Meadows of Fantasy
FANDOM IS SUPPOSED TO BE TAKEN FOR GRANTED
THE POTENTATES WERE on the move.
From mystic Wenlock, set amidst the Lands of Antiquity in the heart of the Karelian Desert, the edict had gone out and from coast to coast and beyond the kings and queens, the sultans and the samovars, made the perilous journey to assemble in full conclave at Trun the Warlock's behest. From north and south they came, from east and west, from clockwise and anti-clockwise. Even, 'twas rumoured, the terrible Mors Ambulans of The Doldrums, the hated Warl Ord of Renigard, and Utan, the detestable Orang of Turlang, would be there -- for not even such as these might with impunity say Trun the Warlock nay. The conclave had been called for the time of the spring festival, when folk made holiday even from affairs of state, so few sovereigns regnant could have occasion to decline the invitation. All in all, the conclave promised to be a brave and a noble spectacle.
In the caravan of Hari the Secant, merchant and camel-driver, travelled no less than sex crowned or elected heads of state with their retinues. Master David, High Admiral and Merchant-General of the Free City of Port Able, may have looked comparatively insignificant beside the puissant Queen Helmine of Minland, but according to diplomatic usage they were exactly equal one to the other -- besides being personal friends and old allies to boot. Owen of Moland possessed no title higher than that of Prince -- but he was his own master, and King Baroduc of the Punic Puninsula might sit no higher than he. Om, Sultan of Kulistan, ruled over a large and populous territory where womenfolk had little more than chattel status -- yet he could claim no precedence over the Grand Duchess Peracynth of Detheim, who was so young that never before had she attended a conclave. And so the six rulers travelled together in friendship. With them travelled Nab MacGeoff, soldier of fortune and friend to them all, in the office of Master-at-Arms to the caravan. The merchant Hari's personal retinue included, of course, his current concubine.
The heads of state bestrode their four-humped camels on saddles carved from the inner shell of the great turtle that dwells in the ocean meadows, each to his own saddle -- for any arrangement more economical of seating-space had been deemed inappropriate to the dignity of the occasion. Even so, ruler jostled with ruler as they rode, for the caravan was by no means over-large -- and the desert ways could hardly with justice be described as "royal". Furthermore, owing to the peripatetic nature of the continent of Capricorn there were no easily ascertainable seasons of climatic inclemency. But luck was with them -- no sandstorms, no camel-sickness, nothing unduly untoward occurred to mar their progress and on schedule they entered the ancient lands.
They did not linger in the city of Wenlock itself fo the Warlock's residence of Trunhold, albeit in the least of its stones as steeped in the lore of the ages, was of pitifully insufficient size to accommodate so vast a gathering. Instead, pavilions had been provided upon the slopes of the nearby mountain known as Schroppenberg, that all might he housed in fitting style. The caravan wended its way across the Seven Bridges to the foot of the mountain, and presently the six rulers and their escort were mingling with other mighty ones from far and near in the Hall of Reception.
The Warlock himself was there to bid them welcome, as was his familiar. This familiar, hight Kerbar, took the form of a gigantic hound, and possessed the power of omnipresence. Indeed, there were those who would maintain that the hound was the true Warlock and the apparent Warlock merely the familiar. Be that as it may, man and hound together greeted their guests in appropriate fashion. One guest was inevitably and deservedly singled out for special treatment -- Minland's Queen Helmine, the Warlock's betrothed. Upon her person the Warlock and his familiar bestowed their favours openly for all to see.
"Have you decided, Warlock, on the title your consort is to bear?" asked the Prince of Moland.
"That indeed I have not," answered the Warlock readily. "It is a vexatious question, and even my arts are not without their boundaries. However, in the presence of all now assembled I hereby bestow upon her the interim title and dignity of Myde Arling, by which style I shall refer to her henceforth." And again he bussed the queen soundly, amid approbatory regard from all who were there -- except possibly for the Master of the Pavilions, a joyless fellow like his kind most all the world over.
