The Market Price: The Cure

Sir Thomas Valek paced back and forth, from one side of the long hallway to the other. His agitation grew more and more justified, the spire creatures standing at the doorway to his lord’s quarters had not allowed him entry to watch over his sire as the “Merchant” worked. They had actually said nothing, not a sound. Perhaps it was even worse than that and the things hadn’t even moved or twitched. There was a horrible smell coming from the room which those in the manor found quite alarming. The smell of ammonia and copper filled the halls of the manor, hanging in the air and coating the tongue. 

Perhaps Sir Valek should’ve thrown in with the eldest son of his sire and left to seek aid from the temples for whatever heresy against all decent and holy things was going on beyond that doorway. Gerald the younger must’ve understood his father’s desire to live for a while longer however not to the reason of turning to the spire’s tonics and brews. Those however stopped working quite sometime ago, Lord Gerald had requested something more extensive be done. His “Merchant” whom he spoke so highly of acquiesced to the man’s request and agreed to slow or reverse the process of the nobleman’s aging. The “Merchant” however negotiated such a steep price for it that many of the house’s courtiers questioned the Lord’s sanity. Lord Gerald however simply dismissed them all. 

Now the whole house would be stuck with the tithe that the Merchant’s treatments would cost. All of the trees, plants and animals from the Frog woods. Fifty square miles of woodlands spread across the hills of the family’s estate. Half of it was being felled and processed now, scant days after the agreement was signed. 

Pausing, Sir Valek shuddered at the memories of the things that now stalked those hills. Great lumbering monsters with mouths more akin to saw blades then mouths, simply tubes of teeth undulating within gaping caverns. They weren’t harvesting the plants in the Frog woods. The things were eating them. The trees down to the roots, the ponds down to their scummy bottoms. The creatures had seemed to be gaunt with hunger when they arrived but when he had left they had fattened themselves on everything but still glutted themselves more and more. 

Suppressing a shiver he would return to his pacing, back and forth, back and forth. Finding his agitations reaching its limits he would say loud enough for the quibbling scribe Daniel to hear him. “When did that blasted merchant say this would be over? It has been days it feels like.”

Daniels would pale at the knight’s sudden questioning. “We- well, T- the Lord said it would take a few days and this Merchant fellow nodded his head in agreement with him. So I suppo-”
“Listen Daniels, how many days ago did he say that? It has been four since I excorted that ‘Yellow Harvester’ fellow to the Frog Hills and explained where the extent of the lands ended, what was the boundry line of their fucking agreement with the Lord.” Sir Valek work his jaw biting out his discontent while fighting to keep any amount of respect in his voice.

Fumbling the scribe would flip through the sheets of paper. “Thee- uh, ah here it is. The contract states that the lord will be of full health in… One hundred and eighteen hours, uh however it does say that the ‘treatments’ must continue for a second round next year at which time another sub-text say they’ll collect the remaining payment. So uh Sir Valek only a few more hours and we may forget about this whole arrangement for yet another year.”

Sir Valek perked at the mention of them coming next year, with a deep breath he would mutter to himself. “I’ve given up my honor and stretched the limits of my faith and tolerance to ensure my oath of loyalty to my lord remains fulfilled. Hold the line, old tom, Hold the line.” 

Daniel would tilt his head and ask. “Pardon? Did you say somethi-”

The scribe became silent as the lock on the master bedroom clicked unlocked. The spire guards stepped aside without words or command, their yellow coral arms and armor rattling slightly. Before Daniel and Sir Valek could move towards the doorway, it opened releasing both a figure and a steamy vapor from it. The vapor stank of sweat, ammonia and blood. The Figure was dressed in ivory and burgundy robes with yellow coral mask and jewelry adorning their form. Unlike the guards the figure was far too human for the knight’s personal liking. It inclined it’s head to the pair and waved them to step towards it. Sir Valek needed no beckoning like a spire dog, he strode towards it not stepping. Daniel meekly followed afterwards clutching at his precious parchments. The thing spoke saying. “We believe when your lord wakes he will find our arrangement satisfactory. As such our end of the contract is fulfilled, we will expect your end to be upheld.”

Sir Valek’s jaw started to tick and his agitation returned. The thing spoke as if it was many which the knight found annoying. “Very well, you will see it is fulfilled.”

The thing dipped it’s head down and to the side, the knight might assume a mocking of a bow if the thing had been human. Daniel would ask. “Are you and your uh men- troops, to be leaving tonight or on the lord’s waking?”

The figure would turn to the short scribe and do another head tilt dipping it more forward. “Sadly no, we’re to remain till your master is no longer resting, a few hours should do.”

