The Unseeing Eyes
Book I, Chapter 13
(AUTHOR'S NOTE: Hi everybody! I apologize for the non-existent updates lately, I've had little time or energy for recreational writing in the past few weeks. I'll do my darndest to pick up the update schedule again.
Thank you for your patience and even bigger thanks for reading my drivel in the first place!)
Bhollom panted as he slowly dragged himself up steep stone stairs. He thought the servants’ entrance had been on ground level, but it now seemed that either his unpleasant planning session with Kheret had taken place deep underground or the main floor of the Mayor’s Tower was not its actual first floor. He had also found a new appreciation for all menial workers in the known lands. The thick-handled mop and the bucket, reinforced with strips of metal, weighed more and more with each step. Bhollom wiped sweat off his brow. At least Kheret hadn’t insisted on filling the bucket.
After an eternity of climbing, Bhollom finally saw light at the end of the stairwell. Exerting what strength was left in his trembling legs, he slumped into the shadows behind one of the triangular smooth stone pillars framing the entrance to the main hall. His legs burnt and he wished there actually was some water in his bucket, but at least he was done with stairs for now.
Then he groaned as Kheret’s words from earlier echoed in his mind. The Vice-Mayor’s office was on the fourteenth floor.
Bhollom stood up and peeked out from behind the pillar. The main hall was large and circular, possibly fifty yards or more in diameter. A massive, elaborately carved wooden double door, framed by another pair of triangular pillars and heavily armed High Guard. A thick, dark blue carpet stretched across the floor, ending in front of gently sloping stairs, which circled the hall. Bhollom counted at least twenty floors when he looked up, but despite the large number of magical torches on each well, their dim glow didn’t provide enough light to see exactly how far upwards the tower stretched.
Bhollom took a deep breath and crept out from his hiding place. Apart from the four High Guards at the front door and a couple of what he assumed to be officials and servants out and about, the main hall was eerily empty. Bhollom wondered whether the rest of the tower guard was resting at a hidden garrison, or whether they were out on the streets looking for him and Neej-Nash. He hoped for the latter as he passed one of the smaller doors that dotted the walls in the main hall. For all he knew, behind each of them were dozens of guards ready to pounce on him the moment he was recognized.
He reached the bottom of the stairs and glanced over to the guards at the front door. There had certainly noticed him – Bhollom stood directly opposite from them in plain sight – but either they were in on Kheret’s plan or Bhollom’s disguise worked and they paid him no mind. Bhollom wasn’t sure which the case was, but at least the plan hadn’t failed right at the start. Sighing with both relief and concern, he begun to climb again.
He passed floor after floor as he made his way up the stairs. The tower guard had a higher presence on the upper levels than he could’ve seen from the bottom floor. Four of six guards sat or sometimes napped on small stools at regular intervals so that they circled the round floors. Occasionally someone – mostly humans of different shapes and sizes, but also elves and the bird people – entered or exited one of the doorways between the guards. Bhollom noticed a tentative smile creeping to his lips as he kept being ignored. The guards were not wearing the fancy High Guard uniforms, which meant they were not letting him pass on Kheret’s orders but were indeed fooled by his disguise.
Finally, Bhollom begun to climb the flight of stairs leading up from the thirteenth floor. Though the mop and bucket were still heavy and he was beginning to feel like crawling into bed and falling asleep, a rush of adrenaline gave him new strength. The plan had worked so far, and he couldn’t see why it wouldn’t carry on until the end. Once he reached the top of the stairs, he would pop into the Vice-Mayor’s study, snatch the letter, act terrified once Kheret’s men caught him and dragged him down to the dungeon to meet…
To meet Neej-Nash.
Bhollom swallowed loudly as the thought of cutting a deal with Kheret and abandoning Neej-Nash crept back into his mind. Kheret’s temper tantrum had dissuaded him earlier, but now that the plan was coming together and success seemed inevitable, Bhollom was ready to reconsider. The guards who would soon apprehend him were under Kheret’s direct orders, after all, and it probably wouldn’t be too difficult to persuade them to take Bhollom to see their captain. He could out of the city and make his own way to Kobresia, without Neej-Nash constantly slowing them down.
But could he betray a friend?
Lost in thought, Bhollom didn’t notice that the last step of the staircase was just so slightly higher than the others. He stubbed his foot and fell down, his mop and bucket clattering onto the floor in front of a sleeping guard. His spear slipped from his hand as he jumped up, adding to the commotion.
