Bounder Ch. 09byStultus©
************************* CHAPTER NINE
Life started to return back to normal. Mostly... more or less anyway. I was still feeling a bit 'off' with myself and had a hard time getting back into a normal routine and returning to business as usual. But I forced myself to return daily to my chambers office and tried to get back into the routine of making money.
Looking out my office window onto Silver Avenue I could see a lovely familiar face pass by each day, usually even every hour or two. Flerrie la'Clerkes, junior patroller with the Riverside Vigiles station had seemingly earned a transfer here and a promotion to Constable-Patroller. The ever familiar Sergeant Wergan was now ever by her side, teaching her the new route and the routine of the neighborhood. She caught me looking down from my window watching her several times, but she always just smiled and kept moving on. I was careful to avoid her while out in the street and if I saw her distinctive vigiles cloak I was quick to hurry in the opposite direction.
I couldn't offer any reason for my reluctance to have her close by my side once more. I yearned for this in fact, the pain of seeing her so close but yet unobtainable to me burned more with each day! I still possessed the fever for her, and I burned... but not to make her my pet. No, after enduring the touches of the witches' evil thoughts I could likely never again take pleasure by using my gift in that way!
That feeling of misery and foreboding that hung over me only became worse one fateful evening about two weeks later that finally cut away the last thread of my old and formerly pleasurable life.
It was the first evening of summer and almost the first pleasant day of weather that I could remember. There was absolutely no wind or air movement from anywhere and the day had been warm but not hot and as evening cooled the streets of the city a great fog had arisen from the river and the great swamp that enclosed everything around us in a dark but not unpleasant gloom. The mist was cool but pleasantly so and I let the cab driver take me most of the way home, but I decided to walk the last few blocks on foot. When the wind returned it would probably be either from the southwest and be hot and bone dry, or else from the southeast and hot and miserably humid. The odds were about even... and both insufferable.
I wasn't more than a minute from home, walking down the main sidewalk and just now passing a small alleyway, when the mist swirled up around me, nearly engulfing me in a near physical shroud. I drew my sword cane and swung it wildly around me, but it struck nothing but air and tendrils of mist. Then suddenly the figure of the dead old witch loomed before me, as real and tangible as any being of flesh and bone! I felt her will again touch mine, but in a less tangible manner, lighter of force, but my mental defensives could not repulse her will or deter it any way. My limbs were frozen and my sword dropped from my numb fingers as I heard her ghostly laugh which seemed to come from everywhere. Her voice echoed in the fog all around me and bound me tight in absolute fear and terror for my very soul.
"May yee loathe that which yee'd loved!" The witch uttered, in a voice that froze me with dread, penetrating me right to my very core.
With that utterance, her final witch's curse, she was gone and the mists slowly faded their hold upon me and could now at last behold again the sight of my home doorway, which I lost no speed in racing towards, unlocking and then slamming and bolting the doors tightly behind me, but the damage had already been done.
It could have been worse. To my limited knowledge of the Sylvan Gypsies and their curses, the very worst curse by far that can be placed upon a person is that they might 'Live in interesting times'. To be cursed with that terrible fate was probably unnecessary and redundant. That meant nothing but really bad luck, usually in lingering and extremely unfortunate and wildly improbably ways. I seemed to possess that general sort of misfortune already!
To be effective, curses need to be short and extremely precise! Bad stage dramas are full of long winding poetic utterances that bind multiple degrees of acute misfortune even unto the days of their seventh generation upon their hapless victims, but that's all theatrical horseshit. Curses must be used like the tip of a rapier, and with equally specific end results. Rarely mortal, very finite, but with a definite specific outcome.
"May you hate what you love" is the usual imperial interpretation of the Sylvan utterance, but the two languages don't really translate well or cleanly with each other and the exact terminology of the curse is open for some debate. Still, it's said to be one of their very worst, quite on the level with 'interesting times'.
