In the Household of the Sorcerer
At Sixteen, Johai, possessed by an ancient spirit, finds a diviner child. Maea is the last of the Diranel diviners and the power hungry boy plans to use her to help orchestrate his revenge. Time heals all wounds and after ten years, Johai’s thirst for vengeance has ebbed as his affection for the girl, now a woman grows. After ten years of plotting and planning, will he be willing to give everything up for the unexpected love of a woman, or forsake it all it his quest for power?
A diviner’s trilogy short story
I hated the city. Had I the choice, I would have avoided it all together, but as weary as I was and with the voice of the specter filling my thoughts day and night, I knew I must rest. In the war-damaged state Danhad was in these days, I had but one choice—to go to Keisan, the one place I’d sworn I would not return to unless it was on my terms. The outlying villages and towns were decimated in the final battles before the treaty was signed; they had little enough food to feed themselves let alone house a traveler for a night.
I entered the city through one of the lower city gates and into the wharf side of the city. The lower ring was where the thieves and vagabonds resided. I found a place at an inn; the purveyor—a grizzled man with a few missing fingers, scars marring his face and an eye patch—bit my coins to make sure they were good.
“There’s a room for ye upstairs.” He pocketed the gold coins and then looked me up and down. “Ye look familiar, where are ye from?”
I tugged down the hood of my cloak, hoping to disguise my features. He could not know me. It was not possible, I thought. I had come to this part of the city for the very purpose of avoiding detection. Just in case, I lied, “I’m from the north, a little mountain village in the shadow of the Snake mountain.” Well, a partial lie.
He chewed his thumbnail and regarded me. “The price of a room includes a meal,” he grumbled, seemingly appeased by my lie.
“Very well, I’ll take it in my chamber, then.”
He laughed. “Where do ye think ye are, boy, I ain’t gunna bring yer food to yer room. Ye can eat here with the rest of us.” He swept a meaty hand over the room. A couple of men, whom I assumed to be sailors, eyed me over their ale cups. A third man in the corner of the room had slumped over, and his cup had spilled over and onto the floor.
Charming, I thought. “I’ll take it now, then.” I wandered over to the least filthy looking table. I resisted the urge to clear it with my sleeve. The innkeeper followed me and dropped a wooden bowl, a pewter cup and a chunk of bread onto the table.
“Here’s yer dinner, boy.”
I turned my lip up at the ‘boy’ comments. I was sixteen, and with my father’s passing, a man and heir to my household, but how could this brigand possibly know that? To him, I am sure I looked to be just another wandering youth. He lingered over me, and I once more fidgeted with the edge of my cloak, making sure he could not look at me properly. I wanted to pass through without regard.
“Thank you,” I said, hoping he would understand my underlying meaning.
He nodded curtly and stomped away. I poked at my food for a time before deciding it was inedible. I stuffed the crusty bread into my pocket for later. I still had a long journey back to Graystone.
I held the cup of ale in my hand, twirling it back and forth as I regarded the room. The sailors had continued a game of dice that they had left off when I walked in. The innkeeper walked over to them, and the three chatted in low tones. I thought to linger and pretend to enjoy my meal, but I decided I was too tired to make appearances for this lot.
I headed up the stairs, dragging my weary feet. I opened the door with the number two, which matched the key the innkeeper had provided me. Inside, a bed and a table waited. The windows were shuttered, and the bed was bare. The room had a faint odor of sweat and an acidic scent that I suspected to be vomit covered with the smell of sawdust. Too tired to care, I sank onto the bed and cradled my head in my hands. His voice whispered through my skull, a never-ending hiss, an ever-present reminder of my sacrifice to achieve my goals.
“Do you regret?” he whispered in my ear. I could feel his hands caressing my skin.
He cackled in my ear.
The whispering taunts of his voice died away, and I found without the ever-present commotion in my skull, I was able to rest. I laid my head down and slept.
I awoke to the thud of a fist upon my door. I rubbed my bleary eyes and stumbled over to the door. The innkeeper stood in the doorway.
I could not have been asleep long, natural daylight still filled the hallway through the cracks in the shutters.
“Yes?” I asked with an arched brow. Surely it was not this man’s habit to harass his patrons. I considered slamming the door in his face for a few more moments of quiet. He placed his beefy hand on the door jam and prevented that, however.
“Ye need to leave,” he stated, and he folded his other thick arm over his broad chest.
“I have paid for the night, sir,” I said with feigned indifference.
He growled. “Yer money is no good here.” He tossed my bag of coins at my feet.
“And why would that be?” I asked though I suspected he had known all along.
“I know who ye are. Ye’re the traitor Prince Garrison’s son.”
I sighed. I knew I should never have come to Keisan. “You are mistaken, sir. I do not know this man.”
