So here it is, at long last, chapter three of my on-going story, “The Tithe-Boy”, in which we learn a bit about magic, Lord Fulgaris gives Tom “the Talk” and the stage is set for an encounter with a mysterious personage known only as “the Blood Seer”. Originally, this chapter was originally going to encompass the next scene, but I saw a break and thought I’d just make it it’s own chapter.
Standard disclaimers apply, plus I’m sick, so that means I’m extra incoherent. Hooray. I don’t think there’s anything I need to warn you about, apart from some mild innuendo. Oh, and no, what Helaira says about him is not nearly as dirty as it sounds (in case some of you are inclined to take what she says in the very wrong direction).
That being said, enjoy!
The Tithe-Boy, Chapter 3
“Focus,” Fulgaris instructed. “Hear nothing but my voice. See nothing but the cup.”
I tried to obey his instructions, but it didn’t seem like staring fixedly at a cup had anything to do with learning magic, apart from what Sevian and Helaira were currently doing with theirs.
After we all broke our fast the next day, Fulgaris had herded us into the practice room without a word. The room, previously empty, had three tables, upon each rested one white cup. Helaira and Sevian both groaned when they saw the cups. “But we did this ages ago!” Helaira protested. “We were on the advanced forms a few days ago!”
Fulgaris’ expression did not change. “Indeed,” he said. “But that was before Tom joined your ranks, and it is always prudent to review the more basic forms so to make it easier to perform more complex feats.” He gestured towards the table with his head. “You may go first, Helaira. Show Tom what he is about to learn.”
Helaira sighed, turning to regard her cup, eyes narrowing as she focused. In a matter of moments, the cup was floating in the air.
I made a startled exclamation. “Why is that…cup…what is she doing to it!?” I cried. I could not believe what I was seeing, and, as I watched, the cup began turning in a circle.
Fulgaris chuckled. “Magic, my dear tithe-boy, one of the most basic forms, mind you, but magic nonetheless.” He turned to Sevian, whose cup was now bobbing up and down in the air, nodding approval. “Sevian, Helaira, I would like you to do the passing motion that Karios taught you….”
I watched, mesmerized, as Sevian and Helaira turned to face each other, beginning to pass their cups back and forth to each other like a bizarre form of juggling, the cups never touching their hands. Fulgaris, standing between them, nodded again. “Good,” he said. “Today, you practice with physical objects, but eventually, you will practice with things that are a tad more…insubstantial….” Finally, turning his attention to me, he gestured to my cup. “Now, Tom, we begin….”
And so that was how I came to stare at a cup for a quarter of an hour. Frustrated, I turned away from it and glared at Fulgaris. “It’s not working!” I cried. “I don’t even know if I’m doing it right, or if I can even do it in the first place.”
I might as well have been shouting at a mountain, for Fulgaris’ expression remained impassive. “Try again,” he told me, absolutely pitiless.
I turned my attention back to the cup, trying to ignore the laughter of Helaira and Sevian as they played at some game with theirs. What game is Fulgaris playing? I thought angrily. He takes me from the place of my birth, throws me in with others who can do these impossible feats, and expects me to perform one as if I were born knowing how to—
The glass rose into the air.
I gazed at it in astonishment as Fulgaris murmured approvingly, as if this had been a test of some sort. I was so astonished, in fact, that I lost my focus for the barest of moments.
The cup fell and broke in two on the desk.
I glanced warily at Fulgaris, expecting to be reprimanded, but instead saw that he was wearing the barest hint of a smile on his face. “Adequately done,” he said, looking past me to the cup, which repaired itself before my eyes, and then he turned his attention to where my fellow students were practicing. “Less force, Helaira!” He snapped as he strode over to their end of the room.
We practiced for the better part of the day. Fulgaris did most of the teaching, but Karios would occasionally assist in my instruction while he was teaching Sevian and Helaira a new trick.
“You will be up to their level in no time, Tom,” he assured me. “Especially now that Fulgaris has confirmed that you have active Potential.”
I remembered that he had spoken about such Potential before, but now his words only added to my confusion. “Was there a…possibility…that I did not?” I asked hesitantly.
Karios shook his head. “That you had the Potential is beyond doubt, but the question was whether your Potential was active or passive—you might use the term “dormant” to describe it—passive Potential sleeps within you indefinitely, active Potential can be put to use right away. There are ceremonies that can Awaken passive Potential, of course, but you do not have to concern yourself with them, now.”
