Tears for Hesh – A Short Story from Beyond the Veil (excerpt)
Hesh wandered about the potions shop aimlessly, unable to find the rare ingredient his master needed. He grew more frustrated by the minute, for his master had been very specific in his request. He had ordered Hesh to rush out and acquire one phial of firedrake tears, as quickly as possible. Almost indistinguishable from salamander tears, the tears from a firedrake were much more valuable and exceedingly rare, since they could only be gathered from a fully grown adult of the species. This was a dangerous task under the best of circumstances, since adult firedrakes – a distant relative of the phoenix – could only be found in the calderas of active volcanoes, where they built their nests.
Although Deadwood & Blight’s was one of the most reputable shops in town with an enormous selection, they just didn’t seem to have it. Hesh stumbled slightly as he tried to squeeze past a plump little wizard carrying a basket overflowing with ingredients. The cramped, narrow aisles of the shop made his task that much more difficult and at almost seven feet tall, he towered over all of the other patrons. Muttering to himself as he went, he scoured the shelves looking for the ingredient.
I will not fail the Master! He’s kept me on all these years when no one else would have me. I know he could have smarter and quicker assistants than the likes of me, but I’m strong and loyal, I am! Ha – I’d like to see any of those skinny little wizards carry a cauldron in each hand like I do for the Master! I just wish I didn’t stammer so; the Master said he’d fix my tongue one day with his magic. Like he said, how can I work for the most important wizard in the city if I sound like a dolt?
He shuffled down another aisle for at least the third time, bumping into a stack of cauldrons at the end of the row and sending several of them rolling noisily across the stone floor.
“Oi! You there!” shouted Jerrick, one of the clerks. “Mind where you’re going or you’ll be paying damages!”
“S-S-Sorry…” Hesh stammered apologetically.
What’s wrong with Jerrick? He’s never snapped at me like that before; normally he’s so understanding, even when I can’t get my words out.
Hesh backed out of the way as Jerrick tried to retrieve the errant cauldrons. The shop was nearly bursting at the seams with customers seeking to restock their supplies in preparation for the annual potions competition next week.
“I’m… I’m trying to find f-f-firedrake t-t-tears,” he stuttered.
Jerrick stopped restacking the cauldrons and glared at Hesh.
“Are you insane? Do you have any idea how unstable those are?”
“Unstable?” Hesh’s eyebrows shot upward in surprise. His master hadn’t mentioned anything about the ingredient being unstable. He had just ordered Hesh to find them immediately and at any price.
“Yes, unstable! If you shake the container too hard or gods forbid drop them, they will combust, destroying everything within fifty feet. That’s why they are on the restricted list!”
Hesh fumbled with his bag of coins and shuffled his feet, looking around to see if anyone was near enough to hear what he was about to say.
“Look, Jerrick, you’ve got to help me. Master ordered me to f-f-find them immediately. It’ll mean m-m-my head if I come back empty handed! Master won’t be happy, not happy at all!”
Jerrick just sighed as he finished stacking the cauldrons back into a neat pyramid display.
“Look Hesh, I’m sorry, okay? But trafficking in black market ingredients is just too dangerous. Besides, if your master needs them so badly, then why doesn’t he have a signed order approved by the Council Apothecary?”
“Shh! N-n-not so loud! Master said he doesn’t have t-t-time for such f-f-foolishness.” Hesh glanced around again to make certain no one had heard Jerrick.
“That isn’t right, Hesh. Do you know what they would do to you if you were caught with firedrake tears without a permit? You’d be indentured to the Council for at least ten years and forced to spend twenty-three hours every day as your animal form, whatever that might be.”
Unfortunately Hesh knew exactly what his animal form would be – a large panda bear. Unknown to Jerrick or anyone else, Hesh’s master, a member of the Council, had one day turned Hesh into his animal form for amusement. Hesh hated his animal form – the fur was hot and he scratched for hours after returning to his human self.
“But Jerrick, I don’t have a choice!” he pleaded. “L-l-look, I’ll give you t-t-ten gold crowns if you get me the stuff.”
Jerrick raised his eyebrows. “Your master must really want those tears,” he said, obviously surprised by such an offer. “That much coin would pay my wages for nearly six months!”
“Please, Jerrick! I must not f-f-fail the M-m-master! I m-m-mustn’t!”
“Look, why is this so important to your master? What does he need those tears for, anyway?”
Hesh shook his head, and then brushed his long brown hair out of his eyes. “Dunno. All I know is the Master wants them, and he wants them now.”
“Alright, fine – I’ll get them for you, but keep your money. Your master doesn’t deserve you, Hesh; he’s obviously a cruel beast judging by that scar he gave you the last time we were out of ingredients he wanted.”
Hesh shuffled his feet as his hand automatically went to his cheek, feeling the scar where his master had hit him with a lash. Master had been very angry that day indeed.
Jerrick rapped his knuckle three times in an offbeat sequence on the stone wall of the shop and vanished into a dark opening that appeared. He reemerged a few minutes later with a small brown parcel cradled gently in his hands. Carefully he handed the small box to Hesh, who looked at it with interest.
“Now listen, Hesh,” said Jerrick sternly in a whispered voice, “you MUST make certain you don’t shake or drop this box! Even though I’ve packed it carefully and placed a cushioning spell on it, it is still very, very dangerous!”
Hesh nodded and very gently placed the parcel into the pouch on his belt, steadying it with his hand for good measure.
“Thank you, Jerrick. You’ve always been so k-k-kind to me. Maybe someday I can repay your kindness.”
Jerrick smiled. “Go on then, you big oaf. Back to your master before he sends a seeker after you.”
Hesh thanked Jerrick again and quietly left the shop by way of a side door. He would have to hurry or his master would be furious. He quietly latched the side door and hurried down the busy street towards his master’s chambers…
I hope you have enjoyed this brief excerpt – the complete short story is available at both Amazon and Smashwords via these links:
Copyright © 12/04/2010 J. Michael Radcliffe, all rights reserved.