Romaunce of the Abject Apiary, Book One
By Enzio de Kiipt, trans. Anzuoni & Schluter
Beneath the trees cinching the seaside garden, the limestone tables were heavily dusted with pollen. Yet Tho’rakyn, insouciant as a well-sated lion cub, took his seat among them without bothering to brush them off. He untethered the length of emu leather that bound his chinchilla-skin parchment, and let the crisp scroll unspool before him. From his satchel he score-and-thrice produced glass flasks of myriad-colored inks, and quills of many gauges. The inks he spread in a great arc on his right-hand side; the quills, upright in a tall rhinoceros-hide cup on his left. Heavy were his sighs, but concentrated his rumination.
The morning mists were quickly burning off in summer’s faint breath, grown pestilential with the warming of the nigh ebb-tide sands. Long had he read the poetry of Can’throko, She-Bard of Ichn’ion, but this new commission to illuminate her verses had drawn the Ursine Raj closer to the exquisite language, and affixed in his heart a longing to meet this illustrious woman. What wonders lie ahead! Tho’rakyn mused. Dreams swarmed through his mind of setting keel to the Mer de Schyt’te breakers, trading parchment for lodging in the many fine cities along the Orthracian coast, and weathering the chill distances of the Blúddeï Plains on his way to the overgrown forests of Ichn’ion, where he would meet the ensorcelling Poetess herself. Ah, Imagination! My fairweather friend. Pray, how might I afford the supplies, let alone the men and the time, to make such a voyage. How many times must I remind myself, my heart is frail, and overexcited by these invitations of yours! Feeling the possibility of his dream diminish, Tho’rakyn pressed his hand to his forehead in desperation, and ran his fingers through his buttery mane.
From across the garden, in the shade of a holm oak, came the indolent snores of a child whom Tho’rakyn, loftily swept up in his artistry, had failed to notice. Squinting, he made out the peripubescent face and slack posture of Ingror, son of Luxomn Tun-Churdt.
“Have you seen my vermillion-plumed fedora, young sturgeon?” Tho’rakyn asked the boy of twelve or so, whose circlet haircut indicated that, per rite of D’urstian nobility, his testicles had been chosen by lot, summarily severed, and fed to a pack of wild dogs shortly after birth.
“Nay, me liege. Puhhaps Zir Duane of Reade seen it.” He motioned to the tableau that spread before them, from lolling hill to burbling estuary of the dale.
“Fetch it me, child––and a rack of emu while at it! Should you return e’er light falls upon this parchment, a quarter of the rack be yours.”
“Aye,” said the young cuck.
“Make haste and err not!” Tho’rakyn cried, though the boy was already well out of earshot. “Don’t give me reason to inform your Maester of the lazeabout ways in which you pass your hours of toil for him,” he nevertheless continued, “whoever he be!” Long since had the child run off in pursuit of Zir Duane of Reade, who could oft be found tut-tutting amongst the manifold lollygaggers and shitlords of the swamps.
Turning his attentions once more to the parchment before him, the artist selected a fine-toothed ave del paraíso plume, submerged it in an ink of royal purple, and began to give color to the iris of a kÿklops’ eye. No sooner had he begun drafting than he found himself lost in a dark reverie. Through his mind oozed inky visions of a kÿklops’ night-black cave, wherein a quint-eyed maiden, surrounded by legion Long-Tailed Widowbirds and Royal Flycatchers, had, upon the monster’s own request, lashed his wrists and ankles to his Devonian bedposts with lengths of his own excised eyelashes. On this bed, where he expected to be ravished, she had long machinated his demise: and whilst she mounted his massive chest, and he closed his eyes in anticipation of the coming rapture, she sicced her many birds upon his sweat-sopping flesh and rendered it so until he was no more than a meter-wide eye mounted upon a stunted throne of steaming carrion.
The cucks and the knaves lay idly about the marsh, masturbating at the sight of crabs and other unsavory creatures, as was the passing-time for this hamlet. Tho’rakyn, using his profound psychick aptitude to steal the light from the castrato’s eyes, shook his enormous head at the scene splayed before his eyecones. “Bairns these days…” he reflected, “like so many sheep without a hound to guide them… So this is where the adolescent came to sniff his crocus, rather than run my errand.” Duane of Reade was nowhere to be seen, and Tho’rakyn discarnated himself from the young cuck’s eyelight in disgust. Where could the Zir be?
