chapter 20: THE HANGED MAN

this card, 12th of the Major Arcana, here signifies Tribulation, Sacrifice, Bound

By morning Clown had already slipped back into his cell and costume 
without being discovered.  He had left Wand’s cell after an awkward 
silence had come between them.  He realized that he had disappointed 
and hurt her in some way, but was uncertain what to do about it, 
except to continue in his research toward defeating Otius.

Since solving the problem of entrapment in his cell, Clown could now freely come and go. He did not go to play cards with Wand that day, but to Otius' den. The sorcerer slept from just before dawn until late in the afternoon, as Wand did sometimes, for sorcerers tend to be night-people. Clown had been through the books of the library one by one, learning to read the languages therein and studying everything. He soon realized that most of the books were the usual collections of misinformation and guesswork, having little scientific validity. But he was after languages, symbols, anything that could provide a key to the Powertext scripts, so he read them all anyway. Only the ancient metal book, the Lost Volume of the race advanced enough to create powerstaffs, offered anything resembling True Knowledge and that was written in a language that he could not yet decipher completely. He still needed a final key to the Powertext language. If only he could take it to Wand, but the book was molded into its own pedestal, which weighed tons, and could not be moved. There was paper at hand, and a pen. It was tempting to duplicate the symbols, but that was too dangerous, according to Wand. Clown thought it over. Then nodded to himself, and began to draw upon the paper anyway... Later he scaled the outer wall to Wand's window with the rope he had hung in place upon his first visit, which he had stained the same color as darkstone. His intelligence was screaming about the danger to himself, but he had to endure it in utter silence, knowing that the demons never slept and could be wandering the halls. He dared not once look down at the deadly moat of acid beneath, trying to forget that it was there. He was shaking again when he pulled himself onto her window ledge. Wand lay in her bed, loosely covered by a sheet, apparently asleep. She looked so beautiful lying there. He found himself longing to touch that pretty bare shoulder. And then he felt his chastity belt getting hot. Really hot. Almost in panic he dashed to the water jug in the corner of the room and splashed water down into his pants to cool off. Just in time. "What are you doing, Crown?" Not asleep, she had heard him, but had been pretending to sleep so that he could look and admire her. But his splashing and thrashing had somewhat spoiled the game. "Uh...I hope you can translate some symbols for me." He took out a wet piece of paper that had been tucked into his belt "Are you familiar with these?" She sat up, the sheet artfully draped upon her obviously bare body, threatening to slip off at any second since she was so unconcerned about holding it in place. Clown desperately turned his head away, there was no more water. He held the paper out behind him for her to take. She came over and took it, then reacted, "What is this?" "I hoped you'd know." "It resembles Ancient Powertext, but all strange. I've never seen anything like this before...oh no, is this from Otius' Lost Volume? You wrote it out? I warned you about that! This could..." "I had to. But it's not pristine Powertext, it's backwards. Look at it in a mirror." Wand shut up and looked at it again, then turned to study its reflection in a small mirror that hung on her wall. She could read it now. Clown turned, now that a businesslike mood had been established, but found himself looking at her naked back, bared from head to feet. He had to look away, but almost couldn't, she had the nicest bottom....the chastity belt heated up again. He snapped his eyes away, gritting his teeth in pain, a moan escaped his lips. "Crown, what's wrong?" He told her, not looking. "Oh, you poor man! Let me help you..." she approached. "No! Don't touch me! I...I'm sorry, but you'll only make it worse, believe me!" But she spun him around. Fortunately she was now quite swaddled in her sheet. And she pressed her healing ring against his skin-- the pain stopped instantly. The heat was already dissipating. "Thank you, that was getting bad." "Why didn't you tell me?" "Well, it's kind of embarrassing--it only gets hot if I..." "...if you become sexually aroused, yes I know. But then I wouldn't have deliberately tried to entice you--we both know that Otius can't complete his Great Work if you deflower me. That would be the best way to beat him--even if you don't love me." "Oh I agree...but there is the practical matter of this chastity belt." "You're a genius, Crown. And a horny genius could be even more ingenious." "Oh, but I'd...ow hot! Let's not discuss this now: teach me how to read Powertext." "It is forbidden for me to teach it to any except my own daughter." "We don't have time to make a daughter. Maybe later." "Oh? The Clown can still be funny?" "Everything depends on this," Clown insisted, not smiling. "Sorcery doesn't work if you break the rules." "Neither does science, but exceptions always apply." She considered and then nodded. "I may not teach you the individual symbols of Powertext, but I could interpret that page for you."
