A Story


In a time of hardship, when most people would consider themselves fortunate to be described as merely “unfortunate”, a boy was born into a very privileged situation.  His father was a kind nobleman who had wealth and power and was unusually fair to the people who lived and worked on his land.  The boy’s mother was beautiful, learned, and compassionate, and at the moment of his birth she vowed her son would grow up to be a man even more revered and admired than his father.

            Thibaut, however, did not share his mother’s views.  When she died just after his 8th birthday, he had no cause to mourn.  For by that time the nobleman’s son had come to believe that others – even his own parents – were nothing more than conveniences placed on earth by God to help him achieve…well, to help him achieve everything.

            Senet, his father’s astrologer and chief advisor, had inadvertently planted the seed of his craving for power and wealth.  Thibaut’s earliest memories were of the old man pointing to charted maps of the stars, passing on his knowledge of how the future could be predicted solely by the position of the celestial bodies in the night sky.   Thibaut thought this talent would be wasted if used only to decide when to plant and harvest crops or which night to hold a feast.  He tried to sway Senet into teaching him more of this art, but the wizard warned him that when used for selfish purposes, things mystical could become dangerous.  Dangerous to others, yes, Thibaut thought.  But he knew he was special and destined for a kind of greatness no man had ever imagined, much less achieved.  And if Senet would not teach him, he would teach himself. 

            This proved more difficult than the boy had imagined, for in an act of what Thibaut believed was treachery, Senet warned the nobleman of his son’s intentions who then forbade any further teachings of the phantasmagorical.  Senet heeded his wishes, and Thibaut’s lessons from then on consisted only of reading, mathematics, and religion.

            Thibaut was not pleased.  The hatred he felt for his father, the astrologer, and every other human being grew until his heart was full of nothing but deep, dark loathing.

            A year after his mother’s death, the nobleman had reason to mourn once again, for Senet, his advisor and friend, had tripped and fallen down the castle’s tallest granite staircase.  His neck snapped, and he died almost instantly.  Thibaut seized the opportunity – aye, there are many who say he actually created it – and each night he snuck into the dead astrologer’s room to diligently study the old man’s books and notes.  He learned astrology was only one form of magic; a weak variation that held limited potential.  There were other, more powerful and devastating varieties of mystical knowledge, in particular, the Black Arts, which Senet often wrote about.

            From the scribbling in his journals, Thibaut learned the astrologer greatly feared the Black Arts, and more specifically he was certain that Thibaut himself would one day be drawn to them.  Senet had written that as long as he breathed, he would do his best to keep this knowledge from the nobleman’s son.  Thibaut chuckled as he read the passage, for the date it was written was the day before Senet breathed no more.

            Thibaut spent every night for months that became years in the advisor’s room reading everything that seemed even remotely related to the Black Arts.  A variation that most intrigued him was the belief that true, powerful magic was to be found in what the earth provided, not the heavens.  He quickly became obsessed with learning the properties of jade, rubies, amethyst, amber, quartz, and a thousand other varieties of stone and crystal.  Dusty volumes he found hidden in a secret compartment in the wizard’s quarters listed capabilities of these elements that were not well known, even by men of magic.  Bringing romance, wealth, health, or peace of mind were the common attributes of certain stones, but when certain gems were combined, the mystical result would be much more beneficial to the owner – though incredibly dangerous to any who opposed him.

            Thibaut needed to get his hands on some of these materials, and he knew just where to find them.


*     *     *


Twice a month the people who worked Thibaut’s father’s land traveled to the castle and set up small shops where they sold or traded the fruits of their labor, and at the end of the day paid their taxes to the nobleman.  The collection of taxes was a chore Thibaut relished. When he turned 16 his father conceded to his whining and allowed him to go from makeshift booth to makeshift booth to collect what was due him.

            Thibaut demanded more and more from the vendors, threatening them with loss of acreage –even bodily harm – if they did not increase their payments.  The nobleman knew nothing of this for Thibaut undoubtedly kept the extra coinage for himself.  He felt no guilt for as far as he was concerned, the people who worked the lands weren’t people at all, they were merely work animals placed there to serve him.  There was the old woman who sold bread, the deformed boy and his apples, and the strong man who forged metal into tools for the others to use for farming. 

