The Quarrels of Mages and Men

By trevorwisniewski All Rights Reserved ©

Fantasy / Adventure

Chapter Fifteen - Dawnsend

Birds were squawking outside the castle walls. Clarice heard them early in the morning – far earlier than she would’ve liked to wake. Her captivity had become more lax recently, she was invited to eat her meals with the king and today she’d been promised access to the city.

She’d only ever explored Rainhome, a city half the size of Dawnsend. Over dinner the night before, Gerod mentioned the appeal of the city’s streets, and the many alleys and aqueducts that ran through it.

She got out of her new bed and quickly dressed herself. She looked at her reflection in the bucket of water the king had left at the door, adjusted her hair briefly and left her room. The bedroom was next to the King’s own and as she walked past, she heard a groan from the queen and began to wonder about the flaws that were consuming her.

When can I ask the king what happened to her? She wondered. The queen’s disabilities were much of what she focused on in her captivity. She had no access to books or entertainment, and found herself delving into her own thoughts for amusement. She often tried to retell stories she’d heard in Rainhome, told by Inge or Eirik. Stories about Raina the Salt-maker or Yolanda the Queen’s-maid, stories that all children were told in their youth, stories Clarice had shaped her life around.

The one thing she hoped to find in her exploration of the city was a bookstore, somewhere to fill her mind with what it craved. She entered the dining room of the castle, and noticed the king already sitting within.

“Hello, Clarice,” he spoke, not looking up from his wine. He drank early in the morning, Clarice had noticed. Seemingly every day he began with a pitcher of wine.

“Hello, Gerod.” She replied, taking pleasure in undermining his rank. Truthfully, she’d begun to enjoy the king’s presence. He wasn’t as malicious as she’d expected, and she found him easy to pity. “What does the day look like for you?”

“Brooding,” the king said. “Mostly brooding, and a meeting with Victor Dawn – the old knight you met yesterday. Perhaps, too, shall I stare over the city from the terrace.”

Clarice laughed. “Are your plan’s always so astute, sir?” She looked down at a plate of food that the butler Stephen had slide beneath her nose. Eggs were on it, two of them to be precise, with a small garnishing of what looked to be bacon. Looking up from it to the king, she asked “I still am allowed to go into the city, yes?”

“Ah, that was today, wasn’t it?” He said. A coy look covered his face. “Yes, I suppose you can. That will solidify my decision to watch the city from the terrace. What is it you hope to see in the city?”

“Stores, books.” She began. “But mostly just a change of scenery. These castle walls become so banal after a few days – I miss the sun, truly.”

Clarice wanted, too, to see the terrace. Gerod spoke much of it, and Clarice had climbed so near to it, but she hadn’t been invited to see the majesty of the city from such a high vantage point. She imagined it looked tremendous – surrounded by the luscious northern fields she assumed encompassed such a prosperous capital city.

The king nodded. “Will you be eating first?”

“No,” she said, looking again at her plate. She hated eggs and the amount of bacon was criminal to her. “I hope to leave soon. I have a request, however. As I am not here of my own accord, I have no gold to spend. Can you give me some?”

“Yes. I suppose I could. The kingdom has quite a bit of money saved up, you see.” Gerod responded, the coy look of banter still upon his face. “When the king doesn’t hold any power, neither does he do any spending. How much would you like?”

“Ten pounds? Enough for some books and maybe some fresh fruit from a grocer.”

The king hurried out of the room and returned with fifteen pounds of elegant gold pieces, which he quickly gave to Clarice and began leading her out of the castle. “Go forth, child. Learn the ways of Dawnsend.” She wasn’t entirely sure about the king’s attitude, but she was happy. “Just remember, if you aren’t back by nightfall, you will be brought back. I still have enough power for that.”

She walked out the large doors of the castle. Before her a city was sprawled out. To her left and right were a series of large buildings. A road led straight down from the castle doors to the outside of the city, she could see streets and alleys running off of the main street. There were signs above each intersection, and running down the sidewalk from the castle were two aqueducts, carrying water down to the people of the city. She wondered which way to go first, without having a map or any real sense of direction, the city was a mystery waiting for her to unravel.

She decided to work her way around the city, starting with the area west of the castle doors. The city was beautiful, flowers lined the roads of this section. Vibrant tulips and roses filled the road, and so too did their smells. A large grove of apple trees divided the section, with buildings and shops surrounding them. There were carts within the apple grove. She could hear the merchants calling out “Apples for sale!” or “Meat pies, one gold a piece!”

Clarice found herself drawn to the grove, walking through the path beautifully laid out into the orchard. A meat pie would be good, she thought, walking to the merchant and handing over a piece of gold. She wondered why anyone would purchase an apple from the poor vendor while standing within an orchard with such bountiful trees. There were no mages in the orchard, she was alone in that regard. If I even am a mage.

