The Sweet Smell of Success

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Fantasy  |  House: Booksie Classic

Submitted: August 04, 2019

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Submitted: August 04, 2019

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The Sweet Smell of Success

By Kenneth Earl Adams

 The wizard stood in the center of his lab and looked around with some appreciation. After a long, quiet morning he’d finally completed his inventory and general straightening of his storeroom. Now everything was in its proper place, and he’d found exactly what ingredients he had, and what he needed to replace.

 He practiced an old magic, considered Wizardry now but once thought simple alchemy – the mixing of various herbs, roots and substances to affect change. Little use during his adventuring youth, but of much use as a shopkeeper in the Capitol. Now if he only had some…

…customers!

He took a moment to grab his second-best cloak and pointy hat (people expected the look as well as the merchandise he provided – sales dropped by half if he didn’t look the part!) and stepped into his storefront, chanting in a low growl “And what can the magic of the Ancients provide this seeker today?”

Unknown to the visitors, the doorbell pull not only rang the bell but dropped small nuggets of specially-created incense into small braziers strategically placed around the storefront.  These had a marvelous effect on customers – one which the wizard had purposefully made himself immune.

The visitors looked around the shop in awe, taking in the room, the floor covered in some kind of parchment, shelves filled unrecognizable items in jars, smoke rising from bubbling flasks, shadows hinting at more – and the proprietor himself who appeared powerful and imposing, and growing more so by the minute.

He looked over these customers – too old to be ‘dared’ into visiting the shop, dressed well enough to afford his services but having a sheltered upbringing that lent mystery to his services and wares. “Proper customers, then” he thought - their clothes well-made, nails done in a broad range of colors, necklaces and collars bejeweled.

Addressing the lone female of the group and recognizing her as the buyer and the others as guards or confidants (by size if nothing else), he murmured “What is your pleasure, madam?” in soft, low tones.

Hearing the words but now fully affected by the swirling incense fumes, the woman involuntarily took a step back as this powerful, virile and dangerous demigod before her bellowed at her retinue with controlled power. Noting that her guards were trembling and her younger brother had apparently wet himself, she swallowed and stepped forwards “I am…”

“I do not need your name, madam”, whispered the wizard, recognizing that the ‘magic’ had taken hold. “I ask only what it is you seek”, giving a small grin at the spectacle before him.

The visitors fell to the ground in abject abasement and terror at having dared to violate the sanctity of this…the glorious and infernal representative of higher and lower powers beyond the knowledge of mortals…with her eyes attempting to roll back into her head, she said shakily “…knowledge of the future, Dread one…”

The wizard thought “You shouldn’t have grinned like an Apprentice, you old fool!”, as he stepped on a pedal hidden behind the counter where he stood, allowing vents to open in the room. He felt the gentle breeze, and noted his visitors shivering in what they felt to be arctic blasts of cold. “Dangerous magic you ask for, young one. Both to the procurer, and to the one who receives such knowledge. What can you possibly offer that would be worthy of such knowledge?” he whispered.

One guard passed out, his eyes glazed and tongue lolling from his slack-jawed mouth. The young lady, shivering with blue lips and chattering teeth, croaked out “Gggggold, gggems…rare herbs andddd… pppplants ggggathered for You…”. The room began to warm with the breeze, and the visitors felt less cold and fearful as  the breeze lessened the incense fumes. Emboldened, the lady continued “…a book, procured from faraway lands that supposedly tells of their magical methods, bones from mystical creatures, slaves, servants…our great House needs your help, Milord – and will give you all this, and more if needed”.

The visitors had stopped shivering now, eyes downcast, but still maintained their positions groveling on the floor of the store, not daring to look at the wizard.

The wizard, meanwhile, was trying to make sense of this price being offered. Under the spell of the incense he could wring nearly any price from a customer – but never before had he thought to ask for one as steep as the one being offered now. It did no good to beggar a shopper – they’d resent it and never return, and return business was profitable business. But this price was suspiciously high…and therefore suspect. He thought “Either they believed they could kill me and get the price back, or they were, as they said, desperately in need. Probably both.”