"Amuse me, fool," the sorcerer said. "Dance now upon my window sill." Otius was feeling belligerent towards Clown today. Without argument, Clown skipped up onto the sill and did a pirouette. "If you look down you will see the moat of acid, fool. It will cushion your fall if you slip." Otius' voice was cruel. "Crown never srip...ooops!" he said as he stumbled out the window and out of sight. The sorcerer grunted and went to the window, not certain if he was irritated that Clown had stupidly killed himself and all his ripe vitality, or relieved to see him gone. Looking down, however, he saw that Clown was dangling upside-down by his toe tips, hooked on a tiny ledge a meter below the window sill. For the first time Clown seemed to be stuck in a situation he could not just flip out of. Now Otius laughed his harsh, hollow laugh. He laughed harder than he had for many, many years. He watched Clown's toe-grip slipping from the shallow crevice to which he clung, and that was even funnier. Otius slapped his knee and doubled his tall thin body with genuine belly-laughter. Clown finally slipped. Fingers first, and then his toes and he began to fall, on his way to a splash in the moat. But at the ultimate instant Otius reached down and caught Clown's ankle. With one hand and no effort the old man hoisted Clown up to dangle upside-down at eye-to-eye level, held out at arm's length above the moat. "Should I drop you?" he asked, taunting his fool. "Prease no." "I am tempted. There is this feeling of Destiny about you that disturbs me. And a familiarity, as if I knew someone like you many years ago. Also, I find myself behaving in a strange way toward you that mystifies me; answering your fool's questions as if I could truly hand down my wisdom to your empty head. I should simply drop you and be free of all doubt." "Prease no. Crown be good!" "It is not a matter of Good. It is more of Destiny. If I did not need you for a part of the Transmigration..." With a grunt of disgust Otius pulled Clown into the window and dumped him upon the floor, saying, "But no matter. How could an Idiot prevail against the Old and Evil One? I can put up with you for one more day."
That night, with the translation Wand had allowed him, Clown once again endeavored to understand the secrets of Ancient Powertext. He could read the symbols, but the actual meaning still eluded him. So he thought about symbols: they meant something but always seemed to be something else. Like the cards: Disks, Wands, Cups & Swords; actually symbolic disguises for the elementals of Earth, Fire, Water & Air; so what were those symbols disguises for...? Suddenly Clown understood everything in a revelation, and was Enlightened, gasping the cosmic truth in that dark castle-- "Of course: Disks = Earth = MATTER! Wands = Fire = ENERGY! Cups = Water = TIME! Swords = Air = SPACE! All of which are RELATIVE to each other..." And so by studying the scroll upon which Otius had written his notes, and by correlating them with the memorized Lost Volume in his head, Clown eventually discovered what the Great Work of Transmigration was to be.
The morning sun was already rising as he scaled the wall to Wand's window once again, practicing what she had taught him of Control. She was standing at her window, again wrapped only in her sheet, waiting for him to arrive. "Oh, there you are," he said, slightly surprised. "Wandle, I know now what Otius has in mind for his Great Work." "Yes, I also know." "Oh? Well, I have a plan." "Yes, I know. A good one." "Visions?" he asked, wonderingly. "The Cards. I can use them to foresee probabilities." "Are the Cards magic?" "The Cards are not magic, but the understanding of them is." "Yes! I too have experienced that. So: will the plan work?" "I don't know that. Only that I will trust my soul to you rather than Otius." Clown hesitated, as if unsure of himself, then spoke with conviction. "Look, Wandle, when I told you that...what I felt for you as an idiot that I'm supposed to be so intelligent..." "You want to tell me that you were an idiot to say it." "Uh, well...yeah. I guess it just shows that no matter how smart I get I can still say stupid things. You are so far ahead of me in so many ways...I need your Control in my life." "That's all? Just Control?" She pretended to be indignant. "No, that's not what I mean to say. I mean, I feel--what?--an intelligent, unqualified adoration...I mean..." Wand smiled an uncontrolled expression of joy. For Clown the sunrise seemed to go pale in comparison to that smile. "You mean Crown ruv Wandle anyway?" "That's it! That's exactly what I mean!" "Well then," she said with a little sigh, "it's too bad that you couldn't outsmart that damned chastity belt." “Actually, I have outsmarted it, more or less--it’s just the physical stupidity of solid steel I’m having a problem with.” "Oh, then you don't know the whole plan?" Wand said, grinning. Clown looked confused, but when she put her hands up as if he should kiss them, he understood. "You realize what we have to do?" "Sure," she answered enthusiastically, "I'm ready." Her sheet fluttered to the floor. Once again the sunrise seemed totally eclipsed by her beauty fully revealed. "You know what, Crown?" she said, "the thing I love best about you is that you still have the grin of an idiot!"
end of chapter 20

Chapter 21: DEATH <BR> <BR> <BR> <a href="chaps.htm">List of Chapters</a>