chapter 17: THE HERMIT
this card, 9th of the Major Arcana, here signifies Deliberation,
It would be fun to follow the adventures of the constantly re-realizing
Clown all the way to Castle Darkstone, over the snowcapped Major
Mountain Range, through the forest kingdoms of Farland, across the
stony desert, among several odd societies and innumerable scenic
splendors. On horseback, a mysterious rider passing through and
disappearing into the sunrise. On foot, the wandering Clown in
costume and facepaint, apparently searching for a circus. It would
also be interesting to observe the newborn sciences developing in
his head: with seven times the intelligence of a normal man; what he
learned, what discoveries he made, what realizations, what
philosophical truths he generated. But actually, he was in a hurry
and we're locked into just 22 chapters because of this silly Tarot
format we're working in, so I'm going to have to skip all that.
Suffice to say that Clown made it to Farland alone and that he
learned as he went, hoping that it would be enough by the time he
arrived, and that he did arrive to the Sea of Mud at last.
"It stinks!" he observed, "and such desolation."
There was neither a tree nor a blade of grass, neither green nor
withered, there was only the color black against a gray sky,
glistening mud, flat all the way to and beyond the horizon where
the ominous block that was Castle Darkstone awaited.
"It was once a beautiful land," people had told him along the way,
"and this blight of mud has spread even further than since last we
Clown carefully scooped up a dollop of mud on a twig. He sniffed
it, tested the texture with another twig, observed both twigs
dissolving. "Seems to be an acidic waste product, semi-liqueous
earth and stone--must be the effect of the acid in the moat around
Castle Darkstone, dissolving everything away around it."
Even as he watched, the edge of firm ground where it met the mud
let up wisps of acrid smoke, bubbled, and gently crumbled into the
sea of black goo.
Villagers living far off, worried that the mud was coming their
way, slowly but inexorably, had bewailed: "Where will this end?
That mud could conceivably spread forever!"
"Not forever, but a lot farther yet," Clown thought, "this is no
normal acid, but magically self-generating and not even a
mountain of alkaline would neutralize it. But eventually the
electrical charge required to shift the valences of all the
molecules in a greater and greater mass resisting conversion
would balance..." he trailed off, into one of his dazes of
wonder, lost in thought. That happened to him whenever he
discovered a particularly interesting concept to work out.
Finally he shook his head to clear it for normal functioning.
Although it had just occurred to him that the binding force which
holds atoms and molecules together--upon which this acid worked--
was the key to understanding the nature of gravity. Now that he
had Time, Relativity & Space figured out, Gravity had been
bothering him because-- "well, never mind, I'll do gravity later,
after I figure out a few bugs in the theory--whoops, cancel that:
there go the bugs. Of course! I see it now!"
Clown realized that he was procrastinating, now that he was at the
end of that long road to Castle Darkstone. He sighed. "Well, I
guess I'd better get ready for this Rescue Mission I'm supposed
to be on."
He was wearing his clown suit, as he had for the last week of his
journey, so that if Otius did have spies they would have reported
that a tattered, tired and foolish clown was walking alone and
unarmed toward Castle Darkstone. For extra effect he rolled upon
the ground and tossed dirt upon himself, then tore his costume in
a few places and lightly scratched his body and face with bramble
branches. He looked at his shoe soles to be certain they were
worn enough--which they were. When he stood up he was a mess, as
ragged-looking a vagabond clown as anyone had ever seen.
Clown started walking out on the narrow only road that crossed the
deadly sea of acid mud, towards that ominous dark edifice on the
horizon, the stronghold of the sorcerer Otius.
end of chapter 17
"Aha hee, Master, an intruder comes!"
Otius cocked an eyebrow and looked up from his meal of cold bloody
meat. It had been many a year since anyone was so foolish as to
approach Castle Darkstone. He rose from his table and went to the
window that faced the road.
"The Clown!" Otius was surprised, and in fact, amazed. The City
of Tarro was over a thousand lengths to the south, and while he
did await some attempt to rescue Wand, he rather expected the
sorceress herself, or the Emperor's army--the Clown was a twist.
He laughed at the ridiculousness of it, even as he reminded
himself that one's enemies will strive to do the unexpected.
