01 Feb The Beggar Prince
I once thought I knew what it meant to be human, that throughout the course of my many years upon this Earth I had seen and heard it all, that the nature of life, death and suffering was as clear to me as the words in one of the many books that adorned my bookshelf.
I thought I knew what the autumn of my life would hold, that I had learned all the harsh lessons life had to teach. But that was before the Boy. Before that beautiful soul trapped in the body of a handmade toy, that I would come to call my Son, came into my life.
As I watch the first snows of winter coat the dead branches of the trees outside from where I sit in this desolate workshop, I cannot help but think back to that cold winter evening so long ago, when he sat beside me as I worked, his eyes alight with all the wonder and curiosity of a natural born child, asking me questions I was afraid to answer.
“What does it mean, to be a real boy Papa?”
He asked me in that forlorn, thoughtful tone I had come to expect from him. I had no real answer to give him. Silence prevailed over the two of us while I thought about what to say.
It was not the first time he’d asked me that question, he’d been asking questions like it ever since he first asked if he could leave the house and go make friends, and I told him that was impossible.
I tried to tell him that the people outside would not be kind to him. That they would fear him, and that their fear would become hate. When he asked me why they would be afraid of him I told him the truth, that they would not see him as a real boy. He did not understand why.
“Well… real boys are things of flesh and blood, as well as hair and skin.”
That was the only answer I could think to give, and he nodded in acknowledgement. He knew very well that he was not a thing of flesh, blood, skin, and hair. He was a thing of wood, iron, paint and very old magic. He was a prayer to the Old Gods answered, my dearest wish, now my most guarded secret.
he said suddenly, confusion and frustration becoming more apparent in his tone, as if I’d overlooked something obvious in my answer. He pointed downward to the wooden prosthetic that served as my left leg.
” Your leg is not a thing of flesh and blood, it is a thing of wood like me. Do the people outside fear and hate you as well? Do they see you as a real person?”
I was taken aback by that. He was growing more intelligent all the time, and his questions never got easier to answer.
“It’s not the same Son.” I told him.
” How is it different?”
” I was born of flesh and blood, you were not, that is why they will fear you.”
” I cannot help how I was born.”
“They won’t care.”
” But that’s so cruel.”
” I know it is Son, I know it’s cruel and I despise it, but that’s just the way people are. There is no changing it and I’ll have no more of this talk right now.”
I replied with a transparent tone of exasperation.
He looked at me with the green glass eyes I had painted less than a year before with an undisguised expression of sadness that made my stomach twist and turn with guilt before they drifted to the floor and he quietly said
I didn’t want to leave it at that. When I spoke again, I tried to sound more upbeat, perhaps even playful, but my tone ended up sounding more apologetic than anything else.
” I’m going to walk down to the bakery now, but when I get back I’ll get a fire going in the fireplace and read you anything you want from my bookshelf. We’ll have ourselves a nice relaxing evening. Doesn’t that sound nice?”
I had asked him hopefully.
He gave me a small nod. I knew it was meant more to placate me than to express any real feelings of excitement he might have had. Not knowing what else to say, I promised him I would return soon then I got up from the stool I sat on and made my way out of the workshop, down the stairs, past the hard wood counter that lay beyond and then past the carefully placed marionettes that hung in the spacious display window, then out the ornate front door of my shop.
I looked back at the marionettes in the window, appraising my work briefly as I walked. They were dressed in vibrantly colored clothes and arranged in such a way that they looked like children playing together. They had cost me a lot of money and time to make and until very recently I took a lot of pride in them. Now they were just subtle reminders of the guilt that now ate away at me.
My Son had been absolutely enamored with them when he first saw them. He ran right up to them, the metal hinges that acted as the joints of his limbs clicking and clanking as he went, introduced himself, and asked what game they were playing.
It was heartbreaking to watch the confusion that spread across his face when the marionettes did not respond to him, even more so when he then turned to me and asked why they weren’t speaking to him and if he’d done something to upset them.
I had to explain to him that they were not alive like he was. It was the first of many harsh truths I would have to share with him in the coming months.
As I carefully made my way down the cobblestone street I tried to look around for something to take my mind out of the mire of guilt I was swimming in, but everywhere I looked I only seemed to find reminders.
As I passed through the stream of loud, boisterous drunks that were making their way out of the local pub down the street, I was reminded that my boy would never be able to enjoy food or drink as they were.
