Sunday, May 1, 2011

Chapter Ten


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

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King Gregorovich Farchrist II did not rule his kingdom alone. There has never been a successful King who has. They are leaders, and like most leaders, they are usually figureheads for an organization of people trained to make their leader seem independent and absolute. Gregorovich II was no different. He had a group of advisors whose job it was to protect his image. None of them liked the King’s plan to send an armed party to Dragon’s Peak, but one of them, the King’s most trusted man, argued against the decision for weeks. The advisor’s name was Illzeezad Dantrius, and the day the party left for Dalanmire’s lair, Dantrius left his position behind and fled from the castle. He left no word of his destination or reason for his departure. Gregorovich II never saw his chief advisor again.

+ + +

Shortwhiskers, Roundtower, and Brisbane stood at the entrance of the shrine and watched Roystnof work his magic on the stone statue they had discovered earlier. Shortwhiskers had a nasty bump on his forehead from the swat the demon had given him, but some of his healing salve had been gently rubbed on it and some of the swelling had already gone down. Roundtower had hurt his knee in the fall he had taken when the demon dropped him, but like Shortwhiskers’ injury, it was not serious and would only ache for a few days.

Brisbane stood with his back straight in his leather jerkin and the sword called Angelika strapped to his side in her ornately-carved scabbard. Roundtower had told him as much as he knew about the sword, but most of it was still a mystery to Brisbane.

Roundtower had found the sword on one of his first adventures with Shortwhiskers and Roystnof. They had been exploring some uncharted lands in the east and they had uncovered a burial tomb of an ancient warrior-king. Angelika had been buried with the corpse, and as soon as Roundtower had picked her up, the voice Brisbane had heard seated herself in Roundtower’s mind.

She had told him what she was, a holy sword created centuries ago to help pious knights vanquish the forces of evil. She had had many owners, and each time she exchanged hands, it had been to someone with more potential for conquering evil than the last. Just as she had passed from the warrior-king to Roundtower, she had now passed from Roundtower to Brisbane.

Her communication with her wielder was telepathic in nature and usually only occurred when there was evil near to be vanquished. The consciousness present in the sword was not a human one, Roundtower had told him. She was not quite alive, but neither was she a cold blade of simple steel.

Brisbane was not sure what he should make of any of this. Angelika was a fine weapon and she was obviously magical. He had been more amazed at his skill with the blade than anyone else had been. It had almost been as if he had been using Angelika for years—he was that sure and confident about what he could do with her. It scared him somewhat when he thought about it. Something was present in the sword, something living but it was not warm. Roundtower believed the presence came from the blessing of Grecolus himself, but Brisbane was not so sure.

The sword had not spoken to Brisbane since the defeat of the demon and Brisbane found that he liked it that way. There was something too intimate about the connection. It was almost as if Angelika was more in control than Brisbane was. He might be better off without her, but he already knew he would not let her go. He would keep her until she found someone with more potential, and then she would leave him like she left Roundtower.

But now Brisbane was more concerned about the man Roystnof was about to transform back into flesh. Shortwhiskers was still set against the idea and, if anything, he had been even more gruff about it than he had been the last time. Brisbane suspected that his getting knocked out of two battles in a row might have had something to do with his attitude, but he could not figure out why the dwarf chose the stone man to pour his frustrations upon. Roundtower was still all for the transformation, but now Brisbane was having his own reservations. He was no longer sure it was such a good idea to bring the man out of his sensory coma after such a long time. Roundtower had been livid when his senses had come flooding back in on him, a condition that had been thankfully temporary. But Roundtower had only been alone for two weeks. If this man had been imprisoned as stone for as long as perhaps decades as Roystnof said, Brisbane wondered if his period of lividness would ever end. Who knew what sort of world the man had created for himself for all those years, and who knew what would happen when that world came tumbling down?

But the spell was being cast. There was nothing to do now but watch. Roystnof mixed the earth with his blood and, just as he had done with Roundtower, he blew the mixture into the statue’s face. Brisbane and his two companions took a few anticipatory steps forward as the liquid soaked into the pores of the stone and the dirt flaked off onto the ground.

The color slowly began to return to the figure. The long tunic turned a dirty blue and his trousers took on the cracks of mistreated leather. His hair came in jet black and only served to accentuate the paleness of his skin. It was almost as if Roystnof’s spell had worked on the man’s clothing alone, leaving his flesh virtually the same gray-white color his stone had been.

Roystnof backed away from the figure and joined his companions. Brisbane was fully prepared for an agonizing scream when the spell worked itself to its conclusion.

There was, however, no deafening screech from the man as his senses hammered their way back into his deserted mind. The man made no sound at all at first. He stood there like the statue he had been for an unknown number of years and then slowly raised his head and looked off into the sky. He stood like that for perhaps ten seconds as Brisbane and his friends stood quietly by, waiting to see what the man would do. Eventually he lowered his eyes to the group of people in front of him and Brisbane noticed their icy blue coloration for the first time. Brisbane’s eyes locked with the freshly restored orbs of the man and he saw the stranger whisper something. He spoke too quietly for Brisbane to hear the sounds, but his lip movements were unmistakable.

