One of the scariest things that ever happened to me was waking up in the middle of the night one summer, with the sheet still over my face, and being convinced that someone was holding their hand just over my face -- just inches from my face, less than inches, just a hair's breadth away. I lay there forever, or so it seemed, until it seemed the hand had been removed, and went quietly out of my mind for a while.
The next day I tried to write a story using that, but somehow it ended up coming out ... funny. Or so I'm told.
Pointless legal-department fact: This story appeared in Dragon Magazine (October, 1994, pg. 83), but only after asking if they could change all appearances of the word "demon" to "daemon," which was their way of protecting themselves from the less imaginative among the religious right who have always wanted to label them devil-worshippers. No devil-worshipper myself (though with a healthy respect for the Hoof), I readily agreed.
The Siege of Bahorel's Bed
By Daniel Hood
Bahorel was old when the Mages' Guild found his Talent and made him a novice. He was reaching the end of a long and fulfilling career as a scholar, a career that had brought him some small fame in limited, academic circles, where he was known as the foremost expert on ancient magical texts in all of Torquay, a city renowned both for its brilliant scholars and its masses of old tomes.
It was, in fact, his expertise on books magical that brought him to the attention of the Masters of the Guild: when the authenticity of a copy of Rif's On Prognostication was called into question, the Masters turned to the learned community of Torquay to provide judgment. Torquay presented Bahorel, rail-thin and shy, squinting in the bright sunlight of controversy, as judge and jury; in the space of a minute he ascertained that the book was indeed genuine, saving the Masters time, trouble and face.
Properly grateful, they were prepared to offer a handsome honorarium when a member of their delegation noted a slight, feebly flickering aura over the aged scholar's head.
"He's got some Talent!" the Master cried.
When motivated, the Mages' Guild can be a powerful force. It was quickly decided that it would be to its advantage to have an expert on magical tomes among its ranks, and attractive, all-but-irresistible offers were immediately made.
Bahorel, however, resisted. He was old; he was frail; he was comfortable. He did not want to leave his niche in the Ivy Tower, as the crumbling castle in which he rented rooms was called.
"I am old, gentle mages," he politely replied. I have for long known only the quiet, dusty life of the collegia, the companionship of my peers in learning. How could I possibly move into one of your novitiate dormitories, live with your callow young apprentices, train like a young boy in arcane arts? I could not possibly fit with them, and they would hardly fit with me. No, gentle mages. I thank you -- but no."
The then-Masters were not ones to take "no" for an answer, however polite. They pressured the deans at Bahorel's collegium; they pressured his landlord in the Ivy Tower; they pressured his friends and his students. Soon Bahorel found himself beseeched by all and sundry to join the Guild: his landlord threatened to evict him, his students to stop attending his lectures, his friends to stop talking to him. But the final, drastic step that impelled Bahorel into the hands of the Mages' Guild came when the deans of his collegium changed the locks on the library, and refused to give him a new key.
This struck close to the heart of the old scholar, who found life without access to books little worth living. At this point the Masters of the Guild, forewarned by the deans as to Bahorel's vulnerability, repeated their offer of membership, adding privileges in the Guild's library, rumored to be a fabulous trove of treasures, as a further incentive.
Bahorel leapt at the chance, and joined the Guild as a novice. He was housed in the novices' dormitory, but out of respect for his age and his learning he was granted a tower suite in the hoary old building. Entertaining few misgivings, he filled his new rooms with his scant possessions, chief among which was his bed, a massive affair with heavy, wine-dark hangings and thick wooden posts carved into the shapes of sleeping nymphs and satyrs. There were some snickering comments made by the other novices (young boys all) on the size of the bed, and the complete seclusion available when the inch-thick velvet curtains were drawn, but when it got out that it had been the only legacy of Bahorel's saintly mother, and that the old scholar was always alone in it, the levity died down. The old scholar quickly became a quiet fixture of the dormitory.
All was well for several years. Bahorel was exempted from the meaner tasks usually forced on novices -- no scrubbing out alembics or washing unhappy familiars for him -- and instead was set to work cataloguing and maintaining the Guild's library, which, while indeed a treasure trove, was in a sad state of disrepair. He learned some of the basics of magecraft, and managed even to call forth his own familiar, a bedraggled, myopic little kitten which spent most of its time sleeping on teetering piles of books.
