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by Astrid S. Nielsen
Grulym was a lonesome city; edged by mountains on one side and marshland on the other, few travellers were bound this way. And if someone should come on a moonless night, they might only notice the western part, lit by lanterns on solid city walls to keep the homes of the Surameli and the Vil-Isodava and the other grand families safe and comfortable. In the eastern part, darkness ruled--apart from the occasional flicker of candlelight through cracks in broken shutters.
On this particular night a shape was moving there in a hobbling way very different from the smooth-moving shadows of the cutthroats of the alleys. It appeared to be the shape of an old man--long beard and hair flying in the wind--and the burden he dragged along seemed heavy. Still the shadows left the shape in peace and did not follow, and the shape himself did not seem particularly nervous of the shadows--though something was unsettling him, you could tell by the way he continually gazed back over his shoulder. He paused in front of a building as rambling as any down this street and entered by leaning against the door.
In the soft glow from the dying fire in the hearth, the room that was his home looked almost cosy; an alcove with a curtain that was not too torn, a table and a chair--and of course the counter with all the jars of medical remedies and dried herbs, the sweet and bitter scents softening the stench from the streets. He straightened his back as much as it could be straightened; he still took pride in his profession, though he had been banished to these quarters for half a lifetime now. And he still took pride in his name, Dr Raduz, though he had been all but forgotten.
Every one of his joints ached as he hauled the linen-wrapped bundle up onto the table. He snapped the strings with a scalpel and gently removed the cloth. The strong face with the high cheekbones looked almost as if it were just asleep, lying there with its eyes closed. In the dim light, the paleness of the skin could easily go unnoticed, and the dark tangles in the fair hair could be taken for deep shadows. But Raduz knew they were pieces of grave dirt; he had uncovered the grave himself.
He yawned and blinked with eyes that were brown dots under heavy, wrinkled eyelids. Then he shook his head; sleep would have to wait. This was no lowly commoner, but the body of Luka Surameli, the Duke's brother, and illegal as the dissection of corpses generally was, to be discovered with the body of a nobleman would only make matters worse. But what he might learn was worth the risk.
Something soft pressed against his legs. "Are you hungry, Saba?" he mumbled and bent down to pat the tabby cat, who looked at him imploringly, making a low plaintive sound.
"I'm sorry, I have no more to give you today. Unless you want some dry bread?"
As if it understood his words, the cat trotted away with slow, disappointed movements.
"Well my friend, things are going to get better..." Raduz stroked the cold skin of the body of Luka Surameli, suddenly feeling his spirits rising; too many of Dr Grigol's patients had died recently, and most had been Surameli, members of the Duke's family. And now the Duke's brother, master builder Luka. He didn't know what Dr Grigol was up to, but if he was intentionally killing the Surameli, and if Raduz could prove it--then Grigol's name would be disgraced, and everything he had said, all his lies about Dark Arts that had made it impossible for Raduz to work anywhere but in the eastern quarters, would finally be taken for what they were: a base attempt to blacken a fine doctor's name, so there would be no competition to the position of court physician.
Raduz smiled as he went to the counter and got hold of the tools he would need to perform the autopsy. In the same instance there was the distinct sound of a knock at the door. Raduz dropped the tools, pulled the linen back over the body, and turned, breathless. Silence. Maybe he had just imagined the knock? He knew well the guards never ventured into the eastern quarters. They didn't dare--and they didn't care, not about this place. Then there was a muffled cry: "Doctor, may I please come in, sir?" followed by a rattling cough. "Please?"
Raduz breathed out. Definitely not the voice of an enquiring guard. He hobbled to the door, and in came a spindly looking, raggedly clad man with a sallow complexion and a smell of old sweat, which might just be worse than the stench from the street. The man coughed again, Raduz listened to his chest and then to his complaints and finally went to the counter to make a soothing elixir. He could do nothing more, for this cough he had heard too often and knew there was no cure; it was the mark of the men working at the quarry.
