While Flailing in the Dark made me realize how much my writing had improved since I wrote that episode because of how differently I would do it today, Witch’s Heir was a reminder that even last year at this time my writing had come a long way. When I first started writing, I found it painful to read what I had written. To this day, the best way I have found to judge the quality of my own writing is to put a piece down for long enough that I mostly forget about it, and then see how I enjoy reading it.
There are probably a few changes that I could have made that I decided against making, like a less cliche opening line, and one point where the viewpoint gets slightly muddied between Kiluron and Doil, but they did not detract from the story, so I decided to leave them. I thought that the pacing and length on this story were right on target. It had the right amount of humor, a lot of interesting world-building information, resolved some unanswered questions from the earliest episodes, and introduced what I think are compelling legal and moral questions. I did make some modifications to the paragraph structure, because I found that my writing back then contained too many large blocks of text.
The separation between morality and law is something that has long fascinated me. It’s a similar question to Socrates’ famous query: “is conduct right because the Gods demand it, or do the Gods demand it because it is right?” While I try very hard to avoid prosyletizing in my writing, I do like to explore these complex issues, and the Blood Magic world makes for a very interesting forum for this particular question, precisely because it is a relatively secular world. While it has its superstitions, the majority of modern Lufilna does not follow a religion, mostly because the only significant religion to arise on the continent was the Balancer one. Traditionally, the question of “what is right” has been the province of legal or religious authorities. Remove the religious authority, and morality and legality become deeply intertwined.
Abraham Lincoln actually wrote an essay arguing, more or less, that the law is morality, which is in contrast to Martin Luther King’s essays arguing that morality is independent of law. There is far more to explore and unpack in both perspectives than would be appropriate for a post about a fantasy short story, but it was with these framing questions in mind that I built Kiluron’s ideas of governance, and the character of Inpernuth. These are not ideas that I sought to confine just to this episode, but I did give them more of a role here.
It seems that I consistently made the first episode of season two and season three wrapup from the previous season, and used the second episode to lay the groundwork for the season to come. I think that works rather well, except for the fact that season three’s second episode also features a Blood Magic-fueled assassination attempt on Prime Kiluron. I probably should have noticed that in outlining and changed things around, but it’s too late now. Fortunately, aside from those superficial similarities the episode that will go live at the end of February is very different from this one.
I’m sure that there’s more that I could write about, like my thought process behind introducing people who use Blood Magic who are not part of the Balancer religion, or a discussion of the details of the Merolate Charter, which we see in perhaps the most detail in this episode, but I don’t think I’ll do any of that. Remember at the beginning of the post when I said that I still find the most effective way for me to judge my own writing is it read it after I’ve mostly forgotten about it? Well, I did that here, and I really enjoyed my re-read. So much so, in fact, that I want to stop blither-blathering, and let you get on with reading Witch’s Heir.
It was not a dark and stormy night. It was dark enough, as the sun had set and it was approaching midnight, but the sky was clear of any clouds and scattered only with a thick dusting of stars. Guardsman Bult leaned on his spear and watched the empty plain, savoring the warm spring night. It was a good night to be standing guard, the kind of night to remind him why he so often volunteered for the night shifts. Even if Guardsman Trelish was not always the best of company.
“Do you believe in witches?” Trelish asked, bending his head conspiratorially towards Bult.
Bult sighed. “No, I don’t believe in witches. And you oughtn’t to, either.” Trelish always had some new wild idea to share, whether it was witches, political conspiracies, or the latest cult. He was trendy that way, and the other guards found him good for a laugh. Bult preferred quiet.
“They say that young Prime Kiluron was cursed by a witch, back when Prime Wezzix selected him as a child,” Trelish continued. Encouragement or discouragement made little difference to his conversations. “Of course, the Prime, the old Prime that is, Prime Wezzix, not young Prime Kiluron, had the woman executed, but that don’t always be enough to stop a curse. Curses have a way of coming true no matter what you do. They’re like prophecies, that way, they are.”
“Superstitious nonsense,” Bult remarked. “Must you bother me with your constant, inane blither-blathering?”
“You wound me!” Trelish didn’t really sound offended. Nor did he stop his inane blither-blathering. “I’m just saying, it’s worth considering. Our new Prime might still have a curse upon him, and you know who tends to suffer from such things? People like us, that’s who. Best be cautious, I say. Witches are crafty, and the grave don’t have the hold on them that it ought to have on more ordinary mortals.”
“Why in all the world would a curse on an individual affect us?” Bult asked, before remembering that he was better off not trying to make any sense of Trelish’s ramblings.
Trelish smirked. “That’s the ways curses work, yes it is,” he said. “Just think, if there be nightmares abroad, how do you think they’d go about getting into the city to reach the young Prime? They’d come a-knocking right at out gate, they would, that’s what I tell you. That’s how the curses work, it is.”
Bult shook his head and turned back to looking into the night. “This is ridiculous.”
An unfamiliar voice floated up from the gate below them, and both guardsmen froze, startled at this disruption to the night’s stillness. “Hello? Why does no one answer? I’ve come a long way, and am so very tired…”
“Did you hear that?” Trelish asked. He looked pale. “That’s just how a witch might come, sneaking up on the city like that in the dead of night, it is.”
“Don’t be ridiculous. If it weren’t for your incessant chatter, we would have noticed her coming up to the gate,” Bult snapped. “Come on. Let’s go see who it is. We can at least offer her a place to rest in the guardhouse until morning comes.” He began to make his way down towards the main gate, and Trelish followed.
“I still don’t think this is such a good idea, this isn’t,” he grumbled. “Could be witches out there. And you know, don’t you know and remember the last time Guardsman Proid let some young woman into the city in the night, and she turned out to be a spy? Guardcaptain Vere weren’t not none too happy about that, no he was not.”