Bahorel was even somewhat popular with the regular novices, the teenage boys who came to the Guild with dreams of power and wealth in their heads. They enjoyed his tentative attempts at wit and the slightly smutty manuals of erotic wizardry that he found for them. (It should be explained that Bahorel never exactly understood what the other novices saw in them; a large number of these texts went directly over his head, and while the woodcuts were certainly valuable, they were very confusing and had entirely too many tiny details for his old eyes to make out.) In return, they helped him master the few essentials of magic he was required to know.
So the years passed. Bahorel slipped unobtrusively into even older age, something of an institution in the dormitory and the library, but a quiet one, happy in the company of his spindly kitten and his books.
Trouble came, though, in the form of an exacting Daemonology Master named Togodumnus and an uncouth novice named Ryssel.
For all the years Bahorel had lived in the novice's dormitory, he had never progressed beyond the very first stage of magehood. Togodumnus, a new Master and a strict man, called the old scholar up before the entire class on his very first day of teaching.
"Novice Bahorel," he said, addressing the grey-bearded man as if he were a young boy, "I notice that your performance is shockingly poor. Shockingly poor, I say. What say you?"
"Well, Master Togodumnus," Bahorel replied, twisting his novice's cap in his gnarled hands and casting shy grins at his classmates, "I'm really more of a librarian than a wizard."
Master Togodumnus was outraged. "A librarian? A librarian! This is a mages' guild, Novice Bahorel, not a library!"
"Actually, there's quite a good library here --"
"A mages' guild!" Master Togodumnus went on. "There is no room here for those who will not learn magic! And since you are here, you will learn magic! I swear you'll be able to summon and control a fiend by the time I'm done with you, or I'll eat my hat! Now, sit down!"
Bahorel sat down, replacing his novice's cap on his white-haired head, a troubled look on his face.
Master Togodumnus was as good as his word. He worked Bahorel hard, cutting down on his time in the library, forcing him to go over and over and over the simplest of exercises until the old man was ready to drop, exhausted, onto his retorts and beakers and material components.
Bahorel did not complain, but the strain was cruel. Daemonology was by no means the most difficult form of wizardry, but it did require discipline and hard work, which was one of the reasons it was taught early on to novices. Other Daemonology Masters had let Bahorel slip by, aware of his shortcomings and peculiar status in the Guild, but now the oldest novice found himself staying up late, pouring over abstract works of daemonology, practicing his pentagrams and rehearsing his chants. By mid-term he was better, but his strength was beginning to flag.
It was then that Ryssel appeared. He was seventeen at the time, almost too old for a novice, and some accident of adolescence had left him well over six feet tall and thick as a draft horse. It was only the influence of his uncle, a powerful Guild Master, that had secured him his spot in the class. Nor did he make a secret of this, being shockingly stupid in addition to physically overdeveloped. On his first day as a novice, he thrashed three smaller boys and cowed the rest with tales of his all-powerful uncle.
He also had his first run-in of many with Bahorel.
The Master of Novices, on hearing of the late addition to the class, had fretted and fretted for almost an entire day over where to put him -- all the beds were taken by boys who had begun the term at the proper time. Then he remembered Bahorel's suite. With dawning hope, he went to the old scholar and explained the situation.
"So you see, Novice Bahorel," the Master said (though he managed to make the word "Novice" sound like a noble title when he addressed the dormitory's oldest resident), "it would only be for the rest of this term, and you would only need to give up your sitting room." He added that he would not have asked if it were not urgent, nor if the boy hadn't been the nephew of -- here he whispered the name of Ryssel's powerful uncle. The name, however, did not impress Bahorel; his response was dictated by pure good nature.
"Of course! Of course!" he said, nodding his gray head and disturbing his scrawny familiar, who had gone to sleep in his beard. "Don't think about if for a moment! I would be glad -- glad! -- to accommodate the boy! They really are charming lads here, charming, friendly and respectful. It would be my pleasure, Master!"
The Novice Master heaved a sigh of relief, happy to have maintained his good relationship with Bahorel, departed, and never gave the matter another moment's thought.
Bahorel, too, forgot about it, until later that day, when he returned from the library to find the contents of his sitting room strewn across the floor of his bedroom. The door between the two was open, and from the sitting room he heard an absolutely filthy sailor's chanty being croaked by a dying bull.
