RHINDOR’S REMISSION, by Russell Miller:
He was pissing hot gravel.
Rhindor pulled his silver beard away and looked down, just to be sure. As always, there was no molten lava or bloodied bits of razor, it was just urine; just a maddeningly weak stream of plain yellow fluid.
His sunspotted hand slipped from the hem of his robe. Eyes widening, Rhindor clenched his teeth and scrambled to retract the errant length of cloth. The pain in his manhood mounted. He pulled his robe up unceremoniously, wadding the runes imbuing its hem. Taking approximate aim at the lacquered chamberpot, Rhindor clenched his brow and whispered an ancient prayer. It was the prayer of strength from the Bra’oic Kataa, or had it been the hymn of endurance from the Pogith Mardque?
The chamberpot resumed its simple melody. Rhindor let out a long breath. In times past, he’d have argued that the Elvin High Chorus or The Grand Symphony at Sar’lith produced Midlantia’s finest music. But as the years piled, Rhindor had come to believe that the most melodious instrument in the world was lacquered white and played but one note.
Even the slow, steady discharge of his pent up fluids offered no real reprieve, however, it merely offered a different pain. Rhindor’s shaggy brow furrowed as he tried to find just the right speed. Too fast and the urine became jagged yellow glass, too slow and his bladder filled with dragonfire. He curled his lips to a small “O.” His breath alternated between sucking gasps and stuttered grunts.
Oh, to be two-hundred again, Rhindor thought wistfully.
He looked about his tower-top room, if only to distract himself. The steps to the stone tower had become increasingly irksome, but his pride wouldn’t allow him to move to the lower keep.
Besides, the view from his tower was lovely. It overlooked the garden which Mistress Polna tended. A bit farther on, the orchard, just coming into spring bloom, scented the air. Novice Gayln was staking a human-sized target near a flowering apple tree. Too close, Rhindor mused. I’ll have that moved before his practice begins.
And then there was the idea of having to move all his stuff. There was too much by half, Rhindor knew. Sixty years ago, after he’d thrown away what he could, he was left with nearly three centuries of accumulated oddities and artifacts that couldn’t bear further winnowing. Mistress Polna had complained that some of his treasures were morbid. Certainly, the human head was a tad…dark. But it had been well-preserved for all that; painstakingly dipped in the finest bronze and presented to him by a grateful queen. The casual observer might even think it a poor sculpture, rather than the last remains of the Dovnean king.
And the various bottles, scrolls, and books…some were too valuable, others too dangerous, to dispose of. The Book or Tor’rith hummed and smoldered during full moons—Rhindor had chained it shut, to avoid any accidents. The scrolls of N’dal, though sealed in wax, secured in lead, surrounded in steel, and ensorcelled with every relevant barrier Rhindor knew, still attracted butterflies. And the Fangiour rug, an eyesore of mottled brown and black hair, growled when stepped on. Polna complained that when she attempted to clean the pelt, it tried to bite her. How does one safely dispose of an undead icewolf rug?
And the crystal chest…Rhindor needn’t turn to sense it; like a bonfire at his back. He’d spent countless hours admiring its sharp angles, geometric patterns, and illusory translucence…it was so beautiful a thing, so powerful a container…who’d guess it contained so dark a secret; so very, very dark. In spite of the spells painstakingly weaved into the crystal box, its contents still whispered; its muffled voice a harmony of round, seductive tones….
“Fatoriana!” came a shout from the orchard.
“Shite,” Rhindor swore. The chamberpot ceased its wet symphony. He looked to the orchard and saw his novice waving his arms uselessly at the padded target. Rhindor closed his eyes, willing another release. Please, just a little more… almost done…
“FaTOHrianA!” the novice bellowed, again waving his idiot hands.
Rhindor ground his teeth. A single drip fell to the bowl with an apologetic “plop.” Releasing the crinkled front of his thick robes, Rhindor nearly upended the chamberpot as he stormed to the window.
“Pha’Tor’ien-a!” the old man growled. Both the target and the flowering tree burst into flame with such percussion that the novice was thrown amongst Mistress Polna’s cabbages. His hair was smoking.
