Rish Vogel, Lord Chronicler to Duke Dargon, grumbled something about infernal bed bugs and rolled away from the voice at his ear.
“Awaken! Awaken now!”
Rish rose a bit until propped on his elbows. With a shake of his head he said, “What is it? Can’t it wait until dawn?”
“Get up now!”
Rish sat straight up. Ire burned away all drowsiness from the old man’s mind as he let loose a tirade into the darkness of his bedchamber. “I will not be ordered about in my own bed! I have no problem with calling upon the services of the guard, regardless of who you think you are.”
Echoes sounded off the unseen walls of his room. Rish waited for an apology or quick retreating steps. A dozen heartbeats later there was still no reply.
“Well?” He looked about in a futile attempt to identify the intruder. The darkness felt empty and cold. His burning anger cooled a bit as he realized he heard no breathing or movement at all, despite the voice having been practically at his shoulder. He thrust out his arm to see if someone was by his bed, but he encountered nothing.
He swept his blanket off and swung his feet around and onto the floor. The stone floor’s chill made him jerk his feet back up. Rish grumbled curses to himself as he felt in the dark for a candle on his bedside table. He pulled his feet back into bed until he could strike a light and see where to step.
He got the candle lit, then grabbed for his slippers while looking about his chambers for the fool who had awakened him. Deep shadows cast by his one candle were his only companions.
He shuffled about the room, shining his weak light into all the corners to make sure he was really alone. He checked the door, too, and found it to be firmly closed. The door squeaked against the hinges and grated a bit on the floor as he pulled it open to check the hallway. The corridor appeared empty as well.
Rish shut the door and went back to his bed. With a frustrated grunt, he threw himself onto the bug-infested mat and waited for the biting to begin. It would be a while before he could doze off again. He stared at the ceiling, wondering if the voice he had heard was just a realistic part of his dreams, or maybe someone who had been talking while passing by in the hall. It had sounded so close and real, though. He scratched his arm and pulled the blanket up around his shoulders against the chill air.
“I have a story to tell,” said a voice right by his ear.
Rish bolted from his bed. He tripped once over a stool but didn’t stop until he reached his door. He fumbled with the handle and was about to pull when the voice spoke again.
“My story must be told.”
Rish slowly turned and looked about his room with wide eyes. No one was to be seen. He gripped the door handle tight as if for support and squeezed his eyes shut in an attempt to gain control of himself. He sucked in a deep breath, held it, then blew out as he eased open his eyes. He took another, calmer, look around the room, taking mental note of everything in it. With an effort he unclenched the door handle and took a slow step forward.
Rish saw he was in no immediate danger and that helped calm him a bit more.
He now stood erect, patient, and observant in the middle of his bedchamber. Someone was playing a joke on him, and he wasn’t going to let it go one step further.
“This charade will not go on any longer. Show yourself now,” he said authoritatively.
There was no reply.
“I will find you, and I will find out how you’re –”
“Be seated,” said the voice directly in Rish’s right ear.
Rish jerked reflexively but quickly calmed himself. He probed his ear and shoulder with bony, nimble fingers, and looked around to his right, behind him and even up at the ceiling. He couldn’t find anything unusual.
“Be seated,” said the voice again.
“Show yourself,” said Rish in reply.
“Sit down so that I can begin my story.”
Rish had never experienced such an elaborate trick, *and* it had been quite some time since anyone had tried to order him around.
“Who are you?” Rish asked.
“Be seated. I have little time in which to tell my story,” said the spirit. Its voice was very deep and clear with exacting pronunciation, yet rather monotonous. Rish guessed the speaker might be an adult male, but he couldn’t guess at an age. He could feel the distinct vibrations of sound in his ear, but didn’t feel any breath on his outer ear or neck as he would expect from someone who sounded so close.
“What is your story about?”
“I am your father, Rish, and it is my death which I must tell you about.”
Rish snorted and cocked a skeptical eyebrow. “Are you trying to tell me you are some spirit come to haunt me? If your intention is to frighten me, then be gone. I have no inclination to spend my night listening to ghost stories.”
“Listen to me, Rish. It is my duty to tell you of your real family. I must tell you of the tragedy that led to scandal and torture.” The words suggested commands and impatience, but the voice carried none of the emotion. It remained monotonous and precise, like a student reciting historical text for his teacher.
“Be gone, prankster! The only torture you’ll experience will be at the hands of the very capable guards,” said Rish with a dismissive wave of his hand.
“Hear me out, Rish. You must understand –”
“Very well! You leave me no choice.” Rish stormed over to his wardrobe, pulled out a robe and slipped it on over his bed clothes.
