Never Again a Man - Part XVII
arquis Camille du Tournemire had selected the secluded fountain in the rear of Duke Verdane’s manor to meet with the Bishop. And in fact, he’d spent the entire afternoon waiting there already to meet with the scholarly Ammodus. And in those hours, he had kept himself very busy, and very attuned to the flows of magic.
Zagrosek remained behind in their chambers, as did the rest of his men. Standing alone, the Marquis brought with him only a small mahogany case that he set upon the stones abutting the pool. As he watched Ammodus himself approach the fountain, his fingers slowly caressed the smooth wooden surface of that box. He could feel the soft thrumming of what lay inside, waiting in joyous expectation.
Several guards flanked the Bishop as he approached, but held back once he neared the fountain for the sake of privacy. Still, it took him many more seconds to near where the Marquis stood, as his gait was slower than most men though passable for one his age. The Marquis smiled warmly and bowed his head respectfully to the priest. “Thank you for granting me this audience. I do so feel confined in these northern castles. My home has airy windows on every wall. I simply need the fragrances of Spring upon my nose to think clearly. And it is a lovely Spring day today. You can hear the birds singing in the trees, and the flowers are blossoming all along the garden. Is it not a lovely day, your grace?”
Ammodus turned and glanced about, smiling at the question. “Why yes it is, monseigneur. My age makes it harder to appreciate. You will forgive me if I sit down.”
The Marquis stood aside and gestured to the rim of the pool. The rock was smoothed flat and wide enough for two people to sit back to back. “Please, make yourself comfortable.” The leaves at the edge of the small clearing in which the fountain resided began to rustle as though a wind had suddenly sprang to life. Their soft susurration was a gentle whistling that tickled their ears.
Naturally the closest place for the Bishop to reach happened to be next to where the Marquis had laid the mahogany case. Settling himself down, the priest hesitated when he went to touch it, and peered at it instead. “That is fine craftsmanship. Is it yours?”
“Why yes, I brought it with me. I may interest you in its contents later.” He paused for a moment, listening to the way the wind soughed in the trees. He smiled. “I understand that you have just returned from a most difficult task, and so do not wish to burden you with yet another journey. But I do hope to secure your aid in a matter important to the Ecclesia.”
Ammodus’s face became inquisitive then, and he peered up at the Marquis as if through spectacles. “Yes, I have heard it said you had some business with matters of the Ecclesia. What brings a Pyralian noble such as yourself so far from your home, monseigneur?”
“The will of the Ecclesia, naturally. Matters between the Ecclesia and the Lightbringers have always been delicate, though the inevitable advance of our faith has penetrated even regions such as the Midlands in these last hundred years. And now with the assassination of Patriarch Akabaieth, I’m afraid that we cannot ignore the threat any longer. The hour is coming when every man must choose a side and fight for it. And we will bring that hour to pass.”
Ammodus’s frown began to deepen, and he looked uncertainly at the rustling of the trees, Bits of debris, twigs and leaves, were being carried past the opening upon that same wind. His eyes cast back to the Marquis, and there was a dour look to them. “Is it you who seeks this, monseigneur, or has anything you have said been authorized by the Council?”
“Of course it has been authorized.” Slipping one hand within his breastcoat, the Marquis pulled out a sealed letter. “This is a letter from Bishop Jothay relating the will of the Council in this matter. The seal belongs to Patriarch Geshter.”
Ammodus took the letter, and broke the seal. The Marquis smiled and leaned back, letting himself feel the warm caresses as the magical flow about him continued to stir and stir. “As you can see,” the Marquis added after a moment’s pause, “this letter instructs you on the proper course of action.”
“This will cause a war,” Ammodus said, folding it back up, eyes suddenly anxious. “Is that what the Bishop’s Council wants?”
“It ought to be what we all want. A war that will leave only the Ecclesia. Upon every lip, the name of Yahshua will be praised. We will make Followers out of all nations. And those that will not follow, must be cut off.” There was a verve to his voice that surprised even him.
Ammodus frowned still, even as the wind that was cascading through the trees grew louder. The two guards standing a short distance outside the clearing were holding their arms before their faces. “This is something I will have to write to Yesulam to confirm. I will not order all of my parishes to start a war because of one letter.”
The Marquis nodded his head. “Nor are you expected to. Besides, I do not believe that they wish you to marshal all the forces of the Southern Midlands to fight as it is. Instead, you must incite them to invade. You will then have the political and military might of the Southern Midlands at your disposal to destroy them. And you will do this, for I know that you have your own compliment of Questioners here in Kelewair.”
