A novella of cowboys and wizards in 7 parts.
“I don’t like it,” Fenton said, as he and Cannon sat in his office. He could see the top of the tower in the distance through the window. “I know that goddamned bastard is working this against me. They all are!” He slammed his fist on the table.
Cannon grinned as Fenton quickly pulled his hand in, cradling it to his chest, his face twisted in pain. “Save it for when it can do you some good, boss.”
“When we know different,” Cannon said, his eyes down.
Fenton stared at him. “Got it all figured out, do ya?”
Cannon shook his head. “Only what I need to figure. The rest takes care of itself.”
“And where’s that supposed to get me?” Fenton rubbed the hand he slammed on the table. “Between that ass Johnson pushing for statehood, and those goddamned sodbusters fencing up my land, not to mention that damn Indian stealing my cattle, now I got this stranger taking up in my tower! It ain’t right, goddammit.”
“Maybe not, but till we find a way in, and I ain’t found no other way. God knows I’ve gone around that outer wall a dozen times.” Cannon stared at the distant tower through the window. “We barely got out the one time we tried to—”
“Yes, yes, you’ve said it enough,” Fenton groused.
Cannon glared at Fenton. “You weren’t there. I ain’t never seen a rope break like that over and over, or had a ladder split like it was rotten, when I knew it was good from the get go.”
He stood up, towering over Fenton. “I know you think there’s money in that place, but it ain’t natural. Ask anybody who’s been here a while. Old timers. The Tia. Don’t matter. They all say the same thing. Let it be. It’s been standin’ longer‘n time. If the Army wants it, let ‘em have it.”
Fenton’s eyes grew wide. “Are you outta your mind?”
Cannon walked to the door. “No.”
“Just let ‘em have it?” Fenton shook his head. “Just like that!”
“We got other matters to deal with.” Cannon put on his hat. “Don’t mean I won’t keep an eye on things though.”
“Goddamned right! I want that place watched night and day. If that bastard leaves, I want to know it!” Fenton balled his hand into a fist and stared at the smiling Cannon.
He walked out, leaving Fenton to the dying light.
“That is the scope of our council together. But formally, I speak for the governor,” James said, answering the wizard’s question.
“And what council do you seek other than entry?” Mathias admired the muted reds and yellows of the western sky as the sun dipped behind the mountains.
James stood by the wizard. “How do you know this place?”
“How does anyone know a place?” Mathias took his staff and set it in a hole in the center of the lookout. The staff began to glow. “By living in it, by being a part of it.”
Barton James stared at the staff. “How does it do that?”
“The staff is merely a conduit. It is the tower that makes the light.”
“How?” James slowly approached the staff, holding out the palm of his hand, feeling the warmth radiating out.
“How does it do it, a generator of some kind? I heard men are working on such things.” The light seemed to grow as James’ hand moved closer.
“Yes.” James looked at Mathias, the glow of the staff shimmering in his eyes. “The world is changing, rapidly. There’s talk that horses will soon give way to engines and machines, even out here.” He spread his arm out. The light dimmed.
Mathias grabbed the staff and pulled it out of the tower. The lookout grew dark. Without making a sound he headed for the stairs. A startled James went after him, his footing unsure. Carefully, with his hands pressed along the outer wall, he climbed down the steps to the wizard’s room. Mathias tapped the fireplace with his staff, and a fire roared to life, bringing light and warmth to the room. Mathias sat at the table and watched the befuddled James make his way around and then to his own chair.
“What are you?” James asked.
“A wizard. And this place, for a time, was my keep.”
Mathias shook his head as he took a long thin pipe from his coat. “Don’t remember any Merlin.”
“Arthur. Knights of the round table,” James added, assuming that would help.
“And when was this Merlin here?” Mathias tapped his pipe with his finger and the pipe began to glow. He sucked in the smoke and blew it out into the room.
“Bout a thousand years, I spose. The stories are kind of vague on when. It was in England, I know that.” James looked at the books littering the table.
Mathias pushed one towards him. “These books are much older. Long before the time of your Arthur or Merlin.”
James opened the book. In it were drawing of many things, elves and dwarves, wizards and men, goblins and trolls, fantastic birds of prey. He didn’t recognize the writing or the maps, though he spent much of his youth studying the cartography of the earth. He paged through it till he came to one with a drawing of a faceless figure leading a host of warriors.
Mathias leaned towards him, staring at the page. “Thün.”
“The dark lord.” Mathias blew more smoke into the air. “He was a spirit once. Sent by the Gods of the Realm to assist the elves in the making of this world, but he became bored and corrupted and made mischief in defiance of the Gods.”
