The Curse: Part One
Author's Note: Readers who would like a little back-story are humbly encouraged by the author to read The Sorcerer, a similarly fantastic story involving many of the same characters.
It was some months ago that a young Kacheek farmer in Meridell was walking through the forest and encountered a most peculiar thing: to be precise, a most elegant gentleman’s necktie placed conveniently in his way. It promptly occurred to the farmer, who was that very night to attend a ball, that this happening was extraordinarily fortunate. Indeed he reflected as he picked up the necktie that he had rarely seen one so lovely in all his days.
Once home, the farmer, whose name was Sampson, procured his finding; it was suitably admired by his mother, who agreed that it was indubitably the most exquisite article of clothing she had ever encountered.
As he was dressing for the ball, Sampson noticed an astonishing thing; and that was, that beyond the ordinary difficulties of correctly tying a cravat, the necktie did not seem to wish to cooperate with him. In fact it undulated so violently as to frighten Sampson very much, and it is perhaps only to be expected that he was far more alarmed when it began to wrap itself around his throat and strangle him.
The yells he produced brought his mother rushing into the room; the cravat, however, appeared to find her presence quite calming, as it immediately lay as limp and as still as neckties are wont to do.
After this adventure Sampson was unsurprisingly disinclined to keep the cravat, beautiful as it was; and as he vehemently objected to laying eyes on it his mother gave it to her other son, a fine young Nimmo with a farm of his own. He accepted the gift quite gladly, though protesting that he would never have any use for it, and things proceeded quite as usual until harvest time arrived and all of his crops were so disobliging as to die of a mysterious blight.
It was not long before his entire village began to feel the effects of the inexplicable curse. Although summer turned up at its usual time throughout the rest of Meridell, their one small town remained chilly and gray; and, try what they might, its inhabitant farmers could not coax so much as a seed into flourishing. The farmers of neighboring villages were so kind as to point out that their unfortunate friends could simply move; but it is common knowledge that agriculturists are a remarkably stubborn set of folks, and these ones were not at all different.
The Nimmo farmer, whose name was Erwin, quickly remembered what his brother had told him about the lovely cravat; and although he had at first discredited Sampson’s story as the most utter nonsense, protesting that it was quite impossible, he quickly determined that the necktie was the root of all their troubles.
The town meeting, when summoned, was entirely in agreement, and the only problem remaining was that of pinpointing the necktie’s exact whereabouts. Erwin found himself most regrettably unable to remember where the thing had got to, and though the farmers of the village most enthusiastically offered to search his house, they discovered nothing at all, or at least not what they were looking for.
Considering that this sad chain of events was on a youngish sorcerer’s mind when he returned to the Royal Castle in the month of Swimming, it was hardly surprising that he was quite exhausted.
Lord Ashford was a harried, haggard, worried-looking brown Scorchio; he was not the kind of person whom people found terribly prepossessing at first sight, but appearances can be deceiving, and as it so happened he was a Royal Sorcerer in the service of the honorable King Skarl of Meridell. Therefore he sat down to dinner with Lisha (another Royal Sorcerer) and her student upon arriving.
Lisha was a kindly, idealistic yellow Aisha whose acquaintance Lord Ashford had made in the past, and whose company he never failed to appreciate. Her pupil, whose name was Mr. Lockwood but whom Ashford had never met, was a shadow Gelert who would have been quite handsome had it not been for the ugly scar that ran down the side of his face. Ashford greeted them both cordially and tucked into his meal with great satisfaction, for, as he informed them, he had not eaten properly in some weeks.
“I have nothing against Meridell’s farmers,” Ashford explained, “except that a great deal of what they eat is rather bizarre. As a general rule I try not to eat anything that I cannot identify; but, as you may be able to tell, I’ve been losing a great deal of weight because of it.”
As Lisha had not seen him for several months and Lockwood had never seen him at all, it was difficult to ascertain the truth of this claim; however Lisha sympathized politely, adding something about raising the quality of life for farmers so that they could afford to eat more savory foods.