"Thank you, doctor. I brought you this. Thought your cat might like it," the man said on his way out, and in return for the bottle he had received, he unwrapped something slimy looking from a dirty cloth and handed it to Raduz. It was a mackerel skin, with a few pieces of meat still clinging to it, and as Saba came hopping joyfully to claim the prize, Raduz gave a short nod in acknowledgement; this was no small thing for such a man to part with.
The man went away, and Saba withdrew to a corner with its prey, purring contentedly. Raduz dried his fingers, now sticky with mackerel, on his already dirty shirt and returned to the table. But before he could reach for the tools, another knock at the door sounded. He turned, muttering angrily this time; could no petty illness wait until daybreak? He stumped to the door and pulled it open. And then his heart skipped a beat; the men outside were tall and broad and dressed in the crimson colours of the guards. Spear tips gleamed in the reddish light.
"Dr Raduz, I presume?" said a man, who was one head shorter than the rest of the guards though it was hard to tell at first sight; the golden plume on the top of his helmet swayed a good deal above the others' white ones. He was the commander of the city guard, Eduard Surameli, Raduz recalled as he pushed his way past Raduz. And apart from him being alive and breathing, he looked a lot like his uncle under the linen on Raduz' table; the same high cheekbones and fair hair sticking out like straws under the helmet.
"I don't suppose there's any need to introduce myself," Eduard said, eyeing the room suspiciously. His voice was slightly nasal, in a way Raduz found enervating, and it took a great deal of willpower to curl his lip into a smile and give the bow he knew he ought to. "I know you, master Surameli. How may I assist you?"
Eduard's gaze had fixed on a spot of dirt near the table.
"It truly is a great honour to see you here, sir, do you wish to sit down?" Raduz gestured towards his one chair, sweating slightly, and doing his best not to look at the dirt and the too obvious shape under the linen on the table. "Can I get you something, something to drink perhaps?"
Eduard snorted. "I'd rather not! This place is more filthy than I dared imagine--and your own person too! You look like you've spent the night uncovering a grave--"
Raduz froze. He knew, of course he knew! And now he was toying with him, the way Saba did with the mice.
"This might have been a mistake. But now I'm here I might as well--" Eduard began pacing the room, hands clasped behind his back and brows knitted into a frown. "I'm not well. And why do I tell you this, instead of going to Dr Grigol? I have reason to suspect, you see, that he has turned against us, that he's murdering his Surameli patients--there have been too many deaths in my family recently. I am investigating the matter, but I also need to get well--" Eduard halted, and with a jerk of his head, which made his helmet plume shiver like a nervous chicken, turned to look straight at Raduz. "So you see why I can't go to Dr Grigol."
Before Raduz could make an answer, Eduard continued:
"I've been told you had quite a reputation yourself, in former days, for being a great physician, though you threw it all away by using Dark Arts." Eduard stepped closer, smiling condescendingly. "I'll do you the honour of letting you help me. But if you do use Dark Arts, don't let me know, or I'll be forced to take action." The tone of Eduard's nasal voice became a little darker as did the look in his eyes "And there will be no pardon for you this time."
"Of course--and it all just was a big misunderstanding, back then. But tell me, good sir, what is your problem?" Raduz said though he dared not feel relieved; perhaps it was just part of Eduard's game to get him to expose himself.
"Whenever I exert myself in the least, I get these pains in my chest, and I can hardly breathe--on several occasions I have been so close to choking that I blacked out completely. It just won't do in my line of work!" As he spoke, his breathing became wheezing and his skin wax like; the agitation he felt on talking of his illness was apparently all it took.
Raduz went to the counter and mixed the appropriate herbs into a balm that might ease the condition when massaged onto the chest.
"You will, of course, require no payment. The honour I do you by coming here is surely enough," Eduard said, having regained control of his breathing.
