Price Paid by Breann Landry

Fifteen years Tion had sought it.

 
It was a legend: the greatest treasure known to mankind. So
the greybeards said, and Tion had believed, though others shook their
heads and scoffed. Since childhood he had desired it; now for fifteen
years he had been searching, following every lead, squandering wealth
and reputation. He had seen much and endured much in the course of
his quest. He had nearly been killed a number of times. His face now
bore strange scars: one ran from the outer corner of his left eye down to
the corner of his mouth, another angled across his forehead. His clothing
was black, and worn and tattered, and a long knife, curiously shaped
and much dinted, hung at his side.

 
He had broken all kinds of laws, human and otherwise, to attain
his goal. He was not ashamed to admit it. He had lost—nay, wilfully
squandered—all his once-plentiful possessions: all he had left were his
knife and the clothes on his back. He did not care. His body was lean
and tired as an aged fox’s, although he was not much more than thirty.
But his eyes were alive and bright with the desire which had gnawed
him for fifteen years; and at last, after fifteen years, he was here.

 
Kneeling before the casket, he drew his knife, feeling out the
edges of the lock with knowing fingers. Metal rasped against metal as
he inserted the tip of the curiously shaped blade in the opening. With a
swiftness which would have amazed any onlooker, he picked it, broke
it, unclasped it, lifted the lid, and remained gazing motionless for a long
moment at what was inside. At length, reaching out a hand, he lifted
it with a twisting motion and held it suspent, like a young moon or
a conglomeration of stars or a phoenix’s egg or he knew not what. It
was beautiful, and the word “beauty” did not describe it. It was more
fabulous than even he, the fool, the gullible one, the wild-goose-chaser,
had imagined. Light emanated from its curved surface in a myriad of
colors, his own face reflected among them, small and clear, as from a great
distance. He turned it in his hand to watch the colors glide and dance,
and with a sigh of pleasure, slipped it inside his shirt. Rising to leave the
chamber, he laughed aloud for sheer triumphant joy, like a boy who has
captured a lizard, and his laugh rang off the walls of the little stone room
as if they too shared in his triumph.

 
But their echo did not die away at once. Turning, he saw that he
was no longer alone. In the shadows of the chamber’s door he saw the
man who for nearly fifteen years had been his archenemy and rival
standing and chuckling. Abruptly, however, his laughter stopped.

 
“So, Tion, you see that I am here,” said Black Andreo with a grin,
stepping forward; but Tion noticed that he was fingering his knife-hilt
as he spoke. That was always Black Andreo’s way: act casually, almost
genially, just when you are looking to spear your enemy against the wall.
“I knew that you followed me,” said Tion scornfully.
“Give it me, or die.” Andreo’s voice was soft and genial even yet.
Tion’s laugh rang out again as he unbuckled his curious knife and
tossed it across the room.
“I prefer the latter,” he said lightly.
Andreo’s face grew ugly.
“Do you think you can keep it from me, cur? I know that you have
it.”
“As do I,” conceded Tion.
“Let me see it,” blurted Black Andreo, his eyes flickering with an
eagerness almost as great as Tion’s had been a few moments before.
“If you like,” said Tion and reached a hand into his bosom and
drew it out.
Black Andreo staggered backwards, shielding his face with
his hands, cowering into the shadows as if he had witnessed some
unnameable obscenity.
“Put it away,” he gasped, voice rising shrilly with the pain. “Put it
away, Tion, for mercy’s sake. Hide it from me or I will die!” He broke off
and his voice melted away into harsh sobs as he shrank against the stone
wall.
Tion laughed.
“Did you not know, Andreo,” he said stepping forward, but not putting the treasure away—not yet—“did you not know how I have hungered
and thirsted for this thing? Have you given up all you had to possess it, as I
have? Have you let all other treasures pass from you, and your reputation go
black? Have you let virtues and vices fall from you like a cloak for the sake
of it? I thought not. Know, Andreo, that only one thing is required of one who
would possess this treasure: that he forsake everything else. I have done so,
and it is mine.”
He replaced the treasure in his vest and left the chamber. Andreo
remained cowering behind.
Tion strode away smiling, with the weight of the Pearl against his
chest.

 


Breann Landryis a poetess, head case, classics student, and amateur actress
living on Vancouver Island, Canada—the most beautiful place in the world.
She publishes her stories and poems, including this one, on a personal blog
(http://gogaily.blogspot.ca/) read by her friends and almost no one else