The robes make a man
whether he be fat or tall,
or furry with the gullywart,
or dumber than them all.
The robes make a man;
don’t women say it’s so?
They hide away his faults
and give him room to grow.
The Robes Make a Man
Songs for Drinking
Updates: Chapter 17 of Mystic Seasons Series Mythopoeia Book -8 posted, chapter eight of Lady in the Labyrinth posted
Corneus Malsh, High Mancer of the Tower of Sorcery, aster of the elements and delver of mondaic spheres, was suffering from indigestion. There had been many attempts at a cure; tomes and tonics aplenty. He had hoped fornication would help matters along, but all the excess jostling had but worsened his distemper. The flatulence had been so severe that Cornelia had nearly suffocated.
The root of this evil, he knew, was not his body. His body was nothing if not an extension of his mind and will. Mancers of his caliber were veritable storehouses for magical energy. The flesh of mortality had eroded long ago. A wizard ages when he remembers to.
Gargamel had been given a seat on the council; Gargamel, and not Corneus. That inferior hedge had taken the place that belonged rightfully to Corneus. It was the first time in centuries that the council had bothered to fill any seats, the first time in twice as long that they had had anything truly interesting to bother with. Corneus had wanted to be a part of it, had wanted the honor of a worthy cause and the esteem that came with such a position.
He had been passed over because of Gargamel's "outstanding contributions to the study and practice of our craft." There had been a ceremony. The inferior wizard had created new life, horrid little blue imps with imbecile faces he called Frums. They were humanoid, with a single female in each colony that laid a massive clutch of Frum eggs to be fertilized by the males before they could be eaten as caviar. The taste was dreadful. Corneus' indigestion could be traced back to these, a double betrayal.
In the Tower of Sorcery, Corneus Malsh was not the only man upset. A group of concerned wizards calling themselves the Lucents was expressing rather unusual interest in the goings on of the world outside the Tower. Specifically, there was alarm over a disturbance in the mondial, something on a level that had not been seen since the end of the Tellurian wars.
Timothean was summoned to give a report before the council. He did not hurry in appearing, and when he did appear, his words were not well received. The ancient and unliving man stood bent upon his gnarled staff. It was a pose adopted by every proper mancer at some point during their career. His pale blue eyes swept over the council, judging and refusing judgement. The wizards shifted uncomfortably in their robes.
Gravferyth Tab, high consul of the wizards’ council, cleared his throat. "Erm," he said, "Timothean, Watcher of the Unseen Ways, Keeper of the Nine, we thank you for your prompt response to our call." He intended for this opening to be cutting, but it fell lamely at the feet of the most ancient of all mancers.
Timothean smiled pleasantly. Gravferyth swallowed and began again.
"We are aware," he said, "of a disturbance in the energies around the Three Kingdoms."
There was a space of silence filled only by that ancient smile.
"We ask that you share your knowledge," he continued. "What can you tell us of this disturbance?"
Timothean rewarded them with a brief bow, arm still bent upon the staff. "I am honored that you remember me, Consul. You are as polite as your predecessors, and not nearly as corpulent. Your concerns, however, are unfounded. What you sensed was the death of many men and women, the razing of a city. Carrolan and Petronia warred, and the Skree became involved. A dark age for the Three Kingdoms, and one that will pass. I saw that peace was restored before the conflict could escalate further."
Gravferyth nodded, the explanation reasonable enough. A single issue remained.
"There have been questions," he ventured, "regarding the disposition of the Nine."
Timothean's face hardened, his smile vanishing, his inhumanity abruptly evident. He was a statue of a man, a mockery of life. For the mancers of the council, he was difficult to look upon; such was the vehemence of the sigils and powers that swirled about him in their second sight.
"I am the Keeper of the Nine," he said coldly. "I would not allow any harm to come to the balance they create. The Sword rests in its prison of ice, the Star and the Gauntlets you know to be in place. The Shield and the Rod remain above twin thrones, and Marcus sits upon his. The Crown is forgotten in its tomb. The Chains hold firm, and I am as I am, as I have always been. Do you doubt me?"
"Never," Gravferyth was quick to assure, "it was the Lucents."
"Who?" Timothean asked sharply.
"Lucents," Gravferyth said, "a recent invention. There are always cliques among us."
Timothean’s look was pure contempt. "Is there anything else?"
Gravferyth cleared his throat a final time. He was sweating profusely beneath his robes. “Erm…no. Thank you. Your work, as always, is inestimable."
Timothean had vanished by "inest."
The stage on which he had stood was one of the few functioning teleportals in Mythopoeia. A wizard of will could move himself from anywhere to anywhere without the use of one, but this would be warping and was forbidden. Gravferyth Tab wasn't certain Timothean cared any longer what was forbidden and what was not.