The man said, “Bris-bane.”

Roystnof took a step forward with open palms outstretched. “Hello,” he said to the main. “Do you realize what has happened to you?”

The man looked Roystnof up and down. “Who are you?” His voice was cool and measured.

“My name is Roystnof.”

“Unusual name,” the man said. “Is it your first or your last?”

Roystnof opened his mouth to answer but was cut short when Shortwhiskers suddenly stepped forward and spoke aloud.

“Don’t answer him, Roystnof. He doesn’t deserve any of the help you are trying to give him.” The dwarf then addressed the man who had been stone. “I told him not to restore you, Dantrius. You couldn’t poison anyone with your presence petrified here in this garden. If I had been sure it was you, I would have taken a war hammer and pounded your statue into gravel.”

The man named Dantrius turned his icy blue eyes upon the dwarf. “Why, Mister Ambassador,” he said in a tone that was a mockery of cordial, “it is good to see you again. But whatever happened to that long beard of yours?” He began to chuckle.

Roystnof turned to the dwarf. “Nog, what is going on? Who is this man?”

Both Roundtower and Brisbane gathered close. Brisbane was as much in the dark about what was going on as anyone else. He did not like the way this Dantrius had come out of his coma. It mocked the suffering Roundtower had undergone. He was too calm and prepared, this Dantrius, almost as if he had known exactly when and how he was going to be revived. Brisbane also did not like the way Dantrius had seemed to recognize him.

Shortwhiskers spoke as if Dantrius was not there. “In the years that I served as an ambassador for my clan, Illzeezad Dantrius was the chief advisor on the court of Gregorovich the Second. He was a major opponent to the King’s decision to send an armed party to Dragon’s Peak and, after the Knights had set out, he vanished from the kingdom and was never seen again. How he got himself here, I have no idea.”

“I see,” Brisbane said. “That explains how he recognized you and why he called you ‘Mister Ambassador.’ But how does he know me?”

“What do you mean?” Shortwhiskers asked.

“After he came out of it,” Brisbane said, “he looked right at me and said my name. I couldn’t hear him but I could read his lips. He said ‘Brisbane.’”

Shortwhiskers looked back at Dantrius.

The man smiled innocently back at the dwarf.

Shortwhiskers turned back to Brisbane and shrugged his shoulders. “Must be your grandfather, Gil. You do bear a striking resemblance to the man. He and Dantrius never got along very well, as I recall.”

Roystnof stepped up to Dantrius. “Your time has passed, Dantrius. You have spent some time as a statue in the garden lair of a basilisk. The grandson of your King now sits on the throne, and the man you recognize as Brisbane is that man’s grandson as well.”

“I know,” Dantrius said.

“You know?” Roystnof was puzzled.

“I am aware of what has happened to me. The basilisk that turned me to stone was not the first one I encountered. I killed the first one.”

Roundtower stepped forward. “You killed one?”

Dantrius’ eyebrows flew up. “And who might you be?”

Roundtower stood proud. “My name is Ignatius Roundtower.”

“Well, yes then, Ignatius Roundtower, I did kill one.”

Brisbane still did not like the man’s tone. He spoke to Roundtower like he was some kind of child. Dantrius claimed to have killed a basilisk, a feat that obviously impressed Roundtower, and yet he had no visible weaponry and treated the deed with the off-handedness of swatting a fly. Brisbane was quickly beginning to dislike the man.

“How did you accomplish it?” Brisbane asked.

Dantrius turned his gaze upon Brisbane. “Accomplish what, young Gildegarde?”

“You bear no weapons. How did you kill the basilisk? With your bare hands?”

Dantrius laughed. “No, no. I am afraid I am much too physically weak an individual for such heroics. Like your friend Roystnof here, I too am trained in the magical arts.”

“A wizard!” Roundtower thundered. “You mean to tell us King Gregorovich the Second had a wizard for his chief advisor? I don’t believe it.”

“Fortunately,” Dantrius reassured the warrior, “the King never suspected I had such talents. You’re right of course. Had he known, I doubt he would’ve allowed me so far into his confidence.”

Brisbane looked at Shortwhiskers and wondered how much the dwarf knew about these things. He was still being unusually close-mouthed about the whole affair. Even now, he seemed to be brooding about something. Brisbane would make it a point to question the dwarf later.

“What spell did you use?” Roystnof asked, cutting Roundtower off before he could exclaim anything else.

“A simple one, really,” Dantrius said. “I call it gaze reflection. I turned the basilisk’s gaze back upon itself and caused it to turn to stone instead of me. Simple.”

Roystnof nodded, obviously impressed. “Simple.”

Roundtower jumped back in as Roystnof paused. “How did you get here? What were you doing at this shrine?” His tone was very demanding.

