Friday, March 11, 2016

The Kingdoms of Albion, Chapter One

Tentrek let out a slightly girlish yelp as he scrambled to gather the scrolls for his Master. The old man was dreadfully old and needed all the help he could get around the house; at least, that was the excuse he’d given Tentrek on as an assistant and protégé when the lad was just eight summers old. Upon arriving home, he’d merely found that the man was nearly as hyper as he, and prone to crazy antics when the mood struck him. Tentrek didn’t know if staying in the Church would have been a better option sometimes…

“Tentrek!” Called a strained but firm voice from the basement. “Are you still toddling around with the scrolls or have you finished them yet? They’re to be sold today I would think, seeing as the buyer said he would visit at two o’clock.”
Tentrek looked up at the clockwork machine to see the time, swearing under his breath as he saw that it was nearing a quarter till two. Taking the scrolls, Tentrek moved out of his study past the mirror, where he got a look at himself.
Scrawny beneath his black apprentice robes with his yellow scarf wrapped tightly around his neck, he looked every bit the part of a Wizard’s apprentice. He’d heard the other people in town talk about him before when they thought he couldn’t hear. They thought he seemed mysterious, and possibly powerful. After all, why else would the former Archmage of the Spire take on an orphan when he had nobles practically begging him to make honest Wizards out of their sons and daughters?
Tentrek often, late at night, pondered what the meaning of his little life was. He knew a little magic, a little alchemy… his master was a master of many things, and he would involve Tentrek in his activities whenever he would go about doing them. It’d earned Tentrek a passing fancy with a Hadron Bow, the taut line between the warped wax wood an almost therapeutic release when he visited the garrison in the town, practicing with discarded arrows that the town guard would leave behind. Would he have ever even seen a bow if he’d stayed in the Church?
“Tentrek! I know you can hear me, boy, now get down here,” the old man’s voice echoed up from the basement, causing Tentrek to snap his focus to the here and now. Briskly walking, he took the steps two at a time as he descended the spiral staircase, smiling as he moved past the numerous portraits of his master that had been done over the years. It always felt like the old man was watching over him, even when he wasn’t in the room.
“Coming!” Tentrek called out as he reached the bottom of the stairs, just within sight of his master at in his workshop.
Their (namely his) home was an old money place, with high stone walls and leering gargoyles. The village had been built around the Manor when the trade routes had shifted away from the Gobber territories, and his towering three-story brick and mortar Manor acted as a home and as his place of work. The basement, while primarily serving as the place to store the kegs of honeyed mead his grandfather had made nearly a century before, also acted as the store front for any and all who wished to have magical remedies for what ailed them.
A long workbench with glass displays sat in front of opened storm cellar doors, with his Master sitting serenely there, quietly tinkering with a clockwork bee, the jeweler’s eyeglass he was squinting through allowing him to use tweezers to place the cogs in their destined spots. Tentrek walked up behind his Master, admiring how at even his advanced age, he seemed as spry as ever. His head was bald save for the hair growing on the side of his head, moving into a full-length beard of red and white braids, interspersed with shining golden trinkets. His veiny hands didn’t quake with the rigors of age or a man stressed, but merely glided about as he moved about in his wheelchair, a blanket wrapped firmly around his legs “to keep the chill of winter out.” Tentrek always rolled his eyes at that but helped him with his blanket all the same.
As Tentrek approached the old man, he smiled as he saw a familiar pudgy older woman looking through the display case at the assorted pieces of jewelry that the Master had collected over the years.
“Are you sure you’re not willing to part with that ring Jeremiah? It looks just like the one my father wore, back before we lost him to the war.” She said, wringing her hands together anxiously.
Jeremiah Black, smiling with a hard stare, merely leaned back in his chair. “As I’ve told you before Marie I have already left that ring to you in my will, assuming nobody comes to this village and buys it. It has some hefty enchantments on it, so an adventurer would pay a pretty pence for this, I assure you.”
Tentrek smirked when he turned his back to the couple, placing the scrolls on a low table for his Master to peruse at his leisure. He’d spent the last three days scribing them, making sure the Hadron characters were written with the correct swirl where needed. The language was an old one and very difficult to write in, though Tentrek had mastered it by the time he was ten summers old. His Master had insisted on it; they often spoke in Hadron when they thought someone was eavesdropping, or if they needed to confer with each other before a sale. Tentrek knew for a fact that it drove most of the villagers mad when they spoke the language, seeing how most if not all of the people of the United Kingdoms of New Albion had lost someone to the sword or arrow of a Hadron dervish. The war had lasted eleven years, with the forces of Hadron retreating back into their own lands… also known as Hadron.
They were a little egotistical, Tentrek had thought on more than one occasion. They were also premier masters of magical ability, with spells and incantations from bygone eras that went unrivaled by all but the highest ranking members of the Spire.
