Keeping the Lamp Lit - Part II
lancing at the aide who was carrying the stack of books he had collected, he grimaced. If that was all this library had, then things would be much easier for him. Watching the fox who was scurrying about the shelves trying to meet his requests, he chuckled to himself. At least his tax money was good for something. Loriod considered himself lucky to have escaped any careful scrutiny over the past two days. Certainly his actions today would be of no less concern. People did not notice things, they were intrinsically stupid. Besides, what could they do to him? The farms on his lands supplied most of the food for many of the Keepers; the only proper way for them to treat him would be groveling on their knees before him. Of course, most didn't, and that annoyed him to no end. Certain individuals annoyed him further with their constant pestering and irritation. Phil, for example, a commoner and an animal. Loriod choked every time he was forced to call the bunny-rabbit "Your Highness".
Today he would lance one of the many boils on his soul.
"This is the last of them," Fox Cutter said as he brought the leather bound tome with yellowed pages inside to him. Loriod negligently stacked the book on top of the five already in the arms of the strong aide. His aide was a donkey, and had been loyal to his husband before he had died six years ago. Now his loyalty had transferred to the new lord over the Loriod estate. Loyalty was a hard thing to come by these days, as so many in these lands came up with new ideas. How Duke Thomas had ever decided to tax the nobility he could not imagine. That was a mistake that needed to be corrected. It might take a long time, but the most worthwhile of goals always were the most difficult.
"Thank you," Loriod replied kindly. "I shall return them as soon as my scribes have finished copying them all. Here is the deposit that you asked for them." Loriod passed the pouch of gold crowns over to the Fox. There were fifteen gold crowns in that purse. Expensive certainly, but the librarian was most insistent. After all, who knew when accidents could happen that would destroy precious literature? Loriod did. Fifteen gold crowns was a price he was willing to pay, considering he paid much more in terms of the taxes levied upon him and the other nobles of surrounding lands by Metamor Keep.
"Please, be careful with them!" the earnest Fox called as they turned to leave, his paws inside the money bag already.
"They shall be back with you in a fortnight." Loriod strode out of the library, content with his performance. The carriage was there waiting for him. He had Macaban place the books inside the carriage itself, which Loriod slovenly set himself down in. He leaned out the door, down at his retainer. "I wish to visit the dungeons. Take me to the Castle."
"Yes, my lord." Macaban nodded his head, and climbed up into the driver's seat. Loriod reached into his coat pocket, and pulled out a bundle of towels. Unwrapping them, each towel a bit moister than the last, he found at the center a small stone. It was bright red, with an orange stripe down the middle much like a flame. He set the books in a circle on the floor of the carriage, and placed the stone between them, being careful to dry it off first. The stone settled into place, rolling back and forth between the books as the carriage jostled on the way to the castle. He leaned back in his seat watching the stone; a smile played across his fat lips. This was going to be painful, but it was necessary. Things like this were always necessary. He had purchased the stone years ago, nobody would ever dream of a connection. It would all be just a terrible accident.
He tapped one fat finger against a knee as he watched the buildings pass by his window. Filthy hovels most of them, but that was where many had to live and work. Even in a fortress such as this, it always amazed him that there could be so much dirt around. The closer they got to the castle, the more attractive and clean the buildings became. The Deaf Mule, one of the closest to the Keep itself was probably the nicest of the bunch and most certainly the best run establishment in the Keep itself. He had of course never been there, but Macaban told him that it was a pleasant place with good cheer. Certainly his aide would know of what he spoke in such matters.
Loriod kept his eye on the bright red and orange stone, noticing the way it slowly rolled back and forth between the books. Where it touched the pages cringed away. It was almost as if the books knew themselves what was going to happen to them. Of course that was ridiculous, but it was how it seemed. For a moment he felt a slight tremor of a pause. Perhaps the gods were displeased with his actions and were trying to warn him to stop before it was too late. How could the gods be siding with some rat who didn't even worship them though? Especially when he, Lord Loriod was a noble, appointed by the gods themselves to watch over other people. He was special, and more important than any of the common folk, especially over infidels from foreign lands.