Hux, Master of the Secret Flames, snorted. "Is it your function as Consul to state the obvious? Of course he is lying. The Sword and Shield are lost."
"The question then,'" Gravferyth ignored the councilman, "is why he is lying."
"Hecate's tits!" Hux shouted. "You're still doing it!"
It was after this interview that the council had agreed to bring on an additional member. By tradition, it was a council of nine, but few mancers had any desire to serve a body that no longer had any official functions. Delegation of responsibility had reached such an apex that all that was once the council’s domain- criminal judgement, defense of the Tower, advanced researches and general officiation- had all been bequeathed to lesser bodies. Being a councilman, even a consul, was no longer an honor sought after by young mancers. In any case, there were only four, and a fifth was needed if they were to have a plurality and take back their authority. Votes would be recorded, edicts rewritten, and interest renewed.
Word percolated, as is word’s wont, and the business of selecting a new member soon outpaced the business of finding out what was wrong with Timothean and the Nine. The Lucents whined that matters were worsening in the Three Kingdoms, but they were ignored. The authorities of the Tower were more comfortable with the mundane task of an election than the weight of saving the world. There had been arguments, a few genteel duels, and a wealth of indigestion. Gargamel had been chosen shortly after serving the council a meal composed entirely of Frum based delicacies; Frum caviar, Frum bites, and emulsified Frum paste were all consumed with a gustatory vigor won by long apprenticeship.
There is no party like a wizards’ party.
Corneus Malsh examined himself in the liquid mirror that hung in his washroom. He was jowly and grey, and where his eyes had once been as unyielding as an oricalcum blade they were now a bit rheumy and sad. What had become of him, barely in his fifth century and looking like a man in his second millennium, losing control of his body like a witless senile? He concentrated, and the bags beneath his eyes lifted, his hair turned silver instead of grey, uniform and proud. He was still fat, but there was nothing wrong with being fat. It's the simplest means of storing large quantities of mantic energy in one’s own frame. He wished, not for the first time, that he had been alive in the days when the Tower was merely ancient, and not debauched; in the age when the Nine were forged, each home to the spark of one of the greatest mancers ever to live, the men who had given their lives in the act of creation. What a thing it would have been to walk among them. Since the Nine had been separated, and the Tellurian wars ended (in what was considered in some circles essentially a draw) the Tower had been in decline. There had been peace, an endless peace, and then complacency. Corneus was dressed by his servants, his Cornelias, each beautifully redundant, before going to see a man who might be able to help him make the Tower great again.
Dorien Grave was drinking, not a statement of any particular moment but of a general state of affairs. Dorien was drinking. He was a young mancer with a head of thick black curls and bright teeth; prettier than other men and glad of it. He had a casual, languid charm that gave the drink in his hand an air of dignity rather than the stink of addiction. Every morning he spent one hour before a gold rimmed mirror, and performed the acts most mancers used their mortal servants for. He combed his hair, shaved and dressed, anointed himself with perfumes and was infinitely patient with himself in doing so. He checked his nails, perfect; then drew a bath and soaked before drying himself and performing the entire first half of the ritual over again. He applied powders to his face and chest until he had the pallor of a man recently deceased. All of this could have been accomplished with spells, but it wouldn't have been the same.
There was a tentative rap upon the door, and he bid his servant enter. She was one of his favorite pieces, naked except for the tattoos that covered every inch of her skin with vaguely mystic patterns. Dorien was an artist.
"There is a Master Malsh to see you, Dorien," she murmured. He liked for them to use his first name, and also for them to murmur. Whenever he selected new servants, or bred them, he was careful to choose only the most soothing voices.
"Have him wait for me in the drawing room."
Corneus was busying himself with biscuits and tea. It was simple fare, but Dorien somehow managed to give his simplest appetizers an extra and unusual zest. He had always had a way of bringing out the best in his servants.
"You look tired." Dorien appeared from behind a curtain. He didn't approve of doors. His clothes, like the room, were rich with understated finery. They were not overbearing, instead they quietly informed you that that they were better. It wasn't personal, he was a man who had invented suits to get out of robes.
"I am bitter." Corneus allowed. "Aren't you?"
Dorien shrugged. He had submitted himself as a potential member of the council, but only as the defacto act of a mancer in good standing, not wanting or expecting to be chosen. He produced a small flask from his sleeve and sipped. It never emptied.
"The council's actions are unsupportable," Corneus said, "given the circumstances."
"Circumstances?" Dorien was mild.
"The Nine are under assault!" Corneus knocked over a glass that was caught by another painted servant before it touched the carpet.
"It isn't certain," Dorien said.
"You have Lucent friends," Corneus shoved another biscuit in his mouth. How were they so delicious? It was distracting. "What do they say?"