“Very well” he whispered. “The Augur-Price is… acceptable. I do possess a way to show you – JUST you – some glimpse of the future. But know this; the future is unwritten. The vision you see may not come to pass, or may do so only because you saw it and made it occur, good or ill. Many have been driven mad attempting to even understand what it was they saw, and how they might bring about the vision or prevent it entirely. I cannot help you beyond making the vision possible. If you understand and agree, I will require your payment – the gold, gems, herbs, plants, the book you mention, the bones – and one member of your House to serve me here, none of your slave dogs or servants, but a recognized House member by Blood.”

By this time, the younger brother has passed out in his own puddle, the long speech from the Wizard reverberating through his body as though the earth itself was speaking.  The lady, tears rolling down her face and adding to the general liquid pool being absorbed by the parchment on the floor at the store entrance, shrieked her agreement and fell unconscious.

#

She awoke seated in the store, alone. She recognized it was day, based on the light streaming through the windows – but was unable to reconcile the room she now saw with where she was ‘earlier’. “How long ago was it?”, she thought.

The room appeared…similar but different – airy, more light, less forbidding and shadowy. The shelves still had indefinable things in them (Were the contents of that jar moving?), but it almost felt like a foreign grocery, not the lair of a demonic…

“Feeling better, are we?” boomed a voice from across the room, startling her. She looked behind the counter and squinted, having a feeling she knew the elder in front of her, but no idea how or where. Such unkempt hair and such a… feral …look in his eyes would have been most memorable, she thought.

“I am, thank you. Where is the rest of my party?” she asked, curious. She hoped the Being she had met originally had not eaten them out of hand.

“They’re fine, all fine. They’re coming to just outside the door. You still wish to see the future, knowing the Price agreed and what may, or may not, occur?” he asked amiably.

“I do; I must. My House…”

“Yes, yes” he cut her off, “Very important, I’m sure. The Augury is ready, as soon as the payment arrives.”

“About the payment…”

He frowned. “Here it comes”, he muttered.

“All the payment agreed is waiting outside under guard. Except the last, a member of the House. I...” she faltered for a moment, at a loss to go on. “I need to know more.”

“Need? More? What else is there?! You agreed on the price; bringing the Master back to renegotiate would almost certainly be… most unpleasant. The last time someone wanted to do that, it took me three days to properly clean the ceiling from where… ”

“No, no! Please don’t misunderstand, I beg you! I do not wish to renegotiate! I ask only because I would know… what will happen to whoever is provided… will they be…”

“What, injured? Sold? Become a mindless minion performing horrific tasks at the behest of the Master? All possible, I’m afraid”. He took a deep breath as she shuddered in apprehension. “Look – it needs to be a member of your House by blood; no servants or slaves substituting. The Master will know if he’s cheated – and no one has before been foolish enough to try. Male or female, no deformities, preferably a virgin and youthful, no criminal tendencies…”

“Criminal?! Why should that matter? Not that our House has any such…”

“Yes, yes, you’re all kind and good, no better companions – and yet you desperately have need to know the future, eh? Stop interrupting; most of all, they should be intelligent. Do you have a House member like this?” he asked.

“We have several – I am one, as is my brother. But I cannot condemn either of us to your… Master’s …mercies on my own! I must speak with the head of our House, confer…”

“No.”

“What?”

“No. If you have come to make the offer, you have the authority to set the Price. If you did not have the authority, then – renegotiation must occur. Most likely with your next-of-kin, I’m afraid.”

“But, I...”

“No – choose now; you or your brother? You are both virgins?”

“How DARE you address me…”, she stood and took a step towards the counter, noting the room becoming darker as she approached, the wizard turning an unseen dial behind the counter.

“How dare I? Yes, yes, quite impertinent I am. I’ll let you talk to the Master now then, and meanwhile I’ll go get the mops…”.

“Wait… please”. She stepped back to the chair as the room lightened, and noticeably reassessed the situation. “To my knowledge, yes, we’re both virgins. Without blemish in body or mind. Our tutors have said I was slightly ahead of my brother, when I was his age. I cannot offer my brother’s service in good conscience – so I offer myself”.