Of course, he too was from a foreign land, and he too had been raised in much the same faith as that rat had. His marriage to the previous Lord Loriod, and moving up north here had changed all that, though. He had never really believed in the Catholic God, and besides, he had seen the power of real gods since coming here. Besides, even among the Catholics, the nobility were anointed by their God just the same as it was everywhere else in the world. Something so universal could only be true. He was more important than everybody of lesser station. His elevation to manhood only confirmed his suspicions that he was destined for far greater things than even his birth would imply. The spirits told him so of course. He would be much more than just a petty Lord out on the manors of Metamor Keep. Yes, they promised him that.
The carriage came to a slow stop, and Macaban came around to the side and opened up the door. "We are here, my lord."
Loriod eased out of the carriage, his massive bulk making the steps of the carriage creak as he lowered himself to the ground. He peered up at the magnificent castle, with its multispired layout and blocky design. It was certainly a sight to behold. The palace was quite unlike any other he had ever seen. It had decorated balustrades, and the promenades were simply breathtaking. The architecture was quite with the times and most fashionable. What was most startling was how unobtrusive the defensive armaments seemed on the castle. Considering how close they were to a war zone, such techniques would for most places be much more stringent. Here however, the magic of the valley somehow managed to let them attain great beauty and a powerful defense at the same time. It was unmatched throughout the world as far as he knew.
Loriod was quite jealous of Metamor. He continually worked at improving his own castle, of course, but somehow there was just SOMETHING missing in his own stronghold. But the Lord just could not quite grasp what it was.
Maybe his castle needed more paintwork...
"Macaban, I want you to wait here with the carriage. I shall return shortly. I have one small errand left to run," Loriod told him sternly.
"Yes, my lord." The donkey climbed back up onto the driver's seat of the carriage. He wondered just what sort of connection his aide felt with the horses who were drawing the carriage. Loriod was glad that he had not been cursed with such a connection, because that would have certainly reduced his status in the order of things, and he would still be a woman.
Striding into the castle, he headed for the basement. It was a quick walk, and he ignored the glances he received from the staff and the other itinerants who lived here. The dungeons were of course, a most disgusting place to be, but he had his task ahead of him. Nothing was going to stop him, not even the gruesome looking jailer Roscoe. Roscoe was truly a hideous sight to behold, but Loriod knew from past experience that the scorpion was starved for company. A smile and a pleasant conversation would make him quite amenable to anything he asked. The insectile creature was shrouded in the darkness, only a few torches lit the office he lived in. The bleached white of his carapace flickered in the feeble illumination.
"Ah, Roscoe, how are you doing this day?"
Roscoe skittered out of his corner at seeing him arrive. "I am well. And you, my lord?" Loriod remembered Roscoe from before the change as he'd often had his husband arrest fellows that he was not particularly fond of. When he had been a she Loriod had enjoyed visiting them later in the dungeon and extracting certain things from them. Roscoe did not know why it was he came, and never asked embarrassing questions. However, that was because he had made sure that Roscoe and he were friends after a fashion. Truth be told, he couldn't stand the sight of the filthy creature, but sacrifices did have to be made. The greater good needed to be served, and if his eyes and nose were made to see and smell things unpleasant for a period of time, so be it. The cave scorpion could always be replaced with a more pleasing dungeon-master when Loriod was in his proper place in the world.
"I'm doing fine, but I was a bit distressed to hear that my friend, Charles Matthias, has been jailed. I would like to get a chance to speak with him."
Roscoe waved his antenna in an uncoordinated manner. For a cave scorpion, he communicated his emotions well. "I thought you told me that you couldn't stand him?"
Loriod then remembered an ill dropped statement that he had once made to the night creeper. The one fortunate thing about Roscoe's change was that it prevented him from leaving the dungeon much, if at all. Thus he never got much of a chance to find out what was going on in the world above aside from what others told him. Almost any lie would work. Loriod did his best to look bashful, his ruddy cheeks burning an even brighter red. "I must admit that I was wrong about him. We got a chance to talk it over, and well, we worked things out between us. May I please talk with him?"
