The 13th Stone

Rough draft snippet from a story I’ve been throwing around a bit, expanding off my short story Simmon.

The are was crisp against his skin as Simmon stepped out into the morning.  The sky looked especially blue today, most likely on account of the weeks of grey and wet Albany had endured recently.

His horse was waiting for him in the stables.  Sword and shield were expertly slung on the saddle.  

“Thank you Westley,” Simmon said to his squire as he took the reigns.  “Well done as always.”

“Thank you my Lord.  Safe travels”, Westley said as he took his leave.

Simmon placed his foot in the stirrup, halted when he heard the shout.  

“Simmon!  Where are you going?”

Simmon’s shoulders heaved through an exasperated sigh.  He removed his foot and spun to face his caller.

“I’ve got rounds Billie.  Same time every week.”

“Well take me with you Simmon!  You can’t leave me here by myself.”

“Billie, you’ve got your own chores.  You know you can’t come with me.” His heart sank as her eyes welled, reddened.

Billie was twelve, an age where most kids wanted to act several years old.  Ever since their father disappeared, Billie had the opposite problem. Constantly scared.  Never wanting to be alone. Borderline helpless.

“Billie, you’re twelve years old.  Old enough to help with mom. With father gone I’m charged with keeping track of his lands.  The roads are far too dangerous for you.”

“You just don’t want your baby sister tagging along while you play with your friends!” Her voice was starting to crack.

“You know just well I’m not going anywhere to ‘play’ “.  He whined the last word with mocking emphasis.

She was partly right though.  The last thing he wanted was his whiny sister at his heels for the next two days.

“I hate you!” she yelled as she spun on her heels, then ran back towards the manor.

Simmon, guilt setting in, started to call out to her, then quickly realized it would do no good.  He turned his back to home and headed north.

Billie was taking their father’s disappearance much harder than he or their mother.  She’d always had a special bond with Jerald, Atrus of Cathatch, and their father. It made sense that she’d struggle the most.  

 

Yet these times were not ideal for coddling of the young.  Billie was going to have to learn to grow up fast.

Simmon arched his back as he took in a lung full of air to clear his head.  Bren would be meeting him soon and he’d thankfully have someone a little more mature to share his journey.

***

The field was empty. Had been for the last fifteen minutes, ever since Simmon first showed up.  He was just feeling the first twinges of frustration when the arrow snapped past his year and lodged in the tree just fee from his head.

Simmon rolled backwards, over his shoulder, deftly producing his sword and shield as he came upright.  His eyes scanned the tree line in the direction of the arrows origin. Flame touched his hands, ready for use at a moment’s notice.

Simmon had just started to back slowly into the tree line when Bren emerged from the other side of the clearing.  Simmon could see his wicked grin clear across the glen.

“Good morrow to you Simmon of Cathatch!”

“Damn it Bren, you’re gonna get someone killed”

“You know better than that Simmon” Bren cackled.  “There are few in all of Albany what can loose an arrow with the skill to equal my own.”

Simmon couldn’t help but smile at his friend.  “The someone I was referring to was you. On account of my sword cleaving your skull.”

“Ah, but you’d have quite a time reaching me with that great sword while I’m standing clear across the glenn.”

“Good point”, Simmon replied, a sly grin creeping across his lips.  He sensed the flame was still ready and loosed a small blast. Orange-yellow flame sprang from his fingertips, forming a loose ball that flew across the glenn, splashing down on the grass at Bren’s feet.

Brenn’s eyes widened as he lept back.

“Whoa ho!  The great wizard Simmon exposes his true nature!”

Simmon smiled as he walked towards his friend.  “Yeah, some wizard I am, a few flickering spells.  Nothing but parlour tricks.”

“More than I can do.  Plus, you’re the only one I’ve ever heard of that can tap all four elements.”  

Simmon waved his hand as if to brush off the compliment.  “Yeah, jack of all trades, master of none. Son of the great Jerald of Cathatch, warrior cleric.  Defender of the realm. All before him tremble at his might. And what can I do? I can light a campfire.”

“Yeah, you’re right Simmon.  You are pretty worthless. Now are you finished moping?  We have some lands to tend don’t we?”

Simmon smiled and walked back to the tree line.  His horse was just inside, tied to a tree. He loosened the reigns, swung a leg over and rode to meet Bren, waiting for him at the center of the glenn.

Bren was smiling as they met.  He pointed to his feet where Simmon noted some light scorching on Bren’s right boot.  

“These cost me a pretty penny noble one.  You should take greater care with your spells.”

“You should be glad I don’t have better aim,”  Simmon grinned as he kicked his horse into a trot.

***

“Will you be staying the night Master Simmon?”  The mayor was fat, soft from years of privilege.  The site was all too common in the small villages and towns across Albany.  Charged as the Lord’s representative for local governance, mayors often often took advantage of their station, living soft, rich lives, free of any hard labor.  Their soft, fleshy bodies often reflected their lifestyle. This one even had the telltale reddish nose of a heavy drinker.

“No mayor, I think not.  My sister gave me quite the tongue lashing for leaving her this morning so I think we’ll head homeward.  I’d like to make it back as early as possible in the morning.”

They mayor smiled knowingly.  “Ah yes, and how is young Mistress Billie?”

“As good as can be expected.  She’s twelve after all, quite impetuous.”  Simmon hated the formality of dealing with dignitaries.  One had to use just the right words, just the right tone.  It just felt so unnatural.

The mayor frowned.  “Yes, so terribly young to be dealing with such a terrible situation.”

Simmon nodded.

“Still no word on your father?” The mayor asked.

