The Quarrels of Mages and Men

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Chapter Twenty-five - Lucia

She heard the violent horns of the enemy army outside the city walls and stayed inside the castle at the king’s request. Gerod had asked her to stay inside the castle – in her room, preferably – so the enemy wouldn’t see her, and so his heir wouldn’t be at risk.

Naturally, this request didn’t please Clarice for long. She’d spent a few hours reading books in her room about the first conquest of magic. She read a lot recently, finding sleep to never come to her. Since the king abducted her, she'd only slept well once - when the kidnappers took her. The king had begun to wonder why Clarice always needed new candles, since she would burn several in a night before a fleeting sleep would come to her.

She read about the powers of fire and water, combining with mages of death to overthrow the oppressive humans that ruled Olander centuries ago. The book had given names to each of these people, even used different terms than she was used to – Alexandrian mages for those of fire, Jarrellian mages for the water. No new name seemed to exist for the mages of death. “Mage of death” is a good enough handle, she thought.

As the book began to run out of pages, and Clarice found the armies of magic reaching a sure victory, she grew wary of it. She flipped through the last few pages, reading a few words on each and getting the gist of what happened. It was as she expected – the mages obliterated the humans, who’d yet to discover stone magic, and all was well in Olander, from the writer’s perspective.

She knew the ending of the book, and that stopped her from enjoying it as much. She knew that mages ruled for centuries afterward, and she knew that mages were conquered again by humans. She knew that the mages kept slaves just as the humans did, that the mages could be tyrannous just as the humans had. She knew that the similarities between the two were uncanny.

And with these thoughts, Clarice found herself trying to think of the good, and she remembered that many of the human and mage rulers were good: there wasn’t war for most of them. She found herself understanding that not every ruler was violent and merciless. Clarice found herself more sure and yet more wary about her own future ruling.

The sounds of war drums and horns rang through the castle, and as Clarice began to stroll through the halls, she heard an uncommon voice beckoning to her. “Girl,” the king’s wife spoke. “Darling Clarice, come. We must speak.”

She stood outside the king’s bedroom, the queen begging her to come in. The door creaked slowly inward, opening up the darkness to her. As she walked in, she was finally able to see her fully – she was a monster, but she was beautiful. Lucia stood before her, unsteadily, and the gnarled features that were hers presented themselves to Clarice.

Her skin looked charred – or burnt, certainly not in their natural state. One hand of the queen seemed to be in its original state – light, pale skin that looked thinner than the silk the queen’s stained nightgown was made of. The nightgown was black and unbefitting on her – it slung over her like an apron, the lack of human shape beneath it causing it to be cavernous and depleted around much of her body.

She wore no jewels or crowns, not like the king, who had taken to flaunting his gems lately. She was barren in every sense of the word. “Hello, my queen,” Clarice spoke without ease.

“So, girl. I hear you’ve taken my name,” Lucia spoke, twisting her parched lips with each syllable. Her milky eyes pierced into Clarice, though she knew not what the queen saw. What does she mean – the king’s desire for me to rule, or my lie during the kidnapping?

“Yes, I suppose I have, your grace.”

“Come, sit. I cannot stand long, and the bed is very comfortable – far more so than the beds in the guestroom. I’m sure you’ll learn about this comfort someday soon, girl.” Her tone was unbearably monotone. Clarice got no strong indication one way or the other as to whether or not the queen was angry at her. Why won’t she speak my name? She wondered.

“Yes, perhaps I will. Are you worried about the rebel mages at the gate?” She asked, attempting to deter the conversation from the violent, aggressive one at hand.

“I fear little, girl, and I see more. Do you know much of my curse? Do you know of the kiss of a mage?” Lucia asked her. She gripped at Clarice’s arm with her hand, feebly holding her in place. As Clarice looked down at it, she was ashamed to find herself being pleased that it was the normal hand that grabbed her.

“No, I’m sorry I don’t.”

“You were once a mage – I fear poor Gerod took that away from you as he took so much from me. I was once beautiful, you know. I was once normal – I sat at the dining hall table with my king husband, we ate meals together, we conversed and I had a family. Do you know what the doctors call my illness?” Lucia asked her. Her gaze was fixed on the door, nothing varied within her eyes and it made Clarice uncomfortable and shook her head. “Neither do the doctors. My husband is a coward. Do you know the monstrous things he did to me while I was with child?”

Clarice was interested in Lucia’s story. She had seen a lot of wounds and illness in Rainhome, but nothing with effects like this. She was desperate to know what happened to her.

“The kiss of a mage – the most violent night of my life. The king is afraid of his waning power – the power that wanes due to his fear. Gerod is a fool, who insisted I try the kiss of a mage, as the local seeker’s called it, on the night I gave birth. The room was prepared, I remember it vividly. It’s the last sight I truly recall – everything since has become a blur of vague outlines and unoccupied faces. A bed and four phials laid out for me to choke on as the future king protrudes from me. That was all the room held for me, and that was all Gerod wanted me to have. Do you know, girl, what happens when you take a raw amount of all four reagents? Do you know what happens to a non-mage when they do this? You need not imagine, you can see by looking at me. What happens when there are no magical veins to exhaust? What’s left?” Though her gaze remained the same, there was clearly sorrow in her voice.