Crossing his arms Valek would say. “Then your guards won’t need to remain in his quarters or have your guards at his door?”

The figure would look to Valek and stare at him, Valek had wanted to phrase it as a command however he didn’t want his lord to feel he had offended his guests. The moment would be drawn longer and longer till the figure responded. “If it would please our dear Patron’s courtiers we will allow them to guard him so long as we are allowed to continue to observe the progress of their recovery.”

Daniel responded first. “That is agreeable, so long as we may first view our lord to ensure that he is well after your- uh ‘Process’ is that Agreeable?”

The figure would turn their head to the short scribe again then state. “Agreed. Please enter but do not touch anything as we’re still in the process of the treatment.” 

“Very well…” Sir Valek would grate out. 

An all too unnaturally graceful turn and the figure returned to the insides of the room. 

The pair of humans followed the spire into the expansive room that once held the vivid tapestries and finely detailed paintings, the vaulted windows and richly worked rose and ebony furniture, the velvet curtains and silken sheets and pillows. All that was now gone except the bed it’s expected emptiness suspiciously filled with vines and roots. Sir Valek let his eyes trail across the expansive growths, their pathways criss crossing leading to-

“That must be the largest goose egg I’ve ever seen…” Daniel said as he looked at the large oblong shape resting in the center of the room. 

More figures attend to it, placing their hands against it’s surface. As the pair drew closer they could see that it wasn’t as smooth as they had thought, it had many bumps and dimples in it. Along with the long slit at its crown which Thomas surmised was it’s entrance. The thing however did look like a goose egg, one sitting in a nest of fleshy roots and vines that spread out along nearly every surface of the master bedroom. 

Breathlessly Valek spoke aloud to the figure they had followed in. “H- W- how much longer before he is ready to emerge.”

The thing tilted it’s head at him then would look to the others, each of them looking back to the figure and then back to the egg. The moments stretched and Valek was opening his mouth to restate his question when the figure spoke. “Roughly three minutes and forty seconds. Please stand back.” 

Daniel grasping at Valek’s arm and whispers to him. “This is wrong of me to ask Sir Valek but what if his lordship- What is changed by this ‘treatment’ of these things…”

Sir Valek didn’t answer but stared at the small scribe with a worried look. Then the pair stepped back as they had been urged to. As they watched the group of figures tended to the large pod. After a few moments there was a soft sound that rose and repeated from within the pod. Like stirring oat porridge the sound repeated four or five times. From the seam at the crown of the pod a hand reached out. It’s fingers grasping and reaching out of the pod, smeared in an orange honey that began to drip and drizzle out of the edge of the pod’s seam. 

Taking a step forward to look more closely, Valek could see it better. “That can’t be the Lord’s hand, it isn’t wrinkled or fragile. It’s strong and healthy. Muscles are strong and the joints unbent or swollen.” 

Daniel would step forward as well, both men watching in fascination as a strong powerfully muscled arm tore it’s way from the seam reaching our blindly to it pulled back to grasp at the pod opening. Another arm soon fights it’s way free of the syrup, both grasp at the edge of the pod and push. The seam cracks wide, the shell of the pod splintering with spiderweb cracks all about it. For a few moments it seems to hold it’s shape till the form within begins to kick and struggle against the syrupy confines of the pods’ now shattered interior. 

The robed figures all around the pods stepped back and allowed the man to continue to struggle. After a few moments Sir Valek demanded in a combative tone but controlling his anger. “Why won’t you assist him with leaving your- instrument.” 

All of the figures glances to the knight in casual fluid unison and tilting their heads in their strange bows would motion at once towards the pod. The knight would hesitate for a moment before stepping forward and dipping his fingers into the goopy mass he’d begin to yank chunks of the shell’s pod free from around his lord. 

With in a few moments of sticky work he found his master beneath it all. The elderly man was no longer so frail and elderly. The “Merchant” had done his work to the letter of the contract, Lord Gerald had his youth returned. No longer did he look shriveled by his seventy winters of biting cold or seventy summers of crushing conflict. He was young, bright strawberry locks of hair now adorning his head thick and full. No longer a thin patchy gathering of white cobwebs. His body was now toned, fit and muscular as if back in his glory days of old. 

With a gasp Valek stole air back into his lungs. Looking at one of the figures, the other figures, now slicing goblets of the root like flesh off the walls. “Ha- H- How have you been able to do this thing?” 

The figure would tilt bow it’s head and place its hands in it’s lap. “Nothing is beyond the Spire’s ability to achieve with enough time.”

Valek opened his mouth to speak, hands seized him about his collar, with spittle and orange honey dribbling from his mouth Lord Gerald asked. “Where is the traitorous son of mine?!”