Ammodus jerked his eyes up then, and stared at the Marquis. “How do you know that? Not even the Duke knows of that.”
“Come now, your grace,” the Marquis said, his voice poisonously sweet. “I am a special envoy of Patriarch Geshter himself. I am supplied with knowledge beyond ordinary messengers.” He reached down and opened the mahogany case, even as the branches rattled and snapped in the trees about them. His magical well swirled upwards into the sky. While not a natural eddy to cloak his doings, it was subtle enough that it would not be noticed. Even the guards would merely think it an odd wind.
“Let me show you something,” the Marquis added, gingerly removing the very first card from his deck. His deck. Ornately designed, inscribed with his unicorn and so many other intricate symbols so that the faces seemed almost to move, it was a deck of cards unlike any other in the world. “This here is the Priest of Coins. What do you think?”
Ammodus leaned back where he sat, blinking and holding his hand up to his face. His countenance was a mix of horror, revulsion, and wonder. “Why, that’s me! But how did you do that?”
The Marquis smiled, and let the card drop into the priest’s lap. “Oh, I’ve spent many years working upon it. Now do be careful, if you lean over any further, you’ll fall into the fountain.” And indeed, the priest had leaned back so far that he nearly was about to topple into the water. But so too was the water tilting at such a degree that it was nearly ready to wash across the Bishop and push him back out again.
Stepping between the Bishop and the entrance, the Marquis offered his hand to the priest. “Do take my hand, your grace. You don’t want to get wet, do you?”
Almost reluctantly, Ammodus clasped the Marquis’s hand. The water splashed against the side of the pool, spilling over onto the rocks, and just barely wetting the seat of his robes. The card, which had fallen into his lap, began to slide down the front of those robes, but Ammodus caught it with his other free hand.
And in that single moment, when the priest held both card and the Marquis’s hand, Camille du Tournemire smiled and tightened his grip. The lineaments of magic spread from his own body to circle about the priest’s, funnelling that energy right back down and into the card itself. Again the water splashed at the side of the pool, but only once, and then all was still. Even the wind in the trees died, and the desultory clatter of twigs and leaves finally came to a rest.
The Marquis brushed down the priests’s robes helpfully. “It seems that I was unable to spare you all of the water, but you are mostly dry. A half-hour’s time next to a hearth and you should be fine.”
Bishop Ammodus nodded slowly then, holding out the card once more. “This is yours, monseigneur.”
“Why yes, it is.”
Strangely, knowledge of the hyacinth seemed like water held between his fingers. It slipped from the raccoon’s mind with such rapidity, that he had to write a note to himself as he stared at the incongruous poem, and then put that note inside his breast coat along with a collection of pins guaranteed to prick him should he do more than stand upright. At each pinprick, he would be reminded anew, or at the very least be forced to see what had caused him pain, reread the note, and be reminded once more of what so desperately wished to escape his mind.
That, more than anything else, convinced Rickkter of the need to destroy that flower. Never in all of his life had he faced anything that wiped all traces of its existence from his mind as effortlessly as this. Then again, Rickkter mused as he walked about the town in the early gloom of night, perhaps he had faced such a device before. After all, unless he had defeated it, he would never have remembered it.
It was all to clear to him now, at least when he was able to think upon it, why no one had ever thought a hyacinth had any magical properties. Who could have ever remembered them long enough to copy down? And even if one wrote it down in a book, it would be forgotten soon after. Stojowsk had somehow managed to pen a poem to impart the knowledge of it. How that ancient magician had accomplished such a feat, the raccoon could only ponder, but he suspected it involved a lot of hastily scribed notes scattered in places where his eyes could not fail to fall.
Rickkter stopped at an intersection and watched a merchant’s wagon pass before him, heading in through the city. The activity on the streets was light despite the relative earliness of the hour. The sun had set only two hours ago, or at least, it had passed beyond the western mountains. The crescent moon was already nearing the western mountains as well, though it still shone brightly, and with the chorus of stars overhead, brought a silvery light to the castle’s silhouette.
The town was bathed in golden light from all of the lamps burning at each street corner. But Rickkter’s eyes were not upon either the wagon or the Inns and shops that lined the street. Instead, his gaze pierced the darkness beyond them, studying the vague jagged lines that were the garden beyond. His ears, sensitive to the minutest of sounds, could still hear the fountain as it gurgled serenely.
The sound of raucous laughter also came to him, as well as the scent of mead and good food. It was a savoury stew, with beef and potatoes. Even some carrots were mixed in. Reflexively, Rickkter licked his muzzle, blinking as he stared into the darkness beyond the line of buildings. Out there stood the castle itself, and he could see its outlines, while the bright lights within stood like golden stars in the southern sky. A sharp crash made his head jerk to one side, but the sound was followed by rowdy laughter. Nothing more than a stein shattering in the Inn he realized.