Raduz paused, his hand hovering over the flask he had been about to close. Of course. Perhaps he should add just one more ingredient, just enough to cause a slight nausea. He quickly blended in a tiny amount of black wood and handed the remedy to Eduard, who promptly turned to leave; by the look on his face he would not be returning to this place, so below his dignity, whether the cure worked or not.
A rustle from the table, and Eduard halted in the doorway.
"You better be on your way, sir, never mind my cat--" Raduz said, silently cursing Saba's playfulness at this moment. But as he peered back, the cat sat still as a rock, and it too stared at the table. Something was stirring under the linen. The guards outside in the hallway rattled their weapons. Raduz gulped down a lump. How could this be?
A leg protruded from under the linen and one more, and finally the whole body of Luka Surameli, in his splendid funeral garment of purple and golden brocade, slid off the table, rose and stood swaying on the floor, his limbs hanging in a way that still seemed dead to Raduz, the head tilted in an impossible angle, and the now wide open eyes staring with a glassy look at seemingly nothing at all. If anyone said anything, Raduz couldn't hear; the pounding sound of his own heart and the rush of blood filled his ears. Every little hair on his body stood on end. How could this be? Then Luka began walking, the planks of the floor creaking plaintively under the dragging footsteps. Raduz pulled his beard. He'd never had any luck, but did fate really hate him this much!
"Uncle!" Eduard gasped and stepped tentatively towards him. "Are you all right?"
Luka kept walking his slow walk, taking no notice of Eduard's approach or the guards, who readily made way for the apparently not so deceased Surameli. In the doorway, Eduard got hold of a trailing brocade sleeve, but the sleeve simply tore with a long, slow "riitsch". The steps sounding from the stairs did not change pacing in the least.
Eduard spun around, pale as winter. "What have you done to him? I was there at his funeral myself, last week!" Drops of perspiration appeared on his forehead as the wheezing panting returned. "You will burn for this!" His hands fumbled frantically with the lid of the flask Raduz had given him, and one of the guards hastened to his aid. Others locked ironclad fists round Raduz' arms.
"No, no you're mistaking things, good sir--" Raduz said, feeling as hot as if he were burning already. "I have been trying to save your uncle since I found out Dr Grigol hadn't killed him off entirely. There's still hope for him--and... and walks in the moonlight is part of the cure! I walk with him every night; see how eager he is to get out? He knows it does him good. I must follow him; he's not yet able to return safely himself." As if Raduz would have been able to break free and follow, the grasps around his arms tightened to the point where he feared his bones might snap.
"Is it so?" Eduard said, his breathing becoming easy again. He poured a few more drops from the flask onto his chest. "Hmm... This actually does help! You swear you haven't used Dark Arts?" There was a hint of something husky in Eduard's voice, as if he tried to suppress a slight nausea, which gave Raduz some comfort.
"And you can cure my uncle, you say. How long will that take?"
"It's hard to tell; these things take long, years perhaps--"
Eduard's face went from pale to green. Raduz bit his lip; too much black wood.
Eduard's Adam's apple bobbed quickly as he swallowed several times and finally croaked: "I give you a week. If you haven't cured him by then, you'll burn at the stake! And what are you still doing here? You said yourself he shouldn't be out there alone."
The iron fists shoved Raduz out the door, and he cursed his arthritis as he hobbled down the stairs, every step sending pangs of pain through his knees, but out in the street he nevertheless easily caught up with the slow footed Luka. Raduz grabbed him by the wrist. Had he lost so much of his skill he could no longer tell the living from the dead? But the skin was just as cold to the touch as before, and not the slightest pulse could he feel. Luka was, as far as he could tell, a living dead! How could that be! Raduz scratched his beard as he paced along, musing.
A drizzle filled the air, for which Raduz was grateful; in the haze and the darkness, it was less likely anyone would notice Luka's fine, embroidered garments--though a few shadows did draw near from the alleys, but each eye he glimpsed was one he recognised from a former patient, and they too must have known him, for they never came closer than that. Until one did.
