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The Song of Steel

Book One - Chapter 22

By W.R. Logan


Copyright 2004 W.R. Logan

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Queen Jillian


She sat in a high backed chair like a misbehaving child waiting for punishment.  The queen had been summoned like a common cur.  Worse yet, she was escorted to the church by armed mercenaries and placed in a locked room.  Under normal circumstances, Jillian would have been fuming.  But these were not normal circumstances.


To treat her in such a way, Jillian was sure that the church must have found her daughter.  If so, it may be the last day that the crown sat upon her brow.  The contemplation of her fate stilled her dander.  Memories of Sea Bottom were all too fresh in her memory.  It would be too hard to go from the castle back to the confines of a room in an inn.


Maybe she could find work as a bawd in one of the cities brothels.  A madam was a respectable position and was never expected to service customers.  Or, she could take enough gold from the treasury to buy her own brothel.  A big one in the free cities so she could own her molls and keep all the gold.  That is if the church decided to let her live.


Queen Jillian had learned much about the church over the years.  Too much.  That was one of the things she had come to understand about the church.  When someone discovered too much about them, that someone abruptly met his end.  They believed their secrets worth more than a man’s life, perhaps even a queen’s.


She sat twisting her finger around in her hair, a nervous habit that she had not done since she was a little girl.  They had kept her waiting most of the day.  Not once did a servant even check to see if she wanted to eat.  The woman was much too nervous to eat but she was the queen and should be treated like one.


They could be debating what to do with her now that the true flesh of the staff had been found.  The options that could be in discussion were unsettling.  It may serve their purpose to keep her in case any accidents were to befall her beloved daughter.  If Jillian got the chance there would indeed be accidents.


How could Hemlock have failed?  He is a legendary assassin.  The killer who had slipped by ten thousand armed men into the castle of Tural and killed their queen in her sleep, failed to kill one little girl.  The gold Jillian had paid him was more than most people would make in a lifetime.  All of it wasted.  The cutthroat had probably just whored and drank up the loot never intending to find the girl.  Or if he had intended to find her, the church beat him to it.  Either way, he had made an easy fortune.


The mercenaries had put her in the staff room.  The churches prize possession stood suspended by a magic barrier on the middle of the small chamber.  Her hand would penetrate the barrier without harm.  She could reach in and pluck the staff right out of the air, but it would do her no good.


The staff had the power to save her.  It could strike her daughter down no matter where she tried to hide.  If she only knew the words to use the crystal’s strength.  The woman had recited them hundreds of times, most of them correctly, but would not be able to make it passed the first sentence without someone to feed her the words.  The potent weapon would be no more than a chunk of rock in her hands.


She would miss wielding the staff.  The vigorous energy flowing into her body from the cold crystal in her hands until it could hold no more.  Even the slight pain when she had hit her limit had become pleasurable.  And the release was like nothing she had ever felt before.  Every cell in her body would convulse as the magic surged out of her.  It was the closest thing she had known to happiness.


The Scepters believed the staff to be nothing but crystal and magic.  Jillian had come to know they were wrong.  The crystal was alive.  She could feel it when she held it.  The staff pulsed with a life that they could not feel or understand.  Only in becoming one with its power could one truly know the staff.


The High Scepter had felt its force.  He had taken the power of the staff into him to create Molly and it had almost killed him.  The man couldn’t bond with the crystal and take it as the master like Jillian.  The fool thought to command it.  Such a puny little human trying to will a god to do his bidding.  With all the knowledge that the church possessed, they still did not comprehend what the staff really was.


The book about the artifact the church had come by was not even half translated.  After the rituals of waking the staff’s magic were done, the cult had lost interest in completing the work.  The ways to maintain the item were the only thing transposed after the waking.  That had happened out of necessity.


After the staff was awoken, it had started to grow.  Every spell that it was used for sprouted a few more inches.  Before the last of the text was translated, the crystal stood almost twice as high as it had in the beginning.  The magic had become too overwhelming to be called upon.


The text warned against allowing the crystal to keep growing and taught how to make the tools to groom the staff.  It took weeks for the Scepters to chisel the staff back down to a manageable size.  The process was done after every ritual as religiously as the Scepter’s nightly prayers after that.


