Rescue Dogs by JohannesTEvans | World Anvil Manuscripts | World Anvil

Chapter Sixteen

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When Cecil came into the pub, Coshel was already waiting for him, sitting against one of the back walls near to the fireplace with a pint on a coaster in front of him. The place was decently busy, people walking back and forth – a Saturday was always going to be busier than a weekday, and although that meant there was more chance of being recognised, it also meant that if he was recognised, anyone halfway sensible’d be way less likely to make a fucking thing of it, let alone start a fight.

Coshel didn’t look out of place, sat back in an open shirt under a jumper that Cecil could see was worn and had been patched in places – it was a nice jumper, a dark, maroon red colour. His beard was neatly combed and oiled, his hair much the same, not a fucking strand of it out of place.

Cecil looked a bit rougher, in all fairness – he was wearing one of his less worn shirts, a nicer one, but the reason it was in such good nick was because it had been in his wardrobe since before he’d gone inside, and it was loose on him where he’d lost weight, had a bit too much give around the collar.

When Cecil came to the table, Coshel asked, meeting his eyes, “You want to sit with your back to the wall, so you can keep an eye on…?” He gestured vaguely, and Cecil laughed as he dropped into the seat across from him.

“Best no one recognises me,” Cecil said quietly as he dropped into the seat across from him, and he studied Coshel’s face, the careful blankness on it, the lack of emotion on it. There was something nice about the rhythm he had with Coshel – Valorous seemed to think it was to do with the fact that they both worked with animals, but Cecil thought it had as much to do with being old cunts who’d had shitty childhoods. It did give him a bit more shorthand, being able to read the other man’s face. “You search my name online, or did Penllwynog?”

“The lad did,” Coshel said after a few seconds had passed, and Cecil nodded his head, taking a sip from his beer. He waited for it, for the other man to continue, to say it. “I thought maybe when you said you’d been teaching before, when you didn’t mention why you stopped, that, uh… Well. He searched it, said you’d been in prison. Assault charges.”

“And then the boy looked in the comments, or found a forum,” Cecil said. “Something.” He watched Coshel’s face, the slight shift of his mouth as muscles moved and slackened, and then went on, “Or what, you asked in a group chat? Asked someone who’d known me, heard of me?”

“One of the nurses in the university used to work in schools,” Coshel said quietly. “Asked if she knew anybody from Idloes Sant.”

“What did she say?”

“Said she never believed what they said about you.”

“Did you ask what they said?”

“The lad’d already told me.”

“And here you are.”

Coshel shrugged. “Don’t know if I believe it either, after the conversation we had the other night,” he said quietly, and he touched his fingers against the side of his glass. “I’m no fan of the police, like I said the other night, and after, me and Penllwynog, we talked about it. Sir Valorous was saying you believe in abolition, that sort of thing.”

Cecil huffed out a breath, not quite enough volume behind it to be a laugh, and then he said, “Not exactly. I’ve got books about abolition, I’ve read a lot about it – to hear Valorous say it, I’m a card-carrying fucking communist, but coming from a hand of the king, I suppose what I think about the state must be pretty extreme. Ask what you want to ask.”

“Have you abused boys?” Coshel asked, surprisingly blunt about it, his voice even. There was a shine to his brown eyes – not tears, just a shine to them were the pupils were dilated and his irises were big and caught the light the way they did. “When you were a teacher, did you…?”

“No,” Cecil said. “Never fucked a lad that wasn’t legal, at least not since I wasn’t legal myself. Had sex with a few seventeen and eighteen-year-olds – never my own students, never ones I had any more power over than my age.”

He could see the air go out of Coshel’s body as he exhaled, as he relaxed slightly.

“I could be lying,” Cecil pointed out, and Coshel nodded.

“Mm, but I asked, and you answered. He said you never fucked him when you were at school – said he tried. He went on about it for a fucking while, to be honest.”

“Yeah, he’s still pretty angry about it,” Cecil said, and Coshel laughed, laughed suddenly pretty fucking hard, sitting back in his seat, and Cecil laughed too. “Don’t know him well, but I get the impression that Penllwynog is of a similar fucked-up lilt.”

“Yeah, little bit,” Coshel murmured. “I’ve asked a bit about it, about men he’s fucked, who fucked him – he started having sex round about fourteen or fifteen, also with older sorts. It’s made me feel a bit fucking filthy, if I’m honest.”

