Let me tell you now that every story you have heard about this subject is true.” The hall seemingly gasped as one. “The only criticism I can offer the aforementioned stories is that they are lacking in detail and understanding of the true scope of that which they relate.”
There was a slender wooden stick resting behind the benches, Professor Bainbridge picked it up and began to idly toy with it in his hands. As he began to pace before the blackboards, he resumed.
“This subject is not about power, nor is it about glory. These things are but ends, not means, to base something on an end and strive towards it without the means required is both folly and a waste. This subject is the means to all ends. The crux on which this subject, nay the entire world, turns is understanding. Without understanding humanity is nothing, we are but beasts cowering before the oncoming night and the gathering storm. Understanding is what raises us up and sets us free. It is what allows us to tame the vast, relentless terrors of nature.” Bainbridge abruptly turned and faced the crowd, lashing the cane forward in an outstretched arm and levelling it towards them.
“But what is understanding? What is the pilot with which we navigate its stormy seas? What is it which let’s us comprehend the wonders of the world? What is it that let’s us ponder the great questions in life? The answer to that is: words. Words are the very foundation of everything we hold dear. Through words we grasp concepts and ideas; with words we shape the world around us, building civilisation brick by blood-stained brick. This subject is the study of words and the terrifying influence which they wield.”
With a violent pirouette that belied his apparent age, Bainbridge slammed the cane onto the surface of the blackboards. There was an all-mighty crack like thunder detonating in the far off sky, chalk dust billowed and plumed from where the Professor had struck the board. In a great booming shout Bainbridge proclaimed to the crowd.
“This Ladies and Gentlemen, is Verbumancy!”
The eyes of everyone in the room were fixed on the centre of the boards, as the thick chalk dust cleared they could see, in the Professor’s unmistakable handwriting, the word Verbumancy in great looping letters of cursive script.