With Illustrations by Robert Gower
The Peerless Adversary
‘Mog’s been shot!’ they howled. ‘To your weapons; We have company!’
Mog looked down at his chest in confusion, and indeed a thin wooden shaft was protruding from the side of his stomach. He snapped it off and tossed it into the fire. Typical. He couldn’t go for three days without a dagger in his chest or an axe in his back and now he had arrows to deal with as well!? It was getting to the point that it was hard to tell what the new injuries were and what were just his many old aching scars.
‘Bring them forth’ he demanded in a deep exasperated groan.
The men and women of the Clout dispersed and searched the fire-illuminated canvases and tents of their camp for the assailant. Bru-ah, who fancied herself second in command issued orders to the men, handing them torches to see through the night. In a matter of seconds, a boy in his late teens cloaked in a black woollen shroud was brought to his knees before him.
‘Weapon!’ said Mog and a tidy crossbow was offered to him.
He studied it in the firelight. It was of a smart make, compact and neat but sullied by needless patterning and veneer. An expensive weapon for sure, but too much of that cost went in to prettiness for his standards. The boy stared venomously as he assessed his firearm.
Mog exhibited the crossbow to the boy.
‘This isn’t a toy’ he stated.
The boy remained silent, still staring.
‘This is a weapon’ he continued. ‘Designed for killing. You could have hurt someone messing about with this.’
The boy glanced at his stomach and then back up to the barbarian’s face. He looked confused.
‘You could have hurt yourself. Or one of these people. A little bit higher, and potentially, you could have killed me.’
The cloaked boy jostled to get his arms free but the twins Greb and Grub held him back firmly.
‘That was my intention!’ he yelled hoarsely. ‘I wanted you dead!’
Bru-ah stepped forward and thumped the boy’s stomach with a clenched fist. His head dropped forwards as he gasped for air.
‘Well’ said Mog understanding. ‘That’s even stupider. And you should use your indoor voice. I know we’re outside, but it’s still an indoor atmosphere.’ He weighed the weapon in one hand. ‘What distance did you fire from?’
‘We found him about eighty feet away, behind the ale kegs’ said Grub.
The boy had decent aim then, but not skilled enough to be an actual assassin, else the bolt would have bounced off his skull, as it had done the previous three attempts on his life.
‘If you can’t use this sensibly you don’t deserve it’ Mog told the boy.
He tossed the bow into the fire between them. The men and women of the Clout watched with gurning smiles, drifting around Mog’s canvas like flies to fallen fruit. There was a clear expectation of bloodshed on his behalf, and he had a reputation to uphold.
‘You do realise why they call me Mog the Mutilator right? You know what I’m renowned to do in these situations? Who sent you? Were you hired?’
‘I was not bought. I came to kill you for what you did to my father!’
Mog sighed. So, it was this again. Too many bastards he had killed had children. It was almost as if they thought he was out specifically out to antagonise them. Many men had even used the notion of them being fathers as means of a shield. ‘Please don’t do this, I have a daughter to look after.’ Any man with a ball sack and access to a womb can produce a child, there’s no reason that they should have more rights to life than any other heirless sod.
‘You’re going to have to elaborate’ said Mog, ‘I’ve done a lot of disgusting things to a lot of boys fathers.’
‘His name is Far-Vic’ he snarled. ‘You inflicted the black rot on him, I know it was you!’
Mog considered himself quite knowledgeable when it came to the matter of diseases, however the name black rot was new to him. Perhaps it was colloquial?
‘I don’t think it was me lad. Trust me I’ve been checked. Clean as a whistle, me.’ The members of the Clout who had the gall to listen in hooted and cajoled in unison. Mog continued with no hint of humour. ‘And instead of taking it out on me, you should tell him he should go find a doctor, no need to be coy about it, just get it sorted.’
‘I mean his mind’ he snarled. ‘Your kind has been after the heart of stone for decades. So many of your attacks have failed before they could even get going, it was only time before you regressed to more chicane methods. And don’t you dare lie. If you did not put the curse on him yourself, it was you that gave the order.’