The dust and shards had become a source of extra income for the cult.  When combined in objects with enchantments placed on them, the magic seemed to hold better.  Mages from all over the kingdoms lined up for the chance to buy the coveted waste.  Only those who saved their gold for a rainy day went home happy.


The chamber door swung open and the High Scepter walked inside.  She rose to meet him finding the man in no mood for the common courtesies shown to a queen.  He neither bowed nor lowered his head upon entering.  Jillian took it as a bad sign.


The Scepter looked like he had just pulled himself from a bed.  A bed that he had apparently slept with his robes on.  His red robes bore the wrinkles of a restless sleep; dark circles adorned the space below his eyes and his grey hair looked uncombed.  This did not look to be the face of a man who had just found the end of the rainbow.  It looked like a man who had found the end of his rope.


Maybe Hemlock succeeded, Jillian thought.


Without a word the chubby Scepter popped down in the chair across from the queen.  He stared at her with cruelty in his eyes.  The cruelty did not frighten Jillian because behind it, she could see the fear.  The parson was trying to act in control.  Being a moll for so many years had taught her to see the truth in people’s eyes.  Actions and words can be faked but not the windows to the soul.


“Your king is gone, Jillian,” the Scepter said putting the extra emphasis on her name.  He wanted her to grasp that he did not use queen.


She understood this langue.  He was saying, I can take the crown away from you.


“Off to win me a new kingdom,” she retorted.  Jillian could speak that langue as well.  She was telling the Scepter, I am more important to the king than a church.


“Spells can be broken,” the Scepter threatened.


“Yes, by ones that can wield magic staves,” Jillian said seeing the clergyman was done talking in codes.  “How many of those serve your church?”


The High Scepter’s face contorted with his anger.  A million threats looked to be churning in his brain as he fought to keep them from leaving his lips.  He had lost the battle in this direction and wanted to steer the war in another.  The man took a deep breath and exhaled slowly.


“What do you fear, Queen Jillian,” asked the Scepter.  His voice filled with the sweetness of honey.


Jillian may have grown up in a house of ill repute but her tastes were of the finer things.  When she was young and pretty the gold had flowed freely giving her all the worldly possessions her heart had desired and as she grew old, the flow dwindled into a drip.  If her life had not taken the turn that it did the drip would have soon run dry.  That is what she feared most.  Being in a world where she was old and undesirable.  But if there was one thing she had taken from Sea Bottom, it was to never let your enemy know your fears.


“You fear losing that crown,” the Scepter deducted.  “You think that if your daughter is found, we will take all that you have and give it to her.”


The queen did not answer.  She met his stone gaze with the same intensity.  The woman could tell that she was still needed.  Whether or not her daughter was dead didn’t matter anymore.  The fact was that the church did not have her.  It was written all over the Scepter’s face.


“As long as I am the only one to master that staff,” Jillian told him, “there is no threat to my crown.”


“There is no threat to your crown at all, my queen,” the Scepter promised.  “When we find the girl, you will still wear the crown.”


“And if the girl is dead, I need not ask your permission to wear the crown.”


“But with the girl, you will wear a crown of a bigger, stronger and richer kingdom,” the Scepter cooed.


Jillian did not regard the promises of men to be a valid instrument to ease a woman’s worries.  A man could always justify the violation of his word with a satisfactory reason and men were easily satisfied in that area.  Nonetheless, the possibility did peak her interest.  The bigger and stronger her kingdom, the more secure her throne.


“You have always been a friend of the church,” the Scepter reminded, “We will not forsake you.”


“What am I to have to ensure my safety?”


“My word.”


The queen laughed loudly.  This man that did not even keep his vows to the church he claimed to love, was giving her his word.  It was more worthless than his promises.  And for those useless words, he expected her to cower at his might.  He wanted her to take what ever the church would give her and be happy.


“I will need more that some words to rest my suspicions,” Jillian informed him.


The Scepter choked back his anger once again.  He drew his breath deep and exhaled so slowly that Jillian though he may faint before he resumed breathing.  He was a man used to having his orders carried out without question.  Toying with this woman that would still be a harlot in some dirty inn in Sea Bottom grated on his nerves.


“Come,” the man told her as he held out an arm for her.  “I will give you all the information we have to date on the staff.”


