This is the seventeenth part of a fiction serial, in 1270 words.
June 1631. The Wizard is found in Ackendorf.
Just outside the municipality of Ackendorf, the boy stopped by a stand of trees. A thicker forested area lay beyond them, and he pointed his tied arms together. “There, sir. In those trees. A hunting lodge. You cannot see it from the road”. His feet were torn and bleeding, and he was breathless from having to almost run behind the horse all afternoon. The sun was setting to their left, and he shielded his eyes from the sudden glare.
That meant he didn’t see the blade of the heavy sword as it swished down. It cut through his neck so easily, his head was almost severed. Rudolf swung the blade back through the rope to cut his saddle free of the corpse, and turned his horse in the direction of the woodland.
Seeing no need for subterfuge, he rode up to the low-roofed timber lodge, and slipped out of the saddle holding his cocked pistol ready. His horse wandered off to munch on some dry-looking grass, and he carried on up the few steps to the heavy door. As he raised a hand to knock, it opened. The girl in the doorway was striking indeed. Wearing a simple cotton shift that didn’t reach her knees, her pure white hair matched white eyebrows. With a mouth that looked like a lip-less gash, and a nose that was so small, it didn’t seem real. Her eyes were pink. Rudolf stared in fascination.
In all these years, he had never seen an albino.
“Your pistol will not be needed here, soldier. There is nothing of value inside”. Her voice was little more than a whisper, but it shook Rudolf from his reverie. Aged no more than twelve years he guessed, her confidence and complete lack of fear was impressive. He did not holster his pistol though. Experience had made him ever wary. “I seek the Grey Wizard, girl. Is he inside?” She opened the door fully, and he walked in, his spurs jingling loudly in the silence. The interior was unadorned, and sparsely furnished. It bore the hallmarks of having been ransacked before, by one army or the other.
Sitting at a table on the far side, the space illuminated by an expensive pillar-candle, he saw a thin man who was much younger than he had imagined.
His head and face were shaved, so there was no grey hair or beard to suggest his name. But as he walked closer, Rudolf immediately knew he had the right man. His skin was grey. Like the skin of a corpse. Before he could say anything, the man spoke, his voice sounding deep, almost like an echo from a well. “You come searching for immortality, soldier. But are you aware of the price?” Rudolf pushed the pistol into the blue sash tied around his waist.
“I have money, and some pearls too. Then there is my horse, and this armour.”. When the wizard smiled he showed small teeth, each separated by a distinct gap. They were unusually pointed and sharp, as if they had been filed deliberately. “Your valuables mean little to me. The price for what you desire is far greater. Not only the body you stand in, but the eternal soul it contains. Think on that for a moment”.
He had always been impulsive, and the long years of war had done little to change that.
As he spoke, the girl closed the door with a loud bang, and he jumped at the noise. The wizard turned to her. “You know what to do, Greta. Fetch this man some ale, and then summon two brothers of The Order”. The beer she brought tasted like water from a ditch, but he was thirsty enough to drink it. The grey man studied him from across the table. “You are still young. Tell me, why do you seek immortality? Are you aware that it means the end of your earthly life, probably within the hour?” Rudolf shrugged. I am but thirty-one, almost thirty-two years. But I have lived a life worth twice that, since I came to this war. I am tired of the dirt, the hypocrisy, the lies of the priests and ministers. I want out of this body, and to live on in spirit. I seek not Heaven, nor Hell, but something I do not know the name of”.
The wizard leaned over, a nasty grin on his lips. “Soldier, know now that there is no Heaven. There is only Hell for everybody. Nobody is innocent. But that Hell means something different for everyone. For a man like you who has killed for no reason, violated girls little older than children, even thrown new born babies into the flames, there is a special place. A life as a wandering evil spirit, with no soul. Destined to live vicariously through the living, drinking in their evil along with their banality. Your only nourishment will be to keep that cycle of wickedness going until the end of time itself”. Rudolf realised that this man knew about his own atrocities, though they had never met.
Perhaps he could see his thoughts too, and it suddenly dawned on him why that was.
“You speak from experience, I believe. You are such a spirit, and you speak to me through this grey man seated across the table. And the girl? She has chosen to appear using a freak of nature. Is she of your breed too? She may not even be female, I suspect”. The man clapped his hands silently, in mock applause. “You catch on quickly, soldier. You should do well in the world beyond this. Oh the things you will see. The price is small compared to the wonders of the future, don’t you think? I could tell you of the glory of Babylon, and the beauty of Cleopatra. But there is no time.”
A door opened behind him, and Rudolf turned to see the girl, accompanied by two men dressed as monks. They removed their robes, displaying fine clothes beneath. A design of seven silver stars was embroidered on their waistcoats. One carried two large buckets, the other a long knife, sharpened like a razor. The wizard stood, and threw the leather beer mug onto the floor. “Remove your clothes and weapons then lie on your back cross this table”. When he had done as requested, the girl came closer, and began to chant a beautiful melody, like the singing of monks in church. She took a quill pen and pot of ink from behind her back, and carefully drew strange patterns and numbers over his body. One of the men placed the buckets on either side, and the other walked forward, lifting the long knife. The wizard chuckled. “Last chance now. You can get dressed and leave if you have changed your mind. But once it begins, there is no going back”.
Rudolf nodded. “Go to it. Get it done”.
The blade hardly hurt as it cut deep and long from his wrist to inside his elbow. By the time the man was doing the same with the other wrist, blood was flowing freely into the bucket by his side. The four of them walked back a few paces, watching. When the girl began to chant again, Rudolf was already feeling cold and drowsy, and beginning to feel the sting of the long wounds. As he felt his vision began to fade into darkness, he called out to them.
“One question. What do you do with my body?”
The girl leaned over him, her whispering voice speaking close to his ear.
“Our bodies must be fed”.