“Yeah,” Cecil murmured.

“Mind you, it’s, uh…” Coshel tapped his thumb against his lips, and then he said, “I don’t know. I don’t know if you feel the same with King, but it feels like I’m touching something I’m not supposed to, sometimes. The way he thinks, the way he talks, the sort of money he’s come from… Not that I really believe he’s actually fucking better than me, even if he does, on some level, but it’s the fear of getting caught, sometimes. That someone’s gonna come in and ask what the fuck I think I’m at, laying my hands on something so fine.”

Cecil remembered being a young man in Myrddin Wyllt’s bed, summoned to entertain him, to be fucked by him, and he took a sip of his drink.

“Not with King,” he said, “but I know the feeling too fucking well, yeah. It’s not helped by how powerful he is. I know you’re in a different spot, what with being a fleshturner – I’m no kind of witch at all – but…”

“No, he is powerful,” Coshel said. There was a pensiveness to his tone, and he sighed and ran a hand through his hair. “Did we talk the other night about what he’s studying?”

“Rite and Ritual?”

“Yeah. Do you know what that means? Like, what the course is?”

“Not really,” Cecil said. “Got the impression he’s in with a lot of religious sorts – Valorous was saying he always talks to people at parties Valorous is under express orders not to go anywhere fucking near. Well, not people, even, but anybody else – demons and angels, gods and goddesses.”

“Yeah, he’s mentioned a few of them want him as a priest,” Coshel said, and Cecil could see the weird freeze in his face at having said it, the strange abstraction of it, at saying so patently absurd, so bizarre. “But the actual course is about channelling big, complex magic. Scary fucking magic. Stars and planets aligning to let you channel the amount of magic it is. He comes into my fucking quarters on the campus some nights after he’s done with a class, and I can feel it clinging to him like an oil – when I touch him it flickers off my teeth, makes my hair frizz and stand on end.”

“King doesn’t need stars and planets to channel magic like that,” Cecil said quietly, and Coshel nodded.

“He was talking about it,” he said. “Penllwynog has been…”

“What does he think of him? Valorous? The lad was onto me about Penllwynog, said to me they’ve known each other since Valorous was first made a knight – there’s a few years between them, of course, but basically like, that he used to watch the family of them. Matching uniforms.”

“Born and bred to be mercenaries,” Coshel said, and not without a level of dread in his voice. He’d noticed the other night his hesitation about making commentary against the military, knowing he was at a table with a bunch of soldiers, but Cecil sees it in his face now, the distance in his eyes. “Makes them seem like the Von Trapps, when you hear about it, and then you see them march with their staves, and it’s not like that at all.” His tone was solemn, had a darkness as much as it had a gravity to it, his mouth twisted. “I wondered if that was why you wanted to chat.”

“I was a soldier myself, remember,” Cecil said. “But not like them. Me, I was one of the little cunts, just a foot soldier – infantryman. No name for me, not a Sir Valorous or a Master or whatever title Penllwynog will end up with at the end of it.”

“You did mention that,” Coshel said. “And Penllwynog, he did as well. About— I don’t know exactly what he thinks of Valorous, he’s mentioned him before, and I remembered finding it funny. He’s a celebrity, right? Weirdly enough, I think it made more of an impact on me about him being friendly with Valorous King than having met the king regent. A witch knight, Cicero says he is.”

“There’s not many of them.”


“Most people use staves because they need them to channel the amount of magic they’d be using in a fight,” Cecil said. “To be able to channel it raw, or through something fucking metal like a sword without burning yourself, yeah. That’s hard stuff. A witch knight can theoretically go onto a field and conjure both his armour and weaponry from scratch, and have it rival anything others might have to face him with – they don’t literally do that unless it’s required by duelling convention, but that’s what separates a witch knight from other warrior witches. Wyllt can probably do things like that, for example, and Valorous, of course, but not your average warrior witch. It’s a fucking high standard of magic to have to reach.”

Something shifted in Coshel’s eyes. “You know him too?” he asked. “The king regent?”

Cecil felt himself swallow. “When I was a young lad,” he Cecil quietly. “Still a soldier myself. Wasn’t any fucking call to destiny, if that’s what you’re worried about.”

“I dunno,” Coshel said. “I see destined fucks all the time at my job, walking back and forth over the campuses, riding their horses, at the arena. It’s another fucking world, hearing the lad talk about it. About as surreal as our conversation the other night, as well.”

