Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Chapter Nineteen


Speculative Fiction
Approximately 46,000 words
Copyright © Eric Lanke, 1990. All rights reserved.

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When Sir Gildegarde Brisbane II had been a Knight of Farchrist for three years, he was asked to speak to some of the boys at the King’s School, to show them an example of what their school could produce and to tell the boys the joys and privileges of the knighthood. Brisbane instantly accepted the invitation and the next day went down into Raveltown to carry out this most important mission. When his talk was finished and he had answered all the boys’ questions, he made his way through the streets of the city, back to the castle. But before he left Raveltown he saw a girl, a young peasant woman of such astounding beauty that he pretended to have lost his way just so he could ask her for directions. He introduced himself as Sir Gildegarde Brisbane II. She said her name was Amanda.

+ + +

On the fourth day it was obvious that they had left the Windcrest Hills behind them and were entering the southern arm of the Crimson Mountains. The land was getting much more rugged and, although the slope stayed fairly even and gradual along the bank of the Mystic, they soon found themselves surrounded by ever increasing hills with sharper and sharper peaks. They were truly mountains.

Brisbane was pleasantly surprised when he woke up to find Stargazer in his arms. He had not remembered her entrance in the middle of the night. His movements woke her up and she gently kissed him on the lips and mumbled a good morning in his ear. They were alone in the tent, the others distributed among the other tents and, for the moment, Brisbane forgot they were traveling with other people.

Stargazer stood up and stretched. She was wearing only a thin nightshirt and Brisbane lay still as he marveled at the shape of her body and the curves of her figure. There was a tightness in the crotch of his trousers he couldn’t pass off entirely on the need for morning urination. Stargazer was a gentle, beautiful woman who Brisbane loved and respected, but as he lay there watching her breasts rise and fall as she stretched, he realized part of him didn’t care about love or respect or compatibility. Part of him wanted her sexually, and that part wanted to act on those feelings now.

Stargazer saw him ogling her and she called a playful shame on him. Brisbane smiled but did not look away. Stargazer pulled on a pair of trousers before going out and, just for a split-second, when Stargazer pulled the pants up to her waist and the hem of her nightshirt danced up to her belly, Brisbane caught a glimpse of the curly patch of her pubic hair.

It’s honey-blonde, Brisbane thought, just like the hair on her head, it’s honey-blonde. Saner men have been driven mad by less than that. He lay for a long time alone in the tent, feeling his heart pound in his chest and watching images of himself and Stargazer, their bodies entwined in a sexual embrace, on the insides of his eyelids.

Brisbane thought about those moments now as the little group continued its weary march up the Mystic, and as he thought about it, he noticed he had two voices echoing in his head. One voice, the louder and more confident one, was telling him he had it made. It was only a matter of time. Stargazer loved him and if he was patient and careful, it wouldn’t be long before she told him so and not long after that before they had more personal reasons to be alone in a separate tent at night. This first voice was sure of it. But Brisbane could not deny the presence of a second voice, softer, yes, but somehow more insidious and swaying. This voice said Stargazer was teasing him, that she was too mature for an inexperienced boy like him and there was no way she could love him as a woman loved a man. Besides, the second voice said, even if she does consent to make love with you, what are you going to say when she takes off your shirt and she sees the five-pointed star you wear around your neck?

Suddenly Brisbane realized this was the crux of the whole problem, this was what he feared about him and Stargazer getting closer. How is Stargazer going to deal with his connection to magic? She said she would tolerate Roystnof because she knew Brisbane cared about him, and because there was no visible evidence he had corrupted Brisbane in any way. But there was evidence. Stargazer just hadn’t seen it. There was his silver medallion, yes, but more importantly there was shocking grasp and the few cantrips Roystnof had taught him.

Brisbane wondered how Stargazer would treat him if she knew he was able to do magic, because that was exactly what he was able to do. It had been nearly a year since he had cast shocking grasp onto that hotel chair, and even longer since he had done his last cantrip, but Brisbane knew he could, at any time, do one of them again as if there had never been a break in his training. The knowledge was burned into him and he was as sure of it as he was about his own name. If Stargazer ever found out about this ability, Brisbane could expect no better treatment from her than that she gave Dantrius. Worse, Brisbane realized, because she would not only hate him for his magic, but she would hate him because he had betrayed her trust.

