Editor's Note: This entry was submitted by contributing writer Mauricio Wan. It is the first in a series exploring the origins of A Knight Adrift's antagonist, Archwizard Ixiel. Enjoy!
Ixiel the Great. Ixiel the Betrayer. What songs do they sing of thee? What notes are carried in the caws of every murder, what is whistled in the howl of the fell south winds? What do they chant of thee in the lowing of the battle broken and mortal wounded? What tale is spun in the whispers of the darkness?
Isidore son of Elea was born in the hinterlands under the shadow of Old Monticolus. A full league from the coast, his mother made her living as a spinner and occasional wet nurse for wealthier peasants in the village. He was born a jaundiced and mewling thing and, having been conceived roughly in an attack by marauders during Leogriff's campaign to pacify the south, the midwife did not hold out hope for the child to survive a fortnight.
Yet the child endured.
Isidore was a precocious thing. He walked early for his age, spoke before his peers, and showed uncanny mastery at deft tasks where even long time journeymen in the trade struggled. But the child was over-small for his age and though clever, never well liked by the other boys and girls. By his tenth year it became clear that he would always be weak of frame. Never would he be a soldier, nor a lumberman, nor even a farmhand. Worse yet he was a child of an unknown father, lower in station than even the poorest of peasants and thus unlikely to be suitable to wed.
By the time he reached his adolescence, Isidore took a melancholy turn. He became quiet and brooding and did not get on well with the other boys who plowed their fathers' field and hunted small game for leisure. Instead he would wander the mountains alone and wend his way through the abandoned ruins of Old Monticolus, imagining the dead folk whose home was erased to make way for the new. Only the tender love of his mother and the few words he had learned to read from the monthly catechism of the holy texts brought him pleasure. Indeed the child seemed to grasp before anyone else how lonely and spare his life would be.
And then it all changed one golden red day flush with new autumn.
The Walkers came through the village. Dressed head to toe in their rich purple and gold raiment, masked with the scarves of the seers, there were four in total. With no proper inn to stay at, they came to the mayor's house to ask for lodging and fare. Having only just returned from one of his walkabouts, Isidore rushed as all the other youths did to see the once in a lifetime visit from the magic folk. In the cooling dusk of a waning day his life changed forever.
It started with simple tricks. The Walkers entertained the children by making the leaves dance in winds that came from their fingers. Then they made seeds sprout from the ground and flower though it was the season of dying. Finally, someone brought a burning log from a hearth and they crafted from it little fire moths that made their powder and flesh fellows follow them in feats of aerial acrobatics.
For Isidore it was the loveliest day of his life. He had never seen anything so fantastical. And he was allowed to join the others, boy and girls and adults alike, without the mocking and aversion that he had come to know in their looks and quiet avoidance. He wished it could go on forever. If only they could make from the fire the flying snake he had found inscribed on the walls of the old city.
Suddenly, the fire did just that.
The fire moths puffed out of existence. The newly sprouted flowers wilted and blackened. The leaves no longer danced in the wind but floated gravely towards the ground. The Walkers stared at him.
It was the oldest, with a creaking walk but a steady purpose to his gait, who approached him.
“What's your name, boy?”
“And where did you learn to do that, Isidore?”
“Do what?” The boy asked, shamed face and tremulous, not knowing how but knowing very surely that he had ruined the spectacle of the best day of his life. He could feel the hate and mortification of his neighbors burning on the nape of his neck.
“Make the sign of Old Monticolus.”
“I—I didn't make it,” he stammered.
The old man put his hand on Isidore's head and the crow's lines next to his eyes furrowed with a secret smile hidden by the seer's scarf.
“It is not a bad thing you have done, Isidore. In fact, it is wonderful. I've never seen any boy your age do it.”
Isidore was united with his neighbors in astonishment.
“Now, where is your father? I should like to speak with him.”
“I have no father, sir.”
The old man put his hand on the boy's shoulder.
“I see. And your mother?”
“She lives over that hill, sir.”
“Very well then, let us go to her.”
The next morning was the last day Elea saw her son. As he walked away from the village without a wave or smile, she thought she saw him walk a little straighter and a little prouder. Though she had lost a son she knew it was for the better, for he had gained a life.
As Isidore left the town in a white robe that was too large for his frame he could not comprehend how greatly his life would change with the Walkers. He knew somehow, however, that the name of the place he was leaving would soon be as forgotten as the name Isidore son of Elea.