‘Shut your filthy mouth!’ roared Bru-Ah, jabbing the tip of her axe-head under his chin. ‘Take that tone with Mog the Mutilator again and you’ll learn first-hand how he earned the title.’
‘Back down Bru-Ah’ warned Mog. ‘He’s an idiot, but a boy-idiot nonetheless.
Mog leaned forwards in his chair. It was starting to come together. At the mention of the stone heart he knew exactly who this boy was.
‘Bror-Voske’ he said with a meaty grin. The boy quivered at the use of his name. ‘Son of Far-Vic, yes? I apologise. I know of who you speak now. I have heard of your Far and of his fall from grace. I also know how weakened he is, and how weakened his fortress is by result. I know that his people are distrusting and in conflict. I know how sleepless and tired they are, having to constantly rebuild and restore your Far’s crumbling walls. I know how leaderless and lost your city is. How your sister cares for your raving father as if he were a child. I know even of how a man named Brek dwells in the library in secrecy as we speak. I know this all and more from your ex-librarians who just so happened to stumble upon one of my troops after being dismissed by your father.’
The boy held his lips tight. Tears had started to well up in his quaking eyes, but his body remained rigid as he stared the barbarian down.
‘It saddens me to learn that such a skilled warrior should be brought so low. No man deserves that fate. To have held off my father for so long shows a rare strength. To see that strength lost in such a way is truly unjust.’
He stood and walked towards the mound of chests and crates to his side. Here was where he kept objects of value and meaning; Items that shared nothing in common expect significant importance. They were his own personal souvenirs, never to be sold or misused, only to be studied and admired. He opened a small casket the size of a large book withdrew a silver quill and a pot of ink.
‘My father, Mag the Marauder attacked your fortress over and over. You know, each time he tried, he put his people into more and more danger. As I see it, a leader should serve his people, not the other way around. Dad got careless, selfish, proud, and his people endured the consequences. Time and time again he fought battles we could never win. Countless lives lost for no purpose. I knew he had to be stopped by someone.’ He traced the long scar that joined his collar to his ribs with the tip of the quill he held. ‘This is his final gift to me for being the one to stop him.’
Mog indicated for Voske to be let go and Greb and Grub obliged. To his credit the boy didn’t run or try to fight, he waited for Mog to speak.
‘Your father’s gone. Face it. Now, I don’t know who did it, but I can tell you if I wanted to off him he’d have an axe in his neck not a poison in his brain. Regardless, as with Mag, the thing your father has become is doing nothing but bringing his people to harm. Any band willing enough could bring your whole city to ruin within an afternoon. For the sake of your people, your father’s reign needs to come to an end.’
He offered Voske the quill and ink pot. The boy took them into his own hands hesitantly.
‘You know what these are?’
‘Yes’ said Voske ‘How did you…’
‘One of your librarians thought it wise to try and fight me. You don’t need to know more of that matter. Never mind it. Let’s speak of matters of importance. How comfortable are you with the layout of the library Far-Vic?’
‘I know little’ admitted Voske. ‘I never liked the place.’
Mog chose his words deliberately. Invoke a suggestion, and let the boy make of it what he will.
‘I’m told that at the core of the library are the books that describe the body of the Far, the parts that go on without thinking. A slight alteration could affect your Far's health tremendously, were someone careless to what they were writing.’
The boy made no motion to say yes or no.
‘Your Far is already a corpse, only Death just hasn't caught up with him yet.’
A shift in the boy’s posture showed his unease. Mog leaned back in his chair, satisfied.
‘I don’t think I need to say anymore. You know what needs to be done. Braver men have done worse. Now be gone. And don’t try to kill me again, otherwise I will be forced to take it personally.’
Voske nodded uncertainly, seemingly judging Mog’s sincerity. Grub and Greb released him from their hold and he quickly made to leave the pavilion at a pace more rigid than walking but far from a run. He soon dissolved into the darkness beyond the reach of the Clout’s fires. In that moment, Mog couldn’t help but notice the figure of the cat that sat watching him at the edge of his vison. But in less time than it took to blink, it too had vanished.