It was a woman, dragging herself in much the same way Luka moved, and as she brushed past Raduz to fall in behind Luka, he could feel the fabric of her trailing dress; so soft, it could be nothing but silk. But the smell accompanying her was not of a noble woman; earth and something sickening, like rotting meat though with a note of a heavy perfume, perhaps. Raduz reached out, but didn't let his hand rest long enough to feel any pulse; there was no need. The slimy feeling of her decaying skin could lead to only one conclusion: She was no more alive than Luka.
More of these beings, these un-deads, appeared for every corner they turned, and when they reached Western Grulym, Raduz had lost count of them completely. There was a rustling and snorting and scratching all over, and cold shivers ran down Raduz' spine. In the orange light from the lanterns on the city walls, the empty eyes of the undeads gleamed like dull fires.
Raduz felt cold inside; his clothes and hair were damp with the drizzle, but his mouth was dry, and he began to wonder whether he ought to turn back. He shook his head. No, what was set in motion, he would have to see to the finish--or Eduard would surely see him burn. Besides, there had been no hostility, in fact nothing at all that pointed to the undeads even noticing him. And so he followed. And he couldn't say he was surprised when he wound up outside the looming walls of Grigol's mansion.
The undeads drifted past him and in the open, black gate. Raduz smiled wryly and cursed under his breath as he entered, last in the line of living corpses. What else could he do?
A foul smell filled the air as Raduz sidled through the halls, his heart thumping as if he'd been running this whole way. He groped his way along stone walls damp and cold, sometimes in dense darkness, sometimes by the faint light of an outside lantern through a narrow window. Finally the halls were lit by flickering firelight, and the undeads seemed to multiply as each of their shadows became sharply drawn.
In the centre of a circle of burning torches, a black bundle, which might be a man, lay very still. Raduz dared barely breathe; apart from the faint crackling of the fire everything had suddenly become so still. There were no dragging footsteps, no scratching of nails against stone; the undeads had gathered and filled one half of the room, and now they just stood there, motionless. Apparently they had reached their goal.
For a while Raduz too stood still, waiting to see what happened. Nothing did. He shifted his weight from one foot to the other. And back again. Still nothing happened, no monsters lunged towards him. He cleared his throat rather loudly. And as the voice of Grigol did not respond, Raduz finally dared to approach the circle.
He bent down and pulled back the hood of the man on the floor, and the frozen face of Grigol looked back at him with empty eyes. And there was no pulse--though Raduz by now knew better than to think this necessarily meant he would not rise again.
Raduz scratched his beard. The satisfaction he felt in his enemy's fall due to Dark Arts--it served the lying bastard right--was overshadowed by the presence of the dead and silent crowd behind him. What should he do about them? What could he do about them? If nothing at all was the answer, he was due to burn in a week! Raduz opened his mouth to curse out loud, but in just that instant, he heard movement among the undead crowd. He turned to see a boy coming forward, a diminished picture of Grigol; black hair, black eyes set a little too close above the tiny hawk nose, and a mole on the chin that would undoubtedly in time grow hairy and obnoxious looking--just like Grigol's.
"Make him get away from my father!" The boy waved a finger at Raduz. The unnerving sound of half a hundred undeads dragging themselves towards him followed. A coincident?--He thought not. Why, oh why, had he run so out of luck; what good was Dr Grigol's death when Raduz had no choice but to suck up to his son?
Out loud Raduz said in a strained, sugar-coated voice: "Why, I am only trying to help,"
The undeads drew closer by the heartbeat.
"I am. Is it all right that I stay?" Raduz began sweating.
"Yes. If you help my father." The boy waved a hand, and the undeads instantly stopped moving.
Raduz swallowed and gave a short smile with gritted teeth. "Of course. Tell me what happened."