As he stood there staring, his mind lost in thought, he realized that he was hungry. While it was certainly not up to the quality of the Deaf Mule, it was a pleasant Inn that he leaned against nevertheless. Straightening up, he decided to go in for a bite before he returned to his studies. There was still much to be discovered about the spells surrounding the Duke. They’d been unable to lift the spells even with the halter atop Thomas. What else could they be missing? What wall stood between them and success?
Perhaps a good meal and drink would clear his head enough to see it. And so Rickkter started towards the doorway when a sharp pain in his chest made him stop. Blinking, he felt as if somebody had stabbed him with several needles. Patting at his chest, he felt the pain again. Completely mystified, Rickkter opened his scarlet tabard and discovered a small bit of parchment attached to several pins that were pointing at his chest.
Confused, Rickkter pulled the pins out and scanned the note. After reading it, he grunted in dismay and put it back where it was, the pins as well. He’d forgotten about the hyacinth again. Gritting his teeth together, Rickkter resolutely stepped into the Inn, though not merely to purchase food and drink.
It was brightly lit, and Keepers of all variations were dining and making merry along the long row of tables that filled the Commons room. Smaller tables were set in the back for those who wished a more private atmosphere to enjoy their meal. The fire in the hearth was subdued, owing to the warmth of so many bodies. The proprietor was literally barking at one of his servants when he noticed the raccoon approach. The stocky Rottweiler put on a smile as the mage approached.
“Ah, Master Rickkter. How may I serve you tonight?” He eyed the raccoon curiously, noting the heavy wooden case that dangled from his patron’s side. It was long and narrow, though not to carry a weapon.
“You have a room that faces the gardens, yes?” Rickkter asked, crossing his paws before him. “I would like it for the night.”
The Rottweiler’s dark eyes narrowed. “But you’ve quarters in the Keep? Why would you wish to stay in my Inn?”
The raccoon frowned, even as he felt the pin’s prick into his chest once more. “My reasons are my own. Do you have the room or not?”
“Of course,” he barked again, tail wagging back and forth in agitation. “Let me fetch you the key. It’ll be two silvers for the night.”
“Done.” Rickkter reached into his money purse and drew out the requested coin. They clinked as they were deposited in the Rottweiler’s open paw. The dog disappeared into the back room for a moment, but returned quickly with the key. “Room ten. Top of the stairs and to the left, Master.”
Rickkter nodded. “Thank you,” he said, and then walked past the crowd of revellers and up the stairs that were at the back. The hallway was narrow, with doors on the right side. It branched both ways, though he found the room easily enough. Unlocking the door, he slipped inside, and the pain of the pins was ever in his chest. Though Rickkter was schooled at ignoring pain, he did his best to keep this particular pain in his mind. Strangely, that was not difficult. But remembering why he had to do so was.
In fact, by the time he crossed over to the solitary window and opened it up, he could not recall why he was bothering to stick himself with those pins. Opening up his tabard again, he saw the note, read it, and remembered. Gritting his teeth, he let the world of the real fade away, and the faint lines of the magical powers began to shine into the night.
The whole of the Keep was caked in the inky blackness that was the curses themselves. Everything else stood out in stark contrast though, making them all easier to spot. The gardens themselves glowed with a subtle white light, that of the life of the flowers within. Standing at the feet of the Keep they were rather prosaic and almost unnoticeable, as that mighty edifice radiated a hidden power that even he could not fully understand.
Reaching down to the case at his side, he lifted it off the loop of his belt and set it before him on the window sill. Undoing the clasp, he opened it and removed the farseer he’d kept within and lifted it to his eye. Suddenly, the Keep itself grew immensely in size. The lens in his seeing scope had been crafted by magic to rid them of the impurities made so common by rudimentary glass blowing. And they were treated so that he could still see the flow of magic through it.
Turning his gaze slightly downward, the image became blurry. Twisting one end slightly, the image slowly came into focus. The gardens were dull and it took a moment before his eyes adjusted. All about the flowers was the curse’s signature, but it could not touch the flowers themselves. “The hyacinth,” Rickkter said out loud then. “I’m looking for the hyacinth.” And he repeated it, even as he spent the next several minutes scanning bout the gardens, trying to find the right one next to the fountain where he’d seen that tall Southern flower before.
