The King’s Nephew
A foul curse escaped my mouth as I was barely able to hang on to the cliffs.
That was a close call. I maneuvered myself to a ledge and pulled myself over. Heaving slightly, I laid down for a break and shielded my eyes from the scorching sunlight.
My sword never felt this heavy before and I was angered at my king for sending me to find that traitorous bastard of a sorcerer. The king told me that there would be lands given to me upon arrival with his head in my bag. I needed those lands so my daughter would finally have a dowry. I couldn’t wait till my wife would stop her nagging. She thought she was marrying a warrior with enough lands for his children, not a warrior who had mere acres for himself and her. Greedy woman.
Quickly and carefully, I got back onto my feet and stared at my destination – a cave hidden to the left about four meters away. According to scouts, it was the sorcerer’s favorite spot.
“He better be there,” I whispered to the wind and kept climbing.
Only a sorcerer could get up this high. A man without physical training would fall to his doom.
About four meters later, I was drenched through for the rain goddess, Tohil, decided to make my climb harder.
All the better, I thought, I could pretend to be in need and get close to him without raising suspicions.
I entered the cave at a jog and shook my body. Rain drops fell around me and I was reminded me of my dog, Tania. She loved playing in the rain.
Slowly my eyes adjusted to the dim light and I looked around. There was a dim fire pit to the right and someone was lying with his back turned to me. It would be simple to end the person’s life, but what if it was not the sorcerer? Before, I could take action, I needed to verify that the person was the right target.
Look for the tattoo on his ankle of a snake wrapped around a pine cone.
I cleared my throat to be polite.
The person turned around and I held in a gasp.
Before me was my old friend and nephew to the king, Roland.
Roland sat up, stretched and scratched his ankle. The flames started burning on their own and I saw the tattoo.
How could I not have known that Roland was the sorcerer?
“John?” Roland asked, looking surprised.
“What are you doing here?”
“Wife needed herbs,” I said and shrugged. “Heard they grow on this mountain.”
“Ah,” he replied knowingly. “Mandrakes.”
I decided not to reply.
“Well,” he said, “sit by the fire and warm your bones. Tohil did a good job on your clothing.”
Slowly, I sat down on one of the rocks.
“You can take off your armour,” Roland reminded me, “it would be more comfortable.”
I shook my head no and watched him make tea over the fire.
“Why are you here?” I asked.
His blue eyes shined bright over the flames. “I needed to get away.”
“How did you get up here?” I persuaded. “I don’t remember you caring for physical training.”
Roland smiled. “With my powers, of course.”
That threw me off guard and my expression showed it for Roland laughed, hard.
“Fear not, my old friend.” Roland turned serious. “For I’ll tell you a story of how my uncle plotted to kill me.”
Do I believe him?
“The king loves power and hates responsibility,” Roland started, “he overtook the throne for my father after my father became gravely ill. Little too late did I learn that my uncle hired a sorcerer from afar to curse my father. By then, my father was already buried and my secret had been divulged by the evil man to my uncle and new king. Knowing full well that I’m the heir to the throne and not being able to father a child, my uncle decided to keep a close eye on me for fear of me telling the people that their new king was a murderer.”
“It’s been months since the correlation,” I commented, “I’m surprised that you didn’t say anything.”
Roland smiled sadly.
“I would have,” he agreed and continued, “but, the evil sorcerer came back after the deed was done. He wanted more power for himself and so he brewed a potion for my uncle. The potion would help him father a child, but only if taken during a full moon. Now, the queen is pregnant and I’m no longer necessary to the throne.”
“It could still be a girl,” I thought out loud.
“It matters not for she can marry a prince,” Roland replied. “My time is over at the kingdom and I was wondering on who he shall send after me. It was a real surprise to see my former friend.”
Bile rose to the surface and I was grateful for the cup of tea that Roland gave me during his speech.
Do I believe him?
“Who is this evil sorcerer?” I asked.
