Chapter Five - Magic's Fee
Sleep eventually found Gerod, or so he realized when the sound of his surroundings managed to draw him from the unnoticed slumber. Lucia was still asleep beside him, her hand tucked in front of her breasts. He moved carefully getting out of bed, trying to stop her from waking prematurely. There is little point in waking her.
He carefully gathered his clothing from the day before and put them on once more – a comfortable tunic with light pants. Knowing what he had planned for the day, there was little need for anything more formal. The last sight he saw before slipping his shirt over his head was the twisted, deformed fingers of his wife – the queen. He hoped that when his head protruded from the other end of the shirt that her hand would be repaired again, that she’d be whole once again. He hoped the mistakes that had caused this would all be erased, but he knew the impossibility in that.
He married her less than a year after his brothers died – less than a year after he realized he would have to marry her for the good of the kingdom. When he was young, marriage was a choice. He could have married if he wished to while Thomas and Damien lived, or he could have lived a bachelor’s life and dedicated his time to strategizing and studying for his brother’s fights. Nothing was forced onto him. His fate was truly decided that day.
When Lucia had been in a state to joke, she would often remind Gerod of how he shrugged as the crown was placed upon his head. Gerod remembered this well – a man, choices and freedom taken away and being adorned with a token of his loss. His shackles. He’d hoped to be a military leader, working alongside his brother, but the mages took that from him. At the time, a part of him loved the selfish idea of commanding his older brothers, having some sort of power over them after years of being the weak sibling, the sibling without magic.
Then the hope left him, the power diminished on the day his sword filled the shell of his brother. After the battle, when he returned to Dawnsend, he wore the crown occasionally. It didn’t fit him well, though, and slipped down his face more often than it should. He never bothered hiring a smith to repair it.
Having dressed himself, he carefully opened the door, slipping through and closing it again. He walked down the hall to the dining room, excited for the large breakfast that would await him. The halls were quiet.
“How can it be quiet,” Gerod spoke to himself. “How can the castle be silent after the hell it saw last night?”
He figured these halls had seen countless terrible things. The city had been under siege a hundred years ago, Carravast, his old teacher had told him. The slaves in the eastern salt mines had risen up against their masters. One of them had been charismatic enough to rise in ranks, gain a name and a face that would solicit lords and ladies to support him.
Each time Carravast told him this story, he would pretend to not know quite how far removed from Gerod’s lineage this slave had been, prompting Gerod to cry out “great-grandfather!” correcting the seemingly forgetful teacher. It was a game for a child, and Gerod had been immature enough to think little of it.
The mines were said to be a strong source of magic, causing Gerod to wonder if this enhancement had been a key factor in the first Norsom king’ successful rebellion. He wondered also how his ancestors would feel about those actions. Surely rebellion against a king would be looked down upon by a family so steeped in loyalty. Each story he heard of his ancestors centered on their desire to serve the master – be it the king or a slaver with a knack for abusing power. Karavange, Gerod’s rebel great grandfather disregarded this past.
When he arrived in the great hall, he saw a single place was set, a silver plate sat on it with two eggs prepared in the middle of it. Their yokes stared up at the ceiling, an array of cut sausage and fried onion cascading around the eggs. A golden chalice and cutlery sat beside the plate, the last thing on the table save for the accumulated dust that had managed to gather at the place settings for guests.
“Good morning, sire.” His cook Stephen said. “What will your drink be this morning?”
“Would you judge me, Stephen,” he began with a sigh, his fingers curling around the base of the chalice, “if I asked for some mead or beer? Something strong – it was a rough night.”
“Never, my lord. Right away.” He bowed as he left the room, the tail of his formalwear dragging loosely on the floor. He had light hair, parted precariously above his left eye, and hanging down further than Gerod would have liked it to, though the king would never command him to cut it. After a few moments, he returned with a dusty cup. Gerod never tainted the golden chalice with mead. He felt that the drink of the common people should be enjoyed as they would and saved the fine goblets and chalices for fresh wines.
Without thinking, he ate his food and drank the mead. This was indicative of most of the king’s mornings, Samuel often slept late and Lucia so rarely left the room that Gerod often enjoyed the prepared food alone. Each day after breakfast, however, he would wake Samuel.
The mead he drank worked to subside the dis-comfort the king was feeling. As he drank, he considered talking with Stephen about the decisions he’d made the night before, but quickly realized that any words the cook would say to him were purely ceremonial. Instead, the room was filled with small talk.
“The eggs are good today, Stephen.”
“Thank you, my sire.”
“Where did they come from?”
“We received a shipment this morning, my sire. From a town near the salt mines. Cortin's Barrow, I believe.”
Gerod laughed, and said, “Nothing bad ever comes from around the salt mines,” and winked at his servant.
Stephen visibly winced at the joke the king made. Gerod knew he’d made the same joke a dozen times over, but never intended to stop. A few more minute’s passed as the king ate. Silence filled the air, except for the occasional sound of food sloshing in the king’s mouth. Stephen stood near the door, waiting for the king to finish his meal, making him greatly uncomfortable.
“Are they chicken eggs?” Gerod said to lessen the tension of the morning, and to provide some form of conversation.