“What in the hells are you doing?” the guard yelled, his voice echoing in the silent tower.
Bhollom glanced up at the mustachioed guard and thought quickly as he clambered up to his feet.
“Every time, every damned time!” he swore to himself. “Someone really ought to do something about that step.”
“What on earth are you talking about?” the guard barked. Bhollom picked up his mop and balanced it on his shoulder. He turned to the guard and stared him in the eye defiantly.
“What? You think this is the first time I slip on that step? I swear, this tower is more shoddily built than my grandmother’s shack.”
The guard narrowed his eyes and bent down to pick up his weapon.
“Who are you? What are you doing here?”
Bhollom swung his mop off his shoulder and poked the guard in the chest with its handle.
“What do you think, boy? Hm? With a mop and a bucket at this hour?” He lowered the mop and tapped himself on the temple with it a few times. “Think about it.”
“Watch your tone, stub,” the guard snarled. He glanced at the bucket, which was still lying on the floor.
“Where’s your water, then?”
Bhollom lost his composure for the duration of a thought, but he shook his head and shot a condescending sneer, not unlike one of Kheret’s, at the guard.
“Come, come with me,” he said and took the guard by his arm. The guard, surprised, complied and let Bhollom drag himself to the parapet at the edge of the floor.
“Look down,” Bhollom said and the guard glanced over the edge of the floor. He soon pulled his eyes away. He had never liked heights.
“What are saying?” he asked.
“You don’t see the fourteen flights of stairs? I sure am not dragging a full bucket up all of them,” Bhollom said sarcastically.
A sudden noise of metal dropping on stone interrupted Bhollom and the guard. Bhollom turned around to see another guard standing behind him. Bhollom recognized him from before as the one who had dragged Patryk away.
The High Guard lifted his tower shield back up from the floor where he had let it drop.
“What are you doing?” he asked.
Bhollom threw his arms wide.
“Well I’m trying to do my job, sir guardsman, sir, but he…”
“Not you,” the High Guard interrupted. “Speak, soldier.”
The regular guard straightened his back as he answered.
“Sir, this stub claims to be a servant. He says he’s here to clean.”
The High Guard looked down at Bhollom and then back to the guard.
“Is there a problem with that?”
“I wasn’t aware there were any stubs working in the tower, sir.”
“Maybe you’d notice us if you weren’t asleep on duty,” Bhollom cut in. The guard began to retort but the High Huard spoke first.
“Watch your mouth, stub. What are you to clean?”
Bhollom saw his chance and took it.
“The Vice-Mayor’s study. He spilled some wine or something on the floor,” he said, grumbling to himself. “It’s probably stained the stonework by now. But no sir, can’t go in to clean it right away, can’t disturb his highness…”
“Enough,” the High Guard snapped. “Go do your duty, then.”
“But sir, he doesn’t even have water…” the guard with the mustache tried to argue.
“Surely he means to get some from the Vice-Mayor’s privy. Or would you carry a full bucket up fourteen floors?”
“No, sir,” the guard sighed.
The High Guard stepped forward toward the other man.
“It’s wise to be on your toes, especially with the Mayor’s murderers on the loose, but don’t stop the servants from doing their job.”
“Yes, sir!” the guard replied, his mood visibly lifted by the sudden praise from his superior. He saluted the High Guard and returned to his stool.
The remaining guard turned around and looked at Bhollom with a toxic glare.
“Do not fail again, stub. Get your damned bucket and follow.”
Bhollom made a face at the guard behind his back as he grabbed the bucket and hurried after the man. He led Bhollom around the floor until they arrived to a door, just slightly bigger and more ornate than the rest. The High Guard glanced out of the corner of his eye at yet another guard standing nearby.
“The privy is in the back of the study, behind the red curtains. Be quick, or I will personally come drag you out,” he said unnecessarily loudly.
Bhollom nodded at the guard, who turned around and snapped into attention. He dug the key out of his left pocket, turned it into the lock and turned. The heavy door creaked ajar and Bhollom slipped into the room. A large desk and chair stood at the back of the study in front of a large glass window, facing the door. Bookshelves filled to the brim lined the walls. On a green rug in the middle of the room stood another table and two ornate wooden chairs. The same blue torches as in the hall shone a dim glow over the mess of paper and parchment that littered every surface of the room.
Bhollom bit his lip. Finding the letter suddenly seemed a lot harder.