This Week’s Prompt: 44. Castle by pool or river—reflection fixed thro’ centuries—castle destroyed, reflection lives to avenge destroyers weirdly.
The Research:Out Of the Lake
Robert, Seamus, and Logan observed the smoldering remains of castle Lochancath. From the tall tower, the only stone structure left. The men below were rifling through the crumbled buildings for anything that could be carried home. The proper treasury was already under guard, trusted men at arms of the three lords holding fast with spears to defend newly one gold.
“I wonder if it will all be as leaves.” Robert wondered at the ash whipping into the air. “That’s what they say about faerie gold, isn’t it? Ash and leaves when you leave with it.”
“I doubt the coffers of the lord were leaves. If they were, someone would have beaten us to killing all this lot years ago.” Logan said. “Ys title or no, you don’t pay men with leaves and not get a pummeling from’em. Antsy men aren’t trustworthy ones either.”
“Men of magic have their way of doing things. I’d not put it past them, to value leaves as gold. Given Their style, who can say? That knight, with the blade made of mirrors was rather dreadfully skilled, despite his size. You’d think a giant would be less swift.” Seamus said. “And who knows? I suspect their magic fades with them, but well, would you look at that.”
Seamus gestured over the opposite end of the tower, looking over the castle’s namesake lake. There, in the still waters, the castle and town were reflected as they had been summers ago. Not a single sign of seige or famine, every building intact and gleaming gloriously from the waves. Only a small ripple disrupted the image, something bobbing along the shore.
“Is that–” Robert said squinting. “By God, it is. Would you look at that, a little Moses.”
“Go, get the babe from the river reeds.” Seamus said, turning to one of the standing soliders, “Bring it here.”
“Bring it here? No, no kill it before we suffer whatever magics it has.” Logan said, turning ot Seamus. The solider waited in confusion.
“Kill it? Can you not see the value in a sorcerous squire?” Seamus replied.
“Yes, but can’t you see the danger? One boy was spared by Herod, one by pharaoh, one by every tyrant. And they will grow and avenge themselves on their parents.”
“Only because their parents were fools, and headed prophecy. If we are fated to die at the hands of one of Lochancath’s heirs, tell me, will killing this babe forestall our destiny?” Seamus said, shrugging. “There is much to gain, and little to lose. Stories are not history, and the scholar is quick to see the doom as foertold. How many did Herod massacre with no savior? How about Caesar?”
As soon as Seamus was done, his footman returned with the babe, wrapped in red cloth. It was pale green, and quiet despite staring out with ever curious eyes.
“Do not bring that thing up in your own house at least,” Logan said, shaking his head. “Send it somewhere where it will never learn what we’ve done nor have ambitions to thrones our sons have been promised.”
“Very well, he’ll live with a squire of mine. I know just the one.”
It would be almost two decades before the child was seen by Seamus or Logan. It was on Saint Jude’s day, and Logan had almost forgotten the boy in the years since. He was thus at also for words when the old squire, now a knight in his own right, presented the boy to the court as Anloch, here to become squire of one of Lord Seamus.
“My son Anloch has done well in my household, serving with distinction and grace. I humbly submit him to be a squire of your majesty,” the old knight said, gesturing at the youth beside him. He was still pale, almost luminescent. Long curling red hair hung from his head, and his hands and feet seemed made for a larger man. Logan, frowned, his mind worrying about some forgotten dream. Frankly, as the youth was presented, bowing humbly to the king, Logan suspected the weight of the feast landed heavily on him.
“Ah, we’ve heard a little of this lad,” Seamus said with a smile, “Except that he is fond of the hunt and does not lack skill at it.”
“Many a mangy hind have I hunted, four fierce boars I’ve speared as well.” Anloch replied, standing unblinking before Seamus. His voice reminded Seamus of a flute, high and airy. “And many more than these have I found with hand and knife.”
Seamus smiled and laughed.
“Boars, you say? For someone so slight, that is quite the feat. Well, you are welcome in my court then. Come, sit at my side.” Seamus said, gesturing beside him, and sighing low some. He seemed tired to Logan’s eyes. Perhaps he had been up late, examining plans and books. Or perhaps memories of the wars abroad, of battles near and far, had kept him up with their clamor. Logan shrugged it off.
