Author Topic: Chapter 7  (Read 6336 times)

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Offline Daen

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Chapter 7
« on: November 21, 2022, 12:48:51 AM »
Dinner was a simple affair, despite the importance of this place. Camelot, as the High King confirmed before it started, was a new kingdom still, with only a few protectorates including the city that would eventually be known as Winchester. They had limited tribute for now, but he hinted happily that all of that would soon change. It was mostly roast waterfowl, with some pork and spices mixed in. Apparently they used magic to preserve food to a degree, making this far more palatable than what the Muggles had to eat down there in the common lowlands.

Brinks was seated at the table, as a widely accepted foreign lord, and Tupper was in the kitchen with the servants. Ugh, how primitive! He’d prepared better meals for himself in secret than were being arranged for those idiots out there! Not that the other servants had much to work with, though. Even with magic, this food was still substandard.

He kept a low profile at first, all the while hearing laughter and lively commentary from the next room over. Brinks was entertaining the whole table, lords and ladies alike, with thrilling tales of his adventures in a foreign land. Tupper would have found that terrifying, except that Brinks had a knack for both embellishment and improvisation that seemed to insulate him. Eventually, Tupper was able to guess which of these servants had been here the longest, and most likely knew the ins and outs of the keep’s chambers.

In other words, any secret rooms where, say, some sick and twisted wizard might choose to permanently alter an entire race of people.

He still wasn’t sure it was Merlin who would cast the spell. He was powerful, certainly, but any one of a hundred wizards here could have the ability. It could be Arthur himself who would do it. While Brinks was focused on finding out who, Tupper could at least narrow it down to where. Then all they needed to know was when and they’d have a shot at seeing how.

The entire kitchen staff was busy, pressed into service as waiters and food-tasters before long, but Tupper was immediately assigned to cleanup. There was a stream running past the castle, and he was tasked with hauling buckets in to wash the dishes. Ridiculous. Even wizards in the modern world had used magic for things like this, and these so-called ‘knights’ had the same powers. A wave of Merlin’s wand could clean this whole kitchen in an instant, but no. They had to keep menial tasks, to keep their servants occupied. So that those very same servants would never start asking questions like ‘why am I doing this?’ or ‘why do they deserve to get everything, while I get nothing?’”

Tupper had a pretty good idea of how this keep was laid out, by now. He’d been sent on errands to most of it, in the first hour alone. However, he still couldn’t think of any place a secret spell-casting room might be hidden. He was so focused on puzzling it out, while carrying his last bucket, that he nearly bumped into someone in the passage! Water spilled out over the edges, but… simply shied away from the full-length robes in front of him.

Tupper realized he was in trouble the moment the magic seized him. The same forces that had kept Merlin’s robe dry hoisted Tupper up into the air, choking him briefly, and then shifting lower. His chest compressed tightly as the old man calmly aimed a wand at him. “Alone at last,” he said softly, almost a hiss at the end.

“Mercy, my lord!” Tupper managed, his mind flashing back to similar situations with his original master. An abusive, drunken braggart; he’d often beaten Tupper for any number of chores that had each been completed to perfection. He’d beaten Tupper for no other reason than to feel powerful. Bullies always did much the same. For all his vast power, Merlin was no different, and a flash of hatred made it through Tupper’s confusion and fear.

It was a mistake. Merlin was staring him right in the eyes. Whatever precursor to Legilimancy he was using, it got in through that emotion of rage. “Ah, so you are a servant after all,” he said with satisfaction. “Just not in service to Lord Brinks originally. You have much hatred for me and… so many others,” he went on conversationally. “Small, pathetic creature. I could see you in an entirely different form…” At that he froze, and his eyes widened. He must have reached some point in Tupper’s memories where he’d been looking in a mirror.

“Yes, my lord. I am small, and worthless!” Tupper pleaded, hoping against hope that the Archmage would take what he saw as an allegory instead of a memory. “Just an imp, ser, worthy of nothing and no one! Please, ser! Show mercy to me!” He was careful to use the old pronunciation.

“Archmage!” A voice echoed down the corridor, and Tupper felt a flash of relief despite its source. “I insist that you release my servant at once!”

Four others had made their way into the corridor. The High King, Brinks at his side, a lady in white who was probably Guinevere, and one of the knights. They were all staring at the Archmage in surprise and shock.

“He’s quite right, Ambrosius,” the King said, apparently striving greatly to keep anger out of his voice. “Let him go this instant! What has gotten into you?”

“As my King commands,” Merlin said, his voice trembling, and Tupper was lowered to the floor. It took all of his strength not to collapse, weeping, as soon as the magic holding him was gone.