Saying it helped him remember at least, and so when he finally found it, he knew why he was looking for it. Compared to the rest of the garden, it did glow brighter, a strange hue of colours, red and yellows mixed with greens and blues, all together sliding across each other as if immersed in a rainbow. White mists seemed to waft out through the closed petals, before vaporizing on the air. The roots themselves also glowed, and the lines of magic seemed to creep like a spiderweb deep into the ground.
Rickkter stared for several minutes, before finally setting down his seeing scope. He could not follow the lines of magic through the ground to see where they led, but it was clear they were winding their way down southwards somewhere. He could not use any magic near that flower lest it be remembered by the flower’s creator. After all, one of the lines of the poem said that it could move magical power from one place to another. And Habakkuk had warned him as well about the harshness of the reprisals that would come should he fail.
But the roots had to be destroyed too. He could not simply dig the flower up. That would be noticed. Nor could he burn that flower alone. It would be too suspicious. If there was to be a fire, it had to burn very hot to destroy the roots as well. And even then, it would have to appear as an accident. How could he ever accomplish all of that?
Rickkter began to smile then as an idea began to form in his mind.
When Zagrosek slipped in from the shadows behind the curtains in the boy’s room, Jory was sitting despondently on a taboret. He was alone in the room apart from his dog, and his bedsheets were unkept as if he’d tried to sleep but could not. The boy was leaning over where he sat, the dog before him, gently ruffling the dog’s shaggy fur with his fingers.
Smiling lightly, Zagrosek emerged from the curtains, his step so light, that the dog did not notice him until he neared them both. Stalker’s tail began to wag then, his eyes lit up both in excitement and alarm. He barked once, but Zagrosek leaned down, and smiled, offering his hand out.
“Zagrosek!” Jory cried out at seeing the man, smiling brightly. “Are you okay?”
Zagrosek nodded to the boy, even as Stalker came over and sniffed at his hand. “I’m just fine, Jory. I heard your grandfather’s decision, so wanted to see you one last time before I depart. Are you okay?”
The boy looked down at his feet as they dangled from the taboret. “I suppose.”
He patted te boy with his gloved left hand. The skin there was still a bit too chalky to let any see it. Were he accused of leprosy, he would be quickly cast out of the city, an inconvenience that his master would not permit. “Will Stalker stay with you?”
“Yeah, he’s my dog.” The boy still stared at his feet.
“Do you miss your parents already?”
The boy nodded, sniffling slightly, but quickly stopping himself. “Dad says I’m not supposed to cry,” Jory quickly explained as he wiped his hand across his nose. “He says lords don’t cry.”
“But they still miss their parents.” Zagrosek patted the boy’s back once again. “It’s okay to miss your parents, Jory. I had to leave my parents when I was a little younger than you.”
Jory looked up then, meeting the Sondecki’s gaze. “Really?”
He nodded. “Oh yes. I had to be properly trained to do what I can do.”
“Like when you duelled Dad?”
“Yes, that is one of the things I was trained to do. But I had to leave my parents. And I never saw them again.” He gently squeezed the boy’s shoulders. “But you will get to see your parents again, Jory. And you get to live here with your grandfather. So you still have family here watching over you. So don’t be sad.”
“But my grandfather hurt you!” Jory objected, still meeting his gaze, fresh anger in his eyes.
“Aye, he did. I did something bad so I deserved it,” Zagrosek assured him, smiling. “It takes a big man to accept the punishment for doing bad things.”
“But you didn’t do anything wrong!” Jory cried out.
Zagrosek put a finger before his mouth. “You don’t want to wake your parents do you? If they see that you are still awake, they might become upset.” This still the boy somewhat, but he was still upset. “I did do some things which I should not. What they are, you don’t need to know.”
“But I want to!” Jory said, though he kept his voice quiet.
He smiled then and shook his head. “We cannot always have what we want, Jory. But I am indebted to you for sparing me those ten extra lashes. Thank you, my young lord.”
Jory smiled lightly then and nodded. “Next time I’ll have Stalker eat that whip!” he declared happily.
“I’m sure he will,” Zagrosek said, his smile widening. “But your grandfather does love you too, Jory. And he’ll help make you a good lord. He does everything for a very good reason. But sometimes he has to make hard decisions. That’s all part of being a big man. You want to be a big man, don’t you?” Jory nodded enthusiastically. “Good! Then remember this too. Any man can be angry, but it takes a big man to forgive those he is angry at.”
Jory blinked at this. “You mean about Lucat, don’t you?”
Zagrosek nodded. “Yes, I do. It was an accident, and he apologized to you. But have you forgiven him in here?” He pointed at the boy’s chest, at which point Jory looked back down at his feet.
