tagChain StoriesA Royal Sacrifice Ch. 02

A Royal Sacrifice Ch. 02

byslyc_willie©

(I was blessed to be the first person Red told about this idea, and was eager to jump upon this chain right from the get-go. I have always loved writing medieval fantasy, and this idea was, literally, right up my alley. The character of Bagdemagus – a charismatic, witty, yet ultimately evil figure – had been brewing in my mind for years, seeking the right outlet. I hope you all love and loathe him as much as I do.)

***

The Spectre That Walks. That was what they called him, among other things. Few ever spoke the name 'Bagdemagus' aloud, lest they garner his attention. And no one desired that. For over a century, he had been the living embodiment of the bogeyman; unruly children were often told that if they did not do all their chores, they would be taken in the night by the baleful wizard.

Bagdemagus chuckled to himself as he stood within the banquet hall of the castle. Now, whatever would I do with children? He mused dryly.

Ahead of him, upon the podium, the new Queen was being crowned. Bagdemagus looked her over with approval. Such a tasty young thing, he thought. As fair as any story-book princess.

His features darkened. And likely just as innocent. That's good. That's very good.

He heard heavy footfalls behind him, and stepped aside just a member of the Royal Guard came through. The man glanced to Bagdemagus but said nothing; after all, he could not really see the wizard. Bagdemagus was well aware of the decree set out decades before by King Richard – that Bagdemagus be arrested on sight – and was thus always faded when he came to town. Invisibility was a taxing spell, since it changed the properties of light; Fade merely played tricks with people's minds. It was far easier to alter perceptions than change the world.

Queen Evelyn, thought Bagdemagus as he returned his attention to the newly-crowned monarch. I hope you don't get too terribly comfortable in your new finery. You won't be enjoying it for long.

He watched her gaze sweep back and forth among the crowd of royalty and their hangers-on. She seemed so timid, yet managed to keep her composure. There was a hidden strength to her that was not easily or casually seen. Her eyes settled upon a young man; her lips twitched in a slight smile. Bagdemagus looked as well, frowning. Ah, yes, the boy. What was his name? Cedric. Yes, that's it. Cedric.

The wizard sighed, slipping a hand beneath his cloak for his timepiece. Such intricate mechanical works were rare in Vix, afforded only by the very well-to-do. Bagdemagus noted the time, then returned the device. Time to go. He looked one last time to the new Queen, giving a flippant salute. Evelyn's face paled, the small smile vanished. She turned away for a moment, visibly shaken.

How odd, Bagdemagus thought as he stepped away. I do believe she saw me. Now, that is interesting . . . .

***

The halls were mainly empty within the castle, save for the occasional sentry. The effects of fade made them ignore the billowing black cloak and the sounds of his booted feet as he passed them by. They could not know how many times the wizard had roamed these halls like a phantom, eavesdropping on the whispered conversations of dukes and counts, chambermaids and guards.

He stopped outside the doors of the royal chambers, noting the stone-faced guards, in their finest royal red, oiled and polished halberds held upright at their sides. Purely ceremonial weapons, Bagdemagus knew, though he supposed they could deliver quite a whollop if need be.

For a moment, he touched the hilt of the blade at his belt. A pair of quick thrusts, and the sentries would be dispatched, never knowing who had slain them. But that would be messy . . . besides, Bagdemagus had no business with the Queen's bedchambers, not just yet.

He continued on his way, leaving the oblivious guards behind, and turned down another corridor. For a moment, he paused before a portrait of the now-deceased King Richard. The former monarch of Vix looked resplendent in his golden armor, the impressive winged helmet tucked under his arm. The epitome of all that is good and just in the land, thought Bagdemagus wryly. What a twit.

"If only you had heeded my words, so long ago, we would both have gotten what we wanted," Bagdemagus said aloud. "But, no, you insisted that everything be your way. Well, look where you have ended up: food for worms and caterpillars, with an unwanted daughter as your only legacy."

Bagdemagus shook his head sadly. "Now we have to do it the hard way," he said, turning from the portrait. "I do hope you give your daughter a friendlier welcome in the afterlife than you did in this one."

***

The door to the small bedchamber of the handmaiden was locked, of course, though that posed little problem for a wizard more than a century old. Over the years, Bagdemagus had made copies of the keys to nearly every door in the castle. Easy enough to do for a man who could come and go as he pleased, unnoticed.

