With Illustrations by Robert Gower
He could feel them walking up the pathway like he could feel an ant on his palm. They walked like strangers, slowly and ponderously, stopping occasionally to admire what may have been the aqueduct system or some complex stonework artistry. One was smaller. She walked along the rooftops and archways that connected each building. A squirrel, possibly, or a cat, but more intelligent. The other was on the ground, much harder to work out. The townsfolk treated them with indifference. They had their own business to attend to.
Water was where it shouldn’t be, trickling down stairwells and through cobbled walls, wearing him down like a bruise. Masons were plugging the cobbles and damming the channels, but their attempts were not holding. They keep working, keep trying new things. The other townsfolk helped them as best they could. There was a pressure somewhere, something was stuck, like food between teeth. He flexed an alley to let a wagon slide through. It carried wood, he knew by the smell of it, or at least something akin to smell, as there was no scent that the stone could pick up. Likely this wood was to support an archway to the east that was sinking. He had felt numb there for hours.
Something new had arrived. There was a stranger walking up the pathway. He could feel her like she was an ant on his palm. He had told them he didn’t want visitors. He couldn’t truthfully recall saying that to anyone, but it was still the case. They would know. He was not in the right state for guests, not at all, there was too much to sort out, too much trouble. And what if they were dangerous? He was to weak to hold anyone off at this point. This one held magic with her, they both did. A witch perhaps. Witches were deceivers. They couldn’t let her in.
‘Stop her!’ he demanded.
The voice had come from his audience chamber. He had heard it with the ears of the human part of himself. With effort, he attempted to make what his mortal eyes saw into an image.
The head of his guard stood before him. He looked older than before, he had a thickly beard now. It was him who had spoken. He could not recall his name.
‘Far-Vic?’ asked the guard.
‘The witch’ he commanded after finding his mouth. ‘She’s in the room. Find her!’
‘The room?’ he drew his sword and turned to face an invisible attacker. ‘There is no-one here Far. Another room?’
‘Not here!’ snapped Far-Vic. ‘The room.’
The word was lost to him. Room was the closest he could muster. Was the guard so dumb he couldn’t work out what he meant?
‘He means the castle. And just on time as well. Let her in. It’s okay Lidoc, she was invited.’
It was the most wonderful voice he had ever known. His pillar, his shelter, his hearthside.
‘I can’t Dvonn, I don’t want visitors’ he cried to his wife.
She placed her hand on his. He creaked his stiff muscles as he figured out how to turn to face her.
‘You summoned her. It’s Mrs Grinn. She’s here to help you. We wrote the letter together, remember?’
He did remember, and he remembered well.
‘I kept knocking over the ink-pot, didn’t I?’ he chuckled. ‘Clumsy me.’
‘Ruined one of your best suits you did. She’s here to rid you of this curse, should all go well.’
Of course, she was. Witches know better than anyone about curses, after all they concoct the vast majority of them themselves. She should be able to figure out what ailed him, and hopefully, who had afflicted him with it. The culprit would be caught and exiled and they would restore his memories and functions to how they were before. It was going to be okay.
He could feel her approach like he could feel an ant on his palm.
The Old Friend
Brek the bibliothecar fussed his thin mottled beard. These books had suffered worse than most of the others this side of the library. The same black mould that layered the shelves had crept into almost every page he turned, spreading from one to the next like a liquid rash. Very few words were clear, and those that were, were sporadic and lacked context. There was little point in copying this.
He cursed in dismay, louder than he expected to. He held his breath, waiting for a large guard with a larger poleaxe to call ‘who’s there?’ into the supposedly vacant halls of the library. There was not a sound. His breath returned, and he dropped the deceased book into the large basket to his side. The next he picked up was a tall heavy tomb bound in rusted iron. A memory of a war, perhaps. The pages were thick and coarse and the writing, where it was legible, was scrawled and hurried. He flipped through to examine the extend of the damage of the oozing black stain.
‘Aha’ he muttered with relief to himself, stroking the wispy white stubble on his upper lip as he peered closer.