“My Dad says I shouldn’t forget this, that Lucat will do it again.”
Zagrosek shook his head. “Not if you both forgive each other in here.” His finger still rested upon the boy’s chest. “That’s the most important place to forgive. I bet you that if you do that, you and Lucat could even be friends.”
“Friends?” There was genuine incredulity in his voice. “But he’s a Guilford!”
“The Guilford’s are bad people! Dad says so.”
“Are they really? What do they say about you and your family?”
Jory frowned, even as Stalker came and nudged at his hands. “They say bad things about us! Especially Dad!”
Zagrosek nodded. “That they do. And your Dad says bad things about them. I wonder what would happen if you each said good things about each other instead. I bet you would all be friends then.”
Jory appeared to think about that for a moment. “But they would never say good things about us.”
Zagrosek lifted the boy’s chin with one finger. “If you were to be nice to them, I bet you that they would start saying good things about you. And they would be nice to you in return.”
“I don’t know,” Jory said, turning away from Zagrosek’s gaze.
“Well, you should think about it for a while. Don’t forget what I’ve told you, Jory. I hope I get to see you again someday.”
Jory turned back to face him. “You’re leaving?”
He nodded. “Yes. I’ve no choice in this. Just remember, you have to become a big man. Your grandfather is a big man, so you should listen to him too.”
Jory nodded, still a bit uncertain. “I will try, Zagrosek.”
“I know you will.” Zagrosek offered him a quick hug, which the boy returned. “Fare thee well, my young lord.” Jory could not help but smile one last time.
They were both drunk, which suited Rickkter just fine. They were both masons revelling after a hard day’s work, and both so befuddled by the booze that they readily agreed to Rickkter’s suggestion of coming to his place for some more drink. The sweet promise of a liqueur guaranteed to make their fur stand on end was too much to resist for the warthog and puma, both of whom still bore decanter’s in their paws as they sang a bawdy chorus while ambling along the garden paths.
The raccoon sung along with them, imitating their wobbly inebriated posture even as he steered them haphazardly through the winding paths of the garden. Their destination was as always the hyacinth, a carving of which he’d fashioned into the side of his own mug, lest its magic lead him to forget what he was up to. In his other paw he carried an open flambeaux, which made the light swim through the garden as he swayed back and forth.
Both Grif and Kabuus had already been drunk when Rickkter had joined their table. He’d made immediate friends of the two when he purchased their next round of drinks. He’d even had a few himself, though the spell he’d cast a few minutes before heading down to the Common Room kept him from becoming intoxicated himself. The two masons and he had shared pointless stories for nearly an hour’s time before Rickkter had finally managed to pique their interest in his own private brew that he kept in his room.
And now, accompanied by the warthog and puma morphs, each of them taller and more obviously muscular that the raccoon from their years working as masons, they all made their way a singing and swaying through the gardens, nearing the fountain and the hyacinth that sat quietly in the small section of garden across the hedges.
Rickkter stopped and let himself slip a bit as he walked past the garden, upending the contents of his mazer upon the garden in a splattering hiss. The mazer itself clattered to the terrazzo, and he bent down, fumbling to pick it up. The laughing voices of Kabuus and Grif continued behind him until he felt the warthog unceremoniously bump into him from behind. Rickkter let out a churr of surprise, even as he dropped the torch upon his spilled drink, the head falling at the base of the hyacinth.
The hyacinth caught his eyes in that instant before his torch struck the ground. Standing lithely and tall, its purple flowers closed for the night. The leaves that framed them seemed to rustle, the plant itself turning to regard him and the torch, as if conscious of his efforts. The light glistened along its stem, his face reflecting in the gleam of the torch, as if the skin were but a mirror into whose depths he would fall. In fact, he felt as if he were being drawn into it, and should he be able to touch it, would be absorbed into that plant, and into whoever’s thoughts all things from the hyacinth went.
And then the torch struck the ground, and immediately, the flame spread out along the ground, up across the various flowers in the gardens, and circled the hyacinth, climbing its leaves as if it were a heretic being burned at the stake by Questioners. Of course, the brew that Rickkter had spread across the ground had been specially treated shortly before he left the Inn. Mere alcohol would not do, it would burn too quickly and of insufficient heat. What he now saw before him, in brilliant oranges and reds, and a yellow so bright that it hurt his eyes, was a fire so hot that he felt the fur on his face begin to singe. Should he go any closer, he too would burst into flames that would blacken his flesh to the bone.
Rickkter stumbled backwards then, even as Grif stared past his tusks in complete surprise. “Pardon m’Master. Shat’s a big fire.” He pointed with one hoof, even as the puma Kabuus stared with wide glimmering eyes.
