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Magic By Numbers

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“We've been talking – arguing, rather – about magic, how it's done,” Lord Wellington said at breakfast, when Strange had finished the short catalogue of his wartime experiences to date.

Strange was by now thoroughly accustomed to ill-informed speculation about magic, but no doubt Lord Wellington and his officers would have their own particular variety of this. He waited politely to hear what it was.

“Major Grant here – ”

That man. The one who had sneered down at him from his horse when Strange, newly arrived in Lisbon, asked where he could find Wellington. A handsome fellow, now that he saw him properly, and looked as if he knew it. He was eating grapes and staring at Strange with a provoking air of lazy amusement.

“ – says you and this other chap have given every word in the Bible a number,” Wellington went on. “And that you think of words to make up a spell and you add up the numbers and then – ”

“That – that is not what I said, my Lord,” Grant protested, laughing. “You have not understood at all.” He leaned back in his chair and popped another grape into his mouth by way of emphasis.

Lord Wellington stiffened, evidently displeased at this behaviour from his subordinate. Would he chastise him for it later? That would be no more than he deserved. Strange found himself wishing that he could be a witness to it, or even take a hand in the saucy Major's punishment.

“I'm afraid I've done nothing resembling it,” he said, with a look of crushing disdain at Grant. “It seems rather complicated and I do not think it would work.”

It would give him great satisfaction to bend Grant over the table, sending the dishes flying; to pull down his breeches and spank him soundly until his groans filled the tent. He would make the insufferable wretch count the strokes, as Bell did when she spanked him, and then ask him what word in the Bible that number represented. And if that form of chastisement had the same effect on Grant as it usually did on him, so much the better; it would only add to the Major's humiliation.

“As for doing magic, my lord,” said Strange, wrenching his mind back to the matter in hand, “there are many procedures. As many, I dare say, as I imagine there are for making war. Good and evil.”

“Can a magician kill a man by magic?” his lordship asked, with an air of practical interest.

“I suppose a magician might,” said Strange, “but a gentleman never could.”

He could feel Grant's eyes on him still, making his skin itch. Damn the man. It was intolerable to be so distracted by the awareness of that insolent, challenging gaze. This was a hazard he had not reckoned with in coming to the Peninsula. Dear god, what he would not give to wipe that provoking expression from Grant's face, to put that smirking mouth to better use –

Lord Wellington began to talk about roads.