Chapter two: Blood of Blood
With its bright yellow, hairy legs, the Ologan spider probed Chimley’s fingers every few steps as it crawled along. Though it was nearly as big as his fist, Chimley didn’t feel its weight at all; its delicate legs were soft like the wind playing in the tree branches overhead. The spider made its way up Chimley’s arm unhurriedly, its pincer’s drawing together, and then apart, as though it was chewing a hunk of flesh already. It was methodically looking for the most vulnerable place to bite.
Sixteen-year-old Chimley Munotina was still learning that the trick was to eat the spiders before they tried to eat him.
He already had a multitude of deep scars and fresh wounds that were replaced as fast as they healed. With his free hand, Chimley carefully nudged the spider from his arm back into his palm, and then brought the arachnid up to his face. Closer, closer to his open mouth; he stopped, staring the spider in its eight eyes. His hungry mouth closed again. An impatient sigh came from behind him. Chimley shot his father, who was watching from the safety of the trees, an annoyed look. Shaethan cast his eyes downward, flushing slightly red. Even the sight of little grass spiders sent him running for the hills.
He gazed at Chimley, his essence becoming placating as he thought to his son: Do it now, Chimley, before it bites you again. Without responding, Chimley turned his eyes back on the spider, which had gone suddenly still. It watched Chimley with its eyes like eight beads of blood. Mostly yellow with bright pink bands around its leg joints, it was spotted with fine, long silver hairs that twitched in the breeze of Chimley’s breath. These rare Ologan spiders were from the Volcanic Belt, an almost magical place where the spirit of the Firelands dwelled in animals. They could sometimes be found in the tops of high trees or in dungeon cells, which is where his father had been when he discovered the magic of the spiders.
Shaethan had recounted the story many times to Chimley; how his family had upset the royal lineage and given the throne to his younger brother instead of him, locked him in the dungeon for more than three months, and banished him to Wespiser. His father claimed that awful retribution was coming unless they restored the kingdom to its proper generation.
The whole thing was just boring politics to him. Chimley sometimes heard his father speaking aloud to himself or to those whom he called “The Voices.” Chimley often wondered if his father wasn’t crazy. The only things that he found interesting were the fact that he would be King of Despartus one day and the peculiar phenomenon of the spiders.
Chimley knew his father’s story inside and out. Finally freed from the dungeon under the Palace at Rahd and taken to Wespiser, Shaethan felt better than he ever had. Except that now, real food made him sick, and he always craved the sweetness of the Ologan spiders. He disgusted himself. Nonetheless, his arachnophobia had returned, and he forced himself to keep food down. The cravings faded away over time, but his agitation and restlessness never did.
The weather had been nearly arctic in the kingdom of Wespiser, and every dreary winter reminded him of the tropical home he had been exiled from. Shaethan wandered around the city of Alkime for twenty-five years, fretting and constantly looking over his shoulder, fearing the retribution that the Voices had promised, but never coming up with a solid plan. He started to notice that men his age had greying hair and wrinkling skin, while his skin was still firm and his hair was the shining black-and-blond it had always been. The other men were essentially slowing down, their eyesight was starting to bother them, and they got sick all the time. Shaethan, however, could run for miles without feeling tired, and his eyesight was sharper than an eagle’s. He felt better than he had in over twenty years.
Physically at least. The Voices kept him in an ongoing state of disquiet.
It was a perpetual high that hadn’t faded since he had taken that first hairy bite of Ologan spider…and the pieces fell into place.
Fifteen years into his exile, Shaethan had been able to settle down somewhat when he found a job, and he found a wife. At twenty-three years, when his wife gave birth to their first son, a new idea presented itself. He would never touch those spiders again—just the thought of the gigantic yellow monsters made him ill—but he didn’t necessarily have to be the one to take down his brother’s fraudulent empire (this was how Shaethan told it to Chimley), he only had to restore the lineage. To his lineage, blood of his blood.
Chimley didn’t know what had happened to his mother, but it was one of the smallest of his concerns. He had been born to rule, and his father always said that women only got in the way. From a diet of spiders for the past six months, he felt powerful and fresh all the time. He barely needed any sleep, and could nearly see in the dark. When his father trained him in combat, Chimley effortlessly defeated him every time, while Shaethan always broke out in a heavy sweat. Once when he had made the chief of a Teideko tribe angry, he had had to fight off five men all by himself, and was able to escape with barely a few scratches. He had gained honour in the eyes of the Teideko people. Even though Chimley’s relationship with the Teideko tribe was his secret, his father was delighted with the confirmation of his theory: the spiders were better than any medicine. And now Chimley would be able to rule longer than any of the other kings before him. At least, when they didn’t have to live alone in the woods, he would have a long rule.