Rhindor covered his mouth and bunched his shoulders as he peeked from his window. The boy was moving, struggling to regain his feet; good. Rhindor’s shoulders relaxed. Mistress Polna was hurrying across the garden, her pruning shears clenched absently in her hand. She was scolding the boy. She evidently thought the novice was to blame; even better.
The novice was standing, he looked at the tree, and then to his hand. He scratched his haystacked hair, jerked his hand back, then began beating at his scalp—he must’ve found the source of the smoke. Rhindor grinned and stood straight; perfect.
The mage retreated from the opening and swung the leaded glass window shut. Weak from disuse, a rusty laugh wheezed from Rhindor’s lips. In his mind’s eye, he replayed the boy looking at his own hand, as if he’d managed so powerful a casting. Another laugh took Rhindor, he gave the laughter a voice, a deep guffaw that rumbled from somewhere under his long beard. The boy would brag about it later, Rhindor knew. The notion fueled his mirth further; the old mage took hold of his bed post as his laughter sought to double him.
Something tickled in his throat.
Between chuckles, Rhindor tried clearing it to no avail. He balled his fist in front of his mouth and tried a cough, then another, then another. His mouth distended as the cough became a mirthless hack.
He rested his elbow on the bed as the dry barking spasmed through his thin body. His grey eyes watered and it became difficult to stand. Sinking to the floor, Rhindor sat on his knees near the edge of his canopied bed. He placed both knuckled hands on the cold floor and continued to cough. Veins stood from his forehead and his eyes blurred with tears, yet he continued to hack until he feared he might vomit.
An explosion from somewhere outside rattled his leaded window; a dull thud shook the tower stone, causing an empty beaker to roll from its shelf; it shattered with a sharp report. Rhindor hardly noticed the disturbance.
Am I dying? The thought toned through the old man as he struggled for air. Is this how it ends?
By degrees, however, the tremors subsided. He swallowed to wet his throat, gulping between shuddering breaths. He would live another day. Rhindor couldn’t shake an unexpected disappointment. He blinked to clear the tears from his eyes and looked up from his knees at the debris cluttering his room. His treasure trove, a depository of endless quests and pyrrhic victories, looked very different from his place on the floor. He saw it at last as Mistress Polna saw it; as a bunch of useless trash.
He would be rid of it, he decided suddenly. All of it. Perhaps he could just bury it? Someone would dig it up someday; he knew…he found he didn’t care.
New tears welled up in Rhindor’s aged eyes and he began to shake with a new bout of tremors. How long had it been since he wept…or laughed for that matter? He considered whether he would die before he laughed next. He was startled from this dark thought as something brushed along his hand. Rhindor snatched his arm back reflexively and wiped his eyes. The Fangiour pelt had drifted soundlessly nearer its master. Rhindor hesitated a moment, then scratched the mottled brown fur with his shaking hand. It was surprisingly soft.
Okay…he’d keep the rug.
A commotion rose beyond Rhindor’s chamber door. He heard shouting of familiar voices, clattering steel, and a deep resonating hum…then silence. The door’s bolt snapped open like a crossbow string, but the door swung inward slowly. Mist and smoke drifted into the bedchamber. The humming began anew; it charged the wisps of hair on Rhindor’s spotted scalp, causing them to stand.
Rhindor sat up on his knees and hurriedly wiped the tears from his nose and beard. “Mortigar? Is that you?” Despite the danger, Rhindor’s lips spread to an unexpected smile.
Mortigar drifted into the room like an angry ghost, his staff held before him. A red stone burned atop the black shaft, resonating malevolence.
“I’ll have none of your tricks, old man,” Mortigar sneered.
“No, no. No tricks.” Rhindor held up his hands to evidence his good intent.
Mortigar jerked to the ready, leveling his staff.
“Really! There’s no tricks,” Rhindor insisted. “Anyway, I never used my hands…you know that.”
Mortigar paused, “Yes, I suppose I do.” He drifted sideways, glancing in all directions, placing his back near the wall. His dark eyes paused a moment at the sight of Rhindor kneeling. Mortigar’s eyebrow arched. “I’ve discovered the Staff of Dar’Tith; your powers are no match for me now.”
