The Quarrels of Mages and Men

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Chapter Three - The King's Roost

In the halls of the castle looming over Dawnsend, King Gerod paced – night had arrived, but his seeker had not. The letter he received the day before stated that he would arrive before nightfall, successful in his mission. His absence was worrisome.

Gerod peered in at his son, sleeping peacefully in his bed. He trusted that his seeker would come back soon with the gift to strengthen his poor son. Gerod also knew that if the seeker was unsuccessful in his mission, he likely wouldn’t return to Dawnsend.

Hours passed, and he continued to pace, thinking back on the war that put him in this position of power. He remembered his brothers, older than him. Wiser, too, Gerod thought. Wiser in every sense but battle. His brothers had been trained to rule Olander.

Damien had been his eldest brother, the intended king. He had been beautiful, Gerod remembered. His hair was thick and his beard was bold. Neither of these were true of the balding man that paced through the hall. Damien never used a sword in battle. His was the way of magic, and the power was strong within him. The sword he held in combat was purely a deception – a means to distract the enemy from his power.

His other brother had been Thomas. Of the three Norsom children, Thomas was the most fit for one on one combat. He wasn’t, however, a true knight. Gerod never tricked himself into believing his brother wasn’t a brute, but he was often a loyal brute.

The events of the battle near Shalonsbury played out in Gerod’s anxious mind. He remembered himself and his three brothers sitting in a dusty tavern in the city planning out the imminent battle. Gerod was educated in tactical matters, and advised his brothers’ to keep the troops within the city, with the intention of flanking the northbound army.

“Why wait for them? We can overwhelm them in the fields with our numbers!” Thomas had shouted in the bar, slamming his wooden mug down on the table.

As much as he may have wished he could, he was unable to influence Thomas to delay the battle any longer.

Damien, however, was more receptive to the suggestions. He listened to Gerod while carefully sipping at a brewed concoction, filled with ash. Gerod remembered when Damien first received the drink from their parents. Damien hated the bitter taste of it and tried to get Gerod to drink it instead. Gerod was never able to receive the value of the drink, however, and insisted that his brother continue to drink it instead.

Gerod remembered the shock the following morning when he and Damien heard that Thomas had taken half their army south to fight in the open. Fortunately, he’d been able to convince Damien to wait with the other half to flank the inevitable northbound victors.

It’s difficult to convince anyone that it is worthwhile to sacrifice half an army for the purpose of a slight tactical advantage, but Gerod was always silver tongued, especially when speaking with Damien.

The sound of the door creaking open brought Gerod from his daydream.

“You’re late.” He said to his seeker. The man had greasy grey hair and always dressed in black robes.

“Sorry, my king. The roads were busy, I had to sneak into the city.” The man wore a hood. He was a lanky seeker, more promiscuous and unnerving than most of his kind. That’s much of the reason Gerod chose him. Always trust an evil man to be evil.

“You have the results of the mission?” Gerod asked, choking back a bit of phlegm summoned up by the smell of the seeker.

“Of course, sir. Of course.” The seeker pushed forward a small girl that had been hiding behind him. She was no older than Gerod’s own son.

“Bold lines gather across her face, my king, I can see them.”

He didn’t truly trust the man, but he knew that his heir needed strength. He decided to trust that this was the correct way to get the strength for his boy.

“Whose is she?”

“One of the Lindberg children. The daughter of the younger Lindberg.”

“They are traitorous people – they took the lives of my brothers.” He expected the seeker to correct him by saying ‘one of them’, but quickly realized he was too smart to do so in front of the volatile king. They’d been fighting against the Lindberg’s near Shalonsbury. He remembered the devastation they brought, and quickly decided the girl would suffice.

“Take her to the cell and harvest her.” Gerod told him. The words stuck in his mouth – he hated what was about to be done. “But let me hold the dagger first.”

He moved the dagger around in his hand, feeling its weight before giving it back to the seeker.

He followed the seeker to the cell, watching the twitchy man carefully. The cells were down the stairs at the end of the hallway Gerod had spent the last few hours patrolling. When they arrived in the cell, the seeker drew his black dagger.

“This won’t hurt the girl,” the seeker told her while licking his lips. “Won’t leave a trace.”

He held the girl’s head back, pulling the dagger slowly down her face. He didn’t cut her, just followed a clear path along the skin of the girl. She screamed none the less.

“This won’t hurt her, truly my king.” The seeker said, with a sick joy in his tone. “It is just harvesting her veins. The dagger will hold onto them until we get up to your boy.”

Gerod was repulsed by the man.

As the man drew a long line with his dagger, he let out a sick, cackling laugh.