As she finished the sentence, the Wizard secretly pressed a button behind the counter and the room grew very bright, then dimmed again. “I see. Please have your guards bring in the rest of goods”.

The Lady crossed to the door, opened it and saw her pack of guards looking much as they had upon arrival, just a bit groggy. “Bring the items in”, she barked. She then approached her brother, looked him in the eye, and said “We must speak”.

“Uhhh…” he replied, not fully aware yet.

“Look at me! I don’t know what else to do! I have… entered the service of the Wizard and his Master. I don’t know what that means to me, much less the House – but Father must know the arrangement, and that I paid this price willingly. You’ll also have to take the results of the Augury back – I don’t think my leash will be long enough to make the trip”.

 Behind her, four slaves, muscled and oiled, jeweled pectorals and collars gleaming in the sun, bore a chest into the store, while another carried a small chest of precious gems.

“Princess, you cannot…”

“Shh, you fool! Don’t call me that here! I can, I have, and neither of us can do anything about it. I’m chained to the Wizard now”. She paused, and looked sidewise to her brother, and murmured “I don’t want to think about what might happen if I try to back out now.”

“I...I understand, I think. I don’t know what that was in there, but I’d rather not meet it again. What happens now?”

“Come with me, and let’s find out”.

They stood, waiting, while the slaves took in bales of herbs and plants, a large bag of bones, and finally the book none of them could read or wanted to even open. Who knew what sort of curse might be stored inside?

Once the door cleared and she had gathered her entourage, she explained as best she could what had happened, and that she would be staying, her brother requiring their service and support going forward. She told them to stay and wait, and entered the store again with her brother close behind.

“Good, you’re back. The Augur-Price thus far is acceptable. Allow me to show you to the waiting area, and the room we’ll be using for your Augury”, said the Wizard in a jovial voice.

The siblings followed him downstairs to a plain small room, which had a comfortable chair, a bottle of something cold, and some sweetmeats. “Wait here, please, sir. These viewings usually don’t take very long”, he told the young man. He walked in and, with a quick look to his sister, sat down and tried the samples while pouring a small glass of what appeared to wine.

Closing the door, the Wizard directed the young lady to another room, this one containing a low couch. “Lay there, and make yourself comfortable”, said the Wizard. “I’ll need to set up a few more things, and check on your brother”.

The Lady walked around the couch then laid down and tried to relax. She noted the ceiling was tiled in intricate patterns, her eyes darting from one to the next in an unending sequence… went the door, and a delicate aroma of spring came to her – fresh grass, sunshine and rain – and she felt herself fall helplessly asleep.

The Wizard watched her pass out, then dropped a second incense nugget into the pot, whose smoke wafted into her room. That done, he headed back to the Prince.

“These children thought themselves so clever, so careful”, thought the Wizard. As if he would not recognize the children of the oldest House in the city? Chuckling to himself, he entered the room, noted the drugged Prince semi-aware in the chair and moved the small table out of reach. Then he dragged a wooden chair into the room near the boy and sat down.

“Prince, do you hear me?”

“What did you do to me?” the Prince slurred. His body felt very heavy and uncoordinated, but his mind only slightly slowed – and he was currently thinking as best he could about how to get out of this situation, and what horrors were being inflicted on his sister.

“You have been given a small dose of a paralytic; the effect will soon pass and you’ll be back to whatever passes for normal. First, let me reassure you; I’ll not harm you, nor your sister. She is currently experiencing her vision of the future, for good or ill. But you and I need to have a chat, and one that doesn’t include you trying to be unnecessarily heroic.

Prince, you might not have been aware at the time, but one of the provisions required for the Augury was the service of a member of your House, related by Blood. Do you know of this?”

“My sisterrr” he mumbled, “said she was…chained to yoooou. Why are yoooou dooooing thiss?”

“Princess made a choice; a choice that she would be the House member to offer service, and not you. Do you know why she did this?”

The Prince tried to shake his head but couldn’t. The Wizard kept talking.

“I believe she did this to protect you, the younger sibling and first-born male child in the House, the heir. I am interested to know what YOU would have decided, had the choice been given to you”.