“What would you have done had my Potential been passive?” I asked.
Karios dismissed this with a wave of his hand. “Lord Fulgaris may have Awakened your Potential himself, or may have sent you for fostering with another House that specializes in such things. Passive Potential can be, in some ways, more dangerous than active Potential. But, ah, I am confusing you unnecessarily, child,” he said. “Put it from your mind and concentrate on your lessons.”
He withdrew to watch Fulgaris with Helaira and Sevian and I turned my attention back to the cup, praying that the first time I had managed to make it rise in the air had not been a fluke.
After dinner that evening, Fulgaris called me to his study. It was a cozy room furnished by a great wooden desk and chairs with plush cushions. The floor beneath my feet was carpeted in dark green, and everywhere I looked I saw books. They lined the shelves in the room or were stacked in neat little piles near the desk—and on the desk.
He didn’t look up as I entered, busy examining a sheet of cream coloured parchment, but he gestured for me to take a seat in one of the chairs.
I sat, glancing up at him nervously, but his gaze never wavered from the sheet he held. Finally, he slid the sheet of paper aside. It struck me suddenly how such a small movement could seem so graceful and refined, and then his gaze met mine, and I could not help but recoil in my seat.
It was not that he was angry; an angry Fulgaris was a creature of a different sort, but that his gaze carried weight in a way that a human’s gaze did not. For the space of a moment, I felt that weight behind my eyes, and then, unexpectedly, it faded.
“As I understand it,” Fulgaris began, hands working to arrange the clutter on the desk as he spoke. “Sevian showed you the room in the library, and while in that room, you witnessed that which intensely unnerved you.” It was not a question, but I nodded anyways.
Fulgaris nodded to himself. “Indeed, not an unexpected reaction, especially considering the…particulars…of your town,” his expression became thoughtful for a moment, and then he seemed to push his thoughts aside. “You have questions, ask.”
I did not know where to start, so I said the first thing that came to mind. “Why can’t I see Mother and Grandmother anymore?”
Fulgaris sighed, as if he had been expecting this. “In time, you will understand,” he said finally. “But for now, I tell you that they may not see you because they would not understand.”
“What wouldn’t they understand?!” I demanded, my voice seeming unusually loud in the small room.
Fulgaris’ only response was to raise an eyebrow and then continue in that same infuriatingly calm tone. “They would not understand, Tom, because they do not want to understand.”
“But my Mother—“
Fulgaris held up a hand. “I cannot take the risk, Tom. I am sorry. You are angry and you are frightened, this I know, but you must understand that you—and other tithe-children—are here because we wish to protect you.”
“But why?” I persisted. “Why couldn’t you just leave us with our families? To protect us from what?”
Fulgaris sighed. “It is a long story, Tom, and there will be time enough to tell the whole of it during your lessons. For now, know this: You are safe here, and I will not allow any harm to come to you, Sevian, Helaira, or any members of my household. You are not a prisoner here. You may come and go as you wish, so long as you do not leave the City.” He displayed his hands palms up in a helpless gesture. “It is all I can do for you at this stage.” The note of finality in his tone was a clear indication that he was done saying what he had to say on the subject, so I reluctantly turned my attention elsewhere.
“What were you doing…with Karios…last night?”
Fulgaris’ lips turned up in the barest hint of a smile. “Tell me, Tom,” he said. “What do you know of love?”
“Love?” It seemed like such a simple question, and yet, when I thought about it, I realized I did not know a great deal about it. I could recall Grandmother telling me something about how two people made a child, but I could not see how Mother and Father ever had time for it, seeing as Father was often away selling goods in far off lands.
“I know…about animals…in the fields,” I said hesitantly. “And Grandmother told me once about the Coming of Spring….”
To be more specific, Grandmother had told me about what the young used to do in her day, when there was more to the Spring Festival than weaving crowns out of flowers for all the women in the town. “Used to celebrate all the new life by creatin’ some new life of our own,” she’d say, her face wrinkling with mirth as she winked at me. Mother hadn’t thought it was quite so amusing, to which Grandmother had replied. “Don’t think I don’t know what you an’ that boy were goin’ on about that one year, I’m not so daft that I can’t count nine months from then when Tom was born!”
