I hope this will turn out to be a sort of episodic book posted perhaps monthly, or twice a month. I haven’t decided yet.
Anyway, here’s the prologue. As I’ve written this in roughly 24 hours it hasn’t been edited and hasn’t been scrubbed and polished. Enjoy! – K. W. Rose.
The Strange Host
Beol was not one for complaining, he liked all of The Master’s friends and companions, but these ones were different. The Grulf stared up some three foot to the faces of the strangers, long faces with pointed chins and tall, winged circlets around their foreheads. They were beardless, lithe, tall, and very gaunt in face. Beol thought they needed to eat more, but they seemed to consider him rude and irritible.
“Go and find your master.” one among the strangers ordered Beol as though he were some lower class servant.
The Grulf stared at that one hard for a moment, trying his best to unnerve the man. The gaunt faced man stared back, only his stare succeeded in unnerving Beol, it was like staring into two crystals, but they were as wide as the moon!
“Go and tell him that Forfile and his company have arrived.” the man ordered.
Beol stood silently for a moment, then opened the door wider for the company to enter the tower.
There were five of them in total, Beol could not count them as they rushed in all at once out of the rain, but counted the soaked cloaks which landed on top of him as they hurled them down. They were multiple coloured cloaks, all made from very fine material. From the feel, Beol guessed they were silk. He hung the cloaks on a rack beside the fire in the bottom chamber to dry, the company following him expectantly. He wondered why they trailed behind him like flies, obviously they thought he was taking them somewhere.
“I hope you have suitable accommodation, and a room in which your master and we may speak privately?” the gaunt man asked.
Beol stared at him again. He was a very proud man, and seemed less pleasant with every passing minute. Beol took them to the only room beside the chamber and hall of the ground floor. It was a large enough room with an open fire and suitable seating. As soon as the last of the gaunt people entered the room Beol shut the door, rushing to the flight of stairs which lay on the other side of the chamber.
Such people were not to be kept waiting, Beol knew, but he also knew his master disliked being disturbed all the more.
He came to the top of the flight where the servants’ quarters were above the entertaining room below.
The next flight was longer and wound right around the inside of the tower, appearing on a small level with one room again, this one was The Master’s quarters. Above these was the library, then above that a room full of strange, magical objects which Beol was only just beginning to learn what were for, then above that a room full of mirrors, above that a room full of candles and lanterns, then the last level of the tower gave Beol’s own chamber, shared with The Master’s observatory.
The Master was in the library today, he had gone in there the previous night and was not seen since. Ginv the Brult stood outside the library door, a tray in his hands.
“They’ve arrived, Ginv.” Beol said.
The twelve foot tall Brult stared down at Beol the three foot Grulf, a massive smile on his face so large Beol was afraid he would rip his own lips if it came any larger. The Brult was among Beol’s favourite of the servants in the tower, he always smiled even if he lacked few words. Beol liked that.
“Master’s not done.” a deep, shaking voice came from Ginv’s mouth. “His food’s gone cold.”
“Did you knock on the door?” Beol asked.
“Master’s not done. He said not to disturb him.” Ginv said.
The Brult had a good heart and was loyal to a fault, such a fault that intelligence was deeply lacking. His body was covered from head to toe in long, thick brown hair like fur of an animal, but he wore a leather outfit too and an apron on top of it.
“That was last night, Ginv. I’m sure he’ll want to be told that they’ve arrived.” Beol said.
He knocked thrice on the door, which upset Ginv who thought this was wrong. A few moments passed which the two stared around nervously. Finally, the doors opened ajar, two bright blue eyes staring out like sapphires.
“Beol! Get on with your studies, I’m busy!” a chilling voice called from nearby the blue eyes.
“Master Mori, your guests have arrived.” Beol said.
“Guests? What guests?” the voice asked.
A ringed hand came out from the door, gesturing for Ginv to clear off. The Brult looked disappointed but obeyed the unspoken command, bringing the tray back down to the cellars.
“Some gaunt people, snobbish type.” Beol said.
“Daesir?” the voice asked.
“No, not young enough, one of them isn’t anyway.” Beol said, remembering the gaunt man. “Ugly people, well dressed, circlets with wings.”
“I haven’t got time for guessing games, Beol! Who are they?” the voice asked.