Born a slave in the Lower Riverlands, Zir Duane of Reade yet possessed a keen awareness of society and so was able to exploit its foibles to establish himself in court, becoming a cherished Zir of the Palatinate. His eyes smoldered like char as he served witness to the world through the leaded windows of his beloved Tackleberry Keep, where he so often could be found striking out lines of verse from the Imperial Library, just as now:
“Bah! More idle fancying masquerading as fancy idling. Bah! More puddle-deep Imagisme. Bah! A dactyl here, but a trochee there? What good are the lives of folk if recorded in such a dreary fashion?”
A trumpet trumped in the brazen distance. Five murmurations of starlings took flight, and a a septicentenarian crone sniggered to herself as mercurial smoke soured the skies. Zir Duane of Reade rose from his creaking wooden desk and peered through the window. “Ah,” he mused, “it seems Tho’rakyn, Milker of the Golden Goat, has lost his fedora… yet again.” No later, he recalled of a line from that hallowed natural philosophess, Bodacia Minima,
to remove the white wine stain, simply pour on the red.
Wending his way through the architectural vagaries of Tackleberry Keep, Zir Duane of Reade arrived at the great portcullis which separated him from the commoners, who gathered at the gate hoping for the occasional bolt of cloth or scrap of paper to read. Literacy was high in the Palatinate, but skilled writers were rarer with the fortnight, and peasantry grew quickly bored, self-
loathing, and indolent––desperate for fulfilment beyond ‘chiseling pipe’ by the swamps, however popular such a passing-time was and, hélas, shall always be.
Duane hurried past the hoi-polloi and mounted his gilded carriage. Before taking flight, he churned the dairy in his cervical bucket and then, inspired, threw open the doors and cast with aplomb great sheaves, freshly torn from his journals, into the crowds. The thronging wretches shrieked and tore at one another, mother and daughter alike clawing at the each other’s cheek, yearning to take home to their families so much as a story, a poem, some tusk-and-bone pedlar’s discarded inventory record––anything to ward off the malaise that defined the peasant life in the Palatinate. A meager cuck, his pants still stained from the ordeal, took a stone in hand and bashed in the skull of an old man, whose corpse was promptly trampled underfoot and drenched in some stranger’s spoiled wine as the carriage started off. “How life begs us to note its fragility,” brooded Duane.
Tho’rakyn smiled blithely as he saw the familiar lens flare which premonitioned the arrival of the shimmering carriage. Now there’s that lowborn, thought the Milker of the Golden Goat, the Mountain Who Moved the Sky. He Who Shall Walk Beyond the Gate gingerly placed his finest kookaburra quill in its respective cup of alligator hide in order to align them astrally with those of emu and rhinoceros, and rose to greet Duane of Reade, whom he hoped would not only know the whereabouts of his fedora, but could also offer remarks both wise and critical on the High Raj of the Many Unborn’s newest, most daring and conceptual work of verse to date. Or perhaps he could simply lend a comment or two upon his illustrations of the Poetess’ verse…
The two met in a burly embrace, the damp of their respective bodymeat commingling through their garments. “Duane of Reade! Such a pleasure to see you. May the Goat climb your mountain!”
“And may the Many Unborn forever turn on the spit of your womb!” They both laughed heartily at Duane of Reade’s incredibly clever quip, whose intricacies, no matter how deft the translator’s hand, are impossible to represent in our common tongue, and thus shall forever stand lost, a testament to the palimpsest that is history. And lo history is written thus, again and again upon its own flesh, and yet, somehow, it is read. When you hear laws read by magistrates and profiligates alike, do you see the soppy old men who wrote them, or the soppy old man who recites them?
“Tell me, Zir Duane of Reade, do you, pray tell, happen to know the location of my fedora, the one gifted to me by none other than Eidolonia herself, Queen of the Harpies?”