"The same." Dorian didn't allow himself to be bothered. "But Timothean…”
“Is no longer a Guardian of order," Corneus said, cutting him off. "I have an ear with one of the councilors. Timothean has been compromised."
Dorien finally sat, looking at his portly counterpart across a table of sweets. "He hasn't been corrupted. He can't be. He isn't human."
Corneus leaned forward, chair creaking, "I believe he has corrupted himself, gone mad. This is the only explanation."
"Not so," Dorien said. "Perhaps he hates us. I would, if I were he."
"Why?" Corneus was nonplussed. "What reason could he have to resent us?"
Dorien ran his fingers across the perfect wave of his hair, across, not through. "Think of what he has seen; the last mancer alive from before the fall of Valanthia. He remembers the Tower of old, and he sees what we have made of it. We are a mockery of what we were when the Tower was still necessary to preserve the balance of the world."
"We are still necessary," Corneus puffed. "We are all that stands between the lands of men and the darkness of monsters. We built the barrier mountains, made pacts with all the gods and imprisoned those that wouldn't see reason. The people of the Three Kingdoms wouldn't know a Tellurian to look at one. That is because of us."
"That is because of Timothean." Dorien drank from his flask, an endless decanter of harsh warmth and succor. "We aren't any different from the children in the city below us, protected by the labors of those greater than themselves. We do nothing with our magic that does not amuse us. We have a vault filled with relics of a grander past, and we contribute no more to it. As our fathers, and theirs before them."
Corneus sat back in his couch, stunned. "You've considered this before. You knew."
Dorian sipped, eyes lidded. "I am a cynic. The council is cynical as well. What happened to that Skree prentice you were so proud of?"
The non sequitur caught Corneus by surprise, made him cagey. "I lost track of him. Why do you ask?"
Dorian sighed as if nothing were more tedious than gossip. "Gargamel still whines about losing his centaur. Something severed it from its card when he sent it after your Skree."
Corneus was immensely pleased by this news. Gargamel had been his rival for years beyond counting, and he cherished his deck of captured monsters. Corneus had no idea how Tiddles had escaped the centaur. The Skree was gone, written off as a loss. Things outside the Tower were just that, outside.
"Timothean may mean to break us," Dorian said. "And we may not be strong enough to stop him."
Corneus seized upon this as his moment. "They aren't trying to stop him! The council dodders and wastes its energies on elections when it should be dealing with Timothean. You and I, we can change things. We are two discerning men. We should do what they refuse to."
Dorian smiled in his dazzlingly lazy fashion, capping and replacing his flask in his suit jacket.
"I have a prior engagement," he said.
"What's more important than this?"
Dorien raised a hand as if he were gesturing into the far distance, and then dismissing it. "There is going to be a joust; narwhales. I've wagered bases already."
Corneus shook his head. "Surely you jest. Aren't these games a part of the problem?"
"There are going to be dwarves," Dorian said. "Think of all that beard in the water."
Corneus deflated. "You're right, we'll go. But work after."
The Greentongue clan was so named for its facility with agriculture. Their fungal fields were known throughout the mountain. Fatetaster's came here to learn enough that they might help their own tribes to produce more. As yields fell, the Greentongue clan was less open to visitors, fearing they might bring with them more of the rot that was afflicting crops in all of Skreeholm.
Young Watcher saw Robewearer approach, recognizing him by his eponymous garment. The stories of this foreign Skree, who had lived beyond the mountain, had grown increasingly hard to credit.
"You aren't welcome," Young Watcher said.
"I would see the crop." Robewearer did not stop to speak, brushing past Watcher in the tight corridor.
Watcher trilled with anger. "You can't see!"
"It is this way, isn't it?" Robewearer had a voice like the elders, confident and clear. Hadn't the rumors said he couldn't speak Skreelan at all? Watcher snatched at the folds that swished after the other Skree, and was struck on the nose for his temerity. Robewearer had batted him casually, as he might have done a misbehaving hatchling, but the sting of it caused Watcher to fall back into a crouch. He squeaked, and ran to fetch his siblings and Old Watcher. They would have to deal with this intruder.
Tiddles found the groves behind a blocked passage. It was cleverly hidden, but it was an animal cleverness, and he saw through it easily.
He was impressed by the orderly nature of the crop, growing in neat rows that extended down a chamber several hundred paces in length. The ceiling rose and fell, sometimes lower than a standing Skree, sometimes as tall a man. There were several of these chambers, but Tiddles did not have the time to explore them all. Greentongue would kill him if he did not act quickly.
He produced a handful of chalk and began to draw.
Old Watcher arrived first, for he was the most afraid. There were lines of warmth arranged along the floor between the rows of fungus. The Robewearer was dragging these lines with him down the chamber, and they branched from him like the cilia fibers of their crop.
