On This Day
By R.R. Wolfgang
Here I sit, quill in hand, and I am aware. I feel at peace. I feel everything. The quill is light in my hand, its feather soft against my cheek. As I write, I feel and hear the scratch of the nib against the parchment. I feel the smudges of ink drying on my fingers. I feel the breeze drifting through the window, and close my eyes. For a moment – just a moment – I almost forget there are bars in the window, casting long shadows on the solid dusty granite floor of my cell.
Still, today, I tell myself I do not see the bars. Today, I feel the pen in my hand and know that soon I will be free.
Of course, I could write these words with a thought, a whisper or thrill of my mind, but then I would not feel the lightness of the quill or the dry parchment. I would feel nothing. Still, a voice in my head rages at this mundanity. It rages at my fate.
I am, after all, Queen Syrices. I have a myriad of other names, of course. The Dread Queen, Dark Queen, Queen of Shadows, and of course, the Deathspeaker. The list of my pseudonyms was read aloud at the Grand Hearing, along with the list of my alleged crimes. Some charges were fair. Perhaps even just. I could deny the charges, like so many do, with their dying breath crying their innocence. But I know who I am. I know what I am, and I know what I have done.
. That was the first of my charges, and the most egregious, according to the laws and customs of this land. Of my land. I cringe to even write the word. It haunts me. I did not speak the word that ended my sister’s life, as I was accused. But I might as well have, for I did not speak the word that would have saved her. I saw her death in my dreams, as true a dream as I ever had, but I said nothing. I did nothing. And in my inaction, I condemned her to a death both long and painful.
As an apprentice in the Arts, I was taught the same rules as my brothers and sisters at the Academy. There is no greater power than to know what the future holds. To know what is to come, what will be or what may be, to hold a person’s life in your hands – there is great power and great responsibility. For every vision a wizard sees, the wizard has a choice – to pluck from that vision the truth and to give the subjects of the vision a chance to change their fate, or to follow the darker path. The path of inaction – to see a death and do nothing. That is murder, according to the laws of my people. By those laws, I might as well have cast the ill-fated spell that ended my sister’s life.
Of course, my guilt in her murder is relative. While I did not speak the word that killed my sister, I can truly say that if given the chance, I would have. I would have weaved a spell of such agony and treachery, she would have been days dying, not mere hours. Dear Cherys, she would experience the sorrow, helplessness and rage I felt as I watched my beloved people die. The people she had condemned to death, for nothing more than a title, a ruined building and a silver circlet. I would have killed her with my own hands, if given the chance. I would have reveled in the warmth of her blood running down my hands, staining my gown.
But that opportunity never surfaced. Years went by, and not once did she send a message, magical or otherwise. I glimpsed her in my dreams at times, the only magic that she allowed me to keep. And eventually, my anger diminished and I felt sorrow at her death.
Regicide. That is another of my charges. Did I slay King Gerad? Yes. Yes. Many times yes. And with great pleasure. I killed the ignorant pig, and his cousin, and even his wretched mother. I spoke the words, the Words of Death, in plain view of my hand-maids, the cooks, and the guards. Even the stable boy probably heard me through the window overlooking the common yard.
Yet not one of those souls did anything to stop me. It took three breaths to chant the full Words of Death, and not one soldier raised a sword, not one laid a hand on me, or shouted a word of interruption. Perhaps they, like the king, did not realize my magic had returned. Or, perhaps the rumors of my magic had spread to them and they feared me. I like to believe they, too, felt relief when that man and his pitiful family choked on their expensive wine, and died in a pool of their own vomit and blood.
By that act, I bound myself to this fate. The fate of all magic-wielders in these dark times. Some say the king looked beyond the dark stain of magic when he chose me as his queen. I know for a fact, however, that he chose me after looking upon my visage in the scrying pool of a hedge witch. A witch he later had murdered for the crime of using magic. I was fated to be his queen, she had told him. The most beautiful woman in all the lands. I like to believe this hedge witch had seen her own death. That somehow, she believed that by sending King Gerad to me, she was sending him to his own death.
Of course, King Gerad began his courtship quite politely by asking for my hand in marriage. But his reputation as a mage-slayer proceeded him and I refused. I knew him to be a tyrant who used his magicians for his own ends, and killed all those who would not bow to him.
Somehow, each refusal made me all the more enticing. I captivated him. Perhaps I was that obstinate nag that needed to be broken. Perhaps he was simply curious to see if he could deceive the High Sorceress, rumored to be the most powerful wizard in the whole of the Thirteen Lands. To this day, I do not know what he hoped to achieve. Any soothsayer he hired no doubt told him of the many weavings this future would hold.
Yet when King Gerad came humbly into my throne room, and kneeled before me and the council of wizards, something seemed changed. When he presented that ring to me, all those years ago – oh, how it sang to me! Such a bittersweet tune. And the auras weaved such an intricate net, veins of silver and gold twisted together around the most brilliant ruby I had ever seen. I was instantly intrigued. More than intrigued – I was enchanted. I had never seen a magic quite like it. To this day, I do not know how my sister managed that spell. She could not have been alone – how many of my brethren, my sisters, how many conspired with her? I asked that question many times over the years, and I cannot fathom the answer. What did the king promise them? Riches, power? Or, more likely, that he would free their beloved from captivity?