He carefully set down the heavy stack of daemonology texts he was carrying and went to the doorway, his familiar stumbling after him.
Ryssel had already unpacked his belongings in the sitting room, and Bahorel could barely recognize it -- there were dirty clothes everywhere (Ryssel, apparently, had brought them from home in that state), as well as sixteen pairs of muddy boots, two horsy-smelling saddles and a growling, snarling, foaming dog. The jet-black beast leapt to its feet at the site of Bahorel's spindly cat, and would have charged if Ryssel hadn't caught it by the scruff of the neck and thrown it against a wall, momentarily dazing it.
"Who are you?" he demanded.
"I'm Novice Bahorel," the old man said, a little stunned himself by the sight of the stunned dog, the gruff boy, and the transformed sitting room.
"Oh. So these used to be your digs?"
"Well, yes --"
"I'm Ryssel," Ryssel interrupted, and began scratching at a patch of acne which had erupted on his ugly face. "And they're mine now. And I think we'd better set some things straight. I go to bed early, and I don't want any noise or lights coming under this doorway, got it? And don't get in my way, got it?"
"And keep your familiar," the boy said, pointing a disdainful finger at Bahorel's kitten, quivering between his legs, "away from my familiar." He pointed at the black dog, who had recovered from his encounter with the wall and was staring murder at the petrified kitten.
"You have a familiar already," Bahorel stammered, taken aback by Ryssel's rudeness.
"Yeah. My uncle helped me conjure him. Know my uncle?"
"I can't say I've had the pleasure --"
"Good. Keep it that way. He's one mean wizard, and he wouldn't take kindly to anyone who got in my way. Get it?"
"Why surely --"
Bahorel never got any further, because Ryssel's familiar chose that moment to launch himself toward the kitten and the boy slammed the door in the old man's face to prevent slaughter.
It took Bahorel over an hour to calm down his distraught familiar, and to recover his own wits. Long accustomed to respect and friendliness, he had never before been treated so rudely and didn't quite know what to do about it. He sat on the edge of his bed, puzzling out this new experience, and eventually he put the boy's behavior down to understandable first-day-as-a-novice nerves.
It was not long before Ryssel proved him wrong.
First of all there was the boy's snoring. Equal parts landslide-rumble, dragon-roar and steaming-kettle-piping, it woke Bahorel on the first night of Ryssel's residence, and kept him up till near dawn. It happened every night, and even the heavy velvet hangings of Bahorel's mother's bed could not keep it out.
Then there was the boy's noise in the morning. He woke early every day and stomped around his room, shouting to himself and at his familiar, which barked back, at which point he threw boots at it. The boots, however, never to hit the dog -- only Bahorel's door. The rapid succession of thuds never failed to wake the old man, no matter how poorly he had slept the night before.
Bahorel was, however, far too polite (not to mention easygoing) to mention this to Ryssel. Nor did he remonstrate with him when he let his familiar run free in the library, despite the number of books it chewed up, and the unsightly messes it left in the study carrels. He hoped the Masters might do something about, particularly after the dog ate the only surviving copy of a rare manuscript, but they were too cowed by the thought of the boy's uncle, and by the boy's enormous physical presence.
These, however, were the least of the indignities Ryssel inflicted on Bahorel. Though he was easily as bad at daemonology as the old man, he bullied the young novices into doing his work for him, and then laughed when Master Togodumnus called Bahorel to task for his failures.
Ryssel also made a habit of letting his familiar loose when he knew Bahorel's kitten was around. It quickly became common to hear the boy's braying laugh and then see the kitten come scrambling frantically around a corner, spitting and hissing and with all its hair on end; a second or two later the black hellhound would round the corner too, as often as not bowling over two or three unobservant Masters or novices.
If Bahorel kept his candle lit too late, Ryssel would throw open the door between their rooms, march in and take it. Then he would say: "Alright graybeard, into the pleasure palace. Hop!" ("The pleasure palace" was what the boy had taken to calling Bahorel's bed, a name he relished because of the obvious shock and disgust that showed on the old man's innocent face every time he heard it.)
