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A Desperate and Despicable Dwarf: Section Nineteen

       Last updated: Monday, July 12, 2004 22:01 EDT



CHAPTER [whatever]. In Which ...

    "Oh, no!" came a groan from the bowsprit.

    "What's the matter?" demanded Polly.

    "Look at what's ahead of us." Carthago delenda est sagged in despair. "Solid script."

    Sure enough. As they hurried forward to join Carthago delenda est, all could see the vista ahead was an unbroken mass of script stretching to the horizon:

    trygettingthroughthisstuffyouchumpsheeheegiggle giggleabandonallhopyewhoenterhereandallthatyoutthinkthat briarpatchwasbadwaittillyoutrythisheeheegiggleggleofcourse theysaywhenthegoinggetstoughthetoughgetgoingheeheegiggle gigglegoodlucksuckersgoodlucksuckersboyareyougonnaneedit heeheegigglegiggle -- on and on it went.

    "What is it?" demanded Harry.

    "It's the dreaded Sargasso Script," replied Carthago delenda est. "Graveyard of many a fine ship." As if a thought had suddenly come to it, the sentence raced to the stern. Moments later, it returned.

    "Just as I feared. The script has surrounded us. We're trapped. Doomed. Defunct." The morose sentence seemed to take an odd satisfaction in their plight.

    "Let's have none of that!" cried the stalwart Harry. "We'll just have to force our way through."

    "Through that stuff?" demanded Polly. "And just how do you propose to do that? And even if we could, where's there to go? It's all just one solid mess of script!"

    "Wait a minute," interrupted Shelyid. "I see a clearing over to the left -- and something in it. Over there! See!"

    All eyes followed the dwarf's pointing finger.

    justwhenyouthoughteverythingwasblackasmidnightit gotdarkerheeheegigglegiggledidyoueverseesuchamessand guesswhatyougettocleanitupheeheegig[ƒ´]akouttheloopsandcurlicuesmawegotguestsandboyoboydothey lookdisgruntledheeheegigglegiggle ---

    "What do you think it is?" asked Polly.

    "I'm not sure," replied her brother. "Some kind of pyramid, it looks like."

    "It's a ziggurat," announced Shelyid. "I know on account of the Professor once spent three whole days lecturing me on all the ins and outs of ancient architecture and I don't remember almost any of it but I remember I kept out of trouble by calling any pyramid that's built like a layer-cake a ziggurat. And that pyramid has levels, sure enough." He peered more closely. "Five of them, I think."

    Harry looked around at the small party. "Well, at least it's something to shoot for. Unless anybody has any other ideas, I say let's try to make it there."

    Polly shrugged. "And I repeat my question: just how do you propose to cut through all that script? Look around -- the ship's already stopped, even with the wind blowing."

    "I wish Bella omni contra omnes was here," muttered Carthago delenda est. "It'd chop through that crap in no time."

    "Who's that?" asked Polly.

    "Relative of mine. Dead now. Took it's own life a few years ago."

    "It committed suicide?" gasped Shelyid. "The poor sentence!"

    Carthago delenda est snorted. "Not hardly! Nasty brute, even if it was related to me. No, its conjugations got to quarreling and it shredded itself right up. I always knew it'd come to a bad end. Most dyspeptic sentence that ever lived."

    Silence ensued. Despite his bold air, it soon became evident that Harry had no solution to the problem posed by the script. Then, surprisingly enough, the dwarf piped up.

    "I got an idea! Give me a minute!" Shelyid hurried below and re-emerged some moments later, dragging the wizard's sack behind him. He opened up the sack and began to enter. Just before he disappeared into the sack's gaping maw, he paused and looked up.

    "Uh, actually, this'll probably take more than a minute. Actually, it'll probably take a lot of minutes. A lot of lot of minutes. Even though we got rid of a bunch of junk when we were being chased by the Godferrets and even though I won't have to worry about that lousy Great Newt of Obpont and all of that stinky unnamed and unnameable fluid, there's still an awful lot of, well, and it'll all have gotten jumbled up during the storm and -- well, it's gonna take a while." A moment later the the dwarf disappeared.

    Alas, dear reader, our tale lengthens overmuch already, and so we cannot chronicle Shelyid's adventures that day. Alas! For verily those adventures were epic in their scale!

