The Northern King William III showed me the Silver Pool just a year after I became his Fool, long before he’d descended into his mania. As we ambled away from our weekly advisory meeting with the rest of the magisters and court, he’d said, “Gods, I think we finally found an afternoon where both you and I are free of our responsibilities.”
Up to our necks in proper garb for the day, complete with layered tunics, ties, half-cloaks and embellished cuffs, the heat was stifling us from the inside out.
A welcome change from the prolonged winters of the Northern Moonlands. “With all respect, William, it’s only you who ever has conflicting responsibilities,” I’d responded. “Sure, I have some appointments here and there, but I’m not as loyal when it comes to keeping them should something more … exciting turn up.”
“True. Then again, you don’t have a quarter of the realm expecting your attendance with most of those occasions,” he replied, leading me to one of the reading rooms in the lower parts of the castle. "I can't wipe my ass without someone asking about it." He ran a hand through his hair and shook his head, as if the situation mystified him.
I shrugged. “Can’t blame yourself for that, really. You are a good king, William,” I said, shaking off the carelessness of my tone, if just for that statement. “Probably one of the best. Your parents would have been proud to see you handling all this so well, especially at this age, and with Portsworth, of all capitals.”
“Oh.” He stopped walking. “I—well. Thank you.” He cleared his throat. “I’m sure they would have appreciated you, considering you've kept me sane throughout so much of it.”
“A little laughter and companionship lessens any burden. It's the least I can do,” I assured him. “Then again, if they were here, it’s likely you never would have bothered with someone like me. The weight of Addoran wouldn’t be yours to carry, either.”
At the time, the question of his reasoning for recruiting me from my chaotic past and into his court remained nearly untouched, something I respectively kept my distance from until he felt compelled to tell me, if he ever would. Not that I minded.
“Strange how luck and misfortune seem to arise from each other,” he sighed, then opened the door to the library and ushered us inside. "I rather like how the events following their deaths tumbled. Could be worse," he shrugged.
Extending outside the library was a terrace that matched my own, both in size and design, only it was eight floors beneath mine. “But I,” he said with an arch of his eyebrow as he checked to make sure no one had followed us, “have some plans for today that don’t involve the scrutiny of our court, nor any misfortune, for that matter.”
“A library …” I hummed, eyeing the chandelier that hovered at the top of the ceiling, its enchanted globes and glass orbs slowly orbiting around one another, while a ring of upright swords circled the entire contraption. “Are we going to be reading for your day of reprieve?” I’d asked. “A perilous adventure into,” I slipped a leather-bound tome from one of the numerous shelves, “The Sovereign’s Crown: A Philosophical Approach to Governing? Gendric would be proud to see you crack open this monster. You know how riveting these tomes are.”
He laughed with a glint of mischief in his eyes, one that I was all too familiar having stuck in my own. “Oh no … I think if I pour over another piece of parchment my stomach will churn and I will vomit a novel of some horrendous nature. You have no godsdamned idea how many writs, requests, and pleas I look at.”
“Only I do,” I jutted in, “being the person that helps you judge their worth half the time.”
He sighed, pretending to be annoyed by my remark. "It is a part of my daily routine to read things I can hardly organize or solve. So no, dear Casimir, we’ll not be doing any reading today.”
“Well,” I said with a frown, “you don’t have to crush my dreams so damned hard. What about Lady Elise, where is she? Can’t she join us? I understand that your uncle more or less foisted the marriage upon you, but I actually enjoy her.”
“Oh, the scholarly gentleman you are,” he praised with a slap on my back before opening the terrace doors and motioning for me to join him outside on the veranda. He stretched his arms and yawned, something that was rather rare. “Lady Elise is preoccupied today, discussing some diplomatic matters with a woman from the West Wrights Shipping Company.” He shook his head like any such thoughts were poison to him in that moment. “But please, let’s not talk about that. Gods! The sky is just glorious today. You see that pool down there, the one in the middle of the basin?”
“You mean the one that nobody is allowed to swim in, something about Calan’s sacred nature and it being one of the six known Silver Pools in Addoran?”
“Precisely that one! Oh, you are so perceptive!” he marveled while his fingers unbuttoned his tunic.
“Naturally, you wish to—”
“Swim in it. I am the Northern King after all. If anybody tries to stop me, I’ll just have their head!” he joked. At the time, it truly was humorous to imagine him doing such a thing.
“The Priests of Calan are going to protest your reign if they catch us.” I imagined a whole horde of tan-robed acolytes marching up to the Foxfeather Castle, causing me to laugh more than a little.
He scoffed. “And here I thought you were the daring type. Now, I, the stern and relentless ruler, have to instruct my jester to swim in it? This is ridiculous. Don’t make me order you to enjoy yourself, now. It spoils the fun.”