They moved among the throngs of their fellow-rulers as they passed towards their allotted quarters, stopping briefly as they went to greet old friends. King Ben of Ronagate bore down beamingly upon them, Queen Parel of Kilburnia regarded them with regal approval, and King Norock and Queen Narock, joint sovereigns of the Curious Kingdom of Lig, paused in their earnest discussion with the Archduke of Mercia to give a friendly wave. The Warlock himself escorted his consort-to-be, leaving Kerbar his familiar to bid a formal welcome to further new arrivals. And it is a curious thing that although Kerbar talked in no human tongue, whatever he might say was always instantly comprehensible to anyone to whom he spoke.
Having relinquished his travelling robes and donned a semi-formal undress uniform, Master David of Port Able rejoined the gathering in the Hall of Reception. Kerbar was bidding welcome to Kensel the Fantastic, the renowned Merchant Prince of Maylorde, who had just arrived in his own caravan bearing with him, as was his wont, many costly samples of his merchandise which would be available for purchase during the conclave. Since his retinue was small and his stock large, he craved extra hands for the unlading, and Master David himself went with his following to assist in this enterprise. Long files of bearers could presently be seen passing through the Hall on their way to the spacious chamber that was to be given over to the merchandising. Then the last bale had been borne, and after having made prudently sure that his camelry was adequately stabled, Kensel the Fantastic retired behind locked doors to superintend the unbaling and display.
Within a few minutes, however, he was back in the Hall of Reception seeking the Warlock. Kerbar departed to summon his master, with whom he returned speedily. Kensel the Fantastic was long of visage as he addressed his host.
"I appear to have been robbed, Warlock," he announced without preamble.
Politely the Warlock bade him continue.
"That bale in which I placed all those goods of greatest value is no longer with the others."
"Are you sure, friend Kensel?" the Warlock asked with good humour. "Might not the bale have remained in advertence in the courtyard, if indeed it ever left your emporium?"
"It is not in the courtyard," said Kensel with emphasis, "nor yet anywhere along the route 'twixt there and the chamber of merchandising. And as for your other suggested possibility, I myself affixed the bale in its pannier and checked frequently as I journeyed. My Joyous Consort will bear me out on this."
The Warlock considered for the space of a moment. "Then indeed it sounds to be a matter of some gravity," he agreed. "I will have enquiries of the utmost practicable diligence instituted forthwith. Where is the Lord Lanri Spin?"
The Lord Lanri Spin was near at hand, and approached at the Warlock's summons. Certain other notables who were also present came forward in case of need.
"Ah, friend Lanri," said the Warlock. "It would seem that a bale of costly merchandise has been spirited away from Prince Kensel's hands, and he would fain recover it. Noticed you..."
"I would have it known, Warlock," Lanri cut in, "that in matters of complaint I am available only between the first and the last stroke of one o'clock each morning."
"This," returned the Warlock grimly, "is no ordinary matter of complaint. Prince Kensel claims to have been robbed, and robbed most grievously, whilst on my territory. Search must be made at once. Whilst dallying in the Hall of Reception, noticed you anything untoward?"
"Upon my mutilated head-dress I swear," declared the Lord Lanri Spin using a private and esoteric oath, "that nothing crossed my eyes that did not seem entirely in order. However, Warlock, I will myself look into this matter, and that with all speed." And he departed on his errand.
The Archduke of Mercia spoke up. "In what way is this robbery so especial, cousin Kensel?" he asked. "You have, so I understand, been not infrequently robbed in the past whilst in conclave, and so long as those of Turland, Renigard and The Doldrums are at large you may expect the robberies to continue indefinitely."
"True, cousin," returned Prince Kensel. "But petty pilfering from the displays is a minor matter, to be as you rightly say expected so long as the Black Alliance is amongst us. This time an entire bale has disappeared betwixt the courtyard and the chamber of merchandising -- and my most precious bale at that. This, therefor, is of a somewhat different complexion."