The boy glanced down at Grigol, and then up at Raduz, red spots appearing on his cheeks. "I... I didn't mean to come down here--he always told me: stay away from here--but I just wanted to see... and then he was out, and I thought I might just take a little look, and there was all this stuff and a cup of something black, right there--" the boy pointed at a golden goblet, which lay toppled next to Grigol. "And I thought it was wine. It's unfair I'm never allowed to drink any wine! So I drank it--" the boy made a poor attempt to suppress a grimace. "But then father came home, and I hid right there--" the boy made another gesture, this time towards a pillar in a shadowy corner. "And he started singing and lighting the torches, and then he went to drink the wine--it must have tasted good, because when he saw it was all gone... he screamed... and then he fell asleep... I couldn't wake him--and then they started coming..." the boy lowered his voice and his eyes glistened. "I kind of think they're following me. I'm not scared of them, though! I'm not! And they're not really doing anything anyway, other than what I tell them to... can you wake my father?"
"I might." Raduz stroked his beard, hiding a grin behind his hand. "But I need to see your father's library."
"The secret one?"
"Yes. Definitely that one."
"Okay, but you must promise not to tell him I showed you."
"That I can safely do."
The boy darted through a maze of winding hallways, and Raduz followed as best he could--as did the dragging sound of the undeads on the move.
"You're very slow!" The boy said when Raduz finally caught up with him, waiting outside a heavy looking wooden door.
Raduz bent over, leaning on his knees, and if he had not been so short of breath, he would have made a harsh remark before he remembered it might not be wise to anger a child who seemed to be in command of about 50 undeads. Now he just drew a sharp breath and pushed at the door, which gave way only reluctantly.
Inside was a room of shadows weaved by the early morning light creeping through the round windows in the ceiling; parts were set with coloured glass of brown and red, creating dim dapples across the rough stone floor and the hundreds of scrolls stashed on shelves on every side of the room. The smell of dust and old, dry parchments hang heavily in the air. Raduz barely noticed the undeads arriving and forming a protective circle around the boy; he paced and turned and stared and touched, his fingers performing a restless dance from crisp parchment to parchment, pausing only to scratch his beard. If something could cure the undeads, it would be written in these scrolls, he felt sure--but where to start?
"Why are you always doing that?"
"Doing what?" Raduz mumbled, without taking his eyes from the scroll in front of him--such strange writings, he could not make out the signs at all. He scratched his beard, pondering if he had ever even seen the like before.
"Touching your beard like you're proud of it or something. Father always says only poor people grow beards--are you poor? You look like you are."
Raduz glared at the boy, who looked back at him, eyes wide with bewilderment. But Raduz knew better; behind his seemingly innocent looks, the boy was undoubtedly laughing at him, mockingly, just like his father had always been. And was he to pretend he didn't notice and didn't care? So the boy could grow up to laugh at him ever louder and ever more openly? It was intolerable! "Poor! What do you, or your father for that matter, know of the poor? Of the wretched souls of Eastern Grulym, toiling their lives away in the quarry, so you can have your fine houses and your fine paved streets without ever lifting a finger?" When the words were spoken, Raduz could have bit out his own tongue. But neither the boy nor the undeads stirred.
"I know... I don't know anything..." The boy admitted, eyes widening even more.
"Well, nor did your father." Raduz couldn't help himself, though once again he wished he hadn't spoken, and this time even more so; a red colour spread across the boy's face, and he stamped a foot as he said, "He does too! Wake him up and he'll tell you!"
And Raduz, though damning his own foolishness, blurted out: "He will not! Even if he could wake, which he can't, he would only be telling his usual lies. He didn't care about anybody but himself, least of all the poor. And he knew nothing of them or what they are going through!"
"And so you will not help him?" the boy said, his voice suddenly a whisper.
Raduz merely grumbled something inaudible.
The shoulders of the boy sagged, and his eyes sought the sky through the coloured glass of the windows in the ceiling. "He looks like my mother when she went to heaven. Has he gone to heaven?"