“My powers?” Rhindor said. “Look at me!” His voice shook. “You needn’t a staff; a shovel would have sufficed.”
Mortigar hesitated. His staff’s glow dimmed. “A shovel?”
Rhindor nodded. His chest began to shake, a single tear coursed its way to his ancient beard. “Besides, I’ve got the Wand of Glorin’twa. It’s over there.” Rhindor motioned weakly with his hand. “You’re welcome to it…I don’t want it anymore.”
A smile spread Mortigar’s lips. “You’ll not distract me, wizard.” He leveled his staff once more; its tip began to resonate….
Snarling, the Fangiour pelt burst from where it lay near Rhindor. It lunged toward the darkly robed man. Electricity sizzled from the Staff of Dar’Tith. The hairy rug yelped and retreated back to its master’s lap. A three-inch hole had been burned through its disheveled hair. Gods, Rhindor thought, now it’s even more ugly. He patted the pelt as it continued to whine.
“What’s this?” Mortigar laughed. “This is your last line of defense? A rug?”
“I told you, I−” Rhindor began.
“Enough!” Mortigar swept his hands.
Rhindor suddenly couldn’t move, not even to breathe. It was a simple spell that Mortigar had used to paralyze him, he knew. But it was effective, for all that. Rhindor knew the counter-spell, of course, and since he’d no need to use his hands—as so many lesser wizards did— he would have no trouble breaking the spell. Paralix’ish taha, he let the words form in his mind—nothing happened. Pa’ralicish T’ha, he tried again—nothing.
His lungs began to burn for lack of air. Pha’ralish Tahia! Paralyx Thi’a! PohRalich Te’Ah! Nothing, nothing, and nothing. Mortigar was moving, but Rhindor couldn’t turn his eyes to see what….
“It is the wand of Glorin Twa’!” Mortigar exclaimed. “Where did you find it?”
Rhindor, of course, couldn’t respond. His vision was blurring, and his hearing became muffled. Tears, unaffected by the spell, formed in his eyes and ran chaotic paths down his weathered cheeks.
“Rhindor? Oh, for Hell’s sake…Paralix’is Ta’he!”
Rhindor slapped his hands to the floor as his body went limp. He sucked in a shuddering breath. Great drops fell from his red-rimmed eyes onto the whimpering Fangiour pelt.
“Rhindor?” The menace left Mortigar’s voice. “What’s happened to you?”
Rhindor paused and pushed himself to his knees. “Three hundred and six years happened to me.” He wiped his beak-like nose with the gaudy hem of his sleeve and looked to his old nemesis. He again felt a thrill of recognition; despite being sworn enemies, it was comforting to see someone from the old days. “I’ve spent the last eighty years living in this tower, surrounded by all this junk.” He motioned weakly with his hand.
“Junk?” Mortigar cast his dark eyes about; he seemed to see a very different room. “Is that the hammer of Kaitlith?”
“Wha…? Oh, yes.” Rhindor sniffed. “The dwarves don’t have a kingdom anymore. They mixed in with the humans—they’re just called ‘short’ now. You can have it.”
Mortigar eyes narrowed, “It’s very powerful.”
“Yeah, but what good is it?” Rhindor’s knobby knees were beginning to protest kneeling on the stone. “You can have it…all. I want none of it.” He gripped a corner bedpost and struggled to rise. His legs had fallen asleep and were buzzing with horseflies.
Mortigar smiled, but his eyes looked uncertain. “You wish to appease me with gifts then?” He lowered his staff awkwardly; the wand remained clutched in his other hand.
“No, not really.” Rhindor winced as his tingling feet protested. “I just don’t need the clutter.”
Mortigar’s sneering gaze faltered. “Clutter?” He held the wand aloft as if showcasing his favorite bauble to a schoolchild. “You have the Wand of Glorin Twa’!”
“No,” Rhindor answered. “You do. It’s yours now.”
“But…” Mortigar’s lips moved soundlessly for a moment, “don’t you realize how powerful this makes me?”