“It fucks them up,” Cecil said. “I mean, he fucking told you as much the other night, and I don’t even remember how many times, but uh… I remember being about seventeen or eighteen, being fucked by a witch – he was a seer, and I mean… I mean capital S, Seer. Not just a bit of clairvoyance or future sight, but I mean could see the strings of destiny and was weaving and unweaving the ones he didn’t like. And it fucked me up, being a young lad, being told that I would have no destiny unless I reached for it. That I had no future of note. And then I got a bit older, I spent more time in the army, I observed the lads with destiny, and I thought— fuck. That’s a relief, that that’s off my shoulders.” He inhaled slowly, sliding his thumb down the smooth, cool surface of the glass, looking at the line it cut through the condensation.

“It messes with their heads,” Cecil went on, glancing at Coshel to see if he was desperate to interrupt, but he wasn’t, was just watching him thoughtfully, consideringly. “That thing of fucking… Not knowing if you really have free will or not. Not knowing if you’re choosing to do what you want to do, or if you’re doing it because destiny wills it – if you try to make a choice against what destiny tells you, are you only doing that because destiny’s pulling a bit of reverse fucking psychology on you?

“And Valorous, it’s a bit different for him. He’s never tried to resist his destiny, he’s just… He sees a prophecy, listens to the interpretations of it. Follows instructions. Follows orders. Does what the king regent asks, follows what’s laid out in the quest, simple. Except now, Myrddin Wyllt has a new golden girl – Valorous might still have a destiny, but no one’s telling him what it is anymore. He’s got to make his own fucking way, and he doesn’t know how to. He’s never done that before.”

Coshel’s pensive look turned straight-up fucking sad, and Cecil regretted saying it out loud, regretted telling him that.

“Penllwynog’s moving toward that,” he said quietly. “That sort of destiny.”

“Battles of legend,” Coshel agreed, nodding his head. “That’s what he wants. The reason he’s doing this course, uh, this Rite and Ritual thing, the reason he wants to handle magic like that… His elder brother, Tacitus, and I think two out of three of the sisters, they’re more powerful mages than he is. That doesn’t mean he can’t beat them in a fight, because he’s insane, which makes him unpredictable, but in terms of raw power… But he’s solving that problem, isn’t he? Do you know how that… I don’t want to fucking condescend to you, mate. You know warrior titles and that, so correct me if you already know this, but do you know what magic like that does to you?”

“Does to you?” Cecil repeated. “What, makes you mental?”

“Yes,” Coshel said. “Or— You know that magic makes you live longer? Using magic, being around magic. You and I, you in Lashton the whole of your life, me going from here to Camelot, we’ll live longer than a mundie would. Not just me, as a fleshturner, but you, too, even without using magic. But Valorous, his… his eyes. The scars on him. He’s channelled so much fucking magic through his body that he can’t ever undo that. He’s chiselled those veins inside him open. You can see the magic – see it run liquid in his eyes, see it glisten on his skin, underneath his skin. Feel the air thicken with his mood.

“Every witch has to learn, on some level, to feel for magic, but fleshturners, we have to learn that on a deeper level. We have to be able to reach for it, find it, hold it, and then mould it in our hands like clay – so when I meet somebody like Cicero Penllwynog, I can see it on him, feel where the magic gathers in his body – in his palms and fingertips, in his chest, in the core of him.

“Sometimes, you meet an enchanter, and I can’t see it, but it’s like you can feel it, the caps on their fingers, or even gloves, for the more powerful ones, where they channel the magic to activate an enchantment once they’ve written it. You, I can feel it on you – I know you’re not an active magic user, but because you’ve grown up here, in magic, it’s in you, on you. There’s even a flavour on you that makes you, um… You’ve handled magical weapons. Regularly.”

Cecil laughed, the sound shocked out of him. “That’s some fucking trick, Coshel. You can see that? You can… you can feel that?”

“It’s hard to describe, when you don’t have the same thing,” Coshel murmured. “Like trying to explain what it’s like being able to hear to someone who’s not just deaf, but has never really considered the idea of sound before. But yeah, I feel all that.”

“And Valorous?”

“He’s aglow,” Coshel murmured. “It crackles through him. Throbs through him. He’s like a burning fire – you can feel the heat coming off him. Penllwynog, he craves to be like that. Seasoned magic users, some of them, they’d flinch when someone like Valorous walked into the room – and Cicero wishes that was him.

