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A Desperate and Despicable Dwarf: Section One

       Last updated: Monday, October 13, 2003 01:53 EDT




    in Which we Resume Our Story of the Adventures of the Wizard Zulkeh and his Stupid But Loyal Apprentice, Beginning With Their Dramatic Escape From the Hot Pursuit of the Fangs of Piety and a Recital of the Sad Events Leading Thereto.

   CHAPTER I. A Causal Chain Examined. A Chronicler's Tragic Misfortune Told. A Fragmented Trial. A Succession Deliberated. The Contradictory Results Thereof. A Narrative Resumed!

    The wizard had spoken truly. It was all the heretic's fault.

    Had Alf not been a heretic, he would not have been put on trial. Had he not been put on trial, the wizard and his companions would not have attended the trial when they reached Blain. Had they not attended the trial, they would not have observed the disruption of the solemn auto-da-fé caused by the myopic swordswoman Schrödinger's Cat. Had they not observed the villainous woman, Greyboar would not have been smitten by her charms. Had he not been smitten by her charms, Greyboar would not have intervened when she proceeded to dismember divers guards with her sword. Had he not intervened in the affair, Greyboar would not have drawn the attention of the assembled notables of Science and the Church to himself and his companions. Had the assembled notables of Science and the Church not had their attention drawn to Greyboar's otherwise incognito companions, the Godferrets dissimulated amongst them would not have espied the personage of the wizard Zulkeh. Had the Fangs of Piety not recognized the figure of their long-sought-for antagonist in the crowd observing the auto-da-fé, they would not have raised the banner of hot pursuit. Had the banner of hot pursuit not been raised, confusion would not have overcome the throng in the solemn surroundings of the trial.

    Here, alas, the skein of cause-and-effect becomes tangled.

    For though, on the one hand, the ensuing confusion enabled the wizard and his apprentice to effectuate their immediate escape, it also, on the other hand, separated our heroes from Greyboar and Ignace, who, for their part, eventually gave up all hope of finding Zulkeh and Shelyid in the maddening crowd and thus determined—guided partly in this decision, one can have little doubt, by Greyboar's erotic pre-occupation with the person of Schrödinger's Cat—to wend their way toward New Sfinctr in the company of that near-sighted mass murderess and maimex. And, while the absence of the heavyweight strangler resulted, on the one hand, in lightening the load born by the troika pulling the sleigh upon which our heroes found themselves in the last leg of their flight from the Godferrets, that selfsame absence of the chokester's person, on the other hand, undoubtedly handicapped our heroes in the first stages of their flight. For there can be little doubt that the Thumbs of Eternity would have served our protagonists well in fending off the Godferrets who swarmed in hot pursuit of our heroes in those earlier moments of their absquatulation when, by foot, by skis, by skates, by toboggan, by dogsled and by snowshoe, Zulkeh and Shelyid raced south from Blain across the wintry landscape of central Grotum, desperately seeking refuge in the Mutt.

    Nor can there be any doubt—so clear is the linkage of cause to effect—that were it not for the confusion which attended the Godferrets' raising of the banner of hot pursuit, that the heretic Alf and his companion the Tullimonstrum would not have been able to elude the grasp of their lawful captors and conceal themselves within the capacities of the wizard's sack, only to be discovered after the fact when, our heroes having prevailed upon the woodsman Mario to succor them with his troika-drawn sleigh, the heretic and his long-thought-to-be-extinct confederate sprang out of the sack in some haste, impudently complaining of the presence therein of the (admittedly noxious) Great Newt of Obpont.



    Of the heretic's auto-da-fé itself, and the turbulent events which ensued when the myopic swordswoman Schrödinger's Cat intervened in the proceedings, there is unfortunately little which can be reported beyond the sketch provided above. For it is now my duty as the compiler of this Chronicle to inform the gentle reader that the illustrious Alfred CCLVIII has gone the way of all chroniclers. Yes, that great narrator, whose sublime skills took our tale through the historic events in Prygg, perished in the line of duty at Blain.