He unlocked the door, closed it quietly behind him. The new Queen's handmaiden had spartan quarters; a simple bed, wash basin, a tiny vanity. A thick red curtain indicated where the chamber pot lay. There was a single window, left open to allow the breeze and a few flitting butterflies inside.

Bagdemagus let the fade spell drop; it was taxing to keep it up for long, and a few moments' respite was welcome.

The wizard glanced around, finding what he desired upon the vanity. A finely-made brush of ivory, no doubt a gift from the housemarm for the handmaiden's service to the new Queen. Fine strands of dark hair were tangled around the teeth. Bagdemagus lifted the brush, sniffed. Hmm. Raspberries. How quaint.

He pulled off several long strands, looped them together. From his belt he took a small silver case, and slipped the strands of hair inside before clicking it closed. He smiled to himself. It would take a few hours to prepare the spell, but after that . . . .

He slipped quietly from the room, locking the door carefully. An audible gasp came from his right, and he snapped his head up toward the source.

A member of the Royal Guard, making his rounds. He stared with young, round eyes at the wizard, clearly aghast at what, or rather, who, he saw. While the sentry had never seen the man's face – and the smooth-lined face and shoulder-length jet hair was not what one would expect of an aged wizard – there could be no denying that the dark-garbed figure before him was the one and only—

"B-b-b," began the guard, drawing his sword. "Y-you're B-b-b—"

The wizard rolled his eyes, made a casual, arcane gesture. He faced the young guard – how old is this one? Seventeen? Eighteen? By all that is Infernal, they get younger every year – and planted his hands on his hips. "I'm what?" he asked.

The stuttering guard called out, gripping his sword defensively in both hands. "To arms! To arms! Intruder in the castle!"

Bagdemagus sighed tiredly. "Save your breath, boy," he said, his voice deep and rich, echoing in the air between them. "I've surrounded us with silence. You could scream at the top of your lungs – and you yet may – for all the good it will do you."

The young guard swallowed fearfully, admirably mustering his courage. A lifetime of legends and stories about the dark figure before him whirled in his mind. "Y-you won't have my fingers on your platter, wizard!"

Bagdemagus frowned, cocking his head. "Excuse me?"

The guard's features contorted. "Y-you know, fingers," he said. "Y-you eat the fingers of those you kill."

Bagdemagus looked amused. "I do? Oh, that's a new one. It used to be ears."

The guard winced, breathing heavily through his nose. He shifted on his feet, edging closer to the wizard.

"You know, I simply do not understand where all these varied rumors about me come from," Bagdemagus continued, apparently unconcerned about the sword pointed his way. "If you were to believe everything you hear, I can turn into a bat, I suck blood, I kidnap babies, and now, apparently, I have a fetish for fingers. It's truly mind-boggling, what you people invent about me."

"S-s-so, you're n-n-not going to eat my fingers?" the guard asked hopefully.

Bagdemagus shrugged. "Let's see where my mood takes me."

The guard let out a small groan, then abruptly raised his sword and prepared to lunge forward.

"I wouldn't do that," the wizard said calmly.

The guard frowned, halting. "Why not? You're an evil wizard, and I'm a Royal Guard. What do you expect me to do?"

Bagdemagus considered the young man's words. "Good point," he admitted. "However, do you really think you can slay me? I am a wizard, after all. How many men do you think have tried to send me to the Abyss?"

The guard chewed his lip, anxiety evident on his face. "Eh . . . more than twenty?" he queried.

Bagdemagus gave the young man a blank look. "Yes," he said dryly. "More than twenty."

"I-I still have to try," muttered the guard, his resolve weakening.

Bagdemagus shook his head. "No, you don't."

"I certainly do!"

"No, you do not," iterated the wizard, stepping forward and glaring into the guard's eyes. He touched the tip of the wavering sword between them.

"But—"

"Now, listen to me," interrupted Bagdemagus. "You are standing before a wizard more than a century old. Every man, woman, and child quivers in fear at the mention of my name. I have slain entire armies and numerous frightful beasts. The powers of the elements are mine to command. I . . ." he frowned in thought. "What was I saying?"

"E-e-every man, woman, and child q-quivers—"

The wizard snapped his fingers. "Right. So, considering that I have been alive as long as I have, and been an enemy of the kingdom for as long as I have, do you really think –" he stepped closer, looking down upon the frightened guard with cold, grey eyes – "That you, with all your . . . months of experience, have any chance at all of slaying me?"

