(Note: Chapter One was expanded by about 1000 words, so if you haven't read the additions yet, I would recommend doing so to avoid being lost!)
Once we left the warmth and firelight of the village and hit the path in the march proper, the energy that had pushed us into this pursuit began to flag. Darkness fell around us as it was the middle of the night, and only our few torches lit the way. To either side of me I could hear a few sounds; the murmurs of men, some purposeful strides, and the sound of a shovel or rake touching the ground in passing. The marsh had it’s own particular smell. It was rancid to a degree, but not offensively so. It was wetter in atmosphere. The torchlight reflected off of black stagnant pools broken by chokes of thick grasses that were only a lighter degree of black. The sky was the lightest thing around, being charcoal and pricked by light. Ahead was the tower, but it was impossible to discern as the brightness of the torchlight swallowed our sight as we walked. The long, dull walk gave anyone who had misgivings time to reconsider this particular path, and foremost of those was I.
I began to slow, and Resh took my arm.
“What the matter, Henry?”
“I’m just not… really sure this is what we should do.”
“You heard the hag!”
“Well, yes, that’s true. I did hear the hag.”
“What, Henry, you don’t want to come?” asked one of the middle-aged villagers, a planter who evidently had been eavesdropping. I gave a delicate cough.
“I didn’t quite say that…”
“Good,” said the man, then he clapped me on the back far too heartily. “Because there’s the tower!”
Indeed the tower was there, looming up into the sky, moody black against charcoal, silhouetted and strange. It was weird and curved, and seemed unsuited for habitation. I, and I don’t think I was alone, wondered if anyone lived there in actuality. As they prepared to storm the front door, I don’t know what came over me, but it was lousy.
“Where’s the ram? Who has the ram?” said a voice.
Imagine my surprise that they did, in fact, produce some sort of battering ram. To this day I don’t know where they acquired it. They were readying it to ram down the arched wooden front door of the tower when I spoke.
“Um…” I protested. The effect was the same as if I had screamed like a lunatic, however, for they all turned in a creepy sort of unison towards me, their faces full of inquisitive outrage.
“Are we sure about this?” I ventured.
The head man in this lynch mob, who happened to be a somewhat rash fellow as rashness goes, eyed me. “Of course we’re sure.”
“Why shouldn’t we be?” asked another fellow, one of the blacksmith’s apprentices.
“Aye, what’ve you got to say about it, Henry?” said a third man, and at that moment, I could have sworn one of his eyes was much larger than the other.
“Well, it’s just that illusionists, by default, can’t actually cause droughts or plagues, and-“
“What?” shrieked the blacksmith apprentice, who I think was horrified at my reply.
In fact, everyone gasped at me. I was nonplussed.
“It’s illusion, which means he can’t really cause it not to rain, can he? Or make someone sick? I mean, sure, he can make someone think he’s sick, but he can’t really do it, or else that would be some other kind of magic, wouldn’t it?” I asked them.
“You certainly know a lot about illusion magic, boy,” said the head man.
I heard someone mutter that I always was a weird boy, and I didn’t appreciate the sentiment at all, but ignored it anyway.
“It only makes sense.”
“The only thing that’s making sense to me is it seems you’re sympathetic towards this illusionist,” growled the man with the extra big eye. “Too sympathetic, methinks.”
“I’m just trying to be logical. I don’t think he’s ever done anything to harm anyone, if you ask me.”
They all gasped again. I, unlike the hag, did not enjoy the theatrics of serf reactions.
“Think about it!” I implored the crowd. “In all of our lives there is no proof that this illusionist has ever done anything untoward to us! We’ve never even seen him, for that matter!”
“Aye… that’s true,” said head man as he peered at me. He looked around at the other serfs and said, “He could look like anything for all we know.” Then he looked straight at me, in that way that isn’t just looking, but dead looking. “Or like anyone.”
I heard again the murmurs of how I had always been weird, and just groaned.
“Oh come on,” I replied. “If I were that illusionist, why on earth, of all things I could do, would I choose to farm yams?”
The next serf-gasp was filled with outrage. I had said the absolute worst thing you can say to a lynch mob full of dedicated yam farmers. Big-eye-man turned that staring eye on me and rasped, his voice simmering with rising fury.
