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
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,
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
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
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
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
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
“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
“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