‘Music’ said Mog after a moment, and the bards obediently brought the life back into the campsite.
‘So, Mog’ said Bru-ah leaning in to be heard over the din of music and jeering. ‘The rumours are true then. The opportunity is there. Are we going to take it?’
Mog nursed the bleeding wound in his belly with a cloth as he rested on his seat.
‘If the boy loses the courage to do it, we may have to.’
They watched keenly as the remains of the crossbow crumbled and shrivelled into ash.
The Timorous Son
‘And never mind that, you realise how astronomically the odds were stacked against you? Mog hires assassins and mercenaries to try and take him down as a past-time; He literally gets shot and stabbed as a hobby. No good’ll ever come of trying him on yourself, no matter how good you think you are with a bow.’
Voske sat stiffly quiet as he tried not to listen to what the witch had to say. He was sat in her wagon now, sat on a ledge affixed to the wooden walls. An auburn linen blanket was draped over his shoulders like he was a child.
The room he was in consisted of a small round table, a short hob and numerous tall, lank shelves that were not quite pressed against the wall. The state and seemingly random array of objects gave him the impression that the witch had acquired vastly more possessions than spaces to keep them. He half expected the only times the witch would tidy would be when there was not enough room on the floor to avoid stepping on something, and that tidying itself would only involve making more precarious piles where there were surfaces steady enough for them. The witch who called this mess home was Mrs Grinn. She had picked him up as soon as he had left the Clouts encampment and had not stopped berating him for it since.
‘And how on earth was this supposed to help your Far. Even if Mog has made the curse, killing him won’t do the curse any favours. I don’t understand what you must have been thinking.’
Her words had become a drone very quickly. He had already done it, nothing she could say could change the fact he had tried to kill the leader of a barbarian conglomerate.
Presently, Voske realised that the witch had stopped speaking for a moment. Voske lifted his sight from the mug of un-drunk broth held in his lap and saw the witch and the cat assessing one another in silence. Something unreadable passed between them.
‘Well it was incredibly stupid!’ said the witch.
The cat hopped off from the shelves in dismission, turning her attention to the food stores.
‘Fine you may have it right’ decried the witch, exasperated. ‘Alright then son.’ She poured a brew for herself and sat on a stool opposite him. ‘I’m going to sit here and drink my drink and read my book, and if you have anything you want to say you can do, but it’ll be when you want to say it, not when I tell you to, yes?’
Voske nodded. The witch seemed pleased and started flicking through the pages of a little blue tome on the table. The wagon rumbled gently as it travelled over cobble and earth. Shadows of trees and hills glazed through the curtains like puppets.
‘Where are we going?’ he asked eventually.
‘Far-Vic of course’ she said. ‘Home.’
‘Am I to be punished?’
‘Not my decision. Fortunately for you, at the least, if you do get punished, it won’t be by the hands of Mog.’
Voske felt very aware of his own mortality as he trundled along home under the witch’s thick weighty blanket. Too much thought towards what could have become of him and he felt he would break. He did not wish to be reminded of it.
‘I did it for my father you know. I wanted to do my bit to help.’
‘I’m sure that’s what you thought you were doing.’
Her dismissiveness irritated him.
‘I’m not a physician’ he said sternly. ‘I’m not a doctor, or a bibliothecar or a witch. I’m a warrior; Fighting’s all I can do to help.’
‘A warrior’ the witch nodded, apparently absorbed deep in her book. ‘Like your father?’
‘Like my father was, yes.’
‘Was’ repeated the witch looking up. She let the word linger for a moment. ‘So, your father’s not a warrior anymore, is he?’
Mrs Grinn was trying to meet his eyes, but he would not allow it. What right did she have to judge him? She never knew his father in his prime, she couldn’t possibly conceive how far he’s fallen.
‘Yes’ he said, ‘was. The illness has ruined him.’
The witch cleared her throat and shook her head.
‘Oh, no, not ruined. Not yet anyway. Your father is losing the battle for sure, but he has not lost it. Indeed, he is fighting it, no matter how inevitable his fall is, he is still fighting it. What else is that if not a warrior?’
