Chapter 15: Needle Work
I am surprised you have rejected my offer so quickly. Is there really such interest in the staff? I beg you: allow me to take it to Ebertin. I think we can easily get 150 gold sols for the piece, and possibly as much as 200! As unique as it is, I do not think you will get such a good price from any of the others. All I ask is a negotiator's fee of twenty percent. If you agree, I will leave collateral.
Perhaps I am mistaken. Perhaps you wish to keep it for yourself. I understand if this is your desire. I will mention it to some most trusted friends, that we might discover who crafted it and for what purpose – unless you do you not want me to? I assure you my silence can be bought for a mere pittance.
I go to Ebertin in two days. Let me know how I may help you.
Theris of Falderfallen's Hovey
Days after he was bit, Fedring was feeling much better, thank you. His chest was still sore where the serpent bit him, and he still felt vulnerable. Yet, the wicked winged serpent no longer rifled through his darkest secrets. Despite anxiety that the beast might return and attack him again, he had not seen or heard any sign of the creature since that first day – and good riddance!
Yet, Fedring meant to extract revenge. Admittedly, he couldn't go after the beast, especially since he could not find it. But he had access to the witchdoctor that carried it.
Initially, Gliedian protected the shaman. For one, Gliedian was alway obstructive. But the native healer angered Celt with his refusal to teach a cure for the rot. Fedring convinced the ancestrian to petition Gliedian and demand the witchdoctor be punished. Now that the native was finished with his treatment of the strange Saot gentleman, Fedring had permission to do as he wished. For whatever reason, Gliedian was far more interested in the mystery Saot. Fedring was sure it had everything to do with the riders from Wibbeley. Perhaps he should talk to a few of his priestesses and see what they might learn from these messengers, but for now, he only cared about the witchdoctor.
Cairn came into the room with Krumpus in tow. The beefy guard placed Krumpus in his seat and stretched the witchdoctor's hands onto the table. It was the same room as before, only this time Cairn used the leather straps on the table to secure the witchdoctor's wrists.
As Cairn worked, Fedring spoke. "Ah, my dear man!" Fedring gushed at Krumpus. "I am told you are fresh from your work! I fear you need rest after such a long night, so I promise not to keep you long," Fedring sat across the table. He set a heavily padded bag between them, untied the bag, and poured out a stack of long, thin needles. "It is quite a thing that you should heal the rot of a stranger! You may have guessed he is no commoner. What do we care if some dolt dies of the rot?" Fedring forced a laugh. "My associates are convinced this man is a lord of some importance. I find it hard to tell with these Saots and their silly titles. Yet, there are many questions concerning his identity and motivations. He certainly had a fair amount of coin among his baggage! Now that he recovers, we shall have the opportunity to ask him! For that, the Empire thanks you!"
Fedring gave a slight bow. Krumpus did not reply.
"Still, I am disappointed. Why do you not teach our surgeons? You could save the lives of many if you'd only share your skills," Fedring shook his head in feigned disappointment. He reached for a needle and carefully pushed it into the knuckle of the shaman's thumb.
Krumpus tried to pull away but his hands were firmly caught in the leather rigging. The needle slid deep into his thumb, but surprisingly caused no pain.
"It saddens me to do this, but I am asked to teach you a lesson," Fedring said with an affected air. "If you will not be our friend, we must treat you as an enemy. If you refuse to give, the gods demand we take. Though we cannot take your knowledge, we can certainly take your skill," he said as he continued to place needles in the witchdoctor's hand.
Krumpus frowned. He had no idea what the Corpus Majoris was up to. He simply knew it would not be pleasant. He fidgeted and pulled against the straps on his hands. They did not budge. Silently, he prayed to the infinite powers. Whatever this punishment, he did not want it. He flexed and wiggled his fingers as he could.
"Now, now. We don't want to misplace a needle," The Majoris grinned. "It could be disastrous for you..." Fedring grabbed the shaman's hand and held it still as he placed the next needle. He pushed it ever so lightly into the knuckle of his peace finger.
Despite all the needles stuck in his hand, Krumpus felt no pain. Indeed, Krumpus wondered that his hand felt more alive than ever. He could feel the blood pulse through his fingers like never before. He was intrigued by the man's needle magic and wondered what sort of applications there might be for such work. At the same time, he worried. He did not believe Fedring meant to do him any good.
