Sunday, August 1, 2010

Chapter One


Speculative Fiction
Approximately 33,000 words
Copyright © Eric Lanke, 1990. All rights reserved.

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They called him the Peasant King. His name was Gregorovich Farchrist and he grew up in poverty. When he was twenty-one he organized and led the rebellion that shattered the old regime to ashes. After the monarch had been hung in the street and his body had been fed to his dogs, after his manor house had been burned to its foundation and it ruins smashed and trampled into the earth, the peasants had carried their leader upon their shoulders and had named him their new King. The day was called the Day of Vengeance and the calendars started over again at Farchrist Year One.

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Gil’s mother died five days after his eighteenth birthday. Her death left him alone. His father had died before Gil had been born and, although Gil knew who his father had been and what position he had held, Gil did not know the circumstances of his father’s death. His mother had never talked about it and Gil had learned at an early age not to ask.

Gil’s mother had thought her son needed a male role-model to emulate as he grew, so when Gil was two, she married a man named Otis Parkinson, a somewhat wealthy tavern owner. Until after the wedding, Otis, like the rest of the small village of Scalt, knew nothing about Gil’s father and who he had been. But Gil’s mother told Otis the whole truth on their wedding night so Otis would know how to properly raise his stepson. Her fondest and most secret dream was to see her son attain the same position his father had held, as well as his father before him.

Gil respected his stepfather during his childhood, but he never felt any great love for him. Otis raised Gil to be virtuous and to place personal honor before all else. His education included a deep devotion to the god Grecolus, who made him and all the world. Gil was to lead his life in goodness and purity, and to preserve the sanctity of all such good life. Although it was necessary for him to accept the name of Parkinson as his mother had, Gil was told not to be ashamed of the name with which he had been born.

Gil accepted all he was taught and he held it dear to his heart. He was young, but he could feel it strengthening his budding soul. All he was taught seemed so right to him. The world was a beautiful place in which he played an important role. His love for his creator kept him alive and his faith in himself kept him strong.

When Gil was twelve, he met Roy Stonerow. The man came to town in a horse-drawn wagon and moved into a recently vacated house down the road from Otis’ tavern. The cart had been bulging with his possessions, all of them covered by a red tarpaulin. Roy Stonerow had been a young man of twenty-four when he came to Scalt that day. His hair had been black and he had worn a full beard that dipped an inch below his chin.

Gil had been playing outside when Roy Stonerow and his wagon rolled up, and Stonerow quickly recruited Gil and his little friends to help unload the towering pile of goods from the wheeled cart.

The things Gil carried into that house that day astounded him, and would change the course of his life. It seemed that Roy Stonerow was a wizard of sorts, and he had the paraphernalia to prove it. He had boxes and boxes of tubes, flasks, mortars and pestles, bowls and mixing utensils; all with which to create his bubbling potions. Old and yellowed parchment with strange red and black writings were carted off by the bundle, along with stacks of books, some tomes as thick as Gil’s head. Locked chests had filled the bottom of the wagon, which either appeared laboriously heavy and were as light as a feather, or appeared small and manageable but were too heavy to lift.

All of Gil’s friends left when they saw the thing to be carried out of the wagon. They had heeded the warnings they had been given about the evils of magic and wizards. Magic was the tool of Damaleous, the Evil One, and those who used it were his servants.

Otis had given these warnings to Gil as well. But as much as Gil knew these warnings to be valid, and as much as he knew magic to be an abomination against Grecolus, the more Gil was fascinated by sorcery.

After the moving in had been completed, Stonerow gave Gil a small pentacle medallion of silver as payment for the help he had cheerfully given. Gil ran home to tell Otis and his mother about Scalt’s newest resident and to show them his new necklace. Otis spanked Gil that day for the first and only time in his life. The older man called the medallion a Token of the Beast and threw it deep into the woods behind their home.

It took Gil a week, but he eventually found that small silver medallion in the underbrush of the forest, and this time he kept it hidden from Otis and his mother. He also kept hidden his visits to Stonerow and the friendship that developed between the two of them over the next six years.

As those years passed, Stonerow told Gil more and more of his personal history. Orphaned at a young age, Stonerow had been adopted by an aging wizard who had passed the rudiments of magic along to Stonerow before he had died when Stonerow was seventeen. Most of the things in the Stonerow’s house now had once been the property of this old wizard.

After his death, Stonerow took to wandering, and in his travels he met up with a pair of warriors, one of whom was a dwarf, and together the three of them had set out on dangerous quest after quest for treasure and power. On the last such adventure, Stonerow had found some ancient tomes of magic, which he had decided to study and master over the next few years. This was why he had retired to the peaceful village of Scalt.

But history was not the only thing Stonerow taught Gil in those ensuing years. Gil quickly and secretly became a student of magic. Stonerow taught him how magic worked in their realm of reality. It was an underlying force inherent to all things in the universe. But it was a dangerous force to control once the user discovered how to employ it. Therefore, Stonerow said, one must not progress too quickly in their study of magic. If so, the user can become a slave to the power and will use it for horrible purposes. It was not the magic that was evil but the mage who has lost control over it.

Near the beginning of Gil’s education, Stonerow gave his pupil a test of his magical force. This would see just how inherent the force of magic was in Gil’s body and mind, and that would determine how powerful he could become through devotion to the craft. The test required Stonerow to cast some low-powered spell, using Gil instead of himself as the medium. Normally, spells were cast by the wizard through himself, using his own mystic force to channel the magic to his desired end. But a particularly powerful wizard could cast spells using the magic of another body, and Stonerow was just such a wizard.

The spell used was a simple light spell, with the intensity of the resulting light indicating the extent of Gil’s potential. The candles in Stonerow’s home were snuffed out and the spell was cast. To Gil’s youthful surprise, the result filled the room with a bright flash of light against which he had to shield his eyes. The master announced that his pupil had significant potential.