Roscoe reached for the keys and began heading towards the stairs. "Certainly, follow me please."
Loriod followed the insect down into the abysmal darkness and tomblike dungeons. The guards posted saw Roscoe and stood aside and as he moved on down the dank hallway. Off in the distance the sound of water dripping on cold stone could be heard. They came to an iron door, and Roscoe turned the keys in the lock and pulled it open. Loriod smiled to the jailer as he stepped into the darkness beyond the aperture. "Thank you, I'll knock when I am finished."
"I shall come for you then." Roscoe replied, shutting the door behind him in the darkness. Loriod peered into the dim cell about him, smelling feces and other unclean things. He put his hand to the door, and with one fleshy finger traced out an intricate pattern on the portal. The path his finger followed glowed in a silent blue nimbus, and then faded.
"I had no idea you knew rune magic." the voice from the end seemed distant, almost mocking.
Loriod smiled to himself. There were many things this stupid rat didn't know about him. "I must admit, I had no idea that you could perform the Longfugos technique. It seems there is a lot we didn't know."
The rat gasped for breath. Suddenly he saw the dark outline of Matthias creeping closer. The eyes reflected the dim torchlight, and he could see that their was a wild fear in them. It was as he had hoped. Matthias was a member of the Sondeckis. His suspicions confirmed, he was glad that he had taken the chance with the pyrock in his carriage. Now, he truly had what he wanted. The wheel of Destiny had advanced another notch. "How did you know that?"
"Well, you see, I grew up near the Southlands. My uncle was one of the Sondeckis in our area. The family considered him an outcast, but I always had a fondness for him. He told me many things- even though he was not supposed to- and even showed me a few of the moves and powers. When you sliced through that air spell of Posti's, I recognized it as the Longfugos technique. Nothing else could have pushed your force through the air to rip the spell apart. Oh I admit I don't know much about the Sondeckis, but I know enough."
Matthias's voice was subdued. "So I guess you are going to reveal me then?"
Loriod chuckled. "If I wanted to do that, I could have told Duke Thomas just what you were when he asked me if I knew anything. But there was more potential in lies. You see, I know what would happen to you and me if I revealed what I knew."
"And that would be?"
"The Sondeckis would find out, and kill the both of us, and everyone we might have told. If they had to, even the Sondecki of the white would come and see to it that nothing of this place was left standing. As one, they are quite effective. If a large number of them came here, I imagine that most of the palace would die in a single night. The mages first, of course. That is standard Sondecki procedure these days. Isn't it?"
"What do you want, Loriod?" Matthias's voice was very bitter and consumed with hatred. Loriod savored it. The spirits had promised him such pleasures. It was always fun to see people squirm beneath his thumb, and the voices had given him the power to do that. Of course, they wanted him to do certain things for them in return, some of which were inconvenient. Perhaps Matthias could do some of the work for him, and give Loriod more time for pleasures? The spirits warned him of course that corrupting Charles would be difficult, but that it could be most rewarding as well. Then Loriod abandoned the idea. Of course not, Charles couldn't be expected to understand right away. Best to start out with small things and get the rat to accept his role. Big things could come later...
"Now, first, you will always address me by title. I am Lord Loriod to you. And you will always end everything you say to me with 'my lord'. Otherwise, I could let a little bit of information leak out. If I put it in the right place, they will only come for you. I don't imagine you want that. But if I put the information in certain other hands, they may come for your precious Kimberly instead. Do I make myself clear?"
Matthias suddenly jumped at him, screaming with rage. His palm slammed into Loriod's chest. Loriod could never have moved fast enough to stop him. However, he didn't need to. He felt nothing from the impact. The spirits had told him true when they had said that the rune would cancel the power of Matthias's Sondeck. Loriod chuckled as the rat stared at his palm, and at the still standing and living noble. "It doesn't work does it? I have protection runes on me. And don't worry, nobody will hear anything we say in here. That rune I placed on the door was a rune of silence. And, it gave me access to your personal aura. Your Sondeck can not harm me anymore. In fact, you cannot kill me period. So I suggest that you start learning to show the proper respect to your superiors. If you ever lay a hand on me, I promise you, the Sondeckis will find out and will come for both you and Kimberly. Now do you understand just what is at stake here?"