“I am your father. Don’t you realize –”
“I do not believe in you, spirit,” Rish said as he picked up his ink belt, a solid leather belt with ink bottles, quills and parchment dangling from it, and cinched it about his waist. “My father is dead, but he is no haunt.
There was no scandal in my family. The Vogels are a proper, respectable family. Tell me who you really are.” He walked over to his nightstand to get his candle.
“The father you knew took you in when you were an infant. You are not a Vogel, but rather a Hadmes.”
With candle in hand Rish pulled open his chamber door without replying and walked down the hall to the right.
“Hear me out, Rish. Let me start from the beginning,” said the spirit.
“Start where you will, fool, but I will not guarantee you will be heard.”
“I was the third surviving son of a prosperous noble,” said the spirit. “My father had earned his land through honorable service to the King along with a few political favors.”
Rish reached an intersection and went left without hesitation.
“It was a huge section of land, good for farming and grazing. The borders were clearly delineated by a river to one side, a tributary of that river on another and a forest on a third border. On the eastern and final border sat our home; a magnificent keep that was easily the envy of all the lords for miles around.”
The voice was still at Rish’s ear. It didn’t falter or change pace. It stayed with the scribe just as if a bird were sitting on his shoulder telling the tale. As an experiment, Rish covered the assaulted ear with his free hand.
“Moving into our new home was an adventure, though.”
The voice was still right at Rish’s ear despite his hand. It wasn’t muffled at all. He dropped his hand down to his side. “How is this being done?” he wondered. “And why was I chosen for this prank?” He shook his head in frustration and sped up his pace a bit.
“The property did not just magically appear for our benefit. It had recently belonged to another lord who had fallen out of favor with our monarch and so was forcibly removed but a few sennights before our arrival. He was forced to another holding, but it was less than half the size of his original. It was all very political and quite frankly beyond my understanding and interest. Such things were more in my older brothers’ and my father’s arena of interest.”
Rish descended a flight of stairs and headed into the section where the keep’s guards were headquartered. After a few strides, Rish noticed the voice had ceased. He slowed his pace and eventually stopped. He could hear some talking — normal talking, not the monotone drone of the spirit — coming from the guard’s ready room just a few doors down the hall. “Has he given up?” wondered Rish hopefully.
“Where are you going, Rish?” asked the spirit.
Rish jumped, nearly dropping his candle. He clenched his jaw and balled his free hand up into a tight fist. “Damn him!” he thought.
Rish didn’t answer, but resumed his march to see the guards. He reached the ready room and entered. Inside, four men could be seen in the steady glow of a lantern. One was seated on a bench with his head down on a table, apparently asleep. Another was next to him idly carving the table top with a dagger. The remaining two were standing on the other side of the table deep in conversation. No one noticed Rish’s entrance.
“Rish. Rish, listen to me. I only have until dawn to talk to you.”
“Why? What will happen at dawn?”
The three awake guards looked at Rish; the one with the dagger was startled while the two conversing just seemed curious.
“What did you say?” asked the guard with the dagger. He stood up, sheathed his dagger and approached Rish while the other two went back to their conversation. The sleeping guard never budged.
“I will lose my ability to talk to you,” said the spirit.
Rish studied the young guard for signs that he had heard the ghost. The guard just rubbed his left eye, stood before Rish, and waited for an answer.
“Can you hear him?” Rish asked the guard.
The guard looked around uncertainly. “Who? Them?” he asked, pointing at the two talking guards.
“No,” Rish replied then held a hand up to hush the guard, just as the guard was about to speak. He waited a moment, concentrating on listening for the spirit. The spirit kept silent. “Speak, prankster. Let this guard in on your little joke,” he commanded.
“This is no joke, Rish,” said the ghost. “I am trying to tell you of your past and you are here wasting time. Return to your chambers so that I may continue.”
Rish turned his free hand palm up and gave the guard a look as if to say, “Well?”
The guard narrowed his eyes and shook his head slowly.
“You didn’t hear that just now?” asked Rish in disbelief. “A loud monotone voice talking about wasting time?”
“I’m afraid not.” The guard then raised his voice a bit and glanced over at the other guards as if to get their attention. “You’re the Lord Chronicler, aren’t you?”
Something about the guard’s tone alerted Rish that this man thought something was funny and he wanted to share it with his fellow guards.
“Yes, I am, young man,” Rish said imperiously. “I am seeking your assistance in tracking down someone who has invaded the privacy of my bed chamber and is insistent upon playing an elaborate prank on me.”
