"Mundane, Magocrat & Mapmakers" — Part I — Sept. 6, 2012
A mundane, a magocrat and a mapmaker walk into a bar.
The mundane approaches the counter, where the bartender desultorily wipes a glass with a mildewy towel.
"Give me a double water, straight up, boiled to death," the mundane says, brazenly, glancing out of the corner of his eye at the magocrat, who pretends to ignore everything about this rotting establishment.
The bartender puts down the glass. He gingerly removes a screaming kettle from over the fire behind him, using the rag to protect his hands. The rag starts to vapor noxiously. He pours boiling water into the glass, which cracks some more but doesn't quite shatter. Still simmering merrily, he pushes the glass toward the mundane.
Excerpts from a Kafthean novel about Marrishland.
The stories in this book all play with the stereotypes of the mapmaker, the mundane, and the magocrat — stock characters of Mar comedy. Most of the events in the early stories are completely unbelieveable for anyone even remotely familiar with Mar history.
"That'll be two pegs," the bartender says.
The mundane pays, takes the glass of steaming water, and sits down, cursing as he burns his hands.
The magocrat approaches the counter, where the bartender has just found another glass and is fighting to get the fuzzy green towel into it.
"I shall have a double water, straight up," the magocrat demands.
Silence descends on the bar like a raptor on a mouse.
"Boiled, then?" the bartender says finally, giving up on cleaning the glass.
"No, boil it not," the magocrat orders, more grandly.
"Only there's certain uncomfortable illness if it's not been boiled."
"Boil it not, I say," the magocrat repeats, face reddening. "Lest I flay you alive and use your skin to encase the throne which I would endeavour to assemble from the remains of your dismembered skeleton, lashing what bits I could with the intestines I removed in your disembowelment, in severe and utter pain unto your very end of existence, which is skimpy."
The bartender's brains squeeze out of his ears as he tries to digest this.
"That doesn't make ... any sense at all," the mapmaker says, to no one in particular.
"And your spleen shall be my crown."
The bartender gives up trying to guess what the magocrat expected of him. He puts down the glass and towel, heads out back, fills up a wormeaten bucket with muddy red water from the swamp and pours the water into the glass. Small things are seen to swim in the water. He hands the glass to the magocrat.
The magocrat holds the glass, staring at it as if holding the universe in a jar, and soon the water begins steaming gently, then boiling madly, and the red fades to clear as all life is extinguished. The glass is somehow cleaner than it was right after it was created. The water is as pure as the spring from where it began, far up in the mountains, long before its muck-and-grime state brought about by its thousand-mile journey to the magocrat's hand.
The magocrat sips of the water.
The bartender gapes. The mundane frowns bitterly into his water, which is still too hot to drink.
"That'll be ..." the bartender starts breathily, but the magocrat raises a finger. "Free," he finishes mildly.
The magocrat nods courteously to the bartender, goes and sits down near the mundane.
The mapmaker approaches the counter, where the bartender searches desperately for another glass as the dish towel makes a game escape for the door.
"Give me a double water," the mapmaker says, grinning mildly.
The bartender looks at the mapmaker, and pity wells up in his heart.
"I'm sorry, but I don't have any more glasses," the bartender says.
"Wut? Oh, well, how much for the bucket? I just want to soak my feet."
The door slams open before the bartender can begin to dissuade the mapmaker of his suicide attempt, and all else is forgotten as a delegation from the town, led by its small, mole-like mayor.
The mayor squints, then runs to the magocrat and kneels before him.
"Oh great magocrat, save us!" says the mayor, his nose twitching.
The mundane glowers. The mapmaker wanders over to look outside. The magocrat raises his hand in confident control.
"I shall endeavour to aid your town as best I can," says the magocrat. "What is your problem, good mayor?"
"Oh great magocrat, starvation is upon us! Our harvest drowned when the damn dam broke, flooding our field. There will be no food for the coming winter. The wet season is soon to be upon us, and I fear for the young men and women of my town." He snuffled, his nose twitching.
"As a matter of fact," starts the mundane.
"Fear not, good mayor," begins the magocrat, "for I have come into the possession ..."
"We've this new plant ..."
"Of a miracle flora, whose great yield ..."
"You can harvest it twice a year probably."
"Should suffice to persuade your town to subsist through the forthcoming dry season."
The mayor's head bobs back and forth between the mundane and magocrat.
"Yes, but, what is it?" he says, as they finish.
"Did I not just say?" the magocrat asks. "This miracle vegetation ..."
"What?" the mundane asks. "Our product ..."
"Multiplies as the sands of time ..."
"Grows really fast ..."
"Thus providing your domiciles with an infinite source of sustenance."
"So there's a lot of it."
The mayor holds up his hands, staring at the two men. The magocrat smiles benignly at the twitching face before him. The mundane scowls at the back of the magocrat's head.
"Yes, but, what is it?" the mayor repeats.
"Wild rice," the mapmaker says, from the doorway. In his hand is a bag of seeds. "Very nourishing. I don't think we've eaten anything else for the past month or so, you know, traveling here."
Everyone stares at the mapmaker.
"What is that on the seeds?" the mayor asks, eventually.
The mapmaker looks down. "Why. How. Interesting. A large black spider. Hmm. I would think it is Archie neirt, the black widow. Its bite is quite deadly poisonous, if it is a female, which you can tell by looking at its underside."
Everyone holds their breath as he picks it up and flips it over.
"Oh yes, see, this red hourglass shape? Yes, definitely a female. My, I would think we were fairly far south to be seeing one of these. They usually prefer drier areas, you know, because too much moisture can destroy their eggs. Every species likes to protect its offspring, I suppose. How. Interesting."