“You may just have to. It’s a steep height, my lord. Isn’t it dangerous? Is a little dip in the water worth a dive that could split your skull in half?” I looked over the edge of the veranda, passed the razor rocks that made up the basin’s borders, imaging just how much skin they would peel off my chest if I didn’t jump far enough passed them.
“What happened to you? Did a prude crawl up inside the Casimir I know and replace his sense of frivolity with motherly concern? Don’t you know anything about Silver Pools? Gods, what do you do all day?”
“Oh, well I feed my crow, walk around the markets, practice juggling, fencing tactics, I read and … all right, what is this? I’m not on trial here. But, aren’t these pools … eh … powerful? Some hogwash about purifying water used for healing spells? I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a touch concerned about the gods smiting someone like me for stepping into something so holy. There’s a reason why I keep my daily activities private.”
William waved that away, rushed to the library’s doors and locked them before stripping down to this undergarments. “Undoubtedly, there is some magickal properties to them. But we’re not here for that. They are,” he explained as he pried off his socks, “not entirely what you would call ‘water’, or at least that is what Magister Katrin tells me. She says they gain their silver aura because of geysers that constantly release a substance into them, and simultaneously pump the water with so much air that it becomes less dense.”
I clapped my hands behind my back and said nothing, waiting for him to explain why this made any sense.
“Meaning,” he continued impatiently, “you can jump from the heavens into them, and your body won’t slap like a fish against the surface. More importantly, it’s pleasantly warm as a result. Just dodge the rocks!”
Despite what he said, my stomach tensed at the thought of jumping from such a height. I despise heights. Yet, I found myself undressing, cursing myself as I did. “If I die today, from god or rock or drowning or otherwise, I hope you carve on my tombstone, ‘murdered by his king’s dimwitted idea of fun’. Also, why do I get the feeling that Magister Katrine came upon these findings through the study of books and not personal testing?” I asked him dryly, placing my jester hat on one of the finials of the handrails.
“Oh, probably because you are exactly right. Consider your tombstone arranged. I will admire it from my view of the gardens. Alas! I am a free man for this afternoon, and my reign shall not be questioned!” he mock bellowed. “Right then. Up and over!” And before I could pull the damned madman back, he sprinted from the back of the library, pivoted off the handrails and launched himself off, screaming with the most pure and godly joy I’d ever seen.
He dove through the bubbling water like a spear, disappearing beneath its surface for quite some time before reappearing, screaming all the same, just without as much breath.
“You are more mad than I am!” I shouted at him. “How is it? Did you feel a goddess smite you, yet?”
“And much braver, more handsome, and talented too! Calan doesn’t give two shits! You’re not going to make me get prosecuted for this alone, will you?”
“You know I would never miss an opportunity to be at the center of attention!” I hollered back.
“Less talk and more action, Casimir! Are you a performer or not? I hear elves can’t swim for their lives. You’re not going to let the rumor stand, will you?”
The last question is what did it. I walked to the back of the library, sprinted, and just as he did, pivoted my weight off the guardrails, shouting partly from thrill, but mostly from terror, as I plunged into the air and tucked my legs into my arms. He dove into the water almost flawlessly, but I aimed to make a splash of cataclysmic proportions.
There are moments in ours lives when destiny is a star glimmering far above the horizon, a drudging journey towards a nearly imperceivable, and perhaps pointless, destination. Then there are those rare, blissful instances, when we’re grasping it like a gift dropped from the gods in our lap. Whether it came from hard toil or sheer luck, or a bit of both, our path is clear, our next step sure. Other times, you chase after it like a demon who just clawed out of the earth, mad and invigorated, unperturbed, indomitable. Should something get in your way, gods have mercy upon it.
My body fell through the air towards that glimmer of silver water at the basin of the cliffs, all the death threats and shouts drowned out by the rush of cold air now drumming over my ears. Balls of fire from an angry mage chased me in my descent, whipped passed my head before fizzling out, only adding to my spasms of laughter.
A cry of exultation and thrill streamed from my body as I somersaulted in my flight, memory and present merging while the night’s sharp winds whirled about my body. And as I flew through the air, I prayed to all the gods that the fall would be just as harmless from my chamber as it was from that library, eight floors down, five years ago.
As William and I discovered that summer day, within the Silver Pool, there is a cove that leads into an intricate system of carved tunnels and paths, one beneath Portsworth that opens up at a cave far beyond the city limits. Filled with stone imps and the occasional rat, the tunnels are all but unknown. A good escape route as any, I reckoned.