“Gentleman,” Dantrius said, putting up placating hands. “I am sorry, but I feel very fatigued. Perhaps you have struck a camp somewhere nearby?”

The silence that followed was complete.

“Yes,” Roystnof said finally. “We have a campsite just outside this garden. Perhaps it would be best if we all got some rest before we continued this discussion. If you will come with me, Dantrius, I will take you there.”

Dantrius grinned. “Please. Call me Illzeezad.”

Roystnof then led the small group out of the clearing and toward the oasis wall. Dantrius walked with him, and the two wizards carried on a very hushed conversation as they made their way through the trees. Roundtower walked a few paces behind them, his eyes fixed on Dantrius’ back. Brisbane and Shortwhiskers brought up the rear.

“Nog,” Brisbane said. “What is going on? Who is this Dantrius? What do you know that you’re not telling?”

Shortwhiskers was silent for perhaps a minute before he answered. “Not now, Gil. I will tell you all I know and fear, I promise you that. But not now. Let’s just get out of this place.”

Brisbane could not argue with that. He knew Shortwhiskers would keep his promise and, right now, getting out of the garden did seem more important. The feeling that had visited Brisbane twice before had returned, the feeling that they would inevitably stumble across the basilisk creature. This time, however, he was not to be disappointed.

They were almost to the wall. Brisbane could see parts of it through the foliage up ahead. The path they were following curved away from a large clump of bushes and just as Brisbane made the turn, the bushes rustled and out of the corner of his eye he saw a sleek brown shape slowly move out onto the path.

A strange, almost alien compulsion came over Brisbane to turn and look the creature full in the face. It was almost painful for him to resist it. Without thinking about, he drew Angelika from her scabbard.

Immediately, the sword’s soft and reassuring voice filled his head.

—The beast will not harm you if you do not attack it and do not look at it. Stay calm, brave Brisbane.—

Shortwhiskers must have heard the creature behind them as well, for he began to turn around next to Brisbane.

“No!” Brisbane shouted as he suddenly tackled the dwarf, first clamping one of his hands across Shortwhiskers’ eyes and then knocking him off the path. They tumbled together into the brush. They rolled and got turned around and when they came to a stop, Brisbane instinctively brought his head up. He found himself looking directly at the basilisk.

It was large, much larger than Brisbane would have thought a lizard could be. Its eight legs were like small tree trunks and its body was like a barrel of ale. It was covered in brown scales and had beady yellow eyes.

But the monster was not looking at Brisbane. It was looking down the path at the figure of Dantrius. Dantrius was just standing there, a gaunt pale man with sunken cheeks, one hand extended before him with the palm flat to the basilisk. He was moving that hand slowly in a circle and he was softly chanting. The words were unfamiliar to Brisbane and were like none he had ever heard Roystnof use. As Brisbane studied Dantrius, he realized that his cheeks were not just naturally sunken. The erosion that had marred his stone face was now present in his fleshy one. It was as if the top layer of his skin had been melted and washed roughly off his face.

Brisbane looked back at the basilisk and saw the unbelievable happen. The brown scales were quickly turning stone gray and the movement of the lizard’s tongue and tail were becoming more and more jerky, until they stopped altogether. Before Brisbane could realize what was happening, the basilisk had become a solid chunk of stone, molded exactly in its own image.

“Gil, get off me.”

The voice belonged to Shortwhiskers and it made Brisbane jump. He quickly got to his feet and picked up Angelika, which he had been forced to drop when he had tackled the dwarf. The party quickly regrouped around the stone basilisk.

“I take it that was gaze reflection,” Roystnof said.

“Yes,” Dantrius said. “Have you not seen it before?”

Roystnof cleared his throat. “It is a different kind of magic than what I am used to. I think we will be able to teach each other quite a bit, Illzeezad.”

“I quite agree,” Dantrius said. “Now, come. Let us make for the camp.”

With that Dantrius spun on his heel and continued down the path, Roystnof falling into step right behind him. The three others stood around the stone basilisk, Brisbane watching Roystnof follow Dantrius like, he thought, some kind of servant.

“I don’t like that man at all,” Brisbane said.

Roundtower spat upon the basilisk. “He did destroy this foul thing for us. We owe him something for that, don’t we?”

“Do the chickens owe the farmer anything for keeping the weasel away?”

Roundtower and Brisbane looked at Shortwhiskers.

“What do you mean, Nog?” Brisbane asked.

“The farmer keeps his chickens safe from the weasel so he can steal their eggs and eventually eat them himself. He is nothing but a bigger and more intelligent weasel.”

Not waiting for additional comments, Shortwhiskers stomped off in the direction the two wizards had gone.

Brisbane looked at Roundtower. “Ignatius, what is going on here?”

Roundtower shook his head. “I don’t know, Gil. But I hope things are clearer tomorrow.”

The two men left the stone basilisk behind them and trotted after Shortwhiskers.

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