Perhaps it was the sudden sadness in the boy's bearing that stopped Raduz from answering "no" out loud though the notion of Grigol going to heaven, if there was one, almost made him laugh out loud.
"Can you take him down from there?" the boy said, apparently taking Raduz' silence for an affirmation.
"I can't reach the sky. No one can," Raduz simply answered and went to awkwardly pat the boy on the head; he was fairly sure that was what people did when trying to console a child. And he thought he had handled it all pretty well when the boy left along with the undeads, leaving him finally alone to examine the scrolls.
The days that followed were a blur; signs and words incomprehensible, weary eyes going over again scroll after scroll, by daylight, by candlelight, only closing for a few minutes at a time when the need to sleep became too insistent. His stomach, too, worked against him, making him pause to search out the kitchen where the remaining servants fed him, no questions asked; his presence, Raduz supposed, was not the strangest thing that had occurred in this household. He even got one of the servants to go feed Saba.
The boy didn't return, which Raduz only noticed when one of the servants ventured to ask him, "Excuse me, sir, but my cousin back in Eastern has asked me to ask you if it is you who has sent young master Vit--"
"Vit?" Raduz said, without bothering to lift his eyes from the scroll in front of him.
"Dr Grigol's son--I believe you have met him."
Raduz frowned; that was one thing he didn't want to think about. "Yes. What about him?"
"It's just that people in eastern feel a little... let's call it unnerved by his... hmm, let's call them followers and what they're doing--and you know the authorities would never lift a finger there, and--"
"Are they hurting anyone?"
"No, no--it's just--"
"Well, in that case I can't deal with it right now. I need to finish here. Tell your cousin I'll be back in a couple of days and take care of things." Raduz made a dismissive gesture and returned his full attention to the scroll.
The parchment was moist as Raduz lifted his face from it and blinked the shrouds of sleep away. He tried to stretch his back, but it ached too much, as did the rest of his body as he finally stood. Tomorrow a full week would have passed. And he was no closer to comprehending the scrolls--nor had any real reason to believe a cure could be found in them. He had lost. The weight of it almost pushed him back down into the chair; this was how it would all end--he would burn, and all because of Grigol. The bad taste in his mouth grew distinctively more bitter. He glanced upwards at the bright blue sky, and if his arms had not been so stiff, he would have thrown something--anything--at the window letting in such an optimistic light. As it was, he settled for a hobbling pacing of the room. He would have to make sure Saba was taken care of; that was the first. So he would return to Eastern Grulym today, not a minute more to waste here. At this thought, he halted. What was it the servant had said about the boy--what was his name--Vit, doing something there? He frowned but couldn't recall the exact words. But it didn't matter. Blood started flowing through his veins again; there was still hope. And what a fine vengeance it would be, too. He stumped to the table, found a piece of clean parchment and grabbed the quill from the ink well.
What he wrote was this:
"Noble master Surameli. I write you to inform you I have found no cure for the illness brought on your family by Dr Grigol. But I claim I have not failed; meet me at my humble abode tomorrow, and I will surrender into your hands the true mastermind behind this evil, and I trust that by doing this, I will secure your pardon.
Your humble servant, Dr Raduz"
His hands were only shaking slightly as he sealed the letter and called a servant to deliver it.
The air was dry and dusty and slightly irritating to the eyes as Raduz hobbled his way back to Eastern Grulym. Was that why he could see no grey heaps of garbage there? But the smell lacked too, and it was such a smooth feeling walking the streets, which looked just like--finely cut, rose marble with crystalline curbs? And when he finally was able to lift his wondering eyes, he saw most houses had somehow grown taller and finer than the greatest mansions found in the western city. Speckled, polished granite glistened in the sun. But it didn't hold his attention for long; at the edge of the city, near the quarry, a tower was rising, dark shapes moving up and down its sides in a dragging way too familiar.
