Villain, 7

It’s Impossible to Ever Truly Know What Another Person is Thinking

Ao3 Link

The late afternoon sun warmed Sam’s face even as the slightly chill wind from the east blew through the rest of him, carrying the faint hint of ash and sulfur as it usually did.

Sam liked sunsets. Not for the reasons other people did—people said they were beautiful, or romantic or other thing that was equally as vapid. People liked them because of what they looked like.

When he’d been younger, Sam had wondered often what various things looked like. In the last few years he’d stopped caring. It didn’t really matter if a sunset painted the sky orange. It didn’t really matter what orange looked like, or what the sky looked like. He didn’t need to know those things.

Sam liked sunsets because they brought darkness with them. And Sam didn’t know what darkness looked like either, but he knew it frightened people, made them dependant. They lit lamps and torches and carried them around to preserve their own fragile understanding of the world. They couldn’t function normally—they were hesitant, careful, willing to be led by anyone who knew where they were going.

In the dark, Sam knew everything. In the dark, Sam was a king.

He was standing on top of the north tower in front of a large spell circle. Sam could feel its power thrumming in his head, smell the acrid taint it cast into the air. It was impatient. Teleportation spells were primarily Order-aspected, and Order was not a power that liked to wait.

Sam wasn’t impatient. He was slowly counting in his head, and only when he reached one thousand did Sam sigh, reach out with his own power, activate the circle. The world seemed to snap and Sam heard a birds chirping, smelled rain and tasted grass, for just a second while the spell worked.

“Oh.” The woman who’d just appeared on the tower said, and in that one word Sam heard surprise. She had a deeper voice than most women, one that rolled like a heavy stone. “You’re not who I was expecting.”

“I’m Sam. Usually you meet my brother. He’s not here anymore.” He’d been sent away for something more important than fetching visitors.

“Is that so?” the woman asked, and Sam could tell she was looking him over. Maybe she was comparing Sam to his brother, or perhaps to their father. Maybe she was looking at his eyes, which weren’t focused on her, or on anything. “Very well. Pleased to meet you, Sam. My name’s…”

“Jocelyn,” Sam interrupted, turning away from her and her gaze and heading towards the edge of the tower five paces behind him. “I know.” He didn’t pause at the top of the staircase that spiraled around the exterior of the structure, taking the first step down. One. He counted. There were two hundred and twenty-nine steps.

There was a staircase that went inside the tower as well, but it was getting dark so Sam used the outside one instead. Jocelyn followed him without complaint, as he’d known she would. “I thought I’d met all of Solomon’s children,” she commented as they started down.

“You hadn’t.” Sam heard the faint sound of something sliding against the stone behind him and smiled to himself. Jocelyn was steadying herself, which Sam wasn’t. He could feel her power as well, a sort of humming that was so faint it was almost drowned out by the wind, and by the low buzz that accompanied it. Witches got their power from the earth, he recalled. Sam wondered if being high up made it hard for them to do magic. There was probably no height restriction on necromancy, though.

“Not very talkative, are you?” Jocelyn asked. “I’m not taking you away from something important, am I?”

She was, as a matter of fact. He’d been looking forward to seeing Henry tonight. But dad’s commands always came first. “Of course not. What would you like to talk about?”

“Nothing in particular, but it’s an awfully long walk for silence, don’t you think?” Jocelyn lied. There was no way she wanted to talk about ‘nothing in particular.’ “I have a son about your age.”

That wasn’t what she wanted to talk about. “The one you tried to kill or the one you corrupted?”

Jocelyn laughed, and it was a nasty, dangerous sound that Sam liked quite a bit. “The one I tried to kill.”

“You and my father have that in common,” Sam observed.

“Did he tell you all about me and my family, or did you have to do research on your own?”

Sam frowned. People often spoke to him with disbelief or surprise when he knew things. Jocelyn just sounded entertained. “I have a tutor.” There were one hundred and nine steps left.

“And what else did your tutor tell you about me?”

“You also killed your sister, and your niece and your father.” The sister had been her brother’s wife, Sam thought.

“I’ve done other things.”

“I know, but the parts where you killed members of your family were the only parts I thought were interesting,” Sam admitted, and that was true. “Do you hold a baby to stab it to death, or did you put her on a table? Did she cry a lot?”

“Yes. It was insufferable. What about you? Have you killed anyone interesting?”

“Not really,” Sam said with a sigh. “I think I have a niece somewhere, but I don’t know where she is and I’m probably not going to be able to kill her. I did kill one of my sisters when I was younger, but it was sort of an accident.” He wondered if Jocelyn would hear the last part, the part that he hadn’t said. The parallel he hadn’t drawn.