There was a clean passage, clear and unstained. An island verge kept dry from a noxious tide. It must have been quite potent to remain completely unspoilt by the black illness. He flicked a lens on his complex brass framed glasses to more clearly read the dense scripture. The contents were mostly dealing with the intangible, words of feeling rather than words of action or of object, but there was a clear rigid tenseness highlighted by a distinct anticipation of pain. A memory of a battle for sure, Far-Vic was readying himself for a blow. He was under attack from a foe well known. The pain came again and again, like a hammer splitting his forehead. He bore it, unwilling to lose consciousness. As Far-Vic focused on a plan for a counter, the descriptions of the pain became distant and separate, though still acknowledged. The wound was very deep and would likely scar.
As it did; it had scarred quite badly. Brek recognised the attack as the siege of Mag the Marauder.
With the intention to steal the stone-heart of Far-Vic the dull barbarian had attempted to force his way into the library by ramming the outer wall. The Far had cleverly broken the assailants down by funnelling the walls so that no enemy could stand side by side whilst tilting the windows to give his guard the benefit of light. His temple still bore the stone cracked scar that lined the library walls. Not something easily forgotten it appears.
He took his quill and an empty book and began to recount the stages of the battle that Far-Vic’s memory omitted, making sure to keep it as factually accurate as possible while leaving out any of his own emotionally inspired descriptions. Hopefully, his writing should inspire Far-Vic’s retrospection to fill in the elements only his perspective could bring. It would not do to taint his mind with a foreign point of view.
Old doors began to creak open. Before they had finished the scholar was already in his pre-determined hiding spot in between the shelves and the wall. He tucked in his legs and swept the hair from his ears to listen more intently.
‘Well, you’re not wrong’ said someone unfamiliar. ‘They say never to judge a book by its cover, but the smell of it can go miles.’
‘Good witch, imagine having it in your very mind. It affects Far-Vic tremendously.’
He knew that second voice. It was Far-Vic’s daughter Mor-Dvele. The other woman he could not place. Even before the scourge the good Far had never allowed guests into his library. There was a personal sanctity to the place. To read the pages was to see the father’s true vulnerabilities. This was unheard of. Just how far had Far-Vic changed since they had last spoke?
‘This will take some doing’ said the stranger. ‘Looks as if it’s rooted deep. How long has he been afflicted?’
‘A few weeks now’ Mor-Dvele replied. ‘We can’t say for certain. The city guard has been investigating it but it’s hard to know who to trust. Even Far-Vic is uncertain on the details. Though he’s uncertain on many things as of recent.’
She was telling the stranger too much, too openly. She should know better than to talk of the Father in such a way in front of outsiders. To expose his weakness exposed the weakness of the whole city.
‘Well, there’s a lot here that looks unsalvageable I’m afraid. I can’t make any promises, but I’ll do as best as a witch can.’
‘Whatever help you can afford to give will be much appreciated Mrs Grinn.’
Brek dug his little fingernail into his ear to check his hearing. She had just then called herself a witch. Just what was Mor-Dvele thinking!? There could be no end of trouble that a witch could bring. Your average person may trust or even respect the witch profession, but the city of Far-Vic had three dozen generations of history to learn of their trickery and deception. This would do no good, surely Mor-Dvele must know this.
Brek’s thoughts were halted as heard an abrupt patter of movement to his left. Someone was close. He cursed his dusty ears for not picking it up sooner. It was far too late to move now. He would just have to stay still and hope not to be noticed. He could not let himself be found, not now. He doubted there would be long left for Far-Vic were it not for him attending to his library.
‘It would be best not to draw attention to yourself while you’re here’ said Mor-Dvele. ‘There are members of the court who would ask too many questions under the guise of concern. I’m finding it ever harder to know who I can confide in. Everyone is out for each other in a way they never were before. We’re in troubled times good witch. If anyone enquires tell them little. Avoid conversation entirely where you can.’
A fuzzy grey shape plopped into the desk in front of the bibliothecar’s hiding space. Brek exhaled in relief. It was just a cat. An ugly cat maybe, an ugly cat with disconcerting bulbous eyes pointing in opposite directions but somehow giving the impression that it was still looking directly at him, but still just a cat.
That was until it began yowling venomously.
‘What’s that?’ asked Mor-Dvele.
