A Royal Sacrifice Ch. 12byslyc_willie©
An uncommonly cool breeze stirred dying leaves across the cobblestone paths of the village. Lamps within windows were snuffed; only the torches at the bridge and before the tavern cast any light upon the ground. Shadows were plentiful, and within those shadows strode the Spectre That Walks.
Bagdemagus enjoyed this time of night, when the village was quiet and nearly all were slumbering peacefully beneath the magnificent edifice of Castle Vix. Of course, on this night, the majority of the villagers were enjoying the once-in-a-lifetime chance to enjoy the splendors of the castle, celebrating their Queen's birthday.
Bagdemagus snickered. A good ploy, he thought, welcoming the tattered and torn, the lowly and lackluster into your midst for the week that encompasses the celebration of your birth. But will they love you for it, Evelyn? Or will they resent you for having shown them the luxury they will never again enjoy . . . and which you will, at least until your tragic passing.
Ultimately, it means naught, he mused darkly. Have your parties, rally whatever support you may. Live the good life while you can. It is about to come to an end.
The wizard grinned with anticipation. It had been decades since any true threat had existed in the kingdom; peace with neighboring lands had been sealed. The only thing merchants and villagers ever had to worry about were the occasional bandit and deadly wild beast.
Bagdemagus grinned, impressed with himself. He had missed the notoriety his mere name invoked within the kingdom. Now, as it had been decades before, the simple mention of him in casual conversation set guards on edge and made women weep. Bagdemagus did not have to really do anything; he ruled these people through fear and supposition.
I am more of a king for these people than Richard ever was, or Alfred before him, or Maxwell, or Gabriel . . . who rules these people, if not I? Certainly not the girl queen . . . she can barely get the nobility to recognize her.
He stepped into the avenue from between the blacksmith's shop and the apothecary, both with darkened windows. The sounds of laughter -- not quite as loud as it had once been -- drifted to his ears from the tavern across the way. He watched their silhouettes in the windows, listened to their crude jokes. My subjects, he thought with a wicked grin.
"Pardon me, sir," came a small voice from his left.
Bagdemagus frowned, looking over and down, seeing a young boy -- who had seen perhaps only seven or eight summers -- beside him. The boy sported tousled hair and dirty cheeks, and his clothes need a couple of good patches. Wide eyes stared up at the wizard with innocent wonder.
"Yes?" asked Bagdemagus.
"Could you spare a shilling for me mum?" he asked. "She's in quite a bad way, sir, and can't support us."
Bagdemagus cocked his head with an amused smile. He lowered himself to a squat, bringing his face level with the child's. "And what has put her in such a bad way?" he asked.
The boy shuffled his badly-shod feet. "I don't really know, sir, but she's bedridden and can't be on her feet much. Her face is always red, and it hurts when she breathes. Can you help us, sir? Just a shilling. I've got a brother and a sister, and I'm the oldest, so I have to look out for them."
Bagdemagus smiled in an apparently affectionate way. His fingers dug into the purse at his waist and came out with a shiny gold coin. "How about a royal, instead?" he asked.
The boy's eyes widened. "Oh, sir! That would feed us all for a week!" he held out his hand.
The wizard chuckled, palming the coin and closing his fingers around it. "Not so fast," he said. "Let us have a chat, you and I."
Bagdemagus rose and lead the boy to a bench beneath a large, ancient oak. He hoisted the child onto the warped wooden slats and sat down beside him. "Now," said the wizard. "What is your name?"
The boy sat with his hands clasped between his knees. He kicked his feet and kept his back straight, as was expected of a proper young lad in the presence of an adult. "Thomas, sir."
"Well, Thomas," said Bagdemagus. "Tell me about yourself."
The boy frowned, thinking. "I ain't got much to tell, sir," he said. "I'm just a boy."
Bagdemagus and touched the child's forehead. "Ah, but a boy with dreams," he said. "What is yours?"
The boy sighed heavily, working his jaw. "Right now, I only dream about mum getting better," he lamented. "Begging for shillings is the pits!"
Bagdemagus chuckled, touching his lips a moment. "Then perhaps our meeting was destiny," he said. "I may be able to help your mum."
Thomas' eyes lit up. "How?" he asked.
"Well." Bagdemagus leaned over the boy, as if about to share a secret. "Don't tell anyone, but . . . I'm a wizard."
Thomas gasped and covered his mouth. "A wiwarh?" he asked, his voice muffled.
Bagdemagus' dark eyes glittered as he smiled. "Yes, a wizard. But don't worry; I'm a good wizard."