She took the meat pie and decided to move onto the next area of the city. She crossed the road and went to the upper-eastern area. There she found an area full of businesses and busy people. Everyone was rushing from store to store, no one was looking at their surroundings. Were they to, they would notice the grape vines that ran along the streets. The buildings were covered in a thick layer of ivy. Clarice was amazed by how beautiful the area was and how little attention that beauty was receiving.

She watched some of the people running in and out of buildings. The buildings all had signs above them, listing what they supplied. Most seemed to be selling weaponry or armour. One was a printer, Clarice had no interest in any of them. She left the area promptly and went further – toward the exit of the city.

She looked into the south-western area of the city. It was a crater, void of any stores or people. Smoke was bellowing out of the area, a fire burned near the bottom of it. I don’t remember learning about this, she thought. Father never mentioned a battle that left a smoking crater. How long has it been here? She figured that someone must be able to answer this question.

She entered the other area of the city, immediately she spotted a bookstore. Before going into it, she looked around at the scenery within the area. There were few flowers in this end of the city. Few flowers and few people, she noticed. She spotted a few alleys leading up to the other areas of the city, but few people were using them. She went into the bookstore and began to look around.

A merchant stood at the counter. He was older than any man Clarice had ever seen. His knuckles were large bolts around which the skin loosely hung. His beard weighed more than the dwindling supply of hair that remained atop his head. “Good day,” the man choked out. He seemed to be a few breaths away from death, from the sound of his voice. Bookshelves lined the walls, many of which were empty.

“Hello,” Clarice said. She was excited, she’d never spent much time in a true bookstore, only ever in the library of her family’s keep.

“What are you looking for today,” he asked. He stood up from his chair and walked in her direction with his arms outstretched. Is he blind? She wondered. He was feeling around walls to get to her. “What kind of books do you need? I haven’t much, but what I have is good.”

“I need something to escape into.” She told him. “Do you have any collections of tales? Like Raina the Salt-maker or Yolanda the Queen’s-hand?”

“Such timeless tales you seek,” the old crone said. “On the far shelf, there’s an abundance of old stories for children and adults alike. All the books are two gold, let me know how many you take.”

She looked at the books on the shelf. There was one simply labeled as “Seventeen Tales the World has forgotten”. The title had a line drawn through it, and had been rewritten to read “The Quarrels of Mages and Men”. Clarice was enticed by the title and decided it would be the best choice within the small shop. She paid the man and began to walk back to the castle.

Outside the shop door, two men stood. They were massive men. She saw their faces – One had a twisted gray eye, the other had two exhausted veins running across it.

“Little mage girl, what’re you doin’ in this end of the city? Your type don’t come down here too much – what are we to make of you?” the one with a twisted eye spoke. “Where’s your magic gone? You’re too young to’ve used it all up already.” He laughed. “Couldn’t take the warning, eh? You only got a few shots, they always say. Did you just use ‘em all up at once?”

“Hang on their Groll, I think I know who this one is,” the exhausted man said. “I saw Estrich bringin’ her into the castle a few days ago. She’s one of the king’s children, I think.”

“The king’s only got one child, you git,” Groll said.

“Alright well… this is the king’s child. She’s worth something, Groll. We could be rich, you know.”

Clarice tried to run from the two. Before she could get far from the building, one had dove upon her and pinned her to the ground. She tried to squirm away from them, but soon found herself being tied up and dragged by the men. She couldn’t tell where they were taking her, but she could feel the cobblestone slamming against her face with each step. I’m going to die,” she thought, expecting the kidnappers to be malicious. The king will never pay for my return.

She closed her eyes as the dragging continued, not wanting rocks and sediment to contaminate her eyes. Tears fell off her face as her eyelids squeezed shut behind them. She cried silently until they picked her up and tossed her into the back of a carriage. One sat in the back with her, holding her in place while the other led the horse pulling the carriage.

“Girl, what’s your name?” the one in the back said to her. She couldn’t tell which one it was, she was having trouble seeing much of anything.

“Lucia,” she told him. “I was named after my mother.” She decided that it would be best to pretend to be the king’s daughter. After all, Clarice, daughter of Inge and Freja was worthless, but the king’s only child would be a valuable piece to keep alive.

The carriage sputtered on its way, eventually stopping in an unfamiliar place. She was tossed out of the carriage and looked upon two rivers. One river flowed with a dark, viscous fluid, the other with water. She could see the hill that led to the castle in Dawnsend. My savior is up there¸ she thought, resenting herself for considering her captor in that regard.

For being in the ever bleak, north-eastern end of the continent, the area was quite beautiful. The ashy ground she was sitting upon held many deep cracks and crevices that reminded her of her own face. In some spots, semblances of wildlife poked their never blooming heads out, but the sun faded most anything that was living. The streams spoke whispers to her, one flowing rapidly while the viscous black river oozed slowly, as if shouting instead of babbling.