When I walked passed a group of children playing by the street, I was reminded that my son would probably never get to play such carefree games with friends of his own.
When I spied a pair of young lovers on a park bench across the road giving each other quick, desperate kisses when they thought no one was looking, I was reminded that my son would never know the tender, warm embrace of another, and when I walked passed the boarded up ruin that was once Madam Hecate’s tea house, I was given a painful reminder of the cruelty of the world I had brought my boy into.
Madam Hecate had been a dear friend of mine for many years when she was alive. Like me, she was one of the few in the city that still kept the Old Ways and revered the Old Gods. She had been my friend since my wife’s passing and it was she that had first told me of the Stars and their power, of when and how to pray to the Beggar Prince, the kindest God of the Old Pantheon whose star shined brightest in the night sky and who was known to grant wishes to the downtrodden.
She could always be depended on to lend a sympathetic ear and warm cup of tea to those who needed it, and when I think back on what the Church had done to her, I felt bile rise in the back of my throat.
The tall spires of the Cathedral across the city seemed to cast a cold, looming shadow over me with the help of the late afternoon sun as the memory of the night the Inquisitors showed up at the tea house with torches and chains forced itself back into my mind.
She had told me that they were coming. I didn’t want to believe her. I tried to tell her that not even the fanatics at the Cathedral would be so depraved as to actually follow through with the insane threats they gave in their fiery sermons, that the people wouldn’t stand for such atrocities against the innocent. I had been so naive.
She had given me a sad smile when I said that, but would hear none of my protests as she hurried me over to that cupboard with the false back panel, told me to hide in the secret room that lie beyond it, and not to come out for anything, until I was sure they were gone.
The room had been small, damp, and dark. The only light that filled the room poured in through gaps in the boards of the ceiling above. I didn’t see the Inquisitors when they came, but I heard them.
Heard the heavy rhythmic thud of their boots and the chilling rattle of the iron chains they carried as they filled the tea house. I don’t know how many of them there were because only one of them spoke. Only one of them needed to speak.
His voice was low, raspy, and filled with the malice of someone who enjoyed inflicting pain on others for it’s own sake. There is no doubt in my mind that if vultures could speak, they would have sounded like him.
” I trust you know why we are here this evening Madam”
he had said.
I still admire Madam Hecate’s ability to keep her sense of humor even in the face of those wicked men.
” I imagine you’re here for the tea.”
She had replied with the witty tone that was so like her.
Her levity seemed to displease the Inquisitor. His tone became hard and accusatory.
” You stand accused of crimes against the One True God, of foul witchcraft and the worship of heathen gods. You will accompany us to the Cathedral to answer for these heinous acts.”
” You break into an old woman’s home with a dozen men in the middle of the night with the intent to beat her and drag her away in chains in the name of this god of yours? It sounds to me like you are the one who worships a heathen god” she quipped.
I heard her hit the floor after they struck her. It was painful to hear. I wanted to burst out from the room and save her, but terror kept me still. The beating went on for several minutes before I heard them drag her out of the teahouse barely conscious and wheezing. Struggling to breath despite her undoubtedly cracked ribs out into the bitter cold of the night.
Hot tears streamed down my face and my own breath came in short frantic bursts. Only when the teahouse fell totally silent did I finally feel safe enough to burst free from the room and run as quickly as one could with a wooden leg, out the door, and down the cobblestone street back to the workshop, where only after deadbolting the door, locking all the windows, and pulling back the curtains did I finally break down on the floor and weep like a child.
I didn’t have the heart to attend her execution, but I heard sometime later that they had hung her with a rope that was much too long. So rather than a quick, merciful death by a broken neck, which was the usual outcome when someone was hanged, Madam Hecate had been subjected to a slow death by strangulation. The thought broke my heart all over again.
Standing before the broken and dilapidated tea house once again filled me with an overwhelming sense of fear for my son. He wanted to see the world outside the shop, but he did not know it’s evil like I did. How could I ever explain it to him?
This troubling line of thought followed me all the way into the bakery, so that even the smell of fresh bread or the warm smile of the baker could not lift my spirits.
The baker was a much more perceptive and intelligent man than his rough and portly appearance would lead one to assume, and he caught on to my sour mood quickly.
” Is something wrong sir?” He asked me.