Chimley wasn’t sure why they couldn’t live in town, in a real house. He suspected his father wasn’t as smart as he thought he was, because once, when he had been away on a long trip to Valota, Chimley had employed a few Teidekos to help him build a shelter like the ones they lived in. When Shaethan returned and first laid eyes upon the quaint little bungalow, his immediate reaction had been to tear it apart and burn the pieces. He apparently thought sleeping on the ground was the best way to toughen Chimley and keep him focused for the great battle he always raved about. When Shaethan had left again, however, Chimley had asked the Teideko’s to help him again, this time to build a hidden tree house, another one of their specialties. Nearly two hundred metres up in a giant rockwood tree, it was impossible to see from the ground, and even Chimley had some difficulties finding it when it was dark. He didn’t really sleep much, so the house had become more like a fortress than a place to live. He could see everything from way up there, including his father’s approach so he knew when to come down. He spent all the time that his father couldn’t see him in the trees, where Ologan spiders that wandered from the Volcanic Belt lived. The other reason that he didn’t sleep much up there was because he didn’t want to wake up as a buffet.
The spider blinked all eight of its eyes, and then it began its promenade once again.
Shaethan and Chimley used to look slightly alike, if only because of their dark features, but his father didn’t look so young anymore. Shaethan hadn’t eaten a spider for decades. Every day there was a new patch of grey, deeper etched wrinkles. Shaethan was sick all the time, and winced when he walked. Chimley wondered if the end was really coming, like it did for all the things that died in the forest.
After plucking off all of its legs, Chimley snatched up the spider and dropped it into his mouth.
Shaethan came out of hiding as Chimley chewed. He let the eight legs fall to the ground where he crushed them under his boot. Good, Chimley. Shaethan squeezed his son’s shoulder. He sighed and gazed off into space.
Chimley kept his eyes steady as he swallowed, and then stood waiting for the rest. He was glad that his essence didn’t show. They guessed that the spiders had something to do with the fact that Chimley could use telekinesis and telepathy without an orbalite pendant, but he had no essence, no aura whatsoever. If Chimley kept his face impassive and his mouth shut, his father never knew how he felt about anything at all.
Chimley’s father floated his brown satchel down from the tree where he kept it; it held his few clothes and a nearly toothless comb. Chimley’s heart soared. They’ve been talking to me about this for days, he began. I don’t want to do it, but – it’s time to move on with the plan. They want me to go to Wespiser. Chimley’s eyes lit up. The time is right. Malevolent forces are converging against Despartus, and a war is just what we need right now. I’ve got work to do, and so do you.
Shaethan’s right eye twitched, an annoying habit that had recently developed. You have to make friends with them, infiltrate them, and get some useful information. We have learned all we can from the outside.
Chimley didn’t like the idea. What did they think he was, a child-minder? He caught himself. There was no “they.” It was just his father. He often had to remind himself that the “Voices” were in Shaethan’s head.
The twin princes, Xarthanias and Nolleban, spent a lot of time in the woods where Chimley and Shaethan lived. Chimley watched his wretched cousins walking together, exploring, and getting into silent, telepathic fights. He was jealous of them, not only because they were the firstborn sons of his uncle the king, but because they seemed to have so much fun together. Sometimes a whole gaggle of royal brats joined in the fun, and when Chimley’s father wasn’t around, he always wanted to join in too. Now that his father was ordering him to join in, he found it was the opportune moment to get what he wanted. He would see what it was like to be a prince and have friends to order around.
Shaethan paused for a moment, one of his feet about to walk away without him, and tilted his head as though listening. Chimley wanted to roll his eyes. The imaginary Voices again. His father’s face showed confused surprise and then grew contorted with displeasure, as though someone had asked him to do something terrible. He shook his head several times as if in denial. Chimley stared skeptically as the expression settled into one of resentful, aversive resignation.
They want you to have this, Shaethan finally confessed tightly, extending his hand and placing it inside of Chimley’s. When he drew it away, Shaethan’s glittering ring rested in Chimley’s palm. Shaethan pressed his son`s fingers around the ring, trembling slightly, and then reluctantly let go. You must impress the princes, earn their trust. He gazed a moment at Chimley`s fist, an odd look on his face. I haven’t taken it off for decades…You must guard it with your life, Chimley. If it is lost, all is lost. Everything we have been working for. They will come for us.
With a nod of farewell, Shaethan turned. But he hesitated, and impulsively wrapped an arm around Chimley, so quick and unexpected that Chimley’s arm hung in the air, an embrace returned too late. His father limped away, disappearing in the dense woods. His orders hovered in the air like a cloud of dust.
Chimley sighed, and went the short distance to his treetop house. Sitting cross-legged on the wooden floor he appraised the ring, turning it this way and that in a shaft of sunlight. There was something imprinted on the inside of the band no thicker than a daisy stalk. To any other person, it would appear as an easily overlooked smudge. When he caught the light just right, Chimley was able to make out the outline of a butterfly perched on a wisp of flame, with musical notes inscribed on its wings.
How would a ring help him? He needed swords and daggers, not jewellery. His superior skills and intellect would be enough to impress the princes, even if it scared them more than earned their trust. The ring was beautiful, yes, but was it something to guard with his life? He thought not. His father really was crazy! His own son for a piece of clever jewellery! Spitting on it vehemently, Chimley tossed it into a corner and left.