For those of you who just started following this blog (or have followed me since the last update) every so often (usually on Fridays) I like to post a completely unedited short story or some other writing I’m working on, just because I can. The Tithe-Boy is a serial I began last Hallowe’en, and now I’m finally picking it up again with part 4. (In case you need to play catch-up, here are links to part 1, part 2, and part 3, please do heed the warnings in each post, if applicable).
As always, the writing is raw so there are lots of awkward sentences and dialogue that is probably the writerly equivalent to nails on a chalkboard, but, you know, it’s raw, absolutely 100% raw.
Please enjoy the chapter, and then I will answer random questions about the world that you probably know all the answers to already, you smart people, you.
The Tithe-Boy, Part 4
Lord Fulgaris and I set out for the cave when the sun had sunk below the horizon and the night had wrapped the City in a cloak of stars and quiet. I was used to the quiet of the Town, but the night seemed unnatural to the City, with all the activity that went on in the daytime. It was not like Lord Fulgaris’ people to be still and silent. Even when they seemed to be standing still, you could see it, just barely, motion, a twitch of the eye, a subtle shift of the hips, always moving, always busy.
Or at least, that was what I had thought before I met the Blood Seer.
We took the carriage part of the way until Fulgaris called a halt and I all but tumbled out after him. Before us was a dirt road, worn smooth by the passage of many feet. Trees dotted either side of the path, clearly deliberately placed, so this was by no means a completely wild space. Still, something about it said “not-City” to me, and at the time, I knew not why.
“We will proceed the rest of the way on foot,” said Lord Fulgaris as he strode forward, not waiting for me to follow. It took me a moment to realize that he carried no torch or other source of light, yet he strode forward as confidently as I would walk across a well-lit room.
“Hurry up, Tom!” He snapped, and I ran to catch up to him. “One must not keep the Blood Seer waiting; he has many children to see, so soon after a Tithe.”
“Why does he need to see me?” I asked.
“You will learn that in a matter of moments,” said Fulgaris, stopping suddenly. “Here, we have arrived.”
The cave looked as if it had been hewn from a single large boulder and dropped within the clearing before us by a giant hand. Once again, there was that sense of deliberate construction, not wholly natural, but not like the City proper, which bore the unmistakable mark of having been made. This was an in-between place, a Place of Power, neither one nor the other.
We had barely set foot in the cave when we were approached by someone—a woman, I thought–holding a lantern.
“Greetings, Lord Fulgaris of the House of Blood and Ashes,” she said. She spoke softly, her voice deep, putting me in mind of the night itself.
“Greetings, Lady Keterune,” Fulgaris replied. I couldn’t see his expression in the darkness, but I could hear the warmth in his voice when he said her name.
“Is this the boy?” She asked.
“Indeed,” came the reply.
There was a pause, Lady Keterune held up the lantern, illuminating an oval face with pale skin and dark hair and eyes, slim spiderlike fingers clutching the lantern’s handle. At the time, I had assumed that she had been holding up the lantern so as to inspect me more closely,
“Interesting,” she said at last, lowering the source of light so that she once again was one with the darkness. “When you decide to participate in the Tithes, Lord Fulgaris, you seldom disappoint.”
Fulgaris said nothing, only nodded, and then the lantern swung as Lady Keterune turned.
“Well, I suppose you had better get on with it before the next Tithe,” she said. “Come now, Tom, it is Tom, is it not?” I thought I could hear her smile. “Do not fear, child.” There was a moment of silence, and then I heard her chuckle.
“Ah, what fools we are, Fulgaris! Telling the child to fear not and leaving him in the dark like this!” She was beside me in an instant, and by the light of the lantern, I could see that she was wearing a long, flowing dress, the kind that only the wealthiest women wore in the Town, and not something I imagined that anyone would wear if they lived in a cave. Presumably, she had a house elsewhere.
So far, the visit to the cave did not seem to be nearly as horrible as Helaira and Sevian had made it out to be.
“Come,” she repeated, smiling and grasping my hand warmly, and, together, with Fulgaris following in our wake, we ventured into the depths of the cave.
To me, it seemed the passages twisted and turned with every step we took, but Lady Keterune strode along with the confidence of someone who has done this many times before. Perhaps the oddest thing about the cave, I noticed, was that, apart from my own shuffling footsteps, it was quiet. There were no signs of another living being in the cave, and were I not in the presence of Lady Keterune and Lord Fulgaris, I would have imagined that I was alone in this place. Perhaps I should have found it disconcerting, but, as strange as it may seem, I was quickly growing accustomed to the strange ways of Fulgaris’ people, the way one does not question the presence of talking animals in the wonder tales.