Thomas lowered his hand and frowned as he looked Bagdemagus over. "But . . . you're wearing black," he said. "I thought good wizards only wore white."
Bagdemagus chuckled. "Even us good ones have to hide in the shadows. Otherwise, we would be hounded all the time by people wanting love potions and glimpses into the future. We'd get no rest."
The boy shrugged. "Umm . . . I guess that makes sense," he said, then turned on the bench. "Can you really help my mum?"
Bagdemagus ruffled the boy's hair. "Of course I can," he said. "In fact, it already sounds to me that she has a simple ailment that I can readily cure with a potion. And I just happen to have one upon me."
"Really?" shouted the boy, his young face glowing with hope and excitement. "Oh, please, sir, do help her!"
The wizard took Thomas' hands and patted them. "All in due time, young man," he said. "Don't fret; your mother will be fine. But I do want to know more about you."
The child blinked. "About me?" he asked. "But I've nothing to tell."
Bagdemagus smiled as an uncle would upon a favored nephew. "Of course you do," he said in a way that was both encouraging and patronizing. "Don't you want to be something when you grow up?"
The boy grinned slowly. "I want to be a knight," he proclaimed. "Just like Sir Cedric!"
Bagdemagus' smile froze for a moment at the sound of the young knight's name. "That is a very noble goal," he said after a moment. "And Cedric is, indeed, a model for young boys such as yourself."
Thomas regarded the wizard with typical boyish effervescence. "Do you think I really could?" he asked. "I mean, I know one has to be of noble birth to be a knight, and I'm not. But . . . well, Cedric wasn't a noble either, and look at him now!"
Bagdemagus patted the boy's head. "That's very true. But if you want to be a knight, you have to do some very special things."
Thomas sat poised, expectant, ready. "Anything, sir wizard, anything!" he exclaimed.
"Well . . . a knight has to be prepared to make sacrifices. No knight ever slew a dragon without thinking he might not survive. Anyone can take up arms or ride a horse. It takes a special sort of man to be willing to sacrifice himself, or others, for the good of all." He leaned closer to the boy. "Are you that sort of man?"
The boy swallowed nervously, intimidated by both the wizard's words and his chilling, steel-colored eyes. Mutely, he nodded.
Abruptly, Bagdemagus straightened and stood beside the bench. "Let us go see your mother, then."
After Thomas had crawled through a small window within the shambled house and unlocked the door from within, he led Bagdemagus through tiny, darkened rooms to the back. The wizard wrinkled his nose at the smell of the dwelling; mildew and rotting food fought for prominence over the scent of unwashed bodies.
"Sir wizard, this is my sister, Elizabeth," Thomas said, introducing a girl of four or five years, clad in a soiled and wrinkled gown. The girl stared with wide, inquisitive eyes. Wordlessly, Bagdemagus squatted low, studying the child's face. A smile slowly stretched his thin lips. He glanced to Thomas and nodded.
The boy lead Bagdemagus into the bedroom, where the stench of the unwashed was most powerful. The odor was nearly overpowering, yet Bagdemagus did not let it bother him. Instead, he focused upon the shadowed bed, upon the wasted form laying atop the covers.
A flickering light cast umber-colored shadows through the room as Thomas lit an oil lamp and set it upon a small wash table. Bagdemagus looked upon the young woman, perhaps halfway through her third decade. From her breathing, the redness of her face, the sweaty sheen that coated her body like oil, he knew she suffered from nothing more than a bout of consumption. The right herbs would remedy the illness within a day or two. All it would take would be a simple trip to the apothecary . . . or the right application of the contents of Bagdemagus' bag.
"Can you help her, sir?" queried Thomas.
Bagdemagus touched the unconscious woman's cold, sweaty forehead. "Of course I can," he said. "Fetch me a drinking cup, fill it half-way with water."
"Right away," enthused the boy, darting off. He returned a few moments later with a dirty earthenware cup, cradling it gently in his hands. Bagdemagus nodded with a smile and took it. From the large pouch at his belt, he extracted several herbs, laying them upon the sheet beside the woman. He cut off tiny slivers of leaves and root with a curled knife no larger than his thumb, tossed them into the cup. A mortar mixed and mashed the ingredients.
"Now," said the wizard, holding up the cup for Thomas. "Feed this to her slowly. Just sips at a time. But she must drink it all before the morning."
