Thursday, September 11, 2008

A Friendly Visit?

Bare moments after Metatarzes disappears into the refectory, a boy rushes out to the wooden frame structure that houses the bell and gives it 6 good raps with the clapper. The tones echo out over the covenant and hang in the still morning air, bringing a number of the covenfolk not up and about their business yet to their doors.

Shortly afterward, the magus Peregrine exits his sanctum and moves swiftly to the main gate area. The two watchmen bow at his approach, and the one on the low wooden tower steps to the back as the Bjornaer wizard climbs easily to the top. The grog points to a low dust smear over the olive orchard outside the gates.

"There they are, my lord, and coming this way quick. Hope it's not another bout of the wasting disease in the land!"

Peregrine peers to the northeast where the road--if you can call it that, rutted and overgrown as it is--disappears behind a half-collapsed fairy chimney. Having already seen the approaching pair during his flight, he knows what he expects to see at that corner very shortly.

"What is it, Peregrine? Or mayhap the better question is WHO is it?" The Bjornaer looks down to see the tall, burly figure of the Rus magus Domazhir Slipoi of Verditius, clad in fine robes and looking for all the world like Master of the entire covenant.

"I could not tell you, Domazhir, except that their colors are those of the governor." He starts down the ladder but leaps easily to the ground from a fair height, causing an approaching dark-haired woman in shimmering gray-green robes to clap her hands delightedly.

"Like a falcon indeed, Master Peregrine," cries Annais of Criamon. "Someday you must take me flying with you so that I may view the land for a great painting...a work that may give greater insight into the Enigma!" She peers around, her eyes drinking in the world, her fingers stroking tattoos on her arms that are sometimes visible, sometimes hidden by her robes. "What mysteries shall these emissaries bring? And how shall we solve their problems for them? Or will we?" And she smiles a secret, knowing smile.

The neatly attired horse-magus Humbertus of Guernicus arrives, clad in silken breeches and tunic in the style of the Seljuks. He smells of oranges, with just the faintest hint of the stable. "Have they arrived yet?" he asks, and Domazhir shakes his head, looking over Humbertus shoulder at the next arrival.

A barking cough heralds Iakovos of Bonisagus, clad as a caliph of Baghdad, with a large turban covering his white hair and his full beard falling almost to his waist. The rich blue and red of his gown contrast with the paleness of his face and the watery gray eyes that seem to shine with a secret fear. He says nothing, but nods to each of the magi gathered then retires to stand in the shadow of the tower. From time to time, a glimpse might show him, head down, and one hand...or is it a tentacle...slipping back into his sleeve.

"Who is not here then," says the high, almost petulant voice of Metatarzes, oldest of the magi of Mystikae Eikona, and currently the head of council, or disceptator. His usual purple robe has fruit stains from his breakfast, and his beard--small though it is--looks distinctly matted. His mustaches, long and white, have apparently dragged in the gruel pot.

Subtle glances away, a cough, and Annais' giggle cause the old wizard to glance down and grimace. "Of course, of course, have your laugh at the expense of the doddering old fool. As if I could not deal with this effectively!"

With a few muttered words,a slight motion of his left hand, and a sudden easy breeze redolent of the moment after lightning strikes, the stains and matting and gruel are swept away and Metatarzes purses his lips.

"And where are the others? Was my request not clear enough?"

The Dalmatian Afosiomenos approached his master and speaks softly so the others cannot hear. Metatarzes eyes flash with irritation.

"Drunk again?! Of all vices to which one could fall victim, common drunkenness?! I'll see him answer charges in council! I'll set him to harvesting olives! I'll..."

"You'll do what, old fool?" The tall, gangly form of Albanus of Flambeau strides, somewhat unsteadily, amongst his fellow magi. His gray hair is pulled back into a messy braid, except for the wide, blonde strand that runs from crown to ear. "I am not drunk, just tired after a long night in the lab. If my familiar ran about telling tales like some do, I should have him whipped and locked in the kennel for a few days."

Afosiomenos snorts and goes to lie in the shade of the watchtower, apparently not bothered by Iakovos and his...problems.

Before the two older magi can begin to argue in earnest, two things happen.

First, Tellus of Bonisagus arrives. He is dressed neatly if not as richly as his cohorts. His hands show evidence of scrubbing but he has clearly been working in his favorite element this morning--the earth.

And the watchmen give a shout for around the distant fallen tower come two horsemen. They ride swiftly into the covenant proper as the grog on the ground holds the gate open, rein in and dismount. Like magic (and maybe it is) two covenfolk appear to hold the horses while the Turks walk toward the gathered magi, brushing dust from their still vibrantly colored clothing.

The man in front is shorter than the man behind, and his clothing is a deep blue with the scarlet and gold sash of the governor's guard across his shoulder. His pointed steel helm glistens in the sunlight. He says nothing but his hand on his sword hilt show he is ready should any danger threaten.

The man behind is of medium height but broad in chest and waist, perhaps having enjoyed a little too much of the Sultan's largesse. He is clean-shaven, and perhaps 50 years of age. He wears a flat cap that fairly drips with jewels and his hair is both short and black. His clothing is even brighter and bejeweled than his cap, and embroidered with intricate designs. On his hand is a large gold ring.

"Assalamu Alikum," he says and extends his hand to Metatarzes.

The old magus' face lights up with joy and he grasps the man's hand and replies, "Peace, mercy, and blessings be upon you as well, Yusuf Muharrem, and what brings you out of Nyssa to our humble home?"

There is murmuring at Metatarzes' words. Can it be the governor himself riding out to a nest of heathens and giving the Islamic greeting to them?

"You know me too well, Tarzuhs," the governor says, "to believe I am out for a pleasure ride. There is a serious matter to discuss with you and the brethren, concerning enough that I should ride out on a high day of the Christians and risk the anger of their priests. Let us adjourn to your council hall so that ears not intended should not hear what I have to say."

And as swiftly as that the covenfolk are dispersed and the magi follow Metatarzes and Yusuf Muharrem Beg into the great rock formation that contains the great hall and the council chamber of Mystikae Eikona.

(to be continued)

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