I know it's been a while since I've done another chapter. I'm sorry! Life's been a bit upside down while I worked on things necessary for The Rebels and building my business.
Hopefully, I've got myself figured out now and we'll see more regular chapters. I'm interested to see how this ends! (Unlike my normal, I have no freaking clue where this is really going.)
Chapter 5 - In Which Annan finds a Book and Visits His Uncle
The first thing Tellhouse saw was a gaping hole in the wall, a small copper bowl sitting in the middle of the floor. Only…he looked again. The hole had smooth edges, and appeared to be the result of construction rather than an explosion. No dust, no damage. Fully emerging from safety, Tellhouse walked quickly towards it, trying to find the wizard.
“No. Nononono,” Tellhouse ran his hands through his hair, looking wildly around the empty corridor. “How did this happen? Didn’t the spell work?”
What would he tell the king? How could this have happened? The wizard made it sound as if, when things went wrong, it would be more than an even hole in the wall and no sign of a body.
“What?” Annan appeared in the hole, an open book in his hands. “Did you say something?”
Relief flooded the bard. Sagging, he leaned against the wall. “Have you found what you need?”
“No. But then, I never knew my uncle had so many books.” Annan disappeared back into the library. “These would have made my study easier and far more detailed. By the way, if you value your life, do not touch the bowl.”
Tellhouse followed the wizard into the room, stepping carefully around the bowl on the floor. “If you didn’t learn from books, or from your uncle, how did you learn?”
“Memorization. Uncle Anant is Da’s eldest brother. I learned from his youngest, Uncle Eoin. He had the most recent magical experiences, and as I learned, I taught my cousins.” Annan rifled through the shelves, trying to decipher his uncle’s system.
The book he sought was one he’d only heard of, and it went in depth about the magical capabilities of…everything. Another caught his eye. “Ah!” With one finger, he pulled the book out. “The Book of Words. Very sparing of words themselves, aren’t they?”
Words of warding, Words to create, Words to bind. Annan gently paged through the book. Too fast, and its Words might merge, creating Chaos. Slow and easy, that’s what he’d been taught. Books should be handled gently, treated respectfully. Especially when they’re the kind of books that could turn a man into a toad if mishandled.
“Yes,” he muttered. “This is the one. Thank you, Tellhouse, but I’m afraid I must ask of you one more thing.”
“I am at your service.”
“I must see my uncle.”
Tellhouse’s swiftly indrawn breath drew Annan’s attention away from the book. “Is something the matter?”
“That…that is the one thing His Majesty decreed you could not do.”
“That and have sex,” Annan said, examining the book again. Tellhouse made a startled noise. Looking up, Annan shook his head. “But that is neither here nor there. I must see my uncle. I must see what has happened to him. I cannot possibly ward against it unless I know. And perhaps…perhaps I can help him.”
Tellhouse was already shaking his head. “It is not wise to test the king on this matter, good wizard. Your life would not be forfeit, but your companions may pay the price.”
“And you?” Annan inquired. “Would it be your life, or your position, as well?”
The bard stared around at the library and the hole in the wall. “Yes. Yes, but…”
“Then do not take me, but tell me how to find him,” Annan closed the book carefully. Pulling a pouch off his belt, he emptied it quickly, redistributing its contents. He pulled a second bowl out of another pouch and placed it on top of the small bag and began sorting.
The bard watched, open mouthed, when spidersilk, a piece of leather scraped from the pouch, mint, hawksbeard, and a strawberry leaf were added, followed by water. The wizard muttered a Word while stirring. This time, instead of a flash of light, the bowl began to glow so brightly it obscured itself and the pouch underneath. Annan plunged his hands into the light, moving as if pulling and shaping. When the light faded, the small pouch had transformed into a satchel, complete with a strap over the shoulder and a buckle to fasten it.
A chill moved through Tellhouse. This wizard treated his abilities casually, more so than even the Court Wizard. Either Anant was lying about the amount of effort it took to perform magic, or this young man, barely more than a boy, was far more powerful than anyone realized.
Annan held up his satchel. “Perfect.” He beamed. “This should do nicely.”
“Did you not already have satchels that could be used for this purpose?” the bard inquired cautiously.
“Not ones that will prevent the magic inherent in the book from…” The wizard cast about, searching for the right word. “Leaking isn’t quite right, but it’s sufficient for the task, I believe. Now, about my uncle. Tell me where to find him.”
Tellhouse shook his head. He couldn’t allow Annan to go alone. If the king or Sugn should realize his potential, he’d find himself under so many royal decrees he’d never have freedom. Or the chance to know a woman, because as soon as his powers were lost, the king would have his head.
“I’ll take you,” he announced. “But, good wizard, we must go swiftly, ere anyone notices you are not where they expect you to be. Although,” he paused, surveying the hole. “Is it possible to mend…this?” He waved vaguely at the wall.
Annan shrugged and shooed Tellhouse away from the wall. Scooping up the bowl, he cupped it and murmured a Word into it. Gentle, glowing light flowed up and out, spilling over the wizard’s hands. Turning, he flung it at the wall, shouting another Word.
It flashed so brightly the bard raised a hand to shield his eyes. When it faced, the wall was whole once more, with no sign anything had ever happened. Shivering, Tellhouse waved for Annan to follow.
The sooner he could remove the wizard from court and prying eyes, the better.
Darkness set in swiftly once the sun set, and Tellhouse made use of every shadow on the way to the Court Wizard’s room, situated near the king and the king’s staff. At one point, Tellhouse flattened against the wall, one arm out to stop Annan
When the servant passed, Tellhouse pressed Annan’s shoulder and held up a finger, telling him to wait. The bard crossed the short distance to the room and knocked. Caratacus, the Wizard’s lover, opened the door. Upon seeing Tellhouse, Caratacus held the door wide, smiling tiredly. Dark circles under his eyes made them look bruised, and his long brown hair was mussed, as if he’d just awoken.
