So I finally finished part five of my ongoing serial and I couldn’t wait to show it to everyone.
I have to apologize as well, because part five isn’t nearly as exciting as I wanted it to be. Please be patient for part six, which is when I’ll introduce a bunch of new characters and Tom will get a lesson in Intrigue 101. Those of you who have missed my previous installments can read them in the “free fiction” tab at the top.
For now, enjoy this very boring chapter, in which Sevian grows a plant and Tom talks to himself–a lot.
(Note: Please excuse the paragraph spacing, it’s what happens when I copy stuff from Scrivener.
The Tithe Boy: Part 5
“Why did the Blood Seer say that Lady Keterune was his sister?” I asked Lord Fulgaris as we rode in the carriage, heading towards home in all haste.
Lord Fulgaris was gazing out the window to his right, and for a moment I did not think he had heard me, but finally he replied, in a voice that sounded as if it was many leagues from here: “To be a Blood Seer is to serve one’s community, not oneself. They claim neither land nor any titles apart from that of their office, have neither House nor kin, even their very names are forfeit.”
I glanced down at my feet, trying to imagine a life where no one ever called me by name.
“It sounds very….lonely….” I said.
Lord Fulgaris sighed a little. “It can be a very….hard….life at times, but be assured, few are more revered among us than the Blood Seers.”
We passed the rest of the ride in silence, Fulgaris once again turning to gaze out the window, his chin propped on his hand. My thoughts once again strayed to the meeting with the Blood Seer, reliving what had occurred over and over in my mind.
“This child, Fulgaris, he will be a worthy Successor.”
I knew what it meant to succeed someone, but still the phrase puzzled me. Was that why he had taken me from my home, as some bizarre method of fostering, and if I was meant to succeed him, then when, and, more importantly, why? Why did it fall to me, and not Ser Karios, who was clearly dear to Lord Fulgaris? Why not Helaira or Sevian, who had both clearly been under Lord Fulgaris’ tutelage long before he brought me to the City?
Perhaps, I thought, they were referring to my succeeding him in the study of magic, a student was a successor, of a sort.
There was little point in following that train of thought, so I pulled my awareness up and out of my own thoughts and turned my attention to the window. Fat drops of spring rain were starting to fall, but I had little doubt that we would be safely inside before we were soaked.
“You still have questions.” Fulgaris didn’t tear his gaze from the window.
I bit my lip. I had so many questions gathered on the tip of my tongue, but when I opened my mouth to speak, nothing came out.
Still gazing out the window, Fulgaris nodded. “Later, then.” He turned from the window suddenly, looking at me as if I were a puzzle he was trying to figure out. “You must know, Tom. I bear you no ill will.”
There were many different ways I could have responded to that, but I bit the inside of my cheek and stayed silent.
Fulgaris nodded to himself. “In time, then, you will learn trust.”
I spent the rest of the journey puzzling over Fulgaris’ sudden change in demeanor. Since the Tithe, it seemed as if everything had stopped making sense.
The carriage came to a halt and the door opened to reveal Ser Karios, hand outstretched to help me out. I grasped it without hesitating, then watched as he did the same for Fulgaris. “How did it go?” He asked.
“Well enough,” Fulgaris replied. “As we suspected, he has the Fire Gift.”
Their eyes met for the barest moment, and, as I watched, it seemed as if some understanding passed between them, a conversation I could not hear.
And then Ser Karios smiled. “All is well, then!” He said, clapping a hand on my shoulder. “Come, Tom, Sevian and Helaira have been bombarding me with queries of ‘When is he coming back?’ since you were barely out the door.”
I glanced at Fulgaris, who made a dismissive gesture. “Run along, Tom,” he said, nodding at Ser Karios. “There will be time enough to answer questions.”
I didn’t need any further encouragement, for at that moment it began to rain in earnest.
I found Helaira and Sevian in the library, utterly absorbed in a book. Helaira glanced up as I came in.
“There you are!” She exclaimed, startling Sevian, who jumped at the outburst. Helaira wasn’t paying attention to either him or the book, however, racing to meet me, eyes wide with excitement. “Well? What did he tell you?!” She demanded. “What Gift do you have? What did the Blood Seer say?”
“Helaira, let Tom take a breath!” Sevian cried, closing the book and coming to take my hand. “Sit down, Tom,” he said, guiding me to a chair.
I sank into the chair, suddenly feeling very tired. I had left after sunset, how much time had I spent in the cave with the Blood Seer? “He said I had the Fire Gift,” I said at last.