All of these thoughts left Brisbane in a very poor mood and he spent most of the day’s march away from the others, walking through the smudgy remains of depression. Shortwhiskers and Stargazer had both come over to try and cheer him up, and although he was not rude about it, Brisbane made it clear he would rather be left alone for a while. He walked with his head down for the most part, not wanting to look up in case anyone was looking at him. Brisbane would have had trouble meeting even Dantrius’ eyes that day.

It was late in the afternoon and they were deep into the Crimson Mountains themselves when Brisbane, still looking down, caught out of the corner of his eye the sight of one of his companions coming over to him. He began to run potential excuses through his head, but when he saw the red and black garments of Roystnof approaching, he stopped such activity and looked up to meet him.

“Hello,” Roystnof said with hesitation in his voice.

“Hello,” Brisbane said warmly, hoping to put everything aside and talk to Roystnof like the old friends they were.

“I take it something’s troubling you,” Roystnof said. “Would you like to talk about it?”

With that simple statement, direct as it was, Brisbane saw in Roystnof the friend that had always been there. The friend who knew him better than anyone and around whom Brisbane could be completely himself. He knew, whether he talked about his problems or not, Roystnof would always be there when Brisbane needed him.

Brisbane quickly thought about his problems with Stargazer and realized he would need, even with Roystnof, some time to collect his thoughts and prepare what he was going to say. His was just too uncertain about the whole thing.

“It’s kind of involved,” Brisbane said. “I still need some time to think. Can we talk about it later?”

“Of course,” Roystnof said. “I understand.”

Something in the way Roystnof said that made Brisbane think his friend already had guessed most of what his problem was.

Roystnof did not walk away.

Brisbane acted on a hunch. “Did you want to talk about something, Roy?”

Roystnof looked as if he was surprised but then turned serious. “Actually, yes there is, Gil. I was hoping I could bend your ear.”

Brisbane smiled, more than happy to serve in this capacity. “I’ve got two. Go right ahead.”

Roystnof smiled back and the sight of it made Brisbane immensely pleased. “It’s Dantrius,” the wizard said. “Frankly, he’s beginning to scare me. I am beginning to see why you tried to warn me about him. I know I said I could handle him, but now…now I am no longer sure.”

“What happened?” Brisbane asked. He was surprised at Roystnof’s confession. In his eyes, the two wizards had been getting along as well as they ever had.

“This whole trip happened,” Roystnof said sardonically. “I’m sure you’ve noticed Dantrius hasn’t been the easiest person to get along with so far.”

“He’s a pest,” Brisbane said.

“Yes,” Roystnof said. “Yes, he is. But I don’t understand why he is. He wasn’t like this back in Queensburg when we were studying together. He wasn’t exactly a loving companion, but at least he was cooperative. Now, he acts like everyone is in his way.”

“Nobody wants him along, Roy. We all agreed because you wanted him.”

“I know, I know,” Roystnof said. “We wanted to try out what we had taught each other under real circumstances. It seemed like the perfect opportunity.”

“What exactly did you teach each other?” Brisbane asked.

Roystnof looked around. Dantrius was well out of earshot. “This is what’s really bothering me,” Roystnof said. “In Queensburg, I thought we were exchanging knowledge equally. But now, I get the feeling Dantrius has been holding back on me.”

That was the third time Roystnof had called the mage Dantrius. Brisbane was glad he was no longer using Illzeezad. “How do you mean?” Brisbane asked.

“I mean,” Roystnof said, “I don’t think Dantrius has taught me all he knows about magic.”

“Have you?” Brisbane asked.

Roystnof looked at the ground. “Foolishly, I think I have. Back in Queensburg he had free run of my red book and I answered any questions he had to the best of my ability. I felt obligated to do so, after all, I expected the same service in return.”

Roystnof looked back at Brisbane. “But Dantrius has no spell book. At first I found that a bit odd. Even you know the importance—” He cut himself off suddenly.

“Roy, what’s the matter?”