“An accident, was it?” Jocelyn didn’t sound like she believed him.

“She took a toy from me. I threw her at a wall. I didn’t mean to kill her.”

“Yes, you did.”

Sam tilted his head, and chuckled. “Maybe. I was only six, so I didn’t really understand what death meant.”

“Your father must have been unhappy about that.” Oh, Sam thought. Maybe she had noticed what he hadn’t said before.

“She wasn’t born gifted with sorcery. I don’t think he cared.” Sam didn’t even remember what her name had been.

They came to the bottom of the stairs and Sam took two steps, reached up just above his hip and grabbed the handle for the door, pulled it open and stepped inside. The door banged shut behind Jocelyn and a muffled silence fell around them with the wind blocked out. Sam led the way down the hall, fifty steps to another door.

“Do you know what I’m here to talk to him about?” Jocelyn asked as they neared the second door.

“I don’t care what you’re here to talk to him about,” Sam said.

“So you don’t know.” And there was that amused tone again.

“In your years of working for—sorry, with—him, have you known him to share information freely?”

“I guess I figured he would with his trusted son. Where is your brother, anyway?”

“The northern capital, I think,” Sam said, knowing full well that dad wouldn’t have wanted him to answer that. They were in a hallway that they would need to follow for a hundred and four steps before turning left for another seventy-nine.

“And what’s he doing there?”

“Who cares?” Sam smiled to himself. “And yes, that does mean I don’t know.” Sam had a pretty good guess about what Saul was doing, but he wasn’t certain.

Jocelyn laughed again. “Admitting when you don’t know something? You must have inherited that from your mother.”

“I wouldn’t know, dad killed her.” At least, Sam assumed that was the case. He’d never met his mother and dad tended to kill women after he was done with them.

At step forty-three they passed by a doorway that hid a staircase which led to the dungeons. Sam wondered what Henry was doing right now.

Jocelyn was silent until they had turned left into the other hallway. “I suspect you’d get along with my daughter,” she said.

Sam snorted. “Do you think I’m stupid?”

“I don’t,” Jocelyn said. “My apologies, allow me to rephrase. You should marry my daughter. She’s a little younger than you.”

“I appreciate the suggestion.” Sam didn’t think Jocelyn’s daughter would, but that didn’t matter. “But I’ll pass.”

“You could come live with us in the tropics, get away from this castle for a time. Your father would appreciate having a closer eye kept on us, I’m sure.”

“He wouldn’t care if you had me hostage,” Sam said. “If he wanted to kill you he’d do it just the same with me standing in front of you.”

“That isn’t what I meant.”

“I know. You meant that I could help you unseat him,” Sam said. They were approaching a wide staircase with twenty steps.

“And you just tried to tell me you weren’t stupid. Surely you don’t think I’d suggest such a thing here in his own castle?” The sincerity oozing from Jocelyn’s voice was sickening.

“Of course not. You’re a loyal friend to him.”

“And you’re a loyal son.”

“I’m glad we’re on the same page about this,” Sam said, counting the stairs as they went down. There were some servants in the room at the bottom, but he ignored them and they stayed out of the way.

“Of course. Your father’s goals are my goals. I’d hardly want to interrupt him in achieving them.” Sam slowed, putting his hand out in front of him as they approached the door. He wasn’t sure if it would be open or not, but his hand met no resistance and so he kept walking as if nothing had happened.

“Acting obsequious will get you nowhere with him.” Sam advised her. There was one last hallway here, just forty steps, that would lead to the sitting room where dad was waiting. Sam could feel his power from here, amplified by the stone he had with him, vibrating through the castle. He wondered if Jocelyn could feel it too.

“Obsequious?” Jocelyn asked, sounding amused again. “Did your tutor teach you that word?”

Sam felt his face heat up and found it annoyed him. “No. I’m not dependent on a tutor for everything. I’m not a child.”

“Hm. You might wish to be a little more dependent, since you didn’t quite use it correctly.”

The heat in Sam’s face increased, but instead of getting upset he laughed. “I like you.”

“I’m flattered.”

“You wouldn’t be if you knew what happened to the people I liked.” Before the conversation could continue beyond that the door down the hallway creaked open and dad’s power got louder.

“Jocelyn,” Dad said, a warmth that Sam knew wasn’t real. “So good to see you. I do hope my son didn’t bore you to death on the way here.”

“Of course not, Solomon.” Jocelyn’s entire tone had changed, and it was just as fake as dad’s. She swept past him and Sam heard a kiss. “You’re looking well.”

