Monday, February 19, 2018

Korm's Master (Part Three)

"Eh? What?" The old Morg leaned in.

"Magic," Korm repeated, his voice flat and despairing. "Magic. Does it really exist or not. I guess...," he stammered. "I guess it's really just a variation on Porlu's Naturalistic Theory. But when does anybody see Magic these days? What's the reason for that?"

"Ah."

They trundled on a few yards, their heads bowed, Belmok in thought, Korm in dejection. They stopped briefly at a burbling fountain, set in a cool recess, and the old Morg took a long quaff at the clear jet of water, and wiped his mouth on his sleeve. They walked on.

"The thing about Magic," Belmok began, "The thing about Magic is, we Morgs don't have any."

"But I thought..."

"Yes, yes, we can use magical objects. That's sure enough. There are plenty of tales about that. But wielding the power itself? It's just not in our blood. That talent resides in Mankind, in Humans and their cousins the Woses."

"But I've seen plenty of humans. Morg City is literally crawling with them," Korm protested. "And in twenty years I've never seen any use a scrap of Magic."

"And a good thing, too. It's a damn rare power, and only a few can use it with any skill. There is only one premier practitioner that I know of at the moment. And let me tell you, boy, nothing sees Magic but misery. Evil magic to cause misery, and good magic to fight it. I hope I never see it again."

"Then you..."

"Here we are," the old Morg said. "Back at chambers."

They went in the door, and the room seemed even darker and dustier than before. Belmok pointed for Korm to have a seat again, then busied himself drawing a couple of cups of wine from a cask half-hidden behind his desk. He took one over, handed it to the younger Morg, then sat back in his own cushioned chair, eyeing the dejected youth.

"Well?" he asked. "Any other ideas?"

Korm drew in a huge breath, took a gulp the wine, then sighed, shaking his head.

"No."

"Well, that's too bad. I suppose you know it's against the rules for me to suggest a subject?"

"Yes." The younger Morg ticked his black nails across the medals of achievement on his chest, making them dance. A half hour ago they had seemed like trophies. Now they felt like toys. He took another, bigger swallow of wine.

"Hey, careful, son, that's the real Loreleid you're swigging. It's a lot stronger than it seems." Belmok took a long, smooth sip, then set his cup down. He leaned forward over his desk, and looked at the crestfallen scholar over folded fingers.

"Tell me now," he said. "You were near the top of your class, weren't you?"

"The very top," Korm pointed at his neglected documents on the Grand Master's desk, and sucked down another draft. The tears were starting to brim in his soft brown eyes.

Belmok picked the dribbling remains of his sandwich up and wiped the pages off, squinting at the smeared letters praising the young Morg's accomplishments.

"I suppose," he mused slowly, "that you've spent all your money on clothes and supplies and travelling a hundred and twenty miles to get here?"

"Every last coin," Korm agreed wretchedly, his voice starting to squeak.

"Including twenty-five gold on that ridiculous hat?"

Belmok had seen a lot of students crumble, but not like this. The young Morg's limbs went rigid, but every muscle shuddered as if his entire body were clenching. Hot tears came squeezing out of his eyes, and it sounded to the amazed Master that the lad was somehow screaming back down into his lungs behind his tightly clamped lips.

He watched, fascinated, as the smothered wails shook the scholar's slender frame, peaked, and finally died away. Korm's appalled eyes flew wide open, his breath whistling through his flaring nostrils.

"I take it," the Grand Master said calmly, taking another sip, "That you've never had wine before. Certainly none like Lorelied."

Webs of Deceit

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Korm's Master (Part Two)

They walked together for a few yards before the younger Morg could catch his breath and organize his thoughts. It was distracting, passing door after open door, glimpsing rooms of shelves stacked with scrolls and ancient books, or assembly halls milling with figures dressed in green, brown, and scarlet like autumn leaves, or vaulted galleries of exhibits of artifacts from nature or history. The old Master rumbled the phlegm in his throat and spat, and Korm snapped back to attention. He shuffled his notes and pulled out a slip.