“Sir Valorous, he’s a natural magic user. He channels that magic raw – that injury on his arm, that was from when he was a teenager, right? That’s common, with powerful magic users like him. We were laughing about it the other night, and I know it freaked you out a bit, but puberty, for a mage like him, it’s a bit like how you grow faster than your brain can keep up, so you’re clumsy – it’s easy to channel more magic than you actually have capacity for, and get injured by it, scarred by it. But Cicero, his capacity for magic isn’t anything like Valorous’, not naturally. It would take him decades of study, of magic use, to be able to achieve anything like that capacity. Even if he moved to a very magic-rich place, did hundreds of spells every day, he just wouldn’t be able to grow that fast. But to do the sort of magic that he's reaching for now, you act as a sort of conduit for that power.

“Understandable for a priest, right? You stand there like a lightning rod and you have all that power go through you on its way to wherever it’s needed – power that’s not just running through the atmosphere or ley-lines or even fucking standing stones or whatever else. He’s into astronomy, Penllwynog. The alignment of planets and stars, and all the magic that flows through them when they’re properly lined up.”

“Why not become a priest?” Cecil asked faintly, trying not to make a show of how sick he was feeling at the idea of the amount of raw power apparently running through Valorous’ veins. “If he can channel more magic by being priest to the right god?”

“Probably because then it wouldn’t be his power,” Coshel said quietly. “You don’t get to take up duty for a deity and then back down. He’s not one for a contract, that boy.”

“Wish Valorous was a bit less eager for commitment,” Cecil murmured, and Coshel laughed.

“No you fucking don’t,” he said.

“No,” Cecil agreed. “I suppose I don’t.”

Coshel looked at him with a softness in his eyes, and then said – with no small amount of yearning in his voice – “I suppose, positions reversed, I do wish the lad…” He trailed off. “Sir Valorous seems like he’s with you to stay. Wants to, anyway, I know you’re trying to get rid of him, convince him to go elsewhere. But Penllwynog’s only crawling into my bed because I’m there and I’m solid until he finishes his degree and goes off with it.”

“Most of mine used to be like that,” Cecil told him. “They’d come in, go out. Whether they wanted to stay or not, they would do, once they’d grown a bit, healed a bit – done whatever they needed to do in Lashton before heading out of town. It’s nice to be reliable, but lads his age aren’t.”


“He might come back, after.”

“And what sort of man is he gonna be then?” Coshel asked, and Cecil’s chest panged at the thought of it, because, yeah, he could see from Coshel’s face that he had a pretty realistic idea of the possibilities – that Cicero would be battle-scarred and traumatised, or that he’d be battle-scarred and victorious, or somewhere between the two. That no matter what, he wouldn’t be coming back the same – and even if he did, it would be with how ever many deaths under his belt, not just victories in the arena, but heads on spikes, bodies piled up and left to rot, or burn. Tally marks on his stave of every life it’s ended – possibly even literal.

“Same prick as he is now, with some minor changes,” Cecil lied, and Coshel laughed, his eyes crinkling at the corners.

“What was Valorous like?” Coshel asked. “At school?”

“At first,” Cecil said, “just intense. You could tell, if you knew his sort, what he was – you know he killed a man? Before— before everything else, the magic, that shit, later on. He killed the man who killed his father, Vainglorious. Hitman, he shot Vainglorious and while he was leaning over to take a picture of the body as proof, Valorous picked up the man’s gun and shot him in the back of the head.”

Coshel stared at him, his mouth slightly open. “How old?”

“Nine. He was nine. He was already enrolled in a military school – Vainglorious had never been much of a swordsman or a magical man, but he wanted his son to be. He was an enforcer for the Kings, and he didn’t want his son to follow in his footsteps – he wanted him to be able to rise way above that his rank. To be the head of the family, if he wanted. So yeah, after that, Noble King, who’s the current head of the family, she pulled him out of the boarding school he was in and brought him down south to us. Suddenly, he was doing all his classes in English instead of Gaelic, and we were well behind anything he’d fucking studied there. He was at the sort of school that princes and bred warriors go to, and then he came to a run-of-the-mill posh city school. We had more resources than a lot of schools around, don’t get me fucking wrong, but… He was bored, and not just bored, but just… He didn’t fucking get any of it. He was a military boy – he had weapons training in half a dozen fields, was already a powerful witch, spoke a bunch of languages, and suddenly at nine he was sitting in classes full of eleven-year-olds and not understanding why they were all the way they were, and why he was the way he was.”

