Author Topic: Chapter 9  (Read 6929 times)

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Offline Daen

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Chapter 9
« on: November 21, 2022, 12:48:39 AM »
They split up as soon as they reached the arcanum, with Brinks searching the upper levels and Tupper going through the servants’ area. There were still a lot of rooms to investigate though, so this could take hours.

Without a wand, or a wizard nearby who could cast a translation spell, they were relying on their Old English to be understood. Tupper had assimilated for the most part, but he was worried that Brinks might get into trouble. He could think on his feet, to be sure, but without language skills, he wouldn’t have much proverbial ground under those feet. There was nothing for it, though. He would have to trust that Brinks had learned enough to get by.

There was a strange pain in Tupper’s back, which started early on during his survey. He found himself hunched over, slouching as he moved. He’d wrenched it pretty hard the night before, during their brief wrestling match over control of the knife. Maybe he’d injured his spine. As he leaned forward though, he saw something fall past his eyes to the ground. It was hair.

Tentatively, he ran his hands across his scalp, and felt more hair come free from it. He felt a cold chill at first, but then realized what was happening. The artifact had put the words back in his head, and now it was affecting his body. His hair was falling out, and he was shrinking in stature. He would probably start losing weight over the next few days, and eventually, he’d be back to his old self. As he passed others in the halls, he thought he could see signs of a similar transformation. The same thing was probably happening to Suppo down in Winchester.

It should have been a relief to be rid of this hideous body, but he knew it was only temporary. If he succeeded in Tracing the artifact into the modern day, and dismantling it then, history would repeat itself. He and all other elves would slowly transform into humans again. Tupper had to admit to himself, that he wasn’t that bad-looking as a human. Most of his disgust had come from the fact that he looked like a wizard—the very thing he’d hated for so long.

The Tracer spell itself would be easy enough to cast. There were variations of it all over the world, but elves had long ago figured out a way to mark an object so it would never be lost. Once marked, the gem, or gold piece, or painting, or even building, could always be found by the one who marked it. Only one such object could be linked to a person at a time, though, so usually the elf was tasked with marking their master’s most valuable possession. If the elf died, the mark would pass to a successor. Usually the closest blood kin, but both elves and wizards could designate someone who wasn’t family to gain possession of the mark.

As with a great many spells, it had started out as an elven technique before being stolen or copied by wizards. Not that they would admit it, of course. The modern wizarding world barely acknowledged that his people even existed. Brinks was proof of that: he’d known almost nothing about elves before meeting Tupper.

Fortunately, Tracers couldn’t expire on their own. Time had no effect on them whatsoever, and they couldn’t be removed without destroying the object in question, not unless the caster themself chose to remove it. Unfortunately, the same object could not carry two marks at the same time. If someone else had put a Tracer on the artifact, Tupper wouldn’t be able to do the same. That wasn’t very likely, though. Merlin had just created the artifact yesterday, and it was probably well hidden. He had no reason to suspect it might go missing, and no reason to put a Tracer on it.

Tupper had thought long and hard about what this artifact might mean. It had been in existence for nearly fifteen hundred years by his time, maintaining control on all elves during all of that. Twisting their bodies and minds, and forcing them into service. He’d been taught that clothing was the only way to free an elf, but that must be ceremonial. Some trick that some wizard had come up with along the way, to convince them that they didn’t have to stay in one person’s service only. Suddenly, he felt sick to think that he’d believed that as well. His scarf, the very first item of clothing he’d ever owned, was his most treasured possession!

It also meant that people in the modern day knew. Wizards knew about this artifact. Probably not very many, or the secret would have gotten out, but at least a handful had most likely chosen to guard it, and keep it hidden. If he put a Tracer on it and returned to his own time, he’d be able to find it, but it would probably have some very clever protections around it.

What kind of monsters would maintain such a device? Merlin had been bad enough just making the damn thing, but protecting it was no different! They had to know what it was doing, and how much suffering it was causing! Shaking his head at that, Tupper continued his search. He acquired a torch in order to go into the darker levels below.

This was before invisibility and permeability spells, which meant the place was probably hidden with inventive stonework of some kind. Bricks which could be removed with magic, and then put back into place without leaving any sign. Tupper kept his hands against the wall itself, feeling for any interruptions in the mortar holding the bricks together. Servants cleaned these walls and floors almost every day, and they hadn’t noticed anything.

Just as he was starting to think it might not be in the keep at all, Tupper came across a slight rippling in one of the walls on the lowest level of the keep. If his magic hadn’t returned, he wouldn’t have felt it at all! This passageway was perfect for a secret door: it was out of the way, in a place people wouldn’t ordinarily be loitering. Even servants wouldn’t have many reasons to come down here.

The ripple effect was unmistakable: the passage was here, connected to this wall. Or a passage was, anyway. For all Tupper knew, this led to where Merlin was making his wands. He couldn’t Apparate past the barrier either, as he’d never seen the other side.

He flinched away from another torch being brought into the passage. The light concealed the form carrying it at first, but then he realized it was a woman in a white dress. It was Guinevere, the Queen of Camelot, and she wasn’t alone! Behind her and to the left, was Brinks.

