azdak: Face of Klimt's Music II (Default)
azdak ([personal profile] azdak) wrote2010-11-13 09:22 am

Fic: Prtz the Perilous

This is the outcome of this year's [community profile] picowrimo project. It's a short original fic that I had had languishing half-written on my hard drive for years, until Pico came along and finished it in seven days (*plugs [community profile] picowrimo*).

Title: Prtz the Perilous
Author: Azdak
Word count: Just under 5,000

Summary: Prtz the Perilous was the greatest sorcerer Ruthenia had ever known. He was also a bit of a prick.

When Peace came to Ruthenia, bonfires were lit up and down the country to celebrate, and all the swords were beaten into ploughshares ("So as we can't ever defend ourselves again," says my grandmother, but she is a poisonous old woman, and no one pays any attention to her). The Arkadijans sent teachers into every village, so the children would learn to read and write properly, and advisors into every council, so the soldiers could learn new trades. The burned fields were replanted, and the houses were rebuilt. Best of all, they started up the Election in Malenska again, where everyone in the country who has magical talent can come to show their skill, and the best is elected Grand Sorcerer. ("So as they can keep on eye on anyone with even a shred of real magic," says my grandmother, but she goes to the Elections along with everyone else. The spectacle is too good to miss).

My father never talks about the Elections, but my grandmother tells me all about them. The sorcerers I like best do illusions, conjuring up dragons and gryphons and elephants, out of smoke and coloured light. Some of them can do sound, as well. Last year, the current Grand Sorcerer made a volcano that roared like thunder and spat fireworks into the sky, and everyone thought the end of the world was coming. But some of them can only cure pigs of boils, or make the clouds thicken so that rain falls ("Why do they bother to come, if all they can do is be useful," my grandmother says, scornfully). Sorcerers like that never win. They go back to their villages and no one ever hears from them again. The Grand Sorcerer is always someone who can make your mouth hang open for sheer wonder, until my grandmother asks if you've caught any flies yet.

I've never been to an Election, but I have seen a sorcerer. It happened one wet afternoon in autumn last year. My father has a farm with a small vineyard at the foot of the mountains. The ground is too thin to make really good wine, but he says it's good enough for Ruthenians, and he has one room in the house where he serves the young wine in autumn. We get quite a few customers then, a mix of local farmers and travellers passing through on their way to the markets at Krk and Lic. Sometimes we even get Arkadijans, mostly people who have taken a wrong turn on their way through the pass to Malenska and have come down out of the mountains too soon. I always feel a bit uncomfortable around them. It's because of the swords. Arkadijans always wear swords, although my schoolteacher says they never use them ("Funny how Peacemakers have to go about armed," says my grandmother. "Almost as though they didn't believe in Peace.")

There were no Arkadijans that day, though. I served the few guests we had in a dreamy haze and didn't wake up and take notice of anything until a stranger came in, shaking the rain off himself like a dog, and looking round contemptuously at the other drinkers. He was a tall man, who walked with a sorcerer's swagger, and I thought he was probably on his way to the Election and had taken the wrong turning coming through the pass. We get a few customers that way every year, although we've never yet had anyone great or famous. I suppose great and famous sorcerers don't lose their way. Still, you never know your luck. I stared at this man now, trying to see if I recognised him. He wasn't Falk, who everyone knows has red hair, and he wasn't Laszlo Five Fingers, who has only one hand, or Dzk the Dragon-hearted, who has piercing black eyes that can see into your soul. It was disappointing, but I didn't give up hope. He could still turn out to be a rising talent and then one day I could tell my friends that I had served the great Whatisisface the Sorcerer before he was famous.

My father nudged my shoulder, and whispered, "Close your mouth and get the man a drink. He looks thirsty, and it's never a good idea to keep a thirsty man waiting."

"Is he a sorcerer?" I whispered back.

My father snorted. "Him? A sorcerer? Some jumped-up village conjuror trying his luck, more like."

"Is he in with a chance?"

