Another Fine Mess

Jason woke up to find himself lying on some kind of hard surface. He mumbled an oath.

"'Bout time." said an unfamiliar male voice in Common.

Jason's eyes snapped open. He was on a stone floor in a tiny library. The walls were lined with bookcases, which were in turn filled to bursting with books new and old. The walls and ceiling had once been white, but they looked like they hadn't had a fresh coat of paint in quite a while. However little concern Gyeedians had with beauty, they did believe in making things look somewhat presentable, so this was unusual.

More unusual was the speaker. He was sitting at a desk in the center of the room; a book lay open before him. He was a tall, pale man in his eighties or thereabouts. On his head was a pointy blue hat spangled with gold and silver stars that absolutely screamed "wizard". His face was set in a frown that looked permanent.

"Get up." he said gruffly, glaring at Jason.

"Excuse me?" said Jason in the same language. Though "excuse me" were the words he would've chosen had he been speaking in English, a more literal translation of what he said would be "Who are you, you crazy old coot I've never met, to order me around?"

The old man sighed. "I guess you don't understand. I've kidnapped you. You'll do as I say, or I'll hurt you."

Jason made his slow and weary way to his feet. He felt too groggy and confused to think straight. "What… how…"

"Don't speak unless spoken to." the man snapped. "See that hamper over there?" He gestured towards a basket in the corner that was stuffed full of clothes.

"Yeah." said Jason weakly.

"Do the laundry. There's a washer and dryer in the kitchen, and some detergent on the counter. Don't forget to separate the colors."

Jason took a few deep breaths, then said "What in the world is going on?"

"What did I just tell you?" said the man, his frown deepening.

Jason spat out another choice English expletive. "If you think I'm gonna be your slave, you are dead wrong, buster."

The man's frown deepened even further, though if Jason hadn't seen it happen he would've thought it was impossible. The man made a short, violent gesture with his right hand and said something unintelligible. A few red sparks shot out of his fingertips, and suddenly, Jason had a splitting headache. But before Jason even had a chance to register the real agony of it, it was over.

"Now, please don't make me do that again." the old man said wearily. "I could do far worse, but I don't want to if I don't have to. Please just do as I say and make it easy on yourself." He paused. "All right?"

"Um, yeah, all right." said Jason even more wearily.

"Good." said the man, his expression softening an iota. "Now hop to it."

Jason tottered over to the basket and picked it up, then walked through the open door. He was in a dreary kind of living room which he didn't bother to really examine, except to note that, like the library, it was windowless. He noticed a refrigerator past another door, so he went in that direction (nearly tripping over a napping housecat en route), and there, indeed, were a washing machine and a dryer.

Even though Jason had never washed clothes before, it wasn't hard to figure out what to do, and it gave him some time to think. His mind raced with possibilities as to what had happened in the past… well, however much time had passed since he'd gone unconscious. What had done him in? Some kind of drug? No, he hadn't felt anything, except for that sensation of cold, so he couldn'tve been injected with anything. He knew from the movies that you had to get slapped in the face with a cloth to get chloroformed, and that hadn't happened. Most probably, somebody had cast a spell on him. Maybe the old man. If he hadn't been wearing that ridiculous wizard's hat, he would've melded into the crowd perfectly.

Well then, what about motive? If these clothes were anything to go by, the man lived alone. Should Jason suspect pedophilia once again? No, somehow, that was hard to believe, even if it was a possibility. Perhaps the wizard just wanted a slave. But why, then, would he kidnap the Adventurer of Gyeeds's adopted son? Surely that was a very risky move. It was safe to assume that the old man wanted Jason specifically, but, barring the yuckier possibilities, Jason couldn't imagine why. Ransom? That was a bit far-fetched; Roland wasn't rich. A personal vendetta against Roland? Again, it seemed implausible.

Lastly, there was the question of what to do. Physical combat was probably not an option, given that his adversary could cast spells. Retreat was probably the best idea. Then again, if the old man saw him running, he could probably stop him with another spell. And the house's absence of windows made Jason think that the door would be somehow escape-proof. No, wait, this place wasn't made to be a prison, right? Then why weren't there any windows? <Come to think of it,> thought Jason, <the best idea may be to don the armor that saved me in my encounter with the dragon: philosophy. Yes, I suppose it's worth a shot. Once again, I've got little to lose.>

Jason slammed the door of the dryer shut. Then, rather than turn it on, he stormed out of the kitchen and back into the library. As he'd hoped, the wizard was still at his desk, even though all the ruckus had attracted his attention. <Here goes!> thought Jason. Before the man could say a word, he pointed accusatorily at him and proclaimed "You can't kidnap and enslave a fellow human being. It's unethical. It's just plain wrong!"

The old man slowly blinked and responded in English (with a thick Gyeedian accent) "Like I care."

Jason said in the same language "Well, you should. My life, and my dignity, are at stake here. You'd feel the same way in my position. Man," he continued, positively boiling over with righteous rage, "you are a cruel, heartless―" (here he used a word that I shall not print). "Don't you have a decent bone in your body? Don't you have an atom of respect for your fellow man? Is there truly no part of you, however small, that realizes what a horrible crime you're committing?"

