Chapter 4 – In Which We Meet Tellhouse, and Learn the Truth of the Evil
A knock sounded at the door and Alan scooped his new ‘belongings’ off the table and in to his pack with one sweep. Beathan hurried to the door, pulling it open with a flourish.
Tellhouse bowed as the door opened, so at first, all the party saw was the top of his curly black head. When he straightened, merry blue eyes met each of theirs. The bard rivalled Alan in height, though where the rogue was lanky, the bard had broad, strong shoulders and looked like he could do a hard day’s labor and come back for more.
Annan nodded. Whether he’d be any good at work was immaterial. What was important was the bard had the looks and physique to seduce anyone and anything.
“Greetings!” The bard beamed. His voice was deep, melodious, and the wizard rocked back, surprised. Apparently he would be good for more than his looks. “I am Tellhouse, the royal bard. King Brieuc has requested that I join you on the journey. But first, introduce yourselves!”
Annan stepped forward, hand outstretched. “I am Annan O’Connor, the wizard summoned to deal with this…Evil.” Tellhouse clasped his forearm in the greeting of warriors. Interesting. “These are my companions.” He waved the bard into the room. “This is good Beathan, cleric and devoted servant of God. And there,” he nodded to the rogue, “is Alan, most recently of Arras.”
“Good e’en, Beathan.” Tellhouse gave the cleric a low bow. “Alan, do you travel much, then?”
Alan looked the bard dead in the eye. “Yes. I travel for…work.”
“What do you do, good Alan?”
“I am a procurer of rare and valuable goods.”
Beathan’s eyes bulged at the rogue’s words. Annan coughed and trod on the cleric’s robe to prevent his outrage from ruining Annan’s half-laid plans.
“So, Tellhouse, what do you know of the Evil,” Annan said before the others might elaborate.
The bard grew serious and closed the door before motioning them all to find seats. Finding his own seat on the floor, the bard looked from one to the other. “The Evil is like nothing I have heard of before. In all of our Lore, it has never happened before.”
“You saw the first battle?” Beathan asked, eyes wide.
“Indeed, good Beathan.” Tellhouse went silent, staring at the floor. When he finally looked up, a cold sweat broke out on Annan at the look in his eyes. “The thing itself appeared as a grotesquely fat man, unable to walk on its own. Our army went forward to attack. The Evil had no army. Just…slaves, that managed its wagons of loot.”
“Gold?” Alan inquired, one eyebrow raised.
“Perhaps,” the bard said soberly. “If that is so, it should not be used until it’s been melted and cleansed by the smith priests of Bonn. Because as soon as our army came into range…something came out of that fat body.”
Beathan reached to his waist and unwrapped a simply wooden rosary and cross, the beads clicking between his fingers as he prayed silently.
Tellhouse nodded. “That is a good response. The Evil looked like a cloud of black and it settled over the army. Even from where I stood, I could hear it, whispering to the soldiers. It told them lies. Lies too obvious to ever be believed, but whomever that cloud touched…believed it. And so the Evil did not need its own army, for ours slaughtered itself.”
Annan had a moment to be grateful for the sleeves of his shirt, for they hid the goosebumps on his arms. Taking a deep breath, he wondered briefly if women and sex were really worth all this. Other parts assured him it definitely was, and he’d better get on with it. “What…what did my uncle do?”
The bard frowned, rubbing the back of his neck. “I don’t understand all there is about magic, and I’m unable to perform, so I couldn’t tell you what Words were used, but I saw a copper bowl, and a series of vials. I don’t know. All I can say for certain is that whatever he tried only served to draw its attention.” He paused, trying to gather himself. “I…I fear to say more, because I can’t be sure…”
“What?” Annan demanded, leaning forward. Power leaked into his word, unintentional, but still drawing the bard’s attention like ordinary words could not.
Tellhouse sagged against the wall, shoulders slumped. “It appeared to feed on your uncle. It gathered itself over him until he was hidden from my view. I could only hear his screams. It left of its own accord, and by the time it had finished with him, the King’s army had annihilated itself. I gathered your uncle and left. It took nearly a month to return here. Now, it would only take two and a half weeks at a reasonable pace to find it. Wizard,” Annan found himself captured by the bard’s eyes, “we must stop it. It destroys everything in its path. It turns father against son, daughter against mother.”
Annan licked suddenly dry lips. Sex had better be all that he’d been promised it would be. “I must go to my uncle’s library. There are books I need. Tellhouse, can you take me there?”
The bard stood easily and untangled his feet. “Let us go immediately. We have no time to lose, Wizard.”
Annan peered cautiously around a corner. Only after he’d ascertained that the corridor was empty did he proceed. The bard followed his lead, silent as a cat.
Finally, unable to contain his curiousity, Tellhouse whispered, “Why do you sneak through the castle? The king has ordered that you must have all assistance.”
“The king may have decreed that, but the man who runs this place doesn’t like me much,” Annan replied, still careful.
“Sugn?” Tellhouse’s black eyebrows nearly merged with his hairline. “Interesting indeed. This door, here.” The bard indicated a door on their right. Solid wood bound in iron, it was far more formidable than any other door they’d encountered. It was also the only one on this side of the hallway.
Annan hissed. The door sported a lock, and all around it, he sensed wards. They tingled along his skin, pleasantly enough for now. Reaching out, he touched the door with a fingertip. Probing the door, Annan closed his eyes, as he sought the edges of the spell. He could figure out how to open it, given enough time, but they didn’t have it.
“What now?” Tellhouse whispered.
“You don’t know how to open it?”
“I’ve never seen it like this.” The bard stepped back, surveying the door, frowning. “There’s…something. It never looked like this before.”
Annan looked at the bard, surprised. “You can…see the wards?”
Tellhouse shook his head. “I…don’t know. Seeing isn’t the right word, but it’s the best one I have right now. Either way, this is new. How do we get in?”
The wizard grinned at that. “Clever though my uncle may be, to ward his door, he made one mistake.”
“He only warded the door.”
The bard scratched his chin. “You lost me. How is that good?”
Annan moved down the corridor. When he was fifteen paces away, he stopped and knelt. Reaching into the pouches at his belt, he removed various items, beginning with a small copper bowl. Tellhouse watched, amazed, as the wizard dropped a small piece of clay in there, then took a scraping of stone from the wall. He added a blade of grass, a sprig of mint. Pausing, the wizard surveyed his pouches, face set in concentration.
Going over it again, he muttered, “Clay for malleability, stone for like, grass for change, mint to spread. Is that it?” Finally, Annan shrugged. “Good enough.”
“Wait,” Tellhouse commanded. “’Good enough?’ What the hell does that mean?”
“It means that I’ve either got it or I don’t.” Annan poured water from a copper flask into the bowl and stirred it with his finger, muttering Words that Tellhouse couldn’t hear. The magic caught, and the contents began to swirl of their own accord. “On the off chance I haven’t got it, you might want to …hide. Around the corner.”
Retreating swiftly, Tellhouse peered around the corner. The contents in the bowl began to glow. Annan flung the contents on the wall, crying out a Word. The corridor filled with a brown glow that blinded the bard. Closing his eyes, he heard a rumble, then…nothing. Sticking his head around the corner, Tellhouse braced, readying himself for the worst.