That was the wrong choice of words because the man’s face flushed. “Ye can’t hide from me. Every’n down to the babe in the crib knows that blood-cursed man’s name.” He spit on the ground.
I gave him a blank stare, again the wrong choice. He reached out to grab me, but I slipped from his grasp. He missed my shoulder, but his thumb hooked on my hood and pulled it off my head. I fumbled trying to recover myself, but it was too late.
The innkeeper stepped back, and the fear in his eyes said it all. “What’s wrong with yer hair? That ain’t natural.”
I could feel its presence settle over me like a cloak, and the way it twisted my mouth of its own volition. Laughter escaped me, and I threw back my head. I did not want to reveal my power, not to this man, not for my first, but he had woken the specter.
I opened my hand, and the man rose off the ground. He swung his arms, trying to regain his balance. Despite his efforts, he titled sideways, and his arms moved up and down like puppets on a string. His remaining eye bulged in its socket as he twirled about. I squeezed, and he clenched his throat. The laughter continued as the man struggled to breathe.
His skin turned purple, and I eased back on his windpipe before letting him crumple on the floor. He lunged to his feet, and his eyes wide, he pointed to the door. “I want ye out!”
I must admit, he had courage, but seeing as he knew me and knew what I could do, there was no sense in staying. The specter’s powers left me as quickly as they had descended.
“Very well.” I scooped up my bag of coins and walked past the man and down the stairs. At the bottom, the sailors waited, cracking their knuckles and eyeing me dubiously. They took in my uncovered head and checked themselves. I was fortunate commoners were so superstitious. They made a sign of warning, slashing two fingers across their chest.
The drunk, who had previously been passed out in his own sick, looked up and shouted at me. “His hair is white, like the harbinger of death!”
I’d feared this type of reception. I stopped at the door and turned to face them. “I would appreciate it if you did not mention my passing to anyone.”
The innkeeper was also at the bottom of the stairs. Though he frowned at me, I could see his fear as he rubbed his throat.
“Get out,” he snarled.
I covered my head and exited onto the street. The wind picked up and blew about me, winter was close at hand, and I best not dally long in the city if I hoped to make the pass into the valley before winter made it impossible. I was heading down the street in the direction of another inn, one in the merchant quarter, when I spotted a slight figure.
I turned just as it slipped past my vision, but I swore I had seen something. I walked down the street briskly, and once more I sensed something nearby.
“She is here,” the voice whispered.
I turned to search the empty street. The drunk from before had tottered out of the inn after me, muttering about death’s grip and getting back to his family. He stumbled and laid flat upon the crumbled stone path, and beyond him was an alley.
“She is down there, find her.”
I felt drawn to the presence, and I followed the voice’s orders. I headed down the alley, and pressed against the wall at the far end, a child dressed in a threadbare gown, shoes with holes and a tangle of black hair sat back on her haunches. She reminded me of the wild Biski people who I had met on my travels, but they did not live in cities nor did they venture this far north into Danhad. No, she was just another orphan living on the streets after the war.
I thought to turn away. But the voice spoke again. “Look at the child. What do you see?”
I kneeled down before her. She raised her head, and her piercing violet eyes struck me through. They held decades of wisdom within them for someone so young. She could not be more than six or seven, yet her eyes were ageless, as if she had seen millennia.
“Beautiful eyes,” I murmured. They reminded me of something, an old story I had heard as a boy.
I reached into my pocket and pulled out the bread. It had been crumbled slightly but otherwise remained intact. I held it out to her. She eyed me and then the bread for several moments before snatching it from my hand and skittering back like a crab. She took a large bite, and I thought she would devour it all in one sitting, but she slowly chewed her food, then hesitantly put the rest in her dress pocket.
She’s smart. I thought. She knows food may not come again soon, I expect. For the first time in a long time, I felt for someone other than myself. I wondered if there was an orphanage nearby where I could take her. Alone on the streets, she would not last the winter.
“The child could be useful to your plans,” the voice crooned. “Can you not see she is a diviner? They were once advisors to the king. You could raise her and train her to your ends.”
As ambitious as I was, the prospect of raising a child at sixteen seemed daunting. Unless, I thought, Damara owes me a debt. If I were to call on her for help to raise the child, then I could call our debt fulfilled. The specter laughed in my head, and I suspected my train of thought pleased him. It only cemented my resolve.
I stood, and the child pressed her back to the wall. “Come with me, or waste away here.” I summoned the glamour to make myself appear more grand and imposing.
She stared at me for a moment before creeping forward. She took my outstretched hand and wrapped her small hand around mine. For a moment I had second thoughts, and then I thought of my reception at the inn. This was the only way, I told myself, if I wanted to get my revenge.