Legacies - Part II
t was very warm in his chambers, and that was exactly how Steward Thalberg liked it. Grabbing another log from the cast iron bin set next to the hearth, he tossed it into the roaring conflagration, watching sparks snap and fly of in multiple directions. Kneeling down, his red robes bunching at his feet, he held out his hands, claws and all before the bright orange flames. He could feel the heat flowing through him, reinvigorating him. Ever since Nasoj's curse had left him an alligator, nothing else ever felt better than to sit by the fire.
Thalberg's private chambers were decorated in that red satin he was so fond of, but the accouterments were modest at best. He was not a very garish person, despite the image he projected to other Metamorians. That was his job, his life was a different story. A simple bed, nearly nine feet long to accommodate his size, with adjoining side table, as well as a large window in the ceiling to allow the sunlight in. The Keep itself had designed a set of lenses and mirrors to bring the sunlight into this room during all but the early hours of the morning, and the late evening. Sometimes, when his work was done, he would shift to his full alligator form, and lay there basking in the warmth of those blessed rays.
The summer was drawing to a close, too fast in his opinion, and soon the Autumn would be upon them. Already, the air was too chilly for his tastes. His winter wardrobe, which consisted of the thickest wool and cotton that he had been able to procure, was beginning to look quite attractive again. Ironically, he used to love the snow; now if he dared to venture forth into the wintery chill, it would kill him.
Thalberg flexed his thick scaly fingers before the roaring blaze, trying not to remember what snowball fights were like. When they had been younger, his brothers and he would often frolic in the cold with only a jerkin and breeches to wear much to the dismay of their father, then the Steward. That had been twenty years ago, so much had changed since.
The knock that came on his door snapped him for his reveries, and he drew his claws back from the fire. It was a small knock, probably that of an AR. Turning his massive snout towards the main room, he left his bedchamber, and gently closed the door behind him. Opening wide the large oaken door leading to the hallway, he saw Wessex the mage, dressed in a simple smock standing at the door way with a piece of chalk and slate under one arm.
"Hello, Wessex," Thalberg said in greeting, his voice calm, measured, emotionless. "What can I do for you?"
Wessex held up the slate and the Steward could see the words, "We need to talk," written in the boy mages delicate script.
"Is there something wrong with your voice?" Thalberg asked curiously. The Steward had been unable to speak for several months after the curses, since his jaw did not operate the same way as a man's might. Compound that with inflexible lips and a tongue that filled it, Thalberg was lucky to be able to make his voice clear at all. He'd spent months just practicing simple words and phrases, saying them over and over till he had relearned how.
Wessex nodded his head once and looked inside to the single desk that Thalberg used for most of his business. The Steward waved one crocodilian arm towards the couch on the other side of his room. He often used it to relax, as it was more comfortable than sitting at his desk. "Please, sit, let me get you something to drink."
The boy scrambled up onto the red satin, and waited patiently, the slate panel in his lap. Thalberg reached into the cupboard behind his desk, and drew out a carafe filled with some of his favorite wine. He set that down on his desk, and then retrieved two tumblers, as well as a thin reed that he'd hollowed out to help him drink easier. Pouring two glasses, he dropped the straw inside his own, and then returned the carafe to the cupboard.
Wessex grinned in thanks as he took a long quaff of the wine, muttering a very faint, "Thank you," as he set it down.
"What happened to your voice? Sickness?" Thalberg was very familiar with the annoyance of people asking him questions that he could not answer without his voice, and so tried his best to ask yes or no questions. He sat on the opposite end of the couch, his long thick tail draped over the end.
The boy mage nodded, setting the tumbler down in his lap. He wiped the slate with his shirt sleeve, and immediately Thalberg realized the reason for the paucity of Wessex's dress. All of that chalk would inevitably stain the cloth. "I need your help," he wrote, and then continued to scribble, "I want you to tell me everything you know about Altera Loriod." The last message barely fit with in the narrow confines of his tablet.
"Altera Loriod?" Thalberg asked in confusion. "Aside from the fact that he's now dead, thank the gods, what did you want to know?"
Wessex rubbed his shirt across the tablet, and then sighed, taking another drink from the tumbler. His tongue looked thick, but the Steward was no doctor and could not tell what ailed him. "Everything," he breathed hoarsely, a terrible grating sound like roughly-hewn stones rolled across each other.