Brek creaked up to his feet as fast as he could whilst keeping awkwardly low, as if crouching would make him somehow less noticeable. He took one of his empty tomes and wafted it at the yowling animal. It stiffened where it sat on his desk and yowled all the louder. The bibliothecar gritted his teeth together in anguish. As learned as he considered himself, there was little in his studies that explained how to deal with cats. Maybe if he forced it off the table it would scat off to some other corner of the library and draw their attention somewhere else. He took a step forward to prod it with his book but found that his foot was sodden. Choking on his surprise, he scuttled backwards and looked to the floor.
A spreading puddle of clear water had crept out from under the bookshelf and was weaving its way through the cracks of the stone-tiled flooring. Brek heart dropped and he knew immediately what was going on.
‘Oh dear’ said Mor-Dvele with a strained despondency. ‘Excuse me Mrs Grinn but Far will be distressed. I must go and settle him down.’
‘Alrighty’ said the witch. ‘I have enough to get going. You go see your dad.’
He heard her footsteps patter through the water and outside the library. Mor-Dvele had gone, as had the cat.
His worry was groundless. It is not easy to navigate your way through the library. Where most libraries have rows of shelves in a line with books organised by a strict identifiable code, the library of Far-Vic’s shelves twisted and curved both up the walls and around the halls. The organisation of books was linked with the same lack of logic as a train of thought. Groupings were based on ideas and sensations rather than subject or genre. To even draw a map of the library would need a three-dimensional model. Sometimes a corridor would twist and rise into a spheroid nook, while another distant pathway of the maze would drop underneath the same area to an open, coiled path. The only significant marker to discern one’s location was at the central column that sprouted from the core of the library like a twisting stalagmite or a half-eaten apple. It was there that the books on function and form were situate. Thankfully, these had been relatively spared from the scourge, at least for for the moment.
An older Far by the name of Far-Jan had compared the curling shapes of the shelving to the patterns etched into the form of a human brain. Brek had never seen a real brain to attest to this but he had trusted Far-Jan’s methodology. The bibliothecar pondered whether any of Far-Jan’s scientific musings could help him in his task, however, locating any remaining books of his could prove a futile cause.
Regardless, locating a person in the library of Far-Vic with than nothing more than a noise would be nigh impossible.
‘Who are you?’
Brek collapsed backwards at the woman’s sudden appearance. He cursed his old bones and his damned naivety as he levered himself off a near shelf and back onto his feet.
‘You’re not supposed to be in here’ he snapped at her.
‘I could say the same about you’ she retorted. She was a short, messy woman with untidy brown-grey hair and a thick patchwork dress, not the type of clothing that showed any official position worthy of entering the library of Far-Vic. ‘Who are you?’
‘I, madam, am Far-Vic’s upmost bibliothecar. A position I have held for three generations of Fars. And you are trespassing.’
‘I’ve been invited here’ she replied, straight faced. ‘Mrs Grinn, witch. And this is Mrs Berrit, cat. And as far as I’ve heard all the bibblibobblimen got kicked out for treason.’
‘Bibliothecar’ Brek corrected. ‘And I am innocent of such accusations, despite what they may say about me. My best interest has always been the Far’s wellbeing and let me warn you that I would do anything in my power to protect him!’
He stomped his foot to the floor to punctuate his point. It made a wet sploshing sound in the puddle they stood in.
The witch raised an eyebrow, and he trembled.
‘I find it very suspicious, you sneaking around in here’ she said with an obvious edge of animosity, ‘what with the scoundrel responsible for this still on the loose and all.’
‘I find you very suspicious for the same reason’ said the bibliothecar matching her fervour. ‘Furthermore, a witch would be very capable of concocting this disease unlike one such as myself.’
The witch studied for a moment and then presently relaxed.
‘Good point’ she said. ‘You couldn’t have done this, you’re far from capable.’
‘Indeed’ agreed Brek before he had chance to wonder if he’d been insulted.
‘Which means you may be able to help me.’ She produced a scrap of paper from a pocket and a stubby quill to write with. ‘You must have been about around the time the disease started. Who was around that could have caused it?’
‘And why should I be telling you anything?’ asked Brek.