“Thank you. If you don’t mind waiting inside, I’d like to have a quick word with Samson before we eat.”

“Of course.” Something told Sam that Jocelyn gave him a look before disappearing into the room. The door closed behind her and Sam was left in the hallway with his father, the vibrations from dad’s power setting Sam’s own power on edge from this close.

Dad stood there silently for a moment and Sam stood in front of him with his head tilted forward in a mockery of someone looking at the floor.

Sometimes they played this game for hours, dad just standing there watching Sam, waiting for Sam to break the silence when Sam knew he wasn’t supposed to speak until spoken to. Sam was patient, he’d learned to play this game a long time ago and could stay quiet all day if he had to. He stood completely still, not shifting around or fidgeting, not giving any hint that his heart rate was slowly picking up, keeping a firm grip on his power as it tried to buzz and crawl all around him. Jocelyn was in the room there, surely dad wasn’t going to make her wait all night. He only had to do this for a few minutes, a few minutes was easy.

“You’re impatient, son,” Dad said after several minutes, and Sam frowned despite himself, trying to figure out what he’d done to give that impression. “Somewhere you’d rather be?”

“Of course not, sir—” The blow came unexpected, across the face, dad’s power knocking Sam from his feet and sending him sprawling on the ground. He didn’t cry out.

“I don’t like you taking that tone with me. Try again, boy.”

He’d been demoted from ‘son’ to ‘boy,’ though to be honest Sam wasn’t sure which he liked less. “No, sir,” Sam said, not getting up. He knew better than to get up when he was wanted on the floor. He hadn’t been taking a tone.

“I imagine you don’t think you were taking a tone, but you were,” Dad said, and Sam was sure that mind reading wasn’t one of his powers, but it was hard to know for absolute certain. “You did as I asked.”

It wasn’t a question, which left Sam unsure for a second if he was meant to answer. But he decided the risk of talking out of turn was less than that of not answering when he should have. “Yes, sir.”

“Good, you’re useful for something, at least.” He’d been instructed to make Jocelyn think he was stupid, so she would be insulted at who’d been sent to pick her up. Sam heard movement; dad was turning away from him. “Go, then. Play with your pet in the dungeon. We’ll talk in the morning.”

“Thank you, sir,” Sam said quietly, still not moving from the floor. Dad’s footsteps moved away a bit, and he heard the door open and close. Sam only got up once that had happened, and then he moved away from that room as quickly as he could.

It wasn’t the things his father said to him or the fact that he hit him, Sam reflected as he turned and walked the forty paces back up the hall. It was that Solomon talked to Sam like he was barely there that pissed him off so much. He knew exactly how to make Sam feel like nothing just by sharing space with him.

Sam wasn’t nothing. He knew there were lamps light in sconces in the hall and he reached out and found them with his power, his mind feeling the chaotic cracking of the fire. He put them all out as he re-entered the room with the stairs, the servants falling quiet again. Night had fallen, and it was dark.

Sam wasn’t nothing. It was dark, and Sam was a king.

It was ten steps to the base of those twenty stairs and, still seething, Sam crossed them in nine.

Before tripping over the hem of the carpet and plunging forward with a sharp intake of breath. His hand came up and the slapping noise that he heard as it connected with the alabaster bannister of the staircase was obscene, sounding like weakness and failure.

The silence that had fallen in the room when he’d come in was nothing to the pulsating dirge of quiet that resounded through the space. The servants had all heard him nearly fall. He couldn’t hear them over the blood pounding in his ears so Sam reached out with his magic and found them, three of them. He picked one at random and threw him into a wall, just hard enough to elicit a cry of pain. “Was it you?” He asked in a whisper. “Who thought that would be funny?”

“No, sir. I didn’t, I swear I didn’t, please…”

“Thought it would be funny to trip the poor blind boy, did you? Have a nice laugh about it afterwards?” Sam was shaking now because he could already hear it, the laughter. The pity. It was dark in this room. How dare they laugh at their king? How dare they…

“It wasn’t me,” the servant insisted, and who was Sam kidding? Most of the servants hadn’t chosen to be here. He was a slave. “I swear it wasn’t me, please sir, it was them, please.”

Sam snorted a laugh, an animalistic sound. He lashed out with his power and lit the lamps, a flare of light that must have hurt the slaves’ eyes. Finding the other slaves, he picked them both up by their necks, cutting off airflow and any potential protest. “Their fault, was it?” he asked.