At this height, anyone who saw me would be forced to assume I drowned, or simply died, upon hitting the surface. Luckily for me, the Silver Pool had an incredible depth, and one that William and I surmised was all but bottomless; it was more than enough distance for my body to dive through. The substance in the pool was indeed far lighter than water, and made swimming in it extremely easy, more like floating in air. Surely, it wouldn't harm me now.
Or, at least, I assured myself of those facts frantically as I neared it in my descent. Halfway down, my trajectory seemed to point me towards the center of the pool. I braced myself for the impact into the shimmering water.
Then, my thrilled hollering was replaced by screams of pain.
Something halted my descent just as I was about to break the surface of the water. It felt as if my spine nearly snapped as claws dug into my back. The unknown creature struggled against the inertia of my fall before lifting me back up and carrying me away.
“Kuilmore fek!” I roared at my airborne captor. “Let go! Damnit! What in the gods’ …”
Massive, scarred and weather-beaten wings flapped above me me. Large, milky-white eyes briefly glanced at me as it carried me away from the Silver Pool. It was a gargoyle bat, characterized by its grey hid, four legs, and terrifying size. I pounded its furry torso with my fist, bewildered. The creature didn’t seem to care in the slightest. Its head was twice the size of mine, while its body seemed just larger than my torso. Each of its wings was the length of your average desk, if not longer.
I drew one of my daggers and nearly stabbed it, before looking down and thinking better. The city streets glowed in with torchlight and swirling fog far beneath me, with only weathered rooftops and cobblestone to break my fall. A few citizens enjoying the night looked up and rushed to get the attention of others to see the spectacle, hooting and shouting up at me.
Briefly, I considered dying just to spite the creature for ruining my nearly-perfect escape. Then again, I couldn’t immediately decide what was more notable, disappearing into a pool of water or being carried away by a monstrous bat. It was the sheer unexpectedness of it that annoyed me senseless.
Glancing back at my shrinking terrace, I saw my pursuers pointing and shouting at me. At least it would make for quite the story, I thought bitterly, before realizing that the situation made no godsdamned sense. Gargoyle bats don’t eat people, so hunting and swooping them up while they are enjoying themselves was simply unthinkable, especially this close to the city. And yet, here I was in one's claws, admiring the bony anatomy of its wings as it carried me away from Portsworth.
Its pointed, furry ears flapped as the wind rushed through them, the creature making no signs of considering this out of the ordinary.
“Of all the things that could have happened …”
As the city fell away beneath our arc through the clouds, I watched our moonlit shadows swim over the Sea of Blood’s scarlet leaves. Behind us, the angry caws of Felix chased us in our flight, though his protest did precious little to amend the situation.
“Felix, Felix! I’m fine!” I assured him. The bat shifted its claws to get a better grip on my waist, piercing my skin with another set of marks. I winced. “I need you to send something for me!” I shouted over the whistling air, thinking quickly.
“Get close to me, Felix!” I called to him as he struggled to keep up with the bat.
When Felix was in reach, I fumbled with the feather ring on my thumb, trying to drop it into his messenger pouch as he flew beside us. At the same time, the bird couldn’t simply stop flying, let alone slow down, to give me time to do so. At last, I snatched him from the air and placed the ring in the tiny pouch attached to its leg. “Forgive me for being so rough. I know, I know, this is strange. Get this to Magister Fahim’s chamber,” I instructed, three times over.
The terrified crow was cawing, now seeing the face of the gargoyle bat, whose eyes seemed fixated and trancelike, unlike a normal animal’s, as it continued towards its destination.
I let Felix go, who, after regaining his balance in the air, watched us briefly before flapping back to the Foxfeather Castle.
“Wait, Felix!” I shouted, but it was too late. “Don’t forget to find me! Somehow!”
I cursed at my mistake. I should have let him follow me, first. A touch of loneliness creeped up into my chest, watching his tiny silhouette fade into the clouds.
By then, the Sea of Blood was far behind us, with Portsworth’s expanse turning into a wood and stone oval spread across the mountainous terrain cut by the sea. Four points of light: the east, west, north and south squares, illuminated surrounding structures with the symbols of the four gods of fortune. The bat veered eastwards, alongside the mountains that loomed over the forest, where early snows had already settled at the basins. My hands had gone numb, my mind was reeling, and my stomach, twisting, at the thought of whatever would meet me after this bat stopped flying.
I had that terrible feeling that it was nothing with the best intentions.
I squirmed until I could get the whetstone from my satchel. To pass the time for the uncomfortable journey, I sharpened my daggers. What else was there to do?
“Small chance you are one of those infernal beasts that can talk?” I asked the bat.
Again, its eyes only glanced at me before returning to stare at the terrain as it slid beneath us.
“No, I thought not,” I sighed. "You don't talk to your prey, do you? That wouldn't be good table manners."