“Said they were Forfile and company.” Beol said as though it were a question.
“Never heard of them.” the voice said, and the door slammed shut. Beol waited a moment, almost knowing what was about to happen. Then, all of a sudden, the door burst wide open and the magnificent figure stood ready behind. “Forfile! My cousin, here in Zhar? How unexpected!”
Out from the library the figure came, Beol’s master and the wizard of Port Yealfalt, Mori Le Torne. Mori was unlike Beol had pictured a wizard until the Grulf came into his service; he pictured an elderly man hunched and well learned, perhaps a touch on the gaunt side or else more broad around the waist, aged and slow until the time came for speed. Mori was not like that; he was young, perhaps in his early thirties or older twenties, and already mastered magic as though it were second nature. He was boisterous, flamboyant, experimental, and what he did not know he liked to pretend he did, or else discover for himself. Mori despised being taught how to do anything, he preferred to learn on his own. While he was well learned and read up, he was neither gaunt nor broad, rather lithe and slender though healthy appearing.
He was quick too, much too quick for Beol’s liking, he never stuck to one objective but rather had at least three things to do at once, switching almost instantly between them. Atop his head was a large crown of curly dark brown hair, his face was bearded for not having shaven for business though usually he favoured a clean shaven face. For half a year he assumed a moustache, then for another half a year he tried having a small patch of beard on his pointed chin, but neither suited the wizard. As for his attire, the man’s wardrobe was larger than the library of books. He was keen on the fashions of all the lands, though most times he favoured a blue and red tunic with matching trousers and pale yellow-brown shoes. Beol rarely looked in Mori’s chamber, but when he had done he saw a robe hung separately to all the other clothing, and a conical cap sitting among spiders webs in the corner.
Today, however, he wore a red velvet outfit with long sleeves and purple lining, a handful of silver bells hung around his sleeves and the feet of his trousers, his shoes were blue slippers. The man certainly looked nothing alike to his cousin, by his attire or his physical appearance.
In a heartbeat Mori bounded down the steps two or three at a time, leaving behind the open door and the book he had been reading. Beol watched as a ghost-like figure followed the wizard moving faster than any human could have hoped to move. Inside the library, Beol saw all the books which had once been on the shelves tossed across the floor like worthless paper, many of them torn and thrown down open, pages bent and ripped. Up on the top of the shelf, in his usual place, a black cat lay sleeping where it was warm against the ceiling and down on the floor, looking through Mori’s satchel for some food, was a foot tall creature which Beol could not begin to remember the name of. It looked to all the world like a cat in its face, though atop its head, just behind the ears, were a pair of tall, slender white-grey horns. It was legless and its body was lengthened somewhat like a wyrm, but it unnervingly seemed pleasant and came something between a purr and a hiss when content. Now, it was anything but; Beol had disturbed it searching for food, quickly snatching the satchel from under its own mouth.
“Tokan! There’s nothing there for you!” Beol snapped.
The cat-wyrm hissed, revealing a fine pair of wings which had been hidden on its furry back. All across its back and sides was the same fur as its head, but its front was scaled so it may slither across the floor.
“Get out! Go on! You’d better run before I boot you out!” Beol hissed back.
The creature pushed itself up with its tail, flying about the room for a minute as though boasting, then when Beol reached into his pocket and withdrew a small shard of glass, the creature flew out as quickly as it could, escaping down towards the servants’ quarters.
“That’s better.” Beol told the satchel. “Maybe he’ll think twice next time.”
He followed Tokan out of the chamber, placing the satchel gently down on a table beside the door before he left.
Downstairs the company gathered in the room, and Beol could hear loud voices speaking. Master Mori had often spoken of his cousin, but never mentioned a name nor their exact relationship. Oft times he quoted as a great friend, then sometimes Mori spoke as though his cousin and he were in a feud with one another. Now, as Beol listened, he still struggled to determine whether or not he should expect lightning bolts to hurl out of the door.
Ginv came beside Beol not long after he arrived in the hallway, the Brult carried a handful of crunchy potato skins which he shared with the apprentice.
“I think they’re friends.” Ginv said when Beol asked. “They talk a lot and write a lot.”
“What’s Forfile like?” Beol asked.
