Sunday, September 4, 2016

The Knights of the Jewel: A Chat With the Jewel

      Somehow, Sonja had managed to doze off. She awoke with a terrible whip in her neck and every bone as stiff as stone. But the cellar door was opening, and the sudden rush of afternoon sun chased away the darkness of her prison. In spite of the pain, Sonja jerked her head in the direction of the door and mentally listed the choice words that she had for her subordinates for keeping her waiting so long. She let out a furious cry when she saw that it was the psychic making her way down the stairs towards her.
       “Well, hello to you too,” Eluani dryly greeted her as she began undoing the restraints. “You might want to keep a better attitude; a few friends have dropped by to see you.”
       “What did you do to them?” Sonja was furious. These brutes didn't have the right to push around her subordinates! “You'll see in just a few moments,” Eluani answered, rubbing down Sonja's newly-released wrists and ankles. “Now come with me, and if you don't cooperate, I'll just bind you and you'll end up right back here.”
       “Go to hell,” Sonja snapped, but she made no attempt to resist. What the hell is wrong with you, Sonja? Sonja chided herself. Why are you submitting? Just knock her sorry ass out, and then she can't bind a damn thing! But she remembered Eluani's abilities and quickly took her thoughts away. After spending the night being manhandled, smacked around, taken advantage of, and subsequently thrown away like a pile of trash, the very idea of freedom was enough to move her to compliance, even if she knew that the freedom was not real. The feeling of walking on her own two feet again almost brought a smile to her face, as did the grass beneath her bare feet and the warmth of the sun's rays as she emerged from the cellar. In her newfound vigor, she fought back the thoughts of escape, and anyway, she wanted to see what had become of her subordinates. From the way Eluani spoke of them, they were still alive...
       Eluani led her around to the front gate, and there they were: Rowley and Shattick, tied up like potato sacks and stupidly blinking like confused animals. Sonja had to will herself not to break away and give them both a good hard slap. They had both freedom and magic, and still couldn't manage to evade capture! Now they had been reduced to Sonja's own condition, stripped and bound and completely useless. It served them right for being so worthless.
       “You know these two, don't you?” Eluani asked, nudging Sonja forward until she stood mere inches from the disgraced magicians.
       “Ma'am!” Rowley and Shattick called out in unison, bowing their heads low. Sonja sighed, wishing they had remained silent so she could pretend she had never seen them before in her life. She felt their shame as she passed her critical eye over their sorry forms. “Unfortunately, yes,” was her response to Eluani's question.
       “Excellent,” Eluani said. “Now, why are they here?”
       You know damn well why they're here, Sonja thought scornfully. “Here for me, I suppose,” she replied with no emotion. Her subordinates refused to look up.
       “Congratulations,” said Morgana, “you've officially caused more trouble than you're worth. Your little friends just about did us in, and if it wasn't for....” She was silenced by a look from Ion. “Well, you've long overstayed your welcome,” she went on, “and we can't be bothered to keep you around any longer. Oh, hello, here comes your chariot right now.”
       Sonja turned her head to the sound of hoofbeats, and beheld the approach of Rasta's army, dressed in their gaudy red and gold and mounted upon those preposterous mechanical horses. At their head was the Princess Cordelia herself, with a sword at her side. Sonja glowered and quickly turned her head before she could be recognized.
       “Hail, knights,” Cordelia said with a nod, dismounting her horse. The knights of Rasta followed in unison, as if part of a choreographed line. It made no difference that Sonja wouldn't look at her. “Sonja Farrell,” the princess said almost accusingly. “I had a very strong feeling that I would run into you.”
       “I'm sure your idea of a meeting went a little differently than this,” Sonja said sarcastically.
       “Well, yes,” Cordelia said with a mischievous glint in her eye, “but this makes it so much easier for me.” She waved to her men. “Take them in.”
Ion and Troy tightened their grip on Shattick and Rowley's arms and handed them over to the knights of Rasta. Sonja's hands were bound by thick cords that cut into her wrists, still raw from their previous restraints. Oh, bloody hell! She shot Rowley and Shattick a dangerous look.
       “Whatever you have planned for us,” Rowley said pitifully, “it will never be enough.”
       “Shut up,” was all that Sonja had to say to him.