“Oh yes, sure.” Rhindor barely nodded. “But you’ll look silly running about with both a staff and a wand—don’t say I didn’t warn you.” Rhindor sat on his bed, he knew it was rude, but his feet hurt and he was still shaking from the coughing fit.
“Are you mad?” Mortigar said. “I mean…you won’t stand a chance.”
“A chance?” Rhindor constructed a brace of pillows to rest his back against.
“I’ve come to kill you, Rhindor.” The words left Mortigar’s curt lips with a seasoned sting, as if he’d practiced them.
“Oh.” Rhindor’s mouth opened then shut. Mortigar’s words pricked the old mage. While the prospect of death didn’t appeal to him, there was something else…an unnamed sadness; Mortigar had been his enemy so long… surely that counted for something. “Wouldn’t you rather… stay for tea?”
“Tea?” Mortigar said. His scripted baritone slipped to a frustrated falsetto. “Tea! You destroyed my minions and tore down my tower, you…,” he pointed with the wand as he ranted; it began to hiss.
“Okay, okay,” Rhindor placated. He held his frail hands up, palms forward. “I know we’ve got our differences….”
Mortigar’s eyes goggled. “You melted my skin off!” His voice cracked as he said “skin.” An awkward moment passed, broken only by a high pitched sizzle emanating from the Wand of Glorin Twa’.
“Yes, well…sorry about that,” Rhindor said. “But it’s not like you didn’t have it coming…what with all you did to the elves…and Gods know what you were planning to do with the orb…”
“Hey!” Mortigar interrupted, “Those elves weren’t exactly−”
“Fatoriana!” Gayln the apprentice crouched as he shouted from the doorway; he was gesturing with his fool hands again. Huntsman Kentos and Mistress Polna stood behind the boy. Kentos had brought a heavy ax.
Mortigar crossed the wand and staff before him in a defensive posture; the staff hummed and the wand crackled with ancient energy. “So it’s a trap!” The dark mage’s face twisted to a grim smile.
“A trap?” Rhindor snorted. “Use your eyes, Mortigar; it’s a whelp, a woodsman, and a scullery maid.”
“FaTOHrianA!” the boy shouted, waving his hands like a traveling show charlatan.
Mortigar’s smile evaporated, he winced at the unpleasant sound of the novice’s prepubescent voice. He turned from the struggling apprentice. “Is he yours?”
Rhindor scratched at his scalp. “Yeah, well…I haven’t much time, you see, and…”
“FathoRhiannna!” the boy continued. Frothy spit collected at the corners of his mouth.
“But he’s got no skill,” Mortigar said. “None.” The wand and staff abruptly ceased radiating energy. “No talent at all…not a flicker.” He sagged; his dark velvet robe suddenly seemed too large. “What happened to your last one?”
Rhindor knit his brow and looked toward the ceiling; he ticked on his fingers as if doing sums. “Petrina? She got sick after a—”
“She?” Mortigar arched his brow.
“Of course, you’d not have known her…it’s a shame, really.” Rhindor smiled weakly. “She wasn’t much of a fighter, mind you, but she’d a clever touch….” He began ticking on his fingers again. “You’d have known Hethan.”
Mortigar’s face quickened. “Yes.” He pointed at Rhindor. “That’s the one. Now, that one made me nervous.”
“FatOOriaNNa!” the boy shouted doggedly. Both old wizards flinched at the interruption.
Rhindor recovered first. “You will stop that nonsense AT ONCE!” He slapped his small hand down on his bed; the sound it made on the thick coverlets was disappointingly powerless “poof.” Rhindor turned his attention back to the dark wizard. “Now where…? Ah, yes, Hethan—now there was an apprentice!”
“He seemed a bit whiny,” Mortigar observed.
“Oh,” Rhindor cast his eyes and hands up, “you’ve no idea. But then, at least he had a modicum of talent to work with.” He gestured dismissively. “This one….” He snorted and rolled his eyes.
“It’s not true!” the boy shouted, his voice was shrill and broken by the ravages of early puberty. Snot ran from his one of his nostrils. “I—I blew up the apple tree!” He pointed at the wall as if the ruined stump could be seen through the grey stone. He wiped his nose with his other sleeve.