Once safely home, I tried to convince myself that I'd just imagined the reappearance of the witch. I'd seen her throat cut and I'd even seen the flames from the cellar flowing like a stream into the taproom to ignite her cloth dress, before I'd at last left the inn to safety. There was no way that she could still be alive! But still she had found a way across the void of death to complete her curse against me? She had been a witch of fearsome power.
I didn't sleep well that night or for some time thereafter. My dreams were hag ridden, involving terrible atrocities that both frightened and appalled me, and failed to go away or even decrease over time. It took some time, bribes and eventually a small bag of gold, but with effort I located a dream-witch that watched over my slumbers for three increasingly peaceful nights in a row until the dream hag had been permanently banished. The witch didn't seem to think much of me and didn't volunteer any of her wisdom or advice to me, and declined to point me into the direction of any other witch that was powerful enough to relieve the curse.
For the next month I consulted every witch or Sylvan gypsy woman I could find, and begged or bribed them with purses of gold to remove my curse. Some took the proffered coins and might perhaps have done their best, but the end result was the same. Nothing. Some of the wise-women insisted that I was under no curse whatsoever, that my nerves had overcome me. Other insisted with equal certainty that the curse was quite real but too powerful for all but the greatest of magic to remove, but with the investment of more coins that they would each do their best to find a cure for me, eventually. I paid a few of them, at first, but even with just a hint of my gift I tell that most of the witches and so called wise women were frauds, and merely after my gold.
Eventually I learned of another 'cunning woman' who lived far away outside of the city, and I located with great difficulty in a hut two days travel up the northern rapids of the Orm river, and hearing of my plight she just laughed at me.
"Aye, and yee'll now also love that too that once yee hated too as well, my Lord Bounder, and while a noble cad you'll ever remain, I soon think that you'll find your misfortune rather to be a bonnie blessing in return. Keep your gold as well, for I'll not take profit from a man that shall find fortune from within himself, where he sees only calamity and ruin instead."
I didn't have the slightest idea about what she meant and she just laughed some more when I asked her about cunning folk who might be able to help me instead. Well, so much for that last desperate hope!
A few days later once I was back again in the city, and now becoming more of less resigned to my cursed fate, Sir Adrian sent me a polite note and tended an invitation for the following Friday for us to play cards together at The Crown and I accepted. As far as I was concerned the two of us were quits, any and all of my debt to him now fully discharged, and I hoped that he'd agree.
He won two out of three hands, but the fellowship was pleasurable and no business, past or present was discussed, other than a gentle hint that the Blackguards had tired of involving themselves with current vigiles activities and they had returned entirely to their normal duties, apparently without any further interest in me. The accidental fire at the inn was accepted as an accident, and their new Major-Captain, Sir Helmund, was a much stricter disciplinarian and had put an end to many of the side businesses that the black-cloaks had been involved in. The Lord Coroner was said to be 'amused' by all of the recent past events and while he was apparently quite aware of my active participation, he didn't seem to bear me any specific malice.
At least for now, the Blackguards were being rather thoroughly reined in and some of the worse bad apples were being either demoted, transferred or discharged for cause. Sir Adrian even thought that the Lord Coroner's office might be improving its recent communications with the vigiles, and this would allow more effective and legally proper joint investigations of future felonies in the near future. Excellent news, considering that much to my fears, the guild war within the thieves' guild was significantly increasing crime in the streets, which the vigiles were hard pressed to control.
Thumbs apparently controlled a slight controlling minority of numbers, but not a functional majority over his other two smaller rival competitors. The aggression of Thumb's followers in the early days of the civil war had been nearly overwhelming and currently his two primary rivals had declared a truce with other and formed a temporary partnership together to jointly oppose him. I had no doubt but what these two crime captains would likely backstab each other too, but only after Thumb's was dealt with. This situation created essentially a loud and rather ugly stalemate, with the two opposing armies of thieves a bit too evenly matched now, enough so that both sides were taking a breather from the constant street fighting to regroup and better marshal their forces.