The man shook his head. "Again, you just don't understand. I don't believe in ethics; I believe in survival. Were you in my position," he added, staring at Jason meaningfully, still keeping his usual frown, "you'd feel the same way."

Jason was stunned into relative calm. "But, but… I… where does your survival come in?"

"Oh, silly me." said the man flatly. "I shouldn'tve let that slip. Never mind."

In the face of this, Jason's fury began to resurface. "You… you will―"

At that moment, the man raised his hand as if he was about to make the gesture that had given Jason a headache before. The boy was immediately scared silent. Nothing happened.

"Thank you. As I said before, just do as I say and make it easy for yourself. I do not want to hurt you further. Now," he continued, as if everything was quite normal, "have you finished with the laundry?"

"Uh… no, not quite."

"Then hop to it."

Jason slowly, painfully stumbled back to the kitchen, like a general returning from the battlefield after suffering the worst defeat of his career. He pressed buttons and poured detergent like nothing had happened, like nothing was happening. But his heart was filled with dread. <There's no doubt about it. I must escape. I will escape. And I shall not be kidnapped a third time!>

"No, you didn't separate the colors right." said the old man in Common, looking over the results of Jason's work. "Oh well, you won't have to do it again. But now I have a bigger job for you. Open up that cabinet." Jason silently obeyed. "You see the paint in there?"

"Yeah." Buried under a few musty, unlabeled cardboard boxes were several buckets of it, all white, along with all of the necessary equipment.

"Give all the walls two coats. After that, use the ladder to do the ceilings. Don't rush; if you don't finish it today, you can work on it some more tomorrow."

Sighing mentally, Jason set about this task with all the enthusiasm of a condemned criminal making his way to the gallows. The wizard went back into the library, where, undoubtedly, he buried his nose back into that book. Jason couldn't help but wonder what it was. Probably not a novel. Perhaps it was something about abducting ten-year-old boys and getting them to do your housework. More realistically, perhaps it was a spellbook—if spellbooks even existed. <I've got to learn a bit more about magic,> thought Jason, <as soon as I get out of here.>

Needless to say, he had more immediate concerns—primarily, escape. He carefully painted his way towards the front door, so he could get a good look at it. It appeared thoroughly modern and impenetrable. He did not dare to try the lock, for fear that the wizard might hear him.

Meanwhile, what had the man meant when he'd implied that his life was at stake? "I don't believe in ethics, I believe in survival. Were you in my position, you'd feel the same way." It was possible that this had hardly been a slip, as the man would have Jason believe. But it seemed more likely that he had indeed made a kind of mistake, and didn't care much just because he thought it wouldn't harm him. Or maybe he just wanted Jason to think that. Stupid mind games!

Suppose the old man had been telling the truth, then. How was his survival endangered? By old age, of course. But how could Jason help him? By saving him from having to do housework? By participating in a magical ritual that would extend his life? The former seemed petty, the latter, outlandish. Whatever it was, Jason felt sure it was part, if not the entirety, of the man's motive for the kidnapping.

Two hours of tedium later, Jason finally painted his way over to the library. He noticed that the wizard had stopped reading for the moment to eat. Jason's stomach rumbled. He put the paint roller down and worked up his courage, then said "I'm very hungry. Could I have something to eat?"

"I suppose so. Hungry boys make for poor workers. Go take something from the kitchen for yourself."

Jason happily did so. Immediately after this brief interlude, he got back to work. How dreary it was—up, down, up, down. At least he had something to look at, now that he was in the library: the books. There was a great number of them, for such a small space. The titles on their spines were in Common, several unrecognizable languages… and English! Well, of course; the man was a scholar of Earth, which gave him an excuse to show up at the convention, if he ever had. He'd spoken English, Jason recalled, when Jason had attempted to convince him that slavery was wrong. And it had been pretty good English, too. Like his Common, it was informal and fluent.

But enough about languages. Given the titles Jason could read, the books seemed to be mostly for reference. Somehow the man had obtained a complete set of the latest edition of the "Encyclopædia Britannica". There was also lighter fare: novels ranging from "1984" to "The Phantom Tollbooth". On the other hand, some of the Common titles seemed to indeed be spellbooks—they had names like "The Art of Spellcasting" and "A Complete Guide to Inorganic Magical Reagents".

The elderly wizard read on (his book, Jason noticed, was titled "Miraculous Wizardry") as Jason wended his way through the library and into the bedroom. Here, above the spartan cot on which the wizard slept, Jason noticed an array of framed photographs hanging from the wall. There were three of them, each of a different man, all were grinning widely. Each man looked about the same age, a few years younger than Roland, and they were all very well-muscled and fit as a fiddle—this was made even more noticeable by the fact that all they wore rather short shorts. And, come to think of it, they were all photographed standing in the same spot, in this very room, though the furniture and paint on the walls weren't always the same. Finally, the frames were all identical, and there were two more such frames lying on top of a dresser. There was but one major discrepancy between the portraits: the left and center ones were in black and white, while the one on the right was in color.

"Bizarre." Jason mumbled to himself. "Totally bizarre."