Helaira frowned while Sevian turned to her with a self-satisfied smirk. “You see, Helaira?” He said. “I told you he would probably have the Fire Gift!”
“Hmph,” Helaira grumbled.
“Lord Fulgaris thought that we both had the Fire Gift at first,” Sevian explained. “But sometimes things can get a little….muddled….and so that’s why they bring us to the Blood Seer. Oh, I have an Earth Gift, by the way….” He jerked his head at Helaira. “She has an Air Gift.”
I spread my hands helplessly. “I still don’t understand.”
Helaira scowled, but Sevian looked thoughtful, at last, he grinned again, broader this time, and took my hands.
“Come on,” he said.
“Where are we going?” I asked.
“To the garden,” came the reply.
“But it’s raining outside!” I protested, glancing at Helaira for support, but she only shrugged.
“I know, but it’s the only way you’re going to understand,” he insisted, pulling me up. “Come on, it’s nothing harebrained this time, I promise.”
“What are you going to do?”
“I’m going to show you my Gift, of course.”
Sevian led us out the back door to a sizable plot of land. “Garden” hardly seemed like the right word for it, for at least a hundred of Mother’s garden could fit comfortably inside it. A meandering stone path led us through many plots. This early in spring, I could see few flowers, just the green shoots that poked through the soil, determined to meet the sun. In the Town, the Head Priest of the Lady’s Order, Clovis, used to say that nature reflected the journey of the soul, from darkness into the Lady’s light. Grandmother would smile and nod, but, in private, would spit on the ground whenever I mentioned it. “Idiots,” she would say, shaking her head, and Mother would glance over at her, frowning. Grandmother, it was clear, had little patience for the words of clergy.
The path led us to a fountain in the shape of a dancing woman, water streaming from her open palms. The figure of a man reclined at her feet, his stone eyes gazing directly at us. Several paths were leading away from it, like tributaries of stone, and it was down one of these that Sevian ran, Helaira and I hurrying to keep pace with him.
“I think—here!” He said, suddenly halting in the shade of a great tree, its branches just budding with leaf and flower. Sevian had crouched down near the tree and was now muttering to himself.
“He won’t notice if I—if I just do a small one—” he was saying as he ran his hands through the grass the way a farmer might inspect livestock before purchasing it.
“A small what?” I whispered to Helaira.
“Shh!” Helaira was watching Sevian intently. He had paused at a patch of bare earth. “This one’ll do,” he said, more to himself then to us, and then I watched as he laid his hands on the grass, closing his eyes and taking a deep breath.
For a few moments, nothing happened.
Then I noticed it, the smallest bit of green in the midst of the soil. I watched, astonished, as it grew and grew, long leaves framing the stalk which pushed upwards. I watched as it budded, and then, impossibly, watched it burst into bloom, and I was staring at a patch of bare earth no longer, but at a profusion of white lilies.
There were so many things I could have said in response to something so extraordinary.
“How? How is that possible?”
Sevian’s shoulders lifted in the barest shrug. “It’s my Gift. I can make plants grow.” He closed his eyes. “I can feel them—under the ground, I mean—most of them are sleeping right now, but it doesn’t take much to wake them all up.” He paused. “Well, it probably all sounds like madness to you, anyways.”
Helaira sighed. “It’s no use trying to explain it to him, Sevian. He just found out about his own Gift, after all!” She glanced back towards the mansion. “Besides, it’s raining and we’ll be all wet. How are you going to explain that to Lord Fulgaris?”
Sevian scowled at her, but by the way his shoulders drooped. I could tell that he was resigned to my naivete. “I guess Lord Fulgaris will tell him, one way or another.” He stood up. “Come on, let’s go back inside.”
To his credit, Lord Fulgaris waited until we were all safely inside before bearing down on us like a cat after mice. One moment, we three were tugging off our boots, and the next, there he was, towering over us like an angry god.
It was amazing how that one word, spoken so calmly, could cause a boy to blanch with fear. I would not have been surprised to learn that he had soiled himself as well, but to his credit, Sevian managed to squeak out a “Yes, Ser?”
“What have I told you about using your Gifts without proper supervision?” Before, Lord Fulgaris had been annoyed, perhaps mildly amused, but now, now he was angry, I could taste it in the air.
Sevian took a deep breath. “That I am not to use my Gift without proper supervision, else I injure myself or others—but it was only one lily! And I wanted to show Tom, and—”
Sevian’s mouth snapped shut.