“Yes,” the first man insisted. Pleaded. He had to be able to see what Sam was doing to them. “It wasn’t me, I swear.” Maybe the other two were his friends or family. Sam didn’t know. But he did know that it didn’t take much to make people turn on each other.

“Fine,” Sam said, and he crushed both of the other two slaves’ throats with a satisfying crunch, a slurping sound, and dropped them both to the ground. “Thank you for your honesty,” he added, letting the first man fall harmlessly to his feet. “Clean that mess up.”

“Yes, sir,” The man panted, holding back what might have been a weep, but Sam had already lost interest and started up the stairs.

Only after he’d gotten back into the long hallway did Sam realize that dad was going to hear about that and assume it was because he’d managed to get under Sam’s skin earlier. “Fuck,” he growled, angry all over again, this time with himself.

Sam’s relief when he got behind the door that led to the dungeons was a physical thing and he leaned against the door for a moment, willing himself to stop shaking and breathe normally. Once he’d done that, he made his way down the spiral staircase into the underbelly of the castle. There were more torches burning on the walls, and Sam put them all out. It was always dark down here, even at midday. It was supposed to be that way—a place where light couldn’t penetrate.

Sam’s kingdom.

The guard was nowhere to be found as usual. He had a little room down at the far end of the dungeon, and he was probably asleep there. All the better; Sam wasn’t in the mood for anyone but Henry at the moment.

He didn’t need to run his hand along the wall any longer. He’d been down here enough to have memorized the steps to Henry’s cell. Just outside the door he paused, realizing his hands were still shaking. He wasn’t as calm as he thought, and his power was vibrating in his mind from having been used more than usual. Sorcery was a surging magic that liked to be used, and the more a sorcerer used it the hungrier it got for release. He could feel his power reacting even just to the little spell circle he’d put on the door here, a gnashing ball of Order wrapped in a balancing membrane of Chaos. That was for later, when he was ready to let Henry out, but he could feel his power slithering to trigger it now, because it was there. Maybe he shouldn’t see Henry tonight; Sam might do something he would regret.

After a moment Sam remembered that he’d never regretted anything in his life and pushed open the door and moved into the little room. “Morning, Henry,” he said, putting on a confident mask that was easier now that he had all the power.

Henry made a little noise of acknowledgement from the near corner of the room, but that was it.

Sam sighed, took the step to be in front of Henry, crouched. And slapped him in the face. “The proper response would be ‘Good morning, Sam.’ I also accept ‘sir,’ ‘master,’ or ‘your Majesty.’ Just not where dad can hear.” Maybe he should insist on that last one, actually. This was his kingdom, after all. Henry lived here in the dark—Sam’s subject.

Yes, he liked that.

“Sorry. Good morning, Sam.”

Sam felt his face scrunch a little at that and he squeezed Henry’s arm just hard enough to hurt. “Don’t apologize. Don’t ever apologize to me, Henry. I hate apologies.” That was something he’d gotten from dad, he knew. Apologizing when he was mad just made him madder.


“Just don’t. Next time you apologize to me I’m going to break your hand.” He grabbed Henry’s hand and squeezed, fed some of his power in until bones snapped and Henry cried out. “Like that. Okay?”

“Okay,” Henry strained, and Sam ran healing magic up his arm like a lightning bolt, smiling at the second cry of pain he got in response.

“Good. You’re learning a lot faster than I thought you would. Soon making me happy will be second nature to you.”

The vague rustle that preceded a small whimper told him Henry had nodded in response. Something else Sam was going to have to train him out of, but that could wait. “Now, let’s talk about ethics some more, Henry. A young couple are being chased by wolves. They have a toddler and an infant with them. Which one should they toss behind them to distract the wolves?”

“The…” Henry paused for a moment, swallowed audibly. “The infant.”

“Why?” Sam asked, curious.

“Because…um…it’s weighing them down as they run…”

“You’re lying,” Sam said quietly, sitting down properly in front of Henry and reaching into his shirt for his knife. “The point of this isn’t just to say the most reprehensible thing just because you think I want to hear it, Henry. I’m trying to teach you.” He poked the knife into Henry’s knees as he spoke, puncturing the skin. “The toddler is heavier, so she’s weighing them down more if they’re carrying her—and if she’s running, she’s doing it more slowly than the parents. Plus there’s more meat there to distract the wolves. Make sense?”

“Yeah…” Henry must have thought he was doing a better job at pretending to agree with Sam than he was, but Sam didn’t care to call him on it yet. That he believed he was fooling Sam was part of the fun.

Besides, kings had to be patient. Sam knew it was only a matter of time before he really did win Henry over. He could wait.

He could wait as long as he had to.

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