He knew most of that already, from teaching the boy, but it was funny how many dots had connected in the last few months, talking to him, picking out the details he dropped without knowing how important they were, or that they were connecting to a larger picture. It was insane sometimes, the shit he hid and the shit he let loose, because he didn’t think some of it was important – never occurred to him that some of it might be.

“So he liked me,” Cecil said, and Coshel looked at him seriously, and there was guilt churning in him as he said it, as he fucking knew it. “Not, um— I wasn’t a father figure to him, and it wasn’t some kind of Dead Poets Society shit. But he came into my classes, and PE, it doesn’t have the same strict syllabi of most of the school. Every one of us knew he was fucked in the head, but there was only so much any of us could fucking do, could give him extra work, and, uh, he had to board at St Idloes. He had bad fucking nightmares, and he would start fires in his sleep, like he was saying – he rarely stayed with his family. Couldn’t. But he came into PE, and I’d fucking send him off with the other non-humans. With the vampires who were three or four times as fucking strong as the other kids, with the fae. With all the kids that had to be kept separate because otherwise they’d kill their classmates by accident – the ones that needed extra shit. I’d have him to do weapons drills that I knew how to take him through, do what I used to do in the army.”

“That was when he turned around and tried to fuck you?”

“No, that came later. That scarring up his arm and his eyes, that was from an accident when he was about fourteen, and that was when the king regent took an interest him – he started being away from school for months at a time. From our perspective. For him, sometimes, it’d be years. Doing the shit he did, fucking, killing dragons or laying armies to waste. Assassinations. Rituals. Anything he was asked to do. It’s no real wonder he came back to school after every stint not knowing what to fucking do there except pick someone to stalk or fuck or manipulate, or...”

“Christ,” Coshel muttered, and Cecil nodded his head slowly. “How was that, for you?”

“Oh, terrifying. I thought he might kill me, for a good bit of it. He kept— He was fifteen, and he’d be bending over in the showers, showing me his hole, he’d be naked under my desk, send me pictures of him. I couldn’t fucking report it – because if I did, he’d be liable to be sent off to the Castle or some other shit. You can’t… A kid as powerful as he is, you can’t just discipline them like you can another one. They need discipline, but if they’re basically a walking bomb, the fuck can someone like me do?

“And what I did do, was… When he got some other man to fuck him, I’d step in. Older students, sure, I let him… Nothing different to how I’d punish anything else. But men, Coshel. Teachers, nurses, he’d get them to fuck him – one of them really fucking hurt him, and I could see at the time how much he fucking craved that. Sweating and pallid and bleeding from his fucking arsehole, and you could see that some part of him didn’t want me to take it away.”

When he looked up at Coshel’s face again, he could see the other man’s eyes are watering, and he was wiping the tears away with a handkerchief, and it suddenly hit him all at once how much it was worth crying about, what he was fucking saying, no matter that Valorous wouldn’t, and that he was so fucked in the head himself he doesn’t know that he could.

“Sorry,” he said.

“No, it’s… I’d like to say you’d never know, to meet him, but you do get… some of it.”

“Yeah,” Cecil said. “He likes you a lot, you know.” He thought about it, about Valorous fucking stalking the man, creeping around the stables he worked at, watching him, studying him. Asking if it would be the right thing to fucking tell him that, because he genuinely doesn’t know right from fucking wrong. “Respects you.”

“Well, that’d be something new,” Coshel murmured, but his lips did twitch into the slightest of smiles, even with distance in his eyes. “How’s the work?”

“Oh, shit,” Cecil said. “I fucking hate it. You?”

“Oh, I love it,” said Coshel. “The horses. Hate the fucking people.”

They both laughed, and they clinked their glasses together over the table, and it was normal for a while, the two of them talking, chatting. It was nice – it was a long, long time since he’d fucking had something like this, a drink with a man his own age. Not since he was still teaching, and those other teachers, now, he wouldn’t.

“He’s been saying he wishes Valorous would go to the arena more,” Coshel was saying. “You too.”

Me? The fuck am I gonna do at the arena?”

“Fuck him, presumably,” Coshel said, and Cecil laughed again. “But you should, both of you.”

“Maybe,” Cecil said, and turned around to order them another few pints.

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