” nothing new” I had told him dismissively.
He knew I was lying, but didn’t press the issue.
“I see. What’ll it be today sir?”
Our transaction concluded quickly and without incident, ending with me once again pacing the cold cobblestone streets, trying to keep dark thoughts at bay as I went. Though this time I had the comfort of a warm sack of bread by my side, I hardly noticed it at all.
It was quiet out on the street which was to be expected since the last rays of sunlight had vanished beyond the Cathedral a few moments earlier painting the sky with the deep reds and dark blues of dusk.
In my state of deep thought, I believed I was alone on the street. I didn’t hear the slow rattle of the chains or the cadence of heavy boots as they moved across the cobblestone in silent pursuit of me. Wasn’t aware of anything at all until that raspy vulture’s voice I’d hoped never to hear again spoke up from behind me.
“Good evening sir.” It said.
I spun around to see a man who looked to be in his late 40’s, wearing the expensive, embroidered red velvet garb of an Inquisitor leering at me. His eyes were a dark green not unlike snake skin, and his greying blond hair looked like it would have been long enough to fall over his eyes were it not combed back.
He had a pointed goatee and a thin mustache that curled upwards at the ends that looked rather comical in retrospect, though I made no mention of it.
This was my first time seeing him face to face, but there was no doubt in my mind who he was, I could never forget that voice.
Was all I could manage to stutter in my surprise.
” I didn’t mean to frighten you, but I happened to see you passing by and thought I’d ask you a few questions.”
“About the state of the people’s faith on these broken streets. “
he had said with an air of unimpeachable confidence.
” I’m not sure I’m the man to answer such questions.”
“Nonsense, I believe you are the best man to answer my questions.”
” Why do you say that?”
” You are the Toymaker are you not? You’ve lived in the city longer than most. The people know you well, and I’d wager they trust you completely.”
He spoke casually, but his words chilled me.Though he tried to hide it in his evasive manner of speech, it was clear he knew who I was and I didn’t doubt he knew where I lived as well. He wanted something from me, of that much I was certain. I didn’t know what that was yet, but the growing pit in my stomach warned me that it was something vile.
” What are you getting at sir?”
I’d asked him as politely as I could manage despite the fast growing anxiety that pulsed in my chest.
” What I am getting at, is that you are a man the people trust, and I would like to know if the Church can trust you as well.”
” How do you mean?”
” There is an infestation in this city sir, an infestation of cockroaches with human faces. We are beset by filthy heathens and heretics that pollute the very soul of the city with their wicked practices, and seek to subvert the authority of true divinity. We have no way of knowing how far they have spread or how many remain in the city. The Church needs to know who they can trust in these dark times.”
Everything about this conversation so far was making me deeply uneasy, but I listened intently as the man spoke, limiting my speech only to basic responses.
“ What’s that got to do with me?”
“Perhaps nothing, or perhaps it has everything to do with you, time will tell.”
I tried to end the conversation amicably.
“ I mean no offense sir, but it’s late and I need to make it home… “
He looked slighted by my disinterest in his words, but he said nothing rude, instead as I began to walk away he cryptically said
“ If you ever hear of any odd or strange happenings in the neighborhood I ask that you make a formal report of it at the Cathedral Sir Toymaker, you would be doing your part to make our city pure and faithful again, and the One True God will always reward his faithful.”
I gave a half hearted nod in his direction as I hurried off. I didn’t look back at him as I went, but I was acutely aware of his green snake’s eyes following me as I went down the street until I was out of sight and could sigh out in relief. It seemed obvious to me that he had ulterior motives in speaking to me, but I couldn’t fathom what they were.
My first thought was that he knew my secrets and that his words had been veiled threats, but I knew that was unlikely. If he had known about me or gods forbid, my Son, I would probably already be on my way to the Cathedral and a slow, torturous death. He may not have said it outright, but it seemed clear to me after giving it some thought that he was asking me to spy for him, a disgusting proposition that grew all the more terrifying when I considered that I was most likely not the only one he had approached with such an offer.
This city had no shortage of desperate and unscrupulous characters that would be tempted by such things, and I found myself wondering how many the Inquisitor had already seduced into his service. Mounting paranoia gripped me as I crossed the threshold of the front door of the workshop looking over my shoulder as I did.
