by Than Pence
Sylvester, a king, must save his kingdom. Tuette is Cursed and wants to save herself.
|The murky sea rolled below him, each wave’s crest a dead body. The moonlight glinted on jewels the dead had been buried with. King Sylvester knew that the dead were his ancestors and they always did the same thing: they would rise. On the rocky edge, he stared down, unable to move or look away from this cliff and the sea of dead below.
With each wave, the corpses slammed against the rocky cliff base. After fathoms of moments, Sylvester watched the kings of the past begin to climb the stone face. Still, he could not turn. The clear moon above lit up the area below with pristine effect. A chill wind cut across his face, forcing him to blink. In that instant, the leading corpses were at the top, folding their mottled bodies along the edge, digging bony or soggy fingers into the earth. The thought that he could kick them over the edge was there, but inspired no action.
Lumbering along, the corpse kings stood tall on the cliff and surrounded Sylvester. They smelled of bile and excretions, sour water and rotten seaweed. If anything, Sylvester wished he could vomit, but that too was frozen inside, a seed of digested foods and failures.
The dead ambled behind Sylvester, looking at the living king’s neck, at the kingstone there. Usually, his hair was longer, covering the stone. Now it was short, exposing the base of his skull for these rotting relics. “Go ahead and stare. It’s only a showpiece! The almighty kingstone we all share will always be worthless!”
The dead reached for their own necks with waterlogged limbs; remnants of the sea they unknowingly carried fell to the ground with wet slaps and splashes. As each touched his own neck and the kingstone there, twisted crowns appeared on their heads. Unable to move and touch his own stone, Sylvester knew no such ornament would materialize on his scalp.
Seeing Sylvester without his crown, the freshest body screamed, a guttural sound that instilled fright. The others joined chorus, compounding his fear. The twisted crowns began to twist further, reaching up and curving back down to dig into the corpse faces. With each puncture, frothy water spewed like blood, like puss. The thick liquid flew at King Sylvester, ropy and rancid.
Finally, he buckled and slumped forward. The corpses were upon him, tearing at his neck, trying to remove the kingstone. “Take it,” he muttered gravely. “Take it, take it, take it…” He said this until his own blood mixed with the putrid sea water and tried climbing into his mouth and nose.
Choking on the concoction, Sylvester fought the invasive fluids and the tormenting kings, landing his blows anywhere he could. The moonlight strengthened, reflecting brightly against the crowns and jewels, blinding the king until he was throwing wide punches. The dead have bony fingers primed for digging, for escaping graves, and they used them to dig out his eyes.
He screamed, choked, coughed, and screamed again, before succumbing to the salvation of dawn and the dreamless day that would follow.
* ~ * ~ *
King Sylvester awoke, startled. The nightmare was the same, an uninvited guest for years, but it always made him queasy. Sitting up, he rubbed his neck, touched the kingstone back there, and sighed. “So it’s mine to keep. As always.”
A knock at the double door and the king bellowed, “Come in.” The doors opened wide and Penson, Sylvester’s ever faithful assistant, strode forward.
“You said something, sir?”
“I said you could come on in, Penson.”
“Before that, sir.”
Sylvester rolled his eyes and smirked. “That was muttered. I muttered something to myself. For my ears only.” Only Penson could have heard such a thing. His senses were tuned like a canine on the hunt. He was the same height as the king and kept his brown hair cut short, almost to the scalp.
“Very well, sir. It’s time to awaken either way. The Council is meeting this morning, discussing an incident in the south.”
“Incident? Regarding what?”
Penson paused, looking worried. “Regarding your kingdom, I believe. Happy Sweet Sixteen WDC!!” With that, he said no more and began aiding the king in washing and dressing. As always, a high-collared coat was chosen to assist in covering the kingstone. Sylvester insisted that attention never be drawn to it and Penson knew why: he was the only other person that knew the kingstone did not work.
Centuries before, so Sylvester was told, Mages convened at the end of the Dissociative War and used powers to cull the proper leader of the land of Decennia. The man was marked with the kingstone, a jewel imbedded at the base of the skull. It was said that since this first king had the gifts and knowledge to rule a realm, that it would be passed down through his bloodline, departing his knowledge to his son, the future monarch. Over the decades and centuries, it served its purpose and the knowledge base grew and evolved.
