0018 – Gareth: Captivity, Part 7

Gareth’s thorough search of the cottage began in the kitchen. He could, he reasoned, rule out any immediate threat or source of torment, having been in the cottage for some time now without experiencing anything unpleasant other than the absence of an exit. So, creeping threats, lingering threats, slow threats, traps. These were the things he needed to focus on.


The second he realised that, his mind had immediately leapt to “poison.”


He certainly hadn’t experienced any adverse affects to the cottage’s mysteriously self-replenishing food supply, at least up to now. Not so much as a bout of indigestion, which was surprising given how often he had been frying himself comfort food. His thin body could stand to gain a little weight, he knew, but he didn’t like the feeling of having more fat around his stomach than he’d had a week or two ago.


——————–


“You’re getting thinner.” Karl was appraising Gareth. Despite the loose robes they both wore, his gaze seemed to penetrate Gareth to the bone.


“I’ll be fine.” Gareth looked away.


“Short on money?” Karl was feigning the concern. He just knew it.


“You want to start paying me now?” He was careful to let no hope show in his tone.


Karl smiled. His lips were warm, but his eyes were mirthless. “Why don’t you write yourself some money? You’re an apprentice Sermomancer, are you not?”


“You haven’t taught me how.” Gareth said through gritted teeth. “You haven’t taught me anything. I’ve been apprenticed to you for three months and I’ve done nothing but menial chores, and standing by silently while you practice the Craft. You never explain what you’re doing. Sometimes you’re not even writing, just reading.”


“I’m sure all of this is fairly normal in the orient or what have you.” Karl gave a dismissive hand wave. “Making the apprentice sweep floors and sound gongs and eat brown rice and rancid butter. It’s probably good for your soul.”


Gareth’s face flushed red. His stomach growled, and he lost control. He clenched his fist, but didn’t raise his hand.


For Pam, he reminded himself.


——————–


It suddenly occurred to Gareth that he didn’t actually know what he hoped to accomplish by physically examining the ingredients at his disposal. No visual inspection would tell him anything that his ingestion hadn’t revealed.


He walked back into the downstairs hallway, racking his brain, trying to think like Karl. He had always assumed that Karl had some higher purpose to his cruelty. The idea that he simply enjoyed the suffering of others seemed too simple an explanation.


Real people always have a reason, he reminded himself. He was trying to achieve something. I’m sure of it. My captivity here probably has some purpose to him, too.


He suddenly realised that in trying to reason out what kind of creeping, slow threat may be employed by a powerful magician with complicated motivations, he had in fact supplied himself with a very good reason as to why there may be no such threat at all.


Gareth cast his mind back. The book had said to him that whoever imprisoned him in the cottage had probably not intended to hurt or punish him, but merely to get him out of the way. Yet when the book had learned Karl’s name, it had encouraged him to check the house with some urgency. Stupidly, he had not stopped to think about what this implied in any detail.


Gareth climbed the cottage stairs, stepped over the books in the study yet again – he really would clean them up later, he told himself – and opened the book, letting it have the first say, as usual.


“DID YOU FIND ANYTHING?”


“No,” he answered. “I don’t even know what I’m looking for.”


“ANYTHING THAT MIGHT COME BACK TO BITE YOU IN THE ARSE LATER. ANYTHING SET UP TO DO DAMAGE TO YOU OVER TIME, WITHOUT YOU REALISING UNTIL IT’S TOO LATE. ANYTHING LEFT HERE SPECIFICALLY TO TAUNT YOU.”


Gareth got right down to business. “You know Karl personally, don’t you? Not just from my experience of him.”


“OF COURSE I DO. I THOUGHT YOU REALISED THAT AS SOON AS I REACTED TO HIS NAME WITH MODERATE PANIC. YOU TALKED AS THOUGH YOU UNDERSTOOD THIS.”


“What makes you think he’d go out of his way to make this place unpleasant?” Even as Gareth asked it, he felt stupid. Karl was a terribly unpleasant person.


“DON’T BE IDIOTIC. HE’S NOT A GOOD MAN. EVEN CURSORY EXPOSURE TO HIM SHOULD HAVE MADE THAT PRETTY OBVIOUS.”


“I was his apprentice.” Gareth stated. “He treated me roughly. Gave me chores to do. Left me little to live on. Made me stand useless vigils when I could have been at home with my wife. Whenever I asked why, he hinted that it served a higher purpose.”


“AND YOU HELD ONTO THAT, DIDN’T YOU. TO CONVINCE YOURSELF THAT YOUR TIME WITH HIM WAS NOT WASTED.”


“Yes.” Gareth admitted.


“THAT’S WHY HE DID IT. HE WANTED TO LEAVE YOU A GLIMMER OF HOPE, SIMPLY TO WATCH IT GET CRUSHED. WAS THERE ANY REASON YOU WERE ANXIOUS ABOUT TIME?.”


“Pam’s illness. She had cancer. She was dying. That’s why I wanted to train under him.”


“THEN THAT’S WHY. NOTHING BRINGS HIM MORE PLEASURE THAN TO WASTE SOMEONE’S TIME WHEN THEY HAVE LITTLE OF IT LEFT.”


“You’re wrong. You have to be. I can’t have wasted all that time. I can’t.”


If Gareth had opened the book again, he would have seen the admonishing text on its first page. But he didn’t. His cheeks were hot. His heart was pounding. He felt a fool.


The nervous instinct to busy his hands finally took over, and he squatted down in the narrow study to pick up the fallen books at last.


It was then that he saw a title, in red ink. It was in the unfamiliar, divined language.


A stone sank in his stomach. He had known these books had been placed here to taunt him.


Tentatively, he opened the cover.

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