The guard trembled visibly, feeling his strength ebb as Bagdemagus pushed down on the sword. He whimpered as he allowed the wizard to take the blade from him.

Bagdemagus effected a look of sympathy as the young guard shuddered before him. He slipped a hand to the guard's shoulder. "There, there," he said soothingly. "You've nothing to be ashamed of."

"I'm a coward!" blubbered the guard, tears flowing down his ruddy cheeks.

Bagdemagus gave the look of a stern father. "Now, you stop that," he said firmly. "Is there shame for the mouse when it flees the lion? Of course not. Now, buck up!"

The guard sniffed, lifting his eyes fearfully. "B-but now you're going to kill me," he said in a small voice.

Bagdemagus sighed, waving the sword in the air, making the guard flinch. "Now, why would I do that? What would I gain from that? You're no threat to me."

The guard looked surprised as a glimmer of hope dawned in his eyes. He hastily wiped his cheeks. "Y-you're not going to kill me?"

Bagdemagus chuckled warmly, clapped the young man's shoulder. "Of course not," he said with a smile. "What's your name, young man?"

The guard let out a heavy sigh of relief. "Rogers, sir, son of Rogers."

"Well, Rogers, son of Rogers, why don't you run along now. I am sure you have some pretty young thing waiting for you."

The guard sniffled, shrugged. "Well, there is this one girl in the village . . . ."

Bagdemagus stoutly slapped the young man's back. "There you go," he said encouragingly. "Buy her some flowers. Ladies always like flowers."

Rogers, son of Rogers, nodded numbly, turning away from the wizard. He was stunned with disbelief that the evil wizard Bagdemagus, the Spectre That Walks, was allowing him to live. He managed a small smile. Won't this be a story to tell the boys?

"Rogers?"

The guard turned about, looking back to the wizard. Bagdemagus held up the young man's sword, an expectant look on his face. "You forgot something."

Rogers smiled sheepishly, stepped up to the wizard, holding his hand out to retrieve his sword. "Oh, right," he said. "Can't very well go back to my captain without—"

His words were cut off by searing pain that stabbed deep through his chest, through his lung, and exploded from his back. Stunned, the young guard looked down at his own sword, half of it buried in his body. The crimson tunic he wore became steadily darker as blood flowed out.

"Y-you said . . . you weren't . . . going to . . . kill me . . . ."

Bagdemagus stared down into quivering brown eyes. "And you believed it?" He clucked his tongue. "Hello, evil wizard here. You can't trust me."

With a vicious tug, Bagdemagus jerked the sword from the guard's body. Blood poured from young Rogers' mouth as he slumped to the floor, his eyes glazing. He gasped and sputtered for several moments before he died.

Bagdemagus tossed the sword to the floor with a rueful shake of his head. He actually believed I was letting him go, he thought as he headed down the hallway, once more engulfed in the arcane shroud of fade.

They really must train these boys better . . . .

***

It is always popularly believed that wizards dwell in towers, with dimly-lit stone walls and cobwebs in every corner. Certainly, some do; but not Bagdemagus.

Outside the city, shrouded in an apple orchard and laying upon a small stream, lay a simple mill house. The large wheel beside the house turned lazily, creaking as the paddles were moved by the slowly-flowing current. The house itself was constructed of sturdy, if aged, wood, warped in places, with a small front porch. A more unassuming abode for a wizard there could not be.

Bagdmagus slipped from the saddle of his pale-hued mare and headed toward the rickety front door. He did not worry about whether the animal would remain; it was a charmed creature, and thus would not leave except under duress.

He stepped through the creaking portal, closed it behind him. The gloominess of the interior slowly became defined as his eyes adjusted. There was the mill, which dominated the room of the shack, cracking and groaning as it turned. Around this the wizard went, stopping before a bare spot upon the dusty wooden floor. A casual gesture of his hand, and a section of warped wooden boards shimmered and vanished, revealing a stone staircase that spiraled down.

A flickering glow grew along the stairwell as Bagdemagus descended, finally emerging into a large room with braziers lit in each of the four corners. The walls were lined with intricate tapestries and simple wooden crates and chests. In the very center, upon a dirty and faded rug, lay a single great table, cluttered and covered with the expected paraphernalia of a wizard.