“He annoys me. He is rude.” Ginv said with a mouthful of potato skins. “Sometimes they fight, nothing more than a family row, but that means magic for magicians.”
“Forfile is a magician too?” Beol asked.
“Eat and keep quiet.” Ginv said, passing Beol a few more potato skins. At that moment the door opened and four members of Forfile’s company came out, their heads bowed and walking very gently and gracefully. As soon as the last was past the threshold of the door, Beol heard it slam shut.
“Mori doesn’t like doors much, does he?” Beol said.
Ginv smiled. “No.” was the only answer he got.
The members of the company came up to Beol and stood beside him. Three members of the company were men, two of them were somewhere between fifty and sixty, the third was just shy of forty Beol thought. They wore grey, green, and blue attire with cloaks which did not match in colour yet, when worn, seemed to compliment the outfits.
The fourth company member was the only female, a woman somewhere nearby to her mid twenties whose gaunt appearance rather fitted her and gave an element of beauty. She had dazzling fire-red hair and an artichoke green dress to match, with wavering jade patterns woven into the fabric.
She was the only member of Forfile’s company who seemed to show any notice of the servant and the apprentice, even offering them a smile, though none of the companions spoke, not even to each other.
The men stood besides Beol with bowed heads, waiting and remaining almost entirely still. The woman stood on the end of their line, her face raised but her hands clasped together at her front, also waiting patiently.
“Ginv! Show my cousin and his company out at once!” Mori called through the door, before throwing it open in quite a rage. Forfile came out of the room, his face red with anger and his hands clasped like fists, though Beol saw a redness about them too as though they were heated. When the company were shown to the door by Ginv, and their cloaks had been given back to them, Mori called Beol across into the hall.
The apprentice came into the room, it was darker than the other rooms and the furniture was worn and tattered. Mori liked old things, especially furniture and things which others would have deem unworthy or no longer useful. He liked to take old broken tools and repair them, or old things and give them new use. The furniture was well fitting to the room though, regardless of its wear.
The figure of the wizard stooped over the open fireplace, his blue eyes staring deep into the flames for an answer.
“Sit down, Beol.” Mori insisted.
Beol came forwards, the nearest chair to him was a large armchair which Mori had taken from a king’s chamber long ago, the red leather was worn and torn in places but was the most comfortable chair of the room. The others were old church pews and garden benches painted a similar ruby red. Beol loved colours, knowing the names of colours and looking them up. Every name seemed to have reason or lore behind it: Beol liked that.
“How long have you been my apprentice, Beol?” Mori asked just before Beol sat down.
“Perhaps four years, sir.” Beol said.
“Four years and three months.” Mori said. “To the day.”
Beol thought for a moment, suddenly realising that his master was right. The apprentice looked back over those years in a flash, remembering everything he had learnt. Now it seemed like so little. The first year of his apprenticeship was spent trying to discover what sort of magic he could use, for there were many types. Mori tried him on a staff like the wizards of old, but the cane split and caught fire when Beol touched it. Mori said the cane hated Beol, but then he tried a more advanced staff which seemed more like Beol’s type of weapon, though Mori said it was too powerful and was overly fond of the Grulf.
Mori tried time and time again to teach Beol hand spells as the magician himself used, but these did not agree all that well with Beol and he failed to master the basics of them. There were even more types of magic which Mori tried, some which even Beol had not heard of before. Apparently there was an entirely different form of magic devoted to using tools such as ladles, then another for using forks and one for using musical instruments! Beol found easiest the instruments and one which used a sword, but Mori was unsatisfied with the results Beol gave. At last, a year after taking on the apprentice, Mori gave Beol a pair of crystal shards found in the ruins of an ancient catacomb by Mori and some companion wizards -Forfile among them- some years ago during their training. The shards looked like glass only would not break by any magic nor hammer, they tried dropping the shards from the top of the tower only to find them unchipped at the base, they even placed them in a giant’s lair where the mighty beast sat on them, but apart from leaving an imprint on his buttocks the crystal shards were unaffected. Covering the shards were ancient runic markings, believed by Mori to be old Daesiric, though Beol had been taught differently.
The magician never discovered the use of the shard until he gave them to Beol. He gave them to the Grulf and ordered him to try some of the spells which had been taught. Using hand spells the shards became hot and burnt his flesh, using sword spells they jumped out of his hand as though it were not right for them, but then Mori learnt of some Daesir who had used such shards and similar objects to perform magic, so taught Beol that way and, sure enough, the Grulf could perform magic through using one shard in each hand.