       For the first time in his life, Magus did not want to keep out of the way. The window in Lovisa's chamber did not allow him a glimpse of the prisoners, but whenever he tried to slip out, Lovisa caught him and called him back. His stealth rarely failed him, but she had some uncanny ability to detect him even when he was at his quietest. It only added to how magical she was in his eyes.
       But his former guardians were out there. To hear that they were so close by filled Magus with cold terror, and the only thing that would set him straight was to take just one look at them in their disgrace. The trio that had given him merry hell for the past year was now in the custody of the Knights of the Jewel. Magus could believe that Rowley and Shattick had been captured—after all, he had helped that along—but Sonja Farrell had never been captured. Sonja Farrell never submitted to anyone. Nobody could manage to apprehend Sonja Farrell for very long. Magus couldn't believe such a wild thing just because he had been told. He just had to see for himself. Concealment, concealment, Magus mulled over to himself, a spell of concealment. He was very familiar with cloaking spells and camouflage, but at this moment they evaded his memory. Perhaps it was because Lovisa was watching. There was nothing to be done without sneaking away first. He sighed deeply.
      “You okay, Magus?” Lovisa asked, waiting patiently for him to make his move in the board game they were playing. He wouldn't answer her. “I know this is scary,” she went on, “knowing that they're here.” How did she do that? How was she able to read him so effectively? Nobody else had ever been able to do that before. “But that's why you have to stay right here, safe and sound, until they're taken away into the city. They can't get at you, Magus. We won't let them!”
       “Thank goodness for that,” Magus said dryly. How could he explain that it wasn't about being scared, he just wanted to see them, so he could believe that they had really been detained? How could he explain the catharsis he would feel upon seeing his tormentors bound and imprisoned? She was so easy to talk to, but he just didn't have the words for everything. He took his next move, landing on a blank orange square.
       Lovisa took the dice and played with them in the palm of her hand. “Leana told me you want to learn to heal,” she said.
       “I do,” Magus said without hesitation, thankful for the subject change. “Or rather, I know how to heal...or, I knew how to heal. I just...”
       “You've forgotten,” Lovisa said, “and you want to learn it all again.”
       “That's exactly it!” exclaimed Magus.
       Lovisa rolled the dice and made her move, landing on a red square that awarded her three coins. “Well, Magus, there's very little that I can tell you about healing magic right now,” she said honestly, “because I'm still very new to it myself. But there's a lot that I can tell you about healing. Back in Eridell, my homeland, I was a healer too. I lived in a little commune with other healers. Every day, some poor souls would come to us with nasty wounds, terrible aches and pains, sniffles and coughs that they just couldn't shake. We would have to know the right combination of herbs, oils, and essences that would take their pain away.”
       “Did you?” Magus asked hopefully.
       “We did,” Lovisa said with a nod. “Let me tell you, Magus, there is no better feeling in the world than setting the right remedy. Nothing in this world has ever filled me with greater joy than the relief on someone's face as they start to feel well again. I lived for those days when a client would return to us with a smile on their face, entirely free of any aches and pains, thanking us for what we had done. I live to heal. The Jewel knows that, and that's why it chose me for a healer.”
       “It didn't choose you for a healer,” Magus remarked. “You already were one.”
       “I wouldn't want to be anything else,” Lovisa said wistfully.
       “I want to know that feeling,” Magus told her. “I want to feel that good after making somebody else feel good.” He was pierced by a pang of guilt as he imagined the many recipients of his magical arsenal coming to Lovisa with all of the damage that he had caused: skin as red and mottled as a bacon rasher from a fire spell, ugly red marks from the impact of magical energy, the grey, necrotic frostbite that resulted from a blast of sheer cold. He shuddered. “I don't want to cause anymore pain, Lovisa,” he said almost pleadingly. Even so, he thought back to his latest targets, whom he had struck hard enough to render unconscious. I had to, he quickly told himself. I had to protect my friends. But still, pain was pain, and he had caused it...
       Lovisa reached across the table to take Magus' hand. “I want you to know the feeling,” she said, “because I promise you, it is one of the most wonderful in the entire world. You can heal, Magus. I know you have the ability. It's just all locked up inside of you, and we're going to unlock it together.”
       God, I love her, Magus thought as he settled down enough to take his next move. But then a new worry struck him: “What if we can't? What if it's been locked up too long for that?”
       “Every lock has a key, Magus,” Lovisa stated. “We've just got to find it.”
       Magus believed that she could find it. At times like this, it seemed as though she could do anything at all. Her kindness, her beauty, her innocence, and her magical quality were so much more befitting of some otherworldly being than an ordinary girl from a healers' commune. Perhaps she is, Magus thought. I've never heard of this “Eridell,” after all. It certainly sounds like some other world to me...
       “The Jewel!” Lovisa exclaimed so suddenly that Magus jumped up from his seat. “What about it?” he cried. “Has something happened?”
       “No, no...” Lovisa's thoughts were moving too fast for her to keep up with them. She rose from her seat, laid the dice on the table, and held out her hand for Magus. “Come with me, Magus,” she said brightly. “There's someone I would like you to meet.”
Magus could have floated out of his skin. All at once, he had forgotten about the captives outside. He had forgotten who they were and what they meant to him. He didn't care about anything at all, only that he was going to see the Jewel.

