Path to the Throne (Part VIII)

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Years slowly passed, and I was ten, then twelve. I became a better fencer than Henry and won eight duels out of ten. Sometimes, Henry, Tom, and Rick all banded together to take me on. I loved that; it was a challenge both for me and them.

Martha marveled at my necromantic prowess. She realized very well that I could easily raise all the dead bodies in the neighborhood and put them down without breaking a sweat. Controlling any undead or summoning any demon, whether a war demon or run-of-the-mill succubus, came naturally to me. I felt all-powerful. And one day, it almost killed me.

I got a new teacher out of that.

***

Rene Ghirr urged his horse on until it dropped dead. Then he waited an hour, and the animal recovered. The zombie was starting to smell, but the advantages were obvious: an undead horse was not as fast as a live one, but it never tired and could gallop even with broken legs.

Unfortunately, its rider wasn't tireless himself. By the third day in the saddle, the necromancer was indistinguishable from the corpses he could raise. To put it simply, a once good-looking, forty-year-old man looked very much like a vampire—pale, red-eyed, with sullen cheeks, complete with unkempt hair and a black cape. Black was practical, after all—you'd have to launder a white one every day, while black would serve until it turned grey.

Rene, as you've already guessed, was a necromancer—a proper, powerful one, and also a scientist. Well, actually, he was a scientist first. He even taught art history at the Royal College of Heraldry.

As for necromancy, if you're born with a gift for magic, you can't just bury it—you can only nurture it. Or it will nurture itself, whether you like it or not. Fire outbreaks start happening around fire mages, rivers flood and rain falls wherever water mages live, and necromancers... If a necromancer doesn't know about their gift, various forms of the undead will always gather within his reach.

Rene learned about his gift early—he was nine. Jok, his favorite dog, had just died, and the boy spent all evening crying, repeating the same phrase. "I don't want Jok to die! I want him back!"

Rene learned to be careful what he wished for that very night when he found his dead dog, all smeared in graveyard dirt, right on top of his blanket. The boy's scream woke his parents.

Marghit and Weiss Ghirr were wise people. They didn't start shouting, "Demon!" "Unholy spawn!" "Dark Tempter!" or, to top it all, "Necromancer!" They just realized their child was...well, the very same one. Still, as educated people, they decided to figure it out by themselves.

They didn't wish for little Rene to grow up confined to a convent, or even worse, to be burned at the stake, accused of any and all troubles, from a crow nestling on a roof to a poor turnip harvest in the neighboring village. Even in convents, necromancers were burned. Rene's parents had different plans for their child.

Which is why Marghit spent the entire night by his bed, convincing him that nothing bad was going on. Yes, this is Jok. He was just tired and left you for dog heaven, my dear. But you called him from there, and now he'll have to stay in a dead body, poor boy. You should just release him. You love him, don't you? Then don't make him suffer anymore.

With the first rays of the sun, Weiss headed to the bookstore, where—he knew for a fact—they sold books on magic under the counter. That is where he bought his son Rene's first necromancy textbook, "Notes of a Practicing Necromancer Alfred Lucius. My First Steps, Mistakes, and Improvements". Rene learned that book by heart, cover to cover.

Jok spent the day in the boy's room. After nightfall, Rene put him back in his grave—and somehow, without realizing it, released his soul. Who says animals don't have souls? Rene could have sworn that upon flying away, Jok's soul gave him a cheerful yap, and he almost felt a cold nose poke into his palm. Don't be sad for me, boy. One day, we'll run on a green lawn together, just you wait.

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