"Everyone's in with a chance," my father said, but the new guest started banging on the table and roaring for his wine, so I hurried off to draw it, thinking that he needn't be so rude, even if he was a sorcerer, because though it was true what my father had said, that even a village conjurer had a chance of winning the Election, it hadn't ever happened since the days of Prtz the Perilous, so he needn't give himself airs.

Before Peace came, there weren't any Elections for years because there was only one Grand Sorcerer, and that was Prtz the Perilous. He was the son of a sheep farmer, and he started off as a village conjurer, but after he won his first three Elections, no one else wanted to compete, because they knew they would be beaten. At least that's what my grandmother says. In school, they tell it differently. In school, they say it's because King Ottokar was a tyrant who wanted to deprive the people of the entertainment that was their right.

Whichever story is true, it must have been really boring when there were no Elections. I can't imagine what people found to talk about all year. I suppose they must have talked about Prtz. That's what my grandmother still does.

According to my grandmother, who saw him when she was a girl, the year he won his first Election, Prtz was the most beautiful man in the country. "Not the handsomest, mind," she added. "He'd have needed to be taller and to have had more chin for that, but his skin was as fair as a girl's, and he wore his hair loose like a girl's, as well. Black as soot and hanging down past his shoulders. You couldn't take your eyes off him. And he knew it. He dressed to make people look at him. He had this velvet coat, long, like his hair, and when he raised his hands, the sleeves fell back above his elbow so you could see two snakes tattooed around his wrists. When he performed, those snakes came alive, swelling out of his flesh until they were as thick and broad as real vipers, and they writhed and hissed on his wrists. Oh, he was a beautiful man, all right. But not, as I say, handsome. Now I'll tell you who was handsome. King Ottokar, or Prince Ottokar as he was then. Now there was a man who could get a girl knocked up just by looking at her. Broad as a tree and strong as an ox. He and Prtz were friends." A dreamy look came over her face. "Some say they were more than friends, but then folk will say anything, and it's certainly a thought to while away the long winter evenings, though I daresay there was nothing in it really. More's the pity."

"Do you want to ruin me?" my father would say then. "That speech alone would have cost me ten crowns, not to mention three days in the stocks."

He said that because it's forbidden to talk about King Ottokar and Prtz. If you do, you have to call them Ottokar the Tyrant and Prtz the Traitor. But my grandmother doesn't care about that. She says no one ever listens to an old woman anyway, so why should she mind what she says when no one else does?

Just about anything will remind my grandmother of a story she knows about Prtz. If she sees a stone in the road, it recalls the time Prtz made rocks fly off the mountains onto the heads of the Arkadijan army. If she hears that a child has fallen sick, she'll tell you about the time Prtz healed Ottokar's little daughter Luzija of the measles. Only last week Isztvan's pig escaped and went squealing down the street. When my grandmother heard it, she said, "Did I ever tell you about Prtz the Perilous and the farmer's pigs?"

"No," I said.

"Well, it's a good thing he's not here to hear me telling you," said my grandmother, "because he was a terrible vain man - that's why he dressed so fancily, so everyone would always know who he was - and he had a terrible temper, and if he knew he was being mentioned in the same breath as pigs, there'd be hell to pay. But after the Battle of the Black Valley, when That Bastard Dragomir - sorry, I meant to say King Dragomir the Merciful, I don't know what came over me - anyway, when That Bastard Dragomir defeated Ottokar for the first time, and overran the whole country south of the mountains, Ottokar and Prtz had to flee for their lives. They went up into the mountains, but the snow came early, and they had to find shelter, so they knocked at the door of a peasant farmer. Well, this man knew nothing of anything beyond the world outside his farm, and he certainly didn't expect the King and the Grand Sorcerer to come knocking at his door like two beggars, so when they asked him for shelter he said they could sleep in his barn if they cleaned out his pigsty.

"Prtz flew into a terrible rage. He stamped his feet and waved his arms and screamed, 'Do you know who I am?' and any other time the sky would have boiled black, and the man's bones would have melted to treacle. But he was so exhausted from the battle there was hardly any magic left in him. Real magic is like that, not like these conjuring tricks they have at the Election nowadays. It takes everything you've got. If there'd been any real magic left in him, Prtz wouldn't have been seeking shelter in a farmer's hovel in the first place. So nothing happened, except that the farmer said, 'Well, who are you then?'