"Doctor! It's good to see you! Very fine work your patients have done here, I must say, very fine work, indeed... sanitation and all... but... ehrm... perhaps they ought to take a break?" said a man, one of many concerned looking spectators, when Raduz arrived at the scene--and it was a bit unsettling, the sight they had all gathered around: Vit at the bottom of the tower under construction directing his undeads--apparently generally presumed to be Raduz' patients--filing along like ants under impossible weights of impossible large blocks of stone. Bones were sticking out at random, an arm was lost now and then, but quickly re-attached, and none of it seemed to slow them down. The tower was growing steadily before their eyes.
Raduz felt as if he were the child as he approached Vit, who looked up at him with dark eyes too gloomy for his young face.
"I will reach the sky," he declared, tightening his jaw as if daring Raduz to contradict him.
"It's a fine thing you have done here," Raduz said reluctantly, glancing back at the city. "Why did you do it?"
"Why should I not?"
"Your father would not have."
Vit looked uncertain for a moment, then turned his back and crossed his arms and said, while his eyes slid upwards along the tower, "You didn't know my father."
Raduz had known Grigol as much as he ever wished to, but he stayed silent, musing and scratching his beard. Perhaps Vit was different in spite of the shared blood; perhaps he was not--but his undeads certainly possessed greater strength than Raduz would have dared imagine. Who would truly be in jeopardy if Raduz went through with his plan? An innocent boy unjustly blamed for his father's crimes? Or Eduard and the guards when they tried to seize him--and the rest of the city when Vit discovered what he could truly do with the powers of his undeads?
Raduz sighed and bent his stiff knees to kneel beside Vit. "You should leave this city before tomorrow."
Raduz hesitated. He didn't want to say anything to give Vit cause for aggression. "If you wish to reach the sky, you should build your tower on the highest mountain. Everything else would be a waste of time," he said and pointed towards the mountains rising on the other side of the fields and the forest.
Vit's gaze rested there a little while, and then he nodded slowly.
When Raduz awoke the following morning, he felt at peace; he had bathed, he had eaten last night, and he had arranged for someone to take care of Saba when he was gone. The last he had seen of Vit and his undeads were little dots vanishing into the forest, headed for the mountains. There was nothing left to do but to wait. And when Eduard came, he would follow without complaint. He was old anyway.
He sat on the stairs and waited in the first grey dawn. He sat on the stairs and waited in the pale midday sun, barely noticing Saba nestling close to his legs. And when evening came, he sat there still, feeling the cold of the stone creeping into his bones.
There were patients, now and then, trying to get his attention with their coughs and fevers, but it was only when he heard them talk amongst themselves of the latest news that his mind shifted back to the present and he rose and went on with his life.
What they had talked of was this: the night had drawn the blood of the last Surameli; the Vil-Isodava had finally taken the chance and overthrown their old enemies, now becoming the ruling family. The temptation had been too great with the Surameli so weakened by death and disease, some said. Or it had all been part of a greater conspiracy, others said.
Oh yes, Raduz thought, a conspiracy he was sure it was, though never taken to the point one of its authors had intended.
Just as the city had been transformed, the people who came to see Raduz slowly changed, became less hollow-cheeked, their illnesses not quite as persistent as before; the transformation of the city was a marvel talked of wide and far, and the travellers coming to see for themselves left coin and hope alike. Of all that Raduz was glad. Yet he couldn't help feeling slightly unsettled. And on clear days, when the clouds around the summits thinned, he would stare at the mountains; he was sure a shape was growing there, a dark line reaching for the sky.
But as the city around him prospered, his eyes grew weary and the mountains became far off blurs. Still he could listen to the uneasy murmurs of people beginning to notice the tower, and far beyond the clouds had it grown from what they said. And he could hear the distant thumps of stone against stone, never ceasing, not in daylight, not at night, and during winter storms he thought he heard it too; steady thumps below the howling of the wind..
micheledutcher - I love the ending with the tower - so cool. Great all the way through, really. Held my interest.
mark211 - Very enjoyable!
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