SPOILER WARNING This scene reveals an important part of the ending of Plague & Poison.
The scene comes in the middle of chapter 14. I cut it because it broke my cardinal rule for deciding whether to keep a scene — it has to move the plot forward and/or allow some character development. It also introduces a named character, Deputy Wakharim, who’s not in any other scene. I try to keep the number of characters to the minimum I need to tell the story, and since Wakharim didn’t seem to have enough to do to justify his presence, I cut the scene. He was fun to write, though, so I might see if I can find a place for him in another tale.
Alesin cancelled his mindspeech spell and turned away from the window. He sat down and leaned on the desk, mopping sweat from his forehead. His daughter’s voice had been faint, even allowing for the distance between them. Was this wretched heat getting to her? Was it the wine? Both of them were drinking far more than any wizard ought to.
Or was it simply that she hadn’t had as much practice at mindspeech as a fifth-year apprentice should have done? The person — or thing — in her mind had been afraid of being noticed when Adramal mindspoke. And it had the nerve to call itself Lelsarin, the name of his first love. Twenty years ago, it had been living in her mind and had persuaded her to leave him. It had said it hadn’t influenced her decision, but he didn’t believe that, not for a heartbeat. It had brought his beloved Lelsarin here, to Molkolin, looking for who-knew-what, and then somehow got her killed.
Or had it? The Melinander who brought news of her death to Thuren had been delirious and fever-stricken. Even Teshan hadn’t been able to save him. But then why hadn’t his Lelsarin come back to him, once she was free of the thing’s influence? Had she assumed he’d married someone else? Or had she meant it when she’d told him, If you wait until the end of the world, it won’t be long enough? The depth of the loathing she’d expressed towards him in that final conversation still stung him. He’d thought their love had been growing stronger.
Enough, he told himself. There’s no point in poking at old wounds. You have enough to worry about in the present — like when these fools will find something for you to do.
He rose, picking up a slate, and pushed aside the door curtain. The musclebound man in the corridor outside, whose job was apparently to make sure Alesin didn’t go anywhere, gave him a questioning look.
Alesin ran his finger down the list of the Centadorian phrases Kelstakh had written on the left of the slate, past I need to use the privy and I would like something to eat to I wish to speak to Kelstakh. He slid his finger across to the corresponding Anorene sentence on the right and showed it to his chaperone. The man nodded and waved to a passing messenger boy. This lad carried a satchel with dozens of pockets, most of which contained one or more slates.
The chaperone spoke to the messenger, who shrugged and started to walk away. The chaperone pulled him back by the strap of his satchel and growled something in his ear. The boy went pale and ran off down a staircase. Turning to Alesin, the chaperone gave him a toothy grin. Alesin looked away and tried not to scowl.
After about a quarter of an hour, a young man came up the stairs and bowed to Alesin. “Shadrakh be with you, honoured guest Alesin.” His Centadorian accent was thick but understandable.
“Um, hello,” Alesin said. He decided to overlook the fellow’s rudeness in asking a God to watch over a wizard until he knew what he wanted.
“I am known as Deputy Wakharim. Am I to understand you wish to converse with my supervisor Kelstakh?”
“Yes,” said Alesin. “Where is he?”
The man gave a theatrical-looking frown. “Honoured guest, I regret that I am not permitted to divulge that knowledge to you.”
“Well, can you —” Alesin stopped, realising that Kelstakh probably wasn’t in the building, and if he asked Wakharim to send him a message, it might well be evening before anything came of it. “I’m just wondering if there’s any work I can do. I’ve been sitting in that room, drinking wine and kicking my heels, for the best part of a watch. Did Kelstakh leave any instructions about what I was to do?”
Wakharim smiled, an expression that looked just as forced as his frown. “I commend your ethics, honoured guest. Idleness is the ruin of many a soul. I will strive to find a task fitted for your unique talents. Have I your permission to depart?”
“Um, yes, of course.”
“A dozen thanks, honoured guest.” Wakharim bowed and went back down the stairs.
A few minutes later, a boy arrived with a plate of the little cakes that everyone seemed to eat in this city. He put it on the desk and, with a rapid bow, scurried out. The cakes were too sweet for Alesin’s liking, but he nibbled on one, unsurprised when the filling squirted out over his fingers. He sighed at the thought that stopping his stomach from rumbling in a few hours might be the high point of his day.