Roystnof answered slowly. “I’m sorry, Gil. I’m not taking your feelings into account. You’re the one who I should have let examine my book. I know things have seemed different lately, but I still consider you to be my apprentice.” His eyes suddenly went wide. “I can’t believe I’ve really neglected you for so long. I can’t imagine what you must have thought all winter long with me and Dantrius holed up in the cabin. I’m sorry, Gil, I’m…”

Roystnof trailed off and seemed to stare off into the space in front of him. Brisbane quickly checked to see that Stargazer hadn’t heard what he had said and then turned back to his friend.

“Roy,” Brisbane said. “Get a hold of yourself. I’m not mad at you. I’ve neglected my training as much, if not more, than you have. It’s no one’s fault, really. I just kind of fell away from it. First Angelika comes to me and then Ignatius leaves the group, it was better for the party that I put magic on hold for a while. It’s okay, really.”

Roystnof was still staring off into space. “Oh yes. Angelika.”

Brisbane clapped Roystnof on the back. “Who knows? When this trip is over, maybe I can take up my training again.”

Not if Allie has anything to do with it. You know that, Gil.

Roystnof seemed to come back to himself. “Yes, maybe you will. But Dantrius is our problem now. As I said, Dantrius has no spell book, it’s all up in his head, and I’m beginning to see that what’s up there could fill a dozen of my red books.”

“Then he did teach you some of his magic?” Brisbane asked.

Roystnof nodded. “Or so it seemed. But now, I fear he has told me only the uppermost fringes of his knowledge. It is like an iceberg I have only seen the tip of. Like the spell he used yesterday, the one against the orks, where he duplicated himself.”

“I remember,” Brisbane said.

“Well, as I said, Dantrius’ magic seems to be based on illusion and creating duplicate images of oneself is basic stuff in his order of magic. With the little I have actually gotten out of him, I am sure I could do it myself. But my images would be just images, and I would still be real among them. An attack against me, even with my images still standing, would certainly kill me. What Dantrius did, mixing his life force among the images so he would always be retained in the last one, is leagues beyond anything he has taught me. It is illusion, yes, but it is illusion bordering on its own reality.”

“Maybe he lied,” Brisbane offered. “Maybe it was just chance that he was the last one standing.”

“Maybe it was,” Roystnof agreed. “But would you rely on a chance like that when your life was on the line? Remember how smug he was when you were chopping down his images? Would you be that confident on a one in three chance?”

Brisbane shook his head. No, he would not. Dantrius was either able to manipulate his life force as he had claimed, or he was the world’s ultimate gambling man.

Or, Brisbane thought, he was crazier than a shithouse rat.

“I wouldn’t either,” Roystnof said. “I believe he did just what he said he did, and I believe he has kept a large amount of knowledge from me.”

“Okay,” Brisbane said. “So he deceived you. What happens now?”

“I’m not sure,” Roystnof said. “But this is why I wanted to talk to you. Everything Dantrius has done so far is in the past, and there is nothing we can do about it. But what worries me is what he’s going to do in the future.”

“How do you mean?”

“Well, you’ve seen how he’s been acting,” Roystnof said. “He’s been separating himself from the group. Not just from you and Nog and Miss Stargazer, he’s always been apart from you, but from me as well. Back in Queensburg, I was a sort of confidant for him, but now, it seems like he wants nothing to do with me.”

Brisbane did not like the sound of that. “Do you think he’s up to something?”

Roystnof became very serious. “I’ll tell you what I do think, Gil. I think Dantrius is done with me. I think he knows he’s gotten all he’s going to get out of me, and now that I’m no longer of any use to him, he’s tossed me aside and he’s just biding his time until he can leave us all completely.”

Brisbane considered it. It did make sense in the light of Dantrius’ current actions. Especially if what Roystnof said about his own estrangement from the mage was true. But Brisbane was not sure what the problem was. Dantrius had certainly used Roystnof, and Brisbane was angry about that, but as Roystnof had said, that was in the past. Presently, if Dantrius wanted to leave their party, Brisbane had no problem with that. Nobody wanted him here anyway, and as far as Brisbane was concerned, Dantrius could take his share of the ork gold and leave.

“So?” Brisbane said. “Let him go. What are you so worried about?”

“I’m worried about what he might try to do before he leaves,” Roystnof said. “You don’t know him like I do, Gil.”

“Now, what’s that supposed to mean?”