"Should not we summon the Master of the Pavilions?" suggested King Terisog of Stensog.
"Or even the Reeve's men?" added Queen Parel of Kilburnia.
"I think not," pronounced the Warlock slowly. "When the high heads of state stop to seeking assistance from such sources, it is an unpleasantly degrading spectacle. The honour of Wenlock may yet demand that such be done -- in the mean time, let us attempt to set affairs in order on our own level. Friend Kensel, I would converse with you in private."
And all for the time being went their various ways.
Kensel the Fantastic, at the Warlock's request, produced some merchandise of similar aura to that of the missing consignment, and followed by Kerbar they strode purposefully to the courtyard of the unlading. There the Warlock exhibited the merchandise to his familiar.
"O Kerbar," he intoned. "Say in which direction goods such as these might have been transported."
"This way, o Master," replied the hound in his instantly-comprehensible speech. "The very direction, in fact, from which we have come." He would have led them back to the Hall of Reception had not the Warlock restrained him. The Warlock flourished the merchandise once more."
"But I told you, o Master..." said the hound.
"That is as may be," the Warlock conceded, staring hard at his familiar as he spoke. "Such goods have indeed travelled the way you indicate, as well as we know. But could any small consignment perhaps have gone by some other route?"
The familiar considered. He genuflected to this side and to that. Then again he spoke.
"Yes," he told the Warlock. "You are right. Some of them have gone this way."
"Then lead us thither."
The great hound led the party across the courtyard and into one of the pavilions of the commissariat, coming to an abrupt halt before a sealed portal. The Warlock summoned a passing valet.
"What lies beyond yon portal?" he demanded.
"O m-mighty Warlock," stammered the wretch. "Beyond likes nothing but the buttery-vault." And at a nod from the Warlock he hastened thankfully about his business once more.
"The buttery-vault, eh?" the Warlock mused. He paused impressively. "This gives me to think, friend Kensel. Could it be that the wrappings for your bale had in the past been attached to some other commodity, whose signs and seals they still bore?"
"Indeed, 'tis so," exclaimed the Merchant Prince with a start. "I can see the wrappings before me in my mind's eye this minute, and they once had surrounded wine-flagons."
"How come they to be so speedily united with their brethren still in such service though?" the Warlock continued. "My arts at present tell me nothing of this matter."
Master David of Port Able, who had followed behind the party, spoke. "As to that," he said, "it may be that I can throw some light. Whilst our cousin Kensel's caravan was being unladen, a vintner's dray desired access to the commissariat pavilions and Hary the Secant, Master of the caravan in which I myself had ridden hither, arranged for the removal of some of Kensel's camels from the roadway. If perchance this bale had remained in the vicinity of the dray, that would seem to account for it all."
"Where," asked Kensel, "is the Master of the Pavilions?"
That functionary was fetched, and with the expected show of reluctance he admitted the Warlock, Kensel and the hound to the vault. None, however, was as amazed as he went the secret senses of the familiar Kerbar unerringly picked out one bale which contained not wine-flagons, but costly merchandise. Many were the protestations of inadvertence with which he restored the bale to its rightful owner, and then once again the vault was securely locked and the participants dispersed.
The rulers who had travelled with Hari the Secant's caravan had been assigned honorary tasks, as befitted their status, in connection with the conclave. Helmine of Minland and Peracynth of Dethein had the ordering of the rolls in their care, a duty which they shared betimes with Queen Narock of Idg, the Lady Jilada of Thampen, and Patwant, Duchess of Strett. David of Port Able was acting as Marshal of Chronology, in which capacity he controlled the sequence of the ceremonies. Owen of Moland worked with him as alternate. Om of Kulistan and Baroduc of the Punic Puninsula had a roving commission to keep a royal eye on anything that the Warlock might suggest. Freed thus from many vexatious details of his hostly duties, the Warlock himself was enabled to oversee the whole with the least inconvenience. Potentates were still arriving from distant parts, and he liked to be on hand to welcome in person as many of them as possible. There was in fact no end to them, for more would be arriving on each of the days following. The ceremonies were not to be postponed indefinitely, however, and towards evening those that were available convened in the Grand Hall of Assembly for the formal opening of the conclave.