Mortigar’s face brightened. “It’s true. I saw the tree explode….”
“Oh, don’t be ridiculous,” Rhindor shushed both his hands through the air. “The boy couldn’t blow up a wineskin. I did the tree.”
After an awkward silence, the old mage wasn’t sure what irritated him more: Mistress Polna’s scolding look or the revelation’s lack of hilarity. He’d hoped for another good laugh.
“Mistress Polna… would you be so good as to fetch a spot of tea? For two, please?” Polna stood rooted in place; she listened as if hearing a foreign language. Rhindor spoke more slowly. “I’ll take mine with lemon. Mortigar?”
The dark wizard’s eyes narrowed to slits and his lips curled. He bared his teeth and spat foreign words filled with hard consonants. Both the wand and staff erupted into full song; their long dormant power shook the tower. Priceless items that had been haphazardly stacked began to dance about on their shelves. The leaded window cracked, then shattered. Driven to an unnatural fury, wind penetrated the small opening; it caught up bits of colored glass and weathered pages of parchment, cyclonically scattering them about. Rhindor’s bed danced away from the wall, he held up his hands to protect his face from swirling debris. Mistress Polna and the others huddled together under the huntsman’s flapping cape. The bronzed head fell from its pedestal; its impact a distant “clunk.” Thunder erupted just outside the tower, pounding like a battle ram on mighty gates, scenting the angry air with the stink of charged sulfur.
Mortigar howled then. His eyes glowed black; his voice pierced the thunder and screaming wind. He held his clenched fists away from his body on straight arms as burning anger rose from his throat like an open forge. Shadow and light inverted chaotically as reality itself began to bend….
Rhindor still hid behind his hands, fearing—hoping—that this sudden calm was death—that life could be escaped so painlessly. He was mildly disappointed to open his eyes and see his wrinkled palms. He peeked about the room. His bed stood near the room’s center, and his collection of odds and ends, treasures and trivia, lay strewn about like hay in an untended stable. King Dovnean’s head had rolled to where the woodsman still covered the others with his long cape; his face was bleeding. The crystal chest was the only item that hadn’t moved; its gleaming implacability made it seem all the more beautiful.
Mortigar, too, remained rooted where he had stood before the fury, but he was hardly unmoved. His skin was ashen and his mouth drawn. His eyes were closed and the muscles around his eyes were slack. Sucking down a deep sigh, he exhaled into a slouch. His arms hung loose at his sides.
“Honey,” he said. His voice was soft but clear. A single black tear coursed its way over his high cheekbone, trailing down to drip from his jaw. “I’ll…take mine with honey.”
Rhindor, atop his ruined bed covered with dust, dirt, and bits of glass, sat stupidly for a moment…then broke into a toothy smile. “Splendid!” He nearly laughed, his cheeks hurt from the unusual strain. “Mistress Polna. Two cups of tea please. Mr. Mortigar prefers honey. Chop chop, now. Don’t daudle….”
“I want the orb,” Mortigar said. It wasn’t a threat, or even a demand, it was said as offhandedly as one might ask for honey. A bit of stubborn glass fell from the ruined window, it shattered crisply on the floor.
“But…,” Rhindor hesitated, looked at the chest then back, “couldn’t….”
“I want the orb.” Mortigar’s voice rose from a whisper.
It was Rhindor’s turn to slump. …so powerful, and so very, very dark. Rhindor had sworn oaths—to friends long dead and gone. A brief battle raged in Rhindor’s mind; it made his head hurt. “Fine,” he decided, “you’ll have it.” He heard Polna gasp and his novice mutter. Rhindor silenced them with a look. “But, please…let’s have tea first, hmm?”
Mortigar’s eye’s narrowed and his lips hinted at their former curl. “Oh, we’ll have tea…after I have the orb.”
Rhindor paused a moment more before exhaling a frustrated sigh. “Fine,” he said, “it’s in the chest.”
