by Than Pence
King Sylvester and Tuette, a Cursed sorceress, must save Decennia from Count Roose!
|Walking up the hillside, Botchael was nervous. His stomach churned, threatening to make him wretch what few solids were in him. Breakfast had been difficult to eat, as had dinner the night before. Yesterday afternoon, Botch’s father had received a summons: his eldest was to report to Castle Tigra Lei for service to the count.
Rumors circulated around the island about the man called Count Roose, most regarding him as a Mage of some kind. What Botch tended to think about was how the people that were summoned to serve the man never seemed to be integrated back with the others of Boost. The castle – more a stonework manor than an actual seat of import – had been named for the tigra lei, a large jungle cat that was sometimes spotted on Toppe, the largest of the Seagulf Islands. “They’re always spotted,” his father would say. Remembering the joke briefly made Botch smile, but it was fleeting. Those living on Boost had often given the resident of the castle leeway when it came to keeping the island’s fishing operations running smoothly.
How Count Roose had come to acquire the position, no one knew. The previous tenant had disappeared and Roose stepped in. Botch also remembered that the deserter had not been a count. That was a title Roose created.
At the top of the hill, Botch looked past the shore on his right. He thought he might catch a glimpse of the mainland from here, but there was nothing. Straining his neck and feeling slightly dizzy, he looked up at the building’s tallest point, a single tower, and thought he may see the rest of Decennia from up there. He had never been to the mainland but it always intrigued him. The people of Boost usually only mingled with those from the other four land masses in the Seagulf Island chain.
It was windy up here, and chilly. Turning against the air, he made his way to the main set of doors. No guard was posted. He lifted the knocker and before he could let it fall, the door swung open. Botch was pulled forward and stumbled, looking like a man that would humble himself before the crown. Count Roose was no representative of those on Mount Reign and Botch quickly stood up.
At fourteen years old, Botch was surprised to find that the man was the same height as him. “Who are you?” he asked, sneering.
“Botchael Drummons, sir.”
Roose paused. “What a queer name, that. ‘Botchael’. What is that?”
“Roose is a strong name of Brozian decent. Where does your name come from?”
“Botchael is a common name for my kin.” He was nervous and confused and wondering when the man might let him step through the doorway. “M-my surfather was named Botchael. As well as Drummons.”
“So you would say that you are the second Botchael Drummons? After your father’s father?”
He nodded, looking past the count. The foyer was small and led to what looked like a great receiving room. “What did your father call you?”
The question startled Botch and he remembered his nervousness, mainly because Roose had used a differing tense when talking about Botch’s father.
“Son, sir.” His eyes narrowing, Count Roose repeated the question. “Botch, sir. My father and friends call me Botch.”
Snickering, Roose gestured for the teenager to come in. When he stepped through and the door was closed, Botch realized how much light the front entrance had let in. The receiving room was dim, or his eyes needing adjusting. He was not sure. “That is a name being more unfortunate, Bitch.”
His face flushing, Botch wanted to respond but knew he could not. He was the count’s servant, but with the known number of servants that had already come through, he assumed there would be others working throughout the castle. A large home requires extensive upkeep. But he heard not one more soul just yet.
“Do you think being called Bitch is being offensive, young sir?”
His stomach clenched tighter then and Botch wondered if Count Roose had more lascivious thoughts on his mind. Drawing himself in even more, he attempted to make himself smaller than the count, less noticeable. It was a futile effort as Roose was a compact man. “What you wish is my duty. Sir.” He thought he might choke on the words, and he did not like when Roose touched his shoulder as means of guiding him forward.
“A tour is in order, then. It is an understanding that my neighbors have never been granted access to this castle, despite the generations it has stood here.” Botch nodded. “We will start with the kitchen… but first I must ask: are you being comfortable with Magikal usage.”
With reluctance, Botch nodded. Magik was not common on the islands, but it had always sparked an interest for him. “Excellent, good, yes! Because I require it here, Botchael. I speak not only of Warming Stones, Washing Stones, and Glowbes, either.” Simply nodding, Botch listened but was unaware of what those particular items were. He did silently marvel at the idea of a stone washing things for you, though.
* ~ * ~ *
The day had been hard enough but Botch did not see a time for sleep coming soon. The tour had been brief and immediately led into chores being done. “With cleaning, your understanding of the layout will be finer than any odd tour is capable of.”
Also in cleaning, Botch learned that a Washing Stone actually does. “It creates suds for the water, you fool. No man should think that an object without animation can wash your clothing.” After being shown how to use the various Stone types, he did feel like a fool. The count identified them as kinds of Magik, but they felt nothing like it. It was no different than the soap they used at home, or heating water over a flame rather than putting a Warming Stone in it.
To Botch, it was convenience that Magik provided, not anything truly fantastic. With that realization, he felt let down and the nervousness inside him returned. He knew working for the count might be demanding at times – he still did not know where he would be sleeping – but he privately thought that, with rumors of the count’s Magikal connections, that his world would be opened up to greater possibilities.
With such poor representations of Magik, he knew his life would be but that of a simple servant to a petty count on a small island. “Bitch,” Roose called, startling the teenager from behind. The dishes he was drying and stacking clattered and made Botch cringe ever more.
“The night is closing. One more task and it’s time to draw down the candles.”
With a gulp, Botch followed Roose out of the kitchen and across the receiving room. But they did not go toward the stairwell and the count’s suite just one level up. They went to the door that Roose said led to the cellar. Before, he had declined showing what was down there to the young man and Botch now feared finding out.
Silently, they moved down the narrow stairway into suffocating darkness. The ground was packed dirt and the air was musty. Roose lit a candle and walked down a passageway. As they passed braziers, he shared flame with every other one. As they moved through the darkness, distributing light, Botch’s stomach started flipping. He had eaten at times in the day but now felt like he would regret that when it all came back up on himself during the count’s wicked attentions.
“Down here were once dungeons, Botchael Drummons. Perhaps your ancestors have been held here before?” He turned to look at Botch, his sidelong grin sending shivers. “It is not a dungeon anymore, not for you of Boost.” They stopped at a pair of doors, one of each side of the passageway. Unlocking one, Roose stepped through, covering his mouth from the stench of sour medicines and unwashed bodies.
Inside the room, with one last candle lit, Botch saw it was but one unwashed body in this room: an old man, asleep. “This is Voidet,” Count Roose stated matter-of-factually. “He is sick. He stays here, where the smell won’t approach me. Your quarters are across the way,” he said, indicating the room across the way. “Pray that you don’t let the stench attach itself to you, young servant. Or you’ll find yourself becoming my old servant.”
Count Roose handed the candle to Botch and brushed past him. “If he wakes in the night,” he started without looking over his shoulder, “sooth him as if a babe.” Roose blew out the lights he had lit and before long, Botch was alone in his sphere of revealing warmth. He was thankful that his previous fears had not been valid but he began to wonder with dread how this old man, or even a baby, might be soothed in the dead of night. He had no experience with either age group.