Roystnof looked around at the others again. Brisbane did not like to see him do that. It was as if he was some kind of insane paranoid.

“It means,” Roystnof said, “that you don’t know him like I do. He’s an evil man, Gil, he really is. He worships Damaleous.”

“What?” Brisbane was taken aback.

“It’s true,” Roystnof said. “He believes that’s where his power comes from. At first he assumed I worshipped the Evil One, too. I tried to tell him I get my power from within, and I tried to show him he could do the same, but he would have nothing to do with it. It quickly became a subject neither of us would discuss. I have my beliefs and he has his.”

“He actually worships Damaleous?” Brisbane asked. “How? What does he do?”

“He meditates a lot,” Roystnof said. “Sits in one spot and closes his eyes for long periods of time. I asked him what he was doing once and he said he was communing with his master.”

“His master? You mean Damaleous?”

“I would assume so,” Roystnof said. “He says he needs those little sessions to recharge his powers. His master evidently bestows his power on him during this meditation. Because of this, he doesn’t need a spell book. He says his master rewards him with greater and greater powers for the work he does here on earth.”

“That sounds like my stepfather,” Brisbane said. “I was taught that was how all wizards operated. Until I met you, that’s what I believed.”

“I know,” Roystnof said. “And that’s what troubles me. I have denied the existence of gods my entire life and worked my magic powers up through years of research, sweat, and dedication to my craft. All I have learned I set down in my red book because it is too much for one man to remember. I could still work magic without my book, but I would not be the wizard I am now.

“This is the nature of magic, this is how I have come to perceive magic to be. It comes with my personal experience with the magical force and I am positive this and this alone is the true representation of magic in our reality. But now along comes Illzeezad Dantrius, who breaks all the rules I thought magic adhered to. He has never studied it. He has never researched anything. To him, magic is a prize, a reward given by his god, Damaleous, for doing evil works upon the earth. And he is twice the wizard I will ever be. It is a situation I cannot logically accept.”

Brisbane was not sure what to say. “You don’t think Dantrius really gets his power from Damaleous, do you?”

“I don’t know,” Roystnof said. “At this point I am willing to say he might.”

“But it could be something else.”

“It could be many things,” Roystnof said. “The force of magic could just be stronger in him than it is in you or me. His magic is mostly illusionary, so it could operate under different restrictions. It could even be something he eats on a regular basis, but none of that really matters. What matters is that Dantrius believes his power comes from Damaleous and I have no proof to tell him otherwise.”

“And now you’re worried about what evil acts he might do to increase his power.”

“Yes,” Roystnof said. “There’s no telling what he may do. We’re going to have to watch him very closely. For all of our own good.”

Brisbane had already seen the need to watch Dantrius closely. Shortwhiskers had taught him that much. “Why don’t we just get rid of him? Force him out of the group?”

Roystnof shook his head. “Too dangerous. He’s a ticking bomb now. There’s no need to shorten the fuse. Besides, I very much doubt we could prevent him from following us short of killing him. And that would probably be much harder than we might think. No, I believe the only way to proceed is to keep him in a place where we can exert some control over him. Once this adventure is finished, and we are out of the wilds, there will be no more reason for his company among us and we can more easily turn him loose on the rest of the world.”

Brisbane wasn’t so sure about that logic, but he realistically did not see any other way to go about it. He was glad Roystnof had come to him with this dilemma, but he knew Dantrius wasn’t just his problem, he was everyone’s problem. He looked up ahead and saw the thin frame of the mage. Shortwhiskers and Stargazer were walking apart from him. Brisbane thought about everything Roystnof had told him about the mage, the way he had used Roystnof, the extent of his power, and the habits of his religious life, and Brisbane realized that none of it surprised him. He had known it all along, known it deep down in his heart. Illzeezad Dantrius was no good and he liked hurting people.

“Well,” Roystnof said, interrupting Brisbane’s thoughts. “I guess that’s all I have to say except that I’m sorry I’ve forgotten about you lately. I hope we can be close again.”

“Roy,” Brisbane said. “Cut it out. We’ll always be close. Don’t worry about me.”

Roystnof smiled. “Super. Now, are you sure you don’t want to talk about what’s bothering you?”