Brinks moved past the Archmage, giving him a wonderful impression of hurt and confusion at this unprovoked attack on his manservant, and moved to check on Tupper. He didn’t know a thing about how to help Tupper, but at least he could make it look good. Eventually he turned again. “Your Highness, I told you at dinner how valuable Tupper is to me. Under the circumstances, I’m sure you can understand that I wish to leave with him, before more… unpleasantness befalls him. May I ask your leave to depart?”

The King gave him a commiserating look, and then sent a glare in Merlin’s direction. “We were having such fun at dinner, my Lord. Must you? What of this, then?” He said, his expression brightening. “Archmage, I hereby forbid you from speaking to either of those men for the duration of their stay. You will also leave both unharmed. In fact, I think it would be best if you returned to your work for the evening. You can tell me of your progress in the morning, yes?”

Merlin’s nostrils flared briefly. “My King, they can’t be trusted, as you know. They both lied upon coming here!”

“Even if that were true, I’m sure you or I would have done much the same,” the King said evenly. “Being strangers in a strange land, I’m sure Lord Brinks had his reasons. Now, off you go.” He locked eyes with Merlin for another few moments, and eventually the older man bowed and retreated down the passage. After he was gone, the King turned back to Brinks. “What say you, my Lord? Does that address your concerns? Will you consider staying now?”

Holding onto his ‘master’s’ arm, Tupper gave a tiny nod, out of sight of the others. Brinks made a show of thinking about it, and then nodded. “Yes, my King. I would like that very much.”

“Excellent, excellent,” the King said happily. “Ser Bedivere, could you escort the queen back to our chambers? I intend to have a word with our dear Archmage to ensure that he keeps his distance in the future.”

“Yes my King,” the knight nodded, and took the stately woman up the corridor. Brinks nodded his thanks to the King, who left as well a moment later.

“Nice timing,” Tupper managed.

“I noticed he left the dinner early, and figured he’d make a run at you,” Brinks said grimly. “Did he get anything important?”

Tupper shook his head. “I don’t think so. I’m just lucky you were able to convince Arthur to come along, or I wouldn’t have been able to stop him.”

“Uh, that wasn’t luck,” Brinks put in, sounding uncomfortable.

For a moment, Tupper’s scrambled brains couldn’t comprehend what he meant by that. Then he put it together. The fact that Merlin had him, but not long enough to really dig his memories out. The fact that the King just happened to come along, with Brinks in tow to play the outraged master with the injured servant… “You set that up!”

“Yes, but it was just so that we could stay,” Brinks said hurriedly. “You’ve seen how Arthur is—dismissive of almost anything that isn’t blatantly obvious. I had to show him Merlin being a total ass in front of him to get through that cloud of stupidity he carries around. Now Merlin should leave us alone, on orders from his King, for as long as we’re here!”

Tupper’s instinctive response was to hate the man. After all, Brinks had used Tupper in a power move. Still, Tupper had to recognize that he probably would have done the same. Their situation was much more secure now, thanks to Brinks’ plan.

He grabbed Brinks by the throat anyway. “I don’t want to minimize your contributions, human, but this is my task. It’s my people who are suffering in the modern day, and it will be me who sets them free. Got it?”

Brinks’ eyes were wide open, and he swallowed hard. “Got it.”

“Good.” Tupper stepped away from him, straightening his outfit, and feeling more confident about his legs not giving way beneath him. “Now, my lord. Should I escort you up to your chambers?”

“Yes, of course,” Brinks said faintly, and Tupper suppressed a smile.

-.-

The King took them out falconing the next morning, and it turned out he had a wand as well. It seemed these ancient Briton wizards had control over translation, telekinesis, basic conjuration (the transport of something simple like a plate or a cup from another room into their own hands), and the like, but this was the first time Tupper had seen any of them use their wands for actual attack spells, hexes or jinxes. This must be what a Muggle might feel, watching one of their prehistoric ancestors learn how to sharpen a stick for the first time.

They’d actually walked out of the keep this time, down the only path leading through the mountain pass. After only a few minutes they were on foothills, and then snow-covered flatland, accompanied by the entire falconing party.

As he and Brinks watched, the King took careful aim, whispered the word “pyrios,” and a tiny jet of fire emanated from the tip of the wand and streaked into the field before them. There was a slight squeal of pain, much as they’d heard before from the rabbits they’d hunted in the wild, and the King let out a laugh. “Marvelous, is it not? Ambrosius has unlocked more secrets than these, of course, but this puts a bow and arrow to shame!”

“It is truly wondrous, your highness,” Brinks said smoothly, and Tupper made noises of agreement. “May I ask when you learned how to make such an incredible tool?” He gestured at the wand.