"Ah, yes," he began. "Well, my best idea is an investigation into a promising new theory of history that one of the teachers in Morg City was proposing, High Master Porlu. His thought is that all the old tales of the Yeroni and Mog Gammoth and the other First Fathers of the Peoples are just that, stories made up to explain the wanderings and clashings of the different races. It's quite intriguing, and puts a whole new spin on the nature of history..."

Belmok snorted in amusement. He never slowed a step.

"Old 'Beans' Porlu? Is he still alive? He must be getting senile. Believe me, there is more evidence that Mog Gammoth trod the world in the First Days than that your great-grandfather ever existed. And as for the Yorns..." He trudged along silently for a moment. "Take it from a Grand Master in History, they exist; both the Light..." He shuddered. "...and the Dark."

They walked along silently for a moment. Korm's heart sank. He had been counting on the elaboration of the Naturalistic Theory of History as his strongest shot, new, intriguing, and bold. He shuffled through his scraps of notes. His other ideas all seemed poorly improvised now, feeble second strings to his bow. He had rather been counting on Porlu.

"Well, what else do you have?" Belmok prompted.

The young Morg hurriedly snatched a note, almost at random, and started babbling.

"Oh, well, the Ogres. What's their true character, I mean, what are they really like? This question borders both on the study of Nature and of History. Could we reach some understanding between us, in spite of what's gone before? I mean, we've had quarrels with Men, and now we're the best of allies. It would probably involve some sort of delegation going North, but the benefits should it succeed might far outweigh the danger...I mean, in these times of peace..."

Belmok stopped, looked down, sighed in frustration, and ran his black claws impatiently over his bald head. He looked up, and for the first time in their meanderings seemed to take note of where they had wandered.

"Come with me. Over there," he said, pointing to a door about halfway across the cloister through which they strode. They walked forward in silence, except for the grim tapping of the Grand Master's staff. Several students they passed by bowed their heads and hurried by at the look on the old Morg's muzzle. They stopped at the brass bound door, and he pushed it open. Korm drew back in horror.

Before them stood two monstrous articulated skeletons. One loomed twice as big as the other, almost eleven feet tall, its splayed limbs longer in proportion. The other was a little less than half that height, but seemed sturdier and sleeker in comparison. The similarity of their bulbous craniums and four-digited limbs declared them variations of a single species, however.

"The Greater Ogre," Belmok declared, clonking the large hollow skull with his stick, "And the Less. In this room you can examine articles of their manufacture, gathered through the years. Not all of them are weapons." He gestured to the left. "Come look at this."

Korm shrank behind him as the broad old Morg led the way. They stopped in front of what looked like a rack of torturer's tools.

"Cooking utensils," the Grand Master said. "Not really much different from some of ours. But read on that placard what was found on them."

Korm leaned forward nearsightedly and peered at the writing. About halfway through he gagged and had to turn away. Belmok sighed.

"Every fifty years or so someone with more hope than wisdom raises the same idea as yours and toddles off North; sometimes the patrols find their skeletons. I recall the last Morg to test the idea found a young Ogre runaway and tried to raise it; it ate his baby son out of the cradle." He turned from the display and started to leave. "Those of us with long memories try to discourage the experiment."

Once outside and the door closed, Korm felt he could breathe again. They walked slowly and thoughtfully on, the old teacher giving him time to recover. At last Belmok pursed his wrinkled, blubbery lip and asked brusquely, "Any other ideas?"

Korm looked up, dazed, and realized he was still clutching his bits of parchment. They were twisted and smudged with sweat. He fumbled through the few remaining notes. Each seemed more useless than the last. They slipped from his fingers and fell as he hopelessly rejected them. At last there was only one scrap left.

(To Be Continued...)