Queen Jillian took the man’s arm and strolled to the back of the chamber with him.  On a pedestal in a corner sat a large book.  The brown leather cover boasted the same emblem as the front of the Scepter’s robes.  Even with the obvious age of bindings, the symbol and the pages were well preserved.  A stack of papers lay next to the ancient text.  The Scepter dug into the papers and produced the desired notes.


“Here they are,” he proclaimed.  “As you can see, our translators also included the illustrations from the original text.  I will explain the process to you.”


He deciphered the words on each paper while Jillian scanned the pictures.  The detail of the sketches convinced her that the work had taken months.  Work like this could not have been done on the spur of the moment to bamboozle an illiterate queen.  These pitchers and words settled her fears.  She no longer feared her daughter.  In fact, the queen was able to find some pity for the girl.


“So Molly will become part of the staff,” she asked.


“No,” the Scepter corrected.  “The part of her that is Molly will be gone and her body will become a vessel for the staff.”


“I see,” Jillian said with a twinge of guilt.


“And I will be in the Great Circle when the Molly and the staff merge giving me complete control over her.”


“And you are sure of the translations?”


“Yes,” the Scepter confirmed.  “We tried to do the translations ourselves but some of the dialects have been dead for centuries.  We hired a mage from Castula.  He is a well-known historian and linguist.  Darfoy, he was called.  Very costly he was but well worth the money.”


“So what do you want from me,” she said bluntly.


“Call off Hemlock and give us the information you have on the girl,” the Scepter said just as bluntly.


It sounded like a fair trade.  Jillian told the mage about the magical deception that her daughter had donned and about the knight that accompanied her.  That was the only two pieces of information that she had the church had missed.  All the hired swords scouring the country were looking for a red head.


One of the murderers that the church hired had abducted forty girls from their homes.  This rogue knight of Vale left hundreds of weeping mothers and dead fathers in his wake.  Her husband had sent a knight to bring this rogue knight to justice putting an end to his rampage.  Ironically, the Vale knight had died in a tourney match before he was captured.


Even more ironic, the knight sent to solve the problem and the girl he had returned with, were the very objects of the church’s desires.  The queen had called in most of her favors and used many of her known secrets to gain that knowledge.  Unfortunately, the information had come in after the knight and girl had left to deliver a message to Kings Overlook.


The queen would have another letter sent to her merchant contact in Toth to cancel the contract on Molly, or Sylvia as she now called herself.  That is if the deed had not already been carried out.  A part of the queen hoped that Hemlock had fulfilled his duty.  A quick death was so much more humane than the fate the church planned for her.


With the church fully up to speed on Sylvia’s information, only one thing still bothered Jillian.  Who had told the church her plan?  She had been confined to one wing of the castle with no contact to the outside world.  There was a spy in her house and she meant to find it.


“And now you can give me a little bit more information,” Jillian coaxed as they both returned to the high backed chairs.


“What would my queen have of me,” the Scepter asked.


“The name of your informant.”




“The one who told you that I hired Hemlock,” she instructed.  “I won’t have a turn-cloak among my servants.”


“Oh, all servants are just turn-cloaks waiting for the opportunity,” the Scepter informed her.


“Just the same, I would have this one’s name.”


“A man must keep his promises,” the man defended.


And we are back to speaking in code, Jillian thought to herself.  The chubby bastard is telling me his spy is still of use to him.


“I can make it well worth your wild,” Jillian told him taking his hand and placing it on her left knee.


“I have my vows,” he objected withdrawing his hand.


“Promises and vows can be broken and mended many times,” she said taking his hand in hers.  “Your gods will forgive you.”


The Scepter resisted her for a brief moment.  And for that moment, Jillian’s heart dropped at the thought she had become undesirable.  Then she opened her legs and let the V in her skirt fall away like it was made to do.  Her treasure sat exposed to the world.


“Oops,” the queen said faking a blush, “I must have forgotten to put on small cloths.”


As she pulled his had down to her lower lips all the man’s will drained away.  The bulge in the front of his robes stood like a flag announcing Jillian as the victor in the war.  The feeling of finger sinking into the wetness of her womb let the queen know she would have her spy.  And the Scepter would recognize that all his promises and vows were worth nothing more than a few minutes pleasure between her legs.





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