Duane chuckled softly, like a bird coughing in its egg. “Why yes I do, High Raj. The Manchild Snock has it.”
He Who Shall Walk Beyond The Gate raised an eyebrow, “The Manchild Snock? However could I be so blind?” He walked over to his knapsack of megalonyx leather and ruffled through it, producing a small seven pointed star with a Toadstone affixed at its center. “Tell me, Zir Duane, have you ever…stolen light?”
The Zir shook his head, “I have not, My Keeper and My Liberator, but I have endeavored to do so for well nigh my life entire. I believe it might aid in my understanding of poetry and the written word”
Tho’rakyn bellowed deeply, his sable laughter pealing with the temple bells. “Always thinking of poetry, you are! Zir Duane of Reade, you truly are one of the few marvels left in the palatinate. Now how many degrees do you possess? Seven? Perfect. Here, put this on your forehead and read the best gorramn poem of your life!”
Zir Duane did as instructed and felt the strangely warm metal move in fashions which you, dear Reader, would more likely attend from palm-warmed beeswax. Swiftly did it mold to the curvature of his forehead, settling comfortably amongst the ridges of flesh which had been carved out by wind, water, age. The Great Tho’rakyn smiled knowingly and tapped the third finger of his left hand to his right temple, as the Toadstone smoldered with unnatural verdant light.
Suddenly, Zir Duane could see the Toadstone even though it was on his forehead. Eternally, Zir Duane could see forever. He saw The Mountain Who Moved The Sky stretch from here to each and every nether. And no later, all the perspicacity which Duane of Reade had once contained within his skull burst out before him as clay from an inadequate mold, this quicksilver-like emulsion which swirled and radiated with a disquieting throb. “Oh, dear fuck-unto-the-Rotten,” murmured the Zir, as he fought to maintain his balance. “There go my humours…”
The world poured mercurially out of the Zir’s eyes and into Tho’rakyn’s. A great luminescent band wavered between their heads, vibrating invitingly. The Soothsayer and Doomsnatcher laughed harder and harder until only their humorless guffaws filled the aether between Zir’s lapsing mind and the swirling dervish around him. And suddenly––not unlike a wild yakling giving birth for the first time––it stopped, and all became still.
Zir Duane of Reade rubbed his eyes. They were thick in a sort of existential sucrose. To peer through them was to submerge one’s orbs in a honeycomb filled with will o’ the wisps––orange smears, flecks of sticky iridescence: Absolute Comprehension.
He saw clearly there, on the massive, creaking ottoman, the Manchild Snock inspecting a cheese curd perched at the tips of chopsticks, which he held aloft in the air as though some delicate (g)astronomical instrument, their ebony shafts glistening with in all their unctuous glory. Tho’rakyn squealed like a tethered prince in heat, for cradled in Snock’s lap like a kitten slumbering after its noontime romp was the fabled headgear––the selfsame hat bestowed upon him by the Queen of the Harpies. The Manchild Snock was eating oleaginous cheese curds out of Tho’rakyn’s fedora, and he did so without grace or restraint.
“Bleugh,” spake the Milker of the Golden Goat. And the image dissipated like the smoke of Agarwood incense, leaving only a frail memory in Zir Duane of Reade’s mind. “I’m hesitant to see the Manchild now, myself, certainly after that display. Perhaps a pageling can retrieve it for me.” The Soothsayer and Doomsnatcher shook his ragged curls in distaste.
“Whose light did we just steal?” Zir asked, a little afraid of the answer.
“That of the cuck Grayling. A dear chum in youthdom, but he neglected his Studies and is thus bound forever to the bunions of the Manchild. A most exasperating fate.”
Zir Duane nodded. “Exasperating, indeed.”
The Dogstar was saddled low in the sky. The hue and cry of young cucks and their Mæsters could be heard along the path of the gushing estuaries.
After a brief respite of recuperatory silence, Tho’rakyn spoke up. “Tell me, Zir Duane, The Slave Who Became Maester, what know you of the works of Can’throko? Have you heard more than rumors?”