“Jole, Bantu, come here. The Lord Chronicler needs our help,” said the guard to his buddies. Rish could hear the intentional emphasis the man put on “Lord Chronicler.” The men walked over to Rish; one of them was trying to hide a smirk.
“Who is this person? What does he look like?” asked the first guard.
“I don’t know him and I don’t know what he looks like,” explained Rish. “I was awakened by a voice telling me it is my dead father come to tell me of my past. It is obviously not my father. It is some fool thinking it funny to play tricks on an old man in the middle of the night.” Rish unflinchingly stared at the young guard as if he were a wayward apprentice. He silently dared the guard to joke about the voice.
“Are you hearing the voice right now?” asked the smiling guard who was still trying to hide his mirth.
Rish took a moment to size the man up before responding. These men obviously thought the entire situation was just the wild imagination of an old man. Their eyes were full of disbelief and they were each barely containing their laughter.
“At the moment, no,” said Rish. “But I did hear it when I first entered this room.”
“What was the voice telling you?” chimed in the third guard as he nudged his partner playfully as if to tell him, “Can’t wait to hear this one.”
“It was telling me that idiots like you need to be shoveling manure rather than be trusted to guard the duke’s home,” snapped Rish.
All three guards paused uncertainly for a moment then roared shamelessly with laughter. Rish opened his mouth to fire off another retort but instead shook his head, shut his mouth, and turned around. He realized he would not be getting anything reasonable out of these men.
Rish stepped out of the room and heard among the guffaws one of the guards holler at him, “Maybe it’s the gong farmer calling you back into the sewers.”
Fresh gales of laughter followed that one. Rish’s face flushed with the heat of embarrassment and anger. Tales of Rish being found in a very compromising position in the company of the keep’s insane waste chute cleaner were well known by nearly everyone in the keep and probably half of Dargon itself. Now this little incident would undoubtedly make its way through the keep in just a few bells’ time too, thought Rish.
Rish was tempted to walk quickly — almost run — down the hall, but he forced himself to walk at a normal pace. He might be the butt of a tasteless joke, but he would not be chased away like a whipped dog.
Rish turned a corner and exhaled long and slow. He could feel the hot redness of his face fading, but his jaw felt sore from having clenched it so hard and he was gripping the candlestick holder tight enough for it to be painful to his old, bony fingers.
“Well, spirit, you have my full attention now,” announced Rish with anger heavy in his voice. “I am now on a mission to reveal your horrid prank for what it is.”
His only answer was the soft whispering of his own feet on the stone floor.
“Speak up now!” hollered Rish. His impotent fury was mounting higher. He reached his room and shoved the door open, stepped inside and slammed it shut behind him without slowing his step. He marched directly to his writing desk and with movements exaggerated by his anger, he assembled his writing materials.
“Are you afraid to face me now that your joke has run its course? Have you had all the laughs a ‘spirit’ can handle for one night? I am ready for you now.”
Rish uprighted the stool he had knocked over earlier and settled himself onto it. He sat quietly for a few moments, composing the words he wanted before committing them to paper. Once he had it all organized, he dipped his quill into the ink and began writing an account of what had taken place so far that evening.
He wrote fast and yet in a tidy, small script, pausing only to re-dip his quill. He wrote down everything in detail to include his own reactions and thoughts. Even the confrontation with the guards was recorded without editing; Rish would never consider changing or deleting facts, even if they were embarrassing to him.
Menes slipped by while Rish busily wrote. There was no sign, verbal or otherwise, of the spirit. Rish finally caught up with the present time in his writing by quoting himself as having said, “I am ready for you now.”
Rish put down the quill then flexed his writing fingers while reviewing his work. He nodded in satisfaction, picked the quill up and added, “I have not heard from the ‘spirit’ since returning from –”
“Apparently the previous lord’s departure was very quick,” said the spirit suddenly, startling Rish yet again and causing him to smear a blob of ink in the middle of writing a word. “Either that or there was not much room where the lord was moving to, because there were furnishings and decorations still about the place. However, they were all smashed, torn, and mutilated beyond any sort of use. The old master was obviously not happy with his loss of land and station and had left these pieces as obvious signs of his rage.”
“Stop!” commanded Rish. “I have some questions for you to answer before you continue.”
“Another touchy matter was the serfs working the lands,” droned on the voice. “When we rode in, the reception was icy. As we passed the farms and huts the peasants stopped to stare at us with eyes filled with venomous hatred. So far as we knew, these people knew nothing of us, but they still showed a silent malice that went beyond what rowdy mobs could possibly do. Our buoyant morale at moving up in station in this land deflated mightily.”
