I read this trilogy around 1990 and would love to re-read it. From what I remember, the young boy was working in a castle and had a "knack". This was the ability to feel the ground as the area leading to the castle he was working in would flood, and he would "feel" where the land was and get whatever he had in his wagon safely back to or possibly from the castle. I believe that on his mother's deathbed, his mother told him that the "knack" was actually a magic power this boy had from a word of power his mother gave him.

In this trilogy, the fewer people who knew the word, the more power the holder of this word had. Also, there were a few "super" mages, who if I remember correctly, knew 4 words of power. This knowledge would destroy all, but a special few. Pretty much all I remember about this. I don't believe it was David Duncan.

Any help would be appreciated! Thanks.

  • Are you sure this is not by Duncan (A Man of his Word series)? It is a very close match.
    – Adamant
    Jun 3, 2016 at 3:49
  • You can click the checkmark to accept it if you think it is correct.
    – Adamant
    Jun 4, 2016 at 22:12
  • The given answer is correct. three words make you a mage; four words make you a sorceror. Five words of power will destroy you if left alone, unless another ingredient - or is it two? - is added (wouldn't want to spoil...), and then you attain divinity. Duncan's series is named A handful of Men.
    – LSerni
    Jun 7, 2016 at 16:00
  • see OP comment below confirming duplicate status
    – Otis
    Oct 12, 2016 at 15:26

1 Answer 1


Could this be A Man of His Word?

This series was published by Dave Duncan in the early 1990s.

  • The protagonist has a magical "knack":

    You obviously have inherited a knack for animals from your faun ancestors, and the word has raised it to occult proportions.

    Magic Casement

  • The protagonist was given a word of power, and powerful mages know four such words.

    “With pleasure, your Majesty! “ He turned to Rap. “Have you never heard of the words of power?” “No, sir. “

    Sagorn shrugged. “All magic, all power, comes from certain words. There are a great many of them; no one knows how many. But they are what gives sorcerers their abilities.”

    Rap’s jaw fell open. “You are not saying I am a sorcerer, are you, sir?” Horrible thought!

    “No. “ The old man smiled slightly and shook his head. “But you must know at least one word-and an unusually powerful one, because to be a seer normally requires more. It takes at least three to make a sorcerer. I think that the words may be growing weaker. Were I to set up in public as a sorcerer, I should want no less than four. Inisso, however, had but three.”

    He glanced at the king.

    Magic Casement

  • The word was given to him by his mother:

    "The words resist telling—they are hard to say. You truly do not remember your mother telling you hers? “

    Magic Casement

  • And on her deathbed:

    His name was not Rap. That was only a nickname, a short form of—of his word of power.

    He had never told anyone his real name, not even the king. It was a great long thing, Raparakagozi-and another twenty syllables-and he had not heard it since his mother had first told it to him, a few days before she became sick, warning him not to repeat it...

    Magic Casement

  • He can sense the flooded land on his way back to the castle:

    Lin’s eyes were big as oysters. “How did you do that?”

    Come to think of it, how had he done that? Rap began to feel very shaky. It was almost as if he’d been able to see the road under the water. He’d known where it was, what it looked like, almost. He had not seen it, but he’d felt as if he knew what it would look like if he could... or as if he could remember having seen it like that. Which he never had; no man ever had.

    Just as, earlier, he’d known there was another wagon around the seventh bend?

    Magic Casement

  • Incredibly detailed response! Thank you! Definitely sounds like this is it!!!
    – Alex B.
    Jun 4, 2016 at 20:22

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