            They were pitiful, all of them.  The most pitiful, however, was the blind man.  For as long as Thibaut collected money from the bearded, sightless man he found it remarkable that those around this ancient, decrepit soul would bother to care for him.  What good could he possibly be to them?  Wasn’t he more of a bother than a blessing?  But Thibaut began approaching the blind man’s table with charm and smiles; never extorting a larger tax collection from him, and in some instances letting him off more cheaply than his father would have liked. 

            The blind man had a house much larger than the other peasants, and he rented his rooms to travelers that passed by the main road from the castle.  Missionaries, warriors, pilgrims and merchants, he offered them each a place that, though sparse, was undoubtedly considered lush compared to the hard days of traveling ahead and behind them.  Since these journeyers came from many distant lands, their currency was worthless to the blind man so they paid him with various articles they’d brought or acquired on their journey; pots, pans, vases, a mixture of utensils for varied purposes -- all worthless, as far as far as Thibaut was concerned.  However, many of his boarders would pay with unique and exotic stones, gems and crystals.  Some were in their natural, rough, forms, but others had been polished and cut into fine beads.  Some beads were strung together by the blind man’s grandson and made into necklaces or bracelets, or attached to women’s’ hair combs.  Others were placed individually in wooden boxes with sections, allowing the purchaser to create his own finished jewelry.

            Thibaut would stand for hours at the blind man’s table, trying to match up the various beads to the descriptions or sketches written in the dead astrologer’s journals.  As he stood there, he listened to the man’s grandson tell harrowing tales of their various origins.  The stories were nothing more than a conglomeration of those he’d heard the travelers tell, heavily peppered by his unique imagination.

            “Take this bead,” the grandson said. “It looks inauspicious enough, especially to an eye like yours that is used to the finer things in life.”  He handed Thibaut an opaque sphere of greenish jasper.  “But that bead was given to my grandfather by a brave knight, and it had been given to him by a powerful king in thanks for saving a princess from a horrible two-headed beast.”

            “It doesn’t seem a fair trade,” Thibaut said.  “Why would one risk his life for such an unattractive trinket?”

            “Well, the knight was, as I said, very brave.  No doubt he would have saved a beautiful princess from such a demon for no pay.”  The grandson then leaned over and whispered a secret in Thibaut’s ear.  “But this bead has magical properties.  It keeps evil spirits from entering its owner’s mind while he sleeps.”

            “Do all beads made of this stone possess that quality?” Thibaut asked.

            “No, of course not!” said the blind man’s grandson.  “The powers were put into that very bead by a man of great spiritual ability.  One of the most powerful wizards who ever practiced magic.”

            This concept intrigued Thibaut.  He knew various stones, crystals and even bone and some species of wood contained magical properties, and that the powers could increase or even change when kept next to others.  But the idea of magic men putting more enchanted properties into these beads…well, that gave him an idea.  It wasn’t fleshed out in the beginning, but he knew with the blind man’s grandson’s help he could devise a plan that would give him great power, and perhaps, even invincibility.


*     *     *


Thibaut befriended the blind man’s grandson – or rather he pretended to, for friendship was not something he was capable of giving genuinely – and learned his name was Aloin and they were the same age.

            For two years Aloin spent much time in the castle and was granted permission from the nobleman to be tutored by Thibaut’s instructors.  He became the first member of his family to learn to read and write, and when his grandfather finally passed on, Aloin took over his business and made it more successful than it had ever been.  To the surprise of his father, Thibaut seemed much more at peace with the world since his newfound friendship had begun.  He believed that though his son had experienced a troubled childhood, he was now transforming into a fine young man.

            The nobleman did not know, however, that Thibaut still spent his nights in the astrologer’s former room, going through volume after volume of forbidden magic and learning just what beads, in which quantity, strung together in which order he would need for luck in his journey. 

            His days were often spent in the main library where he didn’t need to be clandestine in order to read the many books that would help prepare him for his upcoming adventure.  He studied and copied maps and read tales of travelers’ adventures with strange and wondrous people and cultures.  He committed as much information to memory as he could, but still prepared volumes of notes.

            Then one day he was ready.