The Zir’s eyes burst’d open so wide that it seemed the inner and outer canthi alike might suffer irreparable damage – but lo, his flesh, under the manifold lingering influences of stolen light, was abnormally supple.
“The She-Bard? Why yes, she is one of the finest to ever put an emu quill to lambskin. She wrote some of my most cherished lines. To wit,
‘Life is a cloud of mist emerging from a mountainside cave
Death is the pale camel that kneels at every gate
The ever-turning wheel
every day is the right one.'”
Each bowed his head in grave renown.
“Wherever she goes becomes a rarefied place,” The Zir said below his breath.
In Zone Hydra, the hazel, cthonic fragrance of ass-scat clung to the flaring wings of the She-Bard’s very nose. And yet, Can’throko persisted in her ascent up the slick marble steps, which formed the aching spine of the winding Zon Temple. She rounded the corner, and beneath the wiry fig tree a beggar strummed a gittern in a profoundly uncautious manner, and proceeded to vomit into the basin created by his own crossed legs. So this is the Realm of the Old Gods now, she was musing – the material of her disgust coated with a demi-glace of satisfaction she dared not voice – when, suddenly, she found herself brusquely pushed aside by a jogger as he bounded up the stairwell. He was clad in pristine braided emu leather Orthracian ‘Minimus’ boots, an elite, Mi’chörlinh-manufacted pair, which provided the perfect amount of arch support, while being neither too constricting nor too sweaty, enabling each foot to follow the other in a disciplined, steadily cadenced stride up the gradations to the temple’s grassy ruins.
She watched the jogger disappear over the hazy zenith and continued on her lopsided way, staggering over stones slick and rubble loose and itchy, buzzing grass. Slinking through the mossy crenelations of igneous stone were innumerable stray cats, the better part of them gone blind and deaf from the rough port life of Zone Hydra. These must be the last adherents of this old-time religion, thought the She-Bard as she slipped on a loose rock and sent a dust devil down the steps to greet the pilgrims following eagerly behind her. The cats did not stir, but stood like a thousand sentinels above her. She was the mouse in their maze, searching desperately for the cheese of Inspiration.
At long last she strode through the threshold gate, and the marble steps gave way to a weedy potsherd-strewn path lined by imposing, nonetheless teetering, columns. Zon temple: once the seat of gods called upon by billions over millennia, and lo, now, at the top of each pedestal there squats no more than a once-sacred body of marble, visages inscrutable, postures weary, power obsolete, and presence marketable. The She-Bard sauntered through their complex with ratite neck outstretched like a dinornis’, trying to discern any detail from the queer carvings. Gazing at a particularly craven one, she bumped into a merchant’s table, scattering and shattering his tender loot of bay clams painted to resemble famous actresses of antiquity – resemble, in this instance, meaning to have googly eyes affixed with dried boar-semen and red clay smeared across the inferior half of the face as lipstick. He harangued her in an unknown tongue and she backed away gingerly, bowing incessantly, each obsequious bow closer and closer to achieving the ground, until at last she lost her balance and tumbled into yet another stall plying likenesses of the unrecognizable old Gods. Now a whole gaggle of hockers descended on the She-Bard, screeching at her in a bouquet of tongues more colorful than the heralded natures mortes of Ecg’nion Mathorkhin the Younger, and the She-Bard, once dubbed the “Healing Listener” by Lux of Tewk, covered her ears and burst howling through the crowd, causing souvenir gods to her left and right alike to crash agonizingly down upon stone, sending sightseers and rubberneckers fleeing into the tall grasses, where hidden scarabs eagerly awaited their tender flesh. She stumbled down the terra cotta pathway to the lower temple complex, which had been used in actual rites until quite recently, and thus possessed a dingier, much less touristic, aspect. Panting, she ran to a forsaken cloister and collapsed against its sagging wall, sighing heavily. She clutched her knees and began to weep.