"That took the wind out of Prtz's sails, of course, because they were being hunted by Dragomir's men and he didn't want to leave a trail, so instead of saying who he really was, he said 'I am a sorcerer!'

"'Are you, now?' said then farmer. 'Well, in that case, I've got a sick sow in the kitchen. Cure her and we'll forget about the mucking out.'

So Prtz and Ottokar went into the kitchen, of which the best that can be said about it was that it was warm, thanks to a blazing fire, though the best spot on the hearth was taken up by a huge spotted sow, stretched out on her side and giving off little whimpers, like a wounded dog.

"'Milk duct's blocked,' said the farmer. 'Look at them teats. Stiff as boards.'

"Prtz looked at the sow and the sow looked at him, and he raised his hands, but there wasn't enough magic in him to cure a wart, let alone a pig.

"'Well?' said the farmer.

"Prtz looked down his nose at him. It was a long nose, good for looking down. 'I don't do pigs,' he said, disdainfully.

"'What my friend means,' said Ottokar, 'is that this sow has been put under the evil eye, and it will take a very long and complicated spell to cure her. It requires ten sausages and six fried eggs. Oh, and a large loaf of bread. If you put them on a plate by the fire and then go to bed, your sow will be cured when you come down in the morning.'

"So the farmer gave them the magical ingredients and went off to bed. And in the morning the eggs and sausages were gone, and so were the visitors, but the sow's teats were as soft as rose petals."

"So Prtz got his magic back?" I said.

"Not then," said my grandmother. "And not for many nights. I told you, real magic takes it out of you. No, Prtz the Perilous, Grand Sorcerer of Ruthenia, had spent all night rubbing at that sow's teat till the diseased tissue had all been smoothed away and the milk flowed free again."

"How would you know?" I said. My grandmother's stories sometimes struck me as a little far-fetched. "You weren't there."

"Of course I wasn't. I had my hands full raising all those children," said my grandmother. "I couldn't go traipsing across the mountains in the service of the king, more's the pity. But the farmer was there. And he trusted those two vagabonds he'd taken in a little less than not at all, so in the night he peered in through a notch in the door to find out what great magic they were doing with his eggs and his sausages, and he saw Ottokar sprawled out on the bench, snoring fit to raise the dead, and Prtz rubbing the sow's teat between his fingers, rubbing and rubbing all night long, with just a tiny spark of light he'd conjured up to see by. So you see, there was a witness.

"Anyway, when spring came, and the snow melted, and Ottokar's army threw the Arkadijans right back to the border, a messenger came up into the mountains with a magnificent pig on a string. He gave it to the farmer with the King's compliments and said his Majesty hoped the spotted sow had survived her encounter with the charlatan conjurer. Then the farmer realised that it was Ottokar and Prtz he had sheltered that night and told to clean out his pigsty. He liked the joke even better than his new pig, and he told it up and down the country at every market he went to, and when he got called up into the army, he told it to the regiments. His own regiment even adopted a pig as their mascot. Prtz went into an almighty sulk when he heard about that, and refused to do magic for three days."

My grandmother's stories always made me think Prtz must have been a bit of a prick, but I liked Ottokar. You couldn't imagine King Dragomir giving anyone a pig.

I was hurrying back to the sorcerer's table, when one of the other guests, an old man, caught at my sleeve, almost making me drop the tankard.

"Wine!" he said, and his head dipped sideways, like a bird that has spotted a worm. It kept doing that, but he couldn't really have been looking for worms, because the eye he turned groundwards was as white and blind as a stone.

"Just a minute, sir," I said politely, "I must serve this gentleman here first."

The old man cursed the foulest curse I have ever heard. "Gentleman? Fat-arsed village conjuror more like. Porkier than the pigs they pay him with. Now fetch me a glass and let him wait."

The sorcerer must have heard him, because he got to his feet.