Tupper bowed subserviently, and she smirked at him for a moment. Then she pointed to the wall, right where Tupper had just been looking. Brinks carefully stepped past her, and up next to him. “She found me searching the upper levels, and beckoned for me to come with her. I tried speaking to her in Old English, but I’m not good enough to understand her response, and she can’t cast a translation spell. I ‘spose I shouldn’t be surprised that Arthur wouldn’t give her magical powers or a wand to use. I guess that comes later, huh?”

“Much, much later,” Tupper said grimly. “Here, let me try.” He switched to Old English. “My queen, I assure you, my lord was merely lost when you found him, looking for me.”

“I know precisely what he was looking for,” she responded loftily, giving him a mysterious smile. “As are you, apparently,” she gestured towards the passage wall. “Arthur often comes down here to speak with the Archmage, and I even saw him open the tunnel door once.”

Tupper gaped at her. “Uh, my queen. Why… would you bring my lord here? Why not tell the King what you saw?”

She shook her head ruefully. “I am not Arthur’s first wife, and I’m sure I won’t be his last, either. He has many mistresses, even within these walls, and treats with them often and without shame! He doesn’t love me, and he never will. He only married me to secure his alliance with my father. If what I suspect is true, soon he won’t have any need of that alliance, and he’ll be rid of me as well.”

Memories flashed through Tupper’s mind, of studying British Muggle royalty. Of reading how King Henry the Eighth had one wife after another in his constant lechery. “I’m sure that will not be the case, my queen,” he tried to reassure her. “Your father would never allow such an outra—”

“Arthur has no reason to fear my father anymore,” she cut him off coldly. “You know this as well as I do. Or he does, anyway,” she glanced at Brinks. “Whatever power the Archmage has given Arthur and his knights, it has made them unafraid of anything! I heard what happened to those raiders on the hills yesterday. Ser Galahad was boasting about it with his fellow knights. I also know the Archmage has no love for either of you. The only reason you would be searching for the entrance to his sanctum, is if you are enemies of his.”

He nodded, but she barely waited for it before going on. “I will show you how to open it and go inside. Arthur doesn’t know that I saw him do so once. In exchange, I ask you—no, I beg of you. Stop him, please! No man should have the power to destroy on a whim, or purge an entire land, as Arthur keeps saying. Ambrosius is the source of his power, and you have knowledge of these things, even though you pretend otherwise. I’ve seen your faces when you hear them speak. I believe the Saxons are evil, but my husband and his court are becoming even more so! Please. Stop them before they become worse than the enemy they hate so much!”

She paused at that, and looked back and forth between them. Tupper updated Brinks, who looked amazed at this. “I can’t believe it. Guinevere, turning on Arthur? Is she for real?”

Tupper was careful not to look at her before responding. He was hardly impartial in his guess, and he was no skilled Legilimens. “She could have turned you in, and we’d both have been executed. Instead she offers to help us. I don’t think we have a choice but to trust her.” At some point, he’d started to trust Brinks as well. And it had started before last night’s suicide attempt.

“But we can’t help her. Even if we can take Merlin down, history kinda needs him, right?”

“History has already recorded Arthur’s reign as lasting another thirty years at least. Merlin won’t die for another eighty. But the Saxons, and Angles, and Jutes, and Norsemen, and Scots, and all the other so-called ‘invaders’ from the mainland will keep coming here anyway. There’s a reason why this land was named Angle-land, or England as you know it. Even if the King and Archmage have some kind of mass extermination planned, it doesn’t take place. Not even wizards could have covered that up. So we don’t need to help her. The help she wants will happen anyway. Trust me, I’ve done the research on this.”

Brinks hesitated for a few moments before nodding, and Tupper looked up at the queen. “My lord agrees,” he said unnecessarily.

“Good,” she said quickly. “Watch closely. You must press these six stones in order,” she pointed them out one after another. “If you get one wrong, the passageway seals and only the Archmage can unseal it. Arthur did that, and the Archmage berated him for it. My husband was very unhappy that evening.”

Tupper and Brinks watched her point out the bricks a second time, just to make sure they had the right ones, and then Tupper looked back up at her. “Thank you, my queen. We can’t go in there just yet, as the Archmage may be inside, but if he leaves for Winchester this afternoon, we will go in then. He can read minds, though, so please stay far from him until we are long gone. For your own safety, and for ours.”

She considered that. “I know a few places I can hide. Places even my maidservants don’t know.”

Tupper extended a hand, and after a moment she took it. He hadn’t seen anyone matching Lancelot’s description among Arthur’s knights, but he would get here eventually. “Thank you again. For what it’s worth, I know for a fact that you will outlive your husband. You will also find love on your own, without him. Eventually, the power that he and the knights and the Archmage have gathered will be available to women as well. Of this I am absolutely certain.”

Guinevere looked disbelieving, but the tiny trace of a smile made it to her lips. Then she let go and moved away, with her white dress trailing slightly behind her. “Remarkable,” Tupper said as she left.

“Lucky break,” Brinks put in. “Come on, let’s get back up to the main level before anyone starts to suspect us.” He paused, looking Tupper up and down. “Are you… shorter than before?”

“Just embracing old habits,” Tupper responded wryly. “I’ll explain on the way.”
« Last Edit: November 21, 2022, 01:03:03 AM by Daen »