The mapmaker flicks the spider over his shoulder outside, and everyone starts breathing again.
"Is he for real?" the mayor asks.
"Quite," says the magocrat. "Carl is our guide to your village."
"He is Carl. How shall we refer to the rest of you?" the mayor asks.
"I'm Plin," says the mundane, extending a hand, which the mayor graciously accepts. "And our magocrat friend is Duk."
"We had duck for dinner last night," the mayor says doubtfully.
"Duk," corrects Duk the magocrat, somewhat irritably. "One cannot help what one's forebears mistake in the ways of dropped vowels."
"What he means is, his mom can't spell," Plin translates.
"I thought duck was spelled with a c. That's not a vowel."
Duk's withering look forces the mayor back a few steps. Then he brightens a bit.
"Shall we discuss ... recompense for our aid?"
The mayor looks at Plin, who translates, "We're not gonna give you the seeds for free. We'll need some cash in advance."
"We are but a poor town."
"Surely, some method of remuneration is called for in lieu of sudden and swift death upon your fair shantytown."
"I don't think anyone could call starving to death sudden and swift, Duk," Plin says.
"It is certain," Duk replies, vaguely.
Plin turns to the mayor. "Maybe you've got something stashed away? Wild rice doesn't grow on trees, you know."
The mayor squinted hesitatingly at the two men. "Maybe we have a little gold around, in case of emergencies."
"No greater crises exist than those which threaten the upright state of a populace."
"This is something worth spending your gold on."
"It's not a lot," the mayor says quickly. "A small bit of ... jewelry we acquired."
"Maybe we could wander by your refinery and check out your iron stockpile?" Carl says from the doorway.
Everyone turns to stare at the mapmaker, who shrugs.
"Isn't red in a stream a dead giveaway? I'm sure we'd prefer your iron to your gold, anyway. One man's pot is another man's salvation, as they say."
"Yes," Plin and Duk say. They stare at each other, then Plin defers.
"Yes," Duk says, rising to his feet. "Iron as a method of payment would subsist to suffice for all our crises."
Plin screws up his face as the mayor looks to him in hopes of enlightenment. "Duk says, that'd be a good idea."
They march out of the bar, leaving the bartender wrestling with his towel.
Sometime later, after much bartering and translating, the mundane, the magocrat and the mapmaker walk into the field.
The mundane approaches the field, which is ankle deep in water. Soaked and dying pieces of rotting crops break the surface of the pond in irregular intervals.
Plin wears thick, knee-high leather boots acquired as part of their payment. Full length leather pants are tucked into the tops of the boots, which are turned down. A leather vest covers his leather shirt, which as drawstrings around the ends of the sleeves, the neck and at the waist. These strings are pulled tight. He wears a cloth scarf around his neck and a leather hat that covers his entire head except for his face. Thick, elbow-length leather gloves cover his hands. He carries a sling with seeds on his shoulder, and tall walking stick in his off hand.
He sweats profusely.
Stepping into the field, he tosses a handful of seeds into the water, then mashes them into the mud with his stick. He is thorough, and water and mud splash up to his midsection, but the leather protects him from all dangers imposed by his actions. Every few feet, he tosses another handful of seeds, and spends a few minutes tamping them into the mud. It is a loud and slow process, but as the sun reaches its peak for the day, he is halfway across the field.
Plin stops for a rest, his back sore. Sweat coats him, and he itches all over.
The magocrat approaches the field. Mosquitoes and dragonflies perform wild dances in the air above the standing water, and unidentifiable bugs skim across the surface of the water.
Duk wears thick, knee-high leather boots and cloth pants. His leather utility vest has pockets stuffed with rice, and his thin cloth shirt is loose at the sleeves and neck, because it's hot out here. His head is exposed to the air, and his cloak is thrown back over his shoulders.
Standing at the edge of the unfinished half of the field, he tosses a handful of seeds into the air, and they spread out and hover over the entire unsown side until they hang thick as flies. Then they plummet to the earth as though they were all heavy rocks, causing barely a splash as they slice through the water and immerse themselves precisely below the mud, uniform and unnatural.
The entire process takes less than ten minutes, and Plin stares at Duk disgustedly.
"Why did you let me do half the field when you could've done all of it?"
"Good Plin," Duk says, "Our occupations would not be so joyous if we could not practice them, would they not?"
Plin closes his eyes and yells silently for a few minutes.
The mapmaker approaches the field, but it is already sown. So he turns around and looks at the virgin swamp. While the field may have appeared to be teeming with life, it is as the Mardux's palace next to the mire that lays in front of him.
Carl bends over and removes his thick, knee-high leather boots. He rolls his leather pants and removes his cloak.
Then he steps into the swamp, feeling the mud between his toes. He tosses some rices in front of him and trods it into the mud. Step, toss, step, toss, step ...
"Carl, what are you doing?" Plin calls in a panicky voice. "Where are your boots?"
"Dear Carl," Duk says, also somewhat panicky, "what dangers of the swamp have you forgotten?"
"Hmm? Oh, well, what I thought was, toes are like fingers, and fingers mix things up better than any other tool. Have you ever mixed flour with another grain? Fingers act like sifts. So I thought, well, what would be better to mix the seeds with mud then? Same principle. You can see, it works really well. Ow. Of course, I couldn't use my hands, because crawling around would hurt my back and knees. But since toes. Ow. Are like. Geez, what was that? Fingers. Ow. Then. Um ... Hey guys, I think there's konig worms in the mud, huh? Is that? Ouch. What you were asking? Ow. Um."
Duk and Plin leave the town the next day, but Carl is buried with the worms that killed him, which eventually gives rise to the adage:
"Why did the mapmaker cross the swamp?"
"What, he made it across?"