Not two tears had streaked before she felt the presence of Another. Piously, she looked skyward into the eyes of a frizzled orange tabby cat espying her from a garret. The She-Bard squealed with delight, to which the cat mewed and retreated behind an ivy curtain. “No! Come back!” she squeaked. She sank against the wall and yet again set out weeping, when nearly three dozen cats came doggedly rustling out from the weeds, forming three concentric semi-circles, the emerald, jade, and agate eyes of the felines fanning out before her, transfixed on the Poetess. And as one began to mewl, a weak faltering tone, many a mouser from among the glaring joined in harmonic counterpoint, and as hither they chimed in with a rising tone, and yon in their cascading arpeggios, each caterwaul danced with each in notes unfamiliar, yet of an unmistakable human ache. No, not human, she thought, but in a manner we have now merely appropriated as “human.” Can’throko began to understand, through this song, that humankind first learned how to attain its highest achievements neither from its own example, nor from divine edict, nor yet from some inner soul. – No, it was from animals wiser than us, whom we, in our humanity, enslaved, relegating our Teachers to the undignified stations of pets, food, mere beasts of burden. Indeed the She-Bard vowed then never to claim these, nor any other beast, as pet again. These cats, she now clearly saw, were far above her in matters divine. And as their mews settled, she prostrated upon the dirt before them. A few licked their paws in abject blessing.
Zir Duane and Tho’rakyn raised their heads. “Would you like to see sketches I’ve made toward the illustration of her poem?” asked the Milker of the Golden Goat.
“Not now,” answered the Zir, “I’m afraid I’m tarrying. Must get back to Tackleberry to audition some new clerics. I do say your reforms have made for a great population of readers but, ah! where are the writers, my friend? Where are the writers? Ichn’ion boasts of Can’throko; the Othracians have sung for centuries; why, even the Zones are inventing new forms, the meters of which our clerics can barely scan!” He shook his curls, flicking pollen into the sunlight. “Oh, need we simply time? Or need we more? Our library is flooded with mediocrity, and yet, My Gate And My Key, there is a lingering realness beneath it all, as though an immaculate voice is desperate to free itself from the horrid chains of verse that bind it.”
Tho’rakyn nodded as though dipping a hawk in bronze.
“Truly,” the Zir continued, “it sends an unreal chill down my spine. Alack, such pleasure to see you, always, Tho’rakyn. And remember, a heart is full of dust, and the mind is wind!”
They clasped hands, and the Zir clambered off into the carriage and gestured to the High Road. The Milker of the Golden Goat smiled at his tapering friend and then returned, with intense scrutiny, to the syzygy of quills upon the limestone table.
Though the Zir’s carriage wheels were greased with the shed fat of perdition, little could be concealed from the quartz-like ear of a young cuck.
“He’s a-comin’! Call me a dunce, and know me a dimwit, but I swear it, He’s a-comin’!”
A female guard on the street looked up from her precious scrap of paper, “Who? Who? – The Zir?”
The young cuck leapt upon the hogroof with delight, mud licking his ankles – “Yes, yes! It’s him in his carriage!”
“To the gates, then!” she shouted, and with great hauls of her arm she steered the crowd towards the portcullis of ol’ Tackleberry Keep.
The Zir watched this whole commotion with some amusement through his spyglass. He collapsed it into his palm and raised the tinted carriage window, letting privacy wash over him as he sprawled out in the roomy cab. An amaranth narghile bubbled dankly in a red-shaded cabinet. Somehow music was playing, as if piped in from a great distance. After ten minutes of blank rumination, he sighed and pulled out a long scroll of verse inscribed with yet another entry for the coveted Gläscoch prize, an honor which the Zir had inherited from his companion, Gläscoch Petersborough, as stipulated in the Poet-Merchant’s will after he died of fibrodysplasia ossificans progressiva. That was nearly thirty years ago, and Zir has only handed out the award on three occasions, two of which he later renounced in scathing letters to the Othracian press, which commonly boasted of a literary corpus that greatly overshadowed that of the Palantinate. This notion, common among the administrators of the awards scene, aroused the Zir’s continual odium. He thus felt validated that this poem was written by an Othracian, for it was absolute trash – seething garbage – its only redeeming quality being that it happened to make him feel a bit better about his own homeland, the simmering low countries, where the river heat made it impossible to think not three sentences ahead. Even the drunkest kelp-scraper there could write a better poem than this, he hissed, though not without the tickle of laughter at the base of his throat. Maybe I should try asking Odessus next time I go down there…
Without warning, the carriage slammed to a halt, and the Zir was dumped off the couch onto the shag carpeting.