“You don’t seem to understand,” Rish interrupted. “Your tale means nothing to me since I do not believe in you. Prove to me who you are and I might record the rest of your story.”
The argument seemed valid from Rish’s point of view, but apparently the spirit didn’t see it that way.
“There were no servants for the keep either,” went on the spirit. “And the few personal ones we had with us were not enough to man such a residence. So my father had my brothers and me round up a few of the serfs residing nearby. It was very difficult, but not in any way that I would have expected. They didn’t put up an actual resistance so to speak, but neither did they oblige us easily. They merely stood about as if they didn’t speak our tongue. They fell to the floor whenever we so much as reached out to grab one. We had to drag their limp bodies to the keep and had to stand guard over them lest they simply walk away when unattended.”
Rish ground his teeth in frustration. He sprinkled some sand over the ink blob he had made earlier and scrubbed away the errant mark.
The voice was very annoying. It felt as if someone had their lips all but pressed up against his right ear. It was irritating like a mosquito could be when it buzzed about the head. What was even worse was the droning quality of the voice. Without emotion or inflection or even natural pauses, it was hard at times to determine the meaning of some of what was said.
The spirit was going on about how the previous lord had warned all the serfs that their new lord would be cruel, dangerous and bloodthirsty. Rish had to shake his head to snap his attention back to the tale.
“My father was wise enough not to immediately punish the serfs for their foolishness. After all, they were just reacting to their previous lord’s warnings and wouldn’t think any different until such warnings were proven to be false. He showed the peasants kindness, fairness and loyalty. It took time but eventually their attitude started to turn around, even though there were plenty that still acted like rabid shivarees, ready to strike in the most insidious ways at the slightest provocation.
“After the initial struggle, the tensions and conflict settled down enough to allow for the household to be set up properly. With my brothers handling most of the work, I took it upon myself to read and write and simply observe the world. I found the arts fascinating and in direct opposition to my feelings on running the land and dealing with politics.”
“Fool,” said Rish. “What kind of prankster are you? You are making yourself out to be a complete idiot. Why not tell me you are some war hero or high ranking noble instead of this ridiculous fop of a son? This tale is boring and torturous to hear.”
The spirit paused for a moment and Rish hoped that the spirit had taken note of him and would get angry enough to reveal itself. However, the ghost resumed its story and Rish groaned in response.
“Caravan wagons loaded with goods had to pass through the old lord’s lands before getting to us and so often the caravan was redirected, ransacked or held up for long periods of time.”
“How old are you, prankster?” asked Rish. He tried to talk over the spirit’s voice, but the ghost kept right on going without pause.
“It got so bad that my father had to hire guards of his own to supplement the caravans’.”
“Why is it I can’t see you?” Rish went on challenging. “Don’t ghosts usually appear in some physical form?”
“I loved to talk with these guards when they had escorted the caravan safely through. I would often write about their exploits. I would stay up late into the night, writing feverishly by feeble candlelight my own embellished versions of these adventures.”
“What happened to you when you died? Tell me of your afterlife, if you can.”
“My brothers hated me and my father barely tolerated having me at the dinner table.”
“I will not be ignored! Your tale is going unheard and is not being recorded. You are failing in your purpose!”
“I tried not to let it bother me though. I left the castle at every opportunity and in foul weather stayed in my chambers soaking up the heat from my fireplace while I wrote of happier places and times from my imagination.”
Rish gave up on the direct approach. His candle was burning low, so he lit a new one and with it in hand proceeded to give his room a thorough inspection.
The voice buzzed on without pause about discovering a fair maiden, or maybe the woman had found him, or possibly he already knew her but was just now discovering feelings for her. Rish wasn’t even bothering to keep track of what was being said now. He focused his concentration through his aging eyes, which needed all the concentration he had; things at a distance had become more and more blurry in recent years.
Movement caught the scribe’s attention. Just on the edge of the candle’s illumination Rish caught the barest shift in a shadow. He could just make out a hole in a brick along the floor. It looked as if about a quarter of the brick was gone and Rish thought he had seen something move within that opening.
“I’ve found you!” thought Rish in satisfaction. With swift, confident steps, Rish walked over to the hole. He stopped there and listened to the ghost for a moment to see if it was aware of his discovery.
“I was confident my father would not notice. He was so involved in the running of his land and in the growing conflict with our neighbors that I felt no fear of discovery. My brothers were taking up arms. There were clashes amongst our own peasants; some were still loyal to their past lord and others had wisely sided with my father. Things that had never really settled into a routine descended into chaos. My father’s nerves were on edge and the entire household had the atmosphere of one under siege.
