I’ve decided my content has been way too heavy lately, so I decided to talk about something I’ve thought about a lot, but is a far less serious topic than the ones I usually cover
You know, in a lot of fantasy books, spells are cast via incantations, and more often than not these incantations are either Latin, or faux-Latin. Have you ever thought about life in ancient Rome?
Imagine this scenario; it is winter in the Northern Empire, in the decline of Roman power. A centurion on scout duty, clad in his leather armor with a gleaming, frosted breastplate over it; he is wearing a cap under his cold helmet just to keep the metal from touching his skin. He is shivering, leaning on the wooden shaft of his spear, and he turns his head towards another of his legion, and comments through chattering teeth, “I-I-I c-c-c-ould g-g-go for some f-f-f-fire.”
The words barely intelligible, hardly understandable as true Latin, at the word “fffffire,” his spear shaft instantly bursts into flame. His hands are immediately burned badly, and he throws his spear away from his body, black char marks run down his no longer clean breastplate.
The Centurion drops to his knees and plunges his hands into the snow.
Weeks later, in horrible pain, the Centurion dies of the infection that set in his hands on that fateful day when he accidentally uttered the words that engulfed his spear in flame.
The concept for the below story is borrowed from the video game Lost Odyssey, but modified slightly to fit my own narrative. To complete the narrative, of course, this prison is in an ancient, Latin-speaking society.
The prison is pitch black, reserved only for the opponents of powerful men in government. These are people that the powers that be do not want dead; these people are here as part of an ancient tradition that serves two purposes; the first being to make political opponents suffer, the second being to make undesirable people disappear forever.
Internment in this prison is never applied merely for a term; once you enter the doors, you are here for life. No one imprisoned here has ever left, unless they have left as a corpse. Even leaving as a corpse is a rare privilege; the darkness is so deep, so perfect in its blackness, that the guards that are trained to work within these walls seldom know the number or health of the prisoners under their care — if “care” even could be called an appropriate word. They bring food and water, setting it by memory by a small flap in each cell door, neither knowing nor caring if the occupant is even capable of retrieving it.
The sounds of struggle walking down the hall usually reserved only for the guards, the desperate screams of a new prisoner, alert each prisoner that fresh blood has entered. It is the same for all new prisoners, the occupant deemed 1474 thinks to himself. He has been in this prison for a length of time, though even he could not tell you to within ten years how long that time was; he stopped counting the meals the guards brought him, the exercise itself a waste of time and effort. He had been in these cells for so long, he had even lost the ability to really know whether he was awake, sleeping, dreaming (for even his dreams were a black landscape, devoid of sound), or lost in his own mind. He had forgotten the faces of his friends, his family, even the woman he loved more than anything else in the world, his beautiful wife… His thoughts derailed. What was her name?
As he asked himself this question, it occurred to him that the sounds of struggle, the screaming had stopped. This one must have been resigned to his fate, they usually screamed for hours or days before they went quiet, resigned to the eternal night. Then he heard something, the jangling of keys, the opening of a cell door — but it wasn’t a door down the hall, it was his very own. Had they run out of cells? Were they putting a second prisoner in with him?
“Is there anyone here?” The voice was scared, not the confident call of a guard. “I don’t know how to get out, I need light!” At the utterance of the last word, light exploded through the cells. The new prisoner screamed, the old prisoner stared in shock. He had not seen even the slightest flicker of light prior to this brief flash. He has seen the face of the new prisoner, a young man with long, greasy hair, an almost manic look in his eyes. As soon as the flash had come, it was dark again.
The old prisoner tried to speak, but had been failed to use his voice for so long his words came out in nothing but a croak. “Come, help me get up, and I will show you the way out.”
He may not be able to see in the perfect darkness, but he had heard the steps of the guards so many times, the echoing of the halls so intricately mapped by his otherwise unoccupied mind, that guiding the new prisoner out seemed easy to him. They walked for a short time, the prison was not overly large, and arrived at a door that would not open. The old man heard the jangling of keys again, heard the signs of frustration as each key was tried on the door, a slow process due to the darkness. After a time that seemed simultaneously an instant and an eternity, he heard the tumblers in the lock move. He closed his eyes, he knew after that brief flash earlier that his eyes would be very sensitive to the light on the other side of the door.
He heard the squeak of hinges in dire need of maintenance, the squeak by which he had learned to expect a meal, heard the door scrape rocks as it swung wide. He did not see anything but blackness behind his eyelids, so he opened his eyes again. Still black, but they felt irritated, a burning.
“Such beautiful light!” his young rescuer exclaimed. The old man looked left and right in confusion. He couldn’t see it. And then he came to the cold conclusion, and felt a horrible emptiness in him.
That flash of light he saw in the prison, that brief flash of glorious light, was the last light he would ever see.
He was blind.
Let that be a lesson to you, kids! When speaking Latin, be careful what you say! Accidental spellcasting is a real problem!