“Yes, I believe they are, my sire.”
“Wonderful. Nothing better than a chicken egg,” he said with a laugh.
“As you say, my sire.”
Gerod accepted the cues from his cook and finished his meal in silence. He ate more rapidly, as well, drinking larger portions of his drink with each swig.
When the meal was finally done, he walked down the hall eagerly to see his son. He found that with each procedure, his son was visibly stronger. When he’d been enhanced with fire, he spoke more fluently, and the granite had made him stronger and more willing to use the strength.
He walked past the doorway to the dungeons. His mind was quickly filled with horrid thoughts of the poor girl that still lay down there. He hated the seeker for doing what he’d done, but at the same time understood that his hate was misplaced. He glanced through the doorway which sat open, seeing the stairway leading down into the blackness of the dungeons. Faintly he could hear a slow dripping sound from the poorly made area. He dreaded what the poor girl must be listening to.
Gerod entered his son’s room. His son was laying in his bed, much as he had been the night before. He reveled in his stillness, approaching the bed and placing his hand on the small of his son’s back.
He was cold and dense.
Gerod’s voice went unmet. He quickly rolled his son over, and looked into his open, lifeless eyes. The capacity for words left Gerod. He was entranced by his son’s eyes, one had gone milky white while the other remained its magnificent blue. He lifted his head up and stroked his hair back slowly.
The king left his room and returned to his own. He took from his shelf a steel dagger. It was a well forged weapon, one made for him by his brother years earlier. Gerod had been holding onto it as a memento of his siblings, saving its use for an appropriate time. His wife was sitting up in their bed, looking at him.
“Who’s it for?” She asked. She had always been straight to the point in their conversations. Rarely did he find her fleshing out her ideas fully, often savoring her vagueness.
“Don’t worry, Lucia, and don’t bother Samuel. He has to sleep and rest for a few days, he’s feeling ill.”
He left the room before she had a chance to reply. He knew where the seeker lived and where he would hide. Gerod assigned mages and seekers to live in a commune just outside the keep. He figured that grouping them all together would make them easier to monitor.
He ran to the mages-house, his mind filled with the vengeance he wished to bring forth. His family had been betrayed by mages one time too many, and his mind was full of ideas for limiting their power.
When he entered the mages hall, the female mage in the front asked him who he was after.
“One of your seekers.”
“What was their name? Many seekers live here, my king.” She spoke in a single, unchanging tone.
The king spent no more time listening to the woman, and marched into the seeker’s hall within the building. Behind the main door sat the seeker he’d used.
“Come with me,” he commanded him. Gerod understood as well as anyone that despite the bad blood between seekers’ and mages’, that killing a seeker in their home would do little more than set up a rebellion. After his brothers’ deaths, he vowed that never again would a Norsom die to the twisted powers of magic. “I need you to work with my son.”
The seeker complied, first consuming a small amount of tea leaves. Gerod was disgusted with the manner in which seekers gained their power.
They returned to the castle and walked into the heir’s room. Gerod quickly closed the door behind them. He knew that the seeker had no power and that his consumption of magical teas was purely to allow him vision of the magic in other people. Seekers were little more than tradesman who quickly become addicted to their job and their tool.
“Tell me, seeker,” Gerod began. “Tell me why my son didn’t wake this morning. Tell me, did you kill him?”
“No, sire. No I didn’t kill the boy,” The seeker lied. “He will wake again, I can still see the magic veins on him. They still pulse, he’s still alive.”
“When will he wake again, then? When, Seeker?” Gerod’s voice was filled with anger. “Did you pierce him with your black dagger last night? Did you riddle him with magical wounds?”
The seeker’s eyes grew wide. Gerod suspected he had figured out that the king held no magic.
He promptly pulled the dagger from the back of his pants and drove it into the seeker’s stomach. Unlike the black dagger, Gerod could see what came from this. Blood came out from the seeker. It was a dark colour, nearly black – tinted by the filthy reagents he’d snorted for years. He pulled back the dagger, and reapplied it to the traitor.
Gerod kept stabbing until the seeker’s blood came out red.
He left his son’s room and washed his hands, taking off his top and leaving it in the water. He dragged the lifeless body of the seeker out of his son’s room and into the dungeon.
“Hello?” It was the girl in the cell, calling out to no one in particular.
Gerod threw the body into a cell and stood outside the girl’s.
“I’m terribly sorry. What’s your name, girl, you’re a Lindberg, yes?”
“Ay. I’m Clarice.” She had short, dark brown hair. Her eyes were a brilliant green colour.
“Clarice, I’m sorry for what that man did to you. I’m sorry I commanded it, too. Will you forgive me?”
“Likely I won’t, and I know it wasn’t truly the seeker that did this to me. Seekers don’t act on their own. Will you free me from the cell? I’ve done nothing wrong.”
“Perhaps. Will you eat a meal with me if I do?”
The girl nodded to him, and he escorted her to the perpetually empty dining room.
“Can I clean first?” Clarice asked him. He allowed her to, and they walked off to a wash bucket. The girl knelt before it, staring into the still water at the top. She knelt like this for minutes, staring into it, until tears began to drop into the top of the water.