A less random chunk of The Last King;s Amulet
Saturday, 19 February 2011
#SampleSunday – 20th February 2011
Skipped forward a bit for reasons of my own. :0)
A less random chunk of The Last King;s Amulet
A less random chunk of The Last King;s Amulet
They took me back to the same room, now empty. I paced the chamber, exploring. There was a window and a balcony, light streamed in from cool day beyond and I stepped out into it. For the first time in I didn't know how long I felt a cool, fresh breeze, saw the sun and the sky. Leaning on the balcony rail I looked out over a courtyard. It was almost a thirty foot drop to paving stones that would break my legs for sure. Directly opposite my window beyond the courtyard was an open archway not more than sixty yards distant. In the courtyard and on the flat roofs of the wings to either side there were barbarian warriors on guard. Not much chance of escape. I counted them. Two on each roof. Two at the gate. Two in the courtyard. Other people came and went, some warriors, some soldiers, many civilians, but two guards paced the courtyard, back and forth against the walls, endlessly. Eight guards to watch me climb down and capture me at the bottom. That was if I could climb down. I looked up. Two more stories and a flat roof where there were doubtless more guards. Looking back down I watched the guards for a while. They were alert, attentive, focused. Maybe at night it would change, I thought, and resolved to look then. For now I enjoyed the freedom of the balcony, the warmth of the sun on my face, the cool breeze drifting across my skin.
I knew now where I was. It was Undralt, as I had supposed. I did not recognize the town but the terrain beyond. I knew where I was now. And I knew that men of the city would be coming to free me. Orthand was out there somewhere, with a legion. And the city was doubtless raising more legions to come and reclaim the north, to put down this enemy and reclaim these lands. They would have a fight on their hands, though; beyond the city walls lay an army encamped all around. Thousands of men. I didn't count, just soaked up the spread of the vast encampment and guessed. Thirty thousand, plus those billeted in the town itself. They would have a fight on their hands, but four legions would be more than enough, and the city could raise those numbers in days. Maybe they already had. Maybe they were already on their way, marching up the north road as we had, yet in numbers sufficient to the task.
The patrons and highest ranking members of the colleges had stone of twenty and thirty carats and more and the knowledge to use them. Nothing could stand against us for long. If four legions were not enough then the patrons would lead eight north. Time would see us prevail and the city would go on. In the mean-time I had my own problems to deal with, some of them mental and emotional. Love is his weakness. What on earth did that mean? I didn't love anyone; apart from my mother and sisters, of course. But he was hardly going to send an invitation for them to join us. And even if they were threatened I would not join forces with something as revolting as Kukran Epthel, self styled king, lich, a walking corpse that pretended to virtue. Not wholeheartedly.
I sighed and turned to re-enter my prison. No mistaking it for anything else. Then I hastily turned back. A face had seeped into my awareness but not disturbed my train of thought. I looked again, seeking amongst the people I could see. Looking for the face that had come to mind. Then I found him and shook my head in despair. It was Meran. One of the guards in the square was my freedman, Meran. He saw me. Looked for only a second, then turned away indifferent. Was everyone I knew destined to serve my enemy? With a heavy heart I turned away and went back into the room. I didn't want to see any more.
The smell of food had assaulted me as soon as I walked into the room but I had been ignoring it. Roast beef, a rich gravy, vegetables. I was hungrier than I had ever been in my life but I didn't trust the food. Thirst and hunger warred in me for a while as I stood over the table trying to think. If it was drugged, what difference did it make? If I didn't drink I would die. Thirst was a pain in my throat and mouth. I needed to drink but still I held back and thought. Tried to think. They could have forced water into me when I was unconscious. If they wanted to drug me I would be drugged. Accepting the rationalization, I gave in, grabbed the pitcher of water and drank. It felt wonderful. Later I ate and slept. There seemed nothing else to do for the moment. I would have to wait and see what their next gambit was before I countered it.
In the dream - I knew it was a dream, it had that quality and I recognized it at once - Jocasta came to me.
“Sumto? Can you hear me?”
“Of course I can hear you,” I said turning to her.
We were standing in a garden. I didn't recognize it.