“You don’t like farmin’ yams, boy?”
“It’s proof,” said somebody nearby, and I could feel the world closing in on me as I tried to move backward in time and spread the surrounding fury thin with my reason.
“No… no! Yams are great,” I managed to stammer out, but it was too late.
“That’s it,” said head man. “He’s been with us all along! Take him!”
Perhaps it was because their incense was something that had to be spent that night no matter what the cause (and I was a convenient one), or perhaps it was my lousy attempts at sounding convincing regarding my pure love of yam farming, but I was suddenly taken into custody by this pile of villagers and the rope was mine to enjoy in very tight close quarters, at least until I was to be burned at the stake. I did object with all my heart, but peasants in a rage cannot be reasoned with. Somewhere vague I wondered where Resh had gone.
Once they’d tied me sufficiently so they were certain I wouldn’t accost them all with my horrible, horrible magic, they began to drag me away from the tower, and that’s when the truly extraordinary began to occur.
“Hey!” yelled somebody. “Has anyone seen my yam?”
A couple of people inquired what it looked like. A small group had formed, causing a distraction, to discuss the lumps particular to this fellow’s personal yam when there was a girlish shriek no one would admit to but which turned everyone’s attention to something lying on the ground in our midst.
It was a yam, but something about it was just wrong. For one thing, it was moving, and for another, it was growing. Everyone backed away from it, creating a circle as it bulged and shuddered and became more than a yam. It was the size of a watermelon, and then it was the size of a bale of hay, but lumpy, as something was trying to sprout life and almost succeeding with globules testing the skin of it from the insides that had somehow become pliant with gelatinous fluidity. At last, out of the skin tore two muscular yam-arms, and two, in retrospect, proportionally skinny legs. Its head was the great turn of the yam-end; lifeless yet captured the imagination like a face upon a rock. The imagination here was quite terrified, and then at last, like a punctuation mark upon the forming of this yam beast, it threw its yam head back and a jagged maw tore where a maw should be, and it roared. It was a sound I will never forget, for there are few in history who can claim to have heard a yam roar, and in this case, with fervor.
The circle of peasants surrounding it had pulled back far, but at its roar the circle shifted and broke, spinning away in fearful directions and becoming chaos. I was lost and forgotten in the chaos, and found myself lying on my side upon the ground with the pungent smell of dirt, defenseless, my breath coming in short, hard pants, and I remember fear and feet. I watched a lot of feet, hoping not the see those horrible, skinny yam legs ending in flat, round clay-colored feet, although on reflection I’m not sure what a yam could have done to me anyway. It was just so surreal we went mad with fright.
They all ran, every last one. If I could have, I would have run, too, even if it meant getting burned at the stake instead. At least with getting burned at the stake you know what you’re in for. With a freakish monster the mind loses all cohesion and a blind terror takes over, and so at length I was alone. Except, the yam monster was there with me, strangely quiet, with its feet shifting about ten feet away from me, as if it was awaiting command. I awaited my death, whatever that could be, at the hands of this monster, and closed my eyes tightly, hoping it would be swift. I could not bear to look at it.
Suddenly I felt strong yam hands on me, grasping me, hefting me into its great arms. It knocked the breath out of me to be thrown over the shoulder of the yam monster, and it began the steady sway of walking while the blood rushed into my head. I’d like to say I was man enough not to scream, but the truth of it is I didn’t even think to scream. I thought if this was going to be it, this would be it, and though I was afraid, screaming didn’t seem like it would matter. I am certain if my instincts had told me there was a remote chance that screaming could save me somehow, I would have been screaming my head off the entire time.
It opened the door to the tower, and I felt myself jostled with the action. I was aware of every nuance of activity the monster undertook, and it gave me a sort of intimacy with this terrifying creature that felt at once familiar and alien, and for the combination, nauseating. At last, after closing the door and walking up a very long flight of narrow stairs, it dropped me mechanically upon the floor. The first thing I noticed was the floor, as it was wood and polished to a remarkable shine. It was true that I had never beheld anything so beautiful in my life as this floor, which goes to show how deprived my life had been thus far. The ropes that bound my wrists and ankles slacked, and my hands were released. I pressed the scraped heels of my hands to the cool, smooth surface of the floor and looked behind me.
