Things Unseen, Chapter 52

For the unofficial preface, click here.
For the previous chapter, click here.

I slammed eld Caithra’s book onto the desk in Aryden’s study. “This is the instrument of your suffering, though you and your wife are the wielders,” I said.

By now, Aryden had begun the evening’s drinking; his languid eyes betrayed the depths to which he’d drunk himself already. “What?” he asked, and I wasn’t sure if the word meant incredulity or that he simply hadn’t understood me.

Turning the book to face him, I opened it to the frontispiece. “Eld Caithra’s Bindings and Loosings. Aevala knew of your affair with Orren, but rather than confront you or do anything that might spread rumors, she decided to act against the one she believed had undone you. She was trying to protect you, I think, though she chose about the most foolish method she could find for her attempt.
And that is Barro’s fault. He brought her this book. He showed her the cursing ritual written within it, assisted her in its completion.”

“So it is a curse,” Aryden mumbled, almost to himself. “So you can undo it.”

“No.”

“No?”

“This curse never took effect. Not as it was written in these pages, anyway. Orren never suffered the effects the working describes.”

“Then why bring me this text? Other than to implicate our Temple priest?”

“It’s more complicated than that, I’m afraid. The curse is the source of Orren’s manifestation as a spirit; I’ve found no other reasonable explanation. Which means that, by Wyrgeas or happenstance, at the same time that Aevala and Barro reached the completion of their ritual, you were murdering Orren. Between Aevala’s intent, some mix of love for you and desire to protect you, and the Power released by Orren’s death, an unintended sacrifice, the working was warped. It could no longer take effect as written and planned, but it had been infused with too much Power and shaped with too much emotion to have no effect.
The curse both bound Orren here and empowered him to take his revenge against you two.”

“What do we do to break it then?”

“As I said, I can’t. Were you not listening? A human life was sacrificed to empower this working! It is beyond my ability to simply undo.”

“What about a repetition of the cause?” Lord Aryden asked, somber and serious.

“What? No! I’ll not partake in another murder for your comfort and safety. I can’t break the curse; I can’t undo it entirely. But there may be a way to render it effectively harmless.”

Aryden leaned forward in his chair at that. “How?”

“I can’t be certain that my plan will work, but it is the only possible resolution I can conceive. For now, you needn’t worry about the details. There is a decision you must first make if we are to have any chance of success.”

“And what is that?”

“Sacrifice. Sacrifice—especially done freely and willingly—is the most powerful sympathy for the creation of a working. Orren’s unwilling sacrifice has strengthened the curse that has created him as he is now. A willing sacrifice will be necessary to counteract what you have wrought. The sacrifice must be yours.”

He eyed me warily now. “What kind of sacrifice?”

“By its very nature, something dear to you must be sacrificed. Giving away something of no value to you is meaningless.”

“But not life?” he asked, searching for some assurance.

“Were that the case, I would not consider my plan a viable option.”

“Then what?”

“What do you have that would pain you the most to lose?”

“Vesonna,” he said.

“You’re thinking too literally, perhaps. Besides, anything to do with another person will be their sacrifice as much as yours, and that just won’t do. The meaning of the sacrifice, what makes it so powerful in this case, is the contrition it shows for the wrongs that led to the curse. It must be yours alone.”

He took a swig of wine from the goblet on his desk and leaned back into his chair, his neck rolling so that he faced upward, his eyes closing as he searched his thoughts for an answer—one that I might accept and he might live with.

Finally, he looked up with realization. “No,” he said, voice hard.

I said nothing in response; it had the effect I’d intended.

“No!” he said, now an impudent child refusing to obey.

Still, I did not speak.

“No,” he spoke. This time, resignation and grief colored his voice, the beginnings of acceptance. But then he looked up at me with cold eyes again, and I knew to expect his last sally in avoidance of the inevitable. He rose from his chair, knocking the goblet aside as an empty display of violence before pointing his finger level at my chest. “This is what you’ve wanted all along, isn’t it? This is why my siblings sent you here, so that one of them may take my place at the head of our line. I send to them for help and they see an opportunity at usurpation! No, I will not agree to this! I will not allow this further impunity, against me, against the order established by The One and the traditions of our people! This seat is mine by right, and I shall not be stripped of it by grasping relatives!”

“Who said we’re talking about rights?” I asked him, voice flat and unmoved by his display, though my stomach turned at the tension of the exchange.

“What’s ‘fair’ and what’s ‘right’ aren’t part of this conversation. I’m not a priest or a philosopher to weigh those things with you; I’m a thaumaturge here to solve a problem. What you have to sacrifice for a solution to work is not within my power to change. That being the case, moral inquiry into the matter is not my concern.” But in my heart, I did wonder whether there was a certain justice here, and whether the balancing of sacrificial powers in competition with one another really was a part of The One’s greater design.
Aryden slumped back into the chair. “I need some time to think on it,” he said.

“No; you don’t. The choice is simple. Your power or the wife to who you are trothbonded. If there is any choice there, then you deserve neither.”

He moved to rise from his seat again, to raise his voice, to ask me how I dared speak to him that way. Sometimes, though, the truth has a power all of its own, and in this instant that power overcame all indignation, trampled all objection.

“So how do we do it, then?” the lord asked.

“I’ll have to design a counter-ritual. During that ritual, you will renounce your claim to your throne, your wealth, and your position within the family. That abjuration will be fatebound; your refusal to abide by it will result in curses and calamity upon you. It’s important that you understand that. These are not just words. These words have a power to them; the Avar itself will seek to enforce them. Once you’ve made your renunciation, I’ll use the power of it to remove Orren’s influence over Aevala and this place.”

“You’ll banish him,” Aryden offered.

“No. As I said, I don’t have the power to fully break the curse and banish Orren’s spirit, only to render it harmless as long as certain measures are followed. I’ll transfer Orren’s authority elsewhere.”

“How will you do that?”

“Send for Ovaelo; I’ll have need of his assistance. Make sure he brings the painting of Lady Aevala.”

There came a knocking at the door. Aryden yelled for the supplicant to enter. Eldis cracked the door open and stuck his head in, like an old turtle cautiously reaching for a leaf in the midst of danger. “Barro is here; he says it’s to beg your forgiveness, my lord.”

“What do I do with him?” the lord asked me.

“The responsibility for justice remains yours for the time,” I said. “But keep him from me, for my desire is vengeance.”

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