Jannes and Mambres have been working for the king for years, and they’re both old hands at sorcery. Jannes is the better sorcerer, but Mambres understands court politics better; it’s a good partnership, and they’re old friends – a rarity in its own right among the mathematicians and wonder-workers of the court.
They share a workroom, though their researches are fairly divergent. Jannes is interested in the transmutation of things – wood and stone into animals, water or milk into beer, copper into bronze, that sort of thing – his retorts and alembics and cages fill two-thirds of the room or more. Mambres is a mystic, which annoys Jannes slightly; his corner is filled with several heavy folios bound in blackthorn wood and a comfortable armchair. He is working on a conspectus of divination, and has filled several notebooks with tables and charts of the meanings of bird’s flights, the paths of mice across the stone steps of a temple, various card games, and omens. This has taken him thirty years or more.
They are hard at work when the summons comes. Mambres looks up when the page taps on the lintel. “Yes?” he says. His voice is pleasant, if rather high.
“You’re wanted at the court,” apologizes the page. “There’s a wizard meeting with the king.”
“Hrm? What’s that, Mambres?” Jannes runs nitre-stained fingers through his beard. “What’s that he said?”
“What’s he like, boy, this wizard? I mean, is he tall, fat, old or young?”
“He’s old, sir, but not that old. His beard’s short, still, and his hair’s black. I think he’s from the slaves, probably. He’s got, um, he’s got horns, sir.”
“Yessir, horns, like this –,” the page cups his hands in front of his face to indicate the curving horns of a ram — “coming out of his forehead, sir. He’s only got half his hair, sir.”
“Yes, he’d have to, I expect, if he’s growing horns there.” Mambres stands up. His head almost brushes the ceiling. “Coming, Jannes? This is more my game than yours, I imagine.”
“Oh, you never know,” says Jannes. “There might be something in it for me, after all.”