“Oh, I didn’t make it. I have artisans for that now,” Arthur said dismissively. “They shaped it, and Ambrosius imbued it with power and presented it to me as a coronation gift. Under my authority, he has imbued more and presented them as needed to my trusted court and the knights under my command.”

“Very impressive,” Brinks murmured. Though his face was smooth, Tupper could tell his thoughts: all it would take was stealing one wand. Then, he could use the knowledge their ancestors had piled up over the centuries to Apparate, or obliterate, past any obstacle in their path! Merlin might be able to stand up to him, but none of these other dilletantes stood a chance, did they? Once again, Tupper cursed his inability to use magic. That was probably because the spell hadn’t been cast yet, actually. In order to magically compel someone, you had to imbue them with magic to a degree. The Imperius curse was the only known exception, and it wouldn’t be discovered for hundreds of years yet. Mercifully.

The King seemed to sense Brinks’ interest anyway. “Do you not have such devices in your own land?”

“Not as of yet. In fact, I can safely say it will be a very long time before there are any wands in my homeland,” Brinks admitted, and Tupper carefully hid his own smirk. “However my people do have some ways of practicing the Art. I would be very interested in trying out one of your wands at some point. If only to see what I’m missing,” he admitted obsequiously.

After a moment, Arthur nodded magnanimously. “I’m certain we can arrange that in time, Lord Brinks.”

The falcon formerly on his left arm now returned, with the semi-scorched remains of the rabbit in its talons. The King shook his head at the sight of it. “A pity I have yet to learn less damaging ways. Still, the meat should be good for a stew at least.” He praised the falcon for a few moments, and then passed it off to one of the servants.

Another servant ran up to the company, bowed briefly, and the King beckoned to him. Dashing forward, he whispered something in the King’s ear, and Arthur’s expression darkened. “Run back to the keep. Have Galahad join us immediately. Tell him to bring his wand,” he added with a thoughtful note.

“Yes, my King,” the man said immediately, bowing again and rushing off.

“Is something amiss, your highness?” Brinks said, staying perfectly in character.

“Nothing I can’t handle,” Arthur responded loftily. “The rest of you, return to the keep, please. Actually on second thought, Lord Brinks, you and your servant may stay. You may find this quite diverting.”

The rest of the falconing party split off from the King obediently, though some of them cast some concerned glances in Brinks’ direction. Arthur seemed unconcerned, probably because he was armed with a wand, but also possibly because he simply liked the man. Once the group was out of earshot, his voice became more serious, though. “That was a message from Ambrosius. One of his orbs has caught sight of a Saxon war party, approaching the keep from the south. We’re not far off their path, actually, which is why I called for Ser Galahad. This is the perfect opportunity for him to earn his spurs within the knighthood.”

Brinks shared a concerned look with Tupper. Not at the possibility of Saxons, but more at what the King had so casually said about Merlin. Orbs suggested scrying capabilities. Like the Muggle security cameras that could send images great distances to their masters, scrying orbs were used in the modern day to keep a watch for thieves or attackers. It seemed Merlin had some understanding of this difficult process. If he’d been listening in on their conversation in their room in the keep… then he knew everything.

“There’s no need to be concerned,” the King said evenly, misinterpreting their fear. “You’ll be perfectly safe from the heathens if you’re at my side. Come along, my friends,” he added, stepping down the hill to the west. From up by road leading towards the keep, a man on horseback approached. He was wearing a breastplate and iron greaves, but all his other armor was leather. Unlike the soldiers in that village square, he had no spear nor bow and arrows.

As Arthur walked on ahead, Brinks leaned down. “Are we in trouble here? Did Merlin hear us earlier?”

Tupper shook his head, thinking about it. “Scrying orbs are notoriously hard to maintain, even in our time. My guess is he just scans the area around the keep for possible attacks like this one. If he tried to focus on one room in a small area, like your guest room in the keep, it would be like trying to catch a butterfly in a hurricane. He might be able to hear one word, maybe, before the sensor would move past the room.”

“That’s a relief. Come on, we don’t want them to think we’re conspiring or something.”

Tupper chuckled and followed along. He would be concerned about the Saxons as well, except that the King wasn’t. National leaders, be they Muggle or wizard, were almost universally cowardly. Any threat to their personal safety, no matter how slight, had them wetting themselves and usually hiding in terror like children. Arthur had probably handled a sword before Merlin made him a wand, but he was still a ruler just like all the others. Right now he was walking along, whistling as though he hadn’t a care in the world. There was no danger here.

For his part, Galahad looked a lot less sure of himself. After riding up next to his King and dismounting, he gave a brief bow. “You asked for me, my King?”