The youth tilted his head as he sat beside the sons of his new lord. They engaged in some lengthy conversation, but neither Seamus nor Logan could hear it. As he spoke, he gestured with his hands, spinning invisible circles round and round in front of the boys eyes, as if Anloch was trying to weave a net out of the air.
“He’s come along well, hasn’t he?” Seamus said after to Logan. “And hunting so much at his age. He’ll be a grand fighter, even if he never does practice. Imagine him honed in iron.”
“He winces at the sight of a mirror,” Logan said, frowning. “Even his reflection in a plate of iron gives him pause. It worries me, that he’s grown so.”
“Are you talking of Anloch papa?” Seamus son, Scath, said. The boy was barely into his eleventh year, but already walked about with a knife at his side.
“Yes, was he fine entertainment?” Seamus said, kneeling down to his son’s level.
“Yeah! He’s done so much work out in the woods! I think Rachel has gotten smitten for him!” Scath said.
“Scandalous. Well, we’ll see how she feels when she’s of more marriagable age.”
“You’d consult your daughter?” Logan asked with a raised eyebrow.
“If I didn’t, tragedy would most certainly follow. You are slow on your hearing of old stories, friend. A bitter bride is poison in the house.” Seamus said, waving a corrective finger.
“Papa, where’s Anloch from?” Scath asked. Seamus turned cold for a moment, before smiling at his son.
“Well, Sir Bedeve is from the western part of the county, so that should–”
“But he doesn’t look like Sir Bedeve! He’s got no beard, and red hair, and his eyes aren’t as blood shot and he walks like a bird,” Scath asked, crossing his arms.
“Well, you have the curiosity of a crow and belly of a pig.” Seamus said, poking his nose and belly. “Anloch’s from Sir Bedeve’s house, and that’s all that matters.”
“But he talks funny–”
“That is all that matters, little one. For you and anyone else.” Seamus said, ending the discussion as much with his tone as with his words. Logan saw Rachel looking from behind a column, darting back at the end. He ought to have considered things to come.
Years again passed, and Anloch remained something of a fixture at court. Logan watched his youth and found his own age weighing stronger and stronger. He seemed, when he looked in the mirror, to be a caricature of the elderly, each day growing feebler and feebler. The more time he had to ponder the change, the slower his mind’s gears seemed to turn.
Logan assumed the same was true of Seamus.He hadn’t seen Seamus in two years, with his boy Scath returning missives, not infrequently with that Anloch boy attending to him. Like a flame, he drew people round him wherever he went. Ladies and squires and even knights at courts, Logan had seen. Tripping over themselves to talk to the strange lad, who never seemed to blink properly. It bothered Logan to know end. Anlochs blinks, they rolled between his eyes instead of closing and opening at the same time.
He needed not to assume with Robert. The two rode and visited frequently. Each time Robert seemed to speak in more hushed tones and in more irregular patterns. Pauses would give way to hurried or slurred words, and he’ stare lazily into space for hours. Something had become of him, Logan knew it.
Logan thought over this as he rode under moonlight, a dog helping him on the trail. He knew the boy was related to this nonsense. His daughter had vanished into the night, along with half the guards and footmen. And as tired as he was with the world, he had reserves yet to go and find her.
Logan’s hounds followed her scent down the old roads at night, back to the ruins of Lochancath. He saw two more horses, Robert and Seamus’s riding to the same outcropping, and the same placid lake. There along the shore, in the rubble and remains, Logan saw a sight unimaginable. A host of men and women dressed in the finest clothes, men at amrs with shields painted white with a single red stripe, children in baptismal apparel. His daughter among them, and Seamus’s son as well, and at the head of the host stood Anloch.
How tall he was! He towered a head and shoulder above every knight and walked still as softly as a cat. He directed the host with a single finger down into the lake, and each walked into the reflection of the castle, still perfectly maintained in the rippling water. Anloch turned wordlessly to see the three lords who he had beggared of household and lives. On his brow was a third, crimson eye. He did not smile knowingly, he did not smirk with malice. There was a calm of completion that he spread, as he with a few steps, descended into the depths.
So, there are a few things I wouldn’t do if I were to rewrite this. Logan and Robert could be fused, and the center of action is clearly in the two middle acts, during Anloch’s ‘seduction’ of the various courtiers. As it is, this is a piece that suffers a lot, as I feared it would, from my attempts to say at 1500 words. I have some ideas for expanding it into a bigger story later, but those will have to be done outside the Society.