Romaunce of the Abject Apiary, Book Two
By Enzio de Kiipt, trans. M.C. & K.S.
Sooth be told the raiment of another always seems finer. I’ve felt myself only rarely, but that is because it is not my task to feel myself, no, I am a mere chronicler, a small god counting fish as they rush in the River Ultima to fates West of Folk, where words are born. The Oldest World, they call it. And that is where I am going, although I must confess it is where I am from.
How can I possibly convey the hue of Tho’rakyn’s azure flesh, it’s opaline sheen and careening heft like a heaving ocean, without seeming mad? I’ve spent many nights agaze at my neighbor’s lantern, guessing at the names of ancient words, as if the fire would dance in the right direction, as if a pageling would appear in its plumes of smoke to hand me a cryptic answer. Reader, as we go on in this Romaunce, you would do your best to remember that no such thing has happened, and still I stare at that flame.
Eventide seeped in winedark rills, the bloated sun burning like the eye of an ignoble parrot. Beneath that smoldering panopticon, Aleph Baro ran her taupe hand down the Zir’s velvet culottes, tracing runes of eretimes on his thighs. He picked up a cheetough and delicately placed it in her wet welcoming mouth. The Mother of Cuck’s eyes shimmered like the opaline baetylus of Zone Nereval, the cheetough dust on her lips not unlike the auburn sands which surround that most sacred and magnanimous stone in its desert fane. The Zir, possessed by physickal urge, leaned in for a kiss and was met with a resounding slap.
“Zir Duane!” she furrowed her brow.
The Zir shrugged in the lackadaisical manner which brings to mind that poem by Anon Chan, the daring concretist bard of South Web, the original Maester of the physioglyph style, (in)famously rendered as follows:
She got up and brushed the debris fromage from her flowing turquoise sari. “You know I cannot know one’s mouth this time of the season. Once the second trimester has passed and the Sickle Sisters draw the names of the proto-cucked, then I’m all yours. Mayhaps.” She knelt down and kissed the Zir’s frizzled, feather-strewn mane.
“Of course of course,” the Zir muttered as he stood up to face the Mother of Cucks, “so I suppose you’ll be making your way then?”
She sighed like roiling mist, “Othracia calls, I’m afraid. Goatsblood, it truly is a cesspool of rehearsed decadence, for they reap what their poets and lawyers sow. It is only when I am in that pretentious port do I dare reminiscence of the erstwhile reign of the ruling throngs… ”
The Zir’s eyes lit up like a pregnant moa, the fetus of inspiration throbbing within Duane’s mind. “As much as you deign to ride there, I must ask of you a favor.”
“Oh?” The Blade-Daughter of Nyverene arched an eyebrow in imitation of the famed bronze-trestled viaducts of Near Ortharcion. “You have my ears, find your way to my heart.”
“I need you to go the Stadium Arcadium and parlay a message to the Tenured Bards there. Give them this written decree as well as recite a Zir’s Proclamation.” He withdrew from his sleeve a slender vellum letter sealed with beefwax.
She stuck the missive in one of her linen’s deep folds. “And what is it, exactly, that you proclaim, Zir Duane of Reade?”
“Tell them that, this year, for the first time, the Feast of the Toasted Poet is going to be held here, at Tackleberry Keep, in the Palatinate.”
The Mother of Cuck cackled with sadistic delight, “Ooo Duane, they are not going to like that. For how long has it been held in Othracia? Ten, fifteen hundred years!”
“Precisely,” the young animus hissed through his gilded teeth, the gold dust in his saliva shimmering with the vitality of his intent, “Six months hence, there will be coronated a new Poet Laureate of D’urst, replete with the grass crown of Mater Graminea and the Glasscoch Rubies, yes, and it will be held here in the keep! Where else could it be? And ah before you ask, I know how I shall get it here…” He stood up and stole to the alchemy bench – whose usage lately had been more conversational than transmogrifying – where yet the Zir still kept a few amalgamations stewing as though baboon rump over a country tavern flame. With the haste of a reluctant proto-cuck fleeing from the steps of Nyverene Hall, the Zir muttered his edict into a dissipating wildflower whose drifting remnants mingled with the discolored fog of indiscernible gurgling reagents (Mildew-milk? Banshee dandruff? Ghost feathers?). He brought the bronze flame to a steady roast and with thrice-great pumps of the ozone bellows gave birth to a snarling and swirling zephyr which rose up into the mechanized heavens in stringent plumes: licks of purple-then-teal-then-orange smoke curled to form the vague outline of a giant. The Zir held aloft a velvet Yobian drawstring purse, as though an offering to the baleful Aeon nigh and to the Mother of Cuck’s surprise, the zephyr sucked itself into the Yobian drawstring purse with a pleasant slurping sound. The Zir Who Was Once Not A Zir tied a belcher’s knot and then handed the purse to Aleph.