The Prince felt some of lethargy leave him, and was a bit clearer in both mind and body. “How can I decide? ‘Should something horrible happen to me, or to my sister?’ That is no choice.”

“An honorable answer. But what if – what if the service was NOT some horrible-fate-worse-than-death? As you have said, you know nothing of the nature of the service being required. What if, in fact, you were to be given power and glory beyond the reach of the great Houses themselves? Would you see yourself in such a position, or your sister in your stead?”

The Prince closed his eyes, and considered. Then opened them, eyes brimming, and said “I love my sister, and my family. But I’d not… want her …in such a position. As the eldest child in the House, she has some small power and she doesn’t always use it wisely”.

“Who does, Prince? Who can be trusted with power to always use it wisely?”

“My father, for one – he’s the best Head of House…”

“Yes, yes, we can discuss your hero-worship another time. Why do you say this about your sister?”

Stung, the boy answered quietly “Father told me a short time ago that she handled her authority like a whip, and authority should be like scabbarded sword; seen but not felt, respected without drawing blood. I spent a long time trying to decide what my Father meant, and watched and listened more closely to how my sister spoke to servants, slaves or even friends from smaller Houses. I’d not want to be in a place where she had great power”.

“Interesting. Prince, I’d like you to enter service, rather than your sister. If you agree, your first task will be to release Princess from her vision, and send her home”.

“May I ask, O great Wizard, what ‘service’ will entail?”

“First, flattery and sarcasm will not get you anywhere with me, although I’m sure we’ll find a use for it. As for what your service will entail – all I’ll tell you is somewhere between the fate-worse-than-death and the power-and-glory examples we’ve discussed. What is your choice?”

“There is no choice – I’d not want her harmed, and not wish her to have more power than she does now. I enter your service, willingly”.

“Excellent! You begin immediately – let’s end your sister’s vision and send her on her way. You can stand now?”

The Prince stood, shakily but with increased confidence. “Yes, I’m alright. What must we do?”

“Follow me, Rex. Or should I say, Theodoplis Primo Rex.”

Shocked, he walked behind the Wizard. “How do you know my name, my real name?”

With a chuckle, the Wizard replied “I’d not be much of a Wizard if I couldn’t sniff out a few secrets, eh? Besides, I can’t exactly call you ‘Prince’, that’s not seemly for a Wizard and Apprentice, I’d get laughed out of the Guild.”

“Apprentice?!”

“Of course! What other service might I need?”

“Well… a sacrifice, a servant, a slave… a bed-warmer…”

“Bah! It’s another reason why I didn’t want your sister; first thing everyone – including your Father, I might add – would think is that I’d have her here as that sort of slave, and then they’d mount some kind of rescue to save her. Similar to the attack planned to retrieve the gold and gems once you’re gone, I imagine”, he said with a sideways look to his new apprentice.

“I… I… don’t know anything about that.”

“Really? Quite obvious, actually. Overpayment of the Augur-Price, daughter willing to submit to a fate-worse-than-death knowing she’ll be freed soon – kind of clumsy, really. But with the first-born son as apprentice instead, the House will dare not attack and risk injuring you. Hmmm, as it is, they’ll need a reminder of the Master’s power”, he said absently.

“But you can’t! That’s my family you’re talking about!”

“Look, several things you need to learn. Your family has both narrowed and expanded: it encompasses all of our people and the Guild, and specifically myself and any other apprentices. We are your immediate family. However, don’t worry – it doesn’t do to kill or maim our best customers. Not all reminders need to involve bloodshed”.

He handed Rex a small vial, and a nut made of crushed plant material – incense.

“This is how we’ll start. The first thing we need to do is make you immune to most of our magic. Sniff from the vial, please – it won’t hurt”.

Rex pocketed the nut, opened the vial and sniffed – it was like nothing he’d smelled before; he later described the scent as a dirty sock trapped under cow manure wrapped in broccoli and lavender. What he noticed most is what happened next – the world seemed plainer, more browns and grays. Colors faded, sounds were less distinct and scents – scents went away completely. He nearly dropped the vial when he realized all that had disappeared.

