Chapter 1: Boyhood in Ashland
This is the story of how my family came to New England via New Scotland; of how I grew up and discovered my Talent; of how I gained my education as an investigative sorcerer; and of how I worked for the Governor-General at the White House.
In the time of the Vikings, the Clan MacNicolls farmed the land surrounding Loch Broom in the Highlands of Scotland. Somehow or other they rescued some cattle that had been taken by the Vikings from the Thane of Sutherland. In gratitude, he granted the MacNicholls and their heirs, the lands of Assynt that lay to the north of Loch Broom.
Eventually, the MacNicolls' Chieftain had no son to inherit the title. However his daughter had married a MacLeod, a younger son of the Chief of the Clan MacLeod on the Isle of Lewis. This is how the Clan MacLeod of Assynt came into being. The family, later built Ardvrek Castle on the shore of Loch Assynt, the ruins of which still exist down to the present day.
A clansman, Norman MacLeod, was born in the coastal hamlet of Clachtoll, situated in northern Assynt, towards the end of the eighteenth century. He grew into a rebellious youth, seeing the life style of the local priests as wanton depravity.
The worsening economic situation exacerbated by overpopulation prompted the Duke of Sutherland to finance assisted passages to the New World. Specifically to New Scotland. Norman took Holy Orders and emigrated with his flock to New Scotland.
My ancestors went with him. They found life in New Scotland a little too cold and a little too bleak for them, so they made their way to Massachusetts, where they live to this day.
In one form or another they adopted the profession of law. Some became Sheriffs, Night Watch or later Police. Others became lawyers or judges. There was even a politician, or two.
When I was born, Pop was a detective in the Ashland police force. At the age of five, I was thrilled when he was promoted to sergeant. From the mufti worn as a detective (which didn't stand out from the fathers of my friends) to the splendor of a uniform, seemed a giant leap to a small boy. I was very proud of him and resolved on a similar career. His promotion to Assistant Chief in my last year at primary school did nothing to lessen that pride.
By the time I was ready to move on to high school, Pop was the Chief of Police in the town of Ashland. This fact, and another were to determine my future career.
One of the toys that I had as a boy was a boxed set of conjuring tricks: balls, cups, and various trick playing cards. The set included an instructional book that taught tricks using materials found around the house, such as string and paper. There was also a pair of trick handcuffs. Although these had a key, they could be removed by shaking them in a certain way. To suggest that this was achieved using magic, the conjuror was instructed to say a 'spell'. I used 'abracadabra' as a spell for all my conjuring.
As a treat for successfully graduating from middle school, Pop took me one day to the precinct station for a tour. At the end of the tour we ended up in his office. He produced a pair of handcuffs and put them on me.
"Now let's see you get out of this pair," he said with a grin. At that moment, the teleson attracted his attention. I was examining the cuffs trying to see in what way they differed from my own. Pop put the teleson down and left saying, "I'll be back in a minute."
Meanwhile, I had finished my examination, and, having no audience, just shook the cuffs the same way that I did with my own cuffs. It did not work.
I tried again, muttering, "Abracadabra!" and the cuffs fell open.
When pop returned, my hands were out of sight in my lap. He produced his key and said,"Let's release you from those cuffs."
I held up the handcuffs in my hands to show him that I did not need his key. His jaw dropped and he said.
"How did you do that?"
"The usual way," I replied.
"I want to see you do it again."
He took the handcuffs from my hand and replaced them on my wrists. He checked to ensure that they were fixed properly.
"Now!" he said.
I shook my wrists and whispered my 'spell'. The cuffs clicked and dropped off my wrists.
"I just don't believe it." He muttered. He raised his voice and called out,"George! Can you and Jim come in here for a moment?"
The two men entered the office, and one them said. "What is it Duncan?"
"I've got something to show you, George," my pop replied, "although I think it's probably of more interest to Jim than it is to you. Gentlemen, this is my son, Robert. Robert. This is Goodman Snead, my Assistant Chief, and this is Goodman Brown, our forensic specialist."
They greeted me.
Pop turned to me and replaced the handcuffs again.
"Now, show them!"
The shake and 'Abracadabra' produced the click and the cuffs dropped on the floor.
"My word!" said Jim.
He picked up the handcuffs and closely examined them.
Then he said, "Do you think we could see that again?"
I repeated the trick about another dozen times before I asked "Why do you want to see me do this?"
"Boy," Jim replied, "You have the Talent! What is more, there are very very few sorcerers who could pull the stunt that you just have! I see a great future for you."
He turned to Pop and said "Duncan, you have to let me start his training."
I think Pop was amused at Jim's enthusiasm. I was just bewildered. However, Pop agreed that Jim could give me my basic training in sorcery. The only proviso was that Jim ensured that I kept up on my school grades.
The next four years were exciting, but oh so exhausting. Jim was knowledgeable in all the subjects I was taking at school, and he was a hard taskmaster. In addition, he also taught me his own brand of sorcery.
Jim taught me that you don't solve crime with sorcery, but with logical thought. Sorcery is just one of the tools that assist that thinking. He drummed that idea into my mind so firmly that it became second nature. He also taught me a considerable amount about sorcery.
Much to Pop's surprise; I graduated from high school with nothing less than 'A minus' in any of my subjects. As a result, I was accepted into the Massachusetts Institute of Thaumaturgy. It was a three year course to gain a Bachelor of Thaumaturgy Degree. The first five trimesters are common to all branches of sorcery. For the last four trimesters, students take a selection of subjects appropriate to their future careers. Of course, a substantial proportion of them go on to become Apothecaries and Healers.
There are even courses on Theoretical Thaumaturgy; one of the few Thaumaturgical Degrees open to students without the Talent.
Since the founding of MIT in the mid-nineteenth century, the scope of its courses has widened considerably, so that the Department of Thaumaturgy is now but one of several on the campus. However, MIT still retains its original name and remains the governing body for Thaumaturgy in New England.