Most of this was my fault. I didn't want Thumbs as the next crime kingpin of the city, but a prolonged civil war lasting for months or even years wouldn't be good for the city either! I'd need to do something about this fairly soon, or it was going to be a long hot and very bloody summer!
The evening was pleasant enough that I accepted the return invitation to come again for cards and cheerful banter again the next Friday. And again the following week as well, until our continued company together became a welcome regular obligation!
While business slowly began to return to normal around me, I kept pondering the fateful words of my curse. "May yee loathe that which yee'd loved!" This was very direct, yet annoyingly vague as well!
For the most part, I'd never actually loved anyone or anything in my entire life!
Being a bounder and a cad, it took me a while to discover the rather peculiar manner in which my curse had at last settled upon me. In truth, the only person I really actually loved was myself! I respected Mumford... and continued to do so without any apparent change in my attitude towards the old thief, or his young apprentice nephew either for that matter. Nor did the presence of Koch disturb or annoy me in any noticeable way now either. I continued to respect them, but I had never loved them.
I had no girlfriends either, or even any whores that I was particularly partial to. I'd never allowed anyone to get that close to me. I certainly didn't have any fondness either for my far distant family!
But I was narcissistic enough to think rather highly of myself, in the past... but now at the moment, not so much so. I wasn't possessed now with self-loathing really either, but I certainly didn't think of myself in quite the same way as I had done before. I couldn't really put my finger on what the real difference, the actual change in me was now... but the old self-satisfied smirk was gone completely from my face when I looked in the mirror now. The arrogant spring in my step and the nose in the air was missing now as well, and everyone noticed it... even Sir Adrian, much to my continued misery!
Worse, the real power of the curse now began to become apparent! For awhile, to my horror and dismay, my gift seemed to be entirely gone! I could feel it there, lurking deep within me, but it no longer had the same sort of effect when summoned. In fact, when I was enjoying myself at a brothel, sporting a little with a whore and attempting to induce her into a few additional formerly pleasurable acts that she had declined to perform even for extra coins, I found that my gift backfired completely upon me, inducing her livid anger rather than her meek compliance. Nor could my gift then sooth either her or the burly house guardian, and rather than calming his anger, I enraged him and if I had not fled immediately upon my feet, a severe beat down would certainly have occurred.
I repeated my efforts to use my gift, in different ways and manners great and small, almost always with unfortunate undesired effects. Soon I realized that more than anything else in life, I had only truly loved using my gift, invariably for self-interest and personal gain and profit! In fact, nearly always for some dishonest or sordid purpose!
I was still a rogue, and a cad, and perhaps even still a bounder, at heart... but my gift was now gone. I'd been effectively and nearly utterly defanged! Now even petty theft gave me no pleasure at all. I kept trying anyway, but instead of the joy I used to feel at connivery, I instead began to feel physically sick inside. Business, my real former business... blackmail, burglary, theft and fencing stolen loot started to suffer nearly at once. The slightest dishonesty now gave me intensive cramps of nausea and soon almost unendurable physical pain. The once delightful thought of a clever petty theft now nauseated me, physically and mentally and even giving simple instructions to my henchmen could now cause me uncontrollable agony and vomiting. Soon, I couldn't even manage the simplest trivial burglary anymore! The curse upon me had been complete!
The final straw had been trying to handle the last final details of a rather clever robbery we had indulged in right before the affair of dealing with the Weir family. We'd learned that a particularly valuable set of pearls would be on display at a high society function and I'd allowed the thieves' guild to spread some very carefully crafted rumors across the city of their interest in obtaining them. That rumor now heavy on the streets by the day before the grand ball, the lordship of the estate himself had sent for me to consult about how the threatened theft could be avoided. I inspected the household and told him that the matter was beyond my mortal abilities, that not only could the necklace be stolen, it undoubtedly would be taken... and by at least three different means that I could already divine, by just my casual examination. I refused his heavy pouch of silver and declaimed any further interest in the matter with a grand theatrical flourish that Mumsford the old actor would have applauded.
