Mailfus was desperate for new memories, he could no longer cope with the ones he had. The gods alone knew he’d tried, but it was no good. Snippets from his past crowded his conscience with their incessant haranguing, filling his head with blood soaked images.
Stumbling along the narrow, cobbled street he elbowed his way past gentry and peasants, who regarded him with the contempt reserved for drunkards.
After a short while he could go no further and paused to lean against the whitewashed wall of an inn. As he stood there Mailfus felt something soak through the sides of his worn out shoes. He looked down to discover he was standing in a pool of piss, doubtless tossed out of the window above. He started to curse, but then stopped – he had more important things to worry about.
His heart hammered in his chest and his throat felt red-raw. The illness wasn’t real, it was all in his mind. Mailfus knew that, but couldn’t shake off the feeling that he was dying. Not possible, he was only twenty summers old, but felt nearer fifty. He chewed his bottom lip. His patron had warned him of this.
‘Most hire-men can kill without a qualm well into their old age, but for some the memory sickness overcomes them and they die in agony.’
He’d laughed at the time, pouring scorn on those too weak to fend off their fears. Even so, some of what his patron had said penetrated even his dull wits and when Lord Weavegold held out a card between two be-ringed fingers, Mailfus had taken it.
‘Keep it safe,’ his patron warned. ‘It may be the only thing between you and insanity.
The mocking smile on his thin lips had scared Mailfus, but he’d not allowed it to show.
Pushing himself upright, he retrieved the now tattered card from his tunic pocket. Sweat poured down his forehead and into his eyes, as he peered at the faded writing.
“Memories for sale, guaranteed fresh and wholesome.”
A scowl creased Mailfus’ brow. “Wholesome,” who wanted that? Then a new surge of his own memories filled his head and he clutched at the sides of his hair and staggered on up the road in search of the Memory Smith’s shop.
Silas Idlefort checked the cauldron hung above the flames in the cavernous fireplace. The green, bubbling contents gave off an acrid stench. As he stirred the virulent liquid and then began to decant it into small glass bottles, the old man’s mind was filled with thoughts of his daughter.
Isis had been a warrior maiden, a member of the king’s elite corp. A tear rose to Silas’s eye, as he recalled how proud and splendid she’d looked in her armour, which had gleamed like silver in the early morning sun.
The call came all too soon and she marched off to war; what returned bore no resemblance to the beautiful woman she’d once been. She’d never reached the battlefield but had been poisoned by an unknown hand on the eve of the army’s embarkation. To add insult to injury, her body had been mutilated by the killer hired by the king’s sworn enemy, Lord Weavegold. An unknown hand? Silas shook his head. He was skilled in small magic and had managed, by dint of great effort, to discover the identity of her murderer – much good it would do, for where would he find the filth? There were a myriad of places such a one could hide.
Silas clenched his fists. That was all he saw now, waking or sleeping, Isis’s ruined face, with its nose split open and her ears notched, as if she’d been a prize cow, marked by the man who now owned her life.
With a hand that shook, Silas picked up a bottle and raised it to his lips. The liquid would drive away the sludge of nightmare and replace it with happier memories of better days, but did he want to forget?
‘No!’ The bottle shattered against a nearby wall.
Silas glared at the spreading stain. He would not succumb until Isis’ death had been paid for. But when would that be? His thin shoulders slumped in defeat as he rested his hands flat on the counter. The day of vengeance would never arrive.
He was startled from his musings by the sudden jangling of the bell above the door. Someone almost fell into the shop. Silas grimaced, he was in no mood for yet another drink filled sot wasting his time. Graybeard he might be, but he could still see this fellow off.
The “drunk” straightened up, his features obscured by the shadows of the large and dusty room. It wasn’t until he staggered towards the counter, where a candle burned, that his face was revealed.
Silas’s eyes widened.
‘I-I need to buy new memories,’ Mailfus gasped. When there was no response he dragged a hand across his mouth, then said, ‘My wife and children died last month from the plague.’
Silas nodded. ‘I see. Such a great loss for you.’ He stared at the wretch before him, his thoughts passing like quicksilver through his brain.
Liar! Thief! Murderer!
A smile forced its way onto his lips as he reached beneath the counter. He placed a bottle, filled with a wonderful silver liquid that swirled and sparkled, before the customer. He uncorked it, held it beneath the hire man’s nose; Mailfus inhaled, eyes closed in ecstasy.
‘What is it?’ he murmured.
‘Your dreams, your future memories,’ Silas replied.
Mailfus grabbed the bottle, raised it to his mouth and upended it.
As he watched the man’s eyes bulge from their sockets and the veins stand out from his forehead, Silas knew he would find peace at last. All the pain and torment he’d suffered and all the pain and torment his daughter must have suffered, had been distilled into the silver liquid now coursing through Mailfus’ body.
Strange it should look so beautiful and yet be so deadly.
Silas stepped over the writhing form of Mailfus. Time to summon the asylum keepers. He hoped they had a cell strong enough and deep enough to hold the creature now locked in fear and pain from which he would never escape. The strongest potion in the world would not release him.
Silas had made very sure of that.
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