    It is one of the greatest tragedies in the history of our noble clan of chroniclers. Know, gentle reader, that in the course of the fracas instigated by the vile swordswoman, the great candelabras which illuminated the chamber in which the heretic Alf's trial was taking place were sent flying. The blazing candles landed amongst the assembled eminences of Science and Church, whose (perhaps excessively) rich and voluminous robes then went up in flames like so many torches. Thereupon, the unfortunate but understandable gyrations of these now-crackling-like-so-many-sides-of-bacon notables of Logic and Divine Wisdom soon caused the (perhaps excessively) heavy and ornate tapestries which depended from every wall of the court to roar up in an awesome display of pyrotechnics, a display which was—alas—all too brief, for the conflagration almost instantly caused the now-fire-weakened-dome of the courthouse to collapse due to the (perhaps excessively) lavish manner in which it had been covered with beaten gold. And it was perhaps this selfsame opulence of architectural ornamentation which caused the astonishing number of fatalities among the assembled illuminati of Science and Church, a tragedy of such proportions that it has ever since been known in the annals of Grotum as St. Crispy's Day, in which devotees of God and Science alike gather in solemn conclave to honor the martyrs.

    Still worse consequences issued from the disaster. Of these, I mention but two.

    Imprimis, the ustulation eliminated so many witnesses of Schrödinger's Cat's misdeeds that the myopic swordswoman was able, then and thereafter, to escape all punishment for her criminal activity in Blain, thus enabling the creature to pursue her career of anarchy and treason for which she is today, sad to relate, hailed by the unwashed impudence of Grotum. Secundus, although their position in the galleries enabled our heroes to escape the catastrophe with their lives, yet were they pelted with a multitude of ashes and embers which not only caused them no little pain, but, even worse, caused the demise of Alfred CCLVIII.

    For, sad to relate, one of these glowing embers fell directly upon the personage of the saintly louse, even in mid-stroke of the quill, instantly carbonizing not only himself but almost all of the manuscripts which he (perhaps unwisely) insisted upon carrying upon his person. Thus vanished his account of the journey from Prygg to Blain, as well as most of his account of the auto-da-fé itself. Despite the heroic and frenzied efforts of his apprentices (several of whom perished themselves) only the following fragments of the noble scribe's narrative of the trial survived:



    The Potentate Jay was the next to speak.

    "Yes, even as our rigorous mathematical precision led us, like a bloodhound's nose to its prey, to an understanding that the universe began with the Puissant Pop, we also realized that we were on the verge of unveiling the final truth, or, if I may say, the ultimate beauty—"

    "The Theory of Everything," intoned the Potentates.

    "—even so, yes," agreed the Potentate Jay, nodding solemnly at his colleagues. "Even so, did it come to us, like a flash—most unexpected, you can be sure!—that we had arrived, by a happy coincidence, at the same conclusions earlier reached by the wise men of the Church."

    "O happy coincidence!" cried the Prelates of the Ecclesiarchy.

    "O happy coincidence!" echoed the Potentates of the Puissant Pop.

    "Yes, even so," intoned Potentate Jay. "We climbed the mountain with the grapnels of science, only to discover that a holy monk was already there."

    "All hail the Puissant Pop!" exclaimed the Prelates and the Potentates in unison.



    Here follows several charred pages, impossible to read. Then:

    "I yield the floor to my esteemed colleague, Potentate Zee."

    Potentate Zee advanced and glared at the heretic Alf. "I have subjected your theories to the most advanced mathematical scrutiny. And what have I found?"

    Here he motioned forward a pair of menials, who carried between them a large slate board covered with cloth. The slate was placed so as to face both the accused and the judges.

    "And what have I found?" demanded Potentate Zee, his voice rising an octave in outrage.

    "This!" He dramatically whipped the cloth from the slate, upon which, it could now be seen, were written equations piled upon equations.

