The Lord of the Socks
Episode 2: Off to See the Wizard
Bum-stabber and his geriatric cohorts dragged Nut-boy and me out of the Gluttonous Boar and frisked us. They didn’t do a very good job, either, since they didn’t find the knife I kept hidden inside my Fringolian messenger jacket. It was as if they were searching for something bigger.
When they finished, Bum-stabber grabbed me by the back of the neck and started pushing me toward Lord Korac’s recently remodeled tower.
“So what’s going on?” I asked. “What’s this about possessing illegal magic?”
“Shut up. Lord Korac said ya have magic and to find ya and bring ya in. And I know yer a thievin’ little runt, so ya musta stole somethin’ from him.” He chuckled. “I’m gonna enjoy seein’ the wizard turn ya into a slime beetle.”
“I didn’t steal anything. Honest.”
“I told ya to shut up.”
We wove our way around the other buildings until we reached Lord Korac’s tower. Bum-stabber shoved me inside and up the spiral staircase toward Korac’s lab. When we reached the top, Bum-stabber knocked on the thick wood door. I had never been in Korac’s tower before, and I felt a sudden surge of nervousness. In my one dealing with him, when he hired me as a messenger, he had seemed kindly and had put Bum-stabber in his place. Since then, though, I’d heard lots of stories showing a less than cordial side to the wizard. I hoped I didn’t encounter that side.
The door swung open by itself with a loud creak. Nut-boy looked like he would bolt if it weren’t for the guard who had a firm grip on his shoulder. I hoped he maintained control of his bladder this time.
“Enter,” boomed a voice from inside the room.
We entered. Bum-stabber stepped forward and knelt in front of where Korac stood. Korac had been leaning over a table and studying a large book. He didn’t look like the man in control as he had the previous times I’d seen him. His face seemed shrunken with worry. His hair was uncombed, and his white robe was stained with dust as if he hadn’t changed since he’d returned to the castle two days before.
“I’ve brought the little wretch, as ya ordered, sir,” Bum-stabber said to Korac. “I searched him but didn’t find no magic item. Searched the other kid, too.”
I leaned over and whispered into Nut-boy’s ear, “You didn’t tell anyone about my you-know-whats, did you?”
“Your whats?” he whispered back.
“You know, my socks.”
“Oh.” He shook his head. “No, Myrick, I promise.”
“Boy, step forward,” Korac ordered, motioning to me.
The guard pushed me, causing me to stumble and almost fall. Bum-stabber reached up and yanked me to my knees, smacking them painfully onto the floor.
“Myrick, isn’t it?” Korac asked.
“Yes, sir,” I answered, still wincing.
“Do you possess any powerful magic items?” he asked, giving me a wizardly stare.
“Uh, no, sir.” I wasn’t sure if it was wise to lie to a wizard, but surely they wouldn’t be looking for magical socks, would they?
“Have you ever heard of the Orb of Trineer?”
“No, sir.” I felt a flood of relief. He wasn’t after my socks after all.
“I understand that in your recent travels, you and your partner here cut through the Valley of Death. Is that true?”
“And did you find anything there?”
“Not really. Just ruins and a bunch of old bones.”
“Hmm.” Korac went to his table and picked up a metal ring six inches in diameter. “Kenra korseth!” Smoke coalesced inside the ring and it began to pulse with a white glow. At first, the pulse was slow. As he brought it up and pointed the open side of the ring at me, the pulse quickened. He slowly lowered it until it pointed at my feet. The glow stopped pulsing and became a steady light. “Myrick, I don’t think you’ve been truthful with me. Remove your boots.”
I closed my eyes and sighed. So much for keeping my socks a secret. I unlaced my boots and took them off. In the dimly lit room, my socks gave off their usual soft light.
Korac’s face dropped with awe. “The Anklets of Arnabet. I don’t believe it. Where did you get them?”
“I found them on a skeleton in the Valley of Death,” I answered.
“You found the crypt of Arnabet himself?” Korac asked with reverence.
“I didn’t know who it was. There wasn’t much left of him.” I remembered back to the legends my mother told me when I was a child. As I thought more about the name, I began to feel the same awe as Korac did. “You mean that was the Arnabet? Arnabet the Wise? The great wizard who defeated the evil sorcerer Xern?”
Korac nodded. “The same.” His look changed to excitement. “Take them off. Give them to me.”
I grimaced. “I can’t.”
Bum-stabber swung a fist into my stomach, causing me to collapse forward, clutching it. “Take ’em off before I rip ’em off,” he said with a malicious sneer.
Korac raised his hand toward Bum-stabber. “That is not necessary.” He turned back to me. “Myrick, please. Items of this value and power do not belong in the hands, or in this case, on the feet of a mere peasant. As the official court wizard of Castle Fringol, I order you to remove the Anklets.”