‘The key is in your palm,’ Mori had said, ‘hold the shards only with the tips of your fingers, but keep the runes nearby where your palm is, facing out of course.’
One year was spent discovering the type of magic Beol could perform, then another year was spent with Mori explaining the basics of it and its origins which seemed very vast and dull of Beol. The third year, Mori taught Beol some basic spells, but it took a year for him to master those to the extend which made Mori happy. Such basic things as lifting pens without physical interaction, or being able to blow out a candle with air produced from the shards was difficult for Beol. He mastered them quickly, or so Mori said, but a year seemed like a long while for Beol. The forty year old Grulf was almost twice the age of the magician, but felt as though he were a child being taught how to write. He understood that his lifespan would exceed his master’s, of course, but even Grulf do not live forever. It was frightfully patronising, but he knew it needed to be done. It was only in the last few months that Mori was satisfied enough to teach Beol how to cast a flame. Not enough to burn an enemy, or set ablaze to cities, but enough to light the candle he managed to snuff out.
“Its a long time isn’t it. Do you know how old I am, Beol?” Mori asked.
“I never learnt sir, but I guessed you were nearby to twenty.” Beol said.
The magician smiled. “So kind of you. I passed that age long before I took you into my service. No, I am twenty seven now.” this still seemed young to Beol, but he said nothing. “The average human survived up to seventy before plague or the winter kills them, already a third of my life would have passed if I had not discovered magic. Grulf, you may live to be two hundred or more. How old are you, forty? That’s a fifth of your life. If you think about it, you and I are the same age, nearby.”
“If you say, sir.” Beol said.
“My cousin came today, you saw that, didn’t you?” Mori. “Yes, of course, you told me. He came here from Turge, a fair way off, isn’t it? Where do you come from, Beol?”
“Port Yealfalt has been my home for nearby to fourteen years, previous to that I lived in Baerukk Zaew, where I was born.” Beol said.
“And your parents came from there?” Mori asked.
“My father was a travelling merchant, my mother was born and lived there all her life until we came to the port.” Beol said, nodding.
“As for me, my parents came from Har. You know of Har, don’t you? Not many people in Zhar do, strangely.” Mori said. “My family were fishermen, or so they came from the family of fishermen, hence they came to Zhar on a fishing trip. I was born down here, my father met a woman down here, a human but not alike to those from Har. My cousin was my father’s nephew, not my mother’s. His mother was a woman from north of Har, far north where the Grulf are plentiful and the humans few and far between. Now he comes here demanding that we side together.”
“Is that bad?” Beol asked.
“Forfile is a necromancer, his ideas of magic involve the raising of dead and meddling with death itself. Notice how gaunt he is? He’s been avoiding death for almost one hundred and twenty years. He helped my father and my mother avoid death too, for a good long while, its why he’s so much older than me.” Mori said.
“Necromancers are evil, aren’t they?” Beol asked.
“Power is not evil, only those who use it and how they choose to use it.” Mori said. “Necromancers aren’t any more evil than any other magician or person, just fewer pleasant necromancers than there are pleasant ones. My cousin is not a pleasant one, but means no one any harm really.”
“Why does he want to side with you?” Beol asked.
“Full of questions today, aren’t you?” Mori sighed irritably. “Rumours, and he’s always wanted me to be a necromancer, dunno why.”
The young man spun from facing the fire, his face blankly staring nearby to Beol.
“He came here to warn me more than to align with me. The Grulf of Zhar are hunting for a certain mage south of Baerukk Zaew, he thought they may come for us.” Mori said.
“A mage? Who?” Beol asked.
“Just some sorcerer, I wouldn’t worry about it.” Mori said. “Beol, you’ve been with me for four years, I’ve been holding you back. Forfile’s visit made me realise that. So I’ve decided its time for you to learn some more advanced magic.”
“Really? Thank you, sir.” Beol said.
The Master smiled briefly. “Tomorrow. Now, I’ve a delivery of Veroot and Black Eye coming in to the port from Gorse. Do me a favour, go collect it will you? I’ve got to sort some books out.”