Lord Fulgaris crouched to meet Sevian’s gaze, his unusually placid expression never wavering. “Excessive use of one’s Gift without proper safeguards can destroy you, Sevian, yes, even one flower can do it. Honestly, did you think I would not know?”
Sevian was inspecting his feet, I wanted so badly to turn Lord Fulgaris’ unyielding gaze away from him, but I held my tongue.
Lord Fulgaris sighed. “I had thought to prevent you from partaking in the Spring Festival this year”—and at these words Sevian’s expression became one of pure horror—”but Ser Karios strongly objected to it, and I suppose it would not reflect well on the House for one so gifted to be denied the opportunity—” his eyes narrowed “—which is why you will be the one to clean out the latrines for two weeks, you will also do whatever tasks the servants require of you, and I will brook no complaints from you. Do you understand?”
“Yes, ser,” Sevian seemed visibly relieved. “Thank you.”
“Hmph, your thanks are due to Ser Karios, little one,” he said. “And do not let me catch you again,” and with that, he turned, not even acknowledging Helaira and I, and strode in the direction of the kitchens.
“What’s the Spring Festival?” I asked when I couldn’t hear Lord Fulgaris’ footsteps anymore.
Sevian grinned. “Oh, you’ll see soon enough, Tom! It’s going to be great!”
Given what I had seen of Fulgaris’ people, I did not doubt that the festival would be as grand as he said, but I could not help but think of Mother and Grandmother, and their own preparations for the Coming of Spring, when grandmother would hang a bunch of flowers on our door as a gift to the Lady.
I missed them, and to think they were right over the wall and down the road, and I could not reach them.
“Tom, what’s the matter?” Helaira asked.
I shook my head. “Nothing, it’s—do you not have families that you miss?” The words came tumbling out before I could stop them.
Sevian and Helaira exchanged glances, and then, almost in unison, they shrugged. “Why? I chose to go with Lord Fulgaris, didn’t y—” Sevian blinked, as if he were seeing me for the first time, and then he flushed. “Oh, perhaps not….”
We were interrupted by a servant in red and gold livery. “Sevian,” she said crisply. “Lord Fulgaris expects you to help with the preparation for the evening meal.”
Sevian dutifully followed in her wake, glancing back at us, he let out a long sigh. “So it begins….”
That evening, I noticed that the cooks had prepared separate dishes for all of us. Helaira dined on salad and thick slices of ham, whereas Sevian was given chicken, or at least some sort of fowl. Lord Fulgaris and I were both served fish. Ser Karios seemed to be eating a little of everything. Fish was a rare treat at Grandmother’s house, so it was a little disconcerting to see that it was plentiful here, and I hadn’t the foggiest idea where it came from. I supposed Fulgaris’ people also did a brisk business with merchants, although I knew my hometown did not trade with them, in fact, but for the Tithe, I had never seen them abroad.
We ate in silence, Sevian seemed to be on the verge of falling asleep in his chair, and no wonder, for the servants had kept him so busy he had scarcely had the opportunity to say two words to us. Helaira and I had managed to amuse ourselves by teaching each other string games. Hers were a bit different than the familiar configurations I’d learned, but in the end I taught her how to do a decent “boar’s trap” by forming the string into a wedge, like a spear, and then, when we tired of that, we went to the library. I was just beginning to learn my letters, but Helaira was quite adept at reading and writing, and surprisingly patient with her new student.
I was still as hopeless as ever with the cutlery, however.
“Tomorrow, we begin preparations for the Spring Festival,” Lord Fulgaris announced, regarding Helaira, Sevian and I in turn. “That means that your magic lessons are on hold for something a little more appropriate to the season.”
“But, didn’t Spring start a couple of weeks ago?” I asked.
Lord Fulgaris shook his head. “We follow the old way of time-keeping, Tom, your people have forgotten it, but we celebrate the Spring Festival when the apple trees begin to bud.” He paused to take a bite of his fish. “Worry not, you will be well prepared for the event over the next week.”
“Prepared for what?” Once again, I was not being told the whole story—typical of Lord Fulgaris, only revealing as much as he felt it necessary to reveal to you.
He made a dismissive gesture. “Do not worry, ‘tis a little game involving flowers. I shall teach you their meanings, so you do not offend anyone.”
He made it seem so ordinary, the Flower-Game, a quaint custom that was kept for its charm, but, as I would find out, the innocent facade hid something of much import, and alliances could be broken as easily as one breaks a daisy’s stem.