Mortigar’s lips relaxed to an almost easy smile. He leaned on his staff and looked about the room, his eyes rested briefly on the crystalline chest before focusing on an upended chair. Stashing the wand in the folds of his velvet robe, the dark wizard righted the seat and sat down heavily. “Now,” he said, sitting back, “about that tea…”
A titter ran up Rhindor’s stomach. He swallowed a great apple that formed in his throat. “Yes, yes,” he said, fighting an embarrassing mist that clouded his vision, “about that tea….”
But, just as everything seemed perfect, it became…wrong.
Through his watery vision, Rhindor sensed movement from where his servants and student had lain. The movement was too quick to be casual. Rhindor blinked his eyes quickly and quailed at what he saw: His damned fool novice had taken the woodsman’s axe. The weapon was a plain thing; heavy, crude, and effective for dull work. The boy was darting toward Mortigar’s back now, the axe raised high. Time slowed. Rhindor formed words in his mind; the spell would kill the lad, the wizard knew….
But Mortigar was quicker.
The youth paused a moment before dropping the sharpened hunk of iron, it skittered harmlessly across the stone floor. Gayln’s face set in a terrible frown and he began to emit a girlish squeal. He sought his master’s eyes, seeking mercy; he found none. The lad burst into flame. He waved his arms about. Perhaps attempting a spell? He fell to his hands and knees, then finally to the floor. The tower filled with the stink of it.
“You!” Mortigar stood from his chair, pointing at his old enemy.
Rhindor showed his palms. “No,” he pled, “I didn’t….”
Mortigar’s face twisted with anger—and something new—something worse. He yanked the wand from the folds of his robe; it crackled to life like a whipped tigress. “You’ve failed, old man!” He hurried to the gleaming chest with long, fateful strides.
“Stop, Mortigar.” Rhindor held his hands out, his fingers splayed. “Please….”
Mortigar dropped his staff and jerked at the chest’s lid. It opened with an innocuous click….
The dark mage stood straight, recognizing his folly. A pale mist whispered from somewhere under the lid; nearly translucent, the powder sparkled with the vibrancy of snow on a sunny day. Such a beautiful thing, really, to be so unrelentingly lethal.
Mortigar jerked back, his arms fell to his sides as he began to stiffen. With his last, he turned to his old nemesis. “I lose, it seems….” He tried to speak more, but his lips and tongue hardened too quickly. A single tear froze in its track down his paling cheeks.
“Goodbye…old friend,” Rhindor whispered.
Mortigar’s frozen form fell backward. His impact against the tower stone sounded with a solid thud. Mistress Polna ran forward to where the dullard novice still lay in flames. She backed away; the heat was still too intense, as was the smell. Turning, she fell to her knees and emitted a heaving retch. She wept in a shrill voice between spasms.
But Rhindor hardly noticed Polna’s travails; his red-rimmed eyes remained fixed on Mortigar’s unyielding form.
Feeling every day of his 306 years, Rhindor stumbled from his bed to kneel near his dear enemy. Searing cold continued to emanate from Mortigar’s body, leeching the heat from the very stone on which he rested.
“C-can you save him?” Mistress Polna’s voice seemed at the verge of retching further.
Rhindor didn’t look up. “No.” His voice caught for a moment. “The spell—too powerful, the elves wove it into the chest in the event of….”
“Not HIM, you idiot!” Polna’s voice was seasoned with an unpleasant mix of sorrow, rage, and nausea. “The BOY! Can you save the boy!” She pointed to Galyn, as if his being on fire wasn’t enough to draw Rhindor’s eye.
“No… He’s dead too—burned from the inside out, I’m afraid.” And no mean trick—to burn a single target, from the inside out, while one’s back was turned… and with no foolish hand-waving either. Rhindor mused whether he could have managed such a feat.
“Then what good are you?” Polna shouted; her face had become mottled with unseemly patches of red. “Some ‘all-powerful wizard’ you are!” She waved her hands in mocking mystic motions. “Put him out!” She stabbed her finger at the boy’s blazing form. “He’s burning!”
Rhindor bristled at the hand motions. He never used his hands; and the last person who could appreciate that fact lay forever frozen…
“Now! Gods damn you! Put him out!” The normally stoic house mistress stood, her hands balled at her sides.