As the years continued to pass, Gil progressed slowly in his craft for he always had to keep it hidden. If his mother or Otis had ever found out, it would have been all over. Magic, to say the least, was not popular among the Grecolus-fearing populace, and although no one had any suspicions about Gil, everyone knew what Stonerow’s profession was. As a result, the townsfolk kept themselves as far removed as possible from the wizard and his practices.

Under these circumstances, Stonerow knew he could never prime Gil into the wizard he might one day become. Magic needed one’s full attention and one couldn’t always be looking over one’s shoulder for the accusatory fingers. One night, Stonerow and Gil talked it over and together they decided Gil should give up, or preferably delay, his magical training until he wasn’t so much under the gaze of Otis and his mother.

But now, the lessons and ethics Otis was teaching him were somehow less important to him. Gil no longer believed magic to be the coldly evil power that worship of Grecolus demanded. This was such a basic belief of the devoted—that magic was the tool of Damaleous to inflict his presence upon the world—that without it, Gil’s entire faith began to erode. Stonerow had taught Gil some simple tricks before he had stopped his studies. Stonerow had called them cantrips. They were not spells as such. They were not that powerful, but they were magic nonetheless. Gil could conjure up small insects or make strange noises echo from seemingly nowhere. By his old beliefs, because he could do these simple cantrips, he was a servant of Damaleous and was irrevocably bound for the lake of fire.

Gil had never before had any doubt that this was true. But now that he had met Stonerow and had learned what he had from the wizard, he embarrassingly found his old ideology a bit silly. He was still young and very confused over all the seemingly contradictory information he had received in his short life. Gil had no one to work it out with, either. His mother and Otis could never know about the source of his new ideas, so there was no help there, and Stonerow, who Gil had by then begun to think of as an older brother, offered only his side of the argument. He denied even the existence of Grecolus and Damaleous. As a result, Gil spent his adolescence mired in a bog of spiritual confusion.

He became depressed and spent most of his time methodically going through the chores of his life like a bystander. Otis would often comment on his zombie-like attitude and how he had been neglecting his divine studies. Otis would ask what it was that was bothering him, and offer any help he could provide, but Gil just couldn’t bring himself to tell his stepfather of the turmoil with which he was wrestling.

When his mother took ill, and it became painfully clear that there was nothing anyone could do for her, Gil suddenly realized that he needed to know what had become of his father. He would sit beside his mother’s bed, begging her to tell him what had happened, but she would always refuse him. Gil would keep at her until Otis would drag him away, saying his mother needed her rest.

On his eighteenth birthday, Gil’s mother called him to her sickbed and told him the time had finally come for Gil to know the truth. As Gil already knew, his father had been a Knight of Farchrist and had served under the Farchrist line of Kings just as Gil’s grandfather had done. Gil’s father had thrown himself into his knighthood. His father, Gil’s grandfather, had been killed in knightly service when Gil’s father was only three years old and, from a very young age, Gil’s father had decided to become the most pious and devoted Knight that he could be. Raised with all the strictest knightly virtues ingrained into him, he became a Knight of Farchrist when he was twenty-one under the reign of King Gregorovich Farchrist II.

What Gil did not know, and what his mother now told him, was that a year after his knighting, Gil’s father met and fell in love with Gil’s mother. He had been forced to suppress his love for her, however, because Gil’s mother was a commoner, and it was beneath his station to consort with such a woman. He began to seek any excuse he could find to go into the city so he could see her. They were deeply in love with each other, but both of them understood and respected the strictures placed upon him because of his station.

This situation continued for some time. But on the night King Gregorovich II died, Gil’s father was so saddened at the loss of his lord, he could no longer bear the separation from the woman he loved. He went into the city that night, went to Gil’s mother, and cried out his grief in her arms. She comforted him as best she could, and in a moment of passion, they culminated their lingering love for one another in a fitful burst of lovemaking. When Gil’s father left that night, she was already pregnant with their son.

Gil’s father was wracked with guilt in the ensuing weeks and eventually his knightly disciplines compelled him to confess his transgression to the new King. Gregorovich Farchrist IV, the great grandson of the Peasant King, was astounded. In his opinion, never had the name of Farchrist been soiled so horribly. One of his Knights had coupled out of wedlock with a commoner, breaking the laws of both his society and his god. The King considered the infraction unforgivable, and he quickly stripped the knighthood from Gil’s father and had him escorted from the castle.

In his misery, Gil’s father went to Gil’s mother after his dismissal and told her to leave the capital city immediately. Once word spread of her part in the scandal, the townsfolk, who loved their King and the Knights, would not take kindly to her presence among them. She asked him why he refused to escape with her, why they could not go off somewhere together to spend the rest of their lives apart from the society that would not tolerate what they had done, but Gil’s father would give her no reply. He kissed her briefly on the cheek and left. In the morning, his lifeless and crumpled body was found at the bottom of the cliff on which Farchrist Castle stood.

Gil’s mother had been crying long before she reached the climax of her tale, the tears silently spilling down her cheeks like belongings she knew she could not take with her to her grave. Gil tried to choke back tears himself, but occasionally one would escape him, rushing down his face to stain the fabric of his tunic. Finally, his mother reached out and took her son’s strong hand. She looked at him in silence for a long time before saying that loyalty was the most precious trait a man could possess.

Later that night, she slipped into a coma and in less than a week she would be dead. After her death, Gil would often think about what she had told him that night. He would think about it in the quiet dark of his room, late at night after the tavern had been closed and the rest of the village was asleep. He would think about it while sitting on the edge of his bed, unable to sleep, while gently rubbing the surface of the silver inverted star that Stonerow had given him.

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