The shop always did look a bit unsettling at night. The flickering candle light made the puppets cast long shadows that seemed to sway back and forth as they moved gently on their strings, and tonight was no exception. I couldn’t shake the feeling that their vacant glass eyes seemed to follow me as I ascended the stairs, calling out to my son as I went.
He did not respond, which wasn’t like him at all. My mind went to the worst possible scenario and I dashed up the stairs and into the workshop bracing myself to see something horrible, only to see my Son perfectly alright as far as I could tell. He sat at my desk as well as anyone his size could have, though I could see that he had stacked a small pile of books onto the stool he sat on to give himself the sufficient height to read whatever it was he was so intently focused on.
I was relieved to see him alright, but my relief quickly turned to outrage when I saw the book he was pouring over. It was a thick volume of blacked leather with a cover that was blank save a faded illustration of a star, surrounded with ancient runes meant to please the Gods of Old.
It was in fact, my Grimoire. My most prized and dangerous possession, it was this book that contained the spells that gave my Son life, and in untrained hands, it could bring about disaster. I had hidden it away behind my bookshelf, and in my fear and outrage, I didn’t think to wonder how my son had known where to find it.
“What are you doing?!” I screamed at him.
My Son fell out of the chair in bewildered surprise at the sound of my voice. He sprung back up quickly, and tried to offer a hasty explanation for his obvious transgression.
” Papa! Welcome home! I got bored of waiting for you to come home and read to me so I started on my own…”
” Get away from the book now!”
I yelled as I rushed over to the Grimoire and slammed it shut. I let out a long sigh of relief and thanked the Old Gods above that I had returned when I did. I shuttered to think of what eldritch horrors could have manifested in my house if my Son had been allowed to use it unchecked.
I turned to him, my face a stern mask of disappointment and outrage.
” What were you thinking boy? Do you have any idea what you could have done?”
He didn’t say anything right away, just kept his gaze fixated on the hardwood floor before he quietly whispered
“I just wanted to know.”
” know what? What could you possibly need to know that you would need to steal my Grimoire!?”
” I didn’t steal it! I was going to put it right back! I just wanted to know if l could use it to make myself a real person!”
He screamed. He did not have the ability to cry like natural born children did, but I knew that if he could, tears would have been streaming down his face.
His words caused all the guilt I’d been feeling throughout the night to bubble back up to the surface, and I had to sit down before I could respond.
” You are real, son. As much as anyone else.”
He asked me with a pensive look on his face. He wasn’t looking at me, but rather at his own wooden hands as he spoke.
” Am I really any different from the other toys in this shop? Do I even have a soul? What even is a soul Papa? Can you tell me? Because I don’t know.”
I didn’t know how to answer him, but I did my best to reassure him nonetheless
“Flesh does not make a person, son. I have known countless monsters in my life born of flesh and blood that were people only in name, and you are much more human than any of them. You are more intelligent than most, and you feel as much as any natural born person, that is what makes you real.”
The accusatory tone of his response told me that he did not believe me.
” I thought that real boys were things of flesh and blood? Now you say they are not? If that were true, why won’t you let me leave the house? If I’m a real person like everyone else, why do I have to live my life in hiding?”
” We both live in hiding! You don’t understand the cruelty of people like I do son. You’ve never had to watch friends die because of mindless hatred fueled by the lies of the powerful. It’s not safe out there for you, if the Church were to discover you, it would be a death sentence for us both!”
I sounded angrier than I meant to, but that did not dissuade my Son in the least.
” Then why don’t we do something about it?” He said ominously
” You’re a sorcerer Papa! With the spells in that Grimoire, you don’t have to answer to any church, and if they are as wicked and corrupt as you say they are, why don’t we take power from them and run the city the way it should be?”
” It doesn’t work that way boy, the powers in that book are bloodthirsty and beyond anyone’s control, they can only be bargained with, and the price of a bargain like that would be too costly and too cruel to consider, I won’t have that blood on my hands son, do not ask it of me.”
“What about the Beggar Prince? Doesn’t he grant wishes to those in need?”
“How do you know about… no. The ritual is not without cost, and far too risky to do with the eyes of the Church on me.”
” How is it any more risky than living with a talking marionette?”
I yelled in mounting frustration. My sudden outburst startled my son into silence, and I took a deep breath before I continued speaking.