The rituals having been complied with, the Warlock demonstrated one of the many powers that were available to adepts such as he. A magic lamp of vast antiquity, which had lain for many years in Trunhold, was activated to recapture scenes from past conclaves and other notable occasions. The great ones of the world were suitably impressed by the demonstration. Both before and after, ten-minute periods had been set aside for offerings to the Golden Goddess, who rewarded her devotees with specimens from her vast collection of ancient scrolls and parchments. Then the proceedings were adjourned, but feasting and merrymaking continued in the pavilions far into the night.
One there was amongst them who had travelled further than any -- for he came in fact from another planet whence he had been brought by the Warlock's arts (for all magic in the ancient land of Wenlock must of necessity be ascribed to the Warlock thereof). Warlford the Elect his name was, and few indeed were those who could outclass him in sheer physical stature. Though not so mighty an imbiber of beverages as some, he was clearly no slave to his pillow, for having sat till dawn wagering against King Ben of Ronagate and the others he was by mid-morning leading a debate in the Grand Hall of Assembly on the general question of interplanetary visitations. The consensus of opinion was that these were on the whole beneficial, and should be continued to the maximum extent that might be practicable. After another ten minutes of homage to the Golden Goddess, a bard of some little renown took the stand -- not to demonstrate his bardly prowess, for that was known to all, but to discourse on certain aspects of bardship and allied matters. His discourse was well received, a number of the mighty subsequently raising various pertinent questions in an unsuccessful attempt to baffle the bard, after which proceedings were subjected to the midday adjournment.
At a nearby refectory which specialised in the serving of exotic dishes from the Four Provinces, the Warlock presently sat at meat. With him at table were Helmina his betrothed, Peracynth of Dethein, and Walford the Elect. The familiar Kerbar also hovered nearby.
Walford the Elect considered Helmine and the Warlock for a while, then addressed the Grand Duchess. "Your High Grace is young to reign," he offered.
"That is so," Peracynth agreed gravely.
"Yet you have a regal way with you. Would that I were a ruler of this planet, that I might pay court to you in the approved style."
Peracynth smiled. "Indeed," she said, "thought your principality lies beyond my ken, the hopes it entertains are evidently high indeed. However, in any case such a thing might not be, for I perceive that you are old, o Elect One -- as old, virtually, as the Warlock here."
Helmine spoke. "In truth, Elect," she said, "The Grand Duchess Peracynth even holds at a distance princes of her own age. I sometimes fear me that there will be strife over her hand betwixt my allies ere many years have flown."
"Alas, Your Majesty," sighed Walford. "The hands of eligible regnant ladies are few and far between, on my planet as well as here. Too many of us must always seek alliance with females of lesser stamp -- or celibate remain. I trust that the passage of a year or three will see our young friend suitably matched -- she was not made to sleep alone."
The Grand Duchess Peracynth stuck out a high-born tongue at him.