"Apologise for that, you lump of carrion," he said, his voice carrying through the room. The other guests looked up eagerly in expectation of a quarrel. My own heart was beating faster than usual, because I thought perhaps the sorcerer would do magic on the old man. I'd never seen magic done.

The old man looked down at his empty glass. His blind eye rolled around in its socket and he rubbed his hands together as if he didn't know what to do; then quick as a fish his fingers darted up and made a sign even ruder than the curse he'd uttered earlier.

The sorcerer growled in anger, and extended his left forefinger, his arm following, until he was pointing directly between the old man's eyes. I felt a shiver run down my spine. There would be magic done, now, surely. And that would be worse than any drunken brawl. Fistfights, to tell the truth, are not that impressive. The odd elbow in the face, the occasional broken bottle, sometimes, if it goes badly for one of the parties, a kick in the ribs. My father never lets it get any worse than that. He's not a big man, but he has a way of talking softly that makes even the most sozzled brawlers sit up and listen. Magic was another matter, though. Who knew what horrors a sorcerer could inflict? If he did any damage to the room, my father was going to be furious.

The old man didn't look as if he was going to apologise. He rose slowly to his feet, staring at the sorcerer, his left arm vibrating like a fiddle string as he tried to aim it at his opponent.

"Luzija," said my father's voice in my ear, low and level. "Go round the back of the house and climb onto the stone next to the kitchen window. Feel around inside the thatch and bring me what you find there."

"But I'll miss the magic!" I wailed.

"You'll do as you're told," said my father.

I backed cautiously out of the room, just as a roar of wind came in by the windows and whirled the cloths off the tables and the flower pots from the window sills. I was angry with my father – at last there was magic, real magic, going on in our house and I was missing it! – but I didn't dare to disobey when he used that tone.

I ran out as fast as I could and thrust my fingers into the straw, where the eaves come right down to the top of the window. There was something there, something long and hard. I gave it a brisk tug, nearly falling off the stone in the process, and out came a sword. It was nearly as tall as I was, rusty and blunt from the damp, but it was still the most dangerous looking thing I had ever touched.

I'd never seen a sword so close up before, let alone held one. For Ruthenians, the penalty for owning a weapon is death. It has been ever since Dragomir defeated Ottokar and became King of Ruthenia. My grandmother hardly ever tells this story, and when she does, she puts on a sort of solemn tone for it, as if she was reading from a book, that she doesn't use for anything else. And she cries when she gets to the end.

"On that terrible night when Peace came, and the blood of Ruthenia turned the earth to black mud, and the king himself died in his tent of his wounds, it was Prtz who crossed the battlefield into the enemy's camp to surrender. His strength was so spent that he hadn't even been able to conjure a light for the surgeons as they struggled to save the king, but his aura was such that not a soldier dared to lay a hand on him. And so he came, black with mud and gore, into the presence of Dragomir.

"'We surrender,' he said. 'The King is dead. Call off your armies.'

"'Call them off?' said Dragomir. 'Not while one Ruthenian noble remains alive."

"'You have brought Peace,' said Prtz. 'The Peace of Arkadija," – this was the point where my grandmother always started to get a bit sniffly - 'Now show that you have also brought mercy.'

"'Mercy is as mercy does,' said Dragomir. 'Ruthenia is in ruins. What can you offer me, Ruthenian, that I should show mercy to her now?'

"'Well,' said Prtz, 'there's me.'

"Dragomir thought a little mercy was a price worth paying for the loyalty of Ottokar's Grand Sorcerer. He had seen with his own eyes what havoc he had wrought on the battlefield, and he was greedy to wield such a weapon himself. All through that night they argued back and forth, negotiating the terms of Ruthenia's surrender. But in the morning, when the sun rose, the Ruthenian army had melted away. The fishing boats had come up to the shore under the cover of darkness and taken them across the sea to Mumareş."

That's why the Arkadijans call Prtz "the Traitor". According to my teacher, Dragomir flew into a righteous rage when he learned of Prtz's treachery and killed him on the spot, but my grandmother says he changed himself into a bird and flew away to Mumareş. She says that one day he'll return at the head of the army in-exile, and cast out Dragomir, and then Ruthenia will be free.