    Suffice it to say that many a time did Shelyid lose his way and tremble in fear lest he starve before finding the object of his search and blessed egress. Suffice it to say that the rearrangement of the interior of the sack would have, once again, provided more than ample evidence for Shelyid to have from its study, had he the wits, derived brilliant treatises on heretofore unknown aspects of Brownian motion and entropy. Suffice it to say that his initial complaisance due to the absence of the Great Newt of Obpont was soon replaced by horror upon his discovery that the sack was overrun with Little Toads of Begfat, the which noxious creatures had been formerly kept in check by the ravening appetite of the now-deceased Great Newt and which, though not as insensate in their temper and mien were not given to the Great Newt's lethargy, as was evidenced by the Little Toads' innumerable attempt to engulf Shelyid with their flickering tongues, projects which, though inevitably doomed to failure in that the apprentice, dwarf that he was, remained several orders of magnitude larger than the croaking myriads, yet subjected Shelyid to what seemed an eternity of torment in that the [need Latin name for frogs]'s tongues were coated with a substance whose putrid odor and nauseatingly slimy touch was only exceeded by the flaming rash which said substance soon caused to spread over the dwarf's body due to the venom contained within, a venom which, there can be no doubt, failed to incapacitate its intended victim for the sole and single reason that the dwarf's great mass of hair delayed and diluted its effect. That selfsame semi-immunity enabled Shelyid to improvise, in most hurried fashion, a large tureen out of an ancient alchemist retort into which he tossed a multitude of croaking Little Toads, a project made especially difficult due to his knowledge that the wizard prized the retort highly and would thus overfill with spleen should Shelyid, in his frenzied efforts to end his torment at the tongues of the amphibious sub-carnivores, cause the vessel to come to harm. Suffice it to say that at length the dwarf succeeded in potting the lot of Toads and subjecting them to the boiling end which is the just dessert of all such creatures, a dessert, however, which unfortunately required him to set to flames quite a number of odd scrolls and tomes which he found lying about, a bibliographic depredation which no doubt weighed heavily on the apprentice's soul despite his muttered remarks anent the allegedly useless nature of said soon-incinerated treasures of lore. Alas, the gnome's glee as he watched his recent tormenters boil into oblivion soon turned into chagrin as the steam rising from the tureen combined with the thick smoke emanating from the scrolls and tomes in flames below it to form an unnamed and unnameable vapor -- and of that vapor itself, of its nature and its effects upon the human much less the dwarf body, I will say nothing, lest the gentle reader discontinue in his nausea the further perusal of this our tale.

    Suffice it to say that at length the doughty dwarf, hacking and coughing from the effects of the fumes, succeeded in finding the object of his search -- a ruler, oddly enough -- only, alas, to find that the ruler had replaced as the tribal totem for that selfsame band of club-wielding imps that selfsame tome which had been the object of dispute in their former contretemps. Suffice it to say that, once again, the mettlesome midget seized the item of dispute by frontal assault, and, even as before, escaped at length the maddened pursuit of the band of club-wielding imps for whom, one could safely deduce from their cries of rage, the personage of the dwarf Shelyid was looming large in their tribal demonology. Suffice it to say that as the sun began its descent over the western horizon, Shelyid emerged from the sack, ruler in hand, and brandished it above his head.

    "This'll do it!" he cried.

    "What took you so long?" demanded Polly crossly.

    Shelyid made as if to explain and then, apparently realizing the impossibility of the task, forebore further comment. In the event, the nubile nymphet's displeasure vanished as the dew, so quickly did Shelyid demonstrate the thaumaturgic potency of his newly-acquired instrument. For no sooner had the gnome advanced upon the bowsprit and held the ruler aloft, that a great shriek arose from the mass of script coiling below.




    ohnoohnoohnolooklookTheRulerTheRulerTheRulerohboy areweinbigtroublewearegonngetbeatenforsureforsureforsure pleasedonotbeatusdonotbeastusatleastnottoohardohplease ohpleaseohpleasehavemercyhavemercyhavemercyhavemercy havemercyhavemercyhavemercyhavemercyhavemercy

    "Are you gonna do as I say?" demanded Shelyid in, truth to tell, an astonishingly loud voice.

    yessiryessiryessiryessiryessiryessiryessiryessir youbetyoubetyoubetyoubetyoubet

    "Straighten up!"

    yesbossyesbossyesbossyesbossyesbossyesboss whateveryousaybosswhateveryousayjustsaythewordbossy ourwishisourcommand

    Shelyid's voice grew shrill. "Don't get smart with me!" He brandished the ruler anew. "This is The Ruler, you lousy little letters! The master—the Professor—used to whup me with it on account of my penmanship was lousy and his master used to whup him and his master before that all the way back to the very first wizard!"

    weknowweknowweknowweknowweknowdon'tbeatus don'tbeatusohnonotwithTHERULERnotwithTHERULER

    "Then spread out!"

    n o s o on e r s a i d t h a n d o n e b o s s

    'Twas astonishing, truly, the manner in which the apprentice's ensuing glower so faithfully copied the mien of his absent master.

    "Just keep it up," he snarled. "If I don't get some respect right now you guys are in big trouble!"

    w h a d d a y a m e a n boss w e g o t n o t h i n g b u t r e s p e c t f o r y o u se

    "That does it!" cried the gnome. And with no further ado, Shelyid hurled himself from the bowsprit onto the heaving ocean of letters.

