It has been a long time since Mapmaker was taken. He does not know how long. He has not seen the sun since then. He does not know where he is being held. He has only seen stone walls, dull, smoking torches, and the undead soldiers of The Necromancer.
Mapmaker prepared to return to the capital as soon as he heard of the invasion. He expected to be called out of retirement to help defend the kingdom. He had surveyed and drawn every inch of the land, and knew her down to the smallest detail. He had never married. How could one devote love to another, when all his energy went to his maps. He traveled to the palace, to lay battle maps for the king. The Enemy caught him first.
They tortured and interrogated Mapmaker regularly since he was brought here. The Necromancer's generals and strategists, the ones he kept alive, wanted maps. Fortifications, barracks, ports. They wanted military targets, but those were not the maps he drew.
Mapmaker is a proud man. He never made a map he knew to be false, and he refuses to start now. Instead, he wastes the generals' time. He maps peaceful villages, gave directions for forest paths far from the front lines. For every useless map, they punish him severely, but it another day lost to the Necromancer's forces. It is all Mapmaker can do for his country.
Once, he stole a piece of chalk and tried to keep track of the days. He made a mark for every time the guards took him, each time he ate the strange food, each time he slept. He gave up when he ran out of chalk. Most of one wall is covered by the little tally marks, like a map backwards in time.
The guards never speak. Mostly, they are dead things. They move awkwardly, like puppets, and stare with sightless eyes. Occasionally, one is a living man, who watches his companions with mute horror. The price for failure in The Necromancer's army is self-evident. He begs these living servants for information. How fares the kingdom, the war, and his apprentices. They dare not answer.
He was traveling with a pair of students when his coach was ambushed. He does not know what became of them. When he sleeps, he dreams. Sometimes he dreams they are killed in front of him, as a punishment. Sometimes they are pressed into the Necromancer's service, and come to his cell as unseeing, stumbling things that do not recognize him. Sometimes he dreams they have all escaped together. Those are the worst ones. Mapmaker sleeps poorly.
His cell opens with the tooth-gritting noise of metal on stone. Two armored zombies enter to escort him. Mapmaker guesses they were made about two weeks ago. He has been imprisoned long enough to learn the cycle of the zombie guards. With so great a supply of bodies on hand, The Necromancer does not bother to prevent his guards from rotting, and they last about a month before they fall apart. These two are halfway through the process. Although they are covered in plate mail, he can tell by the stench.
The old man shrinks back from their outstretched arms. He is running out of safe places to map. He has drawn every safe place he can think of, and does not know what they will do. If they torture him today, perhaps this is the day he will break, or the day they will finally kill him.
The corpses lift him to his feet and march him out of the room. They are neither rough nor gentle. They move with a rote, measured steps. When he was a young man, under the old king, An inventor brought a mechanical elephant to court. It marched, trumpeted, and even bowed. It was decorated to almost look alive, with a hide covering and glass eyes, but there was something too precise about its movements. As horrific as they are, The Necromancer's soldiers remind him of the elephant.
As they march him down the hall, he wonders what happened to the elephant. He has not seen it in many years. Perhaps it broke down, or is sitting forgotten in a dusty store room somewhere underneath the palace. It takes his mind off of what is to come.
To his surprise, they take him somewhere different today. After a few minutes of confusing twists and turns, he finds himself in a huge circular tower. The stone floor is marked by a chalk circle. Inside, soldiers are building something. Some set colored stones into the floor, Others lay down planks and spread papers on them, almost haphazardly. Others light candles at fixed points outside of the circle. Mapmaker tries to get a closer look, but the rotting guards push him towards a staircase ascending to a platform. Like a bucket on a chain, they guide him up.
The stairs spiral a long way to the top of the tower. By the time he reaches the platform he is winded and sweating. He aches from a thousand pains. He was frail when they brought him here, and this is the most exercise he has gotten in months. The Necromancer, in his black robes embroidered with gold thread, is waiting for him.
This is the first time Mapmaker has seen the leader of the enemy, but there is no mistaking him. He cannot tell how old he is, or even if he is truly still alive. Fear claws at the old man, and he simply wants to flee. The other guard stands on the stairs and prevents his escape. The Necromancer looks him up and down, purses his thin, dry, lips, and asks a question.
"Have you ever heard of sympathetic magic, Mapmaker?"
Mapmaker has not.
The wizard smiles. It does nothing to put Mapmaker at ease. "Sympathetic magic is one of the oldest forms, but quite powerful. Observe." He take a little object, about an inch tall, out of his pocket and sets it on the railing. The doll made of wax and brass. A bundle of brown hair sticks out of the top. It reminds Mapmaker of a candle. The Necromancer picks it back up and without effort snaps it two. One of the guards blocking the stair collapses without making a sound. Mapmaker feels sick to his stomach. The Necromancer's smile widens.
"If you wish to control a man, or learn his secrets, or kill him, there is a simple method." The Necromancer recites as though they stand in a classroom. "Make a figure of him, fill it with his blood, or his hair, or the clippings of his nails. "Say his secret name, and he is yours, to do with as you wish." The mapmaker trembles. He thinks of how much hair he has lost, how long his nails have grown, how often they whipped him until he bled. The Necromancer could have made quite a large doll of him, by now. Mapmaker finds his courage. He is a servant of the Kingdom, and he swears he will die before he gives up. He looks the Necromancer in his colorless eyes.
"Why are you telling me this? Are you going to kill me?"
"Kill you? Why, you are my best and most trusty servant! Look below you!" The Necromancer gestures out over the railing to the ground below. The old man turns and sees what the servants are doing. A new nadir of fear and horror strikes at him, filling his belly with ice. He understands immediately what they are making.
At this height, the circle takes on meaning. The red, black, and gray stones resolve into mountains. The green and brown become forests and fields. The blue stones become lakes and rivers. And set among them are the papers. From their locations he knows what them must be. He has been making them all of his life.
"Lovely, isn't it? Your greatest work. We milled the paper from the trees of your forests. We made the ink from plants and stones we gathered here. We hewed the very earth of your little country to remake mountains. If you want power over a man, build his likeness in a doll. Bind it to him with his hair and blood. If you want power over a country, draw a map. The principle is the same." Mapmaker stares in horror. He cannot look away.
"I never mapped a military target. Never once since you captured me."
"Commendable. But you drew these instead. And they will serve me just as well." The Necromancer spreads one hand out over the map. The candlelight catches on gold rings.
"What are you going to do?" Mapmaker whispers.
Below him is the most detailed and beautiful map he has ever seen, and it terrifies him. The Necromancer doesn't answer.
A ball of poisonous green flame appears in The Necromancer's hand. He holds it out over the pit for a moment, then lets it drop. It falls for a long time.
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Cover photograph by Alex Kintzer, presented under a Creative Commons, Attribution, Non-Commercial License.