“This was in such contrast to what I felt within my heart. Love is so bright as to shine through the darkest of times and mine burned like a field afire, high, bright and heated, fed to even greater fury by the very fact that our love was forbidden. My father would surely sever my head himself if he knew what kept me from descending into the hell our lives were becoming.”
Rish rolled his eyes and shook his head in disgust. Pursuing forbidden love during a family crisis was irresponsible and irrational. Rish knew that he had brought honor and respect to his family with his present station as Lord Chronicler. He would have never allowed lust to creep into his life; he had always been determined to achieve the highest status possible.
Rish was reaching his tolerance level very quickly. The voice was now actually hurting his ear. His left ear heard only a faint echo of what his right ear was getting in full force, causing him to feel a bit unbalanced. He stared at the hole in the wall a moment longer and detected more movement. “This fool’s teary story is about to end,” he thought.
He slowly lowered down to his bony knees and set the candle just off to the hole’s side. He again listened to the narrative for any signs the ghost had noticed his movement.
“We kissed passionately. It might have been our last for all we knew and hearing movement nearby we darted off in separate directions so as not to raise any suspicions,” droned on the voice.
Rish frowned and bent down to be on eye level with the opening. He could hear scratching and crunching with his left ear but failed to make out anything by sight other than indistinct shadows. He shoved three fingers inside, all that would fit, but couldn’t reach anything; the brick was too thick.
He was determined though and tried to pry more of the brick free.
A flash of pain suddenly laced his fingertips and Rish yanked them out. Blood flowed freely from his index and middle fingers. Something squeaked from within the hole and a rat thrust its head out like a grumpy little bear defending its cubs. It eyed Rish angrily and gnashed its teeth before disappearing back inside.
Rish jumped to his feet as soon as his initial shock wore off. He mentally kicked himself for not thinking of the vermin that infested the keep before wiggling his fingers in a hole in the wall.
“One cold night, when the first snows fell, my father called me into his audience chamber. Surrounding him were my brothers. They all looked somber, with downcast eyes. I was very nervous, as I had no real idea what could be happening. I knew our enemy had been particularly voracious of late, but I didn’t know quite to what extent.
“I stepped up to my father and he gave me a cold, haggard stare. His cheeks had become so sunken and his eyes so murky. He shoved a scroll at me and told me to take it and depart immediately to the neighboring lord. I was to present it to him and wait for a reply.
“I took the scroll hesitantly and tucked it away in my tunic, all the while uncertain of what was going on. Why was my father sending me on this errand when he would typically send one of my more able brothers?”
“Sending you to your death most likely,” mumbled Rish. He held his bleeding fingers tightly wrapped in his robe and glared about the room, surveying it for real clues as to the origin of the voice. The voice was doing much more than just irritating him now. It was offending him. Its very persistence at telling him this wholly unbelievable story burned Rish to the core.
“I was nervous, but dared not question my father. I suspected something was terribly wrong about this whole errand. I left the hall and prepared for the trip. It would take the better part of two days to reach my destination.
“My eldest brother had one of the few worthy steeds for such an occasion, so I took it without a thought. I rode out into the dark with a preoccupied mind.
“The wind was cold and determined to freeze me to my very heart. I ached to see my love again. She would warm my heart, my body, my very soul. It was not to be, though. I would have to deal with just the faint ambient glow that memories with her induced in me.
“I pushed on through the day, afraid all the while of what I might meet. It was all a gray gloom, though. No living thing broke the landscape. The trees stood stark, naked without even a coating of the snows. I wept for the beauty of spring and …”
“I don’t care if you’re a ghost or not,” muttered Rish. “But you are definitely not my father.” The spirit’s meandering, pitiful story was completely at odds with Rish’s steadfast devotion to unembellished facts. His real father had been a devoted, determined master of scribes; completely unlike this idiot rambling on about his ‘feelings.’
“I am a Vogel,” Rish said to the spirit, even though he knew it would ignore him. “Nothing you can say will convince me otherwise.”
Olat was nervous and according to his partner, Trulan, he had every reason to be. Olat was taking breakfast to his new master, Master Vogel, and according to Trulan, it was a task requiring strength of heart and fleetness of mind.
Olat and Trulan were young scribes apprenticed to the strict taskmaster Rish Vogel. Master Vogel was notorious for attention to detail, strict obedience to orders, and hard — really hard — work. He was not known for being pleasant in the morning.
Trulan had confided in his rotund charge stories of young apprentices returning from Master Vogel’s chamber in tears after the old man had drilled them relentlessly about every insignificant detail of bookkeeping and letters. Thus the hallway where Master Vogel resided was referred to as the Hall of Tears.