“What the hell – ”, he brushed the dust and weed crumbs off his monogrammed togs.
A tinny voice chimed in through the speaking-web: “Apologies, Maester Reade, but throngs be gatherin’ in the hillocks. Would ye that I ram over ’em?”
Throngs this far out of town? The Zir was confounded. “No no, let me take care of this,” he said, straightening his epaulets before unlatching the roof hatch and clambering out atop the carriage.
As he rose into sight, the throngs exulted in throaty ululations. The Zir spun around. Throngs, this far out of town…surrounding him entirely like how the Aether completely envelops the lightfeed, as illustrated in his rare Physickal Studies manuscripts…the magnitude of the crowd so large as to demand comparisons to macrotopological geometry in the Zir’s mind. But no sooner had the Zir raised his right hand that the hoots, claps, and whistles fizzled to silence.
“What is it now, throngs? Haven’t ye enough bread? Sufficient beer?”
The crowd exploded again in crossfaded gibberish. He saw wretches holding up scraps of parchment no larger than a young boar’s tongue, a crone with verse written on a morsel hardly larger than the torn corner of a tissue a hasty day laborer uses to tamp the blood from his shaving wound. Yet some close to him were waving meatier pieces, fine-gauged quillscript on emu-skin parchment, much akin to my own journals…
My Goat, he thought, stunned at the realization: they want more of my writing!
He smiled broadly. He motioned for the throngs to part and they gave him a narrow lane. He bent over the frosted railings of the carriage and shouted to his driver, Eberyos: “Take me home, old friend!”
The Zir’s old Riverlands chum wiped a tear from his eye, “Can do, Maester Reade. Can do…”
As the carriage pulled down the hillside, the Zir waved his parchments in the air as though he just did not care, tossing sheaves, leaves, and folios alike to the screeching throngs. He reached into his hand-made, imported Yobian man-purse and cast off his last memorandum just as the carriage trudged up to the portcullis of Tackleberry Keep. Feeling the void in his man-purse, he paused – what now? Around him, reverence boomed. I must give them something, the Zir Who Once Was Not A Zir mused, I must fly to the Keep aloft the highest of tones. Singed with the sable touch of inspiration, he balled his fist and thrusted it into the sky above the throngs, who shouted in endless affirmation and in turn raised their fists, clutching the now-wrinkled parchment from the cahiers of a one-time Riverlands slave.
“SPEECH! SPEECH! SPEECH! SPEECH!”
He held up his hands to dismiss their call, but the whole crowd went silent, ready to throw themselves upon any phrase as a starving giraffe upon the virgin foliage of the acacia. The Zir’s mind was racing, desperate to return to his beloved bartizan, but he could deny neither the throngs nor his ego, and so, fed by the electricity of this newfound fame, he quickly generated a final poem in the freest of styles:
The bedroom’s paper flowers
fill up with dew
The scarab wakes the rose
The red sun rises
The red sun rises
Ogres will be everywhere
Madness of the King
with blue eyes
An ivy hand
Parts a curtain of trees
The throngs stayed silent as the Four Moons. With their fists still raised, they bowed their heads in the deepest of comprehensions. Without another word, Zir Duane of Reade took his leave into the Keep.
Arriving at long last to his study, he gently closed the glazed baobab-wood door behind him and sank languorously into his favorite velvet chair, which was stuffed with the down of a hundred great moa. With a world-weary groan he threw back his head and stared over the athanor at the Herald of House Reade, an emblem which he himself had secretly, painstakingly, designed as a young slave. In this way he not only taught himself to write, but provided ample fuel for his abundant phantasies of freedom. From the torse, helmet, and crest, down to the supporters, compartment, order, and motto, each facet was affixed with labyrinthine allegorical detail. All the cardinals of the escutcheon, the chief, the dexter, the sinister, the base, the dexter chief, the middle chief, the sinister chief, the honour point, the fess point, the nombril point, the dexter base, the sinister base, and yes, even the seldom-used middle base, underwent Zir’s intensest scrutiny, as he carved out a sigil for himself on the floorboards of the boar hut he called home, making sure to cover it each night with a layer of sawdust and emu dung so as not to arouse the suspicions of the Magistrates who performed illiteracy tests on slaves – as once ordained by Palatinate decree.