Thalberg sipped at his wine, the sweet taste washing over his thick yellow tongue and down his throat. "Everything? Well, that's a rather large sum of information." Setting the tumbler down upon the nearby desk, the alligator stretched his long arms wide. It was chillier in his office, he should have remembered to start a fire in the inglenook here as well.
"Altera was originally from Pyralis. Alvarez met her while he was serving as Metamor's diplomat to that region. She was beautiful, if you recall, at least when he married her. Her excesses were many, and most of the court knew of her vices. Alvarez hated her within a year, but could do nothing about her since she was faithful to him, or at least he could never prove otherwise. Alvarez was a good friend of mine, so I often had a chance to be in her presence. I think he liked having me over more after his marriage then before.
"In any event, the curse made Altera a man, an turned Alvarez into some type of water fowl, I cannot remember the exact name now. In a drunken state, he fell from his balcony and broke his neck. Altera took over, and turned the estate into a tyranny. We could do nothing about it, since without him, Metamor would starve. Their crops have fed the valley longer than my family has lived here, you know.
"So, we tolerated Altera Loriod's excesses in lieu of his husband. No one knew quite what to do except live with the insufferable lout. I wanted to disassociate myself with that villain, but wiser heads than mine convinced me otherwise. Not the least of which was my distant cousin Macaban. He informed me that as long as Altera was kept happy, then he wouldn't raise a fuss. Well, that all changed when the taxes on the nobility were levied, Loriod could not bear it. Do you remember the stink that he made shortly after the Battle of Three Gates?"
Wessex nodded at that, emphasizing it quite firmly that he did remember that annoyance quite clearly. "Ah, I can see you felt about it much the same way as the rest of us. In any event, the other Lords, especially Avery and Barnhardt to the north, were quick to show him the necessity of such a tax. But I know he continued to do everything he could to circumvent it. You've seen his castle of course, much of his money went into those projects so that he didn't have pay it back in taxes. He turned one of the main defenses for Metamor's southern borders into a puppeteer's show!
"Now, this last Spring, I do not know what had happened. Macaban had given me no indication that anything was wrong, but starting sometime back in March, Altera was getting bolder. He may not have been very smart, but he was crafty, and he used every advantage he had to assert his place in Metamor. Then he poisons Prince Phil, nearly destroys Macaban's mind, and finally forces us to go to war against him. But I know you remember all of that."
The boy nodded once again, wiping the slate clean to write. "Do you know when he purchased the censer that Rupert retrieved?"
"No, I have no idea where that came from. I never saw it or anything like it ever in his possession. Alvarez certainly never spoke of any such heirloom. We were very close as you may recall; my uncle and his aunt were married briefly after all. I thought that you had taken care of the censer? Has something happened?"
All Wessex could do was scrawl on his slate with that slender shaft of chalk. "Loriod's stupidity may yet cost more lives." He then washed it clean again, took a drink from his tumbler, and then tried to speak, but haltingly, "I need.... Your help..."
"What do you need from me?"
"Carriage..." he stuttered, then took another drink, finishing off the glass. Thalberg picked up the carafe and poured him more wine. "I need... a carriage... to Lorland."
"You want a carriage to Lorland?"
"When would you like it? It shouldn't be very hard for me to find you one."
Wessex tried to speak again, but his throat gave out, coughing repeatedly, and spurting flecks of foam onto Thalberg's robe. With an unpleasant expression, he wrote, "Today, and now."
"It is that important?" The boy nodded, and Thalberg took a deep breath, sucking more of his wine from the glass. "Well, return to your quarters, I will have a messenger come by once the carriage is ready. It should only require fifteen or twenty minutes. Would you like an escort?"
Wessex shook his head no, and drank more of the refilled tumbler. He then scribed, "I need a carte blanche as well."
"What for?" Thalberg asked, his voice waxing suspicion.
Scrubbing clean the board once again, he wrote, "To repossess Loriod's personal possessions."
"I assume you need them for some magical purpose?" Wessex nodded at that, sipping some of the fine wine. The alligator scratched at his long green chin with one black claw, and murmured, "That will be difficult. I shall have to promise recompense for anything you take. You do realize that?" Again, the boy nodded, and so the Steward let out a sigh, but not an aggravated one. "Is there anything else that you will need?"