I were told that you’re the evil one, but I see no menace in you other than your usual character…
“You’ll be laughing,” Roland said and laughed to himself. “It’s the jester.”
I blinked, surprised.
Was Roland pulling my leg? He used to play jokes like that all the time…
“I know, right,” Roland snickered, “you did notice that the jester changed?”
“Ours was hanged for a bad joke,” I said slowly.
He shook his head. “No, but that was a good cover. The evil sorcerer came dressed as a jester to the court after setting up ours. He worked his magic on my uncle and worked it until my uncle hired him to be his sorcerer. Both of them decided to keep their real business relationship a secret.”
“How did you find out?” I asked, suspiciously.
“Magic leaves traces,” he replied, sadly, “and there’s dark magic around the jester.”
I drained the remains of my tea and looked into the flames.
Could I trust him?
I wasn’t in the high rank of warriors and so saw little of the new jester during big events. It was true that the queen was pregnant and everyone rejoiced in that fact while knowing that the royal family was truly lucky. Everyone knew that their king’s brother could not father children and that when he took the throne, Roland would be king.
There’s certainly questionable things…
My head now rested in my hand and my fingers pushed hard, moving through my hair.
This was supposed to be easy…
“You can take me back,” Roland’s words shocked me to raise my head to look at him. “I know that there’s no running in our world. Everyone knows my face. My uncle will make a speech to the people of me being the killer of my father and I would be put to death. It would be better this way than to have my blood on your sword.”
He’s willing to die and to protect my heart… he couldn’t be a liar… or he could be a fantastic actor.
“Maybe.” My words we stuck in my throat.
“Maybe I can bring back a heart and tell the king that it’s yours,” I said slowly.
Roland’s face fell. “It seems that both of us thought that our friendship was ended and yet we’re trying to protect one another. Sadly, the evil sorcerer will know that it’s not my heart. For you to kill an innocent… no. Can’t do it.”
“What if we put your blood on the heart? We cut out the heart of a pig, leave it in your blood…I mean you would be weak for a while, but you’ll live.”
“He’ll probably want it on display,” Roland said.
I shook my head. “Won’t be possible unless he likes the smell.”
Roland sighed. “I wish this was different. It’s easier just to take me in.”
“Do you want to die that badly?” I asked.
“Then,” I said, “lets try it my way.”
He tilted his head and looked at me for what felt like forever.
I poured myself more tea in the meantime.
“If we’re found out, I’ll be far away from here, somewhere else on another continent,” he said seriously, “you’ll be hanged for your act of deceit.”
“I’ll be hanged anyway,” I said, “for my wife will not be happy to lose the promised lands.”
Roland sighed again.
“If you’re truly a sorcerer then you can make sure the jester will not figure out that it’s not your heart,” I said, “you can protect me.”
“You realize that you’re going against your king?” Roland asked.
“I realize that I have a choice to bring you in or to fake your death,” I said through anger. “I don’t like my choices, but I don’t think that I can kill you.”
“Even after our past?” I asked.
“The past doesn’t matter when it comes to taking a life,” I replied.
“Then,” he said, giving up, “I’ll give you a bag of my blood that you can drench a pig’s heart in.”
I sat back, feeling grateful once again. Finally, we reached our decision.
“What if I truly killed my father?”
“Are you planning to come back for the throne?” I asked back.
“Maybe to marry the daughter…” Roland laughed.
“Well if I learn then that you lied to me,” I warned, “I can kill you then.”
He smiled at me. “Sounds like a plan and don’t worry, I’ll put a protection spell on you so they can’t hang you.”
“Why, thank you,” I laughed.
For the rest of the night, we remembered our past, drained some of his blood into a bag and in the morning, I killed a pig.
I haven’t seen Roland for years after that, though he did send letters. My daughter married off well and I was happy with my decision to mislead the king for the jester did show his true colors after the king’s daughter turned 10.
Trusting him was the right decision, though was indeed a fast decision.