“My social theory exactly,” Ashford agreed mildly. “Although I am not quite sure how to bring about such a change.” He glanced at Lockwood, half-expecting him to join in, but the Gelert displayed no intention of doing so.
Lisha caught his look and smiled rather archly. “Mr. Lockwood has no social theory – he is concerned principally with himself.”
Lockwood, despite the shocking insult, looked only somewhat bored. Perhaps it was his perfectly beautiful suit, or perhaps it was his aloof, self-assured and vaguely sarcastic air; whatever the case, Ashford found Lockwood rather intimidating, and resolved to say nothing to him unless he spoke of his own accord.
“Speaking of farms,” he remarked, “I won’t be here for much longer. There is a town in western Meridell suffering under some kind of affliction which I suspect may have magical origins, and naturally it falls to me to go and investigate it.”
“Is that so?” said Lisha, who was always very interested in everything to do with magic. “What kind of an affliction?”
“Well – it’s a little hard to tell,” he confessed. “They complain of its being very cold there, and all of their crops have shriveled up, and some of them complain of shadows that come alive or some such nonsense. Most of it is probably hysteria and superstition, but to have such dramatically different weather in one small part of Meridell seems unlikely.”
For whatever reason, his summary seemed to have a greater effect upon Lisha than he had intended, and she sat thinking silently for several moments.
“Very cold?” she asked slowly.
“Yes – well, apparently the sun hardly ever comes out, and it’s frosty and gloomy all the time. Inhabitants of neighboring villages tell me that all of them are in very low spirits, which isn’t particularly surprising in that kind of climate.”
“Hmm,” said Lisha. “That’s very... very odd. Where did you say this town was again?”
“Oh, it’s somewhere in western Meridell – Dunningham, I think its name is. It’s quite near Fieldsboro.”
“I see,” Lisha said politely. At that moment an outstandingly tidy-looking Zafara came around with the second course, and the sorceress took the opportunity to give Lockwood a very significant look.
“This is your fault,” she muttered under her breath.
“There is absolutely no evidence of that,” he protested.
Ashford, having had his plate amply filled, turned his attention back to the table. “Where were we? Oh, yes. Well, in any case, I look forward to spending another few weeks in a little farmhouse in the middle of nowhere eating peculiar foods.”
Just under the table Lisha gave Lockwood a rather violent nudge.
“It must be very lonely,” the Aisha remarked.
“Why, I suppose you might say that it is,” agreed Ashford. “But you know, all in the service of Meridell...”
Lisha poked Lockwood rather painfully with her wand under the table. “Have you ever – er – ever considered taking someone else along?”
“Oh, everyone else is always too busy,” said Ashford good-humoredly. “And I don’t particularly want one of those knights breathing down my neck.”
“I would be very much obliged if you would allow me to accompany you,” Lockwood offered coldly and suddenly.
Ashford looked at the shadow Gelert rather nervously. “Of course I – would be delighted... if you’re certain you’d really like to come...”
Lisha, wisely deciding that she could not trust Lockwood to pursue the matter with much enthusiasm, interjected on his behalf. “I’m sure neither of us would want you to be inconvenienced, but I do think it would be an excellent learning opportunity for Mr. Lockwood. Besides, he’s had some experience with curses.”
The truth was that both Lisha and Lockwood knew extremely well where this curse had originated; it had been a particularly ill-fated attempt of Lockwood’s to summon a copy of Modern Spells. Lord Darigan had originally defined it as a magical artifact, not a curse (it had begun its life as a book that seemed to record Lockwood’s thoughts), but Lisha was beginning to wonder whether the spell had not grown into something more.
Whatever the case, it seemed reasonable to assume that if anyone could break this curse it would be the creator; and so, having ensured that Lockwood would accompany Ashford to investigate, Lisha brought her student upstairs to her workroom intending to deliver a stern lecture on social responsibilities.
To be continued...