Sunday, August 31, 2008

Chapter 15 (of 43)

XV


Zedwig was fairly certain he was losing his mind, but only gradually. It reminded him of a drought, how it wouldn’t rain day after day yet the expectation would remain while the world suffered a slow, quiet death.


He had once had misgivings about Prince Fangline. It had been one of those feelings which aren’t easily defined but tend to warn, however it had grown, and by now he had begun to feel a genuine sense of insistent and present stress over the entire situation.


Regardless of his intuition, Zedwig found himself, again and again, wiling away spare hours in at least the discussion of magic with Fangline, which the prince only seemed to want to discover how to use in more destructive, more overpowering ways. It more than concerned the mage where the general focus of Fangline’s attention invariably lay; Prince Fangline appeared to love only one thing, and that was power.

He decided beyond all doubt that the intensity of Fangline’s interest in Zedwig was because the mage was capable of such wanton destruction.


This destruction did have an effect on him, though. Zedwig felt stretched, like leather pulled onto a drum. He knew enough now to know that he should never touch that sort of magic again, and to know why it was warned against in all the books he’d read. However, there was a problem with that.


It was Fangline. For one thing, Zedwig secretly enjoyed being virtually worshipped by he who would be the king and the most powerful man Schloeffelonia, and perhaps even the world. For, though Schloeffelonia had always been a strictly pacifist state, he knew of none with the wealth nor might to stand against it. The attention was pleasing for a wallflower, and had drawn him from his shell. Beyond that, he and Fangline shared their strange mental acuity, which was far too easy to grow accustomed to and to notice its lack when it was gone.


Zedwig thought he had never been powerful, nor that he had ever been noticeable, but on the contrary he was extraordinary and had risen to be Royal Chief Mage earlier than anyone ever had in all records. The distinction, however, that changed how Zedwig viewed himself was when he decided to use his free will in a way that gratified his vanity.


His pride grew, and he used it, grew it, and coaxed it until it lived and he truly believed he was as powerful as he was told. He grew drunk on the power he possessed; both the power over the destructive forces in the world and the power he held over the prince. Zedwig was a marvelous weapon, and hidden deep within his psyche he was also a talented manipulator. Fangline was helpless and transfixed before him, and more and more Zedwig relished his possession of the prince, but Fangline was never satisfied for long. Zedwig began to believe, and then to despair that Fangline would never stop wanting more from him, and soon he would be forced to cross lines he had sworn never to cross.


The despair cried from the part of himself Zedwig still possessed entirely.


It was nearly midsummer, and Zedwig was sitting near an open window. Schloeffelonia was rather alpine in nature, and summer was never overly hot. On this particular early afternoon, it was overcast and a breeze wafted in and out in lazy patterns through the window like a tide, making even the most unpleasant tasks seem better and life drift in the act of forgetting restless, long winter nights.


The long grass sighed outside as his pen scratched the papers upon a table.


A gust of wind nearly pulled his papers from beneath his right hand, and brought with it the strong scent of a rainstorm.
Against the wind, and against despair, Zedwig made a stand and continued, stubbornly, to write.


Your Highness,


I regret that I can no longer tutor you. You have learned all I have the ability to teach on the matter, and as Royal Chief Mage I do not find it advisable to continue the study of magic in this vein. I am absolutely certain you know why, as I have explained it to you on numerous occasions in laborious detail. How can I hold the position I do and dabble in what I should not?


The answer is simple; I cannot.


As it is, I have asked for a brief leave, which has been granted, and by the time you receive this letter I will be gone for a time.


Please accept my apologies.


Z


This was, somewhat unexpectedly, one of the hardest things that Zedwig had ever had to do. He had grown unusually attached to Fangline, but, while he was still in possession of his faculties, something in him sensed he had to escape while he still could.


His hand shook as he folded and sealed it; it made him breathless and nauseated at the same time. He left it there, and would inform Geeves of its existence once he was on his way to the mountains.


Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Chapter 14 (of 43)

XIV


Dear Fangline,


What a pleasure it was to have you at the estate last weekend. I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did. The summer seems to be going on, doesn’t it? I think I’m counting the days until the midsummer festivals. Shouldn’t I?


Do you know the old tradition of lighting a fire on a hilltop on midsummer’s eve? You might think me ridiculous, but I’m going to do it this year. It just strikes me as perfectly whimsical, and I surely won’t have anything else to do on that night. Perhaps I’ll be visited by the spirits.


