Narnemvar looked absently at the warmish tea in his hand. It took him awhile to take a sip, but once he did, he paused for a considering moment then downed it in one draught. He held his cup out like a small child. Satbada smoothly moved to fill it.
“Take care, sir. This cup is a bit warmer.”
The second cup disappeared more slowly. He held the empty vessel against his chest.
“Is that stew I smell?”
“Yes, sir. Would you like some.”
Narnemvar held the cup out. Satbada ignored it and went to fill a bowl, which he presented with a spoon.
“Take care with the stewed, dried peaches, sir. They tend to retain heat.”
“Thank you, Shortbread.” The phrase was said absently. Narnemvar sat holding the bowl and spoon, not quite focusing on his surroundings. “I think there’s something wrong with that curse.”
“So it’s a bad curse, rather than a good one.” Postlavanderon was amused.
“It’s not just ill health, there’s something else. Something vague and disquieting. Or maybe disquieted. Perhaps the caster imprinted it with his fears. I’ve heard of fear driven spells, but never encountered one. Good casters never do it. They work hard at not doing it. And they don’t need . . . don’t need to do it. But they say that fear can put a weak caster over the top. Drive a spell that he can’t ride any other way.” He blinked.
“I’m babbling, aren’t I?”
“Just a bid. May I ask if you’re saying that the spell was cast by a weak magic user who could only cast a spell as strong as a curse by using his fear as a spell component?”
“Spell component?” The words were said gently. “Spell component?” He tasted the word, rolling it around the edges of his tongue like a prince’s butler trying a new vintage.
“I’ve never heard it stated in that way. . . . Spell component.” Slowly his eyes focused and he turned to look directly at his friend.
“Lavvi. You’re a genius. That may describe it exactly. There should be tomes written. . . .” His head turned and his eyes unfocused again. The stew was cooling in the bowl. Narnemvar was keeping the bowl level but taking no other note of it.
“That’s the last of the mutton, sir, I’m afraid. And the last of the dried fruit. It will be fish and onions from here on in. The flour, however, should last for a few more days.”
“I think he’s hinting that you shouldn’t let good meat get cold. I’m more interested in why using fear as a component makes the spell bad, myself.”
“The spell. The curse. You were unraveling it.”
“And you’ve learned . . . ?”
“Oh. Give me a moment.” Narnemvar settled himself, shifting every part of his body as if resettling the whole thing in his mind by reminding himself of his various parts. He inspected the stew and took a hesitant bite, then nodded manically, affirming the rediscovery of the goodness of eating.
“Well, we knew that we had to walk ‘away’.” he said and then slurped noisily. “Now I know that there’s no point of turn-off. There’s never going to be a point at which the spell decides that we’ve moved far enough away, that it can turn off, at least for awhile.”
“So what happens when we’ve gone as ‘away’ as we can?”
“Well, if we could reach the exact opposite of the globe from the go-away-from place, we could travel in any direction (since all directions would be toward the go-away) then turn around and re-trace our steps. We would be gathering ill-health in the first direction and releasing it in the second.
Providing the spell releases faster than it gathers, which is most likely, barring some oddness provided by the fear, we will be fine. We will be traveling back and forth and slowly going mad, but we will be otherwise fine. Except for perhaps starving to death.
And the difficulty, of course, is that our antipodes is most likely to be some uncharted plot of ocean.”
“The difficulty. Singular. Things are improving.”
“Well, when I say ‘the difficulty’, I really mean the difficulty that I’m thinking about right now because my mind is all wobbly and can only think of one thing at a time.”
“Ah. I see. I may regret asking, but if you can only think of one thing at a time, perhaps we need to decide what thing you will think of. As in, what one thing would be most profitable to think about at this time?”
“Not the antipodes. I don’t intend to let this go on nearly that long. Perhaps just on unraveling the curse. I’m sure there’s a way to pick it apart. The difficulty is that when the components and intents are distanced even slightly from each other, the fear seeps out and suffuses the atmosphere. I’m breathing it in to the point that it feels like it’s rubbing against the lower arch of my brain.”
“That doesn’t sound good. What kind of fear is it?”
“Fear of death, definitely, perhaps. Fear of loss of control. Fear of contagion.
“Will we be able to sleep tonight, sir?”
“Not more than four hours, I’m afraid. Unless you want to wake up hurt and get healing. But I warn you, I’ll have to stop thinking of this entirely to think of healing.”
“Four hours it shall be, then.”
“Good. That’s four hours and a one to two hour walk after, then we can sleep for another four hours.”
“Just so. We will plan on it.”
“The thing they’re afraid of. They think we did it.”
“Yes. I’d remember if we did anything like it. These people. They have a lot of quaint ideas. We probably transgressed some local taboo.”
Postlavanderon’s face heated. He had a good idea what might have caused the locals to quaintly fear a contagious loss of control leading to death. He caught a wisp of himself thinking: “I should have seen their faces.” Narnemvar didn’t seem to be thinking along that track, though. Should he be warned? Perhaps drinking in the fear would contaminate him.
No. Fear of contamination was not contamination. It was certainly not the contamination of a death wish. Narnemvar was safe from that, unless he had his own difficulties in that regard. And that was unlikely.
“Is there any way to make it easier for you to tease the thing apart? Are you going to be able to unmake it when you have it fully teased?”
“Not sure.” The words trailed off. He was thinking again. He was elsewhere.
“Not sure you’ll be able to unmake it or unsure that we can do anything to help?”
Postlavanderon finished his tea and handed over his cup. “Do you know, Satbada, that there was a time in my life when I would have, as they say, ‘heaved a sigh’ at a time like this.”
“I hear that her ladyship holds firm views about the aesthetics of respiratory emissions.”
“She does indeed. If I do not sigh under this depth of provocation, we can congratulate the lady on the success of her views.”
“Shall I pack up, sir?”
“Yes. We’ll lead him along. He may walk on his own to follow you.”
“Very good, sir. We’ll be ready to depart shortly.”
“Yes,” said Postlavanderon. He sat watching his friend watch nothing that he could see. He’d never seen Narnemvar concentrate like this. He supposed that if another wizard did it, it would look impressive. But that would be because the other wizard would have taken precautions that Narnemvar wasn’t bothering with. Because the other wizard would care too much for his own safety to make himself vulnerable to the care of two less than trail worthy companions on a strange trail. Another wizard would look much more impressive, but he wouldn’t work fast enough to keep Satbada alive. Postlavanderon was sure of that.
“I’m going to end up personally indebted to you, my friend.” he muttered.
Hearing it, Satbada shivered. A personal debt to someone that his family was using was a dangerous thing for a princeling. That it might be incurred in relation to his personal health disturbed and frightened the servant. He did not consider being embarrassed about it and most certainly would not consider suggesting that the master not consider aiding him to be a debt. It was not a servant’s place to have opinions about their masters’ feelings, especially their sense of indebtedness.
“Shall I begin, sir?”
“Yes. I’ll see that he follows.”