The proceedings were resumed by a consort of princes whose subjects were possessed of especial skills in the dissemination of matters disseminable. Not all the princes the services of whom had been requested were in fact present at the start of the debate, but Master David and Prince Owen, both of whom had dined quickly though adequately, sought out their missing cousins and argument soon waxed fast and furious. After the usual period of homage to the Goddess, a noble ruler to whom (by the Warlock's decree) particular honour was that year due addressed a crowded hall. Proceedings were thereafter once again adjourned, for refreshments and enrobement. No formal robes of state, these, but thoroughly outlandish attire -- for such was customary upon the second evening of a conclave. The Warlock and his Helmine appeared together richly enough clad in all conscience -- but as personages of some far distant time or planet. Prince Owen and the Grand Duchess Peracynth also partnered each other in matching costume, though in their case more strange than sumptuous, with sky-blue hands and with sea-green hair. Om of Kulistan appeared as a musician from some future time, whilst King Baroduc personated some lowly artisan -- a smith or a cordwainer, nobody seemed to be sure. David of Port Able arrayed himself as some strange and probably nameless beast, Hari the Secant had the appearance of some form of two-legged machine, and Kerbar the familiar had taken upon himself for the occasion the semblance of a unicorn. Although by no means all the assembled company was thus arrayed, sufficient of them were so for their procession round the Grand Hall of Assembly to be a truly impressive spectacle. The wine flowed freely, and the company made splendidly merry. Prizes were awarded to the wearers of some of the most spectacular or original costumes, after which the finery was set aside and the masqueraders gradually dispersed to the pavilions for further conviviality.
In the chamber of the merchandising, Kensel the Fantastic stood long over his wares as they were much in demand. To him came Hari the Secant. "My lord Kensel," the latter addressed him. "Where are the flagons?"
"What flagons mean you, friend merchant?" enquired Kensel. "I wot of none of which I ought to wot."
"Did you not see them, my lord Kensel? Whilst in the courtyard yesternoon, I did venture to exchange a bale of trinkets from your stocks for a similar bale of the vintner's goods, the back of the drayman being at the time towards me. I will pay you a fair price for your lost baubles. Where then, are the flagons?"
Kensel the Fantastic appeared to be bereft momentarily of the power of speech. "They are there, in yonder corner," spoke up his Joyous Consort. "I knew not for when they would be required, so I had them placed where they would be least hindrance."
"But... but..." spluttered Kensel, who was finding his tongue again with much difficulty. "They should not... it is not meet... tchah!" He expelled his breath, and began over again. "Merchant Hari, were you indeed to pay me a fair price for the baubles, as you call them, you would not have a camel left upon which to return to your emporium -- and would be yourself in bondage for a goodly year. For, know you, those 'baubles' were the costliest of all my merchandise. And even had they not been so, since what hour have you been vested with the right to trade my goods -- or those of any other person save only your self?"
Hari the Secant was taken somewhat aback. "I did not intend, my lord Kensel... I am quite... I assure you..." he babbled. Then he recovered himself somewhat. "I intended only to make a simple and profitable trade -- I am no robber, my lord..."
"No?" Kensel exploded. "You did not intend to rob the vintner, nor the Master of the Pavilions? Has robbery a different meaning in your land than in mine?"
Hari the Secant could do naught but reiterate that he had intended no harm, and would even now seek to set matters to rights. Everything could, he was sure, be passed off as a simple case of mistaken identity in the confusion of the unlading. Kensel would soon have his merchandise returned to him.
"That, happily, is needless," declared Kensel. "For the loss of my most precious bale was speedily discovered, and, thanks to the Warlock's arts, my property has already been restored to me."
Hari the Secant's face brightened up again.
"Then in that case..."
"We will go at once to the Master of the Pavilions and return to him his missing flagons," said Kensel. And with a word to his Joyous Consort about the conduct of any business that might arise during his brief absence, he had Hari the Secant catch hold of the vintner's blade and between them they bore it from the chamber.
The Master of the Pavilions had retired for the evening, but the Bearer of Sundries By Night was on duty and to him the treasure was taken. Such nocturnal presentations were not within his normal experience -- nevertheless he was entirely agreeable that if indeed the bale had strayed from the buttery-vault, thence should it be returned forthwith, and the keys were fetched. Kensel the Fantastic looked somewhat askance at Hari the Secant, then shrugged his shoulders and went his way, leaving Hari to assist the Bearer in the deposition of the goods in their rightful location. Hardly had they descended the lowest step, however, when the tocsin went. Some potentate desired the Bearer's immediate presence. And the Bearer hastened to answer the summons.