"It'll be an army of old men by now," my father says. "I'd be surprised if they've got a tooth between them. What good is that against the Peacemakers? It would be slaughter all over again. Swords into ploughshares. Is that such a bad thing?"

That was what he said, and yet it turned out that he kept a sword hidden in his own thatch. I didn't have time to puzzle over the riddle, though, because I was still afraid of missing the magic, so I hurried back into the house.

It was as dark as a winter's evening from the storm clouds gathered outside, and the air had the greasy feel of lightning. I slipped over to my father. No-one noticed me. Their attention was riveted on the sorcerer, who was standing frozen like a statue, his left hand raised.

I nudged my father and handed him the sword, and as his fingers closed around the hilt, the sorcerer shook his hands and a ball of white light flashed from his fingertips straight at the old man.

He didn't even duck. The ball of light passed through him, as harmlessly as sunlight passes through water.

"Illusions," he jeered. "Conjuring tricks. Is that all you're good for, conjurer?"

The sorcerer's face went purple. He gave a grunt of effort, like a pig, and his hands jerked, and one of the tables flew through the air and smashed into the old man, knocking him into the fireplace, where the flames hissed and went out. I was afraid someone so old and fragile would be killed by the impact, but he rolled out, choking and muttering, his clothes spoiled by the ash, and a smear of blood on his forehead.

He struggled to his feet and glared at the sorcerer with his one good eye. "So you can do magic," he said. "But you've still got a lot to learn, boy. Tipping over tables? Pah!"

He raised his own hands in front of him. His sleeves were too short and where his wrists stuck out I saw faded markings twined around them, like old bruises. The sorcerer saw them, too, and his eyes bulged out of his head.

"Take me on, would you?" said the old man, shaking back his stringy white hair. "I'll show you!"

His hands weren't trembling now. They drew a shape in the air, swift and sure, and for a moment I thought I saw something, as if the shadows had thickened and drawn together. But that was all. Perhaps it was just the flickering of the candles on the tables.

The sorcerer, whose face had gone white, regained his colour.

"That's it, is it?" he said. "How impressive. That's bound to win the Election, that is."

He raised his hands again, and I shut my eyes, because now it had come to it, I discovered that I didn't want to see a man killed. The room was utterly silent, the sort of silence comes from everyone holding their breath and not daring to move. And through the stillness I heard my father's voice say calmly, "That's enough."

I opened my eyes and saw him and the sorcerer standing alone in the middle of the room. Everyone else had backed off as far as they could, until the walls got in the way.

"I said, that's enough," said my father.

The sorcerer let out an ugly laugh and brought up his left hand, and a flame roared out of it straight at my father's head. He ducked and twisted, and somehow, so fast I couldn't see how it happened, he was standing behind the sorcerer and the tip of his rusty sword was digging into his head, just above his left ear.

"So," said the old man, his eyes glittering, "I see there are still swordsmen left in Ruthenia."

"No," said my father, and his voice was very gentle, "but it's an easy mistake for an old man to make, when his eyes are failing with the rest of his powers."

"Nothing wrong with my eyes," snarled the old man.

My father looked away from him. "As for you, my lad," he said, seizing the sorcerer by the scruff of the neck and giving him a shake, "you get on your way, or there'll be six inches of steel through your brain. You lot!" - he turned to the handful of other guests, who crawled out sheepishly out from under tables, and out of corners - "Escort this fellow up to the pass, will you? There's no need to be frightened of him. If he tries to use magic on you, bash his head in with a rock."

The villagers clattered out, looking understandably nervous, leaving only my father, the old man, and my grandmother, who had been sitting quietly by the fireplace, watching it all.

"And you, sir," said my father, "finish your wine and then you'd better be off, too."

The old man held out his hand. "Come with me," he said. "We could use a man like you."

My father shook his head.

The old man threw back his head, his eyes flashing. "Coward!" he snapped. "No wonder the army is fading, with traitors like you everywhere. You've grown fat and weak under Dragomir. You've forgotten what freedom is."