Clarice felt the need to put her arm over the queen’s shoulder. “What Gerod never understood about magic is that it takes as much as it gives. Sadly, rarely is the good that it gives worth what it takes. What came from this procedure was a destroyed woman, bound to her bed, with a newly born prince who has no trace of magic around him. The only gift I received from this was those vivid, painful mage dreams. Every night, and most waking hours of the day, my mind is overrun by the lives of mages around the world. I saw you, Clarice, standing in Rainhome, a seeker grabbing you and dragging you here. I saw it all – the city of winter burning to the ground, Dawn Reborn moving throughout the kingdom. All I can see now, Clarice, is in these dreams, and more than anything I have seen the tide washing its way to Dawnsend. You must choose soon, Clarice. I know the life Gerod has created here for you is good, but you must understand the foolish man that he is – and what he has become. You must choose for yourself. Look at me, Clarice – a woman killed, and try to avert that fate. Now go, Clarice. Go to the terrace and come back with news of what you see.”

She stumbled out of the queen’s bedroom, horrified by the information she’d received. Has his kindness been a ruse? Would he treat me in such a way? She began to climb up the stairs of the terrace, a room she’d spent little time in within Dawnsend. She’d never been interested in the barren, northern outdoors, so she’d not felt the need to experience this small example of it on her own. She counted the steps up to it, reaching forty-five before the staircase ended. She pushed open the large doors at the top, and felt like the fool king, scouring for Marilla.

She could see the city walls and past them. She could see the newly formed king’s army – shining and ready below them. Horses were lined up and saddled, and she could see a sea of iron and steel helmets, armoured men ready to fight.

Looking past the walls of the city, she could see a similar number of soldiers, not all as ornately dressed as those in Dawnsend. Mages need no weapon. It was a large force, and she recognized the flag they flew – that of her family. Astonishment swelled over her, Father has come – the tide has come. She thought, looking forward to the reunion she would soon be having with her father. Fearing, also, that the reunion would be soured by her lack of magic. Perhaps they will find peace on the battlefield, but he would kill Gerod in an instant if he learned how my magic faded.

As she gazed over the city walls, she could see a faint mist, slowly spreading outward in every direction. The mist began to creep past the city walls, moving closer and closer to the castle. What magic is this - A true Marilla? She wondered. She covered her mouth and breathed through her hand, for fear of disease in the strange mist that was moving up toward her terrace. She watched as the mist descended into the large crater in the city, seemingly extinguishing the ever burning fires within it. As she looked to the south, she could see the mist continuing to move. It seemed to have no effect on her – she could breathe easily, and it dissipated from her area, though continuing further and further in each direction.

She descended from the terrace, fearfully running down to tell Lucia. She no longer cared how many steps there were or about the battle that would be starting at any moment. She now only wanted to see her father, to speak with her own people once again.

As she returned to Lucia’s room to speak again, she heard something fall one room past. Samuel’s room, she recalled. Clarice Lindberg walked past the bedroom of the queen to see what had fallen one room past – fearing more than she ever had, that there was another life within these castle walls. As she reached for the door handle, it began to turn. Without her touch, the door slowly creaked open and she backed away to the wall behind her, falling backward and slumping on the floor with her knees still bent.

She looked at the floor, horrified of what she would see above it. Feet, two feet stood before her and as she slowly tilted her neck back, she saw the legs of the sleepwear the King’s dead son had worn. Her eyes crept further up, seeing the face of the dead boy. His hair was much the same as when he had been dead, but his eyes were a pool of blood. No colour distinguished them, they were simply two bloody spheres protruding from his face. His neck had marks as though he’d been choked by someone, but she doubted that he had been.

He turned away without looking at Clarice. He walked down the hall and turned toward the front door of the castle. As he did, Clarice saw his back, still uncovered by his folded up shirt. My veins, stolen and replanted. Who were the other mages who suffered the same fate as I? She found herself siding with the queen, believing the king to be a monster. A monster who makes monsters, she thought. She slowly stood up and crept toward Lucia’s room again.

“Lucia,” she spoke. “You were right, the tide has come to Dawnsend, and with it the dead seem to have risen.”

“I know,” a voice spoke from within Lucia. It was unwavering – certain, and boisterous. “The tide has come and washed away the impurities, as they say. Now, we just need the tide to find its way inside the castle.” The queen stood up from the bed with a burst of energy. She pawed at Clarice’s arm, commanding her to follow immediately.

Clarice looked at Lucia – her eyes had shifted, becoming black, moving away from the milky bulbs they’d once been. “Come, come. We must wait for this all to sort itself out in the throne room. That’s where they’ll be doing negotiations once this silly battle plays out.” She ran into the other room, dragging Clarice behind her.

When they arrived in the throne room, Samuel was sitting comfortably upon the throne. “Good, boy. We shall wait for our new friends to arrive in the castle. Surely, there is enough in this room to spark a good conversation. I sense too there is more to come.”