‘Because if you don’t, I won’t be able to do much to stop Vic’s brain becoming mush.’
‘Are you blackmailing me by threatening the safety of Far-Vic?’ Brek queried with a raised and shaking eyebrow.
‘Not at all’ she replied. ‘Are you?’
Brek considered this, but the odd-looking cat was staring him down from a nearby shelf which made the act of considering rather difficult.
‘Just give us a few names and we’ll be out of your hair’ she said.
Indeed, more than anything right now, Brek wanted these two out of his hair. He had his work to attend to, and that cat’s stare was relentless.
‘Fine then’ he said, wrangling his wispy beard between his knuckles. ‘Of my fellow bibilothecars, I have no doubts of their allegiance. I knew them like I know my siblings. They worked dutifully and loyally before the poor Far, bereft of sense by his condition, sent them away. They loved their Far. Indeed, it is impossible to see the inner workings of a person’s mind, complete and unfiltered without falling in love with them. Far-Vic has made his mistakes and he has his regrets, but we were there throughout all of it. No, it was not one of my peers.’
The old bibliothecar paused for a moment and clenched his beard fiercely where it met his drooping chin. He despised himself for the information he was about to give the witch, but he knew it had to be done. If the Far continued down slope he was tumbling, Brek didn’t know what would become of him or the city he embodied. He couldn’t save him alone. For the people, and for the Far, he needed to speak.
‘Of the others who have access to the library there are few. The guards would not do it; theirs is a full-time occupation, they have no time to learn of the occult and curses, they scarcely know how to read. Not that I’m saying bad of them, their skills come in tactics and swordplay, not in the academic fields. I have respect for them indeed. The Far would have suffered many more blows were it not for their protection.
‘All that’s left is Far’s family. His wife Mor-Dvonn died during childbirth not quite two decades ago. Then, Mor-Dvele is far too kind a soul for such treachery. At the worst, she is naïve. But you should see how she dotes over her father, such a kindly daughter. The son, however, Bror-Voske has always been at odds with the Far. Their arguments linger in many of the books in this library. The boy had garnered a resentment to this place, his disdain for the library was always clear to me. I could see it in his expression, the look he gave to these books, there was no love there. And lo and behold, when this curse starts to spread, the boy rides off out the castle and leaves his father alone to suffer. With the bibliothecars cast out it was him who was supposed to be in here, restoring what memories he could. I loved Voske almost like Far-Vic loved him, but I know in my old heart that there is none other capable of this.’
The witch listened and watched silently while the bibliothecar admitted his suspicion. When he was done, she did not argue or scold him. She just asked him one more question.
‘Know where he may have gone?’
‘I’m afraid not. I wish I did.’
‘Well, thanks for telling me anyhow. Carry on with your work, but if you can, focus on recent books, it would do us good to know of any of Far-Vic’s suspicions before the mould started to grow. And don’t just replace the books and be done with it, note down the nature of the memories that stay. Are they factual, emotional, recent, in-depth, vague? The more I know about how this curse works the better I can do to slow it down or stop it. Got that?’
‘Yes, of course.’
‘Good, then we’ll be off.’
The witch hobbled briskly out of view, however her cat remained, piercing him with judging wayward eyes. Brek poked it with the corner of his book again to encourage it to leave him be. The witch whistled irritably, and the cat scampered around the curving bookshelf towards her master.
Brek lowered his spectacles. He knew he shouldn’t be so quick to trust people in such fragile times. However, to have not told the witch would have kept the Far on the same downwards trajectory. There was only so much a lone old bibliothecar could do to hold back the flood. No person alone could resolve this, and so trust was vital to fix it.
He inked his quill and continued his account of The Siege of Mag the Marauder.
The Doting Daughter
His skin was patched like marble. As Mor-Dvele scrubbed his withered limbs clean with a softened brush she wondered where he could have gotten such bruises. Was he thrashing about so violently in his sleep as to injure himself or was this another side-affect of the mould in the library? Either way, he seemed not to notice, stoic as ever. As she lifted his arm out of the water and cleaned his crinkled stone-skin he stared forwards, humming quietly to himself.