*     *     *


There were times when the nobleman couldn’t believe his son had changed so much in just two years.  Where he once saw a conniving, selfish boy, there now stood a fine, generous, levelheaded man.  The nobleman was so proud that on Thibaut’s 18th birthday he threw a celebration the likes of which had never been seen by even the richest and most powerful of the noblemen invited to attend.

            At the conclusion of the event Thibaut stood and raised a goblet in a toast to his father.  “I want this day not to be remembered as a day a humble man celebrated his own birth,” Thibaut’s voice boomed throughout the banquet hall.  “But as the day I announced a great honor to my father, the kindest and most giving man who ever lived.”  A hush fell over the room, and during his dramatic pause just a few voices could be heard whispering about what possible news could be forthcoming. 

            “Though I have been fortunate in my life so far, and could easily remain on these grounds forever, resting in the luxury my good father has provided me, I do not feel it would be a fitting way to honor him.  So as of sunrise, I am leaving on an excursion to travel the farthest reaches of the known and unknown world in search of wealth and art. .  Only when I have attained a treasure worthy of my father’s name – and more importantly, learned lessons from experiences that I can pass down to my future children – will I return.”

            The crowd gasped at first, and then applauded.  The nobleman whooped in excited amazement at how unselfish a man Thibaut had become.  Standing at Thibaut’s side, his friend Aloin, the only one who had known of his plans before that night, and who had agreed to make the journey with him, gave Thibaut a hearty slap on the back.

            The next day as the two young men rode from the castle gates a large gathering of townspeople wished them a safe voyage.  Aloin had a head full of dreams, hopes, and anxieties about their mission, while Thibaut carried a strand of 11 beads that he believed guaranteed his success.  He planned to not return with the riches and artwork he had promised his father, but rather with a necklace of 7 beads – different altogether than the ones he carried that day.  And this piece of jewelry would be for him, and him alone.


*     *     *


Two days into their journey, Thibaut and Aloin came across two knights who seemed intrigued by the young man’s plans and offered their skills in combat as security for Thibaut and Aloin if they could accompany them.  Aloin felt this chance meeting with the two warriors was a sign from above that they were meant to have safe passage wherever they traveled.  What he did not know was the meeting was by no means by chance.  Thibaut had previously arranged the “chance encounter”, for these two knights had been ostracized from their countries of origin for being too bloodthirsty and violent.  They were now mercenaries, and Thibaut believed he would have use for their might and violent tempers.


*     *     *


Over many months Thibaut, Aloin, the two knights, and a handful of stragglers who traveled with them for varying lengths of time, did in fact travel the known and unknown world.  They journeyed through deserts, jungles, over mountains, in unbearably hot and bone-chilling cold weather.  They encountered hundreds of societies, many extremely primitive, but some more enlightened than where they had come from.  The people were of different sizes and colors and spoke languages that sounded completely alien to anything the quartet had heard before.  But each of these societies, no matter how large or small, always had two things in common:  they revered a man or woman believed to be the conduit through which the magic of the universe would protect them; and they decorated themselves with jewelry made from beads woven together and worn in various ways.  It was the shamans, wizards, charmers, conjurors, diviners and enchanters Thibaut would seek out during each encounter.  And if he believed the person of magic to be powerful enough – deemed them to be one of the seven most commanding – he would demand they use whatever ceremony necessary to transfer as much magic as possible into their most sacred bead before turning it over to him.  The proposal was, of course, refused more often than not, but in those cases, as dawn arrived, the knights wiped blood from their swords before sheathing them, and Thibaut left with his prize.

All of the violence was done out of Aloin’s view.  There were times Thibaut thought of slicing Aloin’s throat in his sleep, but the nobleman’s son needed the blind man’s grandson, for he o somehow had the ability to break the language barriers of the strange people they encountered.

After five years, Thibaut announced that their journey was complete and it was time to return home.  Aloin objected saying they had gained almost nothing in their journey to present to Thibaut’s father.  Thibaut thought for a moment, gestured toward one of the knights, and the warrior drew his sword and thrust it into Aloin’s side.

Aloin fell from his horse, and the three others rode on.