“How could something like that make one cry?” Olat had asked in disbelief.
Trulan had just widened his eyes and shrugged. “You’ll see … you’ll see.”
Olat was in the Hall of Tears now, carrying a laden breakfast tray in unsteady hands. The rattling of crockery echoed softly off the walls.
Olat looked over his shoulder to make sure Trulan was still following him. Olat had begged and pleaded with Trulan to come along for support. Maybe Trulan was just trying to scare poor flubbery Olat as a joke on the new boy, but the older boy was so serious when telling his tale that Olat couldn’t help but believe him.
Trulan was faithfully tagging along, just a few paces behind him carrying the lantern. Trulan made shooing motions with his free hand and whispered, “Hurry up!”
Two more doors on the right and Olat was there. He sucked in a nervous breath and glanced once more at Trulan. Trulan just stared impatiently at the younger boy. Olat balanced the tray on one hand and raised the other to knock on the solid wooden door. He knocked twice quickly and immediately a muffled bellow rang from inside. He stood frozen and wide-eyed, staring at the distorted, menacing shadows playing on the wood. His free hand was frozen in its upward position. The hand holding the serving tray felt suddenly weak and cold, barely able to support the tray’s weight. He squeaked once and took a hesitant step back.
“Calm down,” said Trulan. Olat just swallowed hard and concentrated on not dropping the tray.
The door was suddenly flung wide open. Framed within the doorway stood a very irritated Lord Chronicler. But instead of his master’s obvious fury, the first thing to stand out to Olat was a blue haze just behind his master’s right shoulder. It slowly swirled like a wispy, round cloud and just barely perceptible within the mist was — a face? But Olat couldn’t be sure.
Olat stared at it in supernatural fear. The strange mist immediately brought to his mind a ghost story his father liked to tell by the fireplace during the Night of Souls. The ghost in his father’s story would roam in search of the lonely and depressed, and like a tick on a dog, fasten itself to its host. Then it would slowly sap the spirit from its victim, leaving the victim feeling weaker and weaker until he had no more will to live. The victim would then commit suicide and the spirit would move on to find another sad soul. There was no doubt in Olat’s mind that he was looking at a real, bona fide spirit, possibly the very one his father had told him about.
Master Vogel stood just staring at Olat with barely controlled fury. Olat didn’t even notice. He stood quaking in the hallway while fearfully clutching the breakfast tray.
“Olat brought you breakfast,” calmly stated Trulan. Master Vogel’s eyes shifted to the older boy. Olat wondered if Trulan noticed the apparition, but he couldn’t bring himself to turn his head to look at the other boy. What if the ghost tried to get him? What was it doing to his master? It looked like its lips were moving. Its eyes were staring straight ahead and were bulging and lifeless. Then the mist swirled and the face disappeared only to return a moment later.
“Breakfast,” Master Vogel finally mumbled to himself.
“Yes. May we take it into your chambers?” asked Trulan.
“It’s almost time, then,” said Rish, completely ignoring the question. “Is your morning routine on schedule, Olat?” Rish looked expectantly at Olat. The boy just stared dumbly at the mist.
Master Vogel looked back over his shoulder to see what his apprentice was looking at and then looked back at the boy in suspicion. Olat swallowed hard. His master had just stuck his face right into the mist but didn’t seem to know it.
“Do you see something, boy?” asked Master Vogel slowly.
Olat tore his eyes from the ghost and looked his master in the eyes. “He doesn’t see it!” he thought. Olat’s mind went blank. Tears welled up and threatened to pour down his cheeks. All he wanted to do was run away. He wanted to leave this spot, but couldn’t. His feet were cold and immobile with fear.
“Olat!” whispered Trulan. “Speak up.”
Olat squeaked but didn’t answer.
Trulan took over. He stepped forward between the frozen boy and Master Vogel and swiped the tray from Olat. “Yes, we are on schedule.”
Olat sucked in a sudden breath as he realized Trulan didn’t see the spirit either. “Am I just imagining it?” he thought.
Master Vogel tilted his head a bit to see Olat behind Trulan. He looked at the boy with narrowed eyes. Olat couldn’t take his master’s scrutiny or the fear the mist struck deep in his gut and so averted his eyes to stare intently at the back of Trulan’s head.
“Good,” said Master Vogel finally to Trulan. He paused a moment as if considering whether to ask another question. Then he asked, “Have either of you noticed anything … unusual since arriving here?” He looked behind Trulan at Olat again. Olat’s eyes, as if of their own accord, flicked over to the mist and Olat saw it still hovering by Master Vogel’s head with the eerie face fading in and out of sight.