Can you tell I’m bored already without you here? Restless, perhaps. Al’bert is always good company, but not in every way, of course.


Maybe you’ll deign to join me, on the midsummer hilltop.


Languishing,


Camilla


* * * * * * * *


Dear Camilla,


The Fromage estate is always pleasant, and I’ll admit this recent visit was more pleasant than most. Hawking is one of my favorite pastimes. I have to say hawks inspire me. They seem so graceful, but are actually very efficient weapons. Woe to the creature that spurns a hawk.


I apologize for the delay in replying, but I’ve been busy with some things. I’ve actually started learning quite a lot about magic lately, as I’ve found a subject of which I can’t seem to get enough. Fortunately I have a tutor who is both brilliant and willing. Royal Chief Mage Zedwig is the smartest person I’ve ever met, and he continues to surprise me. He was a little hesitant at first, but now it just keeps getting better and better. Did you know he can link with the other Royal Mages and command them? Neither did I.


The other day I ran into him in the library. He didn’t see me at first, and I noticed he was reading “The Words of Life”. Have you read that one? I was forced to, early on. It’s by some crazed hermit philosopher who claims every action has an opposite effect, like a pendulum swing. Anyway, it’s drivel, and Zedwig put it away as soon as he saw me. I think he was embarrassed. I found it amusing.


Anyway, we started to talk, and we tend to talk about matters associated with telepathy fairly often (it’s a long, boring story why; don’t ask), and he mentioned that’s how he can efficiently order the other mages, in the case of defense, or at any time they might be out of earshot. I asked him if he could make them do anything he wanted them to, and he looked offended.


I don’t make them do anything,” he said to me. “I only tell them what needs to be done next.”


But could you, if you wanted to?” I had to ask him.


You’re talking about taking away their free will,” he told me. “I would never do that.”


Not in any circumstance?” I asked. It really was riveting, the possibilities.


Absolutely not,” he said, and if he looked offended before, he looked far more offended by this point. I really had to know, though.


But… theoretically,” I said, trying to ask carefully. “Could you?”


Zedwig’s eyes are a brilliant amethyst; a very rare color, you know. They’re most noticeable when he gives me the particular look he was giving me right then. I’m somewhat embarrassed to say I was bemused by his indignation. Still, he replied:


Anything is possible.”


He left rather abruptly after this exchange. I don’t think he was pleased with the conversation at all, but he still continues to teach me, regardless. Sometimes we have marvelous times; sometimes it’s just… strange. I cannot explain it.


I am literally astounded at the depths of his power. His potential is blinding.


Fire on a hilltop? Invite Al’bert and others. We should all have a good dance around it.


Cordially,


Fangline


Friday, August 22, 2008

Chapter 13 (of 43)

XIII


There was some work that Zedwig had to do in order to cover the mess he’d made with fireballs. This was a kind of magic he was far more comfortable with, being of the constructive sort. He’d moved the earth back into its place, and hastily coaxed the grass into regrowth until it was mostly impossible to tell that he’d blown up half the hillside.


Two weeks later, he still wasn’t sure why he’d allowed himself to fall into that sort of pit. He generally did everything by the letter of the law; in fact, he’d been that way for his entire life. He’d been thinking about Fangline, although not going near him by any measure, but had possibly reached some conclusions about the curious aura around the prince. He wondered if that was what had made Zedwig so quick to accept his request.


Fangline was royalty, so he could insist Zedwig do anything he wanted the mage to do, but Schloeffelonia had never actually had a king that abused his power in such a way. Because of benevolence, Zedwig had never really felt any sort of pressure in that vein. No, the pressure he felt from Prince Fangline was far more deeply rooted than mere political hierarchy.


Still, there was a lingering sense of guilt. It came from multiple directions, with one being as simple as breaking the law of the land, and another being as complex as the apparent rush of power he thrilled with even now in recollection of his destructive creation.


He swore to himself he wouldn’t do it again, but still couldn’t help to recall it, relishing the sensations like echoes of color.


Even though he’d decided that destructive magic was clearly what it seemed to be, both destructive outwardly and inwardly, at last he indulged Fangline anyway with another book, deciding furthering his study without the active participation of Zedwig himself would do no harm.


On this afternoon Zedwig was sitting at his desk, which was unpleasantly in disarray as he’d been having a horrible time trying to organize his thoughts as well as his life. He was determined, however, to force his will against his disheveled existence and train it back to rights. There was some progress until Fangline came in.


The prince strode across the room to Zedwig’s desk, dropped the book on the untidy pile of papers the mage had been struggling with, and leaned his hands upon the desk’s surface.