Fedring smiled. He knew what the shaman was experiencing. "I should like to leave you feeling so good, but alas, I cannot. The gods demand subservience. Yet, through your actions, you maintain that you are above us. If you will not treat with men loyal to the true gods, then the gods will have you punished." For a long second the Majoris paused. "Still, your hands..." Fedring shook his head as he caressed the witchdoctor's needled fingers. "They manage such magic! If you share even a bit of your skills, I will intercede on your behalf. I will beg for leniency. The gods will have it. They will listen to their most humble servant," Fedring feigned humility. "I am told you speak. I understand your words are rough, but I do not mind it. The gods often play such tricks. To give a man of noble mind a thick and garish tongue is just the sort of abuse we can expect from the gods. But you must speak. You must beg repentance. Beg me, good sir, and I will see that all is forgiven."
Krumpus said nothing. Although he feared what Fedring might do, he could not betray himself. He owed these criminals nothing as they continued to take and take – never to give.
For some time, Fedring stared at Krumpus. There were nine needles in the shaman's hand; two in each finger, and one in the thumb. With a heavy sigh, Fedring shook his head. "Tis a tragedy," He said and inserted a needle into the witchdoctor's wrist.
Suddenly, Krumpus could not feel his hand at all! He tried to wiggle his fingers, but he could not! There was no sensation and no control whatsoever!
"You begin to understand," Fedring wore a devious grin. "You see, we have magics of our own, and we can bless and curse a man accordingly." He began to pull the needles from the shaman's knuckles. One finger at a time, the shaman's hand curled into a claw, unfeeling and unmoving. "You have nothing to blame but your own selfishness. It is too late to teach our surgeons to heal the rot. Yet, you have another hand and we might save it! But you must give us something! It must be of equal value!" Fedring leaned in close, his eyes agleam. Excitedly, he whispered, "You must tell us how you brought your staff to life!"
Krumpus was puzzled by the question. His staff? It took him a second to remember the serpent wrapped about it. The Majoris referred to Meu! Krumpus wondered what must have happened between the two.
The baradha pulled the needle from the shaman's wrist. Pain surged through his hand. Krumpus gasped and pulled heavily against the restraint. With a cruel laugh, Fedring freed the hand. Krumpus pulled his fist to his chest. An astonishing pain surged up his arm and brought tears to his eyes. He tried to flex his fingers, but he could not. Indeed, the very bones ached!
As the shaman cringed, Fedring leaned forward and whispered to Krumpus once more. "You are a magic man, of that there is no doubt. I should like to think we are equals, but your staff has taken from me. It took a good deal of my secrets. Indeed, I feel quite exposed, so much so, that I fear I am actually at a disadvantage. For that, I take your hand. Now, I consider us even." Fedring shook his head. "But I am not one to be even, not with a fool that refuses to treat with me! So I give you another chance. I give you a chance before I reduce you once more! Tell me how you brought that snake to life!" He snarled.
Krumpus didn't know what to make of this. Obviously, something had happened, something involving Meu. He wondered what it could be. Did she survive? Was she about? Still, Krumpus refused to speak. He refused to let this man hear his tortured voice. Through his tears, Krumpus glared at Fedring.
"Do you not understand the mercy I offer? Justice demands I take and take until you are willing to give! This is the law of the gods! Yet, I beg you, tell me of your magics and I will harm you no more! Keep your tongue and I will silence your hands as well!" Fedring yelled. He grabbed Krumpus by the jaw and squeezed, as if he could force words from the witchdoctor's lips. "This is a magic I have long sought; to bring a mundane thing to life! And you have done it with such style! Now you must tell me, how have you managed it?!"
Krumpus would not answer. In a fury, Fedring placed needles in the witchdoctor's good hand. Krumpus refused to look at the man as he proceeded with his magic. To no avail, he struggled against the restraint.
"Perhaps I give you too much credit," Fedring suggested. "Who is to say you know anything? Just because you possessed the staff does not mean you crafted it. So tell me. Tell me it is not yours. Tell me who you stole it from. Tell me who has the answers I seek!" Fedring slammed his hands on the table. "Tell me this, or tell me how you managed to animate it! In what way did you imbue it with life force? How is this done?!"
Krumpus turned to Fedring in confused amazement. The baradha seemed convinced Meu was an automaton, a mere construct? Yet Krumpus told the man at the very beginning that she was a wyrm! The truth was already known! The creature was born to life!
Yet, Krumpus knew this type of man. Dark magicians often attempted to imbue life into mundane things. They patched their works together in hopes of automatons, golems, and simulacra. Yes, they might make a thing stand, or walk, or some set of rudimentary tricks. But they could not give a thing proper life. They could not imbue it to make choices. They had eyes but could not see the life lived by the elements. They did not understand that lesser things already had an essence: a lesser life for a lesser thing. It was not possible to force a greater consciousness on mundane matter just as it is not possible to force a greater consciousness on mundane men! Krumpus knew the truth of it. There was one way for a man to grant life on his own scale, and it took a woman to do it! All other attempts were futile and naive.