Old Watcher whistled his agitation. "What do you do, Robewearer?" Looking at the already lackluster crop, he wondered what would become of his tribe if this alien Skree did anything to sicken it further.
Robewearer continued to spread his lines as he answered, "I am healing your crop. If you interfere, all of it may die."
Old Watcher was caught then, for if he stopped the stranger and ruined the crop it would be his fault. If he did nothing, it would be his fault, but at least he would be one among many who did nothing. That is less guilt. "Wait," he told the others gathering at the edge of the chamber. "It is dangerous."
"You must stop this," he called out. "This is forbidden?"
"I am stopping it," Tiddles said coolly, "and there is no one to forbid me."
The Fatetaster of the Greentongues appeared then, saw the mantic lines living with heat and shrilled his alarm. He had gone to the gathering where Robewearer was given his new name. He knew it was Destroyer of Worlds, and he feared his own tribe would be the first victim of that nomination.
He pushed ahead of Old Watcher, and stepped gingerly over the first set of lines that wove in and out of the crop. "I know you," he said, "and this is not your right."
Robewearer was slowing in his work, so the Fatetaster reached him quickly. He was about to seize him when the lights appeared.
Along every row there hung a yellow orb, brilliant to the dark adapted vision of the Skree. The Fatetaster hissed and covered his face, so he did not see how the patterns on the floor were changing. They were drawing something out of the crop, and growing hotter as they did. Soon they were burned away, leaving no dust to mark where they had been.
"Taste them," Tiddles said in the dwindling light. "They are healed."
When the Fatetaster had recovered from his blindness he looked about himself. The crop seemed unchanged, but there was a sharp smell in the air, and when he broke off the nearest ready stalk he knew there was a difference. The spore cap crunched in his mouth.
It was changed. The Fatetaster let out an involuntary trill of amazement.
"I am the leader of the Greyscales tribe." The Robewearer spoke loud enough for all to hear, his voice seemingly too large for that small body. Those at the edge of the chamber startled at the sound. He continued. "I am their dragon."
The response was immediate, many of the listeners clicking and hissing angrily. The Fatetaster struck without thinking, intending to scar the face of the one who had uttered such blasphemy, the crop forgotten.
His claws scraped across Robewearer's cheek, leaving no mark.
“I won't hurt you, elder," Robewearer said in a voice that was just for them, "but you must acknowledge me as your dragon, so that your tribe and ours can be one."
"There are no dragons." The Fatetaster looked at his claws in amazement, one of them was chipped.
"Tell me my name." Robewearer turned harsh.
The Fatetaster obeyed, responding to an aspect of the command older than either of them. His tongue flicked out, and he realized how warm Robewearer was, like a victim of fever. The smell of the name was acrid and overpowering.
"You are Destroyer of Worlds," he said.
"Tell me," Destroyer said, "if one of the true dragons were to wake, what would happen?" He had learned a little of Skree mythology from Wiseclaw, but he had no idea exactly how appropriate his question and its implication were. He was taking a leap.
The Fatetaster stood frozen as a great many events swirled into a terrible pattern, not before his eyes, but in that other space where his kind found their purpose and their names.
"And the scales will grow flesh," he murmured, "and the child of man will come among them bearing many destinies, so many that the Mother herself may feed."
He crouched before Destroyer and said, "He is the dragon." Then louder, "He is our dragon!"
The other skree heard this and fled into the tunnels, the words running after them.
A Fatetaster is not an absolute ruler of a tribe, so the melding of Greyscales and Greentongue was not without conflict. Eyebright and Longtooth marched behind Tiddles when they went to deal with the would-be chief of the latter.
Bladetail waited for them with his largest foragers, a few of them over four feet in height, intending to block the Greyscales migration with their bodies if need be. He saw the Robewearer appear out of a winding passage and thought of the things that were being said about him; that he could call the sun down into the warrens, or kill a cave spider with a spoken phrase. Impossible things, passed on by frightened Skree. Stories always abounded when times were difficult.
"Go back!" he hissed.
“Who are you?" Tiddles asked.
"You know who I am," Bladetail said fiercely, showing off the hard protrusion of bone at the end of his unusually flexible tail. "And I am strong, too strong for your tricks. We won't allow you to pass into our warren."
The foragers with him trilled their agreement, bobbing and standing straight to make themselves appear larger.
"Do you know me?" Tiddles asked blandly.
"You are Robewearer." Bladetail said. "You don't belong with our tribe."
"I am the dragon," Tiddles said, making a complicated gesture with one claw as he did so. A moment later, Bladetail fell unconscious at their feet.
"Show us to our warrens," Tiddles commanded Bladetail's supporters. They looked at their fallen leader, and obeyed.
"You see," the tablet whispered from around Tiddles neck, "I told you it would be easy."
Eyebright looked at her dragon, not understanding the voice that spoke to him, saying nothing.