“ I know that you don’t want to live your life cooped up in this shop, I don’t want you to either, but this is how we must live if we are to survive in this city, at least for now. One day that might change, and when it does, I swear we will walk out into the sunlight together, until then I need you to trust me, and promise me that you will never touch my Grimoire again.”
My boy did not respond immediately, instead he merely stared at the floor with a frustrated expression before he quietly said
“Yes Papa, I promise.”
It would be several months before I would discover that he had lied to me that night. Several months of relative peace and tranquility between the two of us as we went about our daily routines. I would tend to customers in the shop below, and he would keep himself busy in the workshop above making toys and marionettes of his own. He was natural at it. It would not have been an exaggeration to call him a prodigy.
His craftsmanship was exemplary and his attention to detail almost put mine to shame. In fact not long after I started selling his toys in the shop they sold better than mine and I must admit I didn’t mind that at all.
I was happy that he had something to focus his growing intellect on that wasn’t sorcery or the bitter unfairness of the world. Though I sometimes wondered if his skill had anything to do with the fact that he himself inhabited the body of a toy, I could never bring myself to ask him about it. It just didn’t feel right to.
Maybe I had been naive to trust him the way I did. Maybe I was blinded by my own guilt and therefore couldn’t see what he was doing behind my back, though it seems so obvious now.
I remember the night I lost him with crystal clear clarity, I see it again every night when I close my eyes. The stars had been brilliant that night.
Each one was like a shimmering jewel against a backdrop of pure black and the brightest among them was the star of the Beggar Prince, it’s majestic glow bathing the city in a soft, comforting blue light.
I was getting ready to close the shop up for the night after a long day of working as fatigue filled my bones, when I heard the front door opening, followed by the dreaded sound of heavy boots. I spun around just in time to come face to face with the pitch black hoods of the Inquisitors.
There were at least six of them. Far too many for this to be a simple social visit. Their leader’s face was mostly obscured by his hood, but I could recognize those snake green eyes anywhere.
” Good Evening, Sir Toymaker”
he said to me with gleeful malice. My heart sank as I realized that the worst was happening before my eyes, and an icy chill began to spread throughout my body.
My mind raced with a thousand questions in a matter of moments. How did they know? Who, or what had given me away? Did they know about my boy? Where was he now?
” You have much to answer for Sir.”
” I have no idea what you’re talking about.”
” Oh I think you know exactly what I’m talking about.”
He gestured to one of his hooded minions off to his right who in turn produced a stunningly well crafted marionette that looked like a little girl in a dress from beneath his cloak. One that I instantly recognized as having been made by my son. I tried to keep an air of nonchalance in my responses despite the rapid pounding of my heart.
“ What of it Inquisitor? Have you never seen a puppet before? Is it now blasphemy to make toys?”
“ The longer you play coy with me, the more you will suffer Toymaker, did you think the glyphs would go unnoticed? That the signs of your heretical witchcraft would go undetected?”
With another gesture of his hand the man holding the marionette opened the mouth of the toy with his free hand, revealing an intricate rune that had been carved on its tongue, I recognized it from the pages of my Grimoire, but for the life of me could not remember what it represented. Life? No… perhaps rebirth. I had no time to think about it before the inquisitor’s raspy voice interrupted my thoughts.
“ Though your intent is unclear to us, it is clear that you are targeting the children of our fair city with witchcraft by way of these trinkets. Your assets are forfeit, and you will stand trial at the Cathedral.”
Without any direction from their leader, two of the hooded figures seized my hands and bound me with chains and I felt my body go limp with terror as they did. Could it all really end this way? Was all of my struggle, all my secrecy really for naught? I’d always known that this could happen, but my mind just couldn’t accept that it was happening.In the depths of my despair, I didn’t even really hear the Inquisitor as he barked more orders at his men.
“ Search everything! Bring me more proof of his heresy! You never know what these heathens are hiding.”
I opened my mouth to plead with them, or perhaps to confess if it would keep them from going upstairs and finding my boy, but before I spoke my concentration was broken by the sound of guttural cry of shock and surprise from one of the hooded men, and I looked up to see that the heads of every marionette in the shop had turned abruptly as if by magic, and was staring at the hooded intruders with expressions of annoyance, as if they were common pests that had wandered out into the open.
“ What sorcery is this?!”
gasped the Inquisitor, his previous confidence now utterly deflated.