King Sylvester had never known any of the experiences firsthand that the royal journals described. He had no insight about political affairs, no visions of what has happened before and how to avoid mistakes again, nothing. He was blind to his blood’s past. But being of King Gould and bearing the only kingstone, there was no other to lead Decennia.
His father’s unforeseen death had forced Sylvester to adopt the throne at a young age. The kingdom had no other choice and Sylvester had been stuck ever since, just getting by and listening to anything the Advisory Council had to say.
Dressed and ready, the king was going to meet with that same council.
* ~ * ~ *
When Sylvester had been called to the throne in his early teens, old decrees had to be revived and the Advisory Council was created. He had scarcely started his schooling in the Fortright Isles in the north when King Gould had fallen from a cliff in Serres Mor. With so little formal education, the laws stated that the council would be made up of each region’s governing tent.
A decade later, the former tents – current advisors – were still residing on Mount Reign, Decennia’s capital. Sylvester did not have nice things to say about any of them, but Penson said there was important news and he needed to hear it.
They met in Wakefield Hall with Sylvester arriving last. He did not care about being punctual with these people who always attempted to treat him like a child. “Greetings, all,” he stated while walking quickly to his elevated seat at the head of the hall’s elongated table. Upon sitting, the eight advisors lazily took their seats.
Trisden Fellowes of Fortright Isle was the first to speak, as always. “Greetings, milord. And what a fine late summer morning it is –”
“Quiet,” interrupted Sylvester. Trisden looked stunned, as if smacked. “No pleasant salutations, no dialogue, nothing. I’m told there’s news of import from the south. What is it?”
The council stared blankly for several moments before the man from Whismerl, Dothel op Prissen, spoke up. “Sir, a man from the Seagulf Islands has sent word to Gale Marsht stating that he has set into motion a Curse that will affect all of Decennia.
King Sylvester was still and silent, sharing glances with each advisor. Trisden patted down his straight, blonde hair and the king finally spoke. “What does that mean?”
Dothel spoke. “By the next full moon, this Curse will take effect.”
After many questions, Sylvester learned the details: Count Roose of the Seagulf Islands was threatening the Kingdom of Decennia with a Curse that would have each and every citizen lose their thumbs. “This sounds absurd,” said Sylvester, plainly. “Is it a joke?”
Shaking his head, Dothel said, “No, milord. Cafeglian Dormaset himself has affirmed that a powerful Curse has been set into motion and that it will culminate with the full moon.”
Sylvester nodded. Maperryta Dormaset was the leading practitioner of the Magikals. His knowledge was insurmountable. “How can it be stopped? I don’t want my kingdom to be absent its thumbs, do I?”
Weak smiles broke the faces of the solemn group and Trisden spoke up. “A Curse Reverse must be performed, sir. An action that will break the Curse before it is completed.” Trisden frowned for a moment. “If need be, it can be carried out after the Curse has been enacted, but I don’t see –”
“What’s this Reverse?”
“It’s a specified action that –”
“I know what it is,” grumbled Sylvester. “I recall basic Magik teachings offered at Majramdic. I mean, what is the action that has to be performed.”
The advisors shared a glance. It was the portly Misren OkLat, former-tent of Javal’ta, where the Seagulf Islands were positioned, that spoke. “You have to Freeze a flock of chickens.”
Sylvester paused a beat. “Freeze chickens? I know they’re an endangered species but surely Dormaset has the means to carry this task out.”
Misren shook his head and started to gesture at Sylvester. “No, sir. You have to Freeze them.”
“I don’t understand.”
“King, sir,” started Dothel. “Since this Curse has been cast towards the kingdom as a whole, it is Decennia’s rightful leader that has to carry out the Reverse.”
“Oh. I have to Freeze the chickens.” He felt foolish for not understanding it immediately, but it quickly passed. “But this is a Curse, yes? As I recall, killing the caster is just as effective, no?” Again, the Advisory Council shared their glances. Sylvester guessed this was a subject more sensitive than they were letting on. He looked to Dothel of Whismerl. “Isn’t that right, Mage? Can’t I order this Count Roose fellow to be executed and spare my kingdom this absurd threat? I mean, he can Curse people. That means he himself is Cursed. We’ll be saving any unfortunates that have crossed his path already.”
“Yes, milord. Although I am no Mage.”
“Begging your pardon. I guess I am relying on the presumptions of you being from Whismerl.”