The rat-man backed off, his hands trembling, his whole body going vacant. The words that came slowly from his mouth sounded like he was gagging on them. "Yes, my lord." How pleasant it was to hear those words from him. It was about time this filthy rat started showing his naturally born superiors some respect.
"Ah, you do understand. Good, now, I might from time to time be asking of you certain favors. You will fulfill them without question or objection. If I find out that you have failed me, then you and your little friend will be handed over to the Sondeckis. Are you willing to do what I ask?"
"Yes, what?" His voice went stern.
Matthias looked like he wanted to bite his tongue off. Loriod felt a bit of a glow in his groin. "Yes, my lord."
"Very good. Now, to the business at hand. I am going to make sure that all knowledge of the Southlands is lost to the people of Metamor Keep. I am honorable in my dealings, though you may not think so. I will ensure that nobody else ever finds out who you are, unless you wish to tell them yourself, in which case I would be most displeased. Now, there is a matter of our constant dispute. I do not like the fact that you are with the Duke's blessing taking money that rightfully belongs to me and the other nobles."
"You mean for the Writer's Guild?" Matthias seemed a bit surprised by that.
"What did you say?" His tone was dangerous. Loriod was greatly enjoying this, and he wanted to see this little rat squirm some more.
"You mean for the Writer's Guild, my lord?" Matthias repeated, using the "proper" form of address and respect.
Loriod shook his head. "The Writer's Guild brings in almost four times as much money as it spends. No, that is a good investment, and it only means more money for me in the long run. What I am concerned with are these frivolities such as your Gnawer's Meetings. They waste good gold that could be better placed in my pockets. You are the one who organizes and oversees them. I want you to stop them all together. It is a drain on the noble's accounts for no good reason."
Matthias had a startled look on his face. It was obvious that he was having a little bit of trouble understanding this. Of course as a commoner who could expect him to easily grasp new ideas? "I have already spent the money for the next two meetings. I can't change that, my lord."
Hearing the title used without prompting made him smile. The voices had told him that this would be just the beginning. "That is fine then. You may have your last two meetings. If the money is already spent, then it is already spent. No more spending though. Your group may meet two more times, and then it must stop. If anybody else tries to start it up again, you must stop them. Is that clear?"
"Yes, my lord." Charles cast his eyes to the ground, and seemed to back away into the darkness. It was so wonderful to see this prideful rat put back in his place. Of course the Gnawer's Meetings were nothing, though they were an annoyance that should be swept away. Greater things were coming. The spirits had promised him great things
"Now, that is all I really need from you now. If something else comes up, I will tell you. Try not to get yourself killed either. If you die out there on patrol, I will release the information anyway, and your Kimberly will be joining you in your torment in the underworld. Oh, another little annoyance I wish to remedy. I have heard rumors that you call your whore a Lady. I wish for you to stop such pretenses, and call her what she is." Loriod walked back to the door, chuckling to himself. This had gone remarkably well. Matthias had folded almost instantly. A bit disappointing, perhaps, but fulfilling nonetheless.
"You are the only one who will be seeing the underworld!" Matthias spat from the darkness as Loriod began to trace a cancellation rune over the first. The barb about Kimberly had almost made Matthias leap upon him once again. It was quite clear that Kimberly was one of Matthias's weak spots. Loriod made a mental note. Perhaps he could introduce Kimberly to the spirits as well? They seemed to like the idea. However, to do so unobtrusively would be rather difficult.
"What was that you said?" Loriod's finger stopped where it was. The blue nimbus began to fade.
Matthias suddenly shrunk farther back. "Nothing, my lord."