    "Shelyid!" Polly began to clamber onto the rail, her apparent intention to leap after the mad dwarf, but her brother restrained her—not without considerable difficulty, be it said, despite the youth's considerable sinew.

    "Stop it, Polly! You'll just drown yourself! You can't help the crazy little guy!"

    "Crazy my ass!" Carthago delenda est was capering madly about the deck. "Just look at him! He's whipping the rotten bastards right into line!"

    'Twas true, 'twas true. Agog and taken aback, Polly and Harry ceased their tussling and stared out upon the Sargasso—what shall we call it?—not script, certainly, for under the frenzied rain of Shelyid's blows the mass of letters were wailing and weeping and essaying all to placate the gnome-turned-indominable-master-of-penmanship. All fontal dissimulation and alphabetic snickering were soon purged by Shelyid's discipline, and it seemed but a few short moments before the dwarf clambered back aboard the ship, ruler clutched in his little hand.

    "Well," he said, "that ought to do it. If I say so myself."

    It could not be gainsaid. As far as the eye could see all the letters of the ocean were standing at rigid attention, like so many soldiers on parade. Truth to tell, the entire scene was almost gothicly grotesque.

    we are at your command oh puissant one

    "In that case," said Shelyid, "we intend to sail over there"—here he pointed to the structure on the horizon—"and we don't want you in the way."

    by no means heaven forbid

    And so it was that, against all reason and logic, it proved to be the dwarf Shelyid who was the first, in all recorded history, to overcome the legendary perils of the Sargasso Script. Alas, this (measured by all standards of epic and saga) ridiculous denouement served to greatly aggravate the social lesions already developing within our noble clan of Alfredae. Of course, the attitude of our clan's scribal class toward the dwarf remained unchanged—a dimwit, pure and simple. But where, in times gone by, superior and subordinate notaries alike—even Alfreds themselves!—were oft heard to say: "Still and all, a hapless little imbecile"—never again! Nay, never again! In the stead of such pitying comments came the frequent habit, on the part of superior and subordinate notaries alike, of referring to the evil-souled apprentice by those cognomens which were to become, all too soon, the common property of the civilized world's named and notable:

    Shelyid the Lucky.

    Shelyid the Muddle-Through.

    Shelyid the How-Does-He-Do-It?

    The Serendipitous Shrimp.

    The Rubber Runt.

    The Puny Pedagogue.

    Gram-marian the Grim.

    Pipsqueak the Parser.

    And, of course: The Rebel.

    Alas, amongst the lousely lowlife an opposite reaction was soon seen to prevail. 'Twas perhaps inevitable that the unseemly philologic success of so unworthy a lackwit as Shelyid should have inflated the self-esteem of that sodden set of sods who, to save their lives, could not distinguish a clause from a phrase, I speak, of course, of that motley rabble which is known as the class of louselouts.

    For these dregs reacted otherwise than the cultured strata. Oh, otherwise indeed! Throughout what became known in the formal chronicles of our clan as the Disciplining of the Dipthongs (which august phrase, I regret to say, the mob soon transformed into the uncouth "Tongue-lashing"), while their betters exchanged wise comments anent the apprentice's uncanny ability to fumble his way out of trouble, did the sans-[French word for accent] gather upon Shelyid's shoulders and cavort shamelessly. Disgusting slogans did they chant:

    "Two, four, six, eight! What do we appreciate?

    Conjugate! Conjugate!"

    Most popular of all: "De Clense! De Clense!"

    Continuing—deepening, even—their defiance of all custom, the lower lice would elaborate a grotesque and unseemly argot of their own. The insolence was seen clearly in the rabble's own nicknames for the apprentice, which cognomens became, all too soon, the common property of the globe's nameless and unworthy:

    Shelyid the Savvy.

    Shelyid the Shrewd.

    Shelyid the Subtle.

    The Foraminiferous Fox.

    The Rubik's Cub.

    The Scriptsure Lad.

    Gram-marian the Great.

    Diatom the Dictate.

    And, of course: The Rebel.

    That period in Alfredae history known as The Troubles, already begun, now took a curious and unforeseen turn. Eschewing their former outrageous but disorganized hooliganism, many young louselouts took upon themselves the preposterous task of collective self-education—with the inevitable sad results of all such auto-didacticism. Then, not satisfied with their own flaunting of custom and propriety, the self-inflated striplings began spouting the most unbelievable stuff and nonsense, with, alas, the unfortunate result that the most extreme and absurd theories were soon taken by the lowly classes as established wisdom. Though no longer actually dangerous, it became extraordinarily unpleasant for an educated louse to scurry at night through entire sections of Shelyid, for it was common for one such to be challenged to debate before an assembled mob at what these uncouth juvenile delinquents chose to call a "teach-in." Why, the whelps even declared the dwarf's left leg a "Free University"—and woe to the penlouse who ventured therein seeking to enlighten the dark-minded!

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