I was in prison, my jailer was a giant semi-humanoid bat, and, if I didn’t do something, Rosie, September and I were going to be food for some weird, giant monster. Even getting up to go to our cell door was a challenge under those conditions. If I’d been alone, I think it might have been more of a challenge than I could have faced. Watching Rosie lining up the pieces of Sweepy’s broom carefully and September stalking off into the garden’s undergrowth though, I found the inspiration I needed to climb to my feet.
it was a good start, but my wobbly knees felt like they were still unconvinced by the whole “moving at all” plan. With a grunt I was able to force myself forward to the heavy wooden door in the rough stone wall that formed one side of the garden’s area. Step by step I plodded toward it, struggling to figure out with each pace forward what exactly I was going to do.
“Mortimer?” I looked through the iron bars that formed the small window in the prison door but couldn’t see the giant bat down either side of the narrow hallway that led to the Larder.
Any desire I had to shake the bars or bash the door was cut short by how formidable of a barrier it appeared to be. The iron bars were rimmed with frost and radiated an intense cold when I moved my hand towards them. The door itself reacted as well when I did that. On the surface of the smooth wood, protrusions like thorns flexed outward at my approach.
I didn’t need magic senses to figure out that the door was a living creature and was not interested in letting me pass. I looked around the rest of the prison and the pieces clicked together in my brain. However he managed it, the Miser King had assembled a collection plants which preyed on people and were unwilling to let us go. They weren’t attacking us, yet, but we also weren’t trying to escape, at least not using any obvious methods. Judging from how the branches and vines swayed out of time with the mild winds, it looked like the garden was quite ready for any attempt we might make though. So we probably only had one shot at whatever it was we were going to try.
“You called?” Mortimer asked. “Perhaps to distract me while your clever scheme unfolded?”
“I don’t have a clever scheme,” I said before I could stop myself.
“Please, you witches always have clever schemes,” Mortimer said. “I’ll have to stay here and keep an eye on you now rather than marshalling the troops for the ambush we’re setting up for your friends.”
I wanted to protest that I really didn’t have any clever schemes but managed to shut myself up before I could. He wasn’t looking for what I was doing, he was looking for an excuse to get out of doing what the task he’d been assigned.
“You mentioned being under the Miser King’s control,” I said. “How do you resolve things like this when you need to follow two mutually contradictory orders;”
“The binding is a difficult spell from what I gather,” Mortimer said. “Ideally it would compel total loyalty, but the only method of achieving that is to eradicate the mind of the individual the spell is controlling.”
“Wouldn’t that leave you with something like zombie servants?” I asked, sickened at the notion that a spell like that even existed.
“Yes, that’s exactly the problem,” Mortimer said. “Not that zombie servants don’t have their uses, but for more complicated minions, like ones who can manage to open doors for themselves, you apparently need to leave some freedom in the spell.”
“So you don’t want to be the Miser King’s minion then?” I asked.
“Nope,” Mortimer said. “Never have, never will.”
“How did he get control of you?” I asked.
“A long string of poor life decisions,” Mortimer said. “In retrospect I probably should have listened to my Night School teachers.”
“What did they tell you?” I asked.
“That reading was an important skill to master. It turns out that if you sign a contract it doesn’t matter if you understand what’s written on it or not. It’s still binding.”
“You don’t really seem all that bound though,” I said. “I mean how are you able to tell me all this if you’re the Miser King’s slave?”
“I can say whatever I want, I’m just restricted in what I can do. Like I said, he had to leave us minions with some amount of freedom or we’d be useless to him.”
“I met a frog who seemed kind of mindlessly loyal and he was useful enough to capture me,” I said.
“Some people, like me, you bind with magic,” Mortimer said. “Others, like the frogs? Well they kind of bind themselves. Just give them the right words, let them believe the things they need to believe and they’ll do whatever you want. Right up till the time you violate some insane taboo they’ve setup. Then things get ugly. Devotion flips around and you’ve got a bunch of psychos who know everything about you and are righteously dedicated to destroying everything you built.”
That gave me all kinds of ideas but Mortimer stepped on most of them a moment later.
“Of course if the frogs revolt on the Miser King, we’ll be eating frog legs for weeks,” he said. “Which is why I don’t talk like this when he’s around. I might not be magically constrained from talking against him but with someone that powerful you’re never really free.”
“What if we could free you?” I asked. “Would you be able to help us escape?”
“I can’t take any actions against the King or his interests,” Mortimer said.
I listened to his words carefully. He was already trying to help us escape, and what he told me was the biggest clue he was able to provide. A chill of excitement rippled down my body, into my legs and rang my wobbly knees like a gong. If Mortimer was speaking with exact precision, then I was pretty sure I knew what he wasn’t saying and that I gave me the beginnings of the clever plan the giant bat had asked about.