CHAPTER 2: THE FROG CAN’T FLY;
A few buildings down the same flint pavement of Steve’s forge situated a bakery famous for the cheapest white bread in town. This would be his last stop before he returned to the workshop beyond the city’s wall.
He and Steve had planned to visit Brown’s Boulder tavern this moon. Sir Richard went there every seventh moon and so did the majority of the masters. It would be just like another Silverflow council meeting, but better. There would be no prick cleric to watch their every move. There would be the common people, constituents from every district in Ironheart instead.
But for this moon, Steve was tied up in the aftermath of his awkward confession and Leo had his hands full with a seven-hundred-thousand-pris burden. The tavern would be less rowdy without them but it had to be done. The witch needed to get out of town before curfew. Ain’t anybody had spare money for a pet hydra to stay in town.
Ins and outs of the city had been tightened. It was unclear how but the church had informed the city guards that the witch had sneaked into Ironheart. Every mercenary, knight and soldier in town had their eyes peeled for the witch. They asked women on the street to remove their veil and answer questions; ones that the witch simply lied through her teeth.
She changed her disguise to that of an elderly woman nibbling a piece of bread. As they were exiting the southern gate, she lined up two persons behind the inventor. Leo got past the checkpoint without much hassle but Eliot was pulled to the side for questioning.
At long last, she emerged from the crowd trickling out from the partially opened gates. Out of sight of the guard towers, she assumed a younger appearance and donned a signature dark purple cloak on top of her frilly black robe. She liked frills, apparently, and she had them on her outfit in all forms.
There was a broom in her hat. She called it “Stardust” and she claimed it flew faster than the fastest lightning ray.
Nobody had seen these flying fish alive before. Leo remembered overhearing the naturalist and the mythologist bickered about these mysterious creatures. If memory served him well, the naturalist won the debate with a sample of dead lightning rays fused into a dragon scale. These rays, to dragons, were like flies to cows.
Or, like the witch to him.
For the time being, Eliot hovered slowly at the inventor’s eyes level, keeping in pace with his long strides. His body felt light thanked to a spell she casted.
When the city guards pulled her in for interrogation, they sent a priest to face her. She was forced to answer questions inside an Oath of Providence ritual. The all-seeing eye punished those who dared slip a lie in front of the Lord. Those who lied under the Oath would be cursed forever.
“What kind of curse?” he asked.
“Who knows? They didn’t say which one.”
From the look of it, she must have run into the local church’s deacon—Father Graham. He was the weakest but also the most zealous of the three mages in the church. Had it been the princess or the bishop, Eliot would have called them out in her recount already.
“Straight to the point, they asked if I was the witch.”
“And what did you tell them?”
“I beat up the priest with my half eaten bread, and I said to them: “My children died in her hands. Children! All my sons and daughters!—”
No matter how funny she made the situation out to be, a glimpse of her past always left a bitter aftertaste in his mouth. There, he saw her lips trembled again. A brief, mournful speechlessness before she yelled aloud:
But she shed no tears. Her tears dried up long ago. And instead, she laughed, at the cruel hand of fate, at the irony of the exchange, and, she laughed at herself. Then it all stopped. Damming silence befell. She let the despair seeped in.
“—And here you morons asked me if I was the witch!?”
The illusion of an enraged old woman faded away. The young, indifferent Eliot took the stage for the curtain bow.
“And so I said. After that, they let me go.”
Standing upright on a broom in mid-air, she wrapped up the recap in nonchalance. Then she sat down. With her legs crossed and dangled in front of him, she pushed the inventor from a mere glimpse to a deep dive into her grim history.
There was not a single ending for her children. Her love for them—no, she amended—her interest in them had been decided in their conception.
A few of her descendants were the results of unwilling unions; “chanced encounters” in alleyways involving bizarre and confusing circumstances. These offspring, she got rid of after birth, sold to the highest bidders in West Rufus.
All of her offspring carried potent magical blood and hence even dead ones fetched a high price on the black market. “They are more profitable than the lion’s heart of a dying warrior, and their number does not decrease over time,” she revealed.
Leo recused himself from the details of her infants and a human heart’s pricing.
“But ugh…child birth…a pain as always…”
She cringed, expressing how inconvenient and risky the process was. Without a spouse, she could not invite a midwife. And without anyone to support in labor, almost all offspring born this way perished within the first hour.
“Those difficult times…I can only rely on Stardust to set off a Major Salubrious before I too die.”
She gently stroked the broom, “I’m very proud of her,” she said.
Leo wanted to throw up.
The origin of the infants she sold in West Rufus made them all the more disturbing. Good Lord! He had not told Princess Lilia about the infants. She would have rained sacred fires and doused the district in holy water for seven days. And even then, he doubted that could wash away the heresy Eliot had committed.
Nevertheless, behind these cruel and inhumane decisions laid a rationale he could not dismiss. He recognized the rationale. It was the same ideology he and other masters of Silverflow embraced. It was the idea that everything could be quantified in terms of gain, loss, and risk. That everything, including human lives, was quantifiable.
Eliot’s story did not end there. At times, she had fallen in love and had children with men who might or might not be aware of her true identity. She loved the ones from genuine romance the best as they were allowed to love her for who she was.
But o cruel hands of fate ever so twisted, none of these children was born immortal as she was. All of them, including the ones she had with the archbishop—the only other ancient in Ashlora—eventually aged and faded from memories.
Of her most beloved children, few lived on in legends as kings and queens. Fewer settled for a humble life. Most wound up dead, seeking riches and glories that matched the power they inherited.
For all those ever come out of her womb, truly, every-single-one-of-them, and regardless of who they became, she would always be there in the final moments. She would hold their fleeting souls in her tender hands and bid them farewell.
There were too many conflicting emotions in the ending for Leo to take in. So many that this ending whisked away any impression he would have had of her conscience, her rationale, and her marriage to the man who became her worst enemy.
“I’m sorry…” was all he could muster.
“Then I looted their corpses, in case there was anything valuable I could take. As you can see, they are profits one way or another.”
“I take that back. You’re a monster.”