There were countless other indignities -- the rude noises, the catcalls, the dead mouse in the bowl of soup, the shorted sheets -- but Bahorel, for his part, seemed not to mind. The Masters shook the heads in wonder at the oldest novice's forbearance, but in reality he was simply stunned by the magnitude of Ryssel's rudeness. The boy made him miserable, of that he was aware; but he could think of nothing to do about it, and was too mild-mannered to respond in kind.
Instead, he took refuge in his studies, working himself to the bone to try to satisfy Master Togodumnus.
It was thus that the second to last day of the term found Bahorel in his room late at night, poring over a book of daemonology. It was a weighty and powerful tome, one he had found discarded on a dusty shelf, but it promised any number of secrets that he hoped would help in the next day's examination. He had drawn the necessary pentagram around the small table at which he studied, and in the protective circle of magic turned over the cracked vellum pages. Each offered a different fiend for summoning, with a hand-drawn picture of the evil spirit on one page and an abbreviated spell facing it. The introduction to the book promised that any of the fiends it contained could be conjured up with minimal fuss and effort.
Bahorel was in the process of choosing which he would summon for his final exam when Ryssel stormed in.
"Alright, graybeard, into the pleasure -- hey!" The boy caught sight of the book. "What's that? Boning up on your daemonology?"
"Yes," Bahorel sighed, closing the book carefully. Earlier in the day he had tried to rise at the end of his Basics of Elementals class and discovered that his feet were glued to the floor. Ryssel, of course, was responsible, but Bahorel was good-hearted, even in the face of persecution. "You would do well to study as well, Novice Ryssel. Master Togodumnus isn't pleased with our progress."
"Ha!" the boy brayed. "Who cares? He'll let me by. He knows who my uncle is! You, though," he went on, leaning close and stabbing Bahorel's frail chest with a blunt forefinger, "are going to make a fool of yourself tomorrow. Everyone and his brother knows you're going to make a hash of the exam -- and I for one am going to be glad to see it! Now into the pleasure palace, graybeard!"
With that, and the candle, he left the room, slamming the door behind him.
In the darkness, Bahorel placed the book of fiends on his study table and climbed into bed. Before he had even drawn the curtains, Ryssel was snoring. Sighing the sigh of the long-suffering, Bahorel lay back on his pillows, only to notice that his familiar was not there.
He sat up and felt blindly around the bed. When he was sure the kitten was not with him, he began calling it, very softly.
"Here, kitty," he whispered.
The kitten responded from outside the curtains, softly mewing.
"Come along, kitty. It's bedtime."
There was a sudden startled squawk, and the sound of something striking the floor. The hangings rustled, and then the kitten jumped into his arms, shivering.
In the dark, Bahorel could not be sure what his familiar had upset (or what had upset his familiar), but he offered up a silent prayer that it wasn't the book of fiends.
In the room beyond the curtained bed, the book lay open on the floor, just outside the pentagram.
Before Bahorel could finish his prayer, a soft moaning whispered out of the book. If Ryssel had left the candle, it would have looked as if the picture on the page was moving, and that the fiend drawn there (a dwarfish creature with four arms, a long, dog-like snout and mauve skin) was stretching.
It was, in fact, stretching, and in his bed Bahorel could hear its joints cracking. He froze, as petrified as his now stone-stiff familiar.
The fiend, meanwhile, feeling limbered up by its stretching, reached up and out of the book, caught hold of the edge of the page, and hauled itself into the room.
Bahorel, of course, saw none of this; even if there had been light, his eyes were tight shut, and he was praying in a rapid, breathless voice, the kitten a warm ball of fear on his lap.
The fiend heard the praying and smiled, its tiny eyes glowing with the banked fires of Hell. It hopped towards the bed with a little skip-step.
Bahorel heard the slap of its scaly feet on the flags of his bedroom and stopped praying. He could see nothing, but he followed the fiend's progress by the sound of its footsteps: first it came to the foot of the bed, where it paused and sniffed at the curtains. It skip-stepped to the right, then to the left, then back to the right. It sniffed again, and growled, a low, pleased sound. Bahorel's kitten fainted.
Then it skip-stepped around the right side of the bed, moving slowly along, pausing to sniff once or twice, until it reached the head of the bed, where Bahorel was huddling with his insensate familiar. It sniffed again and growled, too, but in a slightly puzzled tone. Then it shuffled quickly down the length of the bed, around the foot, and up the left side. It stopped again right by Bahorel, and sniffed.
