Marvin had never been a very good magician. He could make lovely herbal teas, cure mild cases of the sniffles, and clear itchy rashes, but he couldn't do anything impressive like the other apprenticed wizards. He couldn't make himself invisible, fight dragons, or even vanish small objects. Once he thought he might have managed to enchant a dog, but it turns out the dog had been able to talk all along.
So in his room in the highest tower of the Wizard Academy Marvin slammed his spell book shut, sighed, and slumped over to the window. On fine days, the other students zipped around, weaving through the castle towers on brooms, rugs, carpets, and the occasional mop they had enchanted to fly. But as this day threatened rain, most students were inside studying, as Marvin was supposed to be doing. His book on the table had been open to the summoning spell. Small balls sat in various parts of the room waiting to be summoned, but as yet, not one had even twitched. The talking dog, which had taken a liking to him, lay dozing at the foot of his bed.
"Why did I even come to the Academy?” Marvin thought as he stared out at the mountains. This was his third year of apprenticeship, but no amount of tutoring or studying seemed to be doing him any good. Once, he had grand dreams of guiding young heroes on quests and saving entire towns from natural disasters; now, he would be happy if he could just conjure objects out of thin air.
Out the corner of his eye, Marvin noticed a knight speeding up from the countryside on his horse and riding toward the castle. Marvin, happy to be distracted from his present course of moping, tossed one of the summoning balls at the dog. "Come over here and look at this."
The dog stretched and lazily trotted over to the window just as the knight arrived in the castle courtyard. Poking his head out, he yawned and then remarked, "He looks a mess." Indeed he did. The knight was covered in festering, red boils—discernible even from the height of Marvin’s tower; and dirty, white feathers were stuck in his armor—some coming loose, drifting down, and making the horse sneeze. He gesticulated wildly, obviously explaining what had befallen him to the gathering crowd.
Marvin knew he was missing out on something exciting, so he turned from the window and started running down the tower's spiral stairs with the dog following close behind. For at least the thousandth time, Marvin wished he had figured out how to work the teleportation spell or even the levitation spell so he could float down from the tower to the courtyard instead of going down each of the 1,469 stairs in his tower. Who assigned him to the top room anyways?
Fifteen minutes later Marvin arrived in the courtyard out of breath, just in time to hear the knight finish what must have been a thrilling tale. "And with one last mighty stroke I slew the feathery beast. But despite my triumph, I am left forever scarred," he said, ingratiating at his boils.
The other students looked on with mixtures of concern and admiration as Marvin tried to put together what had happened. The headmaster led the knight into the castle and the crowd followed, leaving the Marvin, the dog, and the horse forgotten in the courtyard. "It really is remarkable," Marvin thought, "how many of these knights forget about their horses. What do they do when they're off questing?"
Marvin and the dog led the tired beast to the stables. As the dog and horse got acquainted (the horse’s name was Samson and the dog was just called dog), Marvin gathered some oats, pulled off the saddle, and started brushing the horse down. "He says he has an itch just to the right of your hand," said the dog, "and he has feathers stuck to his underbelly.” Marvin brushed the horse's itchy spot as the dog translated the horse's version of his knight's quest. Marvin obtained his most reliable information through animals; they were often the only way he could dig out the truth of knightly quests from beneath the mountain of exaggeration. He adopted this practice after resigning himself to the fact that, living in the top tower, he would always arrive too late to hear the original story before it was embellished beyond all recognition. It turns out that after passing through town after town whose dragons had already been defeated, this knight had to settle for fighting a giant fire-breathing chicken harassing a group of shepherds. It was certainly a unique feat, but his victory was made far less impressive by the chicken's lack of protective scales, horns, or talons.
"He says his master has been unusually fidgety since fighting the giant chicken; he constantly scratches at his boils and has nearly fallen from the saddle at least twice trying to reach an itch the middle of his back," said the dog.
"Maybe he caught something. It's been rather cold lately."
"That's what you get from gallivanting out in the wild instead of staying sensibly at home with warm food and a warm bed," the dog said as he curled up in the hay to take another nap. The horse whinnied in obvious agreement. Had the dog still been awake, he could have translated the horse's grumblings about cold, rainy nights; dry, sparse grass; and an endless series of quests.
After Marvin finished grooming the horse, he headed into the Great Hall where a feast was sure to be in progress for the gallant knight. Knights dropping in without notice may cause distress to the kitchen staff of other castles, but as the Academy kitchens could magic food out of thin air at a moment's notice, the Academy was fond of throwing feasts for even the weary shepherds who stopped a night in the castle. On the way to the Great Hall, Marvin passed the infirmary, which had a habit of relocating itself to where it was most needed: the first floor to mop up a fallen flier; the fourth floor labs to put out a burning student after an exploded potion; or, in this case, the corridor closest to the dining hall so the knight could continue his tale and his meal uninterrupted while his wounds were tended. The infirmary was less crowded than the courtyard had been, a particularly decadent floating cake having drawn away many once eager listeners, so Marvin slipped in to hear the knight's version of his tale, which involved a fiery, feathered dragon instead of a chicken. The knight was still covered in boils and two castle healers stood in the corner poring over their medical texts, supposedly looking for dragon-related maladies. As the knight reached up to scratch a blister on the back of his neck, Marvin realized something.
"You have chicken pox!" he exclaimed. All eyes turned toward him and Marvin realized he had spoken his conclusion aloud, interrupting the knight's tale.
"That's preposterous," sputtered the knight. "I haven't been within a mile of chicken in years. Annoying squawking things!"
Ignoring the knight, Marvin pulled from the shelf a book on common ailments and flipped to "C". "Red rash, blisters, fever, even irritability. It all matches."
"I'm not irritable! And I haven't come near a chicken in..."
"Yes you are and yes you have. Just ask your horse." Marvin left it to the other apprentices to fact-check with the horse. Reading quickly through the book’s recommended treatment for chicken pox, Marvin mixed up the proper healing potion and shoved it into the knights' hands. It tasted far more like Marvin's mint teas than a typical healing potion, but it seemed to do the job. The knights boils cleared, his fever broke, and the healers invited Marvin to study with them instead of the wizard's general course of study.
The next day, the horse, for having betrayed and soiled his master's name, was sentenced to life on a farm near the Academy. He spent the rest of his days munching oats and sleeping in a warm, dry barn stall. The knight continued to affirm that he had been afflicted with something far more deadly and impressive than mere chicken pox. The dog kept on in his established habits of sleeping on Marvin's bed and sneaking the best scraps from the kitchen. Marvin did not become a great magician overnight. In fact, he never mastered the summoning, teleportation, conjuring, or other impressive, flashy spells. Instead, he spent his time in the infirmary learning cures for various magical maladies and patching up the other apprentices when they botched a new spell in a particularly explosive manner. He, of course, had an ample number of subjects to practice on.