Rickkter nodded slowly, leaning back against the hedge. A drunken grin spread over his muzzle. “I betcha we cun getch it bigger!” He waved one paw at it slovenly and grinned, pointing at his fallen mug. “I betcha!”
Kabuus nodded then, laughing, a burr underneath his voice. “Yeah, we cansh do that!” He then tossed his mug onto the flames, and the fire grew in intensity, his own brew also specially treated. The fires licked hire, the petals of the hyacinth disintegrating into ash. The whole of the garden itself was engulfed in the flames, and the night air, already pleasant, became so hot that Rickkter began to flinch.
Grif appeared far more reluctant to toss his own mazer upon the flames. But the warthog finally did so after nearly half a minute’s urging from his friend. Rickkter laughed as he watched the flames lick upward, and the plants burn into ash. The ground blackened as the fire pressed deeply. Even the torch that Rickkter had brought with him began to smoulder and finally succumb to the flames.
But their bonfire could not go unnoticed, and soon, Rickkter could see the silhouettes of heads who had come out to watch the spectacle. Somebody was surely rousing the city guard. It would be terribly embarrassing to be arrested for defacing the gardens. He could well imagine D’Alimonte’s horror when he saw what had been wrought to his precious plants. Still, he had to be sure that the hyacinth was completely destroyed.
“I fink dat somebody’s sheen us,” Grif said at last, gesturing with one hoof at a compliment of guards who were approaching through the gardens. Several others were following after them. Rickkter stole a glance to them, and could see that they brought buckets. They’d have a hard time putting this fire out though.
Rickkter sighed. Returning his eyes to the garden, he wondered for a moment why he had to do this, and then as he saw the stalk of the hyacinth bend, he remembered. The flower finally folded over on itself, burning a bright crimson until it collapsed to the ground, where it was quickly turned to more ash. But the fire lingered, burning even the roots of the plants. None of them would be saved.
“What are you doing here!” A sharp male voice accosted them The Metamor Watch had lined up along either side of the hedge, pointing spears in their general direction.
“Just gettin some good brew!” Kabuus said, smiling as he gestured to the smouldering ruin of their mazers.
The guard, a human male, narrowed his eyes and shook his head, even as some of the city folk began to douse the flames with their buckets of water. The water fell upon the conflagration, the flames flickered, sizzled, and then returned to life.
“I’m putting you three under arrest. Come with me.” The man gestured to several other members of the watch, who quickly moved to grab their arms and shoulders. Both Kabuus and Grif protested, but they glumly went along. Rickkter allowed himself to be pushed along, his eyes casting back to the gardens, watching the spot where only moments before stood the hyacinth. There was nothing left but ash.
In his sleep, the Marquis twitched.
The cell they place Rickkter in was naturally one of the magic dampening ones. His partners in arson, deemed far less dangerous, were given more companionable cells in the dungeons, if any cell could be thought to be companionable. The raccoon didn’t really mind, as long as he would be freed after all. D’Alimonte would be calling for his head, but once the Prime Minister received his message that he’d made the guards swear to bring to her, he felt certain that his release would come swiftly.
And it only took a few hours of resting his head against the rather unpleasant walls - he could swear that something had lodged itself in his head fur, but his probing claws could not quite find it. It was still before dawn when the iron door swung inwards, revealing an irate Malisa, hair still ruffled and eyes weary from little sleep.
“What in all the hells possessed you to burn that garden, Rickkter? Especially now when we need you?” The guards closed the door behind her after she stepped through.
“It is good to see you too, Prime Minister,” Rickkter replied, his irritation at his confinement momentarily abated. Once he heard the footsteps recede a bit down the hallway, he stood up and brushed a bit of hay form his clothes. “I have my reasons, and they are very good ones. I hope that all the flowers were destroyed, roots too.”
Malisa frowned. “Have you gone mad?”
“No, no more than usual. There was some reason I had for doing it, though I cannot recall what right now. The guards confiscated the note I had pinned into my tabard.”
She slipped her hand into a small pouch at her side and withdrew a piece of parchment. “This?”
Rickkter nodded. “Yes, that is it. Have you read it?”
“Yes, and it makes no sense. What is this about a hyacinth?”
“Ah yes!” Rickkter’s smile widened. “That’s what it was. I had forgotten, damned thing that.”
She crossed her arms before her and stared at him with a growing aura of impatience. “I am half tempted to leave you here for a few days, despite our need. Don’t think that because you are a powerful ally that I won’t imprison you where you cannot escape if you begin to treat the laws of Metamor as if they do not apply to you. I assure you, they do.”