“How is he?” Tellhouse asked, resting a hand on Caratacus’s arm.
Caratacus ran his hands through his hair. “He won’t awaken. No matter what the physician does, no matter what potion he concocts, Anant won’t wake.”
“I have one with me who would see Anant.” Tellhouse looked around the room.
One door, leading to the physician’s chambers, and two narrow windows against the far wall. Rich rugs and tapestries covered the floor and walls to block the chill from the stone while the fire warmed the air. Anant lay on a narrow bed piled high with pillows and blankets. Even under that, he was pale.
Tellhouse felt his forehead, frowning. Anant was far too chilly. Previously, whenever Tellhouse had touched him, he’d always been warm to the touch. Anant would always say it was the power coursing through him that kept him warm. Now, his skin was cool and clammy.
“Who has come to see him?” Caratacus asked. “And why is he not in here with you?”
Tellhouse examined the other man. He had been with Anant for some time now, but Annan didn’t mention knowing him. The bard chewed his lip. Caratacus was dependent upon both king and lover for his position in court. Would he run to the king with news that Annan had visited his uncle? Could he risk it?
Before he could decide, the door opened quietly. Tellhouse spun around, hands dropping to his belt. He relaxed slightly when he saw the young wizard. “What are you doing? Why didn’t you wait for me to call you?”
Annan warily watched Caratacus. “There was a troop of guards coming down the hall. It seemed this was the safest option. Was I wrong?”
Caratacus looked startled at the intruder, but then he smiled. “You are one of Anant’s kin, are you not?” Annan nodded and he smiled. “You have a similar look to him. Why so furtive about seeing your uncle?”
“The king has commanded he not come,” Tellhouse explained, shrugging broad shoulders. “So…”
“So I must stay silent about this visit.” Caratacus shook his head, muttering, “He doesn’t seem to realize that a lighter hold upon the court would mean that fewer would continually attempt to slip away, doesn’t he?”
Since Caratacus didn’t seem to be searching for an answer, Tellhouse let that go. Annan looked curiously at him, but lost interest when he saw his uncle. The young man knelt swiftly at the unconscious wizard’s side. Frowning, he felt Anant’s forehead, listened to his heart, and…smelled his skin? Tellhouse held Caratacus back when he would have interrupted Annan’s examination, waiting for the young wizard to speak first.
“How long has he been like this?” Annan asked.
“Since he was attacked, more than two weeks ago,” Tellhouse replied.
Annan hissed. Fishing in his pouches, he drew out the now familiar copper bowl and set it on the floor. Tellhouse watched, interested in what Annan would do next. Into it went shreds of mushroom, a piece of willow bark, stinging nettle, a fleck of gold – the bard’s eyebrows climbed towards his hairline at that one – a hair from Anant’s head, petals from a calendula, and a yellow flower Tellhouse recognized as St. John’s wort. A dash of water from the copper flask, and Annan stirred his curious concoction.
Magic took over, swirling the contents while Annan watched it intently, muttering the whole time. Suddenly, he cried a Word and poured the contents over his uncle. A golden glow settled over him. Then a portion, over his heart, turned black. It absorbed more of the gold until it fully disappeared. As soon as the last shred turned black, Annan scooped it up carefully, juggling it from one hand to the other.
“The window, please,” he said, never taking his eyes from the black blob in his hands.
Caratacus hurried to the window, throwing it open. Annan had enough space to stick his head through and see what was on the other side. “Honeysuckle,” he cried. “Excellent.”
Without further ado, he neatly dropped the blob out the window, calling another Word. Tellhouse watched the proceedings with his mouth open. Before Annan turned around, Anant groaned and stirred in his bed.
Caratacus hurried to his side, crying out in relief. Kneeling he stroked Anant’s hair back from his head. The Wizard didn’t waken, but Tellhouse saw his color improve as he slipped into a more natural sleep.
Caratacus looked up from his lover, eyes wide. “What, in all the hells, did you do, boy? I have never seen anything like that in my life!”
“Nor I,” said Tellhouse soberly.
Annan shrugged, color creeping over his cheeks. “It’s something I did for one of Da’s sheep last spring.”
“You used something for sheep on the Royal Wizard?” Caratacus swayed. If he hadn’t been kneeling, he would have fallen over. “No. I can’t believe that. I’ve seen Anant help the king’s prized animals, and I have never seen something like this.”
Impatience crept across the young man’s face. “That’s because it’s one that I created. And that Evil…” he shuddered. “It was slowly leeching his magic. It’s why he didn’t wake up. The physician’s potions should work on him, now, and he will begin to recover.”
“What about his magic?” Caratacus asked anxiously.
Annan held his hands out helplessly. “That, I don’t know. It may be that he will recover fully. It may require the Evil to be destroyed. I simply…don’t know. But I removed what was there, so…”
The bard’s eyes widened. “Do you mean you drew out some of the Evil? And you just…dumped it in the garden?”
“Oh! No, it’s all right,” Annan hastily said. “There’s honeysuckle. Bonds of love. It will hold and contain evil for now. Nothing will contain it forever. Not until the Evil is dealt with, anyway.”
Footsteps at the inner door brought Caratacus to his feet. “That should be the physician,” he whispered. “Sometimes, the king comes with him. If you are not to be found here, you must leave. Quickly.”
Tellhouse stuck his head into the hallway to ensure the coast was clear. He waved for Annan to follow him and they hurried through the castle, to Annan’s room.