She was right, Rhindor thought sourly. She was always right. Knees aching, the old wizard stood and searched his foggy mind for the right spell….
“I can help,” said a familiar voice.
“What’s that?” Rhindor stood and shuffled as near he dare to the boy’s burning corpse. Polna continued to motion at the boy; she’d heard nothing. The woodsman remained near the doorjamb clearing the blood that ran from a gash above his eye. Rhindor was sure he’d heard a voice, an old, comforting sound… The old mage’s face went slack…the orb.
The voice came to him again; familiar, but different than it had been those many years ago. Gone were its promises of dominion and seductions of glory—those were the dreams of a younger man. Its voice was strangely bereft of its former arrogance. But it was familiar, so achingly familiar….
“No.” Rhindor clenched his teeth and turned to close the chest that had stifled the orb’s voice for so very, very long. The stone didn’t burn as brazenly as he remembered; it glowed instead like a well-banked ember. He could still shut the chest; the trap would reset….
“Put him OUT, you crazy old bastard!” Polna was shouting again, though she sounded far away….
Again, the voice toned through Rhindor’s mind. It didn’t beg or demand, it offered comfort…companionship.
Rhindor screwed his eyes shut. He’d been charged with the orb’s protection…his life’s work….
The orb’s glow diminished till it appeared no more than a ball of dark glass; it was tired. It complained of its long stay in its crystal prison…of its loneliness. The world had changed. Even in the box, it’d felt the magic go out of the world; it’d felt the slow death of wonder. It doubted there remained a master capable of unlocking its secrets; it may as well be thrown on a well-pebbled beach. None understood its vast utility, both to destroy…and to heal.
Rhindor turned his back to the orb and opened his eyes. The boy still burned before him and Polna was still shouting beyond. As always, he could feel the orb’s warmth at his back—so comfortably warm.
The old wizard locked eyes with his house mistress. She stuttered a moment, then fell silent. He was tired of her voice, of her nagging, of her perpetual rightness—that most of all. He raised a single hand and held his palm backwards over his shoulder….
The orb sprung from its prison, landing in Rhindor’s palm with the eagerness of a long-awaited beau. Rhindor closed his fingers about the warm stone. His flesh tingled with forgotten vitality and his spine straightened as one removing a heavy pack. No longer numb, Rhindor’s feet and ankles remembered the dexterity of his youth.
“Yes! Yes!” Mistress Polna said, clasping her hands before her. She seemed to sense her master’s rebirth, his limitless power. “Save him! Please.” Her eyes watered anew, not with sorrow’s sagging flood, but with stinging tears of hope. The woodsman looked less pleased; he stood away from the doorjamb, his hands at his sides.
Grinning, Rhindor gripped the stone in the last three fingers of his right hand. With his left, he raised the hem of his robe. The stone was so warm….
Polna’s mouth fell open, her eyebrows furrowed as if they sought to touch.
A graceful, steady yellow stream arced from beneath Rhindor’s robe. “Yes, YES!” the mage exclaimed. He leaned his head back, his mouth opened. He didn’t need to look to know his aim was true; his effort was met with steaming applause….
Rhindor’s remission was interrupted by a sudden sound, like a sack of onions dropped from a counter. He looked and discovered that Mistress Polna had fallen—no, fainted. Worse, she’d landed in her own gory vomit; it coated the side of her untroubled face, it was soaking into her primly arranged hair….
They thought it very funny.
The orb laughed first, but Rhindor couldn’t resist joining in. As the mage’s hilarity shook him, his urine sprayed chaotically—and that was funnier still. Tears welled in the old man’s eyes and his stomach ached. There was no tickle in his throat to fear—he would never fear mirth again.
They laughed until both voices rang together in two-part harmony; its force shook dust from the eaves.
Russell Miller is a recovering attorney who holds a bachelor’s degree from Souther Utah University and a juris doctorate from the University of Mississippi. His work is featured in Niteblade Fantasy and Horror Magazine, Abberant Dreams Magazine, My Word, The Kolob Canyon Review, and the Ymbsittendra Journal.