Stopping in the middle of the darkened stairway, Bult took a deep breath, and turned around. “Please. Be. Quiet.”
Finally, mercifully, Trelish was silent, at least temporarily. Together, the two guardsmen continued down to the gatehouse, and opened the gate a crack to peer out into the night. As they had heard from their watch post, a young woman wrapped in a dirty, forest green cloak waited there, with deep, dark circles under her vivid blue eyes, all set in skin so pale it looked like she had been raised in a cave and never seen the sun. She stumbled as the gates were opened slightly, as she had been leaning against them, but she gathered herself to stand before the two guardsmen, drooping only slightly.
“Oh, finally,” she remarked, looking them over. “I was beginning to worry that no one would ever hear me. Makes me feel like a ghost, out here alone in the night.”
“I know a lot about ghosts,” Trelish said eagerly. “This isn’t really the kind of night for ghosts. They prefer nights that are a little mistier and foggier, they do, that is how they prefer it. Lets them drift about like a cloud, it does, and none be knowing that they’re there.”
“Oh, that’s a relief,” the woman said. “I guess I was afraid for nothing.” She favored Trelish with a smile, and he blushed.
Bult stepped forward, shooting an annoyed look at Trelish. “What business do you have in Merolate, Ma’am?” Only a man like Trelish could make it sound like Bult must be heartless and mean just because he was trying to do his job.
“That’s what I’m here to find out!” the woman exclaimed. She sounded as bright as a spring flower, a startling contrast and reversal from her previously cold, frightened, tired state. Her cheeks seemed fuller now, too, less pale. “I’m an apothecary, or at least I’m studying to be. My mother was one before me, too, but she can’t travel so much these days, and so she sent me to the city to take care of our business here for her. But it’s been just ages since I’ve been to Merolate, and I got sort of lost along the way, and only finally made it here. Oh, I’ll be so glad for a soft bed and a proper meal!”
Trelish nodded, shoving his way in front of Bult again. “Of course, I understand exactly what you mean, I do. I have a mother to, that I do, sure as you and I are standing here in this night.”
“You’re fortunate to have made it here safely,” Bult said firmly, pushing Trelish to the side. “There have been several bandit incidents in the woods nearby recently. Did you see any signs of bandit activity during your travels?”
“Bandits?” the woman repeated, putting a hand to her lips. Something about the gesture and her expression felt off to Bult, but he could not identify why, and he quickly dismissed the notion. “No, I certainly didn’t see any bandits. Oh dear, I suddenly feel faint, just thinking of how close I may have come to such danger.”
Trelish butted in again. “Well, you needn’t worry yourself any further about that. I don’t know why Bult has to go scaring you like that before he even has the decency to invite you right into the guardhouse, that I don’t. But you’re certainly safe here, nothing to worry about, save perhaps for ghosts and witches – do you believe in ghosts and witches? I most certainly do, and it’s a topic of some considerable debate around these times – and I’m sure that my friend here is just trying to do his duty as best as he sees it, that he is.” Trelish put an arm around Bult’s shoulders, which Bult shrugged away, twice, with a deeper grimace each time.
“We can’t let you into the city until morning,” Bult explained, interrupting before Trelish could output a further torrent of monologue. “However, there’s always something to eat and a place to rest in the guardhouse, and we can let you stay there until dawn when the city opens back up.”
The woman nodded. “That’s quite alright Guardsman Bult, I understand completely,” she said. “I certainly wouldn’t want to get either of you in any kind of trouble on my account.” She laughed lightly. “Oh, but it would be nice to sit down.”
“Right this way then, Miss, if you please,” Trelish announced, rolling the gate open enough for the woman to slip through. “And of course, I think you should please, if you don’t mind my saying so, because surely there is no finer guardhouse to rest in in all of Merolate, that there is not. Just follow me…ah, what did you say your name was, Miss?”
Again, that light laugh. It seemed more like a verbal affectation than a real expression of amusement. “I didn’t, Guardsman Trelish. But since you ask, my name is Aigalianiariapiagia, but you can just call me Aiga.”
“Well then, Miss Aigaliar…Miss Aiga, may I be the first to welcome you to Merolate City, do let me be.” Trelish left Bult at the wall to close the gate back up and return to the watch post.
It wasn’t until much later that night that Trelish finally returned to his post, but Bult didn’t mind, mostly. He enjoyed the peace and quiet of the night, but one thought kept intruding upon his contemplative solitude. When Trelish finally joined him on the wall again, for once Bult was the first to speak.
“Did you ever give your name to that strange young woman we met at the gate?” he asked.
Trelish cocked his head, thinking. “You know, now that you mention it, I’m not sure if I did. I don’t remember diding so, that I do not, but I must have did, because she knew my name and used my name, did she not do? So yes, I suppose I must have done. Why do you ask?”
Bult leaned against the wall, looking out over the plain, and sighed. “She used my name, too, and I don’t recall giving it to her. Probably just my mind playing tricks on me.”
Trelish’s face lit up. “Or maybe she’s a witch! I bet that’s what it is, she’s a witch, or maybe an apprentice one, that I think she is. Doubtless she went and plucked our names straight from our heads, like a splinter plucked out with those plier things, what do they call them, tweezers, that’s what they call them, that’s what it was like, her pulling our names right from out our heads. Yes, I’m quite certain of it now, she must be a witch, that she must be…”
With a sigh, Bult shook his head and ignored Trelish. It had been foolish to ask in the first place, and now he would have to put up with more inane chatter and blither-blather about witches for the rest of their shift on watch. Next time, he would just keep silent.
Click here to read the rest of Witch’s Heir
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