“Don’t worry, the effect is temporary, and you will get used to it. It’s necessary to keep the ‘spells’ from affecting you as well as the clients. Now here is Princess’ room.” He pointed to a small opening near the door in the wall itself. “This slot opens above a small brazier; its smoke is affecting your sister and giving her the vision your House seeks. Drop the nut in the slot, and your sister will begin to come out of the spell.”

Dutifully, Rex placed the nut in the slot and faintly heard it land in the brazier on the other side of the wall. He turned to address the Wizard – and saw him with new eyes. Older than he originally appeared, grey hair on his head and face, and walked with a slight limp. Even so, he sensed the wisdom and authority from the Wizard on a deeper level than he had before.

“May I speak with her, sir? And explain?”

“Of course! It’ll be necessary, otherwise she’ll never leave. Give her another moment for the vision to end – always dicey approaching someone under the effects of an Augury, no telling what they’ll think you are, good way to get killed. Or become a father, so I’ve heard”, he chuckled.

Rex swallowed hard, then opened the locked door and entered, the Wizard coming in slowly behind him. Princess was muttering, which became more intelligible as he approached.

“…the wind; the wind brings rain and then, the song! And the red birds will come from the East…of course, yes!” She sat up with a start, finally focusing enough to recognize her brother.  “Prin…come along my brother, I must pass this news to Father, and then… return to the Wizard and start my… service”, this last muttered with an odd look to the Wizard.

“No”, said Rex. “Take the vision to Father, and let him know I’ll be staying here.”

“What?! No, you can’t! You don’t understand! I already agreed…”

The Wizard spoke up. “You agreed, yes, but your offer was not accepted by the Master and therefore not yet binding. Rex’s offer was accepted while you had your vision. However, your understanding of that vision has a time limit; you should hurry back to your House if you wish to impart the information you have gained”.

“No! I WILL NOT allow this!” she snapped.

Rex saw his sister with new eyes – thin build, bright eyes, and a nervous, high-strung manner he’d always associated with blueblood pure-bred ladies at court. Odd he’d never noticed that about her before. He saw the hackles rise on the Wizard, and spied the surreptitious toss of a small bundle of something onto a brazier while the Wizard flailed his arms. “You…‘Will Not’?!?” he sputtered. “Your desires mean nothing! How dare you bark at me in that manner!” He had started speaking at a near yell, but ended barely above a whisper, his tone lowering at the same time as his sister’s attitude drained from her like wine from a broken cask. She was all but shivering by the time he finished.

“Dread one! I didn’t know! I…”

“I dare say you did know. Your attitude is unseemly, and your delay could be costly,” the Wizard whispered. While Princess groveled on the ground in front of the Wizard, Rex’s jaw dropped at the spectacle. What did the Wizard DO to her? “Go now, lest I remove the vision from you completely” he intoned.

Princess shot upright and ran to the door, stumbling and muttering her thanks and relief, while the Wizard and Apprentice followed. The Wizard pressed a small stone near the door, and water emptied on the brazier, stifling the smoke as they left.

The Wizard directed Princess to the door in the front of the store, and she left without so much as a glance at her brother and was gone.

#

No attack ever came, the store and the Wizard were left unmolested. Over many months, the Wizard taught Rex the makings of spells, the gathering of ingredients, how to deal with customers and allowed him his mistakes and used them as learning opportunities. Soon, Rex grew used to making himself immune to magic, and the dryness of his nose was an accepted and welcome consequence of the power and authority of Wizardship. He learned which herbs caused the visions, which ones caused fear and respect, which of the great Houses would be affected more by herbs, or by images, or foods, or combinations of items.

And in time, with great respect and not a small amount of emotion, Rex buried the great Wizard and former adventurer he knew as Rauver.  

And the day came when there were new visitors in the store, and Rex wondered what litter of pups would visit, would the papers on the floor at the door need replacing after they met ‘The Master’, and what Rauver would think of the staged play about to unfold.

And he smiled at the thought, watched the smoke stream from the braziers in the storefront and circulate through the room, adjusted his second best cloak and hat, and wondered what breeds the visitors would be today.


© Copyright 2020 Kenneth Earl Adams. All rights reserved.

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