He cleaned the slate once more and wrote, "That should be fine. Thank you."
Thalberg rose from his seat, as did the boy, who handed the alligator an empty glass back. "I do hope that whatever you are looking for, that you find it. May the gods go with you, Wessex."
He inclined his head politely, and then silently slipped out the doorway, and left the Steward to his job. Thalberg returned to his desk, and pulled a long hemp cord behind him. A messenger would arrive in a few minutes. He quickly penned a note on a small piece of parchment, and folded it in half. Then he set about wording the carte blanche, knowing that it would not make Macaban happy. Afterwards, he turned about on his hind legs, and stared at the empty fireplace. He quickly made amends of that. By the time Kee arrived at his door, there were two roaring blazes in his apartments. It felt very good.
Most of the paint still clung to the walls of the various towers and balustrades at Lorland, though many of the more garish hues had been stripped to reveal the institutional yellow-grey mortar. The arrow towers had been cleared of the junk that Loriod had collected over the years, most of which had been sold to traders for reduced prices. The rest had been collected on the front lawns of the estate and burned. The ashes were sprinkled upon the unsown fields to help revitalize the loam. The money from the sales went to the peasants and upkeep of the fortress.
Even still, as Wessex rode in the carriage that Thalberg had procured from him, the boy could see that much had yet to be done. Though most of the gates destroyed in the battle had been repaired, the tower that had detonated in his fight with Zagrosek still lay in ruins. Many of the faces he had seen after passing onto these lands were still frightened, though there was a confidence in them that had long been absent. The stain that Altera had left on Metamor still lingered, but in the minds and hearts of these people, it was healing, albeit slowly.
As they drew up beneath the colonnade of the porte cochère, Wessex rubbed his throat. It was still sore, but his tongue was not nearly so dry as before. The last time it had felt so hard to speak had been after the ordeal that was the Battle of Three Gates. He and the other mages had been chanting for hours upon end to fight back Nasoj's wizards. In the end he'd ben unable to speak the rest of the day. There was no question in his mind what had been going on last night during his period of sleepwalking.
Cradling the slate beneath one arm, and with a fresh piece of chalk in his other hand, he stepped from the carriage, to stand before the two guards carrying polearms. The carrot heraldry was rather prominent on their bright blue uniforms. Apparently runners had gone on ahead and informed the Steward of the household of his arrival. The ass, Macaban was rushing down the hallway, trying his best to appear dignified as his hooves clopped along the terrazzo tiles. His long ears were combed and trimmed, as well as his short black mane, but the former were flopping back and forth as he cantered to the doorway.
The dull brown eyes swiveled in their sockets till they settled on the boy carrying the slate. The memory of his 'captivity' at the Keep was good enough to remind him of the importance of this visitor. Picking a bit of hay from between his teeth, he crunched it in one hoof-like hand and genuflected. "Welcome to Lorland, Wessex ard'Kapler. How can I be of service?"
Wessex reached inside his coat pocket, and drew out the carte blanche and handed it to the donkey. Macaban broke the crimson, wax seal and scanned the script. A very confused look crossed his face, his jaw hanging open, the versatile lips mouthing each word in disbelief. "What is this?"
Wessex shrugged, and then wrote on his chalkboard, "A necessity."
"What's wrong with your voice? Was there an accident?" Macaban asked, his voice suddenly concerned.
"Of a sort," Wessex wrote and then pointed at the slip of paper in the donkey's hooves.
"Ah, of course!" The Equine folded the sheet back up and stepped back in through the sculpted door engraved with gold-inlay. Wessex was mildly surprised that they had not tried to sell back the finery displayed here, but then saw that one section was chipped, and was plain copper beneath. He followed after the Steward for a few minutes till they were at the sitting lounge. From what he knew, this was the same room that Loriod had used to entertain guests. The bookshelves were mostly empty though, and the goldfish tank looked to have been freshly restocked.
"I was just having my midday meal, would you care for something?" Macaban sat back down at the divan, and began to push some of the bright yellow hay into his large mouth.
