chapter 17: THE HERMIT

this card, 9th of the Major Arcana, here signifies Deliberation, Prudence, Isolation

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 
saw it."

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.

"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 in return. "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 gone. 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 called down. "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 voices. "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, girl?" "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 young sorceress. "Clown!" she called down, "Come in. I will meet you downstairs." 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 Wandle." 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 HARM you?" 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 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 true?" "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, quite casually. "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!"
end of chapter 17

Chapter 18: THE STAR <BR> <BR> <BR> <a href="chaps.htm">List of Chapters</a>