Clutched in her hands still was the book. She decided to spend the few hours of sunlight that remained reading it. Her new assailants didn’t seem to mind, they were more focused on building a fire and catching some fish.

She opened the book. The first story was written about Marilla the Fallen Mage, a story she was unfamiliar with.

“What you got there girl?” the ugly one said. “You gonna tell us a story now, are you?”

“Is that what you want?” Clarice spoke briefly to them, not wanting anything to be used against her later or to jeopardize her loose identity switch.

“Yeah do it. Neither of us ever read any books, you know. Never had to, only heard a few stories from our mums, and a couple over in Skyhull.”

“Have you heard of Marilla the Fallen Mage?” The two men shook their heads and she began to read.

“Marilla was a mage, long before mages could be found twisting spells on street corners, and entertaining commoners at festivals. She was a mage of the most primal sort – a woman, removed from the world to live in a forest alone. Hers was a solemn life, hers was a lonely life. Her uncommon nature led her to be watched closely, by the ever seeing eye of the cruel king Raemius. A Man-King was he, no presence of magic in his body, and less of one in his mind.

King Raemius was a cruel man, cold and pensive. His castle was a single tower, long and narrow it protruded into the sky. A top it was a large lens, ironically enchanted by a mage he slaughtered shortly after, which allowed him to view and spy on his people. Marilla spent her days avoiding his gaze and mending the wildlife that lived among her.

But as she worked, the booming voice of the king could be heard in the woods all around her. “BE IT DESTRUCTIVE, OR RESTORATIVE!” his voice would shout. “MAGIC HOLDS NO PLACE IN THE REALM OF MEN.” Yet Marilla kept working, each day and each night to heal the woodland creatures and maintain the vast plant life that filled her forests.

One day, though, the king’s son rode his horse through the woods. Upon a vine the horse’s leg became trapped and as the king’s boy toppled down, he landed upon his arm. The arm in question became a most horrible sight, one that Marilla apologetically healed. Her magic did wonders, repairing the arm, and before the Prince rode on, he smiled and bowed. His words were clear – praise and thanks – and as he spoke, so too did Marilla heal his horse.

The Prince rode on, out of the forest, back to the king and Marilla’s life returned to what it was – humble and filled with the peace of a loving forest.”

Clarice kept reading.

“A short time after, the same booming voice spoke. A summons, for Marilla, to come to the castle. She did as she was beckoned to, packing up her humble house and moving toward the castle. She wondered if the king had seen the magic, and hoped that he had seen the error in his ways. As she neared the king’s tower, she saw only a staircase, winding up precariously around the outside of the tower. Far up, as far as Marilla could distinguish, a small room could be seen. She ascended the staircase, counting each step as she went. As the stairs twisted, so too did the numbers, and before too long, she found herself running out of numbers, as well as stairs. The king’s room, with its large lens and bed was a sad sight for her eyes.

To her surprise, the face she’d expected to belong to the king was different. His was not a face of glee and appreciation. His was a face of anger. The king shouted, “You meddle in matters above your power!” and as he shouted, with each syllable spit flew violently. “Death is not something that the living are meant to understand.” Marilla knew the king’s desires. She knew he intended to kill her, and she knew she was standing at the edge of a large tower, and that the fall would be long.

And as she looked at him, moving slowly toward her with a brutal sword raised, her timid nature vanished. The woman who mended animals and maintained the forest and was replaced by someone with a desire for understanding – and a need to kill. She entangled the man in vines – first his ankles so he fell on his face. Then his hands as he tried to use them to stand again, pulling them out to the sides and pinning him to the wall.

“You would kill someone who heals? You are trying to murder someone as innocent as me? You are the curse upon this world, you are the cause of our people’s death”. The words poured from Marilla. One last vine came forth, coiling around his neck and squeezing until the last choking breaths oozed from the king’s throat. His face, a purple mess of blood and despair, was nothing like it was before. Now, it seemed more appreciative and thankful.

As Marilla came to terms with what she’d done, she realized she wasn’t pure. She realized the woman who tended to the forests was dead, and she knew not who she was anymore. Standing at the edge of the tower she looked down. Leaning forward, she plunged, hoping to liberate herself once again with the forest.

As she died, the forest around her quickly decayed into the dead north that remained. She watched as it happened, the life slipping from her, and sorrow filling the body that was once hers.”

She finished reading and closed the book. Clarice wept quietly, while her kidnappers tried to form excused to need to race into the cabin to avoid her.

A straw bedroll was all Clarice had to sleep on that night. Her captors slept inside a makeshift shack, while Clarice lay beneath the stars. She was offered a place within the shack, but figured she’d spent enough nights staring at a ceiling. She missed the world and the lights of stars above her. As she began to fall asleep she wondered whether the king had men out searching for her. He must, she thought. Or else I would’ve escaped long ago.

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