“Enough!” Gerod shouted at him. “I only need a seeker to harvest – if you find a sick joy in hurting the girl, then I can get someone else to do it – it’s not hard to come by seekers, you know. There are so many just beside this castle that I doubt anyone would notice if one was missing.”

“I’m sorry, my king, but did you see the vein I just harvested? It must be the strongest one on her, so full of untapped potential.” A cruel smile crossed his mouth.

“Yes, I saw the vein.” Gerod lied. He had never had access to magic. His parents had brewed him every kind of primal tea while he was young and none of them brought forth a reaction in his blood. Damien had his ash teas that filled him with the power of fire, Thomas had his granite that gave him the strength of stone, but nothing awoke anything in him. Teas with traces of Coal didn’t give him deathly powers, salt water teas didn’t give him the water powers he had dreamt of. They even tried ivy tea on him, to see if he was a part of the long lost regenerative magic.

He couldn’t let a hired seeker know, though, that he couldn’t see the magical elements. Seekers were, to Gerod, degenerates. Shifty tradesmen who spend their time snorting the elemental teas and swindling people with the delusion that they could be magical.

“All done, my king.” He said, drawing back his dagger. “Now lead me to the boy.”

“Let me hold the dagger, first.” Again, Gerod shifted the dagger around in his hand. It was considerably heavier, quelling some of Gerod’s paranoia about the seeker. “Very well.”

They went back up the stairs and the seeker performed a similar set of actions on Gerod’s son.

“I’ll do it on his back, my king. That way he’ll have the element of surprise on the battlefield.” It was clear that the seeker was about to cackle, before realizing he didn’t want to wake the sleeping heir.

Gerod looked on with slight terror. He worried about what he was inflicting upon his son, this being the third time these actions were taken. Already, his sixteen year old heir was riddled with stolen fire and water veins, and now the black veins of death were being introduced, as the seeker informed him.

After a few more strokes of the dagger, the seeker handed it to Gerod again. It had returned to its lighter weight.

“Thank you, seeker.” He said. The seeker winked at him, and Gerod wondered how much he’d figured out about his own magical aptitude.

He escorted the twitchy man out of his halls and returned to his daydream.

Unfortunately, his memories weren’t resumed at his moment of glory, but instead he had to relive his family’s obliteration first. It began with a peasant boy, running to him with word from the battlefield.

“Thomas was killed.” He said to him. “The southerners have mages, an army of mages. They have soldiers, but their numbers are few.”

He and Damien discussed their plans. The conclusion of these discussions was that the flanking maneuver was the only way.

“On one condition though, Gerod,” his brother said. “I’m our only mage. I’ll have to…”

He remembered Damien’s voice dragging off at what he was about to say. Mages drank their teas to fuel their magic, but in drinking too much one would lose control, and gain excessive power.

“You’ll have to stop me,” Damien told him. “I’ll kill their mages, but you’ll have to stop me from burning our own men.”

True mages had utmost discipline, and Damien had always been a true mage. Mages had only a few magical veins – exhausted over time by the over consumption of teas. Gerod understood what had to be done, and they took their plan onto the battlefield.

When the attack began, Damien’s army marched behind the enemies, constantly moving forward. When the enemies were in sight, Damien snorted his remaining ash tea and doused the enemy forces with a violent flame. The flame would burn as long as Damien commanded it to, but the man that stood channeling the fire was a different one than had made the plan with Gerod. At the start, the flames were slightly reserved, but after a few seconds returned in full force.

When Damien lost control, his hair turned to a violent red colour, his eyes both turned grey and burns began to cover his face. The burns became more and more present as the fire burned and after a few seconds, Gerod lunged his sword through his brother’s chest.

The army marched on and slaughtered the remaining forces of the south.

Gerod’s memory ended, and he returned to his bedroom. His wife was sitting up in their bed.

“Lucia.” He began. “Why are you still awake?”

“I’ve been waiting for you. Why was there a seeker here?”

He often forgot about her strong ability to detect the presence of magic. It was his fault she was so attuned, but he put the thoughts behind him for now.

“He brought something to strengthen Samuel, a potion of some sort.”

“The mage transferred most of its magic over to Samuel. The seeker said it will take some time to recharge.”

Gerod hoped that she wouldn’t pick up on this lie. After the way Lucia had been tormented in the months before Samuel’s birth, he didn’t want to put any additional stress on her. He didn’t want to be the villain.

“That’s plausible. Come, join me Gerod. Join me, and sleep. You haven’t slept much recently and you need to relax.”

She reached out her gnarled hand to him and beckoned toward him into the bed. Her white eyes looked deep into his, and the scars covering her arms shuddered at his touch. He lay with her, with vague confidence that his son was stronger.

As he tried to sleep, his mind focused on his wife’s hand and her scars, and filled with the thoughts of those scars moving to Samuel.

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