I gasped a few times to get some air back into my lungs before saying, “That’s just it. I can’t. They won’t come off. Believe me, I’ve tried. They’re cursed or something.”
“I can get them off,” Bum-stabber said as he drew his knife.
I rolled out of his grasp and landed back on my feet ready to run. I drew my knife, the one Korac had given me when he enlisted me into the messenger service.
Bum-stabber snarled as he approached with his twelve-inch blade. I knew I didn’t stand a chance against a trained soldier, but the other two guards had the door blocked, preventing me from fleeing.
“Sergeant, stop. That won’t be necessary.”
Bum-stabber continued to draw closer. I backed up until I hit a wall.
Bum-stabber did stop, but his knife was only inches from my stomach. “But, m’lord, he refused to follow yer order. That’s punishable by death.”
“It is of no matter,” Korac said. “I order you to sheath your knife and leave the boy alone.”
“The Anklets are not what I’m looking for. What I need is the Orb of Trineer. My magic detection spell only told me there was a powerful artifact in the castle but it didn’t tell me which one. Now, back off!”
Bum-stabber continued snarling at me. I smiled back. His snarl turned into a full glower. As he spun around, he stomped on my socked foot before tromping back to the middle of the room. I bent over and let out a yelp.
Korac sighed and sat down on a wooden chair next to the table. “When I detected such a powerful item entering the castle, I thought the Orb was coming to me. I was mistaken. I’m afraid the only thing that will save the King and the army is the Orb.” He looked up at me. “Myrick, did you see or hear anything about the Orb of Trineer while you were in the Valley of Death?”
I limped back toward the table but made sure to keep my distance from Bum-stabber. “We did meet a barbarian named Nonac who was looking for an orb, but he didn’t say which one.”
“Who was he working for?”
“He didn’t say. Just said something about a boss.”
Korac nodded. “Probably hired by Miloc of Duragath. He’s been looking for the Orb longer than I have.”
Bum-stabber said, “So Miloc sent this barbarian into our kingdom to spy on us. Just how clever is this barbarian spy?” he asked me.
I raised an eyebrow. “Clever? Obviously, you haven’t met Nonac. He has even fewer brains than you, Bum-stabber.” Oops.
Bum-stabber’s eyes narrowed. “What did you call me?” He took a step toward me.
I stepped back and put my hands up in front of me. “I mean Uchdehn. Sergeant. Sergeant Uchdehn. And you have wonderful brains.”
“Where is this Nonac?” Korac asked. “Where can I find him?”
I took another step away from Bum-stabber, but he just stood there seething. “Uh, I don’t know. I haven’t seen him since the Valley of Death. He might still be in the area, though, looking for the Orb.”
“Very well.” He faced Bum-stabber. “Sergeant, I need you to gather every available man and equip them for a two week journey.”
“Father Jem at the Monastery of Mentat recently sent me a message indicating that he might know where the Orb is. The monastery is located near the Valley of Death, so on the way we can be on the lookout for this barbarian. But the area is swarming with tribes of troglyns. We’ll need every fighting man you can find.”
“Yes, m’lord,” Bum-stabber said, bowing his head briefly. “But what should I do with these li’l thieves?”
“Leave them to me. Now go. We depart in an hour.”
“Yes, m’lord.” Bum-stabber spun about, but he still managed to cast a withering glance my direction before leading the other two guards out of the room. I smiled and waved back at him.
“Are we free to go, sir?” I asked Korac. I wanted to get back to the Gluttonous Boar and finish my mug of mead before someone else did.
Korac stood up and walked toward me. “Not yet. I have an assignment for you.”
“You have a message you want me to deliver?” So much for a few days off.
“No. I need you and Brutus to come with me.”
“Come with you? Why?”
“As I told Uchdehn, I need every available man to fight off the troglyns.”
“But I’m not a fighter. I’m just a runner. What can I do?”
“If nothing else, you can serve as bait while the soldiers cut down the beasts.”
I looked for a smile, hoping he was joking. He wasn’t.
“Also,” he continued, “I’d like to study the Anklets and see if there is a way to remove them.”
“Oh. Ah, but I have several things I need to do. My overseer has a load of messages that need to be delivered to Triak. But I’ll be sure to let you look at the socks after you get back.”
Korac’s face grew stern. “You will obey me in this.” He snapped his fingers and barked, “Shlabauk!”
Both Nut-boy and I stiffened and stood still, unable to move or even breathe.
“You are under my contract spell, which means you will be coming with me. Understood?” He snapped his fingers again.
My body relaxed and I took a deep breath. I squeezed out of my throat, “Understood.”