Rickkter felt a snarl growing in the back of his throat. “Are you threatening me?”
The calm assured manner in her voice made the hackles rise on the back of his neck. “Do not make the mistake of thinking that I am here as your friend, Rickkter. I am here as the Prime Minister. Until you give me reason to believe that your act was not a matter of mere madness, I will remain as such. And should you choose to test my resolve, you shall find yourself in this room with no windows for a very long time.”
He bit back the reply he wished to deliver in his anger. Rickkter knew that if he so choose, he could break free, fighting his way out of this situation. Even though the cell itself was proofed against magic, and it’s power had drained his own somewhat, he was still more than a match for any of the guards in the dungeon from his physical prowess alone. But that would accomplish nothing. The way out of this cell lay through Malisa.
There was an old adage of the Kankoran that came back to him them. His emotions were a tool, a tool for both himself and his enemies. And right now, anger would only tie him further to the cell that he had no desire to spend any more time in.
“Very well, Prime Minister,” he said at last, his voice tempered by those few moments of thought. “I apologize for treating you lightly, but there is a question I would like you to try and answer; what was it that I destroyed?”
Malisa grimaced then. "Let me repeat, do not test me. We both know very well what it was you destroyed; one of the gardens."
“Yes, but what in the gardens specifically? Nothing more than a single planter. Yet what was in that planter? You cannot answer that question, and I promise neither can D’Alimonte. If you wish you may go and ask him, I would not object to waiting.”
“On the contrary, I do know what you destroyed. I would wager that planter contained hyacinths.”
Rickkter snorted in return. “And I would counter that you are going by my note for that and nothing more. Neither you nor anyone else you choose to ask will be able to recall the presence of hyacinths in that planter. The only reason I knew of it was a piece of information that came to me regarding one of them. It revealed that the hyacinth has a curious magical capability, acting both as a conduit for magical power, and also in making certain things be forgotten by all those in its sphere of influence. Our enemy placed it there in the gardens somehow, and it has been blinding us to a great deal that we need to see. And I suspect it has kept us from being able to remove the spell form you know who.”
Malisa drummed her fingers on her sleeve as she listened. “I have never heard of this power of the hyacinth. Nor do I recall seeing any in the gardens.”
“Nor did I until I came face to face with it yesterday. Part of its magic was to make those who saw it forget that it was there. That is why I had those pins and note inside my tabard. Every time I moved, the pins would stab me, and I’d look to see what caused it. And I’d find the note, which would remind me. I cannot recall how many times I had to reread that note yesterday as I tried to find a way to destroy that flower.”
“And so you decided to burn the whole section of garden that it was in?”
Rickkter nodded. “It was the only way I could burn the flower and make it look like an accident. It’s why I had those two along with me. It had to be convincing, or the enemy who planted it might realize that it was deliberate and strike against me. I killed those flowers to protect myself.”
“This is fanciful to a degree I had never thought you capable of, Rickkter,” Malisa said after a agonizing pause. Her voice was tense, anger still flowed through it. “But it is because this is so uncharacteristic of you, I am willing to lend some credence to what you say. Go on, explain more. How is it that I have never heard of this capability of the hyacinth?”
Rickkter chuckled mirthlessly. “Again, a part of its magic. Those who learn of it, if they do not take action to record that in some way, will soon forget it. It is a pure absinthe in some ways, which both makes the knowledge of it exceedingly rare, but so also the use of it I expect. Then again, perhaps we have read of its power many times in other tomes and simply cannot remember it now, or even moments after we read the pages. The only reason I was able to remember it was because of the way in which one author divulged its secrets.
“In this one book, the name of which now escapes me, though I am sure that I will find it sequestered in my quarters, there is a chapter in which a poem interjects in the text. It is very singular in this regard, it bursts onto the page in the middle of a sentence, and after it is done, the sentence continues as if nothing had actually been there. And in fact, after reading that chapter, you will not recall the poem at all.
“It was only in reading the chapter several times, and each time being surprised by the poem, that I was able to deduce the importance of the poem. And once done, finding the hyacinth was not terribly difficult. There was only one in Metamor, and it stood out clearly, though even D’Alimonte did not remember it when asked.” For some reason, Rickkter could not recall asking D’Alimonte about it, despite being sure about the result.
“So now that you have destroyed the hyacinth,” Malisa said slowly, “you ought to be able to remember things about it now, is that correct?”