I had lost track of the time that had passed since we began our trek, but suddenly, Lady Keterune halted before what seemed like a dead end, a wall of smooth, unmarked stone. “Here we are!” She announced, squeezing my hand a little. “A moment, if you please. I will open the Way for you.”
She released my hand, pressing her palm against the wall and muttering something to herself. A moment later, the stone shifted, parting like a veil to reveal a long, narrow passage lit by candles on either side.
“Go on, child,” she said encouragingly. “He is expecting you.”
I took a step into the corridor. Behind me, I heard Lord Fulgaris murmur his thanks to Lady Keterune, and then he was by my side once again. “Let us go, Tom. We are nearly there.”
“Why is this corridor lit?” I asked as we walked along.
“Those of the House of Shadows are…accustomed…to the darkness. Their eyes can penetrate the blackest night,” he replied smoothly. “But tradition demands that those who wish to meet with the Blood Seer walk this Way alone, hence, the excess of light.”
I thought about this for a moment. “There seem to be a great many things that are due to tradition,” I mused.
Lord Fulgaris stopped, regarding me seriously. “Indeed, Tom, tradition is what holds us together, without it, there is discord among us.” We had reached the end of the corridor, now, and stood before an archway leading into a small chamber in the centre of which was a pool of still, dark water. “Ah, speaking of which, here is where we must wash before our audience with the Seer, another ‘tradition’.”
I could have sworn I saw his lips quirk in a smile, but it could have just been the candlelight.
I watched Fulgaris as he dipped his hands in water and quickly splashed his face, doing my best to emulate him. He kicked off his boots; I left my shoes beside them and then turned to face the other door that led out of this chamber. Lord Fulgaris took a moment to inspect me, golden eyes sweeping over my form before he pronounced me adequately attired for the occasion.
“Remember, Tom,” he said as he rested his palm against the door. “Be respectful.”
“Yes, Lord Fulgaris,” I said, still not entirely sure what “respectful” meant in this context.
He nodded, and then he gently eased the door open.
We were at last in the presence of the Blood Seer.
The chamber we found ourselves in was vast and lit by many candles which dotted the walls of the chamber like stars, and it seemed, to my child’s mind, that they were as numerous as the stars as well. Before us was a pit, so dark I could not see to the bottom of it–assuming it had a bottom—and a bridge of stone that led to a platform all but suspended above the abyss. Upon that platform sat a lone figure, clothed in black and still, so still, in fact, that I mistook him for a statue at first.
Fulgaris strode across the bridge without faltering, and I gingerly followed in his footsteps, forcing myself to keep my eyes on his back and not on my feet.
When he reached the end of the bridge, Fulgaris fell gracefully to his knees, arms extended as if in supplication, and I watched as the Blood Seer reached out and grasped his hands warmly with his own, hands and arms that were as pale as Lady Keterune’s but marked with dark ink in strange, twisting designs that seemed to shift and change in the light.
They began speaking softly to each other, neither of them paying any attention to me, so I moved about as far from the bridge as I could manage while still facing the Blood Seer and waited, which seemed like the respectful thing to do. I did not know if I was supposed to keep my gaze lowered, but even if that were the case, I could not help but glance at the man that Helaira and Sevian so feared.
The Blood Seer seemed younger than Fulgaris and wore black robes that spread out around him like the pool of dark water in the room before. The single spot of colour in his attire was a line of red fabric that stretched from his throat down the length of his body, though I did not see where it ended.
All of a sudden, he shifted, and I found myself gazing into his dark eyes, framed by the same dark tracery as his arms. His hair too, was dark, and styled in a long braid that lay coiled in his lap like a snake.
And then he smiled, as if I were a friend he had not seen for a long time, and beckoned me to approach. “Come here, Tom,” said the Blood Seer. “Do not be afraid. You are safe here.”
I hesitated, but Fulgaris’ glare had me practically tripping over my own feet to obey, nearly colliding with the Seer in my haste to mimic Fulgaris’ kneeling posture.
“H-Hello,” I said, biting my lip.
The Blood Seer’s smile broadened. “Hello, child,” he said. “”Will you give me your hands?”
