Having eaten in his private chambers with his family, Coluim made his way through the buzzing keep to the dungeon stairs. He was only stopped twelve times by his aides, all with questions regarding the night's festivities. Completely ambivalent toward the color and quantity of decorations, seating arrangements, and food, the king nevertheless made a show of pausing at each question, considering the choices as if they were a treaty with an aggressive nation, then giving his answer. He had found early in his reign that relinquishing control over even the smallest details was the top of a steep hill that ended in revolt. He also enjoyed giving his servants the same attention as visiting dignitaries. It elevated his servants and deflated the dignitaries.
The interruptions ceased once he began descending the stairs to the dungeon. Despite years of benevolent service to the king, Eadwulf was still held in quiet awe by most of the castle's inhabitants, and the dungeons belonged to him. Perhaps it was that ancient fear of the unknown that kept them at a respectable distance. Coluim thought it could have more to do with the gouts of fire and the terrible, booming voice that accompanied his victory over the barbarian Torfjald those sixteen years prior, when a younger, taller Eadwulf rode at his side commanding awesome powers against their enemy. That image will be as tenacious as the name Bloody Plain. Again, flashes of blood, wings, screaming. Swept away without thought.
Coluim made his way through the narrow dungeon passages to Eadwulf's quarters. In any other keep, these halls would be filled with prisoners of war, spies, and vicious criminals. In the peace of Coluim's Anglia, they were filled with old tools, surplus food, and Eadwulf's various arcana he had been collecting over the years.
Coluim found Eadwulf's door ajar, a soft glow emanating from within. He eased his head into the opening. Eadwulf was seated in the middle of the room, in front of a small bubbling cauldron. He sat erect on a small chair, eyes closed. Candles scattered throughout the room lit various plants, bottles, and giant tomes in a dozen languages with warm light. An identical chair was next to Eadwulf by the cauldron. "Come in, sire. Not that you need my permission."
"We've ridden, dined, and wept together, but I'm afraid I may always think of you as my father's mage, Eadwulf. Thank you." Coluim crossed the room to the empty chair and sat. The odor from the bubbling cauldron was strong, but not unpleasant. "Is this potion for me?"
"Yes, sire. I believe it will be helpful in altering your perspective, as we discussed. Rest assured it is simply plant-based, and I have taken it many times."
"If I were in danger at your hands, Eadwulf, I doubt I would have made it this far."
"Indeed, your majesty. Please, make yourself comfortable while I prepare a mug for you. You'll find a chair more suited to your liking in the corner."
Coluim saw that there was in fact a large chair with cushions and arms waiting for him and went over to it as Eadwulf busied himself with a misshapen mug and ladle, stirring the potion to cool it. He sat the mug on the table next to Coluim. "Before we begin, there are only two things you must know, sire. While this will take most of the daylight, it will not last forever. And what you see will only be as real, and as dangerous, as the thoughts in your head right now. For your safety, I think it best for you to stay here for the duration."
"That's all I need to know? What effect does this have? How will it change my perspective?"
"I find the less you know beforehand, the more rewarding the experience. Please, drink."
Coluim lifted the mug of steaming liquid. The smell seemed to have abated somewhat, but an earthy odor remained. He sipped. Bitter and hot, but not terrible. "What now?"
"Now, we wait for the potion to take hold. As that would be extremely tedious and likely to make you tense, I suggest we discuss grain allocation for the coming winter."
To Be Continued