Twelfth in our Heroes series, by our own Robert Rhodes. Art is courtesy of Chenthooran Nambiarooran.
I know what you’re thinking. You’re here from desperation. Because, most likely, a loved one’s been kidnapped or cursed. Or because you — dabbing your brow with a cloth, clutching it like the end of a rope — are the one cursed. And you’ve come to this tower, beside the Plaza of Red Shadows, where the blazing daylight might reveal the blade drawn against you, but never deter its master. You’ve come with a bag of silver and turquoise beneath your clinging tunic and a honeyed plea on your tongue. You’ve come to beg the warlock Korentis Korh for aid.
But what do you find? Not a silver-haired presence, adorned with silk and shimmering tattoos, but a man large and slab-muscled enough to make blacksmiths seem sickly, ugly enough to forestall a blind courtesan. A brute who fixes you with the cruel, flat stare of a dune wyrm and, for his only answer, growls, “Sit. Wait.” And you do, on a worn cushion barely half the size of his, and regard one another through haze of dust-filled light until you look away.
Until the brute’s jeweled earring gleams and pulses. His head tilts slightly, his eyes shift toward the ceiling, and he nods. “The Master instructs you to lay your offer of payment here,” he says, placing a bronze bowl before you on the tasseled rug. Once you do, he waits until his earring flashes again, and then: “The Master instructs you to state your true name and your request.” And sweating, eyes darting from silver to dust motes to earring, you do.
Then, because you have spoken truly, you hear, “The Master will aid you. Go.” And after you ask how and when, you hear again, “Go.” And you do, blinking in the blinding light, hastening from the cutpurses who, though you know it not, would rather open their wrists than prey upon one who has enlisted the aid of Korentis Korh.
Who no longer exists, of course. Once he stepped through his conjured gate into the Rainbow Void, I wrapped his adamant ring, mortar and pestle, and journal in black linen and carried them myself to Varshoram Pahn, to Warlock Rock. The lorekeeper accepted them and marked Korh’s passing in the Book, and the Circle allowed me to remain through the following night while they chanted, oh an oh an ra, and drummed, taun taun tok, beneath the glittering, gods-flung stars.
They studied me as well but, like Korh, could see no way to break the residual curse upon me. Or, to be precise, the curse placed on my mother while I grew inside her womb. She wasted and died at my birth, but her vitality, Korh speculated, empowered my body and mind. I was born with my eyes open and my canine teeth jutting from the gums. And because a person can at any time be afflicted only by a single curse, though some are artfully braided, I’ve become uniquely suited to curse-breaking. To applying the unraveling arts Korh taught me, learning more each year, or else simply finding and slaying the originator.
Why hide in Korh’s shadow then? Why not say, “My name is Warrik, not Brute.”? Why not spend my evenings in the arched courtyards of the teahouses, with dominoes and candied dates, debating philosophical or geometric proofs?
Because, more than muscle and a spiked hammer, being misread is my greatest strength. And because this city, vast and old and elegiac in the purple twilight, is the haunt of thieves and warlocks and others to whom the life of a mother or child is less than a bit of silver or pulse of arcane might.
My mother could have used a Brute.
I always get to the end of these and want to read more. That’s the sign of great writer. Good work.
Thanks, Ruth. :-))
You have the art of grabbing a reader and pulling them into the story. I too am always left wanting more.