Thomas gingerly took the cup, looking nervous. "Y-you want me too . . . I-I don't think I can—"
Bagdemagus settled a hand upon Thomas's shoulder and stared into the young boy's quivering eyes. "As you said, you are the man of the house. This is a pivotal day in your life. Don't you want to remember every moment? Especially of your involvement in it?"
Thomas slowly nodded. "Yes, sir," he whispered, then turned to his mother, climbing onto the bed beside her. Bagdemagus slowly stepped back, smiling as he watched the boy feed his mother the thick concoction he had prepared. He savored the moment, as an opium addict would savor the rush of hashish through their veins.
"That's a good boy, Thomas," he said in a fading voice, retreating from the room. "Make sure she drinks it all . . . ."
He gave little Elizabeth a pat on the head as he left the house, leaving behind an eight-year-old boy who slowly, unwittingly, fed his own mother a poison that would kill her. In the coming years, Thomas would grow to understand what had truly happened this night, how, as an impressionable child, he had been tricked into murdering the woman who had given him life.
Bagdemagus was tempted the wait and watch for the morning, just to hear the cries of anguish.
But there were things to do.
Guy Dorr chuckled to himself as he closed the door to his room. The drunkards within Old Slim's Tavern had been easy marks, especially once he fed off their prejudice toward the peasant girl turned Queen. It had been fool's play to distract them and make them fumble their hands at cards. Just an hour or so of the Devil's Game, and Guy's purse was twice as heavy as it had been.
He stepped to the small table upon which sat the oil lamp, and lit the device. Orange shadows painted the walls, flickering back and forth. Guy unstrapped his rapier, draped his cloak across one of the two simple chairs in the room.
It was then that he noticed the bottle of wine and the two goblets set upon the table. Anxiety spiked, and senses were instantly on alert. Snatching up the dagger from its hidden sheath in his boot, he fell into a practiced crouch, searching the shadows of the room. One of them stirred, outlining the form of a tall man with dark, shoulder-length hair.
"You've had a busy night." The voice was dark and seemed to come from the very air around Guy.
"Who are you?" asked Guy, ready to pounce.
The figure stepped into view, letting the light color his surprisingly youthful face. Guy's eyes wandered over the dark coat beneath the cloak, noting the silver buttons and the ivory hilt of an elegant sword. They drifted back up to the confident face, noting the steel-grey eyes, like clouds just before a storm. The figure's arms swept out from beneath the cloak with a slight flourish. He began pulling off his gloves.
"I am the Spectre That Walks," he said with a smirk. "Quite the intimidating title, don't you think?"
Guy swallowed nervously, yet kept his ground. His instincts were on edge in the presence of his unwanted guest. He regarded the man before him warily. "Perhaps," he said. "To children."
Bagdemagus chuckled. "You've nothing to fear from me, Guy Dorr," he said. He showed his hands. "I am unarmed."
Guy's eyes flickered. "Save for that sword at your side, and whatever you may have up your sleeve."
The wizard smiled thinly, and slowly unbuckled his baldric. He let the sheathed sword clamor to the floor and stepped toward the small table. "There. Now you have the advantage."
Guy did not relax. He stared down the wizard along the flat of his dagger. "If you truly are the Spectre," he said. "Then I doubt that is true."
Bagdemagus chuckled and pulled out a chair. Apparently unconcerned about the knife-wielding man, the wizard took a seat and made himself comfortable. He all but ignored Guy as he poured from the bottle, filling both crystalline goblets halfway.
Guy relaxed somewhat and stepped around the opposite side of the table, remaining alert as he looked upon his guest. "What do you want from me?"
Bagdemagus shrugged. "A drink, perhaps?"
Guy arched an eyebrow. "Poison?" he asked.
The wizard smiled and stoppered the bottle. "I would not be so crude. Sit."
Guy hesitated. He was a confidant man, skilled and deadly, yet before a man who had an entire kingdom on alert -- and a claim to such would not be made lightly -- Guy felt suitably chastised. Still, his pride would not fade easily. "Perhaps I will stay as I—"
Guy ground his teeth, but he read the power within Bagdemagus' steel-colored eyes. Reluctantly, he pulled out the other chair and sat. He slapped the dagger onto the table.
Bagdemagus smiled amiably. "I am sure you have many questions wandering through your mind at this moment. 'Is this really he?' 'What does he want with me?' 'What have I done to earn his interest?'"
Guy narrowed his gaze, eyeing the glasses of wine for a moment. "Something like that."
The wizard's gaze was direct and piercing. "Do not doubt for a moment that I am Bagdemagus," he said. "As for what I want . . . well, that is simple. I want your skill, your guile, your . . . curious lack of morality. I want you."