‘There there Far-Vic lift your leg for a moment’ said the old maid at the other side of the bath.
The old man obliged vacantly. His eyes lingered on the open window where steam and vapour billowed out like a river. Outside, the castle that was Far-Vic wove through itself like a landscape. Arches crossed over cobbled paths and short bridges hopped over channels of fresh water. There was no building or turret isolated from the stonework, every structure was joined to one another in a mesh of tunnel and wall. Each and every part of it was part of the old man in the bath.
‘You need to remember to warn us if you need to go Far-Vic. It will do no good to embarrass yourself like this, especially if there’s company.’
While the maid spoke Far-Vic began tapping his forefingers and thumbs together and making wittering bird noises. He snickered at his own joke.
‘I don’t think he appreciates the lecture Sigrid’ said Mor-Dvele smiling. ‘Though his impression of you is uncanny.’
‘Oh yes, very funny’ she said with a melodramatic sourness. ‘I can tell he’s been practicing.’
‘Is that Sigrid?’ called out Far-Vic suddenly. ‘You’re supposed to be washing the boy, not me! Foolish woman. And where is that boy?’
It was not the maid who the old man was speaking to; it was Mor-Dvele who he faced and addressed. She was used to this. Often in his eyes she would be another woman. Sometimes she would be Margit one of the old bibliothecars, sometimes she would be her own mother, today she was a younger Sigrid. She played the part dutifully.
‘Oh, you know what he’s like Far. He’ll be on another one of his adventures. It’ll take a dozen of us to corner him and bring him back.’
‘Good. Yes, good. He’s a fighter that boy. He’ll protect us just fine when it comes to it.’
‘I’m sure he will. Strong as stone already, and he hasn’t even worn the crown yet.’
‘You’re getting ahead of yourself Sigrid’ chided the old man. ‘He’s far from ready for that. There’s only so much you can learn about fighting from scrapping and swordplay, there’s his studies as well, but he keeps ignoring them.’
‘Indeed, he does.’
Mor-Dvele leaned the man forward as he rinsed his back. With his back hunched and his knees bent into his chest he looked ever so small. The father she once knew could have flattened this curled man with one swing of his cobalt sword. The boulder-like muscles that she used to cling to whilst being lifted into the air had shrivelled and withdrawn and his mountain-like height had been diminished by an arching back and a creaking stoop. It was one of the sacrifices a Bror made when becoming a Far that their movements would be slowed and made rigid by the coalescing with stone, but Far-Vic’s fingers could barely move at all now. This man she washed wasn’t her father anymore, he was a child that inhabited her fathers withering body. Her father was either buried beneath the mould, fighting to get out or already gone. There was little she could to help him now, except take care of the child left behind.
Mor-Dvele paused in her rinsing. He had spoken so solemnly it had cut her thoughts out of existence.
‘What was that Far?’
‘Fifty-eight’ he repeated gruffly.
She looked at Sigrid for any indication of what he meant. The maid shrugged lamely.
‘Fifty-eight men that fell on sword and shield because I was weak.’
‘Are you alright Far?’ asked Mor-Dvele, holding his hand in hers. Sigrid continued washing his shins steadily, keeping an eye on him should he lash out as he had done before. ‘What’s the matter?’
‘Fifty-eight men died because I could not protect them from those ungracious brutes. They saw my weakness, they knew how I would respond, and I let them kill fifty-eight, fifty-eight of my own men.’
Mor-Dvele didn’t know what to say. She could deal with the gibbering and the rants and all the nonsense he came out with. But whenever it was her father who spoke out of this old man’s mouth, she was lost completely.
‘All of them. They died because I was not strong enough to stop them getting through the wall. I bear the scar of their loss. Their blood is in my stone. I can’t be weak again. We would not stand another attack, I’m not strong enough. I can’t let more die by my failure I can’t bear it.’
She closed the door to the bath chamber and was outside in the hallway before he could finish jabbering. Sigrid would be able to calm him better than she could. She rested against the wall and stroked her hands together against her chest.