‘You know what I mean’ he said with a restraint to stop himself raising his voice. ‘He can’t lift a sword anymore let alone lead a battle, he’s just a… he’s just…’
He was unable to finish his sentence, and so left it there.
‘He’s not fighting barbarians anymore,’ said Mrs Grinn, ‘but don’t make the mistake of thinking it any less a fight. If you were to go into the library, you could see it for yourself.’
‘No!’ said Voske in a burst before holding himself. ‘I will apologise to my sister and take any forfeiture Lidoc deems necessary and then go on with my usual duties. If I have encouraged a war with the Clout then I will do all I can to defend us from them. It’s the least I can do.’
‘You will do all that for your father, risk your life and all, but you will not go into the library?’
Voske gritted his teeth and leaned his elbows on the table heavily, making it tilt towards himself.
‘Why should I need to? I’m not a bibliothecar. I’ve already seen my father dying through both his body and the castle, I will learn nothing of seeing him die a third way.’
‘Except you would learn. You would learn more about your father than any normal son can.’
Voske felt the tension rise beyond what he could control. His movements were not his own. His face grew red, and his insides folded over themselves like a stone through leather. In a moment, he burst.
‘That’s the point!’ he bawled to the air. ‘I don’t want to learn any of those books, why can’t people just stop telling me to go in there! Can’t they respect that I don’t want to go in there?’
The outburst lasted only a few seconds. He gathered himself and he became intensely aware of the room and its contents. All the mess; her chaotically spread possessions; the ugly stains in the sticky wooden table; the witch herself, pitying him from her stool; and him, the lost fatherless child halfway stood and shaking vehemently after having another tantrum.
He took his seat as if nothing had happened.
‘I don’t need Mrs Berrit’s talent for reading people to know why you don’t want to go into the library’ said Mrs Grinn, ‘and it’s got nought to do with the curse. And as I know, there’d be no harm if you say it out loud. In fact, you may find it all easier if you do.’
Voske rubbed his temples in the fashion he knew had calmed him down before. His forehead was warm and painful.
‘Do you know what’s in the library?’ said Voske heavily. The witch didn’t nod or shake her head, but he continued. ‘It’s everything. Everything that my father is, both good and bad. All his dreams he never achieved, all his regrets, every dirty thought, how he saw himself, how he saw me. I don’t want to read that. I just don’t. And I don’t know if that’s selfish but it seems like everyone back home treats it that way, and I know my father wanted me to study in the library as it’ll be my library one day, and my thoughts will replace his, and his memories will become just a footnote in a list of past Fars, and…’
The witch was by his side now with a hand on his shoulder. He knew what it meant: Slow down, but keep going. You have time.
‘If I were Far,’ he said once he had his breath back, ‘I know I wouldn’t want my children to go in the library. I don’t like how I think. The stuff I was dreaming of doing to Mog, I don’t want to see my children to go into the library and read that part of me. They would see me as a monster. And if my father has anything at all like that in his books, which I can’t help feeling he does, I don’t want to read them.’
He fussed his hair back from his heated face. He had said enough for the moment.
‘Do you know how old I am?’ asked the witch.
‘Me neither’ she said. ‘After about three-hundred you simply can’t be expected to note every time winter comes around, it just becomes tedious. But the point is, given how old I am, I can tell you I’ve had millions upon millions of bad thoughts I wish I hadn’t thought and dark emotions I wish I hadn’t emoted (…is that the word?) but that doesn’t make me a bad person. It’s how you decide to act upon those feelings that matters.’
Voske turned to the witch.
‘I shot a man in the chest.’
‘So, you did’ said the witch with a frown. ‘I only remembered that after I had already started my point. It kind of falls flat now doesn’t it? Ah, you were stressed, bad situation and all, everyone makes mistakes. Mog didn’t seem too upset anyhow, so no harm done. And I’m sure if he was upset, he’d be finding someone nearer to take out his aggression on rather than come all this way to find you.’
Voske said nothing. The witch grimaced.