Guy cocked his head in suspicion. "Me."
"Yes. To serve as my vassal. Trust me . . . the rewards will be great."
Guy took a breath, tapping his fingers upon the flat of the dagger. "I don't take orders," he said. "Especially not blindly."
The wizard smirked. "No, of course not. That is why you left the priesthood, is it not? A shame what they did to you . . . ."
Guy ground his teeth. He did not like having his past dredged up so casually. Had his guest been anyone else, they would have found themselves with a dagger in their eye. As it was, Guy found himself struggling to restrain his impulses. "I do not talk about that," he said.
Bagdemagus chuckled. "I am not surprised," he said, then leaned forward, his mirth gone, replaced with fierce malevolence. "Make no mistake, Guy Dorr. From the moment we began this conversation, I have owned you. You have two choices: join with me . . ." he winked with a confident smile. "Or join that hapless poison merchant you slew."
Guy bristled slightly, now knowing at least how long he had been watched. "And . . . should I refuse you?"
In a flash, faster than any mortal man could have acted, Bagdemagus whipped his sword from the floor, jerking on the long tether that Guy had somehow missed. Fluidly, he snapped it into his hand, the tip of the single-edged blade mere inches from Guy's throat. Dispassionately, Bagdemagus stared the younger man down. Guy stiffened, his pulse quickening instantly.
"Then you die," the wizard said simply. "Anonymously, with no friends, no legacy. Nothing more than a body in a tavern."
Guy stared at the tip of the blade, unwavering in the amber light. He knew he could not act before the wizard skewered his throat. But as before, his pride could not let him acquiesce so easily. "Mayhap I will take my chances," he said at last, meeting Bagdemagus' eyes across the length of the sword.
"And what would that accomplish?" asked the wizard. "I am offering you the wealth of a kingdom. Serve as my vassal, and the paltry sums of a pair of vineyards will be nothing compared to what you will enjoy. I can get you inside those walls, I can make you a noble. Could you turn that down? I doubt you are that foolish."
Guy faltered a moment, thinking. The wizard had a point, he had to admit; just days before, Guy had been considering ways to gain entrance to the castle of Vix. Now, Bagdemagus was offering him even more . . . but was the price worth paying?
"I suppose I have no real choice," he said, voicing his thoughts out loud.
Bagdemagus grinned smugly. The sword vanished beneath the level of the table. "Let us have a drink, then, to toast your new position . . . Lord Dorr."
A quick smile tugged at Guy's mouth. "'Lord Dorr,'" he echoed, testing the words. "It has a nice ring."
"That it does," agreed the wizard, taking up one of the glasses. Guy reached for his, then hesitated. Bagdemagus chuckled. "I do not use poison," he said. "That is your purvey, not mine."
Despite the wizard's words, Guy eyed the goblet suspiciously. Yet to refuse the drink now would be insulting, he knew. He would simply have to take the wizard's word that the blood-colored liquid was not laced. Fingers lifted the goblet and brought it to his lips. He inhaled the rich scent, winced slightly in approval.
"Nothing but the best," commented Bagdemagus. He watched over the rim of the goblet as Guy tilted his own to his lips. Both men drank deeply, then set the glasses aside.
"You will need patents of nobility, of course," the wizard said. "We will get started on them tomorrow. They should be as authentic as possible, so the more honest you are about yourself, the better." He drained his glass, then stood and stepped to the scabbard and baldric laying upon the floor. Unconcerned that he turned his back upon Guy, Bagdemagus retrieved the items, sheathed his sword and slipped the baldric across his body.
"I suppose I will need adequate funds to play the part," Guy said, for a moment remembering his dagger. It would be so easy to flick that blade into the wizard's back, he thought . . . .
Bagdemagus turned to face the young rogue. "You'll get what you need," he said dryly. "Oh, by the way." He sneered. "Call it insurance, if you will, but if you betray me, or decide to sneak off, you will never receive the antidote." He headed to the door.
Guy's heart palpitated with anxiety, and he glanced quickly to the bottle of wine. "I thought you said you don't use poison," he said.
Bagdemagus paused at the door. "I don't," he said simply.
Guy frowned. "Then . . . what—"
The wizard winked. "Let us just say that, so long as you prove loyal, you will one day sire children."
Guy's face paled. "You've made me impotent?" he asked chillingly.
The wizard laughed. "Hardly. I saw no reason for that. But if you desire a legacy other than greed and opportunism, I suggest you keep loyalty high on your list of character traits."