*     *     *


Two years later, Thibaut returned to his father’s castle.  The nobleman seemed to care not that his son had returned empty-handed, he was just happy he had come back alive.  Another banquet was planned, one that the nobleman demanded be even more lavish than the one held seven years prior.  And it was.  All the people who worked the nobleman’s land were invited, as well as the most powerful people within traveling distance.  The music, eating, dancing and drinking lasted for three days.

            Sadly, the morning after the last glass of wine was poured, the nobleman was found dead in his bed.  There was no explanation for his demise, but around the castle whisperings of poisoning could be heard.  Thibaut, now in the seat of power inherited from his father, demanded all those spreading these rumors be executed.  His reign of terror had begun.

            His first business was to all but enslave the people whom his father had treated with such respect and gratitude.  Then, using most of his wealth, he hired mercenaries even more bloodthirsty than the two knights who had accompanied him on his journey.  Out they rode in all directions, plundering and murdering all they encountered.  Thibaut holed himself up in his castle, now the repository for all the wealth of the surrounding areas.

            He had everything he had ever craved:  wealth, power, and a name that struck fear into the hearts of all who heard it.  But he was bored.  Bored beyond belief.

            Why should I just sit here? He thought as he absentmindedly fiddled with the magic beads he wore around his neck.  I am invincible.  I have the abilities of the most powerful gods, angles, devils and demons that exist in man’s lore.  Why do I need to sit here and rot just hearing of the terror I cause? Why shouldn’t I enjoy it?  I am, after all, exempt from harm.

            So Thibaut decided to ride into battle, and as he had predicted, he could not be killed.  Arrows pierced his chest, swords sliced and stabbed him, and fire enveloped his body, but still, he did not expire.  What Thibaut hadn’t realized, however, was that though his heart kept beating, and his eyes could still see, his body suffered the ravages of war just as any man’s would.  He was eventually brought back to his castle and put in his bed where he suffered, but could not die.  In his anger and pain his mind became more delusional, his thoughts more evil.  From his twisted, scarred mouth he spat out more horrible orders than ever.  He became so deranged that his closest aids attempted to end his reign.

            Stabbings or poisonings were almost a nightly ritual.  Thibaut suffered through them, but remained alive.  Those who had attempted to murder him suffered such grisly ends that the attempts eventually stopped, and all realized they had no choice but to live in fear of the disfigured, evil man who ruled over them.

            Then one night Thibaut awoke from yet another tortured sleep to see a man silhouetted against his window.  When the man saw Thibaut was awake, he took a step forward.  Thibaut laughed.

            “Another attempt on my life?  What is it this time?  Please, I implore you, at least try to make it interesting.  I’ve grown quite indifferent to these weak-minded assassination attempts.”  Thibaut’s chuckle ended in a horrible cough.  The man stepped closer and leaned over him.  With the moonlight hitting the side of the intruder’s face, Thibaut felt fear for the first time in his life.

            “Aloin?” was the last word he uttered.

            The only man who had ever considered Thibaut a friend put his hands behind the warlord’s mutilated neck and unclasped the necklace of seven beads.  As Aloin climbed through the window, the soul of Thibaut was left to all the inhabitants of the spirit world who he had offended so.


*     *     *


            Though no one else felt as he did, Aloin believed he was partly responsible for the terror, death, and pain Thibaut caused.  He cursed both his body for taking so long to heal from the sword wound, and his lack of courage for hesitating to face the tyrant.  The penance he must serve was to once again travel the world, only to go even farther this time.  At seven points so far from each other no man would ever connect them, he would leave each of the cursed beads.  He threw some into rivers, even oceans.  He buried one deep in a crevasse in the most desolate area he’d ever been to, and another sank into a bubbling pool of oil. 

            On the morning he died, he was still in possession of one bead.  It was as unattractive as the rest, though in a rather unassuming way.  It was dull brown, or gray, depending on which way the light hit it.  Aloin had often wondered what it was made of and at times he believed it might have been a seed of some sort.  He had been climbing a mountain (a silly thing to attempt at his advanced age) and thought the peak so tall that no other man would ever mount it and accidentally come across this last bead.  His breath grew short and an unbearable pain squeezed his chest.  He looked at the bead, cursing himself once again for his failings, and prayed to the Lord that no one would ever discover his body, or, more importantly, the bead he clutched as tightly as he could.



© 2006 Brightlings Beads and M. Robert Todd