‘I’m quite bad at this sort of thing’ she said.
‘I’m afraid I’m going to have to agree there’ said Voske, holding back an unwilling smile.
‘Oh, look we’re home’ said Mrs Grinn opening the wagon door to suddenly reveal the inner courtyard of Far-Vic ‘Thank heavens.’
Voske wiped his eyes and stood to leave. As he reached the doorway, internally playing out the several awkward ways he could introduce his return to his sister, Mrs Grinn patted him on his shoulder.
‘You’ve left something’ she said.
The quill and ink Mog the Mutilator had gifted him sat at the base of his seat behind him. With this quill, he could resolve the situation with only a couple of words. He could end his father's plight and restore the city to health. He could make the walls strong again with himself as Far-Voske. He could, but it just wasn’t in him. There were many ways he could start his reign as a Far but he couldn't live himself if his started with... that. His guilt would seep into the city like the roots of weeds, and everyone would feel it. There were better ways than Mog's way.
‘You can do better with it than I’ he told the witch.
‘Fair enough’ said Mrs Grinn. ‘Meet in Far-Vic’s study, by the end of the hour. Avoid your sister and Lidoc and his guard until then, you may get yourself in trouble I’d rather you not be in. I need to not to be arrested if that is at all achievable. We have a few things to discuss about your father.’
Voske nodded his promise and Mrs Grinn smiled in return. She closed the door and the witch’s wagon trundled back towards the entrance gates, seemingly of its own will. Voske turned on the spot ponderously, looking with deep awareness of what was happening to the stone of Far-Vic in the walls and arches that surrounded him. And, despite how much it hurt, despite how tainted his nostalgia was of the place, he made sure to take in all of it.
Before they had even entered Far-Vic’s study, Mrs Grinn had made sure that the Far’s three closest persons promised to keep their words to themselves until the witch had had her say. Upon seeing one-another in that study it was clear how difficult they found that. But, with the assistance of Mrs Berrit’s cautioning stare they held their tongues. The animosity was clear enough from they way they held themselves.
It was just the five of them in the room: Brek, Mor-Dvele, Bror-Voske, Mrs Berrit, and the witch herself. They sat with their backs were to the curved and bulging wall that lined the outside of Far-Vic’s library, an intentional positioning on the part of Mrs Grinn to encourage the Far’s attention towards the talk. Whether he could understand it or not was up for debate, but it was worth the attempt nonetheless. There was another seat on the opposite side of the blue marble desk to them, but it was clearly meant for Far-Vic, so Mrs Grinn did not dare to sit on it. She preferred to stand for the moment anyway. Indeed, they were all here now, she may as well begin.
‘So, I know you have things you want to say to each other but if you let me interject first, I may be able to resolve them before they are even said. With the help of Mrs Berrit, I have managed to get a few words with Far-Vic. That, and some arcane research has led me to figure out the source of the illness: And that is… well… no-one.’
Brek made as if to speak but Mrs Berrit caught his attention, receding his argument before it could be uttered. The Far’s children but waited for the witch to elaborate.
‘Hold for a moment there’ urged Mrs Grinn. ‘I understand that any damage to the stone body affects the flesh body of Far-Vic, hence the scar on his temple from when Mag the Marauder attacked the library wall. But that goes both ways, yes? Well, it looks to me that the rot that afflicts the library is nothing more than a manifestation of an illness that the human part of Far-Vic has accrued. It is a very human illness, nothing to do with sorcery or witchcraft or any of that. Your Far has dementia.’
The three of them cast delicate glances toward each-other.
‘That can’t be’ said Brek. ‘It simply can’t. Once a Far dons the crown and commits themselves to the castle they become immune to all contagious ailments. What good would a Far be if he was exposed and susceptible to every cold or contagion someone in the city may have? There must be sorcery about, or this wouldn’t have ever occurred. It defies reason.’