She knew it to be the way of the world that parents are the foundations that their children’s lives are built around. They are a constant in an ever-growing world. When you are injured and weary your expectations of life fail you, your parents are the tree you shelter under, the heath you build your fire on, the stone you rest against to recover your strength. So, when the man she had always come to for reassurance and safety was needing her to repay the favour she froze. The castle that was Mor-Dvele was already built, but the wooden structure she was assembled upon was decaying and eroding away. Were she to crouch and try and hold him up as he once did her, she would crumble and fall. It was better she saw him as a child, for her own wellbeing. She needed to be independent now. She was the only of her line still around. It would not do to have a second Far in a row be wretched and soft.
He shouldn’t have been this sickly so soon. He was barely sixty, nowhere near the languid age of the ancient bibliothecar Brek. Whichever of those despicable bibliothecars had wrought this cancer she hoped they were satisfied.
‘Lo’ came a voice from down the corridor.
It was the witch and her cat. Mor-Dvele rolled her shoulders back and wiped her cheeks with her sleeve.
‘Mrs Grinn’ she greeted her with faultless composure. ‘How goes the investigation?’
‘So-so’ she replied. ‘I have Brek making notes of his findings in the library,-
-but the source of the infection is impossible to pin point at this time. It has grown thick and far. It’s like trying to find the grain of sand that started a beach. How is the old chap by the way?’
‘He changes moods by the minute. Sometimes he is here, sometimes he is somewhere long since passed, sometimes he is somewhere we cannot see. He is having his bath at this time. He should be out and dressed presently.’
‘Good, I want a word with him.’
Mor-Dvele furrowed her brow with concern. How much did this witch understand of the affliction she was meaning to get rid of?
‘Good witch, Far-Vic is not in a state to be of any help. Most of what he says now is little more than gibberish.’
‘Aye, that may be’ said the witch. ‘But there are more methods of communication than speech, isn’t that right Bea?’
Indeed, said the cat silently.
‘So, is there anywhere we can wait for him?’
Mor-Dvele had to double-take. She had heard not a sound but had somehow understood the cat completely.
‘Yes Mrs Grinn’ Mor-Dvele stuttered. ‘We shall adjoin in his study in ten minutes.’
‘Excellent, that should do fine. I know where that is’ said the witch as she hobbled onwards.
Stop staring at me.
Sorry, replied Mor-Dvele as she turned her sight away from the grubby creature that followed at the witch’s heels.
‘Oh,’ said the witch turning. ‘Whereabouts is Bror-Voske’s room? I have some questions for him. I think he might know something.’
‘My brother? Why? What do you think he might know?’
‘I dunno, that’s why I have questions for him. Wouldn’t need him otherwise.’
Mor-Dvele wasn’t sure how to respond. It sounded like Mrs Grinn considered him a suspect. ‘I’m afraid he’s not around. I’m not sure where he is at this time.’
‘No worries. But I still need his room. You can learn a lot about the location of a man by reviewing where they’re not.’
‘I’m afraid I don’t understand.’
‘I’m gonna do a spell on his shoes’ said the witch simply. ‘Tracking spell, to see where his feet have gone, and by extension, him.’
‘Bror-Voske was not the one that cursed Father, if that is your suspicion’ stated Mor-Dvele.
‘Oh?’ said the witch with a single raised eyebrow.
‘He has fled to join wandering mercenaries. He intends to hit back at the The Clout, the barbarians that have long been our enemies. He believes they are they one to have cursed father. I told him I thought otherwise; those brutes have not the intellect to achieve such a deed. Mrs Grinn, do you suspect him of treachery?’
The witch rubbed her hands together and rocked her head like a set of scales as she thought.
‘I dunno. Haven’t seen enough yet. But others around here certainly do. I’m sure he’d want to prove his innocence, should he know it has been brought into question.’
Mor-Dvele thought on this. It would not do to have slander spread of the future Far, especially in this climate.
‘His room is near the base of the tower, immediately above the armoury.’
‘Ta’ said the witch. ‘See you in five then.’ And she hobbled away towards the meeting room.
Mor-Dvele had unknowingly been pressing her hand against the wall behind her. When she turned, she saw her fingers had left an impression in the stone. As the body of Far-Vic grew rigid the castle of Far-Vic grew soft. Their home was crumbling away. She hoped that wherever her brother was, he was saying nothing of their father’s vulnerability. They would not withstand another attack, not with Far so weak.