Of course, I had already placed a charm upon the nobleman that while he would ensure that the necklace was under double guard at all times. After the ball was over he would take the pearls from his wife's hands and hide them into his own pockets, rather than the secure strongbox where they kept their other valuables. He then would pretend to place the empty necklace box into the locked box, leaving a guard there all night long, seeming undisturbed until morning. I had also charmed the night cook's helper into placing a sleeping draught into the weak watered ale for all of the guardsmen and the rest of the household staff that night.
The nobleman handed off the necklace as commanded in his trance to Mumford, who was in disguise as a footman serving at the party and one of the very last staff to leave after the domestic clean up. The lord would only remember falling fast into a few sound sleep that night and would recall nothing of his charmed activities in the morning. Such was the case. The disappearance of the necklace was a mystery to all, until I suggested (after being hired once more for an even richer fee) that the thief had served at the party, drugged the household staff and then made his escape across the garden and over a stone fence, where a small ladder was found nearby. The footprints suggested a tall thin man, much unlike Mumford who had left a helpful trail of false evidence for me to 'find' and report.
We'd all been rather clever and now had I had been consulted and hired to find and return the very same stolen necklace that we'd taken. For a remarkably large finder's fee that was nearly a third of their appraised value.
Now, here in the lord's study once more, staring upon a sack of gold for my fee of a size that even I had rarely seen before, I found myself at once awash with a sense of nausea so extreme that I quite collapsed onto the floor and only just barely avoided soiling the noble lord's fine carpet. Fat reward fee or not, pissing on the lord's rug probably would have seriously annoyed him. A little pear brandy calmed me enough to regain enough control to choose my next words with extreme deliberation and caution.
"Sorry my lord, the generosity of your kindness quite overwhelmed me, or perhaps the eggs I enjoyed this morning were not quite fresh, but I'm afraid that you are in no such debt to me! I obtained your necklace from the very hands that took it, but the method of my seizure did not incur any outlay or even personal inconvenience upon my part. The thief has already been induced to never bother you, or likely anyone else ever again and was more than willing in return for our forbearance, to quit his claim. It pleases me to deliver them back to you now... and instead of your coin, I would instead prefer your good word."
These were very carefully chosen words. All technically true as well. My curse would not allow or tolerate me to profit by my crime, or even dishonest deceit, so there must now have never been any such crime committed at all!
Getting this powerful lord's good will and praises might earn me considerable honest business, I hoped. My days as a confidence trickster and roguish scoundrel were apparently over! Most unhappily and lamentably so!
Honest business did come, but slowly, and certainly not to the former levels of prosperity that I had previous enjoyed as a rogue scoundrel and a thief. But with time, meditation and the application of appallingly sincere motives, I learned that my gift could still be used (carefully) for situations that did not directly (or profitably) benefit me. With practice, I was starting to learn just how far I could bend that rather flexible concept of 'self-interest', but if focused for an honest purpose, my gift still seemed to be there... ready for use.
For as much as I now loathed that which I had once loved, the reverse was now somewhat still attainable. Being 'good' and worst of all 'honorable' had irked me to my very core once, but if I carefully applied my gift to those wholesome aims, I could cautiously use it... and with pleasure. Sometimes, even with a very liberal definition of expenses, I could collect some reasonably exorbitant but 'honest' consulting fees.
It was still a living, but I wasn't going to be getting rich anymore or at least anytime at all soon!
Worse, handling or even possessing most of my prior ill-gotten gains or other sources of treasure didn't give me any delight and pleasure at all. I had been something of a greedy bastard, but those days were apparently quite gone as well. I didn't feel a burning need to give away all of my plundered loot to worthy causes or charity, but I'd lost any pleasure at all at owning it or even spending it. The goal of being obscenely rich had little if any appeal for me any longer.