Trulan thought for a moment and said, “No.”
Master Vogel continued to look at Olat. The boy quickly shook his head in the negative and went back to studying the back of Trulan’s head.
Master Vogel ground his teeth and sighed heavily. “Trulan, go to the library and find anything you can on the family name Hadmes.”
Trulan nodded and held up the breakfast tray. “Your breakfast, Master Vogel?”
“No. Take it with you to the library. I have no time for it now.”
Without waiting for the boys to leave, Master Vogel went back into his room and shut the heavy door with a hollow bang.
“What is wrong with you?” Trulan hissed at Olat. “Is your mind still your own, or have the spirits snatched it from you?”
Tears finally poured freely down Olat’s face at the mention of spirits. He knew what he had seen, even if no one else had seemed to notice it. Snot seeped from his nose and he swiped at it with his sleeve.
“Let’s go,” said Trulan in disgust. “*You’re* going to do the work of looking for the Hadmes family.” Trulan gestured at the lantern he had set on the floor earlier. “Pick it up and come on.”
Olat sniffled, brushed some of the tears from his eyes and said, “Okay. I … I’m sorry, Trulan.”
“You’re going to be real sorry if you keep acting like this. Did you see how mad he was? You’re going to be copying the flora and fauna books for sure.”
Olat winced. The other scribes had shown him the impossibly huge volumes just the other day. Master Vogel always made any scribe who displeased him copy from the books for bells on end.
Trulan walked down the hall. Olat picked up the lantern and slowly turned his head to look at the Lord Chronicler’s door. He imagined a grotesque face popping out through the wood to get him. The shadows cast by the lantern’s bars shifted a bit as if to accommodate his fear, making Olat squeal and charge after Trulan. Fresh tears blurred his sight as he ran down the hall: the Hall of Tears.
Rish closed his door and tried to make sense of his own scattered thoughts.
The spirit’s unceasing narration drove overpoweringly into his mind now, making it hard to concentrate. Had the boy seen something? Rish couldn’t be sure. It was obvious Trulan had not suspected anything was awry, but Olat had acted so scared and had refused to look at Rish directly. The boy had only recently begun working for him and so was too new for Rish to read.
“I was escorted into the main hall. A bit roughly I might add, especially after a long, hard trek such as the one I had just endured. These fools thought they were so royal and all-powerful. I could see the rips in their flowing capes and the stains on their ugly green stockings. They were just barely of a higher stature than the servants that cooked their meals and cleaned their shabby home.”
“No, there was nothing to fear but me,” thought Rish. “The boy was just frightened by me.” He shook his head in an attempt to focus his attention back on the ghost.
“Dawn is fast approaching, fool,” taunted Rish. “Get to the point of your tale and be gone.”
“I presented my father’s letter to the lord,” said the ghost. “I stood tall and proud before these buffoons. As the lord read the letter, I composed in my mind the story I would write about this trip and these pretentious fools. As a matter of fact, I thought I should even edit some of the material I had already written — the stories about the caravans — as I believed I had made these men entirely too impressive in my writings, when in fact they weren’t impressive at all.”
Rish sat down at his writing desk and resigned himself to enduring the last of the spirit’s tale. His bones ached and his eyes felt weary and strained.
“I was interrupted from my reverie by a sudden laughing outburst from the lord. ‘A truce sealed with blood!’ he said happily. ‘I accept! I accept!’
“I was mystified by that comment about blood. What blood? What was this man so happy about? The lord then pointed to me and said to those assembled, ‘His own father has offered his head as part of a truce. I take this man’s life and leave the old idiot and his lands alone. What a deal!’
“I must have turned white with shock. The lord took one look at me and said something about the look on my face being worth the whole past year of misfortunes. All I could think about was my love, Marlene. Father must have found out about my sister and me. We had been so careful, but now that I look back on it, we were so stupid to believe we would get away with our affair. So stupid …”
The ghost had finally stopped after what must have been nearly a bell of non-stop talking. The silence felt strange to Rish, like he had been standing next to a raging waterfall that had abruptly run out of water.
“Stupid,” agreed Rish with a nod. He snorted, stood up and stretched.
“It took several chops to sever my head,” continued the ghost. Rish bowed his head and rubbed his temples. Rish hoped this fool was going to be true to his word and leave at dawn. It should be only a matter of menes before the dawn bell would ring.
“Rish,” said the voice and the scribe paused massaging his head. Something about the voice caused him to stop. There was still no emotion or change in volume, but Rish could sense the spirit was pleading for attention. There was some feeling behind the word that came across without any real sound. Rish was amazed to look at his arm and find goose bumps.