And there it was, suspended above him now as a halo over the left buttock of a cherub, the noble hieroglyph which encoded his legacy – the two golden goats flanking the black shield, sprigs of virgin-leaf forming the verdant crenelations, and ah! there below it, in the glittering ink of iron salt and Ich’nian gallnut, the motto – the spell which valiantly bound together House Reade:
“Life is Lived Only Once”
“LILOO,” whispered the Slave Who Became A Maester as he shut his eyes in long-awaited repose, “Liloo…”
Adrift in reverie, his anxieties jettisoned like so much illicit cargo upon the sight of a constabulary vessel, Tho’rakyn sailed on the xybec of sonder with quill in hand, daring to manifest in the ocular realm Can’throko’s textual creatures, characters of such nuance and depth that several Zones, in an effort not to rob them of their literary dignity, had enacted blasphemy laws against the creation of idols bearing even their faintest resemblance. How many children have been weaned on the exploits of Mykono, the hero of Ichn’ion’s erstwhile imperium, a figure known in the Palatinate as the Mirror of the Inner Sky, and the first to ever dip a goat in gold? How many on the lore of Urthrox, Lord of the Half Blue Hawk-Hunters, who first settled the canopies of the Partchrox Forest and staved off a century’s worth of cultural invasion from the loathsome Pilks? The answers undoubtedly flirt with the tens of millions, and though it may seem unfathomable today, Can’throko herself, by way of singing crow, did petition Tho’rakyn, Hand To The Sarcoline Udder, to craft the very first illustrated edition of her contentious classic, The Kÿklops and Pseudo-Nyverene. How she knew of his secret penchant for the illustration of erotic texts is for ever a mystery to the Milker of the Golden Goat.
The sapphire ass of the Kÿklops were rendered with peacock pre-cum, the plum shading toward the center indicating the severe degree to which it was clenched. Tho’rakyn licked the tip of the quill and set about detailing Pseudo-Nyverene’s fist, the ridged knuckles tipped white with egg-ash, a rare and hallucinogenic pigment obtained in Zone Nereval from an unsavory ibis smuggler, a deal done in blood and never spoken of till now. He licked the tip again and felt the sparks flash across his papillae.
He worked adroitly in this way for those august hours leaning into sunset, whose easy haze was yawning across Tackleberry Keep and the township, and wafting down the Cyberon Way, which leads one away from the Palatinate and on to South Web and the few other Zones where, since the firelit nights of prehistory, the Dog Star has laid its third head. He Who Shall Walk Beyond The Gate yawned and stretched as well, the snapping of his extended flesh not unlike the echoey crack of an old cassowary leather-bound codex’s spine as a scholar, for the first time in nine centuries, parts its covers in the cavernous library beside the Chapel of the Sacrosanct Myrmidon, where Tho’rakyn first learned his tabernacular arts and physickal poetics. Of illustration, tho, he was a strict autodidact, unaffiliated labor well-suited to the ample free time he enjoyed as Patron of the Realm, the supreme title gifted unto him by the Palatinatial Congress after he negotiated their freedom from Zir Ratzinger and his Southern Web Hegemony during the Old Othracionic Wars. He was only one hundred and ninety-two years old then. How many fortunes had The Gate and Key squandered? How many thrones sat in and then neglected? Aught between seven and six, respectively, he thought. Truth be told he was growing weary of his post as this particular Realm’s Patron. He had come to understand it as a sort of honorific exile from the rest of D’urst – the Palatinate being one of few places receptive to the Milker of the Golden Goat after he brutally pranked several dozen Zone Magistrates during the Low Feast of Schneider, his bawdy tactics earning him the heart and respect of the erstwhile D’urstian multitudes, as well as the ire and contempt of the laws which hound them. Hence his continual nautical state of mind, as a sail for ever seeking new winds. Beautiful and resplendent as this sunset was, he could not help feel a longing for anywhere but.