Suddenly the curtains tented in, the velvet slapping Bahorel in the face. With a stifled cry he scrambled away to the right side of the bed, prepared to meet his end.
The fiend growled again, unhappily, and Bahorel heard it bat at the hangings. It slapped them with the flat of its hand, once, then twice, then began running all around the bed, slapping at the curtains as it went.
Inside the bed, Bahorel relaxed, despite the fact that the curtains were snapping and flapping at him like sails in a brisk, crazy breeze. He had remembered something from his studies: fiends cannot cross barriers. Doors, gates and the like will hold them much more effectively than they will people -- fiends can't open doors, even if they're unlocked. Apparently, the curtains of Bahorel's bed counted as a barrier; as long as he stayed inside, he was safe, and the fiend could not reach him. All he had to do was wait till morning, and then start shouting for someone to fetch a powerful daemonologist. He gathered his still-unconscious familiar in his lap and settled down to outlast the siege of his bed.
The fiend slapped angrily at the curtains for a few more minutes, muttering darkly to itself. And then it began to destroy things.
It started with Bahorel's table, picking it up by the legs and smashing it against the floor. The noise startled the old novice, who knelt up in bed, thrusting his head forward to try and figure out what was going on.
When the fiend had demolished the table, it turned its attention to his wardrobe. It tore off one of the doors and began using it to batter the rest into kindling.
Bahorel winced at every crash and every bang as his furniture was destroyed, and then he heard Ryssel's voice.
"What in the Halls of the Dead are you doing in there, graybeard?"
"Ryssel!" Bahorel cried. "Don't come in!"
But the boy didn't hear him over the fiend's racket, and he opened the door.
Bahorel heard the cry of delight from the fiend and that of fright from the boy, and leapt from his bed in an instant. By the light that spilled from Ryssel's room he found the open book, snatched it up, and ran through the door.
Boy and fiend were at an impasse: Ryssel was holding it by the throat at arms' length, but the fiend had both its hands wrapped around his bicep, and was gradually forcing him to bend his elbow, bringing its snapping fangs closer and closer to his fear-contorted face.
"Graybeard! Do something!"
Bahorel paused in the doorway, considering the situation.
"Please! It's going to kill me!"
The outer door slammed open, but neither Bahorel nor Ryssel (nor the fiend) noticed the crowd of Masters and novices who stopped short there, attracted by the noise and shouting.
"I'll try," Bahorel said simply, "but I'm not sure if I can -- I'm not very good at daemonology."
"P-p-please! I'm dying!"
The fiend was inexorably bending the boy's arm back, and the foam that flew from its champing jaws flecked the boy's face. Bahorel dithered, but not out of malice -- he really wasn't very good at daemonology, and he wasn't sure what to do. He had an idea, though.
"I think I have an idea, Novice Ryssel."
"TRY IT!" the boy screamed, the fiend's hot breath washing now over his face, his arm bulging with effort.
"I will," Bahorel affirmed, and held up the book. Then he closed it firmly.
The fiend disappeared in a puff of acrid smoke.
Ryssel collapsed to the floor.
The novices and Masters in the doorway began to laugh. It should not be supposed that Bahorel had been the only object of Ryssel's cruelty -- almost everyone in the dormitory, from Masters to novices to servants, had suffered at his hands, and everyone was happy to see him get his comeuppance (as they thought) at Bahorel's hands.
Ryssel, thoroughly humiliated, left the dormitory the next day. His uncle was apparently displeased with his marks, and withdrew his patronage. He later became a soldier, and was said to have killed thousands -- many of them in battle.
Master Togodumnus, who had witnessed the end of Bahorel's one-and-only fiend-summoning, exempted him from the final examination and certified him in daemonology. He also took the book of fiends. Both disappeared one moonless midsummer night.
As for Bahorel (who never had any intention of tricking Ryssel into confronting the fiend), he was puzzled by the sudden reputation for depth and cleverness that he had acquired with the younger novices. He was happy, however, to find that the fiend's attentions hadn't damaged his bed in any way. He was made even happier by the fact that the Guild Masters removed him from the dormitory, revoked his novice status, and gave him new rooms near the library and a permanent position as Guild Librarian.
He was still there at last report: cataloguing books by day and sleeping in his siege-proof bed by night.