Chapter 23: The Bully’s Pet
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Chapter 23, part 1 appears
in this issue.
“What is your name, man?” he asked Alias’ guard.
The man rushed forward and took a wild swing aimed at Robbenson’s neck. When the mark missed, he grabbed the pommel with both his hands and took another vicious stab at Robbenson’s midsection. This time Robbenson had to step back. The sword had come perilously close to nabbing him. It would not be good to die out here where no one could find him, where Queen Loren would never know what happened to him.
He took another step back when the guard came forward. With a quick flick of his hand, Robbenson muttered a few words under his breath, unleashing the magic that would be so devastating to Alias’ man. The guard followed him out into the city street, where the wizard had more room to maneuver himself better.
“I’ll get you,” the guard said loudly. “You will run out of time.” The man ran a hand over his forehead where beads of sweat were beginning to accumulate in large amounts. Sweat was soaking through the man’s clothes.
“You are the one running out of time,” said Robbenson. “How many men and women have you killed and stuffed into barrels?”
The guard’s eyes opened with surprise. “What are you talking about, fool?”
“I know about the women,” he replied. “You said you were going to skin me alive and stuff me in a barrel. I have passed two areas in these alleys that smell like the dead are living there. I could only assume that you did it since you are the man with the ingenious ideas.”
“I’m not the only one killing for the pleasure of it,” came the guttural reply. Water was dripping to the street below and the guard almost slipped in his own profuse. For the first time the guard looked down at his hands. It was obvious he was having a harder time gripping his sword. Robbenson smiled. “But you are the only one standing in front of me.” He pointed. “That is what you should be concerned with.”
The guard looked around wildly for help. “Help!” he yelled. “I have a wizard here attacking one of King Alias’ men.”
Robbenson shook his head. “Look around you. The streets are empty and there are no guards here to help. In a sense, you created this. You have created your own abandonment. Now you will have to learn to live with it.”
The man’s face was showing signs of wrinkling as if he had been standing in a pool of water for too long. “What have you done to me?” he cried when the sword slipped from his hand against his own volition.
“I am taking all of the water in your body and I’m going to wash my clothes in it.” Robbenson didn’t flinch, and the man saw his doom in the wizard’s eyes.
The guard fell to his knees. “Please, don’t let me die. I beg you!” The man was hysterical. Robbenson was sure the guard was crying if he could only see past the wetness of his skin.
“Did they beg you in such a manner?” Robbenson felt no shame. He could not fathom what this man’s victims had endured. He had not shown any pity. “I’ll tell you what. Every spell has a trigger that keeps it from finishing the course it was set upon. It stops all effects from transpiring and undoes the damages it has done.”
“I’ll make up for my sins,” the man cried, “just tell me what that trigger is. Please!” The man yelled out in pain when one of his nails fell off. Robbenson nodded. “All right, run to the end of the block. If you get away from the area where the spell was cast, the spell will undo itself.”
The man nodded his understanding. He rose to his watery knees and took off running at a near sprint. He never looked back. Robbenson watched him go. The man ran like he had just been given a second chance. As he neared the corner, in a city street in Geamehn, in the Nation Acrene Tarrynth, he looked over his shoulder once and yelled, “Thank you!”
When the guard reached the corner, he fell apart in a ball of wet, dripping mess.
* * *
Robbenson knocked on the thick, oak wood door. The door knocker was made of pure gold and elaborately carved into the face of a lion head. Its ferocious ruby eyes stared back at him as he waited for the door to open. When the servant finally came, a prudish old man with a pepper and white mustache, Robbenson could hardly contain his nervousness.
“The master is waiting for you in his private chambers,” said the man calmly.
“Thank you very much,” he said as he stepped into the living quarters of one of the richest men in Geamehn. The neighborhood was quiet and silent as the door closed behind him. He could hear a small child crying somewhere in the levels above. The living room had two open stairways that gleamed in the soft light of the wicker lamps. There were shelves with finely carved crystals lined in rows. As he walked across the waxed wooden floor, the lavishness of the place was not lost to Robbenson. The air smelled of roses and a spiced ham was roasting somewhere in the depths of rooms and corridors.
He stepped into a lightened doorway and found a man with sunken eyes, as if he hadn’t slept in days, and a haunted stare waiting for him. The aging man sat behind a large oak desk, the desktop clean of any papers. A panther sat in the corner, unchained and free to roam where it chose, and Robbenson could not mistake the angry look in its eyes.
“Wizard,” said the man in a despondent voice, “tell me you don’t bring death with you for my decision to help you. It would not surprise me in the least with this plague that has come to my house.”
Robbenson could not ignore the tapping of the old man’s fingers against the desktop. He spoke softly over it. “Queen Loren has agreed to let me find help for her. They had another fight this night and she is slowly coming to understand that Alias, as she knew him, is dead. She might as well begin to mourn his death. His mental instability has finally claimed him irrevocably.”