I knew I should have obeyed without question, but I was hesitant.“What are you going to do?” I asked, keeping my hands at my sides.
“Tom….” Fulgaris snarled, warning in his voice.
The Blood Seer held up a hand. “Peace, Fulgaris, it is only natural that he is curious, especially given that you have told him precious little of what he is about to experience,” and here he turned to me. “I am going to assess your Potential, Tom. You recall your lessons on the subject, do you not?”
I nodded. How could I have forgotten, my lessons with Lord Fulgaris and Ser Karios were unlike anything I had been taught in the Town.
The Blood Seer nodded. “Indeed, Lord Fulgaris has never been one to be lax when the subject of a lesson is magic, but he has not told you overmuch about this meeting, and less regarding the role of a Blood Seer.”
I glanced at Fulgaris, his mouth was set in a hard line, but he said nothing.
The Blood Seer nodded, continuing. “My role—my Gift—is to see your Potential, Tom, your full Potential, not just as it manifests itself now, through those mind-tricks Fulgaris teaches you, but how it will manifest in the future. Do you understand?”
I nodded. “You see….magic….in other words? You can see what form my Potential—my magic—will take?”
The Blood Seer nodded. “Yes, I suppose that explanation will suffice.” He held out his hands to me, and I could see now how the dark markings coiled up his arms like snakes to frame his eyes, drawing the eye of anyone who gazed upon him. “But the process requires trust. Do you trust me, Tom?”
I wasn’t sure I did, but when I glanced at Lord Fulgaris, all he gave me was a curt nod. “Go on,” he urged.
I took a deep breath, and then I placed my hands in the Seer’s. That earned me another smile.
“Good, good,” he said. “Now, this will take but a moment….”
“What are you d—ow!” I exclaimed as I felt something prick my finger, and then the Blood Seer raised his head and smiled again, and I realized then what he had done.
“Come now, did you think Blood Seer was merely a title someone concocted out of love for dramatics?” He chided me. “Ah, no, child, my Gift requires but a single drop of your blood to work. See? It has healed now; I have done you no lasting harm.”
I took my hands from his to inspect my finger. It was clean, with not even a mark to indicate that any blood had ever been drawn. “You could have warned me!” I cried. “You seem to like telling me about everything else!”
“Tom!” Fulgaris snapped. “Enough!”
The Blood Seer held up a hand. “Fulgaris, it is quite alright.” He turned to me. “Would you have trusted me, Tom, had I told you what I needed from you?”
I wanted to tell him that I would have, but in truth, I was not so certain. Was anyone really trustworthy in this City? Fulgaris had taken me from the only home I knew, after all.
I suppose my thoughts showed on my face, for the Blood Seer nodded. “At times, Tom, one must keep things from others for their own good, just as we sometimes must speak painful truths for their own good.” He folded his hands in his lap. “Now, let us see what my Gift reveals….”
He closed his eyes, and then, in the space of a heartbeat, all of the candles in the chamber were snuffed out.
I wanted to scream, but before I could open my mouth, the lights began to wink into existence again, and not only the ones along the walls, but within the pit as well. The pit, I could now see, was also lined with candles, thousands of them, their small flames springing to life as if lit by an invisible hand. It was a sight that was truly beautiful to behold.
Then, without warning, the chamber was ablaze.
Suddenly, the candles disappeared, to be replaced by an inferno that raged on all sides of the platform. This time I did scream, instinct howling that I needed to flee across the bridge to the exit, out of the cave, out of the City, back to the Town and my house and my own straw bed.
As I turned to flee, however, strong arms wrapped around me, and then Fulgaris’ voice was in my ear. “An illusion, Tom!” He cried. “Do not fear, such is the Blood Seer’s Gift!”
I did not believe him, for it felt as if my own body was burning up from the heat, but as quickly as it came, it was gone, and all I could see were the candles ringing the room, the pit once again shrouded in darkness.
The Blood Seer sighed a little, opening his eyes. “It is as you expected, Fulgaris. He has the Fire Gift, a Gift of great strength at that, but I am unsurprised, considering the two other tithe-children you brought to me not that long ago, to say nothing of the others. Strong Gifts do not seems to be as rare as they once were….”
Fulgaris shook his head. “No, do you not think it strange, though, that such Gifts are becoming more common with each passing generation, instead of the opposite?”