Krumpus stared at Fedring. He knew he could give no satisfactory answer to the Ministrian. Instead of replying, he tried to extend the digits of his mangled hand. The punishment would come, he could not stop it. Instead, he'd work to cure it. Pain burned through the extremity. It felt as if the bones of his fingers might rip through his skin if he insist they straighten. He could not stop the tears from his eyes as he persisted in his effort.
"You do not answer?" Fedring glared.
Krumpus turned to the Corpus Majoris and let his contempt for the man shine through as he said one word with his garish tongue. "Wurm."
For several seconds Fedring stared at the shaman as he tried to decipher the word. Finally, he remembered the word Krumpus wrote days before. "Wyrm," Fedring repeated as hate and frustration filled his eyes. "I wish to share magics with you, to treat you as an equal, but you think this is a joke! You defy and humiliate me with a children's story?! There is no such creature or I would know it!" Fedring roared.
The Corpus Majoris pinched the bridge of his nose.
"Somehow, though you be the one in prison, you aim to be above me. You lack respect! Yet, I ask again – no – I beg you! What magics do you use?!"
Krumpus shook his head and gave a shrug. If the man would not believe the truth, what convincing lie might he tell? Fedring grabbed the shaman's hand. Krumpus attempted to pull away. He struggled with the restraints and the fat man's grasp. Fedring placed the tenth needle in the shaman's wrist. The hand went numb.
"You pain me greatly and I return the favor," Fedring said with a satisfied smile. He pulled the nine needles from the shaman's knuckles and each finger curled in turn. Fedring pulled the needle from the shaman's wrist.
Pain shot through his balled hand and up his arm. Krumpus did not pass out. Not quite. Instead he groaned.
"What is that?" Fedring grabbed the shaman's chin. "Now you wish to speak?"
Krumpus attempted to shake his head from the baradha's grip. When he couldn't, he stuck his tongue out at the man and showed the lumpish mass of scars and ancient pains. Did Fedring think this was the only time Krumpus had ever suffered? Did he think this was the worst of the shaman's torments?
Fedring pulled away from the thick scarred tongue and all it implied. "Perhaps I am not the first to try and silence you," Fedring smirked. "Do not think this pleases me. Do not think I take comfort in destroying you. You are obviously a man of power, a man of cunning wisdom. There is much we could share with each other. But if you will not share, if you insist on keeping secrets, well, I must assume you do not care for the proper gods and their elect!"
Fedring undid the restraint on the shaman's left hand. Krumpus pulled his fist to his chest. It was the only thing he could to do lessen the pain.
"I have taken your hands. There is still your life to consider. Dwell on that," Fedring turned to Cairn. "Put him back in his cell."
With a snort, Cairn lifted Krumpus to his feet.
"One last thing, my dear man," Fedring began.
Krumpus turned to the Majoris.
"Not you, you heathen." Fedring sneered. He turned to Cairn. "Bring his possessions to my apartments. I shall want another look at them."
"Most immediately,' Cairn agreed.
"And finally, this..." Fedring smiled as he pulled a gold medallion from his robes and held it to Cairn.
"A seal of the disciple?" Cairn leered at the Majoris. "And which of the priesthood would you have me discipline, your lordship?"
"You know one named Wenifas?"
"I've known her once or twice," Cairn shrugged. "She is pretty enough, though a bit soft and timid for my taste."
Fedring leaned forward. "She is off the flower. The Empire needs more soldiers of your stature."
"I shall like to have her with a seal at the door," Cairn grinned at Fedring.
Fedring knew Cairn preferred his women with a seal at the door. It was the reason he liked Cairn. Fedring smiled at the guard. "You'll do a right proper job of it, I am sure."
"And what am I to tell her?"
"Tell her nothing. She will know what she has done," Fedring said.
Cairn hooted as he lifted Krumpus from his chair. "Come you!" He yelled at the Trohl. "I have matters to attend!"
Krumpus limped through the halls of the tower. He only bothered to walk because he believed Cairn would drag him if given the chance. Cairn opened the door to the cell. The Saot was gone. The guard pushed Krumpus into the cell and the shaman sprawled in the dirt.
Cairn snorted from the door. "So you healed a sick man," he chortled. "We make 'em sick everyday! We kill 'em by the village and barely blink as we do it!" With that, he slammed the door.
With tears in his eyes, Krumpus sat on the floor and mourned the state of his hands.