"Good, I would hate to think that one of my subjects would wish me ill." Loriod chuckled, wondering if Matthias would catch the implication.
"What do you mean one of your subjects? I don't live on your lands, my Lord." Matthias was getting good at acting out respect. Perhaps in time it would become real and not faked once Matthias realized how much superior Loriod really was to him. Of course, he doubted that would be anytime soon, considering how self-important Matthias was. All he had to do was to humble him long enough, however, and it would happen. He'd seen many a prideful man become nothing more than a sniveling servant like they all should be when given the proper motivation. Matthias would be no different than the others.
"Oh, did I forget to mention it? I want you to move onto my lands as soon as you possibly can make the arrangements. Of course, this would all take place after you are finished out on patrol, but still, keep it in mind. You will soon be living under my thumb, and I expect obedience from my subjects."
There was a moment of silence from the back of the cell. Finally Matthias's timid voice replied, "I understand, my lord." He wondered if Charles was planning on finding his way around this agreement. The spirits assured him of course that a one such as Matthias would do so. However, there was nothing the rat could do about it. Loriod held everything that the rat cared about in his hands. It was a beautiful arrangement.
"Good." Loriod crossed out the rune, and then banged on the door with his fist. A moment or two passed, and Roscoe returned. Loriod stepped out the door, and was a bit surprised to see that the court rabbit, Phil, was there with Roscoe. "Thank you, Roscoe." he said, before giving Phil a curt nod and passing on down the hallway. Phil did not say anything in return to him, but slipped into Matthias's cell and disappeared from sight. Loriod did not waste time thinking about the two animals, but began talking with Roscoe, getting the jailer into a lively conversation as they made their way back up the hallway towards the daylight. He needed to kill just a little more time, to ensure that the pyrock would get the job done.
Roscoe seemed very interested in the Keep gossip. Loriod told him of some of the recent attacks by the Lutins, and how the crops were growing under the almost-forgotten Sun, and even about the slightly unusual weather that they were having. It was a bit hot for April this year, but according to Saroth, it should pass. But Saroth didn't know what he was talking about, the spirits told him gleefully. Roscoe soaked up every last morsel of it, and Loriod knew that he was playing right into his hands. If Loriod left too soon, then he could be blamed for what happened. It was just a matter of time. His nose of course was begging him to throw caution to the winds, but his mind was stronger than that. This was a very delicate job, and he needed to make sure that it was done properly.
It probably took only fifteen minutes for Macaban to come running in the dungeon with a very scared look on his face. His shirt and pants were covered in soot, and his long ears had been quite singed. He saw Loriod talking with Roscoe and nearly fell to his knees before him. The hoof like hands were held out imploringly. "I apologize most sincerely, my lord."
"What is it? What has happened?" Loriod demanded, making a show of being startled.
"The carriage, my lord. It has caught fire. I could not stop it." Macaban cried out between the pleadings for mercy.
Loriod turned to Roscoe. "I'm sorry but I must go."
"I understand." Roscoe replied solemnly.
"Come, Macaban, we shall see just what your negligence has cost me." Loriod strode from the room imperiously, followed by the ever loyal Macaban who was most truly sorry about the fire.
The pyrock had performed its function. As he reached the courtyard, he saw that it had done its work quite well. The entire carriage was a smoldering ruin. The books were nothing but ashes. The rock itself must have burned itself out. It was a semi-magical rock that would burn if set in dry air. That was why he had kept it wrapped in wet cloths. Otherwise it would have caught fire long ago. Now that it had been burned to ashes along with everything else, it would be just a freak accident. His job was almost complete.
Turning on Macaban, he made a show of being furious. "How could you let this happen! If you were not a family retainer I would give you one lash for every gold piece you have cost me this day! I will be merciful and make it only one lash for every ten gold you have cost me, but nothing less. Now requisition me transport home. You will receive your punishment in due time. I am most displeased with you Macaban. Most displeased!"
Macaban begged his forgiveness and then trotted off to secure another carriage. Loriod did his best to keep his smile on the inside. It was indeed turning out to be a beautiful day.
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