Fulgaris nodded to himself when I had finished telling him this, and his smile was more apparent now. “So, there are some who still keep the Old Custom,” he said thoughtfully, more to himself than to me. “Although, I was led to believe that many human settlements had rejected it long since then….”
I did not know how to respond to this. Fortunately, Fulgaris seemed to remember that he was not alone, and turned his attention to me again. “Ah, yes, so you are not completely ignorant of the…physical ways…that love can manifest, except perhaps in the specifics—oh, come closer, boy! I will not bite you, not without your consent, at least.”
I obligingly pulled my chair closer to the desk, and Fulgaris continued.
“What you saw in that room, Tom,” he began “was another form that love may take. It is perhaps a strange and violent love to you, but ‘tis a love as sweet as any other.”
“But you…you hurt Karios….” I said. “You said you had to….” I gulped “…punish him.”
Fulgaris’ smile reached all the way to his eyes. “Ah, that, that is part of the game we play, my tithe-boy, a game that we both enjoy very much.” He leaned forward, and his expression became unexpected gentle. “Such games are not meant to harm, Tom. No, never harm, for such a thing is anathema to all the Houses, and all who are part of the Houses, but, if it would allay your fears, you may speak to Karios on the subject.” He glanced at the door, and for a moment, I thought Karios was going to walk in and hear us speaking of him, but Fulgaris only turned back to me. “He is in the library, at the moment, reading am account of the history of the Greater Houses–not what I would choose for some light reading, but that is one of the things I love about Karios, he keeps his mind constantly overflowing with knowledge.” His smile became wistful, and then he seemed to remember something. “Ah! How the mind wanders!” He exclaimed. “Your conversation shall have to wait. I need you to go to your room and dress in the clothes you find on your bed.”
This was sudden. “But, why?” I stammered. “Are we going somewhere?”
“Indeed,” Fulgaris nodded. “I had intended to mention it from the first, but there is time enough to tell you on the way, I suppose.”
“But, wait!” I cried as he stood and made for the door. “Where are we going?”
“To see the Blood Seer,” Fulgaris called over his shoulder as he left the room. “Make haste, Tom. We do not have much time!”
“The Blood Seer?” Sevian repeated when I told him. “He is taking you awfully soon. He waited almost a week to take me.”
“Is it…bad?” I asked in a small voice.
Sevian laughed. “No, no, it’s nothing bad, Tom.”
“Speak for yourself,” Helaira interjected, looking up from her book. “I hope I never have to see him again,” she shuddered. “There’s something scary about him!”
Sevian glared at her. “He’s not scary,” he stated. “Just because he lives in a cave and doesn’t come out in the daytime doesn’t mean he’s scary.”
Helaira shook her head. “It’s not just that,” she said. “It’s what happens when you’re in the cave with him.”
Sevian rolled his eyes. “You went through the same thing I did, Helaira. It was fine. Tom is going to be fine.” His smile was supposed to be reassuring, but to be honest; I kept hearing Helaira’s words in my mind. It’s what happens when you’re in the cave with him.
“ What happens in the cave?” I asked nervously.
Sevian shook his head. “It’s not something we can tell you, Tom. It’s….hard to describe it in words.” He rested a hand on my shoulder. “But you’ll be fine. Lord Fulgaris wouldn’t let anything bad happen to you.”
Helaira nodded her agreement. “If anyone hurt any of us, Ser Karios told me they’d string Lord Fulgaris up and tear off his toenails!”
Sevian and I cringed in unison. “That’s disgusting!” I cried.
“It’s true!” She insisted. “He told me himself! You ask him next time you see him!”
“I believe you, Helaira!” Sevian cried, still wincing a little, as if the image Helaira had conjured up was physically painful. “Lords and Ladies! Remind me never to ask Ser Karios anything about….anything!”
Helaira giggled, and I managed a smile of my own. Sevian turned his bright green eyes on me, suddenly thrusting the clothes on my bed into my face. “Isn’t Lord Fulgaris waiting for you, Tom?!” He snapped. “I’d be getting ready, if I were you, unless you want to meet the Blood Seer in your smallclothes.”
I very much did not want to meet someone with a title like ‘the Blood Seer’ in my smallclothes, so I hurried into the privy to change.