"Perhaps," said my father. "But I remember what war is like."

The old man stared at him, and all the fire drained out of his face. Nothing in him moved. Even the twitching had stopped.

"You named your daughter Luzija," he said at last, his voice little more than a whisper. "Surely you –"

My father shook his head again. "I'm sorry," he said, and then again, "I'm sorry. But if you like, I'll give you a lift into the next village on the ox cart. You can hitch a ride to the coast from there."

The old man spat right in his face. "Damn you! I'll walk to hell and back before I accept favours from traitors."

He shuffled over to the door, his head bobbing up and down with each step, and slammed it behind him.

"Who was that?" I asked into the silence that followed.

My father looked at the ground, but he said nothing.

"I'll tell you who that was," said my grandmother, getting to her feet. Her eyes were shining like a girl's at a dance. "That was Prtz the Perilous, that was! And he wanted your father to go with him! He asked him to join the army-in-exile, to bring freedom to Ruthenia!" She turned to my father, all the light going out of her eyes. "And you turned him down."

My father sighed. "Freedom," he said. "Freedom is a fine thing. I fought for freedom for ten years. Ten years where the land went to waste and people starved and a man's worth was measured in how many Arkadijans he'd killed. Do you want to bring that time back? We aren't free, it's true, but we aren't starving either."

My grandmother bit her lip. That's what she always does when she can't bring herself to admit she's lost an argument.

"The old tales are fine," said my father. "People should know the truth. But stories can't bring back the past."

It didn't make any sense, any of it. That horrible old man had been Prtz the Perilous? The greatest sorcerer Ruthenia has ever known? If this was the man who was supposed to come back and overthrow Dragomir and bring freedom to us all, no wonder my father had turned him down.

"How can he be Prtz the Perilous?" I said. "That old man couldn't even do magic!"

"Yes, well," said my grandmother, slowly, "you wouldn't think, to look at me, that I was once the prettiest girl in twenty villages. But I assure you I was. And your father was the finest swordsman in his regiment, though these days he has trouble just lifting an axe, what with the rheumatism in his shoulder. Old age defeats all of us in the end. Even That Bastard Dragomir."

I ignored my grandmother. She was always babbling about unimportant things.

"Why did you let him talk to you like that? He spat at you! Why didn't you throw him out, like that sorcerer?"

My father looked at me, and I shut up.

"He was a hero once," he said. "That will always be true, no matter what else changes. Swords into ploughshares, Luzija."

He got to his feet. "And now I must feed the pigs."

He walked out. My grandmother gazed after him as he closed the door, but I could tell she wasn't looking at him.

"Did I ever tell you," she said after a while, her voice faint and far away, "Did I ever tell you that once upon a time the most beautiful man in the whole of Ruthenia was Prtz the Perilous?"
jest: (writing)

[personal profile] jest 2010-11-15 06:31 pm (UTC)(link)
I'm glad to see you're getting writing done! This is really good!

How do you pronounce Prtz? In my head it rhymes with Fritz, but without a vowel I can't be sure.

My grandmother's stories always made me think Prtz must have been a bit of a prick, but I liked Ottokar. You couldn't imagine King Dragomir giving anyone a pig.

That sums up how I feel about the characters too. I really enjoyed reading this. Thank you for posting!
jest: (Default)

[personal profile] jest 2010-11-16 09:50 am (UTC)(link)
I really only crosspost to Dreamwidth because of you - everyone else I know is on lj as well - so it makes me very happy that you liked it.

In that case, thank you for the extra posting effort!

You have to sort of roll the R in Prtz, to make it vocalic. If you absolutely have to add a vowel, it comes before the R, a bit like "Purtz".

Oh dear, that isn't what I've been hearing in my head at all. In spite of my best efforts, I'm really a hopeless monoglot and can't do a rolled R even in my imagination.

I haven't given up writing,

Oh, I knew that. I have the impression that you have been working on a potentially publishable novel length project. That's as good a reason as any to give up writing fanfic, but I can't help missing the steady stream of short writing that was previously around for my entertainment. So, hurray for Pico! *g*