‘That’s not what this is. This isn’t the same as a tummy bug, you know, it’s… well it’s indescribable. And you’re right, there is no reasoning behind it, no-one to blame, no way to get retribution for it. It is but an unfortunate roll of the die, a die that we are rolling every day and every night, all of us. Maybe the damage Far-Vic took to the head made him more susceptible to a bad roll, as to that, I couldn’t say; I’m afraid it is not something most witches have looked much into. Regardless, it is time you stopped finding someone to blame and accepted it as no-one’s fault but chance, you’re only doing harm by doing otherwise.
‘It with that that we must make our apologies. Despite all best attempts to stem or expel the illness we have exhausted everything we know how or can think to do. Ointments do nothing, nor do charms or concentrated gems. Not even the combination of baking soda and a toothbrush did anything and that can reliably get rid of some of the most stubborn scourges in the world. I’m afraid we simply don’t know enough about how this thing works. So, there’s not much point in us being here anymore. We’ve decided to return the upfront payment you gave us and be on our way.’
‘Is there really nothing you can do?’ asked Mor-Dvele.
‘Someone else maybe’ admitted Mrs Grinn. ‘But not me. The best I can give you as consolation is a couple of messages from your Far. We weren’t able to get to much out of him, but a few sentiments were fairly clear.’
The witch withdrew a short scroll of notes from her sleeve. It wouldn’t achieve much, but it would be better than nothing to read these messages to them.
‘Mor-Dvele:’ read Mrs Grinn ‘he says you’re truly a daughter of stone. He says he knows how much you already put yourself out to help him and that you shouldn’t sell yourself short. You’re stronger than you think. Also, know that he is aware of what you’re doing for him, despite how it may seem. He may lose who you are now and again but the knowledge that someone is there is reassuring, nonetheless. There we go, that’s the first bit.’
She folded the notes over to try and find her place.
‘There we go. Brek: he wants you to know that he’s always seen you as one of his closest allies, despite your more formal relationship. He’s glad that someone he trusts is still around trying to repair him and he’s sorry if he cast you out, he says it was purely fear that made him do it. He’s very confused quite often and cannot talk as clearly as he would like. He only wishes that you would focus more on writing about the good times, even if they are tinted with a bit of nostalgia. As well, there are some memories he would rather lose than others.’
She looked from her little sheet of paper and instantly regretted doing so. Their grief was palpable. Accepting her failure in saving their Far had forced them to tears. If their sorrow was entirely on Mrs Grinn’s shoulders, so be it. Still, she persisted in reading the notes.
‘Bror-Voske: Far says it’s okay that you don’t want to go in the library. The version of himself he wants to be remembered as is the version of himself he portrayed to his children, not whatever is in those books. And he says no matter what, don’t let the image of who he is now replace the memory of his best self, that of a father. Or you know, words to that effect. It’s kind of an abstract, analogous process. Can’t say for certain if he’d use those words exactly but that’s more or the less the gist of what I think he was saying. Anyway, we’ll collect our things and leave you to yourselves. Sorry we were a bit crap at ridding the scourge-’
Mor-Dvele was wrapped around the witch, her lace sleeves curling over her shoulders. Mrs Grinn hadn’t even noticed her standing up.
‘Thank you’ she said.
‘Um, no worries’ replied Mrs Grinn. ‘But I didn’t actually do anything you know. Far-Vic’s no better than before.’
‘Maybe not’ said Brek standing up and extending a hand. ‘But maybe we are, or at least will be.’
When Mor-Dvele finally released the witch, Mrs Grinn met his hand with a shake, uncertain as to why she was being thanked. Mor-Dvele turned her attention and fussed Mrs Berrit around the neck, a motion which the cat took gladly. Over the bibliothecar’s shoulder, Bror-Voske simply nodded in appreciation.
‘I’ve really done bugger all. Nothing we did had any effect whatsoever. All we’ve done is waste your time’ said Mrs Grinn.
‘Not at all’ said the bibliothecar. ‘We’ve been at each other’s throats for so long now. Suspicion and dubiety are now woven into the very fabric of the city. It will be revivifying simply to trust one another again.’
‘That it will’ said Bror-Voske with his hand on the wall behind him, his mind elsewhere.
Brek began awkwardly shaking Mrs Berrit’s front paw between his fingers.
