Smoke signals for experts

Mary Catelli inquires:

So working on the world and how do you send letters magically?

Without involving owls, thank you.  I send the kids to a magical school already.  So no owls.  Or doves or eagles or . . . .

I could have them sent by mailman.  Still, a magical means to send them would add to the world-building.  But eliminate winged messengers, and what other form of magic would be metaphorically suitable to transport them?

Something to brainstorm, I think.

Your Humble Correspondent replies:

The enchantment for this requires matched pairs of amulets: rings for choice, since they are so compact and convenient and easy to carry about. Each pair of rings is imprinted with the essence of both parties to the correspondence. You place your ring in a hearth or brazier, prepared to receive enchantment in the usual way, and the recipient (who is expecting your letter at any moment) does the same with his. You then build the smallest fire that will sustain itself, and burn the letter in it; whereupon the vibrations of essential fire in the matched rings will call each to each, and the other party can read your letter in the flames of his own fire, or in the ashes.

N.B. If, like any civilized person, you are carrying on epistolary friendships with many other people, you will want to get a specially constructed hearth with rows of brass pegs in the firebox, so that you can receive letters from whichever of your acquaintance wishes to write to you. When sending a letter, of course, you must remove all the rings except the one intended. It is considered good manners to kindle a fire in the sunset hour and keep it alight for some two to four hours thereafter, so that all correspondence may be conducted in the evenings.


  1. ‘Two to four hours in the evening’ is what I need to do to surfing the web and social media.

    I have a hard time blocking the internet and getting to work – until I do, and then I’m fine. It gets old to find myself futzing about every day, just because I can’t seem to make the decision. If I had to keep an actual fire going, it would require me doing something other than sitting at a keyboard.


    Good magic system, if a little elaborate – it would tie you down every evening on the off chance that someone might wish to communicate. Come to think of it, that’s what I’m doing on FaceBook. Sigh. Writers are needy.

  2. Andrew Parrish says

    This is fantastic. I love the image of the rows of pegs for rings. And of course there would need to be a highly evolved ringmaking industry – half psychiatry, half blacksmithing. As a note that you may already have explicated to yourself, but may not have, it is the extra detail at the end that cinches the whole – the note on how these systems impact society, and the adaptations of convenience, manners, etc. You are very good at that – congratulations. I don’t know if there is a faster way to slap a coating of verisimilitude on a description than to note whether it is considered polite. It’s one of my favorite little tricks.

  3. Bob McMaster says

    I will not be online much over the next few days, but I wanted to wish you a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. May God bless you richly.

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