“Yes, although I think it will take some time before the fog it created in our minds completely dissipates. I remember what I did to the hyacinth. I can even remember the way it wilted and turned to ash. But the further back I try to remember, the fuzzier and more incomplete it becomes. I suspect because the flower was still being active, it could more easily scatter our memories. Now that it has been destroyed, or at least, if the roots have been burned to ash too, we should be able to remember everything we see from here onwards.”
Malisa frowned unhappily. It was clear that everything he said was bothering her. “Do you know who planted the hyacinth in the gardens? Or has it always been there and our enemy just began to take advantage of its unique properties?”
Rickkter shrugged his shoulders, tail flitting back and forth. “I honestly do not know. In fact, until yesterday, I couldn’t remember that there was even a hyacinth in the garden.”
“I do not remember it either,” Malisa admitted. “But with that section of the Gardens reduced to ash, how will I ever know? I merely have your word to take.”
Rickkter offered her a sympathetic grin. “Quite a conundrum, I know, but that is how it stands.”
“And so the only thing that I can do to verify your story is have your quarters searched for this book,” Malisa said at last. “A book whose name you cannot remember.”
Rickkter frowned then, tension filling his body. “I advise strongly against entering my chambers. Very, very strongly.”
“Rickkter, I believe you when you say you did this to destroy a tool of one of our enemies. But unless I have some proof of this, I cannot simply let you free.”
“And why not? Is my word and explanation insufficient?”
“In this matter yes. Simply allow me to peruse that book, find the poem of which you speak, and I shall let you out of this prison.”
Rickkter frowned and crossed his arms over his chest. “Allow me to show you the book, and I will do so.” He narrowed his eyes so that only the green of them showed. “I will not tell you how to open my doors. There are things in my quarters I wish no other to see. And it may take you some time to find the tome.”
Malisa nodded. “Very well, but you will be bound for the journey. And if you cannot produce the tome, you will be brought back here.”
“Fair enough,” Rickkter said, forcing a smile past his muzzle, which would rather break into a snarl.
It was an hour later before they finally entered Rickkter’s quarters. At his behest, the guards from the Watch stood at the entranceway while Malisa came into the living quarters with him. The room was neatly apportioned, a tapestry hung above the door that led to the bedroom, while on either side of it weapons were mounted to the walls, an axe and broadsword. One wall was a large bookcase filled with various tomes, some of them clearly recent, others so old that the backs were moulding and the pages yellowed.
On the opposite side from the lab, a large desk faced against the wall, covered with scraps of paper, curios, and a few writing implements. But displayed prominently in a cleared section near the middle rested a single book with a recent binding. The text was in the Southern tongues as well. “I believe this is the book I spoke of,” Rickkter said, nodding to it. His paws were bound behind his back with a magical lock that he had promised he wouldn’t undo, though he ached to do so.
Malisa nodded and began to flip through the pages. “It’s all in a Southern tongue,” she groused, brushing back one lock of hair. “I cannot read this.”
“I can translate for you. Or, if I’m still untrustworthy in your eyes, Cutter should be able to do it. But most importantly, if you can find the poem in the middle of a sentence, you will know I spoke the truth.”
Still frowning, Malisa began to flip through the pages. About halfway through the tome, she came across the poem, and stopped. “Is this the one?” At the racoon’s nod, she ran her fingers over the text, studying the lines before and after the poem. “It does appear in the middle of a sentence, that much is true. But I do not understand the language, so I cannot read it.”
“If you allow me,” Rickkter leaned forward and recited the poem in the Northern tongue.
Malisa listened intently, and then finally, after her moue deepened, she nodded and spoke a single word. The shackles around his wrists finally came free, and he flexed his arms, rubbing at his wrists. “I believe you, Rickkter. Now if you would, transcribe that poem for me. Make two copies. One in the original language, and one of your translation. Do so now if you would. We will need them for further study in this.”
Rickkter nodded and obligingly brought out a quill and ink. It took him but moments to copy down the poem and his own translation on a piece of parchment. Malisa took them when finished and blew the ink dry. “Now, get some sleep. We will be meeting again in the morning. If you are right, our attempts will go more smoothly today.” She turned about and walked back towards the entrance to his chambers. “And I surely hope that you are right, Rickkter. Good Night.”
With that, Rickkter was left alone in his quarters, the Watch closing the door after the Prime Minister had left. Sighing, the raccoon slumped down in the chair, and felt a sense of relief. And annoyance. Hadn’t there been somebody who’d tasked him with this? He couldn’t quite remember. But when he did, he knew he’d have to have a long talk with whoever it was. Unable even to get up from his seat at his desk, he fell asleep there, arms folded on the table, muzzle resting in their crook.
|Talk to me!