They’ve gone mad, clearly, said Mrs Berrit so that only the witch would notice. Maybe this disease is contagious. Let’s leave before we get it too.
The cat snapped her paw out of the Brek’s quavering hand.
‘Well, whatever this is that’s going on, I’ll leave you to work it out on your own’ said the witch, approaching the door. ‘Keep yourselves well.’
‘Thank you, Mrs Grinn,’ said Mor Dvele with earnest and unquenchable sincerity, ‘truly.’
‘Alright’ said the witch as Mrs Berrit sped out the opening door. ‘Glad to be of help.’ And she followed outside.
Mrs Grinn left them to their apparent madness and meandered her way back to her wagon. There was something odd about what had just occurred; Failure before had always left her riled up and frustrated, yet this time, she felt satisfied. Why had this one been different? She pondered this, bouncing counterpoints in her head all the way down the stairwell and out to the capillary lanes of Far-Vic.
‘Mrs Grinn!’ called a voice from behind her. ‘Wait!’
She turned to meet Bror-Voske coming down the spiralling stairwell.
‘Do you still have the quill with you?’ he asked as he jogged down to her. ‘The one Mog gave me?’
‘I do in fact’ said Mrs Grinn. ‘I’m assuming you want it?’
‘I have something I’d like to try’ said the boy. ‘My father, he said he’d like to be remembered as the version of himself he presented showed to me and Dvele.’
‘Well, he may forget who that is, but we can still remember. My sister and I, if we write our own memories of him into the books, how we saw him, we could remind him of the person he wanted to be. Make him strong again, maybe. Do you think that could work?’
It was an interesting idea, one that had slipped her consideration.
‘It wouldn’t be permanent’ said the witch as she played with the thought. ‘The illness would still be there, there’d be nothing to stop these new books from going rotten.’
‘But would it still have an effect? Just for a little while, could he be reminded of his best self? So, if Mog or any other bandit wants to take the stone heart, they would see him as with the strength that we always saw him with? If only for a little while?’
‘Maybe’ said Mrs Grinn. ‘You’d have to commit to it. And at some point, he will pass, there’s no number of words that can prevent that from happening. But yes, I imagine it would have some sort of effect, however small.’
‘Then it’s worth it’ said Voske. ‘If we can make father feel good in himself, even for just a short while at a time, then it will spread across the city, to everyone who lives here. We can be united again. That’s still a kind of strength. A strength even bandits like Mog have to respect.’
‘That it is’ said Mrs Grinn with a smile, and she handed him the quill and ink.
He thanked her and sped to the great iron doors Mrs Grinn knew led to the library. At her ankles, Mrs Berrit was pulling at her skirts, imploring the witch to leave.
‘Settle down you’ she chided the cat. ‘We’ll be out soon enough, I just want to wander for a little.’
The cat flopped down on her chest in dismay, laying there resolutely for a few seconds before bounding up to a rooftop and out of site.
Around her, as Mrs Grinn came to the market, the labourers who made to rebuild and hold up the falling arches and bridges, took a moment to pause and look at the sun; to take in the sky and admire what a beautiful day it was. And in this new light Mrs Grinn saw how exquisite the artistry was on all the stonework. Each brick was lovingly carved with weaving patterns and murals, echoing the twisting network that formed the lanes and aqueducts of the city. Effigies of past Far’s lined the boardwalk, their swords pointed to the heart of the city. At the top of a lone watchtower a single standard with the stone heart embellished on it caught the wind and rippled more proudly than the wind itself could possibly allow. Nothing had changed; the stonework was still limp and crumbling, and the drains still clogged and overflowing; and yet, everything had changed. One can be both weak and proud at the same time, it appeared.
And then it hit her: why she felt such satisfaction despite such a failure in her original goal. She had been thanked many times before for her services, but never had she felt truly appreciated for it. They had more truly an earnestly than any other customer had ever done before. How odd, that she should only notice that now.
She rolled her shoulders back and let Far-Vic’s pride envelop her completely, striding forwards with the cathartic satisfaction of finally doing a good thing.
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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