Suspecting that the old man’s tirade was over, she wiped a final tear and entered the bath chamber to help Sigrid towel and dress him.
Across the Way
Mrs Grinn layered the greenish putty into the sole of Bror-Voske’s left shoe replicating the method she had achieved with the first. To concoct her experiments within the castle would have encouraged too much suspicion so the witch kept her wagon outside the castle walls. As well as that the overbearing suspiciousness of the Far was less prevalent out here, and clear thought came far easier.
The conversation with Far-Vic had been difficult, but with Mrs Berrit’s keen deduction they were able to obtain a few interesting facts. Nothing to pertain to who could’ve wrought the curse on him, unfortunately, but nonetheless worthwhile information.
Were it still Mag the Marauder who was the leader of The Clout, Mrs Grinn doubted he would be able to concoct such a scourge. She had encountered the barbarian before; he had not the care to explore the more feminine arts of magic. Mog the Mutilator however, his successor and heir, was an enigma. From the worries the old Far still harboured towards the barbarian it appeared he had far surpassed his father in scope and capability, which paralleled well with what Mrs Grinn had learned from other witches at her recent communes.
If the Voske boy intended to off the barbarian, it could do no good for anyone. Indeed, it would be an easy mistake to underestimate the size of The Clouts ranks. As a nomadic people, their population is made up of smaller, roaming parties. The scale of their entire force is largely unknown, even to witches. There have only been a small number of incidences in witch memory where the entirety of The Clout has formed into a single unit, each having been the consequence of a significant event. Many of those events, unfortunately were the assassination of their leader.
There would be no need to worry, thought Mrs Grinn as she peeled the skin of the leather shoes away from the green putty, which was now solid as stone. She plopped the pair of foot shaped rocks onto a frying pan and drizzled an amber coloured elixir over the soles. The Clout could be tracked easily enough by the trail of rubble, ruin and fire-torn homes they leave in their wake but to find the faction that contained Mog himself could take months or even years to achieve, and that’s given that one is both skilled and lucky in the art of tracking.
The vapour from the melting green feet formed itself into an image only the witch and the cat, Mrs Berrit, who watched from the table could decipher. Twisting plumes of green smoke became ribbons of stars and moons. The witch noted down their positions on a curved board, in order to locate the scene later; The bubbling pallid green liquid was more important to focus on for now.
It had started boiling and rising in some places more than others. The lumpy structures appeared to be fairly solid, meaning the boy must be quite stationary. Two larger bubbles grew as large as they could and then burst, though the frame of their skeleton remained. The boils receded into a canvas held up by several pikes. Smaller lumps underneath the tent grew thick limbs and became human bodies, each carrying the presence of three men. They danced and jostled and sang around folded tables and stumpy stools, falling over each other in their drunkenness. The green liquid sloshed and splashed as they moved like a tide meeting a cliff. In the centre of it all, somehow carrying more presence than all of them, a lone figure sat brooding. So, he had found Mog already. She had not given the lad enough credit… but where in all this was the boy?
Mrs Berrit chirruped and lifted a single limp paw to indicate the figure at the centre. Mrs Grinn picked up on the hint and leaned closer towards the frying pan. As the image solidified the witch noticed a blemish on the figure that she assumed was Mog. A thin needle of stuck out from his chest like a splinter. There were often such glitches in the vaguer forms of magic. She chipped it off with a fingernail only for it to instantly replace itself. Again, she scratched the shard away and once more did it return. She clenched her jaw in dismay. The figures stopped dancing and became visibly tense. Mrs Grinn cursed, and scanned the green diorama for any sign of the boy. As she caught him hiding behind a pile of barrels, bow in hand, so did they. The image melted away into vapour.
The witch grimaced and faced her friend from the other side of the frying pan. The cat’s ugly face said it all.
To be continued in Part 2
Written by Calvin Lowe
Illustrations by Rob Gower of robboss.illustrator
Concepts and ideas from the collective consciousness of Alastair Fleming and Calvin Lowe
The Vague Grinn & Berrit Chronology
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