“Lightning,” said Fangline directly.


Zedwig picked up the book and changed the subject.


“You’ve finished it already?” he asked then perused a page in the idle way people do when they’re holding a book but have nervous tendencies.


“Yes,” replied Fangline, and then he waited.


Zedwig withdrew in the unspoken way that had begun to become familiar to both of them.


No,” said the mage. He put the book down on the desk carefully then cast a glance up at Fangline.


Fangline didn’t reply, yet he did reply, acting as what he was, or what he seemed to be: a magnifier. It appeared to Zedwig that since he’d last seen the prince, Fangline had realized what he was, and decided to use it. So by using it, he put more pressure on Zedwig to do his bidding in only a few seconds than could have been done with any number of words. He reminded him of how it felt, of the power, and the knowledge. He very nearly pleaded with Zedwig, but not quite, because the mage was fairly certain pleading wasn’t to be found in Fangline’s entire palette of moods, but what he communicated to him in that moment was a higher language that spoke in word, tone, hue, and sensation.


“Don’t,” objected Zedwig, turning away as if that would make a difference.


“Then you know what I’m doing,” said Fangline, who did not move.


“Of course I know what you’re doing,” replied Zedwig.


“What am I doing, Zedwig?” asked Fangline with honest curiosity. “I’ve never heard of anything like it, but it’s almost as if I mirror you somehow.”


Zedwig sighed.


“You are a magnifier,” said Zedwig.


“But only for you,” said the prince.


“Not necessarily,” replied the mage. “Do you find that you can generally predict what people are going to do next? Are there very few people who can surprise you? Do you often guess what someone seems to be thinking?”


“Yes,” said Fangline. “But … I thought I was just smart.”


Zedwig grinned despite himself at this.


“Well, yes, Your Highness, you are very smart,” said Zedwig. “Exceptionally so. However, knowing how much of your intellect is caused by, linked to, or the cause of your ability to magnify is fairly impossible to tell and is sort of like asking if the chicken or the egg came first.”


The mage paused for Fangline to soak in his words, for he was above all things an instructor at heart.


“Magnifiers are exceedingly rare in the world anymore, and I would say you’re a rather weak one.”


“Hmn,” replied Fangline, who didn’t seem to like being told he was weak in any capacity. “Then why is it so powerful with you?”


Zedwig thought about that for a moment.


“There is one explanation, and that is I happen to be extraordinarily sensitive to the realm of magic.”


“Naturally, as you’re the best mage in a thousand years.”


“But I don’t know if that would fully explain it. I really have no experience with the matter, aside from what I’ve had with you.”


Zedwig finished, and felt like waiting expectantly for Fangline to leave, but instead afforded him patience and perhaps a few questions.


Fangline lingered a moment, and Zedwig felt him poised, strained, and ready to link with the mage but honoring Zedwig’s request that he refrain, so instead he languished on the edge of his senses.


This was the best or, according to perspective, the worst thing Fangline could have done to break Zedwig’s defenses, for when the mage sensed Fangline’s restraint he pitied him. In this state of pity, Zedwig gently pulled away the formless, substanceless wall that lay between them.


Fangline was immediate and nearly overpowering, and Zedwig brought his hands to the desktop to brace himself.


“Lightning,” said Fangline, again.


The strewn papers beneath Zedwig’s hands were twisted and crumpled into his fists.


Some hours later, in the riding meadow, Zedwig lay contentedly beneath a tree in the leaves of grass, staring up through the crossing branches above him to parallelograms and polygons of blue sky. Fangline sat docilely by the mage’s feet, his back against the trunk of the tree and gazed out across the meadow, seeming entirely satisfied.


The damage had been fairly minimal this time, as lighting wasn’t a projectile, and mostly just a force that moved through the air to destroy whatever happens to be surrounding the mage at the moment it struck. So, instead of blowing away part of the hillside, it only caused a few burns and swaths in the grass, which were easily reparable.


He was lazily drowsy and, closing his eyes, felt an unusual contentment with Fangline nearby, as if part of himself was the prince, and desired his presence to feel complete.


Together with his magnifier, he had expelled massive amounts of magic over the space of two hours. It was more than he’d ever done in a month. It was exhilarating and exhausting.


“I think I like fireballs better,” Fangline said contemplatively.


Zedwig sighed and listened to a bee pass by them both, being intoxicated with the still-glowing motes of his own vast power.


“What do you think?” Fangline asked the mage.