“What happened?” James ran his finger along the figure on the page.
“A long and terrible war.”
James continued paging through the book, looking at the drawings and finding he had more questions than the drawings could answer. Battle after battle was shown, with men and elves and dwarves fighting, but no victory. Towards the back of the book, the towers appeared and he recognized the man, the king, from the statue in the courtyard.
“Who’s this?” he asked.
“King Theotus. It was he who drew Thün, the dark lord, and his host into the open, where they fell within the power of the three. It was there that the dark lord was destroyed and sent into the void.”
Mathias nodded. “The three towers.”
James looked around the room. “And this is one?”
“And the story of Theotus?”
The wizard blew a ring of smoke above the head of the government man. “Such stories interest you?”
James nodded. “It explains the tower does it not?”
“It does.” Mathias’ eyes twinkled and a mirthful smile came to him.
“Then tell me.” James leaned towards the wizard, the crackling fire behind him.
Mathias waited for a moment, collecting his thoughts. “It is a long tale with many characters, some I must confess I no longer remember. That saddens me, but it is not unexpected. Memory fades. But I do remember that time.” Mathias tapped the pipe ash into the fire and set the pipe on the table.
“We called to the gods for assistance, that they might save us and this world we so loved. And after a time, they grudgingly came to our aid.” Mathias laughed at that. “They were tired of our wails. But once they saw the terror Thün was spreading, a plan was set in motion to destroy him.”
“How?” James, intrigued, tried to find the drawings in the book that went with Mathias’ tale.
“Two things the gods set in motion,” Mathias said, picking up his pipe. “First, an incorruptible child was gifted to us. It was through him we would turn men against the dark lord—”
“That child was Theotus?” James said excitedly.
“It was.” Mathias set his eyes to guest, narrowing them. “May I continue?”
Chastened, James sat back. “Sorry. Please do.”
Mathias lit his pipe. “The second concerned the towers, for you see, gods cannot act directly in earthly matters because they have no form, no bodies, no flesh. Their power must be directed through physical objects. To achieve this, they called on the ancient king of the dwarves, Tön. He too came to the earth as a spirit to assist in creating the dwarves. He so loved them that he chose to become one, and the gods made him king of all dwarves. But unlike his brother, he was not corrupted. So, when called, Tön left the mountains to council with us and the gods.”
James stared at the wizard. “The gods?”
Mathias stared back. “The gods. We needed their power, for only they could destroy the dark lord. You’re listening, are you not?”
“I am, I am. I’m just curious how one speaks to the gods, that’s all.”
“I imagine so.” Mathias blew a smoke ring high above his head. They watched it dissipate slowly in the firelight.
“What was decided?” James found a drawing of the three towers.
“That three towers were to be built, equal in size and in the distance between them, forming a triad. It was through the towers that the gods would act.”
James felt the tower vibrate. “The tower is moving!”
“Not to worry,” Mathias assured him, “the tower likes it when its story is told.”
“I see.” James took hold of the table.
“The dwarf king reluctantly agreed to use their prized stone to build the towers, on the promise that the stone would be returned. Tüa-a I think they called it, but I could be wrong. Anyway, once the towers were built, Theotus called to the men of earth to follow him, and his presence was such, that they could not refuse. This enraged the dark lord, and he sought to destroy Theotus. But Theotus was clever and hid from Thün rather than face him. This deepened the dark lord’s anger, and anger blinds even the wary,” Mathias said, chuckling to himself.
“He knew something was up, didn’t he?” James found a picture of Thün at the edge of a forest.
“He was well aware that the gods were not happy, but he was also convinced of his own power and, as I said, became more and more consumed by Theotus—”
“And Theotus challenged the dark lord, didn’t he?”
Mathias smiled at the light in James’ eyes. Like a child, he thought. “Indeed, Theotus drew out the dark lord, against his better judgment, into a battle in the middle of the three towers. It was there the gods showed their wrath, and through the power of the three, cast Thün, the dark lord, into the void, never to return.”
James smiled. “And Theotus ruled the world, right?”
Mathias shook his head. “No.”
“No?” James paged through the last of the book looking for Theotus. Frustrated, he closed the book. “What happened to him?”
“As the gods were casting Thün out, he took Theotus hostage, threatening to kill the king if they did not relent, but Theotus threw himself on Thün’s sword, and in dying, saved the world. That is what happened. I see it now as I see you.”
Mathias grew silent, his mind drifting to a time long past.
James waited for the wizard to return to the present. He looked around the room.
What power was left in this tower?
And who could use it?
©2020 David William Pearce