The Blood Seer shrugged. “A puzzle for the scholars, in my opinion, and, if you ask me, stronger Gifts can only be a boon for our people.” He made a dismissive gesture. “In any case, I suspect you have an inkling as to what you must do. Be sure his diet includes plenty of fish, be wary of spices, and ensure that he does not ingest too much red meat in one day, all else I leave to your discretion.”
Well, of all the advice I had expected him to give, I was certainly not expecting him to talk of food, although I supposed it had something to do with my Gift, or perhaps this was yet another “tradition” of which Lord Fulgaris seemed particularly fond. When I glanced over at Fulgaris to take in his reaction, however, he was smiling. “But how will I remember all of this?” He asked teasingly, stepping around me and crouching so that he was at eye level with the Seer.
The Blood Seer sighed. “You, my dear Fulgaris, are insufferable,” and, so saying, he drew Fulgaris closer, kissing him softly before shoving him away. “There, you cad! Now you will remember, as if your memory has ever ceased being as clear as glass!”
Fulgaris withdrew, seeming very pleased with himself. “I will remember,” he said, bowing deeply to the seated man. “You have my thanks.”
“Oh, go away!” He cried in a way that might have sounded petulant were it not for the fact that he was grinning. “Powers keep you, Lord Fulgaris.”
“And you as well, Seer,” said Fulgaris, stepping onto the bridge again.
There was one last thing I wanted to ask the Seer, though, and I did not know if I would ever see him again. “Wait, um, Sir? I have a question?”
The Blood Seer glanced up. “Yes, child?”
“Ah, it’s Lady Keterune, i-is she—is she your sister?” I asked.
The Blood Seer smiled. “Lady Keterune was my sister, child.” At that moment, it seemed he remembered something. “Fulgaris!”
Fulgaris halted. “Yes?” He called, turning around to face us.
The Blood Seer tilted his head in my direction. “This child, Fulgaris, he will be a worthy Successor.”
“I know,” said Fulgaris. “I knew the moment I chose him.”
Aaaaaand that’s part 4! Stay tuned for part 5! The fifth chapter of a book is very important to me, because it’s usually the point where I stop reading the first time I pick up a new book. I just figure that five is a nice number.
And now, Q&A about the Tithe-Boy!
Q: How many chapters/parts are you planning on writing?
A: As many as it takes to finish the story, but I’m aiming for around twenty.
Q: Did the Blood Seer and Fulgaris have a thing?
A: Yes, yes they did, but it didn’t work out due to….obligations on both sides, shall we say.
Q: Why does Tom keep alternating between referring to Fulgaris sans title only to turn around and refer to him as “Lord Fulgaris”?
Because the author is inconsistent like that. No, really, I can’t decide so I switch between the two in his headspace, or Tom adds the ‘Lord’ to emphasize that Fulgaris is being particularly formal/intimidating/grumpy at any given moment. Yeah, that makes no sense, just roll with it.
Q: In an earlier chapter, you mentioned “active” and “passive” Potential. What’s the difference between the two?
A: The difference between passive and active Potential is the difference between a time bomb and a ticking time bomb. So far all of the tithe-children have active Potential, although that will probably change.
Q: What did the Blood Seer mean when he said that Lady Keterune *was* his sister?
A: As Fulgaris will explain in the next chapter, Blood Seers (there are, at most, two Blood Seers active at any given time) give up everything when they take office, including their titles, land, and their names. This is so they can focus on serving the whole community and can remain impartial if there is conflict between the Houses.
Q: How many Houses are there?
A: Currently, there are six major Houses and many smaller minor Houses. The House of Blood and Ashes is one such major House.
There may have been a seventh House. There are no other Houses, ever.
Q: How do I pronounce all these names?
A: Here is a rough guide, but you can pronounce them any way you like:
Karios: “Kar (like the vehicle)-ee-ohs (like the ‘o’ in ‘ocean’)” although I suppose you could pronounce the first syllable like “care”.
Q: What’s with all the crazy clothes and hair?
A: Well, first of all, it’s awesome, second of all has to do with the nature of magic, but mostly because it’s just that cool.
Q: What exactly *are* Fulgaris’ people? Tom suggests they aren’t human.
A: He’s right, you should listen to Tom.
Q: So, you know that scene in Fulgaris’ bedroom with the, uh, you know, the floggers and stuff….
A: They switch, all of it consensual and loving and loving and consensual, and consensual, and loving
If you have any other questions, feel free to ask in the comments!