Alesin turned to see Wakharim in the doorway.
“If it please you, I have a task that might be suitable for you.”
Alesin wiped his hand on a napkin and followed Wakharim downstairs to the lobby. The chaperone trailed behind. They walked along a corridor towards the back of the building. An iron-bound door, thicker than Alesin’s palm, stood halfway along the passage, currently open. From the corner of his eye, Alesin glimpsed a grid of magic reinforcing the door. The spell had to be powerful indeed if he could see it without a spell of his own.
At the end of the corridor, Wakharim unlocked an iron gate that blocked access to a descending staircase. Magic sparked between the gate and its frame as he pushed it open.
The staircase turned through a half-circle into near-darkness. The echoes told Alesin that a large space lay ahead, but he could see nothing further than six feet away. Wakharim took a light pot from a little shelf on the wall and, enclosing it in his hands, shook it vigorously. Light spilt from between his fingers, and then illuminated a long corridor as he lifted his hand from the top of the pot. Heavy doors led off the corridor at regular intervals. Wakharim unlocked the second of these.
“Honoured guest, I regret that I must ask your guard to wait here while we are inside the room. He is not authorised to know what the Revenue Service stores in these rooms.”
“I see. Yes, I’m happy for him to wait outside.”
Wakharim spoke to the chaperone, who nodded and walked back to the foot of the stairs. Wakharim put a shoulder to the door and slowly pushed it open, just wide enough for him to slip through. Tendrils of magic probed at him like tiny lighting bolts. He seemed not to notice — either he couldn’t sense them or he was already used to them.
Alesin squeezed through the gap, teeth clenching as the spell examined him. It felt like being stung repeatedly by wasps with inch-long barbs.
Wakharim turned to him. “Your pardon, honoured guest. These rooms are protected by powerful spells. They can be... aggressive with any person they have not seen before. I offer a hundred apologies for any discomfort you may have suffered.”
Discomfort hardly began to describe it. He was tempted to use a pain-relieving spell, but feared that the protective spell might interpret that as a hostile act.
“May I impose on you to hold the light while I close the door?”
Alesin did so while Wakharim puffed and grunted. The light didn’t reach the other side of the room. The low vaulted ceiling and cool dry air made the place seem like a cave. Between the pillars, small barrels were stacked three high, reaching just over Alesin’s head.
Wakharim stood up straight and locked the door. “Honoured guest, these barrels contain Tanshalm’s Dust that my esteemed colleagues have confiscated from smugglers.”
Now we’re getting somewhere. Alesin wondered how many wineglasses this much dust would make.
“The dust in some barrels has been blessed by one beloved of Tanshalm, while the rest has not. Am I to understand that by miraculous means, honoured guest, you can distinguish one from the other without needing to open the barrels?”
“Yes.” Magic was hardly miraculous, but Alesin was in no mood for a philosophical discussion with this fellow.
Wakharim grinned and took a slate from a pocket. “Then please to be so distinguishing.”
Alesin faced the nearest stack of barrels. He slowed his breathing and cast the spell that detected magic. The barrels all glowed pale white in Alesin’s vision. Within the glow were brighter patches. He shifted left and right to work out what these were, and realised they came from another stack of barrels immediately behind the one he could see. The enchantment added together, in the same way that two candles gave out more light than one.
“All of those are blessed,” he said, gesturing to them.
Wakharim made a note on his slate. “A dozen thanks, honoured guest.”
Alesin wandered through the room, checking the barrels. About one in ten appeared dark to his spell, and so hadn’t been blessed. That squared with what Kelstakh had told him about the trade-off the smugglers made between the lower duty they tried to get away with paying and the lower price they could get for unblessed dust.
At the end of the aisle, another line of barrels stretched back towards the corridor. He tried not to let his shoulders sag at the amount of work this entailed.
As he turned to the new barrels, he glimpsed magic in one of the barrels that he’d thought was unblessed. “That one’s blessed after all.”
Wakharim gave a little bow. “Please do not unduly trouble yourself, honoured guest. An approximate count of the unblessed barrels is all that is required for now.”
Alesin frowned. “It’s not as if I have anything better to do, is it?”
Last update: 25/7/2020 17:09