Dothel smiled tightly. “It’s my apology to bear, sir. But you have revealed the finer details of the problem. This avenue has already been tried. Count Roose is a very powerful Mage. He is well defended on his island and has Magik on his side. Word has already returned concerning agents that have failed. And fatally so.”
Frowning, Sylvester stood. “Then that’s it. First, we need to have a flock of chickens located. Then someone needs to instruct me with how to Freeze them. Finally, a plan needs to be put into place regarding the elimination of this renegade count. I will not have my kingdom be threatened by means of Magik, let alone anything else.”
Without waiting for replies, Sylvester left Wakefield Hall, feeling angry about the threat, but unsure of how he would be carrying it out. Magik made him nervous, but he did like the idea of doing something important and meaningful for the sake of his kingdom.
* ~ * ~ *
Grunting, Tuette carried the bundle of thick sticks through the forest. They would make decent jo’ren rods. She preferred this work in the forest. It freed her from the sun’s exposing rays. If ever the others in Zharinna saw what happened when her hair was bared to sunlight, she would be cast out.
Tuette suffered a Curse: the Curse of Embarrassment. In truth, it was known as the Curse of Tall Hair, but Tuette had always thought that to be a ridiculous name for such an annoying Curse. Regardless, she was Cursed and there was nothing she could do about it just yet.
Sweating now, Tuette stopped, set her bundle of sticks aside and swiped her dark blonde hair from her forehead. The rest was braided up and set against her head in an awkward bun. Part of her Curse disallowed Tuette from cutting her hair, and as it grew and grew she was finding it harder to manage. She pulled the bun out in an attempt to reset it, and then she smelled something: smoke.
Her pulse quickened as Tuette knew that were there was smoke, potentially, there were belcarotia. “What idiot would be setting fires in a forest?” she asked herself. Moving through the forest with caution, she came upon a campsite. Three young Mages sat around a stone circle, fire blazing in the center. They were laughing and talking, flames growing ever higher as Tuette watched. No smoke dampener was in sight, the only means of insuring a belcarotia did not stumble upon the wispy doorway.
As she was about to make her presence known, a fiery projectile shot from the smoke through the tallest of the three Mages. Tuette froze in place, knowing that a dread belcarotia had found its way to this smoky doorway.
A type of demon, the belcarotia was normally invisible and ineffectual. Only through thick bouts of smoke could it become corporeal, and when it did, it dispensed sparks and flames to spread the smoke and make its own territory larger and finite. They were heartless creatures, Tuette knew, and their projectiles were said to boil your veins black.
She knew this was true, having experimented with the demons in the past, before being Cursed. She saw it again today, as first the tall Mage and then the other two succumbed to the demon fire; their skins were covered in black lines as they burned up from the inside, and then they were dead. Tuette, fearing for herself and the citizens of Zharinna nearby, pulled the valuable Freezing Pote from her pocket.
Staring intently at it, she knew what giving it up meant. She needed it to Reverse her own Curse in the future and it had taken over a year to find all the ingredients and perform the right rituals to make the Freezing Pote.
In her hesitation, the belcarotia noticed her and sent a spark. It crackled against a log several feet away and she knew she was safe for now. She stared into the burning red eyes that shone through the smoke and wondered how long it would take for the demon to reach Zharinna. It would attack the town alone: belcarotia were fiercely solitary.
“I’ll just have to be gone by that time,” she said to herself grimly. She walked backwards to keep her eyes on the smoke fiend and tripped, falling over and nearly shattering the Freezing Pote. As she fell, a projectile flared overhead and she realized that she was already in this belcarotia’s range. With severe reluctance, she threw the vial at the fire and stood waiting.
The glass did not break. It landed amidst the flames with ash as a cushion.
Her stomach dropped and Tuette realized she was still in danger. She turned and ran, the demon letting out a bellow to follow where he could not. The Cursed sorceress damned the three idiot Mages as she ran for safety.
In her rush, she strayed through a shaft of sunlight that had broken through the forest canopy. The effect was immediate: her long hair stood straight up from her head, the length of half her body, and solidified. With the extra unfortunate height, Tuette’s hair snagged a branch and she was pulled back and to the ground, her hair returning to normal once it left the atrocious rays of light.