Wessex scribbled a request for wine down, and it was quickly brought to him. The mazer was not nearly so fine as the one Thalberg had provided, but it was serviceable. "As you can see, we're trying to cut back as many expenses as we can here. Normally, I wouldn't eat hay, but I'd rather eat this, than let my people starve as Loriod would have." Macaban indicated his sparse meal with one fore-hoof and then forced another fistful between his thick lips.
Chewing for what felt like a short eternity, Macaban finally swallowed his meal, and picked a few errant strands from his tunic. "Now, what do you need from me that would require a carte blanche?"
Wessex had used his time waiting for the messenger to arrive to pen down a few questions that he wanted to ask upon a slip of parchment. It would save time later he had reasoned. Drawing out the parchment, he carefully tore the first question free, and handed it to the donkey who accepted it from his hand. His dark brown eyes once again passed over the surface, his short-cropped, grey fur bulging as he breathed.
"I don't particularly recall anything arriving this last March. Loriod usually requested that his merchandise be delivered in late Spring or Summer. Less expensive then for the merchants to transport. Probably the only bit of frugality he ever displayed," the donkey remarked caustically. "It could be that something did arrive but he made me forget. The month before he died is an almost complete blank for me."
Wessex had been afraid of that. No magic could totally destroy memories, but they could make them inaccessible. Usually, some stimulus was required to draw them back. The boy mage had been prepared for that, and so tore off the second question, and handed it to Macaban.
"A man in black robes? That seems vaguely familiar, but I can't be sure." He folded his hooves in front of his chest, his ears turned forward on top of his head. A thoughtful expression filled his face, the lips pursed momentarily. "This symbol, do you think you could draw it? It might help if I see it."
Wessex nodded, and obliged him by sketching out the shield, and then the hand inside of it. He had barely drawn the sword before a loud squeal from across the lounge brought his head up sharply. Macaban's arms were flailing about, rictus of fear had warped his muzzle past recognition, and his brown eyes were rimmed with white . The buttons on his bright blue tunic snapped off one by one as the fabric buckled and tore under the pressure of his expanding chest and shoulders. From out of the donkey's throat came a horrible bray, one of fright and confusion, and utterly devoid of intellect.
The boy mage would have cried out if he could, but instead, he immediately dropped the slate, and tried to reach for the donkey's chest to draw a calming symbol upon it, but one of the hands, now more a hoof, solidly smacked against the side of his face, hurtling him back across the lounge. Blood smeared across his cheek as the boy rolled across the fabric and onto the turquoise carpeting. Blinking the stars from his eyes, Wessex gazed in disbelief as the Steward shed his garments, growing to the size of a full jackass, his tail wiping about madly as he body flailed on the lounge, upending the side-table as he tossed his enlarged muzzle about.
Two of the blue liveried guards came rushing into the room, their mouths agape as they saw the cavorting beast finally find his legs, all four of them, and begin to madly caper about the room, braying at everything, and kicking at the woodwork, smashing the bookcase in his fury. Putting one hand to the side of his face, Wessex wiped the crimson from his cheeks, and then pointed at the best, gesturing erratically with his other hand. He wanted to shout some instruction, but his tongue stuck in his throat again.
Still, the two guards managed to grasp the idea, cautiously approaching the donkey who had freed himself of his clothes, which were in tatters across the floor. They approached from around both sides of the couch, trying to block it off, but Macaban saw the maneuver. He jumped over the couch, his fore-hooves crashing into the cushions, and smashing through the slate that had lain atop one, and then kicked the back of it with his rear hooves, toppling the couch over as it charged for the door.
The first, a bovine who appeared to be even bigger than Macaban in his full animal shape, jumped across the lounge as it fell, and wrapped his arms around the creatures hind legs. Wessex scooted back on his rear as he cringed from the kicking that the even more enraged beast assaulted the Keeper with. The second guard though took the time to circle back around in front of the donkey. Being a skunk, he lifted his tail, exposing the underside of his rear through an open seam in his garments. A sudden spray erupted into the ass's muzzle, causing it to start suddenly, a horrified expression crossing his eyes.