Otius rather suspected that this was the work of Luminata: how
else could that simple fool come here alone?
He watched the Clown stop where the road ended and the moat of
acid began, at the drawbridge landing which offered the only
access to the castle. But the drawbridge was up, as always, and
the silly young man could come no closer. He watched the Clown
scratch his head and look quite lost.
Not knowing what to do next, Clown looked up at the black castle
and saw Otius. He waved and then curtsied. Otius nodded sternly
"Can Wandle come out'n play?" the Clown called.
"No," answered Otius, meanly.
"Well...can Crown in? Wanna see Wandle! O please!"
Otius smiled a wicked one and turned to Dismay. "Lower the
drawbridge and let the poor doomed fool in." Dismay ran at
demonspeed to do his master's bidding, a streak of green that was
This must be a rescue attempt, reasoned Otius, although how the
people back in Tarro could expect this idiot to be of any effect
against himself escaped him. Perhaps--most likely--he was the
only one who would come, for only a Fool would enter the dread
Castle Darkstone. Otius was quite confident in his ability to
deal with any trickery, and somewhat intrigued to see just what it
might be. Besides, the Clown had interfered concerning the
Powerstaff of Tarro, and could now be punished. Best of all, he
was a young man of superior vitality, if not intelligence, and
Otius could leech him of that energy, a fine revenge.
However, he also realized that he was taking a chance in allowing
this Clown to enter, for there was an aura of Destiny about him--
and something oddly familiar which Otius was not yet able to
identify. He had, in fact, noticed it the first time he had seen
the Clown in Tarro.
The drawbridge creaked and clanked down across the moat and
Clown skipped merrily to the castle portway. But he stopped
abruptly when he saw Dismay, and then turned and ran back across
the bridge to safety.
"He's escaping! Do not let him!" Otius commanded. Dismay, with
the blinding streakspeed of a demon, was already across the
bridge after Clown, and caught him by the wrist.
Clown let out a cry of dismay upon physical contact with the
demon's skin. He stopped, his head drooped, shoulders sagged,
and he began to weep. "Crown wanna go home!"
"You are home, foolish Clown! Now come into the castle," Otius
"No! Crown no want be here no more!" Clown indicated the demon,
which now blocked his only escape route, "Crown no rike this
thing!" The demon smiled nastily, pleased by that.
"Oh, you'll learn to love Dismay. Come in, little Clown, you
can see Wand."
"Wandle? She here? Crown RUV Wandle!"
"Fear, go bring me the girl."
Fear streaked away, a blur of blue. In a moment he returned with
Wand, who had been coming anyway to investigate the rare sound of
"Your hero has come to rescue you, girl."
Wand moved to the window without speaking, hiding her fear that
she would see Elro with sword drawn, ready to attack the castle
and so die. When instead she saw the Clown, she broke character
and laughed aloud in surprise.
"Wandle! Wandle!" Clown shouted upon seeing her, leaping up and
down, pulling free of Dismay, "Crown come for Wandle!"
"What are you going to do to him?" she asked Otius.
He did not answer right away. He had heard her laugh. It was
the first time she had done so at Darkstone, and the sound had
given even his wicked old heart a little thrill. He considered.
"I could destroy him where he stands," he considered, "or I
could bring him in to play with you. Which would please you,
"It would hardly please me to see any person destroyed," she
responded coolly. "Best to send him away."
"That I shall not do. I must destroy him, then..."
"Then bring him in."
"That would please you?"
"If you insist, yes."
"Then you bring him in," the tall old sorcerer told the pretty
"Clown!" she called down, "Come in. I will meet you
She went down to the gate. Dismay was crowding the entrance and
Clown was trying to squeeze past him without coming too close.
When Wand arrived she pushed the demon away. If she reacted to
contact there was no sign.
The Clown's funny suit was ripped and dirty, his paintface
smeared and scratched, and he seemed quite fatigued. Of all
the people in the City of Tarro who might have come for her,
he was the only one who had braved the long journey and dangers
of Darkstone. His shoes were in tatters.
"You poor thing. Have you walked the entire way?"