There was a man, who I suspected was an elf, for his ears were pointed. His hair was long and blue; a deep, rich blue; a color that never occurs naturally and possibly shouldn’t occur unnaturally, but regardless it was his. His skin was pale, like alabaster, and his features were a culmination of masculine sinew and delicate grace, yet were pinched somehow, as if what he saw was unpleasant. He wore a dark blue coat made of the finest woven wool I had ever seen or imagined, and he regarded me with impassiveness. Behind his left shoulder stood the yam monster, still and docile like a pet.
I trembled with fear, uncertainty, and the beauty of the floor and this man combined. I knew not what to say, but I recall feeling far too filthy to be there, and I turned my body, still being mostly on the floor, to face them and looked up to them both, the cool of the floor soaking up into me, relieving me, and bringing me some strange sense of solace. The man with blue hair was still regarding me, the yam monster was still docile, and somewhere a clock ticked, although I suddenly realized there were no walls, nor ceiling above us, and I couldn’t imagine where a clock could be. I looked around me with a critical eye and then knew this man was probably the illusionist everyone had come to burn at the stake, and at almost the same time knew the serfs had had no idea what it was they were dealing with. He was far more powerful than any of us had assumed. I exhaled, and my breath was ragged.
“Why have you brought me here?” I asked, my voice sounding dry and exposed as if in a cavern. I didn’t like the sound of it.
“Where else do you have to go?” he replied.
Upon thought, I realized his question was very appropriate. Having been labeled as a witch by the villagers of my home, going back there would only mean my death, and possibly the deaths of those who would protect me. I thought of Cherry, and didn’t want to cause her to come under suspicion, neither did I like the idea of her turning against me in the face of superstition. There was no pleasant alternative regarding my previous life, and so I would have to leave, although I didn’t know where I would go.
“South, I suppose,” was my lame reply.
“You would die in the desert.”
“You don’t know that.”
“Yes… I do.”
He offered no more explanation about the desert or why within it lay my certain death, but my imagination was piqued by his apparent knowledge of new horizons.
“Then I would go north,” I said.
“East,” I continued, at once curious and challenging.
“A swamp so horrible, it makes this marsh look like a pleasant glade.”
He hesitated and his weight shifted as he thought.
“It’s possible,” he ventured. “But I wouldn’t recommend it. Not for someone as inexperienced as you.”
“What do you know about me?”
“Enough,” he said without explanation.
“Where am I?”
“Where do you think you are?”
“I think I am inside of your tower, but it seems far too spacious… and strange.”
“Then we must be somewhere else.”
“You’re confusing me.”
“It’s a talent,” he said, and the clock began to tick louder. He turned to the side and the yam monster began to shrink, and though it was me the illusionist watched, the monster seemed to shrink at his bidding until it became only a yam in his long fingers. He dropped it upon the floor with a thud between us. “I wonder if that peasant will come back for his property?”
I stared at the yam from my vantage point on the floor. I had nowhere to go. It was true. I had never felt without a place in my life and the excitement of the night hadn’t let it strike me until now. There were times when I wished, without letting myself be too conscious of it, to leave my village and find something else. I had always wanted to learn more than what had been available to me, and the illusionist was both compelling and terrifying, but more the former than the latter. My curious mind drew me in and I went out on a limb due to both desperation and desire for knowledge.
“You wouldn’t happen to need someone to dig holes for you, would you?” I asked with hesitation, staring at the floor as it shone.
I felt something like humiliation and shored myself up under the circumstances.
“West it is, then,” I said, and began to rise. It occurred to me that I had no idea how to exit this place, as there were no walls.
“However,” he said. I looked at him. He sighed. “I could use a courier.”
He looked up at the nonexistent ceiling and seemed a bit put out, but I found myself pleased at his concession for my survival. There was one problem, though.
“I have no experience couriering, sir.”
“Please,” he said to me. “Don’t ever say ‘couriering’ again.”
“Er… yes, sir.”
“Why are you calling me ‘sir’?”
“It’s just an honorific,” I explained, although he began to look very impatient. “ I thought, since I’m going to be in your service, that I should-“
He rolled his eyes and snapped his fingers once.
I was outside of the tower, lying upon my side, still tied with the rope, with the pungent smell of dirt in my face. The yam was nearby, harmless and normal.