The first guard, blood spattering from his nose and mouth, climbed forward, and grabbed Macaban about the middle. He then bent his hind legs, dragging the beast, who was busy trying to rub the scent off of his nose with his forelegs, to the ground. The second guard then moved in and braced the steward of Lorland with his paws, his breath hard, and his musteline face confused. Wessex, seeing that the animal was trapped beneath their bodies, approached with one hand over his mouth and nose, and drew the symbol across his thick chest. The fear that had filled the animal's eyes fled, replaced by a somber quiet, but the intelligence was still not there.
The first guard lifted one of his arms tentatively and wiped his muzzle dry of the blood. His eye had nearly rolled back in his head from his companion's stench. "What happened in here?"
Wessex traced another symbol in the air, abating the malodorous fragrance, much to everyone's relief. He then retrieved the shards of his writing board, and shrugged helplessly. He was about to fit the pieces of his slate back together, and show the two guards the symbol, when a nagging thought struck him. Macaban had been fine until he had seen the sign of the Sondeckis. Grimacing, he wiped the marks from each of the five pieces that he still had left. Taking his chalk he wrote in the smallest script he could manage, "I don't know," and then, on another piece of the slate he added, "yet."
"Is there something wrong with your voice?" the skunk asked, releasing the donkey, who stirred slightly, but otherwise just lay there nearly comatose.
Sadly, Wessex nodded again, and then set his broken pieces aside. He took out his slip of paper, and mimicked writing upon it. "Do you want something to write with?" The bull asked as he, using his tunic, wiped more of the blood from his nose. He grabbed a piece of the torn cloth, and held it over his muzzle, letting it drain there.
Again, the boy nodded, and so the skunk quickly got up and darted out of the lounge. The entire place was a mess now. The turquoise carpeting had been ripped in several places, frayed in others. The upper half of the bookcase had broken off and toppled over, depositing the meager collection of tomes in a papery heap. The lounge and adjoining tables had been knocked over, the wooded beams smashed in several places, and the cushions torn where Macaban had jumped upon them. The goldfish tank had thankfully been on the other side of the room, and was undisturbed. But it was the only island of sanity in the sea of chaos that had sprung up because of a heraldic symbol.
When Wessex had first examined Macaban those months ago the layers and layers of spells placed upon him had been grievously convoluted and twisted. It had literally taken hours to even pick the first one to cancel. The entire ordeal took much longer. But he had been so busy worrying over Prince Phil's health, that he had not double-checked Macaban's condition. Evidently, a few spells had remained hidden in the donkey's mind, including this one that rendered him feral. There was no question in the boy's mind now, the beast before him, formerly the steward of Lorland, had seen Zagrosek.
When the skunk returned, there were a few more of the blue-liveried soldiers following along side of him, as well as a collie morph whose uniform sported silver-braided epaulets on either shoulder. "Deller says that Macaban has been reduced to an animal," the collie spoke, his narrow snout barely moving beneath the finely combed fur. "Is that true, Gary?"
The bull nodded, dabbing his nose, which was no longer bleeding. "We heard him braying down the hall, and when we arrived, he was already tearing up the place."
"And you?" the collie asked. "What were you doing here?"
Wessex retrieved the carte blanch from where it had fallen during the commotion and showed it to the commander. His dark hazel eyes scanned the text, while his ears went erect, and his tail stopped wagging in alarm. "Thalberg gave you permission to requisition Loriod's property?"
The boy nodded and motioned for Deller, the skunk, to hand him the pen and ink he had brought with him. The monochrome musteline handed both over, and Wessex set about writing a small message upon the slip of parchment he had previously penned his questions upon. Handing it over to the commander, he waited patiently. The guard narrowed his gaze; sharp, yellow teeth could be seen behind the thin lips. "You want me to summon Prince Phil and put Macaban in a stable? Why should I do that? Can't you help him?"
Wessex shook his head then, and pointed at the paper. "What's wrong with your voice?" the collie asked suddenly, as if noticing his muteness for the first time.
Angrily, Wessex snatched the paper back from the guards paws, and wrote a single word across it in large letters. To emphasize it, he did his best to say it as he handed it back, "Now..."
Taking a deep breath, the collie gestured to Deller and Gary. "Take Macaban down to the stables, and give Wessex something for his cheek when you return. I'll go send for the Prince. We'll clean this mess up in a bit." Turning on his pads, he walked out of the room grumbling to himself.
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