He nodded and a tear ran down one dirty cheek. "Crown ruv
She felt a surge of emotion throughout her being, a ridiculous
emotion, considering for whom she felt it, yet a feeling so
grand and so simple that it threatened to smash through the
boundary of control she had encased herself within.
"Yes, well, Wandle ruv Crown too."
It was said patronizingly, for an audience of demons and
sorcerer, but it was honest and she meant it, for Clown was the
first and only human contract she had had for weeks. She wanted
to hug him, but refrained, as Luminata would have refrained.
His eyes were only on her as Fear scurried into the little
gate-yard. When Clown finally noticed that demon he screamed in terror,
grabbing Wand for protection.
She chased the demons away and led the frightened fool upstairs
to where Otius waited.
"Those things BAD!!" Clown said, pointing at the demons, who
were tittering at him.
"So. We have the Clown who spoiled my plans in Tarro, eh?"
Clown did his curtsy for the wizard. "Yah! Crown here now!"
"And how, tell me, have you come to Castle Darkstone?"
"With Bnuchio some. Walk more some. Crown wuv Wandle. Bnuchio
say no come here. But Crown do anyway."
"Has it occurred to you, little fool, that I may be inclined to
Clown looked innocently around, rolled his own eyes away from
the sorcerer's deadly eyes and played with his fingers, contrite
and timid and confused.
"Has it?" Otius asked, sternly.
Clown shook his head No.
"Do you remember why I might be angry with you?"
Clown shook his head No again.
Otius laughed. "Of course not. You are too stupid." He looked
at Wand as if to include her in his decision. "But we will let
you live for now, only because you are a friend to Wand."
Wand said, "There is a room beside mine..."
"Ah, no!" the Sorcerer said, raising a strict finger, "You are
never to be alone with him. I have another room for him. And
there will always be a demon with the two of you together."
"Why so?" Wand asked.
"Because the Great Work requires that you be a Virgin Pure."
"You believe that I would surrender my virginity to an idiot?"
"No. But I dare not take the chance."
"Nor do I, Otius. You have promised me freedom if I help you in
this work. I shall not jeopardize that--especially not for
someone who is not...my mental equal, whom I could never desire."
"We must also take his desire into account," Otius mentioned, "he
is physically strong and mentally retarded."
"Hardly strong enough to take a sorceress."
Clown turned his head to and fro, to follow their conversation,
then announced: "Crown ruv Wandle!"
"Yes, Crown, but he thinks you wish to deflower me. Is that
"Oh, yah!" Clown said, eyes wide with enthusiasm.
"You see?" Otius said.
"Flowers nice. Pletty."
"You see?" Wand retorted. "Now, may I take him to wash up? He's
filthy and ragged, poor thing."
"I am not convinced that he is as innocent as you believe. But
no worry: surgical castration should neutralize any danger he
presents your virginity..." a sinister smile spread over Otius'
ugly face, as he plucked a sharp tool from his workbench and
studied the cutting edge. "Fear, Dismay, assist me."
The two demons moved towards Clown, whose stupid grin faded a bit.
"I think you had better leave us for now, girl," Otius said,
"No! You may not do that to him!" Wand insisted.
"I MAY do anything I wish!" Otius reminded her sternly,
then in milder voice, "And why should you care? He is just an
animal, a genetic deformity that should be dead-ended anyway."
"Because I would bear the debt of guilt, Otius! You know
how we sorcerers feel about debt. Surely a wise old wizard like
yourself can find a better solution?"
"Ah, perhaps you could instruct me?" Otius challenged her.
Wand thought for a moment in silence, then said, very reluctantly,
"A chastity belt."
Otius studied her for a moment, as if amazed. "You, a sorceress,
would accept that indignity for the sake of this...idiot?"
Clown studied the beautiful young sorceress anew, with respect
and appreciation. He understood that she was offering to undergo
a terrible indignity for him, without even understanding who he
was. He had to step in.
"Yah! Crown want chasty-belt too!"
Both Otius and Wand looked at Clown with surprise. Then at each
other. Otius laughed slightly.
"Well, our Clown is not so stupid after all..." she said.
"Stupid enough to invent a chastity belt...for HIMSELF!
Ha ha ha!"
Chapter 18: THE STAR
List of Chapters