"And who is the zombie?" he asked, with only mild curiosity. Of course, the chances he knew the individual were slim, amidst all the dead who had tasted his talent and were rambling the ramparts this minute. But while there was a chance, he wondered. Perhaps he had known the man, although it would hardly make a difference, and he had never learned very many of their names anyway. Igor was the first one that came to mind, and aside from that, he could currently think of none. He'd never bothered to restore a zombie to full life before; whatever would encourage him to do so? His talent enabled him to half awaken the dead, and not replenish their life as it once was, wholly and utterly. He was only obliged to allow the elixir for this case, when there was really no reason not too… and of course the maid, quite fetching indeed, anything to please her… so it was he asked this question not really expecting an answer of significance, and not caring too deeply for one. Still, what harm in asking?
"I do not mean to pry into what does not concern me - but zombies do concern me, for surely every zombie existing in your day is a product of my magic. I have a certain consideration for their welfare," he continued.
The Zombie Master felt the hesitation from the Mundane-like man across from him, but the answer was forthcoming. "She-" stopping him self, the man bluntly concluded, "The lady calls him Jonathan. That's all I know."
Jonathan. The word rang through his head. It felt strange on the lips of this stranger. The only times he had ever heard the name had been then, ringing through the streets of his native hamlet - his mother's voice, scolding him for one reason or another, he cared not to remember. The fellow village boys, taunting. He had not been known by that name since… since then, a lifetime ago. Those days he remembered like no others, before that fateful occasion arose. A dead little thing impaled into the path with maggots crawling out of its eyes, merely another little creature of Xanth who had met its end one way or another, natural causes; predators, of any kinds, animal or plant, spells of various kinds, whichever - yet after that his life had never been the same. He had never again heard that word.
And there it was, thrown about randomly, in a fashion he found most fascinating. In the words of this stranger, from eight hundred years hence. And then came implications. This man knew him. In the future. Eight. Hundred. Years. Magic had its ways. Was it really so hard to believe, with all the other unexplained factors of the land? This man was here now, was it so amazing he knew him eight hundred years from now, dead? Yes, he decided. It was. For no matter all the queer, unexplained aspects of magic that would never be comprehended by him, this was personal. The actual facts, were not necessarily special in anyway, but the associations with him, his role, and the knowledge and implications, that he would be dead, were shocking enough.
Why, though? Of course, he has always known he would be dead, eventually, as everyone did. It was accepted and inevitable, and would come to pass. Everyone would come to be in this state. It was a fact, the way of the world. But how could he, of all people say that? The Zombie Master. Even if one viewed a zombie as still being virtually dead, the elixir was less than two feet away at that moment, proof that one from the dead could quite easily be restored! What was to stop the procedure from performing on all the dead of the world? The recipient, him, would die, whether zombie or immobile, and would come to walk among the living once more. Only now did the significance of the liquid fully reveal itself to him.
And aside from all this, the was the simple fact, that he would be, eventually, for some time, a zombie. It had never been clear to him whether he would truly die or become one like his subjects, but he hadn't spared many thoughts over it in the past, and after all, there hadn't been much of a way to test the theory. Now, the thing that cut him to his core, was the confirmation. It was absolute now, his fate. There had always been room to move before, in his obliviousness, but now it would be forever razed, now that he knew what his future held, in a way no mortal was meant to know of.
"Ah, the penalty of idle curiosity!" the Zombie Master breathed in wonder.
"You know this zombie?" Magician Dor inquired, with some interest, the Zombie Master noted. "I-" What was he to say? He was not about to reveal anything. "- may. It becomes a lesson in philanthropy. I never suspected I would be doing such a favor for this particular individual," the man explained, acting as if he merely knew the subject.
"Is he one of your zombies here at the castle?" some unknown emotion coloring his tone. This aroused the Zombie Master's interest, and he could only wonder at what it was.
"Not presently. I have no doubt you will encounter him anon," the Zombie Master said easily.
"I don't want to -" again, the man cut himself off, but quickly elaborated. "I don't know whether it would be wise to tell him - I mean, eight hundred years is a long time to wait for restoration. He might want to take the medicine now, and then he wound't be there for the lady."
Only then did the formerly mentioned lady occur to the Zombie Master. The obvious question filled his mind. Who? No one had ever been close - only the dead. No one cared for him, only his talent. In this, his talent isolated him in horrible ways. And then, there it was again. Him, a zombie. For nigh on a millennium. Hypothetically, unless Dor spoke untruthfully, which was next to impossible; he knew Jonathan, then it was the only way he could be present in Dor's time, for he could surely not live through the duration. The only solution was zombie-ism.
"A very long time. Have no concern; I will not betray your secret to any party."
The subject was thereafter brusquely dismissed.
He stared bleakly at the noose in his hands, his mind fevered with recent events. In a way, he understood Dor's refusal of Milly, and admired the man's honor. She was, after all, the Zombie Master's betrothed, something Dor apparently well respected. But the Zombie Master was also aware that he fancied her as well. And he had turned her down. Realistically, he could not have accepted, for he would soon return to his own time, and it was quite possible there were more factors, unknown to him. There were probably plenty of woman in his day who would step up to the role. Simultaneously, the Zombie Master's gratitude mingled with loathing; for now his lovely Milly, his beautiful Milly, would be forever trapped, wherever she was, by the bitch Irene's hands. No matter how he fought not to accept it, Milly was beyond saving now. King Roogna would have his army, by the last wish of his fiancé, and it was as she wanted it to be. Now, there was nothing left for him. He smiled grimly at his future set out before him. A zombie, a prospect he intended to embrace fully. Somewhere, eight hundred years hence, his own elixir would restore him… for a lady… a lady - and the neo-sorceress had said, she was not dead. Maybe…? But no, she was gone, and that was that.
Deftly, he fit the noose over his neck, and a song from an alien childhood drifted into his head.
We each a different road must go,
To mountains, sea and city;
The hour has come to say adieus,
And all the more's the pity.
But first unite in hand and heart
And weave a yarn ere we part
For every end leads to a start
We need not break so sadly.
Jonathan jumped from the stool.