“If you see Andreas Durbane within the hallowed halls of the Bards, give this gift unto him, for he is the Loremaster and Keeper of the Names of the South and North Webs and will find this new zephyr and its capabilities to be of the most relatable. Realizing what Tackleberry has to offer, he will no doubt be swayed to our – and the Palatinate’s – poetical cause. In fact, I know he himself covets the grass crown most of all.”
“So what shall you render unto me, Zir? You know I don’t practice the Work for noncery.” The Mother of Cucks flipped her hair and demurred.
“If you do this for me, then Ben Fomo shall grant you access to one of his Sycophants. *Any* one of them.” He tilted his nose whencewise.
Aleph chewed this over in her mind for a minute and for reasons unknown to any folk, acquiesced to the Zir’s request. In concurrence, Zir Duane of Reade and Aleph Baro gripped each other’s forearms with hot beefwax on their palms, cringing at the prickling pain, though the goatbumps upon their flesh belied the physickal pleasure derived thereupon as well – the Sickle Sisters couldn’t draw the names soon enough, thought the Zir, letting his fingers stray a hair too long ‘pon the Mother of Cuck’s arm. She smiled gracefully at him and he bowed as low as he could, much like the famed “drinking bird” of Cassione. She eyed his prostrations with some amusement and then picked up a cheetough – for the road, she noted in her head – and departed without so much as a sigh. The Zir looked up from the parquet floor if only to watch the baobabwood door close. Above him, beyond the imitations of his iron-wrought firmament and into the deep reaches of the physickal plane, the planets traced their true destinies in looming constellations unequalled in their ensorcelling beauty. Their luminous bodies danced of their own accord, without any care given to the mere laws of men – as is the wont of all rightful things.
Apropos of all matters is the roll of the dice. However distant chance may seem, be it known the Gods are gamblers, my Reader, and even I, a cardinal of the enlightenment, a libertine to most, will profess such a heavenly belief. Why, even the most plastered bettor in some debased Othracian Chancery can discern that luck is a physickal force reckoned within the Aether itself. How else to explain the sublime coincidence which presented itself so dankly to Tho’rakyn? And how else to execute upon it – this chance to sail the gurgling seas and meet his artistic inspiration? From a manatee-hair purse he plucked a megalonyx-bone die and cast it across the stained expanse of his handmade boarwood illumination lectern, an iconic piece ornamented with the likenesses of his dearest departed D’urstian friends throughout the ages – legends and demigods such as Teutch Gregaryion, the mirthmaker of Turbid Insula and Aki Abbess Onda, the prima donna of antiquity whose stagecraft was of such perfection that despite her celebrity and ubiquity across the South Web, she became one of the most successful and notorious spies of the Second Drunken Wars. She, in truth, was the gifter of that rare and bristled satchel from which Tho’rakyn drew the die which lay on a peeling ochre splotch, its face bearing the mint green seal of Mune, signaling – in this divination game just invented by the Milker of the Golden Goat – that he ought to stay in the Palatinate and not take heed of Gohodrun’s cryptic offer, tantalizing though it be.
“Bah!” he snatched up the die and with the fervor of a terrified capybara facing down a divergence in a forest path as a she-wolf stalks close behind it, he scurried out his yurt and wound his footfalls close the marble escarpments as they sloped to the green quadrangle which terminated at the circus tent comprising the Bartlebane Cafetorium, named so in honor of the Zir’s favorite poet of the Bluddei School. “Puhhaps” thought Tho’rakyn aloud, exaggerating his accent for his own personal pleasure, uncaring of the zephyrs and speakspirits which ramble the Tackleberry grounds, “Puhhaps I ought to take the portent revealed by this accursed sloth-borne die and act upon its exact opposite!” He giggled like a yak, “Yes, yes, Fortune is a cuck I’ll swear that much! Psuedoprotoprophetics be damned, I must make haste to the Merkin Wharves!” Wearing his resolve as though a finely-plumed trilby, the Mountain Who Moved the Sky stood at the sweeping blue lace entrance to the Cafetorium:
“But first, algae on toast.”
Having supped without incident and finding his viands aplomb with piquancy, the sated Hand to the Sarcoline Udder perambulated as though a boar amongst heathland, sucking on the marrow of a most plump matter: he was needed at the Merkin Wharves by Eventide – ought he to make haste there above all else or would the Goat will it that he tarry more and risk missing his barge such that he may parlay a farewell to his cherished Zir? Ruminations churned like young gold in the heart of myriad nebulae. Each thought let the sky grow a bit darker. He should not have helped himself to fourth servings of the kumquat souffle.