“Tentrek, lad, be a gentleman and prepare my tea for me would you? I can feel the chill settling into my bones as we speak and I would love the herbal remedy Marie brought me more than anything right about now.”
Tentrek smiled, turning. “Of course Master. Hello Madam Cuthridge, how is Vione?”
“Vione is off on another patrol, learning the ropes as the militia would say. She told me the other day that they almost saw combat when they encountered a pack of wild Gobbers!” Marie said, smiling at she thought of her daughter. “They chased the nasty little creatures away, but just the thought of my V getting into a fight, goodness! It sends chills down my spine!”
“I practice with V whenever I get the chance, she knows how to handle herself fairly well,” Tentrek said, thinking of the times that he would use her as a mobile practice dummy, firing blunted arrows at her armored form. She was quick on her feet and extremely mobile thanks to the light chain shirt she chose to wear beneath over her jerkin, allowing for greater moments of dexterous amazement that left Tentrek downright astonished.
“She says good things about you Ten, you’re a good boy. Well, a good man actually, heh heh…” Marie said, swatting Tentrek lightly on his arm.
Tentrek chuckled. “I’m only sixteen summers Madam, and still an apprentice; hardly a man if I should say so.”
Tentrek’s Master cut off the nervous exchange with a polite cough, looking pointedly at the small bag of leaf clippings that Marie held in a linen bag strapped to her side. “My tea boy?”
“Oh, of course. How much for the medicine Marie?” Tentrek asked, reaching across the table to grab one of the small change purses that Master Black kept at the storefront. He counted out the three copper coins she quoted to her and accepted the linen bag with a smile and a gracious bow.
“Oh, Tentrek! V wanted me to remind you that she and the others are meeting at the Warhound tonight and that you should stop by for a drink.” Marie said as she prepared to leave, wrapping a scarf around her neck.
“If I’m free from my studies then I’ll be sure to attend, thank you, Madam,” Tentrek said as he retreated behind the workbench and towards the small alchemy lab set up in the back of the basement, kept lit by an enchanted torch that flickered a bright blue light from a sconce. Lighting a small stove with a bit of flint and steel, Tentrek grabbed a gourd of water and poured it into a teakettle before filling the strainer with a fistful of the foul-smelling leaves. He listened as Marie and his Master made idle conversation for a few minutes, going over a few experiments that Tentrek had been instructed to work on the night before. Finally, Marie walked up the steps of the storm cellar and out onto the road running alongside the Manor.
“Having a good day Master?” Tentrek asked aloud, not bothering to turn from his current experiment. He’d left the brew to simmer overnight, a concentrate of the Heluc plum pulled from the trees in the town orchards, along with half a dozen other alchemical components he’d mixed in to be absorbed by his own creation, a flavored cake that sat within the substance, absorbing the potion like a sponge. It should help with his Master’s joint aches, as well as his skin irritation.
He hoped it would at least… the old man complained about both in equal measure.
“I’ve had worse…” His Master said, placing his jeweler’s eyeglass back over his left eye, resuming his work on the clockwork bee. “Ever since I’ve been confined to this chair, each winter feels as if it is longer every year.”
“Well your tea will be ready soon, and the Heluc tonic I’ve been revising should help with your joints,” Tentrek said as he lifted the glass from his cauldron, leaning back as a wisp of steam filtered out from the simmering juices.
“And the cake? Do you think it will work as you have hypothesized?” The man asked, slowly attaching a crystal wing to the back of the diminutive construct.
“It should. The cake is really just a thickening solution applied to balls of fried dough, allowing the Heluc to soak in and become layered. This should be better than those nasty tasting Willow bark extracts you were putting into your tea, at the very least.”
“I’ve found the nastier a tonic is, the more potent the potion. Let’s see if you’re pain-killing cake will break that time-honored tradition.” Master Black said with a wry chuckle. “There! It’s finished!”
“The bee you’ve been building for the last week and a half?” Tentrek asked, stirring his bubbling brew slowly.
“Yes! The clockmaker who ordered it wanted a durable traveler that could go from place to place and play recorded messages. This will really only work over short distances, say a town or city, but it should save him time on his work orders.”
“Tea is ready,” Tentrek said, waving a hand to silence the screeching teakettle before lifting it off the flames. Pulling a ceramic cup from beneath the alchemist’s table, he poured a steaming cup of the foul-smelling liquid before fishing at the sponge cake from his potion. Placing both on a plate he normally used for midnight meals when his Master had long since retired for the evening, he turned and made his way over to Master Black.
After carrying over the plate and setting it at his Master’s elbow, he leaned against the workbench, crossing his arms. “So will I have tonight free to see my friends?”