“King Alias has always been incorrigible,” came the old man’s voice. “I just hope that the damage he has done to Acrene Tarrynth has not been so much that this Nation cannot be saved. I have seen the people leaving. Sometimes Alias’ men chase them down and put a knife in their backs like a bunch of cowards!”
The stillness that followed in the aftermath of the out roar was deafening. Robbenson shifted his robes again and cleared his throat before looking down at the man in the chair. “I have done as much as I can considering that anymore activity from me and Alias would probably have arrested me, too.”
“What of the Light Bearer?” asked the haunted man. “I need to know what of the Light Bearers?”
Robbenson shook his head that the news was not good. “I don’t think I can get them out. King Alias’ has them imprisoned in their temple.”
“How has he done it?” asked the old man. “Nomen could be trying to contact us and this fool keeps them from performing their duties. I cannot begin to understand how an insane mind works.”
“I know how he has done it,” said Robbenson. He continued when he didn’t get any kind of reaction, “I have heard that Netweavers have been seen in the city. It is believed that they are the ones responsible for blocking the Light Bearers.”
“Netweavers?” The old man looked incredulous.
Robbenson smiled, swallowing the sour taste in his mouth. “Alias has found many things in his search of the Raven’s Reach. He only knows what he has found up there. Maybe he has found the elves of old?”
“The elves of old are exactly that,” said the man calmly. “Old.”
He said it so matter-of-factly, Robbenson found himself believing the old man. How it had come to pass that this man was not a noble was beyond the wizard. The old man had the temperament and the air of a noble. Acrene Tarrynth would not be in worse hands if this man were allowed into one of the seats.
“I believe that many things are astir,” he continued, “and much of what we cannot see is what is most dangerous to us. I also believe that King Alias’ illness is not natural born. There are measures that we will have to take if we are to help Queen Loren escape.”
“My son,” said the old man, leaning in on his chair, “if we are to help Queen Loren take back her Nation, there will be more than extreme measures to be taken. Unfortunately, lives must be taken. And in this, King Alias’ men are paramount. Their capture and imprisonment will not suffice. A Nation cannot survive if transgressors are not punished.”
“Have you always felt this way?” he asked. “I mean would you feel no remorse if every one of those men was taken and hung up on the outer wall for everyone to see?”
The old man nodded his understanding of the question. “You mean like Alias’ does to those he thinks are traitors to him?”
Robbenson didn’t want to of the countless innocents who had been falsely accused and hung on the outer wall as examples for anyone who came to Geamehn, including those that left. There was no point on dwelling on the loss of his king. There was no turning back now. He had committed himself to freeing the city, and now it was up to him to make sure he saw it through.
It was the least he could for Queen Loren. “I do not mean to compare you to King Alias’ men. That would be an insult, and I would never do such a thing.”
The old man laughed. It sounded like an empty, humorless cackle. “I don’t think you were insulting me, wizard. Let me ask you something.” Robbenson swallowed. In the silence of the room, the statement sounded like a portent of the path he had chosen. If they lost, he would be hung up on the outer wall. “Ask away.”
“Have you always been fearless?” The old man smiled. “A man like you, who can kill a guard by sucking the water out of him like a sponge, does not fear much.”
Robbenson kept himself from staggering. How did the old man know he had killed a guard? “I did not know I was being followed.”
“You weren’t,” said the old man, “but when you have the kind of money that I do, it is easy to pay for such services. Now answer the question.”
Robbenson considered for a second his choice for an ally. “I have had my trials and tribulations. I cannot go on without saying that some of those lessons were easier than others.”
The old man looked up at him intently. “They call you the bully’s pet, do they not?”
Robbenson agreed with another nod of his head. The panther in the corner stood, stretched, and came towards the wizard. He kept himself from fidgeting. “Yes, they do. They call me that because I am King Alias’ advisor. It is extremely difficult to advise when he will no longer listen.”
“I have not always been so angry,” explained the old man. “I make you uncomfortable with my meanness. You think I am a scheming merchant who wants to advance his position. I care not for these things. As a merchant, I get to enjoy my money, and I never have to worry about duty to my people.”
The scowl that came to the old man was unmistakable. “But when someone decides to betray his own son and thinks to take my daughter down with him, I do have reason to be very angry. I will kill every one of King Alias’ men, and I will burn the city down if need be if it means getting back my daughter.”
Robbenson watched Franc Lerouse sit back in his chair, falling into the depths of the cushions, losing himself in his thoughts of vengeance and retribution. A power player had come to Geamehn and Robbenson only hoped he had chosen wisely.
If not, Geamehn stood to get turned upside down by one of its own. It was all he could do when the panther lay at his feet like a pet, purring softly the way big cats are apt to do. Nothing could have unnerved him more that watching the old man taking glee from his discomfort.
“So tell me, wizard,” said the old man, “what do we do now?”
Copyright © 2005 by Julian Lawler