Dazed by a sedentary stone, she had trouble sitting and then standing. Once she found her balance, she heard a growl, smelled the smoke, and turned. The belcarotia was upon her. It had forgone shooting her with sparks in favor of eating her alive. In addition to the young idiot Mages, Tuette silently damned Corunny Voidet, her former mentor, for it was he that had Cursed her.
Stifling tears, she knew it was pointless to run. A loud pop was heard behind the smoky fiend. It startled Tuette and made the monster turn. A moment later, the smoke started to thin as the cinders on the ground froze over. With a final bellow and wail, the belcarotia vanished. Laughing nervously, she clutched her chest as if to steady her own pounding heart, her stifled tears emerging unfettered. She followed the cold cinder trail back to the stone circle and the frozen bed of flames.
Her Freezing Pote had worked once the flame’s heat had broken the vial. Still, Tuette had mixed feelings. Her life was spared, but her hopes of Reversing her Curse had been temporarily dashed. It would be a long time before she could gather the ingredients once again. When she had done it before, she had the help of an old and faithful friend. Now he was somewhere else and she was hiding her Curse from anyone that might fear it. There was nothing for it but to accept that she would have to start over.
* ~ * ~ *
Arriving in Zharinna proper with her hair tucked neatly under her hood, Tuette went straight to the town square where the Wish Tree stood. It was a tall tree that bore no limbs or leaves; it jutted out of the ground and was made of wood. A deep purple hue covered it and the tree was once used to ask favors of the Wishing Gods, millennia ago. Now it was merely decorative.
Tuette entered a building off the town square, the headquarters of the Freezing Clan that made up Zharinna’s financial backbone. Inside, Perryta Fy’tay om Yett was sitting at her desk, looking at a map of Decennia. Her hair was white, thick, and long. She wore the blue-silver robes of her Freezer clan and bore eyes as rich as ice. Tuette often felt that the woman was personally living up to the image that others associated with Freezers: white hair, ice eyes, cold hearts. For Perryta Fy’tay, her heart was often the warmest around. It was her mind that could be colder than Skiel Mountain. “Wondering how you can expand the business even more, Fy’tay?”
The perryta looked at Tuette, her expression grim. “We have pressing matters, Tuette.”
So, no time for humor. “That we do. Trouble in the forest.”
Fy’tay was surprised. “Trouble? We’re running low on adequate jo’ren rods, you know. Did you find no more?”
Tuette grimaced, having forgotten the sticks in her haste. “A belcarotia appeared.”
Fy’tay stood at once and moved to a cupboard. Opening it, she grabbed a fist of vials, none as useful as Tuette’s Freezing Pote but good enough to deter a smoke fiend until its fire could be doused. Tuette spoke up. “No, it’s gone. I managed to… to smother the flames. With leaves.”
The perryta met Tuette’s eyes and squinted. The Cursed sorceress knew she had been caught in a lie and felt her face flush with heat. “That doesn’t sound right, dear Tuette. If you had smothered the flames with leaves, more smoke would’ve appeared and the belcarotia, stronger, would’ve taken you.”
Silently swearing, Tuette realized that she should have just not said anything about the attack. But she remembered the three young Mages and needed to let Fy’tay know. “Well, that’s not important –”
“It really is.”
“—because three kids died.” Fy’tay flinched. “Or they were teens. Their clothing said they were Mages but not of Zharinna. I don’t know where. But whoever they were, they were careless enough to purposefully start a fire in Fograin Forest.”
“Three… young Mages…” uttered Fy’tay. Her eyes became distant as she contemplated the loss, letting Tuette’s victory over the belcarotia be swept aside. “Such a shame,” she said, shaking her head. Tuette did not know what to do: she had never had to comfort the perryta before.
Looking down at the map on the table, Tuette noticed that locations were circled on it: areas in Whismerl, Broze, and Javal’ta. “What’s this?” she asked, hoping to help Fy’tay move away from grief and regretting having said anything about the attack.
As if pulled from a daze, Fy’tay said, “That’s the kingdom, naturally. Decennia is under… attack. In a way. We have been commissioned to help the king.”
“Commissioned? We already provide our water to the mountain: that’s no easy trek with giant blocks of ice. What could we do?”
“We, dear Tuette, can help him stop a Curse.”
With that, it was Tuette’s turn to flinch.