Master Black, while taking a careful sip of the steaming tea, looked up at him. “That all depends on the quality of the scrolls. The buyer will be here soon and I would like to think I can trust you enough to prepare simple requests such as those. How will I ever let you take over the Manor when I pass on if you can’t?”
Tentrek laughed, moving up behind his Master and taking hold of the handles of his wheelchair, slowly pulling him from his work and turning him around to the low table where the scrolls lay, each rolled up snugly and fit into its own scroll case. “You go over these while drinking your tea, and once the cake has grown cool enough to eat, I say enjoy. It should make your hands feel better at the very least.”
Master Black rubbed his hands together solemnly, looking at the small slab of slightly pink cake. “It smells sweet.”
“I know you like cherries and cherries rarely impact potions. So there you go, cherry flavored medicine. Now dig in and look over those scrolls while I get to work on those hoes that the farmers brought in.”
“Hmm…” Master Black said as he took a bite of his cake and a sip of his tea. He pulled a scroll from its case and unfurled it, looking over the loopy writing carefully as he nursed his drink. Tentrek paid him no mind as he took the stack of farm equipment and began repairing it, using mild magics to reinforce the wooden shafts and clean the iron heads. As he reached into the workbenches drawers to retrieve the paint used for tracing runes onto items, he smiled as he heard his Master make an appreciative sound.
“Very nice work here Tentrek… I would say this would land you a job as a Scrivener at the very least!” Master Black joked, rolling the scroll back up.
“I’m dead set on magic, but always nice to have a backup plan I suppose.” Tentrek hummed, unscrewing the top of a jar of blue paint. First, he’d trace the runic array for durability, followed by a charging rune to keep the item powered. Then he’d etch it into the metal, making the tools magically more durable for when spring came and the ground would need tilling.
“We’re really starting to get more orders for reinforced tools,” Tentrek noted as he began painting, lying the tool down on the workbench so he could easily trace out the symbols he would need to etch in the coming hours. He only stopped when a figure stood blocking the light coming from the open cellar doors.
Looking up, Tentrek’s eyes widened at the sight of the man standing before him, if he was a man at all. Covered from head to foot in heavy plate armor the color of coal, blue lights flashed from the intricate array of runes etched into his covering, creating a somewhat hypnotic glow to those ill-prepared to see it; He wore a cloak made from the sumptuous fur of some foreign beast, which was thick enough to have pockets lined on the inside. His head was wrapped fully in a helmet that sprouted rams horns from the temples, bearing a large silver symbol glowing away from the metal a few inches from his forehead. Every part of him exuded power, roiling waves of arcane energy pouring off him in pulses that would allow other arcane casters to take advantage of and use his excess energy to power their own spells. Tentrek must have been staring at the man (it indeed sounded male) cleared his throat.
“I’ve come for my scrolls boy,” the man said, a pair of blue eyes looking out from the skull-like mask on of the helm. His voice was muffled slightly by the armor, but not nearly enough; it was as if something was amplifying and clearing his words for all to hear. His voice, rich and cultured, had a heavy lilt to it, telling Tentrek the man was not from any region close by.
“W-we have the scrolls ready sir, my Master is just looking them over now,” Tentrek said, trying to fight the tremors in his hands. He set down his paint brush and moved just behind the workbench. Gathering his courage, he smiled. “Is there anything else I can show you today?”
The man was silent, staring at Tentrek for a moment as if he were an interesting animal worthy of study. “You have a strange aura about you boy, one I cannot place. Tell me your name.”
An Aura Reader? Tentrek stood there amazed, gathering his wits as he processed the man's request. “Tentrek sir, Tentrek of Grond.”
“Of Grond eh? So you’re an orphan?” The man said, cutting through the tension with a verbal knife.
“I am indeed. Is that any concern of yours?” Tentrek asked, looking at the man defiantly. However frightening this man may be, he couldn’t just back down.
“Just admiring what a fine young man you seem to be growing into. You possess a strong aura, with wild magic racing through it just waiting to be tapped into.” The man replied before looking over Tentrek’s shoulder. “Master Black? Are my scrolls ready yet?”
Master Black turned his chair around slowly, eyeing the man with obvious distaste. “Yes, they are indeed ready. They are to the standards you requested, and in Hadron as you specified. Do you have the other half of the payment?”
“I believe it was five hundred crowns?” The man said, reaching into his cloak with clawed gauntlets, fishing out a blue velvet sack. “Here are fifty diamonds… that should cover the remainder of the cost.”
“Assuming they’re worth the five hundred crowns, aye, they would.” Master Black said, rolling up next to Tentrek. Looking to him, he patted him on the hand. “Gather the scrolls and wrap the cases in twine so that they will be easier to carry. I will settle the account here.”
Tentrek turned and began resealing the scrolls in their cases, the entire time feeling as if the man was staring at the back of his head, eyes burning with a knowledge that only he knew.
And Tentrek didn’t like it.

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