    A collective moan of horror arose from the assembled Potentates of the Puissant Pop. Several covered their eyes.

    "Bestial!" cried one.

    "Grotesque!" added another.

    The heretic Alf peered at the slate closely.

    "Seem correct to me," he piped.

    "Correct?" bellowed Potentate Zee. He spread his arms widely, casting an appealing look at the assembled judges.

    "Who cares if it's correct?" he demanded. "The equations are ugly."

    "Indeed so," whispered Zulkeh to Shelyid, from their vantage point in the observers' gallery. "Most malformed mathematics."

    "They're wrong, professor?" queried Shelyid.

    "Bah!" oathed Zulkeh. "As to that, I neither know nor care. But certainly these equations are most displeasing to that Inner Reason which finds itself in the unity of Truth and Beauty."

    The mage pondered a moment further. "No, no, that's not quite right—rather say, which finds its unity in the purification of Truth by Beauty."



    More charred pages, followed by:

    The Grand Potentate pointed accusingly at one of the lapsed observers.

    "And this one here! Charged with the simple task of detecting a decayed proton, so clearly predicted in our theory. Great sums of money were lavished on this wretch—is it not so, brethren?"

    "Great sums, indeed," intoned the Potentates.

    "Yet he failed!" The Grand Potentate glared at the lapsed observer, who, for his part, cringed and whimpered. "Forced us to change our equations, damme. Of course, once we did so, we discovered the proton actually requires so long to decay that it was understandable that we didn't detect one in the process."

    "And now you will be able to do so—with better equipment, of course?" asked one of the Prelates of the Ecclesiarchy.

    "Oh, no," responded the Grand Potentate. "No known equipment will ever be able to detect such a tiny rate of decay. The matter will thus remain purely mathematical."

    "Splendid!" cried the Prelate.

    "Is it not so?" agreed the Grand Potentate.



    More blackened pages. Fortunately, the account of the trial's conclusion survived:


    "Have you anything to say in your defense?" demanded the Grand Potentate.

    "Well, actually, yes," replied the heretic Alf. "If you re-examine the evidence supporting the notion of the Puissant Pop from the viewpoint of plasma—"

    His words were drowned out by a chant from the assembled Potentates:

    "Peer review! Peer review! Peer review!"

    "Indeed so!" thundered the Grand Potentate. "The defendant is commanded to remain silent while the Peers review his opinion."

    Three Potentates advanced and huddled about the heretic. Alf whispered into their ears for several minutes. At length, they turned away.

    "Well?" demanded the Grand Potentate.

    "The Peers have reviewed the opinions of the heretic Alf."


    "He's got nothing to say worth hearing."

    "As I thought," said the Grand Potentate, nodding his head sagely. He turned to the assembled Potentates.

    "The court has found that the heretic Alf has denied the Puissant Pop. The Peers have found that he has nothing to say in his defense worth hearing. I therefore demand that he be put to the stake."

    At that very moment, a bizarre figure entered the chamber. A tall woman, very striking in form and figure, clad entirely in leather. A great sword hung from her waist. Upon her long nose rested spectacles of truly immense thickness.

    "What is the meaning of this intrusion?" demanded the Grand Potentate. The woman advanced toward him.

    "She's beautiful," whispered Greyboar in the gallery.

    Ignace snorted. "If you like 'em four-eyed and beaky. Great figure, I'll admit."

    Greyboar's glare presaged a fierce fray, but his attention was distracted by the events on the floor of the chamber. The myopic swordswoman had reached the Grand Potentate. She peered at him through her great spectacles.

    "You a scientist?" she demanded, in a voice which carried through the whole chamber.

    "I am the Grand Potentate of the Puissant Pop! The Scientist Supreme!"

    "I'm looking for Schrödinger," said the woman. "Is he here?"

    "What means this insolent interrogation?" demanded the Grand Potentate. "Who are you, madame?"