* ~ * ~ *
Tuette stared at the map, at the Seagulf Islands. “His name is Count Roose?” Though she stared at the map and said the count’s name, all she could think was Voidet. Her former teacher, Corunny Voidet had Cursed her and set the exact same ridiculous Curse Reverse that the Virgin King was supposed to perform.
Fy’tay nodded. “And the king is coming here first, thinking that we Freezers can help him with the Reverse.” She shook her head. “But I really don’t know how we can help him. They say he’s to Freeze a flock of ‘kens. I don’t know why he thinks we can do it.”
Freezers use jo’ren rods in their practices. The rods are Charmed items and four Freezers use them to turn an area of water into ice. Then, using grip-gloves, Anti-thawing Spells, and wagons, they transport the ice blocks to all manners of dwellings: homes, businesses, even Fyse Castle on Mount Reign. There, the blocks are installed into holsters that then distribute the slowly-melting ice water to wherever the fittings lead, allowing all sorts of people to have running water.
Because of the Magik attached to jo’ren rods, Tuette knew that no living creature would be Frozen in an ice block. It was not possible. “Does the king know this?” She hardly thought so. Tuette’s opinion of the king was poor, whoever he was. She had yet to ask his name and Fy’tay had not offered it. His was a position quickly outgrowing its usefulness, she thought, and she did not care about his name in the long run.
Shrugging, Fy’tay said, “I don’t know if he knows it, but he is still coming here because he thinks we have a piece to his puzzle.”
Tuette shook her head. “But we don’t keep chickens here, either,” she said chagrined. They would’ve solved my problem months ago! “He would do better to go to Gale Marsht and talk with Dormaset. At least he might have a means of Freezing ‘kens.” Cafeglian Dormaset, the maperryta that all Magikals were to look to in telling times, was a powerful Mage and had many undocumented secrets left to share still. “He could at least proffer up some of his chickens to the king for when he does find a means to Freeze them.”
Fy’tay nodded and put the vials in her hands away with loud clinks of glass on glass, apparently having forgotten why she was holding them in the first place. “So how did you really stop the belcarotia?” Or maybe not.
Tuette squeezed her eyes shut. Her mind raced with the truth and variations thereof. Should I tell her I’m Cursed? She’ll wonder why I hid the Freezing Pote from her. Maybe she won’t ask. Maybe she’ll cast me out. Accepting the inevitable, Tuette looked to the perryta and said, “I had my own powerful Freezing Pote.”
Fy’tay did not blink, did not smile. “I know.”
“And I used it…” Her mind caught up to her ears. “What?”
“I am this town’s perryta, Tuette. I make it my business to know what my Freezers might be doing in their spare time.”
“I’m no Freezer.”
Nodding, Fy’tay replied, “That’s true enough, but you’ve been a valuable asset to Zharinna, especially regarding your adeptness for Magik. And you selflessly saved us from a belcarotia.” Smiling, Tuette felt her face redden with embarrassment, or maybe shame “But I never knew why you had such a powerful Pote on your person.”
“That’s a lot of Pee’s.” She nervously let out a weak laugh but the perryta did not look amused. She wanted to ask how she knew, but Tuette conceded that there were avenues of Magik that she had not yet explored in her four years of traveling and observing. And hiding. “Madam Perryta,” she began, adding the formal appreciation for extra weight. “I have –”
“Words spoken aloud let imaginations die true.” Tuette’s face went slack. Fearing exposure, she did not altogether understand the cryptic statement. Fy’tay continued. “I would assume to know why silently rather then allow you to tell me, dear Tuette, for that could despoil the conclusion I have privately come to.” She smiled and Tuette’s heart felt lighter.
“Oh, Fy’tay…” but the words did not come. Tuette was at a loss. She did not know if she should confess to being Cursed anyway or let her mentor assume plausible deniability. Choosing the latter, she said, “But that was my only vial. It was quite an effort to produce it.”
Again, the Freezer surprised her. Pulling a thick vial from her own deep robes, Fy’tay clinked it against the edge of the table and handed it to Tuette. “I agree with you, dear Tuette. It was very difficult to produce such a Pote, as that is the only valuable concoction I was able to make.” Tuette’s spirit soared, her face beamed. She would be able to perform her own Reverse before too long and rid herself of her Curse! “And I trust that you’ll hold it in safe keeping until the king can use it to Freeze a flock of chickens and save our great kingdom.”
Her soaring spirits fell quickly, breaking her heart on the way down.
Word Count: 4,248