Still, when he gave me the opportunity to try the ring, I could not resist it. Every fiber in my being screamed a warning, but how could it possibly be a threat to me? There I stood, in the middle of the Wizard’s Hold, dozens of wizards, witches and sorcerers there to come to my aid. What hurt could possibly come from trying on one tiny ring, just to feel and explore whatever magic it might have held?
But as soon as that ring was on my finger, I was powerless to remove it. Nor could I use my magic to stop what happened next. I watched, helplessly, as King Gerad’s men and his own wizards destroyed everything I loved and held dear. I, the High Sorceress of the Wizard’s Hold, watched my Hold, my Alabaster Tower destroyed. My sister, Cherys, was paid her fee and rose in my place as the High Sorceress of the Wizard’s Hold, and the few wizards and witches remaining. To this day, I do not know if they rebuilt my Alabaster Tower.
After that day, I became the king’s prisoner. Later, his captive queen.
Of my many sins, no doubt you wonder if I regret the murder of my King? He brought ruin down on everyone I held dear and opened my eyes to the pleasure in the world of darkness.
So, my answer is no. Even at the brink of peace, I do not regret killing that man. I remember it with glee. Many of my wizards looked to me, waiting for me to speak a Word that would save them, but I found I had no voice to speak. If I had been able to undo that spell, well, the king would have been dead sooner, and I would have more friends in this world. But I could not undo that spell, try as I might. In the end, it was through the king’s own folly I escaped my bonds, not through any craft on my part. He became wary of the empire my sister was slowly rebuilding and sent for her death. I could have told him of the consequence of his actions, but I did not. I rejoiced when I dreamed my dream, and planned my revenge. Had he truly expected the bond to hold, after the sorceress who cast the spell died, taking all her magic with her? Did he really, after all these years, know so little of magic? Or did he tire of life?
Do I regret what I did afterward? Yes. I suppose I do. That charge brings a new sorrow, a new guilt. I cannot explain my actions, any more than I cannot excuse them. With my eyes open as they are now, I can only say that this last charge – this I do regret.
Tyranny. When King Gerad’s guards fell to their knees and swore allegiance to me, I cannot explain the darkness that filled my soul. Here were my captors, either silent observers in my abuse, or men who spat on my skirts when the king was not looking. These people had brought sorcerers and witches to the common hall and made me watch as they tortured and murdered them. And now, bowed at my feet, they expected mercy?
I granted no mercy that day. I heard the tales and whispers around the city and the countryside. I knew it was called the Red Day. They say I made a crown from the teeth of my victims and a bodice from the skins of the guards. That on that day, the blood of my enemies came to my hips, and I drank from the bitter pool. Those are crude, silly lies. I did no such thing. There was nothing left of the men and women I killed. Nor did I bathe in nor drink the blood of my vanquished enemies.
Their deaths were quick and hollow, those guards and maidens who laughed and threw food at my fallen brethren. At the time, I thought I relished each kill. In truth, I was no more happy when I went to bed that night, surrounded by my new guards, and my loyal handmaidens. My sleep was fitful, but I awoke and my rage was still unquenched. I sent my men, sworn by magic and true to my soul, out with warrants for all the lords and ladies loyal to my dead husband. Oh, my men were fast. They beat the horses of all the other rumor-mongers.
When the lords and ladies arrived, expecting a fine ball in honor of the king’s anniversary, how surprised they were! I alone greeted them, on my new alabaster throne, surrounded by unfamiliar faces.
I lined the walls of the castle with their corpses, of course. As anyone who reads this little missive already knows. Contrary to popular opinion, I did not kill the pregnant mothers or babes. No, only those of age were on the end of my Word.
I think it was years before my rage subsided. My handmaiden, my closest confidante, she warned me I was becoming soft. That my softness was a weakness in this world, but I do not believe that is so. I suppose my end began when I remembered my Master’s voice once more, telling me of the Rules of Magic. When the memory of the screams of my friends dying slowly became mere echoes. When I no longer saw their blood on the walls every time I closed my eyes. Only then could I begin to remember what it was to have friends. To love. To feel the joy of life.
If that is a weakness, I am glad I weakened. I am glad that I no longer wake up each morning, wondering whose death will be on my conscience by the day’s end. This morning, I woke up before the sun and felt relief for the first time in a decade.
Ah, there is the gentle tap at my door. Dear, timid Arcimen has come for me. As he promised, he has brought me my judgment. A small vial of simple crystal resting on a velvet pillow. He also brought a chalice filled with the Akiarian wine I so adored while I ruled as the Dread Queen. Dear boy. So brave, but I could see his hand shake as I reached towards him. I took the vial but waved away the wine. I saw no purpose in ruining such a lovely wine with the bitterness of this foul cocktail. I uncorked the vial and downed the liquid with one drought.
As Arcimen promised, I feel it working immediately. Gratefully, he relieves me of the vial and backs carefully out of my cell, locking it firmly behind him. I cannot help but smile. Even today, I am feared, in a cell, in the highest tower, engraved with magic solely intended to keep me inside. But that does not bother me. Not today.
I fear that I must lay down soon. The quill grows so heavy in my hand, but that is of no matter. In writing this simple missive, I have but one simple wish.
Know this, dear Reader – on this day, I, Syrices, the Deathspeaker, will finally be free.