Opening his eyes, he looked up at Fangline who had the same look of open curiosity from before, a look that rarely graced the face of the prince. Zedwig thought for a moment which of the two magics he might like better, but Fangline beat him to speaking.


“Not to say that they’re both not absolutely brilliant,” said Fangline, who seemed to Zedwig to be walking a fine line between fascination with the mage’s power and worship of the same. Perhaps generally Zedwig would find that alarming, but in his current spent state, he relished it.


“Either is fine,” said Zedwig, resignedly, and he closed his eyes and began to drift.


Fangline very carefully brushed a stray strand of hair from Zedwig's face as he slept.



Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Chapter 12 (of 43)

XII


The next day began filled with promise, and seemed to deliver on the promises it made.


Al’bert and Fangline spent the day with the hawks and the hawker, and Camilla looked blithely on, scarcely acknowledged, and mostly just a lovely bit of scenery. There wasn’t much of interest back at the estate, and, in fact, this was the most entertaining thing Camilla had seen in weeks, so she wasn’t apt to complain about getting very little attention from the two most important men in her life.


The clouds rolled by and it seemed like this was how everything would always be; the quiet strength beneath a jovial nature that she loved about her brother beside the simmering, curious intellect of Fangline. That is the way it had always been, so she had no reason to think it would ever change. And lastly, there she was; the younger sister, the one who tagged along. Perhaps she’d always just tag along.


After a late lunch, the three reclined in a meadow. The grasses were long and waved lethargically in the light wind. Al’bert was dozing nearby as Fangline deigned to engage in small talk with Camilla.


She was required by her father and mother to spare no effort in securing the prince’s attachment to her, but even though they wanted this of her, she wanted it herself more than either of them could. She wanted it more genuinely, which made all the difference.


It was Fangline who fascinated her. He was the one man she had never been able to control. It made no difference that he was a prince, for she would have found herself as helplessly curious about him if he’d been a miller’s son. However, like a carrot just out of reach in front of a donkey, she was driven and enamored by his now and again lukewarm affection for her.


It was this tepidity that he was showing now.


He was explaining something about the hawks that he and Al’bert had been dealing with all morning, and she picked up the word “talons” on numerous occasions, but wasn’t really listening to the rest. She was very good at feigning comprehension, but mostly she just watched the colors and patterns of light that surrounded the prince in the early afternoon sunlight.


From time to time a cloud passed across the sun, and the colors faded slightly, growing duller and even cooler, but once the sun erupted again, the prince was a beautiful, deep river of gleaming greens and golds.


She considered that she might begin to like green, should this continue.


However, the description of hawks in excruciating detail didn’t seem to be abating, which made her wryly despair. To end her torture, she moved closer to him, and he noticed.


He lost his train of thought and slowly words left him.


Camilla paused there, allowing Fangline to exist in a state of conflict for some time. They were close, and the long grasses swirled around them, moving when they were not, creating the juxtaposition that made them both feel as if they were still and breathless in deep water.


She looked up into his face and said, “Do you think I’m beautiful, Fangline?”


She knew the answer to this, and he knew she knew the answer to this. They both knew it was all a game and she was teasing him, and she nearly entirely hid her smile, but instead fixed him with an intense gaze meant to disarm him as much as she could manage.


She’d played this game a hundred times, and they always told her she was beautiful, stunning, exquisite, and a large number of other ways to more poetically describe feminine beauty. She, however, wanted it from the mouth of Fangline.


He shifted his weight slightly, taking her challenge, and returned her gaze with equal intensity. He appeared to be considering her question very intently.


“I don’t know…” he began, tilting his head slightly, as if judging her aesthetics critically. “Do you think you’re beautiful?”


She gave him a dry look, and he grinned a little at her, so she had no other course but to lean in and kiss him.


Some time later, she broke away and sighed.


“Tell me,” she said.


“No,” he replied.


So she kissed him again, more passionately.


“Please,” she whispered.


“No,” he breathed, but this time he kissed her.


Eventually, upon catching her breath, she grew more desperate.


“Fangline, please,” she pleaded.


He didn’t reply, except to kiss her passionately and push her to the ground to lie among the swirling grasses and rushing, coaxing wind.


There was a very long time that Fangline spent kissing her mouth, face, and neck, and Camilla fell into a sort of warm trance at the pleasure of his affectionate embrace. Her arm fell gracefully around his shoulders and she gazed upward to the brilliant sky in absolute contentment, knowing there surely could be nothing at all wrong in the world, now.