Filrog, Khan of Khardistan, was not in his pavilion -- but many others were, for the Khan had decreed it to be this night open to all. Hari the Secant's concubine sat patiently on a seat, idly fending off with practised hand a brace of hot-blooded princelings. Upon one end of the Khan's own couch, Grand Duchess Peracynth was deep in animated conversation with one Lord Lanri Spin and his allly Jimlin of the Wood. Patwant, Duchess of Strett -- dubbed by some "the inaccessible" -- lay at full length upon the same couch, in dalliance with Walford the Elect. The latter stretched, gently removed the Duchess's arm from around his neck, and sat himself upright. Patwant pouted petulantly.
"Truly Your Grace sets a man's pulses pounding," declared Walford. "Nevertheless, my time is not entirely my own -- I feel I cannot, in my present status, monopolise the company of any one person, however pleasant that person may be. It is time I sought a further pavilion." And he arose from the couch. One of the princelings, observing this, promptly transferred his attentions from Hari's concubine to the Duchess Patwant, his company being most gratefully received by the latter.
As Walford the elect drew aside the curtain to leave the pavilion, Hari the Secant staggered merrily in. "Salvage from the wreck!" he announced blithely as he seated himself abruptly upon a vacant corner of the couch. One by one he patted various folds and recesses of his robe, which did indeed seem somewhat over-stuffed. "I promised you free beverage, and free beverage I have for you. Yea -- even for you, o youthful Peracynth. The Bearer of Sundries By Night is indeed a trusting soul. Tankards to the fore!"
It is probable that his hearers understood little, if any, of his meaning. But as they merrily flourished their tankards aloft for replenishment, one and all agreed that it was indeed a most thoroughly excellent conclave. (1)
- - - - - - - - - - -
(1) EXEGESIS Whilst I would expect any regular attendee of British sf conventions during the early nineteen-sixties to have little if any trouble following this Chapisode, others might. I therefore append the following explanatory remarks:
THE SHROPPENBERG -- It will be recalled that the convention is supposed to be taking place in Shrewsbury, county town of Shropshire situated on the middle reaches of the River Severn
THE MASTER OF THE PAVILIONS -- The manager of the hotel
KING BEN OF RONAGATE -- Ron Bennett (Harrogate)
THE ARCHDUKE OF MERCIA -- Me
KENSEL THE FANTASTIC, MERCHANT PRINCE OF MAYLORDE, & HIS JOYOUS CONSORT -- Ken and Joyce Slater. Ken is managing director and virtual proprietor of "Fantast (Medway) Ltd" (75 Norfolk Street, Wisbech, Cambs, England -- PLUG) the mail-order sf specialists. Every year he sets up shop at the Convention, every year he suffers from petty pilferage. But still he perseveres...
THE LORD LANRI SPIN -- Alan Rispin. It was the 1962 Harrogate convention that first appointed him to the post of "complaints dept" -- without, of course, telling him in advance. I forget which convention it was that his hat was cut up into pieces which were then sold for some fannish cause or other. I never got one, either -- though I'm sure I paid for one...
KING TERISOG OF STENSOG -- Terry Jeeves, creator of the "Soggies" cartoons
THE REEVE'S MEN -- The police.
THE LADY JILADA OF THAMPEN -- Jill Adams (Southampton)
WALFORD THE ELECT -- Meant to represent a typical TAFF winner
THE BEARER OF SUNDRIES BY NIGHT -- The night porter
FILROG, KHAN OF KHARDISTAN -- Phil Rogers, a regular member of the all-night card school
JIMLIN OF THE WOOD -- J(h)im Linwood
All other character (E&OE) are strictly fictitious. AM
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