A single flower, a hellebore, stood in a vase of volcanic glass in the middle of the huge desk, glowing almost radioactively white in the pool of a small, artful spotlight. In other great houses the image of such a deceptively fragile-looking bloom would have been embroidered on a banner covering most of the wall behind the seat of power, but there was no need for such things here. No one could reach the innermost chambers of this monstrous black glass building and not know where they were and who ruled in this place.
In the mortal world the hellebore is sometimes called the Christmas Rose because of an old tale that says it sprouted where a little girl who had no gift for the Christ Child wept into the snow outside the stable in Bethlehem. Both snow and the flower itself were unlikely to have been found in the Holy Land in those days, but that has never hurt the story’s popularity.
In Greece of the old myths, Melampus of Pylos used hellebore to save the daughters of the king of Argos from a Dionysian madness which had set them running naked through the city, weeping and screaming and laughing.
There are many stories about hellebore. Most of them have tears in them.
The Remover of Inconvenient Obstacles was no stranger to silence — in fact, he swam in it like a fish. He stared at the spotlit flower, letting his thoughts wander down some of the darker tracks of his labyrinthine mind, and waited, patient as stone, for the figure behind the desk to speak. The pause was a long one.
The person on the other side of the desk, who had apparently been pursuing some internal quarry of his own, stirred at last. Slowly, almost lazily, he extended an arm to touch the flower on his desk. His spidersilk suit whispered so faintly only a bat or the creature sitting across from him could hear. His long finger, only a little less white than the flower, touched a petal and made it quiver.
There were no windows here in the heart of the building, but the Remover of Inconvenient Obstacles knew that it was raining hard outside, the drops spattering and hissing on the pavement, coach tires spitting. Here the air was as still as if he and his host sat inside a velvet-lined jewel casket.
The shape in the beautiful, shimmering blue-black suit gently prodded the flower again. “War is coming,” he said at last. His voice was deep and musical. Mortal women who had only heard him speak, waking to discover him warm and invisible in their rooms in the middle of the night, had fallen so deeply in love with that voice that they had foresworn all human suitors, giving up the chance of sunlit happiness forever in the futile hope he would return to them, would let them live again that one delirious midnight hour.
“War is coming,” agreed the Remover.
“The child of whom we spoke before. It must not live.”
A long breath — was it a sigh? “It will not.”
“You will receive the usual fee.”
The Remover nodded, distracted by his own thoughts. He had very little fear that anyone, even this most powerful personage, would neglect to pay him. With war coming they would need him again. He was the specialist of specialists, totally discreet and terrifyingly effective. He also made a very bad enemy.
“Now?” he asked.
“As soon as you can. If you wait too long, someone might notice. Also we don’t want the risk. The Clover Effect is still not perfectly understood. You might not get a second chance.”
The Remover stood. “I have never yet needed such a thing.”
He was gone from the inner room so quickly he might have been a shadow flitting across the dark walls. The master of the House of Hellebore could see much that others could not, but even he had trouble marking the exact progress of the Remover’s self-deletion.
It would not be good to have to guard against that one, he thought to himself. He must be kept sweet, or he must become ashes in the Well of Forgetting. Either way, he must never again work for one of the other houses. The master of the house stroked the pale flower on his desk again, considering.
Another curiosity of the hellebore is that its bloom can be frozen solid in the deepest winter snows, but when the ice melts away, dripping from the petals like tears, the flower beneath is still alive, still supple. Hellebore is strong and patient.
The tall, lean figure in the spidersilk suit pressed a button on the side of his desk and spoke into the air. The winds of Faerie carried his words to all those who needed to hear them, throughout the great city and all across the troubled land, summoning his allies and tributaries to the first council of the next war of the Flowers.
Copyright © 2003 by Tad Williams.