“Don't be afraid,” she said. “I am here.”
“No need to be afraid in a dream.”
She smiled and I realized she was pretty. Not that I had not always thought so, but that at that moment I realized that I wanted her and always had, though she had been even younger than her sister when she and I were betrothed. Orelia and I would have been married when she was sixteen if her family had not changed their minds about me. Orelia had been fourteen when we met, and Jocasta only twelve.
“This is not a dream, Sumto. I am really here and so are you, though that is not what I meant.”
It didn't seem to matter much what she was saying, I was detached, warmly appreciating her presence and her voice. “What do you mean?”
“I am here. Nearby. Not more than a mile from you.”
I smiled. “No. You are safe in the city and I am glad of it.”
She shook her head, coming close, smiling. “I am here, nearby, and this is not a dream.”
“Kukran Epthel sent you, didn't he.” I was suddenly angry. “Jerek told him that you were the one I love and he is seeking to use you against me, or your image, for I know you are not really here. And neither am I. This place does not exist except in my delusional mind. They drugged me, didn't they?”
“Oh, my dear sweet man, what did they do to you?”
Through gritted teeth I answered. “You already know the answer to that.”
She reached up and touched my face, standing close. I did not seem able, or willing, to move. “I do not, and I need to know what they intend. How can I help you if I do not know what they are trying to do?”
I wanted to take her into my arms, hold her, and tell her nothing of what I had been through or what I knew would be my fate. I wanted her safe, back in the city, not here were they could find her... but no. This was not real. This illusion would not hold me. “This is a trick.” I stepped back.
“Sumto, you must listen to me. I am a sorceress of no mean ability. I can help you if you let me.”
“Sorceress? You are a child. Talk sense if you are going to try and fool me. Try a little harder!”
She sighed, I thought she was trying to hold onto her temper. “I am eighteen and no child, I assure you. I am what I say I am, and I can help you.”
“Lies,” I stepped back. “It takes years to learn sorcery, time and money. No family would spend money teaching a woman sorcery, let alone a girl.” I turned and walked away, closing my eyes and fighting the dream.
My will prevailed, the scent of the ethereal garden faded and she was gone, her parting words fading away as the dream disintegrated into darkness, “No one taught me, I ...”
When I woke, Sheo was sitting at the table, waiting for me.
“Sumto,” he greeted me with courtesy.
I didn't answer, but swung round and sat on the edge of the bed to look at him.
“You should serve him, he is righteous, his cause just,” he came right to the point.
Shaking off sleep I replied calmly. “That's why he tortures people, because he is so righteous. That's why he tricks people because he loves the truth.”
He ignored me. “Can't you see the city we served is selfish and wrong? We take and take, whatever we want, whenever we want it, use it and discard it and take it again.”
I gestured out the window, “And what is he doing?”
“So we are two children fighting over a sweetmeat.”
“No, he is an adult taking from an older, bigger child and giving back to a younger and more vulnerable child.”
I didn't answer him, my attention wandering over the table, something was attracting my attention. There was a large jug of beer and two glasses. Sheo leaned forward and poured a glass. “For you?”
“No.” It was harder to say than I remembered from my drinking days.
He shrugged. ”You will drink it later, no doubt.”
“You drugged me.”
“Yes. In the water; a drug that lowers your resistance to addiction. There was also a tiny dash of wine, just to get you started. You are already a drunk, everyone in the city knows that. It does nothing on its own, of course, but now we can feed you any drug we like. We decided to start with alcohol. I know you like it, are you sure you won't take a sip?”
“I'm sure.” Getting up and walking away was probably the hardest thing I have ever done. I could smell the hops, the living yeasty scent pulling at me. I made it to the window, and out onto the balcony. I wanted to throw myself over onto the hard flagstones below, but I couldn't do it. Yes, I liked booze. Beer, wine, that western drink they distill... whiskey, it was fiery and harsh but warmed the belly nicely. Yes, I like my booze all right. They had found a weakness. Another way to alter my state of mind and make me more malleable. I gripped the rail, acutely aware of its texture, and looked out over the courtyard thinking only about my waiting beer.
There was just no way this was going to end well.