The Long Dark Road to Wizardry
by Richard K. Lyon
|Table of Contents|
Book VI: The Puppet’s War
Episode 1: A Deadly Reflection
PREVIOUSLY: Breen has been hypnotized by his dead cousin Druin, who has taken the name Pyre. Breen believes himself to be a simple farm boy, Gulnor, in search of employment in the royal guards, the better to find the magic polish...
Beware the sword in thy best friend’s hand and trust not even thine own reflection. — Old Zadokian proverb
“Follow me,” Captain Volsa snapped, “the King’s having a private little party for Princess Delanda, and you’re the honor guard.” Though everyone except Gulnor moaned, they all fell in behind the Captain. Committing a slight breach of discipline, Gulnor whispered to the man nearest to him, “What’s so bad about going to a party?”
“The Royal Family,” the other whispered back, “has the party. All we do is stand at the walls like statues.”
So it proved to be. Though his muscles ached and his empty stomach growled, Gulnor must needs stand as unmoving as a marble figure while the Royal Family ate and drank merrily. Tomorrow all the nobility of Milfar would gather to celebrate Delanda’s safe return from a long sea voyage. Tonight was for the family and especially for Delanda for ’twas her nineteenth birthday.
Strangely, though, the beautiful blonde princess did not seem to be enjoying the occasion. Indeed as she opened her presents, she seemed very close to tears. Was it the presents, Gulnor wondered, or something else? Certainly her relatives were showing a talent for giving the poor girl expensive things she’d have no personal use for.
The worst was her uncle, Duke Esaur. Rising from his chair, the burly nobleman declared, “I’ve always thought that my beautiful niece should be able to see herself as she truly is and therefore my gift to her this day is a perfect mirror.”
“Impossible!” King Practus snapped. “No mirror’s absolutely perfect.”
“This one is,” Esaur declared. “’Twas repolished with that extraordinary polish from Zadok by the famous craftsman Kananose, and then the great wizard Ebbern placed a spell upon it. This mirror is perfect and will remain perfect for as long as Delanda’s heart beats.”
A white cloth was draped over something on the wall behind the Duke. Stepping to it, he paused for a dramatic instant, then said, “Behold,” and pulled the cloth away.
At the sight of that large mirror, Gulnor’s heart skipped a beat. It wasn’t that he recognized it. Obviously since he’d spent his whole life on a farm, he couldn’t have ever seen it before. There was, however, something ominously familiar about the mirror.
For a moment the Royal Family ohhed and ahhed at the large mirror, then silence crept over them. They sat in their chairs as unmoving as the guardsmen at attention. The whole room seemed filled with statues. Everyone... except King Practus.
The monarch’s body was as unmoving as the rest but his face was twisted with terror. His eyes bulged and his lips moved rapidly as though he were speaking soundless words.
It’s as though he were being questioned by a demon, Gulnor thought. Abruptly the King relaxed, and Duke Esaur’s face was distorted by fear. He, too, spoke without sound.
One by one the... whatever it was went round the room, first the Royal Family, then the guardsmen. Looking in the mirror Gulnor could see it coming down the line toward him. It was half a dozen men away. Five. Four. Three. Two. One.
Awesome force grasped his mind and a silent voice shouted a command that must be obeyed.
GULNOR, TELL ME WHAT YOU THINK OF THE MIRROR.
It’s a stingy present. While it’s hung here in the dining room, Princess Delanda won’t get any more use from it than anyone else.
WHAT ELSE DO YOU THINK OF IT?
Nothing. I grew up on a farm. If we ever had a mirror I don’t remember it.
The terror left him, going on to the next man in line. When all had been examined, it vanished. The partygoers started to move again and, as though nothing had happened, the King declared, “Well, this has been an enjoyable evening but we really have to call it a night. Tomorrow, you know, is a major occasion of state.”
After waiting for the last of the Royal Family to leave, Gulnor and the other guardsmen marched out and back to their quarters. When he was finally back in his bunk, sleep did not come quickly to the man who thought himself a farm boy. Though he’d no notion what, ’twas plain some dire event was in the offing.
Next morning, after a hasty breakfast, Gulnor rushed to the assembly room where his fellow guards were already dressing for their coming parade. Thanks to Captain Volsa, who’d sent him on a footless errand, he was late. Before he was half into his dress armor, the others were filing out. When he finished, Gulnor was quite alone in the large room.
Damn. I’ll bet Volsa did it on purpose. He wants me to be late so he can have me flogged.
Despite his haste, Gulnor went across the coarse wooden floor to the room’s one mirror. There was something wrong, very wrong with his reflection.
That was bad. What was worse was that for no accountable reason he couldn’t quite put his finger on what was awry. His armor was perfectly polished, every decoration in exact order. In all ways he could think of, he seemed the image of an Imperial Guardsman ready for full dress parade.
I’ve little time, he thought. Should I risk a flogging for tardiness or gamble that the Captain won’t see whatever’s wrong?
Gods, the assembly bell!
He turned to go and instantly turned back.
Now I see it! There’s nothing wrong with my appearance, what’s amiss is my reflection. It’s different! For one thing I’m carrying a ceremonial sword that couldn’t cut butter, and the saber in the reflection’s hand is razor-edged. For another, I’m frowning and it’s smiling... the sort of smile a farmer gives the hogs at slaughter time.
Raising its deadly sharp blade toward Gulnor’s throat, the reflection stepped out of the mirror.
“No! Get back in the mirror where you belong!”
His hands shot up as he tried to grab it. Its speeding sword crashed into his armored shoulder. Overbalanced, he fell with a resounding clatter.
There was no sign of his reflection when he sat up.
What’s happening? I didn’t drink that much last night.
Everything seemed normal now... except that he could no longer see himself in the mirror. Behind him there was a small noise.
Whirling, he saw his image standing, sword in hand, between him and the only exit. It was coming toward him, moving with the easy grace of a cat, a stalking cat.
What do I do? All I’ve got is an edgeless, pointless ceremonial sword and they weren’t going to teach us sword combat till next month!
Next episode: Can I Trust the Man Who’s Holding a Sword to My Throat?
Copyright © 2009 by Richard K. Lyon