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Korm's Master (Part One)

KORM'S MASTER

When Grand Master Belmok decided that the new postulate had stewed long enough, he swept abstractedly into his book-lined office, a dripping pork sandwich clutched in one clawed hand, and sat himself down at his cluttered desk without a glance at the young Morg fidgeting nervously in the chair opposite him. He took a huge bite and cast a cursory and careless eye over the fellow's records as he chewed, juice dribbling down his thin pewter beard. He looked up, and swallowed in indignation.

"What is that...thing on your skull?" he asked waspishly.

The prospective student fidgeted, adjusting the hairy cone that sat on his head.

"It's my new hat, sir," he said. "It cost me twenty-five gold. I bought it before I left the City. It's all the rage there," he explained lamely.

The older Morg snorted.

"Whenever I hear that, I know that it will soon be hopelessly old-fashioned. By the time you get twenty-five gold's worth of wear out of that, people will be able to date exactly when you joined our academy, Master..." He put a pork-stained finger on the document before him and squinted his one good eye behind its ocular. "...Korm."

The younger Morg stiffened to anxious attention at his name, then under the guise of straightening his dark green tunic ran a comforting hand over his medals of achievement. He adjusted the cap, which he had bought partly because it echoed the dark brown length of his Third Beard. The hat still smelled a little of goat. He tried to read who the Grand Master of the Tronduhon Library School was, and what he expected of him.

At almost six feet tall, Belmok was certainly an intimidating height for a Morg, and as fat as he was, the fat hung in a sack of skin that showed he had once been fatter still. In the dark gold robes of Grand Mastery, cinched with the red sash of History, he looked like a withered winter apple. His bald, spotted forehead certainly helped that appearance. The long pewter spike of his beard hung over a hairy roll of neck fat that gave the illusion of another beard underneath. One lone tooth in his upper jaw gnawed his pendulous underlip as if it wanted to eat it.

But it was the eyes that were putting the young scholar off his balance. The right eye stared out shrewdly behind its gold-rimmed ocular, held on by folds of fat. The left eye was as white and dead as a day-old fish's, and slashed across from forehead to cheek by an old, ragged scar. As much as he knew he should be watching the right eye, Korm was drawn to the dead orb by an uncanny fascination that he knew must be insulting to the old teacher, but which he felt powerless to control.

He was snapped back to attention by Belmok putting the butt of his sandwich down on his papers and dismissively pushing the certificates and letters of recommendation across the desk, mostly unread it seemed. Belmok leaned back in his cushioned chair.

"So," the old Morg said. "You got your first mastery at the New Royal School in Morg City. I understand that though they are modern, they are quite adequate. Why do you want to pursue further degrees of study here in Tronduhon?"

"Need you ask, sir?" Korm said, and to his inner horror he heard himself tittering nervously as he answered. "The Royal School, big as it is, does not have the...the prestige, the history that you have here. Any scholar worth his salt aspires to attend the Tronduhon Library School." His muzzle kinked itself into an uncontrolled, ingratiating smirk.

"And you think yourself worth your salt, do you?" the Grand Master retorted. His tone were cutting, but the young Morg read something in his body language that seemed to indicate that he was secretly pleased. Korm bowed his head. The bow could have either meant that yes, he did, or that he was humbling himself before the judgement of his elder. Belmok put his hands on his desk and heaved himself up.

"Come, let's do a few revolutions through the halls and discuss your proposed thesis for earning your Great Mastery. I need some exercise." He nodded to the fireplace. "No one ever earned their Scholar's Sword by sitting on their ass."

Korm glanced over, expecting to see the coveted award hanging over the hearth, and was disconcerted to see the short blade pinning a sheaf of tattered documents to the mantelpiece. Belmok hooked an ebony walking staff from a stand next to the door and started out, Korm scuttling to catch up to his side as he hastily pulled a few scrappy parchment notes from his pocket.

(To Be Continued...)