“Yes, my friend. A warband of Saxons approaches from the south. You can handle them, can’t you?”

“Of course, my King,” Galahad responded, though his voice trembled a little as he did so. “I would be honored to do so in your name!”

Further down on the hill, tiny glints of metal could be seen in the afternoon sun. The dots soon resolved themselves into people, armed with axes, maces and shortswords. Their armor was mostly leather, with the occasional helm or breastplate made of metal. They were all on foot.

Tupper found this interesting from an historical perspective. By this time, according to both wizard and Muggle histories, the entire area around Winchester had been firmly under Saxon control. The Jutes were only now arriving in force, and would eventually insinuate themselves into what would be called the Kingdom of Wessex. All of that was bollocks, apparently, as Arthur had set up Camelot in this mountain chain. Which meant that the histories had been revised after the fact, as Arthur himself had stated they couldn’t alter or erase memories yet.

The Saxons caught sight of the four of them, and a low yell started rising from the group. There were at least fifty of them, charging up the hill. Galahad looked over at Arthur. “You have your wand, my King? In case I should fail.”

Arthur shook his head. “I sent it on home with the falconing party. I have confidence in you, Galahad.”

Galahad swallowed hard and took a step forward, pulling out his wand. Behind him, Arthur winked over at Brinks. Hidden in his flowing robe was his own wand. Tupper resisted the urge to roll his eyes.

As the attacking Saxons ran up the final hill, Galahad waved his wand in a wide swipe, as if fencing. Blue and red lights shot out the end of it, but dissipated barely two feet away. Grimacing, Galahad tried again, with more precise movements, calling out in Latin, “Prima Potestas!”

More lights shot out from the wand, this time persisting until they reached the Saxons. Tupper and Brinks both winced at what they saw, and knew was happening down there. This was primitive magic, and the spell wouldn’t take effect immediately, but it would be devastating when it did. Galahad tried again and again, as the Saxons sped up. Twenty paces away. Ten! Arthur reached for his own wand.

Then, almost as one, the group faltered. Most of them fell forward. A horrible sizzling sound emanated from some. One to the side actually exploded into a red mist! The spell had taken effect.

Not one of the Saxons had survived. Arthur led the way, with a relieved-looking Galahad behind him. Tupper and Brinks took up the rear. As they stepped carefully between the bodies, the devastation was clear. The uncontrolled magic that had been unleashed on these poor souls had wreaked havoc with their bodies. Hearts which would have otherwise pumped vigorously, had suddenly broken as the very laws of nature changed around them! Air had turned to water in one unfortunate man’s lungs, and was still bubbling out as his breathing came to a stop. Bones had shattered as forces beyond these men’s understanding had compressed their heads or ribs or limbs in on themselves.

“A grim sight, is it not?” Arthur said darkly. “And yet necessary. These heathens have no love of God, nor respect for the power and authority that is the Roman birthright. We are the true sons of Rome, and the true inheritors of this land. Now, with my leadership, Ambrosius’ knowledge, and the will of brave warriors like Galahad here, we will cleanse this entire island of its rabble, and create a united kingdom at last!”

Brinks was being careful to keep his expression hopeful and glad, and Tupper strove to follow his example. Arthur’s words were not prophetic at all, as the UK hadn’t really come about until 1922. Many, many more invaders had come in the years between Arthur’s life and then. Something would definitely divert Arthur’s attention soon, or their history would have been nothing like Tupper had read.

“A visionary goal, your highness,” Brinks said enthusiastically. “I must ask, will the rabble be allowed to leave the island alive? Given the chance to surrender, as such? Many would do so, when faced with deaths such as these,” he gestured to the bodies around them.

“Naturally,” Arthur said with what he most likely thought sounded like nobility. “I have no love of bringing about death and suffering. A leader must be both merciful and harsh in his judgements. But they are barbarians, and pagans, and corrupting influences that cannot be allowed to fester within our borders. Camelot will stretch from coast to coast! From the waters south of us even past Hadrian’s Wall, and to the northern edges of this land; from Lindum Colonia to the Welsh coast! We will be one people, under God, forevermore!”

His fervor tapered off a bit, as they surveyed the bodies a little more. He congratulated Galahad, and then started offering advice as to how to make his spell more prompt, if just as devastating. For his own part, Tupper was trying not to sick up at the sight of it all. He whispered something to Brinks, who responded. “Of course, Tupper. Just stay within sight, would you?” He nodded over at Arthur, as Tupper ran off and vomited. Apparently Brinks had seen some horrible things in his life, and could handle it more easily.
« Last Edit: November 21, 2022, 01:01:48 AM by Daen »