“ So you are the Evil that Papa spoke of, how odd. You just look like a feeble, cruel old man to me.”
said a booming voice that seemed to come from the marionettes all speaking in unison. I recognized it as the voice of my son, but it was much more menacing than I had ever heard before, it should have comforted me, but I found it terrifying.
The hooded men dropped me immediately and backed away towards the door, though they didn’t dare to run away just yet. The Inquisitor did not budge from his spot, when he did speak however, fear was clearly evident in his voice, though he tried to disguise it
“ Silence demon! You hold no power over the faithful and you cannot protect your master from retribution!” he managed to stammer weakly.
“ Demon? I’m just as human as you are, murderer. Maybe even more. Do you know why? ”
the voice of my Son asked.
The Inquisitor disregarded the question and looked at me where I sat dumbfounded on the floor with an expression that was angry, but also full of the fear of a man who had realized that he had stepped into a situation he was not prepared for. He spoke to me slowly and deliberately, almost pleading with me.
“Toymaker… there is still time for you to do the right thing, and redeem your immortal soul, call off whatever force you have conjured, and I can promise you mercy… “
His bargain was turned into a sickening gurgle by the loud hiss of something metallic, and I watched in horror as he rose into the air with the other hooded men as if by levitation, I watched all seven them kick and struggle suspended in the air in front of me for at least a minute before I noticed the wires.
They gleamed in the moonlight that filtered in through the shop window like the threads of a spider’s web, they were everywhere, I had no idea how I had not noticed them before. They wrapped around the Inquisitor and his hooded minions tightly, wrapping around their throats and limbs, trapping them like flies, or puppets on strings. No sooner than a moment after this revelation, the voice of my Son rang out from the marionettes once again.
“ Shall I tell you why, murderer?”
The Inquisitor tried to speak, but the wires that constricted his throat didn’t allow anything but hoarse gasps past his lips.
“ Because I can feel. When I look out through the window and see all the normal people living their lives, I feel lonely. When I create a toy that lights up a child’s eyes as they leave the shop with it, I feel pride. When I hear the thinly disguised despair in my father’s voice as he tells the lies he believes will protect me, I myself feel despair, and when I see men like you that spread suffering for its own sake, I feel anger, what could be more human than that?” He said
The Inquisitor could not respond, but he still thrashed against the wires desperately, as did the rest of his men, It did them little good though. I’m not sure if they could even process my boy’s monologue, but that didn’t seem to bother him one bit.
“ What do you feel right now, murderer? Are you afraid? I was once afraid. Afraid of the loneliness, afraid of the world outside, afraid of the power within. But I’m not afraid anymore and you shouldn’t be either, because I’m not like you, murderer. I will not take your life tonight. You will serve a higher purpose.”
The cold certainty of his words sent chills down my spine. As he spoke, I saw glyphs and runes drawn all over the walls, the floor, the ceiling, and even the front door begin to give off a sickly pale glow as if on queue, and then I heard the familiar metal clank of my son’s joints as he descended the stairs.
I half expected to see some horrible monstrosity the likes of which should only ever be seen in nightmares to come down into the shop, but only my boy came down the stairs, with my grimoire in hand. He was shirtless, and upon his tiny wooden frame I could see the runes that I myself had carved into him on the day of his birth, burning brightly as if they were on fire. They were much more intricate than the last time I had seen them, as if he himself had added to them, both modifying, and intensifying the magic they channeled for purposes I could only imagine.
I said nothing as he walked past me, in truth, I was too terrified to. He cast me a reassuring glance as he walked by though, and said something like
“ Don’t worry Papa, it’ll all be over soon.”
He then turned his attention to the men suspended by the wires that he somehow guided with his own fingers. He looked back and forth at them in deep thought as if he were trying to come to a decision, before looking out the shop window into the night sky and the bright stars that shined above, and simply saying
“ It is time.”
He then opened the Grimoire and produced a thin blade from his pocket, which he then used to make deep cuts into the skin of each of the intruders, almost all the way down to the bone, in the shape of the glyphs that covered his own body, reciting ancient incantations as he did. The men squirmed, thrashed wildly, and cried pitifully as he did. I wanted to scream at him to stop, but no words came out of my mouth. I was a prisoner of my own terror.