“Rish, you must understand and believe what I am telling you. This is a story of utmost importance to you. It is …”
Rish rubbed the crawling skin of his arms and stared at a stone in the wall before him as if it was the speaker.
“… it is your history I am telling you, Rish. It is where you come from and what you are. You are my son. Only by the grace of good health and appropriate composition were you permitted to live. Your mother, my sister and lover, was kept locked in a cellar for months and freed by our brothers only under the condition of her fleeing as fast and far as she could.”
“You lie,” said Rish in an even tone that matched the spirit’s emotionless voice.
“I have given up all to tell you this. Rish, I needed to tell you this. Your mother would wish you to know the truth, and I owe her so much for the pain she endured. Take what you now know and hold it close to your heart. Live for us, Rish. Live for us.”
The dawn bell finally rang and Rish lowered his hands to his lap. He listened anxiously for the spirit, trying to determine if the voice had made its final exit. He sat with his back straight, his hands folded neatly in his lap, and his eyes staring unfocused at the wall before him. Eventually the quiet around him slowly gave way to the increasing activity of the keep.
Distant doors slammed, unintelligible conversations drifted just on the edge of hearing, and more and more footsteps could be heard going up and down the hall just outside Rish’s door.
Rish took a deep breath, let it slowly out and stood up. “Well done, prankster,” he said aloud. His statement had a sense of finality to it, like a decision made after much deliberation. “You have stumped an old, weary man. Try this trick again, though …” He paused for effect. “… and the final laugh will be on you.” Rish adjusted his belt, smoothed out his robe, and then opened his door. It was time to begin the day.
The library was suddenly quiet, causing Olat to sneak a peek over his shoulder. The cause of the silence was Master Vogel’s arrival. The dozen other apprentices in the room had immediately seen the thunder in their master’s expression and so had scattered to avoid his wrath. Olat snatched his head back around to the front and studied the book on his desk without really seeing it. He mumbled a few quick prayers — one each to the variety of deities popular in Dargon, just so he was covered — and made every effort not to look in the Lord Chronicler’s direction. Or rather the ghost’s direction, if it was still hovering over Master Vogel’s shoulder.
After a few moments, the room was still quiet. Olat was having a tough time keeping his eyes locked on the _Dargon Land Owners’ Lineage_ text before him. Each and every passing mene was slow, painful agony. “There is no ghost. There is no ghost,” the boy thought to himself over and over. “Oh, please let there be no ghost.”
Someone touched his shoulder and Olat squeaked fearfully. He jerked around, tearing a page in the book in the process because he had been clutching it so tightly.
Staring at Olat like an ancient, stone gargoyle was Master Vogel. The hard, displeased look on the man’s face demanded attention like no spoken word could.
Olat shook in fear. He couldn’t see the horrible mist hovering anywhere, but Master Vogel’s eyes were so stern that Olat didn’t dare look anywhere but directly into his eyes.
Master Vogel looked down at the torn page. Olat took the opportunity to glance to each side of the man’s bald head. No ghost. No strange cloud. Nothing out of the ordinary at all. His tension released a notch or two.
“You’re going to copy that entire torn page, Olat,” said Master Vogel. He spoke slowly and quietly, as if to make his point clear. “Neatly and without mistakes, understood? You are careless. You are much too easily distracted. Such attributes will make you a poor scribe.”
Olat just nodded dumbly.
“Pride and honor, Olat,” Master Vogel continued. “They are what matter. Take pride in your work. Your performance always reflects upon yourself and your family. Honor your family heritage by adding your own positive works to it. Do you understand, boy?”
Olat had no idea what Master Vogel was rambling on about. All he knew was the ghost was gone and he was in trouble. Honor, pride, family … the words were like chaff in the wind to the young apprentice. But to appease his master, he bobbed his head in the affirmative.
Master Vogel nodded back and removed his hand from Olat’s shoulder. “Work hard, boy, so that you may honor your family name as I have the Vogel name.”
He put an extra emphasis on his name as if reaffirming a point.
Master Vogel turned to walk away and Olat quickly asked, “Master, should I continue to look for the Hadmes family in these records?”
“No,” said Master Vogel without turning back around. “It’s no longer important, boy. Go on with your other work.”
Olat sighed in relief. Researching family records was so mind numbing. He watched Master Vogel walk through the library towards the door and studied him for any signs of the ghost. None. No signs at all. He sighed once more and stood to fetch some paper and quills for the copying he had to do. “At least the Lord Chronicler didn’t mention the flora and fauna books,” thought Olat happily.