Brisbane thought about his problem with Stargazer. He still wasn’t sure how he could phrase it properly, but he had begun to have the sneaking suspicion that one day he was going to have to choose between love and magic. He did not yet fully realize that this choice would manifest itself as a choice between Stargazer and Roystnof.

“It’s Allison,” Brisbane said. “I don’t know. I’m just really confused about where we stand.”

Roystnof nodded knowingly. “Ah, yes,” he said. “That is a delicate situation.”

“What do you think I should do?” Brisbane asked.

“Well,” Roystnof said. “Do you know how you feel about her? Could you describe it to her in, say, three words?”

Brisbane wasn’t sure what Roystnof was talking about but then he caught the gleam in the wizard’s eye. “You think I should just tell her?”

Roystnof put a hand on Brisbane’s shoulder. “I think you should just tell her.”

“But…” Brisbane could say no more aloud. To himself, he said, but what am I going to do when she finds out what I’ve been hiding from her? How can I deal with the hate she will surely feel for me? How can I let myself be something for her I’m not?

“But what, Gil?”

Brisbane shook his head miserably. “Nothing. It just seems kind of sudden.”

“It’s the truth, isn’t it?”

Brisbane thought about it. Yes, it was the truth. He did love Stargazer and telling her that would not be a lie.

“I’ll do it,” Brisbane said.

“Grand,” Roystnof said. “Shall I go tell her you wish to speak with her?”

“No!” Brisbane shouted. “I mean, I’ll find my own time to tell her.”

Roystnof gave another of his knowing smiles. “Okay. Just be sure you do find the time.”

“Oh, I will.”

Brisbane meant it and, surprisingly enough, he thought the perfect time came at the end of that day, after the march, after the evening meal, and after the camp had been set up on the bank of the dwindling Mystic River among the growing Crimson Mountains. He thought the perfect time came when they settled down for a night’s rest, having both eluded watch duty and again sharing the same tent. The perfect time came and the perfect time went.

That night turned out to be a whole lot different than the one before it because instead of Stargazer joining him after he had already fallen asleep, they were both awake and had to fall asleep at the same time.

Stargazer quickly went about undressing and putting on her sleeping clothes and Brisbane dumbly followed in a slow mimicry of her actions. He would leave most of his clothes on, he decided, as he was too embarrassed to go much farther, removing only his armor and boots before slipping under the blankets. Stargazer, however, would sleep only in her long nightshirt, but she donned it in such a way that Brisbane saw little of her naked flesh.

“Allie?” he asked as she slipped under the covers beside him, still planning on telling her how he felt.

“Yes?” Stargazer murmured, cuddling close.

Brisbane did not know how to begin. “What’s happening here?” After he had said it, he decided that it was a bad way to start.

“What do you mean?”

“Well,” he said. “Please don’t take offense, but why are you sleeping with me?”

Ouch, Brisbane thought. If I keep saying moronic things like that I’m never going to get through this.

Stargazer hugged him tighter. “Because there’s so much of you to keep me warm. And Nog snores.”

This was not going in the direction he wanted it to go. “No, seriously, Allie.” He took a deep breath. “What’s going on between us?”

Stargazer was silent.


“Gil, I don’t want you to get the wrong idea.”

Oh, oh, Brisbane thought, here it comes.

“I like you a lot and I feel safe around you. I guess those are the two main reasons why I want to share a tent with you out here. But if you’re thinking about starting something physical between us, I’m not ready for it. I’m flattered and I’m not saying it will never happen, but I’m not ready for it. Can you understand that?”

“Yes, I can.”

Stargazer rested her head on his chest. “Do you remember the night we spent together in the Shadowhorn?”

“I do.”

“Did you feel something special happen that night?”

Brisbane had. He had never felt so comfortable in his life before that night. There was something different about the way he felt that night from any of the other nights he had spent with Stargazer since. In a moment he realized that it was because he neither wanted nor expected any sexual contact with her that night.

“I did.”

“So did I,” Stargazer said. “And I still feel it. I just want to savor it a little longer before we move onto something else. Okay?”


“Now go to sleep,” she demanded.

They lay quietly together for some time.



“I like you a lot, too.”

It was all he was able to say that night, but in a way, he thought it was enough.

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