Taking a little of this and a little of that, the wizard mixed together various rare and unusual herbs and powdered crystals within a beaten copper bowl. He mashed it all together with a pistle before pouring in some oils. The final ingredient was the long, brunette lock taken from the handmaiden's bedchamber. After chopping it finely with a long, heavy knife, Bagdemagus sprinkled the hair into the mixture.

He pushed back from the table after setting the copper bowl above the single flame of a small burner. The potion would take time, he knew; a few hours.

But after so many years, a few hours more were as nothing to him.

***

The guard had been tripled since the death of young Rogers that afternoon. No one knew exactly what had transpired, of course, save that the youngest of the Royal Guard had been slain by his own sword. Rumors abounded of spies, traitors, assassins, revolutionaries . . . and, of course, of the Spectre That Walks.

"I heard the new Queen claims she saw him at the coronation," one guard told another as they stood in the shadows behind the royal stable within the castle walls. His lips were darkened by the stick of blackroot he chewed.

"'Queen,'" snorted the other guard, more senior in both age and rank. He spat out a thick glob of viscous fluid that spattered across the cobblestone. "She's naught but a girl graced with ridiculous fortune. Sure, she's Richard's only heir, but what does a girl know about ruling a kingdom? And to say she saw the Dark One? Pah! It's rubbish! No one's seen the old spectre in ages. Personally, I doubt he's still alive."

"Oh? What about Rogers, then? Killed in the castle itself? Who but a wizard would have the audacity to sneak in and slay a member of the guard . . . with his own sword?"

The older guard wrinkled his nose. "This is Vix, boy," he growled. "Nothing new about a murder in the castle. These old walls have seen more blood than some battlefields."

"All right, then, if not the wizard, then who?"

"Could have been a spy of Prince Drest. Now that's one bugger who's got much to gain. He scores that new Queen of ours, and . . . ." the senior guardsman shook his head. "Who knows what may happen."

The younger one shrugged. "I have an ill feeling about all this," he muttered. "We would not be facing any of this if Richard had only sired a son. How many wives did he have? And not a bloody one gives him a male heir? Now that stinks of dark magic, it does."

The older guard grumbled. "Strange winds, lad, strange winds." He continued mumbling to himself as the two guards wandered away, returning to their rounds. Neither of them had seen the figure standing a mere arm's length away, casually leaning against the stable wall. It was surely a good thing they had not.

Bagdemagus pushed away from the wall with a smirk upon his ageless face. Simpletons, he thought with a dark chuckle. But what else could I expect from soldiers?

Faded once more, Bagdemagus made his way through the darkened livery toward the rear of the castle's manor. He knew every inch of the grounds of Vix Castle, including all the hidden passageways and secret doors that had been forgotten by the majority of the successive residents. A touch upon a hidden stone, and a narrow section of a wall grated inward, allowing Bagdemagus into a tiny corridor, and thence to a hidden staircase.

His obfuscated route eventually took him to the third floor of the keep, not far from where he had slain young Rogers. The floors had been scrubbed and mopped; not a single smear of blood remained to mark where the witless guard had fallen. However, as Bagdemagus rounded a corner to peer down that selfsame hall, he spied two pairs of Royal Guardsmen standing at attention, deceptively alert.

The wizard just smiled, not the least bit perturbed. He had expected this. He slipped back around the corner, muttered an incantation, dipped his fingers into a pouch upon his belt. Stepping into the middle of the intersection of the two corridors, he cast the dust into the air, watching it scatter forward upon ethereal winds, reaching out to each of the guardsmen in turn.

For a moment, there was no discernible effect. Then, one by one, the guardsmen yawned, their eyes growing heavy. They swayed slightly on their feet, then more noticeably. Seeking support, they slapped gloved hands to the walls, to one another's shoulders. Faces grew slack, then blank. They fell against the walls or collapsed upon the floor, degenerating into slumber within seconds.

Bagdemagus smiled smugly to himself and made his way down the hall to the door of the handmaiden's chambers. Once more, he turned the key within the lock, and stepped inside amid arcane stealth.

The room was largely dark, with only a broad shaft of light that fell across half the simple bed. The handmaiden was deep within the realm of dreamland, her pale-skinned body partially exposed to the brilliant purity of the moonlight. It was a humid night, warm with the imminent arrival of summer, and in her slumber, Rebecca had pushed away the majority of her covers. The slinky gown she had worn to bed rode high on her thighs, was bunched between them. Her sublime young face was angled toward the moon, as if seeking its favor.

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