    "I'm Schrödinger's Cat. I'm looking for Schrödinger." She peered nearsightedly at the assembled Potentates, fingering her sword. "I've got a bone to pick with that bum."

    At that moment, two guards seized the woman and began hauling her from the chamber. Suddenly, in a manner difficult to describe, she was ten feet away, staring down at a seated Potentate.

    "You Schrödinger?" she asked the flabbergasted scientist. She drew her sword. Before the Potentate could finish gabbling a denial the woman was seized again by the guards. One of them attempted to wrestle the sword from her hand.

    Suddenly, in a manner impossible to explain, Schrödinger's Cat was standing fifteen feet away. She now gripped the sword with both hands.

    "You're starting to piss me off, boys," she growled.

    All the guards in the chamber now drew their weapons and advanced upon the woman. Suddenly, she was somewhere else. The guards stared in shock at the now severed head of one of their number. Looking around, they spotted the woman across the chamber, peering at a bevy of petrified Prelates.

    "One of you Schrödinger?" she asked.

    The situation now escalated rapidly. On the chamber floor, the guards hurled themselves upon the myopic swordswoman. Many mighty blows did they deliver upon her body with their halberds—or, I should say, would have delivered had the woman not continually flickered about the room in a most bizarre fashion. For her part, Schrödinger's Cat began a vigorous display of powerful but awkward swordswomanship which was not the less deadly for the fact that the woman was obviously half-blind. She seemed utterly indifferent to the nature of the various pieces of furniture and human torsos which the razor-edge of her sword sent flying into divers corners of the chamber.

    Candelabras went tumbling, slinging their candles onto the Prelates and Potentates. Great shrieks and screams arose, which grew greater as the tapestries on the walls were set afire. Panic ensued in the chamber below. In the gallery, Greyboar lunged to his feet and cried: "She needs help!" With no further ado, the strangler raced for the stairs.

    Ignace threw up his hands. "Just what we need!" He set off in pursuit of his client, shouting over his shoulder to Zulkeh and Shelyid.

    "Let's get out of here! Meet us outside—I'll get Greyboar."

    Suddenly, a great cloud of embers flew up in the chamber. Billows of smoke—



    Here oxidized Alfred CCLVIII, even, as I foretold, in midstroke of the quill.

    The tragedy encompassed yet broader dimensions, moreover, for all of Alfred's senior apprentices were crisped in their heroic efforts to rescue the manuscripts on Alfred's carbonized person. The damages suffered by these intrepid scribes were, in several instances, fatal. But even those apprentices who survived the ordeal were badly injured—exoskeletons charred, forelimbs, midlimbs and hindlimbs alike burnt, and so forth. 'Twas not for some time, therefore, that any of the apprentices were able to resume their duties. Hence the sad gap in our Chronicle.

    But, as is often said, "every cloud has a silver lining." The long delay before any of the senior apprentices had healed enough to ascend to the Inkwell enabled the assembled elders of the clan to deliberate upon the choice with greater leisure than was normally the case during periods of succession. Thus were the elders enabled to weigh carefully the merits of all the senior apprentices before making their choice, a choice which, in the event, was perhaps inevitable, for there was one amongst the senior apprentices whose literary powers were so acute as to make him the clear preference. And so did Alonzo assume the mantle of the Alfredship, to the great acclaim of all.

    But, as is also often said, "every silver lining has a cloud." In light of subsequent events, a hastier, less thoughtful choice for the Pen of Pens might have been preferable. For, as the gentle reader will have occasion to discover at a later time, the phenomenal literary gifts of the newly-quilled Alfred CCLIX were to prove his undoing.



    But that tale is yet to be told. For the moment, we resume our narrative at the very point where we interrupted Alfred CCLIX's chronicle in order to acquaint the gentle reader with the sad tidings presented above.

    Hence shall we press on! What fate awaited our heroes? Trapped! The Godferrets and their giant hunting weasels behind! The new and still more awesome terror advancing upon them from the front!

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