The light from the stars that shined in through the window seemed to grow brighter and brighter as he worked until it filled my vision and became blinding. Once I was unable to see anything but the bright light of the stars, I could hear the screams. They were mangled and agonized, but I could recognize them as the voices of the intruders. I heard the awful sound of bones snapping and flesh tearing, could smell the horrible metallic smell of freshly spilled blood flowing freely onto the floor, and felt the oppressive presence of the Old Gods as they worked whatever hideous enchantment my son had summoned them for. I was sure I would go mad before it was over, But then almost as quickly as it had appeared, the light of the stars vanished and my vision darkened.
Silence filled the shop while I returned to my senses. As my blurred vision came back into focus, the first thing I noticed was that all seven of the intruders were gone. I could see no trace of them, not even a drop of blood or scrap of clothing. The second thing I noticed was the charred husk of my boy that laid on the floor, as if he’d set himself ablaze. I was beside myself with grief until I saw the unconscious young man that lay in front of my son’s burned remains. I’d never seen him before in my life, and I was certain that he hadn’t been in the shop a moment ago, yet at the same time he seemed so familiar. He could have been about twenty. His hair was black and was long enough to cover his eyes. He had no clothes, and what struck me as the most odd about him is that he didn’t seem to have any scars or blemishes of any kind on his body, not unlike a newborn baby. I was about to go over to him and see if he was injured when he shot up suddenly, and stared at me with green snake-skin eyes. He ran his hand through his hair and down his face, looking like he was about to cry tears of joy as he did. Instead he just looked me in the eyes and said
“ Hello Papa”
“ Son?” I gasped in utter shock.
A thin smile spread across his face.
“ In the Flesh.”
“ But.. how?”
“ You prayed to the Beggar Prince to give me life. I prayed for a body, and He saw fit to use those evil men’s flesh to forge my new vessel”
Even now I’m not sure why, but I couldn’t bring myself to celebrate the deaths of those men. They may have been horrible, perhaps inhuman, but no one deserved a fate like that, and I told my son as much.
“ You told them you would not take their lives!”
“ And I didn’t, none of them are dead.”
he shot back as he stood up and dusted himself off with nonchalance.
“ What are you talking about?”
“ I only took their bodies, their souls have been placed in new bodies. Ones that will render them incapable of harming anyone else ever again. Honestly Papa, what kind of monster do you take me for?”
“ I don’t understand”
“Look over there.”
He pointed over to the display window with a sigh, as if he were trying to explain the obvious to a young child. I looked over to where he was pointing, and saw the marionettes that hung there moving and jerking about frantically, their once vacant glass eyes now alive with panic and confusion. Understanding then struck me like a battering ram.
“ You best get them out of the window, before they scare the neighbors.” he said with a smirk.
“ That’s so cruel.” was all I could manage to say.
“ Is it? Is it any less cruel than what they would have done to you if I had not been here?”
“ I… suppose not.”
“ You’re a good man Papa, and good men are always disturbed by such things. I don’t hold it against you.”
“ What happens now?”
“ Now I’m going to leave. You should leave too. The Church no doubt has more Inquisitors to send our way and this is not a situation you can talk yourself out of. I’ll make plenty of noise on my way out of the city to distract them, you take whatever you need to and go somewhere safe, when the time is right, we’ll meet back here again.”
Before I could protest, or really say anything at all, My boy who was once a puppet, now a flesh and blood man turned and walked out the door as if he hadn’t a care in the world. We went our separate ways that night, I packed everything I could carry, the marionettes included and left as fast as I could. I haven’t seen my boy since. True to his word, he made plenty of noise on his way out the city, he even set fire to the Cathedral. I’ve heard so many stories and hushed whispers about him over the years in the taverns and inns I’ve visited in my travels. He has apparently lived a very full life and become something of a legend. The common folk call him the Beggar Prince, a defender of the weak and a punisher of the wicked. I wonder if they would feel the same if they knew him as I did.
I’ve kept the puppets all these years as well. As cruel as they were in their old lives, I couldn’t bring myself to hate them now. I only feel pity for them. As I sit here in this abandoned workshop again for the first time in many years, I find that I haven’t given up hope that I’ll see my boy again. I know that things will never again be as they once were, but maybe that’s for the best. Maybe something better will fill the void, maybe we can be better this time around. I have so many stories to tell him, just like I used to. I can see the Prince’s star shining brightly in the sky outside the window tonight,
And I know what I’m going to wish for.