Simmon’s shoulders sagged. He’d been expecting the question but after answering three times prior today, he was tiring of the discussion.  

“No mayor.  No word. We are of course terribly concerned at the lack of communication but father can take care of himself.  In the mean time, we shall take care of his lands in his absence, shall we not?”

“Yes of course Master Simmon!  If all goes well, your father shall return to find an Atrus more prosperous than the one he left so many months ago.”

Simmon smiled, clasped the mayor on the shoulder. “That’s what I like to hear mayor.  You’ve always done well by the people of Perry and by my father. I have no doubts that will continue.”

The mayor’s chest puffed up at the compliment, his belly spilling out in front of him.  “I am at the service of Jerald, Cathatch of Atrus, his family and his fine son Simmon. If you have need of my assistance, all you need do is ask.”

Simmon turned to mount his horse.  Bren was already astride his. Simmon recognized the smile on his friend’s face.  Bren knew how much Simmon hated politics. He reveled in his friend’s discomfort, as any friend should.

Simmon swung his leg over, settling firmly in the saddle.  “Mayor, it was a pleasure to see you again. It is always a pleasure to visit your fine town of Perry.  Remember, taxes are due soon. Expect a messenger in the next few weeks with this year’s dues.”

“Our coffers are full, we wait only for the notice.  Safe travels young Master Simmon.”

Simmon nodded and turned his horse to the road.  As they reached the edge of town Bren started to laugh.

“What?” Simmon asked.

“I’m glad we didn’t stay for dinner.  I don’t think I could stomach watching that man eat.”

Simmon smiled before kicking his horse into a canter.  “Come on. Let’s get home.”

***

“You know, I still don’t understand why you made me hunt down all this kindling when you can just light a log on fire with you damn hands.”  Bren’s back was turned but Simmon could hear the frown in his voice.

“The elements aren’t for play Bren.  And they especially aren’t for promoting laziness.”

“Um, have you seen my shoe?  What the hell was that if not play.”

Simmon grinned, caught in some minor hypocrisy.  “Bad aim, I told you.”

Bren laughed.  “Fair enough. You do make a terrible draoi.”

Simmon’s face changed immediately.  His smiled wiped clean, replaced by a haggard look of utter frustration.

“Shit, sorry.”  Bren’s face dropped too as he saw the hurt in his friend’s eyes.  “Sore subject. Right.”

Draoi were renowned in Albany for their ability to control one of the elements.  Draoi were blessed with the ability to reach within themselves and grab the essence of an element, bending it to their will to some degree.  

“It’s OK Bren.  I shouldn’t let it affect me so.”  Simmon forced a halfhearted smile back to his face.

“Right!” Bren brightened back up.  “I mean, like I said, you’re the only person I’ve ever heard who could handle all four elements.”

“Yeah, but like I said,” Simmon put extra emphasis on the I, “the best I can do in any of them is tantamount to parlor tricks.  I’m to be Catatch some day Bren. My father can form from fire whatever he chooses. Swords, shields, arrows. His element makes him one of the most formidable warriors in all of Albany.  Mine make me a hit a banquets. I’m a half step above the court jester.”

“You never know Bren, it could just take longer to develop when you’re dealing with all four.”  Bren was trying to reassure his friend, but his voice cracked unmistakably with doubt.

Simmon smirked at Bren.  “Yeah, maybe.”

As the son of Jerald, Simmon was expected to show signs of an element early.  And Simmon did not disappoint. In fact, as a young child Simmon exceed everyone’s expectations.  Early on in his studies he showed an ability to control fire, just as his father did. He first felt the warmth of fire in his hands at the age of seven.  When he lit the family hearth for the first time that winter his parents had beamed with pride.

Shortly after Simmon showed signs of the other elements.  He was able to fill the stable water troughs at a thought.  He could extinguish candles with the wave of a hand. He planted his mother’s flower garden without a spade.

Surely Simmon was destined to be a great draoi.  Maybe the greatest of all.

Only he wasn’t.  The elements that manifested at the age of seven had not grown by the age of sixteen.  Normally, those with elements had shown some level of mastery by the age of fourteen. Those that showed exceptional control were invited to study at the draoi college.  Those that didn’t were typically relegated to carnivals and stage shows.

Simmon received no invitation.  His parents had hoped Simmon’s ability to control multiple elemnents would earn him an invitation, lack of mastery notwithstanding.  When his fourteenth birthday came and went with no invitation, his father put on a brave face but Simmon could read the sense of failure in his eyes.  Tensions eased quickly but Simmon never forgot the first time, and only time he disappointed his father.

The only thing saving Simmon from the carnivals was his birthright.  He was to be Catatch of Atrus someday, elements or no. The honor of lordship lessened the sting of disappointment only slightly. In fact, at times it filled him with dread. After all, how was he supposed to fill the shoes of the great and mighty Jerald, Cathatch of Atrus, when he was so clearly a lesser man.

Simmon looked up at Bren, noticed the concern on his face.  “Don’t worry about it Bren. It’s my cross to bear. I’m good with it.”  Simmon paused, took a deep breath, continued, “Why don’t you get some sleep.  I’ll take first watch.”

Bren started to protest, noticed the look on Simmon’s face and thought better of it.  “Alright Simmon. Wake me when it’s my turn.”

Bren adjusted his pack to give a comfortable place to lay his head.  He turned away from the small fire.

Simmon took a few deep breaths to clear his head and pushed the subject of elements from his mind.  No need to dwell on that which he couldn’t control. Especially when he was on watch.

Simmon looked into the flickering orange and yellow of the small fire.  He waved his hand and the camp went dark.

“Parlor tricks.”

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