       “Go on in, Magus,” Lovisa said warmly, as if she was inviting him to tea. But Magus didn't dare. His feet, which had been so light and free, had grown heavy again. He hated it. He wanted to fight against the imaginary chains that held his feet to the floor, to defy them by taking a step forward. I can't, he told himself. I'm the enemy. The Jewel's light—eight lights in eight colors—filled his vision. He blinked against it, got the disconcerting feeling that he was gazing upon a real god, and turned his head away. That light was not for him to look at.
        Lovisa held him by his shaking hand. She took one step and then another, as naturally as if she was entering her own home. She chuckled when Magus dragged his feet. “You don't have to be afraid of the Jewel, Magus,” she assured him. “The Jewel cares for us.”
       “Not for me,” Magus said.
       “You too,” Lovisa assured him, squeezing his hand. “Now come on, we're going to have a nice chat.”
       A nice chat with the Jewel? How was one supposed to speak with the Jewel? Would it be through prayer, the same as speaking to a god? Could the Jewel itself speak, and if so, could someone like him understand it. It was plain that Lovisa had spoken with the Jewel before, but how often? He had a hundred questions, and he kept them all to himself. He didn't feel as though he had a right to speak in this place. As he was led further into the Jewel's chamber, and the image of the Jewel in all of its light and glory grew closer, he was overcome by a wonderfully cozy feeling; it was as if he was back in the soft bed in Lovisa's chamber, wrapped up in silken blankets, with the warm sun touching his face. He tasted milk, sweetbreads, and pancakes again, and again he felt the delight that came with learning that such good foods existed in the world. Again, he was pulled into the warmth of Lovisa's arms. Again, the archmage kissed his face and said she would be delighted to look after “such a nice young man.” The heavy feeling in his feet had gone away, and again he felt as though he could take off and fly. “What's it doing to me, Lovisa?” he blurted out before he could stop himself.
       “The same as it does for everyone,” Lovisa said brightly ,with some understanding.
       Without hesitation, Lovisa made her way to the dais where the Jewel stood, which Magus thought to be the bravest thing that she had ever done. “Good afternoon,” she said to the Jewel. “I hope that you are well.” She gracefully curtsied. “You know Magus,” Lovisa went on. “He's doing very well now. Why, just look at him!” She put her arm around him and propelled him towards the Jewel, and Magus only took the steps to keep from being swept off of his feet. “We've taken the best care of him that we possibly could, and now he has a home with the king's archmage.” She patted him fondly, as if he was a finished project that she was proud of.
        Was the Jewel actually speaking to her then? She was silent, her face intent and interested as if listening for a voice unheard. Magus searched the Jewel's colorful gleams for a hint of a response—a change in the pattern, a shift in the colors, anything at all. But if the Jewel had a voice, then it really was not meant for him. A tear rolled down his cheek. “I'm...I'm sorry,” he choked out.
       “What is it, Magus?” Lovisa asked concernedly.
       “I'm sorry,” Magus said again. “I'm so, so sorry. I'm sorry I'm bad. I'm sorry I'm the enemy. I'm sorry, Jewel, lovely Jewel...I'm so sorry!” He buried his face in his hands. “I never wanted to cause any trouble. I never did!”
       “My dear boy, you are no enemy of mine.” The voice was not heard by his ears, but inside of his mind, like a comforting thought that had just occurred to him. It was neither male nor female, and certainly could not be called human. But at the sound of it, all of his anxiety left him. He felt as though he was sitting in the arms of a kindly relative who had invited him into her home, though he had never experienced such a thing and had no family to speak of. He wiped the last of his tears and his racing heart slowed to normalcy. “I allowed you into my palace and ensured that you would be properly fed and cared for. I would never extend such courtesies to an enemy. My dear, you are an unlucky young man who's found himself in an unfortunate place. Misfortune alone dictates that we must be in opposition. But it is misfortune that creates good fortune, after all.”
       “Really?” Magus spoke without realizing he had.
       “Of course,” the Jewel answered back, its colorful gleams shifting and pulsing in tune with its words.
       “As you must have figured by now,” Lovisa said, “Magus is a very kind and gentle boy. And yet the same misfortune that puts him on the side of our enemies dictates that he must be used for destruction! But that isn't him. He's no destroyer! Jewel, you've granted me my own healing magic by assessing what was already inside of me, what I was already capable of. Could you do anything like that for Magus?”
       “There is nothing for me to grant him,” the Jewel responded. “He is already equipped with such abilities. All that he must do is bring them to the surface.”
       “But how can I?” Magus asked. “Will you teach me?”
       “You don't need me to teach you, Magus,” the Jewel told him calmly. “I have already given you someone who can: Lovisa, my Knight of the Turquoise. The healing arts are her craft, and everything that I know, I have passed along to my knights.”
       Oh goodness, Lovisa thought to herself. She trusted the Jewel, and she never wanted to question it, but clearly it had so much more confidence in her than she had in herself. Healing had been her craft since she was a young girl, but healing magic was something entirely new to her. Though she had learned it well, she certainly couldn't call herself a master, and it was far too soon for her to take on a student. But Magus looked at her hopefully, his youthful face so full of promise and so full of faith in his dear friend who, in his eyes, knew just about everything. “If Magus needs me to teach him,” Lovisa said at last, “then I will do just that.”
       “You will do well,” the Jewel said with unwavering certainty.
         Neither of them had anything left to say. Lovisa led Magus out of the Jewel's chamber, and Magus had to will his feet to stay fixed upon firm ground. In this moment he wanted nothing more than to soar as high into the air as he possibly could.

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