Clarice sat on the floor of the throne room, returning to her prisoner state. The puppet that had once been the queen Lucia had commanded her to sit, and for once she found herself fearing the orders she had been given.

“Girl, what do you know of chaos?” The twisted voice spewing from Lucia asked. “Chaos is beautiful, girl. You were once a death mage, I can see it in you. Death magic is fun, girl, but chaos is exciting. It is hard to tell the reactions that will come from the magic you are soon to see – isn’t that fun? You make your choices, girl, and choose well, but the beauty is in the ability of chaos to corrupt it. Do you know who will soon be storming this castle with his large sword and icy magic?”

“My father and uncle, I’m sure,” Clarice said steadily, holding her ground against the abomination that had formed within Lucia. “Perhaps the Gringolet family, as well - my aunt and grandfather”

“I’ve watched your father’s conquest closely, girl. I spent much time with him recently. This body I have taken may have dreamt of it, but I watched – closely. What was it my body said? The tide is coming? This is no tide, girl. This is something more – a misguided fool, blinded by his visions of magic. Do you know what your father believes?”

All too well, Clarice thought. She began to reiterate something about his views of magic – being disciplined and knowing self-control. Mentioning the differences between a drunk and someone wise enough to know when to drink. As she spoke, a twisted smile formed across the queen’s face.

“You’re not wrong, girl. Do you know what this belief has done for your father? Do you want to know how many he’s killed in his quest for you – his quest to save his daughter - the husk of a mage girl? He killed eleven of his own men, and a handful of enemy mages in Shalonsbury, he killed countless fire mages in Skyhull – all to appease his belief that mages should be unsupervised and untampered with. Does the great Inge of Rainhome show discipline? Does he live by his own beliefs, girl? Consider this when the choices you must make come into light.”

“You seek to enrage me, monster. I hear your words, but know, too, that all you seek is chaos. You would tell me the same of Gerod were I to support him.”

“Perhaps I would, girl. Perhaps your decision is not what interests me. Do you see the boy on the throne – on your throne? A boy, dead for weeks and the son of the king. A corruption of magic - imagine what your father will say of that. Imagine how both of your fathers’ will react to this. Don’t worry, child, I will find the chaos I seek tonight, and with it I will sow the destruction I’ve waited centuries for. There’s nothing left to do but wait, I’m sure," the voice stopped for a moment. After a time of staring cruelly at Clarice, it spoke once more. "Except, perhaps, this one thing.”

Chaos crossed the room toward the door, as the body of Lucia summoned the city guards with a large bell hanging just outside the castle’s large doors. “Your queen needs you, city guard,” the now booming voice that filled Lucia called out. The sounds drilled a vile hole through Clarice as the awareness that she couldn’t help the people bound to die filled her.

“Now let’s wait, Clarice. Let’s wait and see what my champion can do. You should be thrilled, girl – I’m helping your fool father to win his battle.”

Chaos perched itself on a table at the side of the room. “Where’s the king’s servant – I could use some wine” she said, with disappointment. “It’s always easier to face death with a drink in your hand, even if you are just a spectator.” Her smile was cruel.

A handful of the city guard burst through the door. Clarice recognized the men, she’d met most of them – Victor Dawn, the old man who stood beside the king in her rescue, Martin Spartwell, and the old man Gerod had mentioned to her, and Aleysha, the smith led a small troupe behind them.

“What disaster has struck the castle, my queen? Have the cowards from the south flanked us?” Spartwell called out. “Where are the intruders?”

Chaos smiled as it spoke. “The intruders stand at the door.”

“The king’s son,” Dawn spoke. “Out of bed after so long, this truly is a miracle.” He seemed as though he hadn’t heard the words spewing from Lucia’s body.

“Samuel, the intruders stand at the door – the kingdom is threatened. Leave one of them, if you could.”

The manufactured mage stood from his throne and lurched forward a few steps. Its eyes closed and Clarice could see flames forming around the knights at the door. Flames, followed by water, quickly boiling and scalding the knights as the screamed for mercy. The screams were twisted and vile – the screams of a cold death, screams as she’d never heard before. The boy opened his eyes again, blood dripping out from them.

They were silenced, though. Leaving little more than a pile of charred bones and a man standing beside them all – the smith Aleysha, still wielding his silver sword and wearing his unharmed armour. The last light of Dawn lay in a charred array on the ground, and Clarice looked at the pile of dead men mournfully.

“One more trick, don’t you think? One more trick would be a lovely thing, wouldn’t it? Samuel, just once more.” Chaos spoke.

Slowly the charred bones on the floor began to move and stand. The city guard were reduced to skeletons, controlled by the king’s son, standing alert and ready to fight.

“Now, survivor! Go, tell your king that Clarice here is compromised, that she’s been attacked by savages and is bleeding out on the floor. Bring the two kings to me or die a death as bitter as you have seen.” Aleysha seemed not to move of his own accord, but never the less, he moved.

Is that truly an ultimatum, or will he be slaughtered either way? She hoped the smith would understand the message the monster held.

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