Channeling the tempered manner of the Ichn’ion scrollmonk, Tho’rakyn slowly gathered his calligraphic apparati and illustrative instruments into his emu leather-bound quarrel which he slung across his mantle-like shoulders as he bounded down the hill to his dormitory in the Keep. His aurelian mane rippled in the settling night and, from a great distance, it looked as though a vagabond will-o-wisp was drifting into town from the wilderness.
As Tho’rakyn crossed the limestone bridge above the Cyberon River, a tall swirling shadow flew out from behind the water mill and hovered ominously in the middle of the quiet cobblestone street. The shadow pointed a smoky finger – “Be you the Milker of the Golden Goat?” came a baleful voice, chill as the Dodecacember wind.
Without a word, Tho’rakyn moved his left hand laterally from his left to right hip. The cloaking sorcereal shadow rose up off the small boy and quickly dissipated into the night whence it had come.
“Please don’t kill me,” he pleaded, tears swelling in his effervescent olive eyes. “I mean no harm, I jus heard, ye know, I jus heard all the stories bout you, O Gate and O Key. I swear it’s the only spell I know. All I’m guilty of’s having curious ears…Please don’t kill me!
Tho’rakyn did not stir. “What is your name, young cuck? Who is your Maester?”
The boy shook his long hair, “My Goat, I am no cuck, and I speak for no Maester, whatever that may be. Y’see I am not of this country. My name is Breghmehadín, and I am a messenger sent on behalf of Gohodrûn the Pigment Baron. Should you spare me I can show you his seal…” he gingerly tugged on a velvet pouch tied snugly around his child-sized codpiece,which was finely tanned in the Nymidian style and filleted with mirthful scenes from oral tradition.
Tho’rakyn licked his lips, reviving the pulsatory sensation of the egg-ash residue. If Gohodrûn is sending a cloaked courier this far out from his dominion, then…
The boy produced the legendary seal – a piece of gorgon-skin parchment stamped with thirty-three different oath glyphs and signed at the bottom in bitterbeast blood, glowing a steady vibrant auburn, the name Gohodrûn in paenic script. Tho’rakyn nodded.
“He wishes to meet with you at once, and has offered to pay for your passage… He knows how difficult it is for you to travel through D’urst these days.”
“Did he speak to what this business concerns?” spake the Mountain Who Moved The Sky, idly fingering the amethyst core which lay many long inches from his skin on his thick bed of chest hair.
“No…please spare me! He didn’t tell me…he wouldn’t tell me! He only taught me that one spell…and it didn’t even work, ugh,” and the boy shoved his hands into his pockets and kicked at the mossy cobble.
“When need I to be at the docks?”
The boy looked up, his hope renewed. “He said to go to the Merkin Wharves. He said you’d know where and when to be there.”
Tho’rakyn nodded. And he did. “Thank you, feeble cuck! – Ach, that’s right, you’re no cuck. Well, you will be if you don’t scram! Get out of here, wastoid – you filthy, fart-huffing waste of air. Run boy, run!” and he withdrew his adamantine falchion. Screaming, the boy skittered between the Milker of the Golden Goat’s tumid legs, leaving a green trail of piss as he raced over the bridge and into the snoozing townships of the Palatinate’s middle country. The Milker of the Golden Goat chuckled to himself as slipped the blade back into its bejeweled scabbard and made his way to the secret portal behind the Reliquary, where a mercurial pool of synovial fluid at the end of an alleyway was hidden beneath a horse’s rib cage. Tho’rakyn set aside the ribs and had only begun whispering the onerous password, when the puddle began to hiss and swirl. He dove in head first and apparitioned over his bed, whose mattress was clear, and filled with bubbling rosé. Of all the wonders in the Palatinate, he would miss that one most of all.
ENZIO DE KIIPT is the author of several Romaunces, including The Romaunce of the Abject Apiary.
KIT SCHLUTER is a translator of The Romaunce of the Abject Apiary.
MICHAEL ANZUONI is another translator of The Romaunce of the Abject Apiary.