And so his vacillations swung heavily like the neck of a dying moa and his face resembling just the same. Oh if only Tho’rakyn had affixed the toadstone to his brow and saw his visage, awath in dweebian pathos! The Zir tittered like a cuckoo clock awaiting the anon hour. He stuck the spyglass in its holster and gave the five-fingered whistle: his harpies screamed with delight and took airs, their leathery wings pulsing great gasps of cloudbreath as they arc’d and pitch’d towards Tho’rakyn. The preternatural pair alighted on the Milker of the Golden Goat’s shoulders – he looked up at their smooth androgynous faces with bespoke wonder, reminded of the mannekins crafted by the textile merchants of Siraai, a few of whom are said – in hushed whispers and obscured script – to be in possession of elevated physickal arts which impart life unto the unanimated and bestow intellect as though lighting a lantern. Such a flame flickered within the irii of the harpies and their breath was like jasmine and fresh silk as they flashed cerulean fangs. With a single beat of their wings they lifted the Mountain Who Moved the Sky off the soil and into the free Aether where his aurelian tresses bloomed in all directions as though a radial behind the head of a cephalophore. To what durance do these rough beasts deliver me? Tho’rakyn wondered hurriedly as the ground below him spun further and further away. And will I keep my humours about me ‘fore I land?
But the harpies flight-path streamed true and without turbulence nor intervention of unwanted airbone artifact they soared with the sureness of devout pilgrims, the call-and-response rhythm of their pinions soothed the raw seas of the Mountain Who Moved the Sky’s mind- not unlike the convalescing effects of ducksalt upon the gallspleen: a pungent swirl of relief churning like a gyroscope within one’s corpulence. The Purpureal Zir waved from the parapets, hot bulbs of laughter bowling down the flanges of his cheeks as though in imitation of the gemmed sycophants of Anti-Sarco, “Good-bye, old friend!” he shouted, his right hand flapping in exultation as Tho’rakyn’s silhouette drew e’er-fainter, “May the Goat guide you! Look down, My Gate and My Key! Remember to look down!” He stood with his hands on his hips as the edge of Tackleberry Keep’s rooftop esplande as Tho’rakyn’s tiny mass meekly waved back to him, no doubt rendered speechless by this inimitable act of immaculate surreption. It was with that laudatory steelo the Zir Who Was Once Not A Zir sent off one of the few folk in the D’urstian realm he truly dare call a friend, a chum, a compatriot, but alas, a danger to his most intricate machinations.
And so the Triumvirate strove through the air as though cnidarians of the Mer d’Schyte, weightless and tumbling through the foam and recesses of time. Heeding the hallowed words of the Zir, Tho’rakyn stole his eyes downward and took in the landscape of the Palatinate: the rolling ridges of chernozem, the vying hunks of Mendouk shrubs forming the fangled heaths where young cucks play, the terra-cotta and limestone rooves which plotted the residents of the realm in chromogeometrics snug as honeycombs, and ah, there, nigh-dissipated by the distance, he saw the shimmering walls of Tackleberry Keep, those hallowed grounds that the Hand to the Sarcoline Udder’s quondam called home. In the distance, coral clouds slithered towards their nameless origins, their chemtrails parameterizing a horizon splayed by the Sirenese ridges to the east and the mountain stronghold of Mein Bhrogart to the west but with ease Tho’rakyn flexed his vitreous humour and flew his sight past those landmarks and onto the Blue Veldt which sprawled its way to yes, there, the sea I can see it! Tho’rakyn hollered and the Harpies pulled higher so that the veritable Mer, that massive roaring abyss, came into the fullest extent of Tho’rakyn’s ken. And as the harpies aligned themselves for landing, he bore full witness to the churning humanity of the Merkin Wharves, blots of noble groupings whirling and stirring and Tho’rakyn, hearing in his head the grandest and most soaring tune – inviting to his mind associations of the Turqish romps and Syzthezine hills of his ere youthdom, plying and flying with the bee-maidens and wax-wives of the mossy hamlets which notched the escarpments and thrice-great canopies of South Web – he thus began to gesticulate madly like a conductor deep in the Muse’s thrall, throwing his meaty claws in heaping swoops as the violins kicked up dust and the wharf-bells rang out their dulcet-yet-dolorous peals. Somewhere a vuvuzela babbled a long burbling note and The Mountain Who Moved The Sky snarled, pulling his left hand down in concordance with the riggers swinging mizzenmast-to-aft on the schooners and ah to his east and west a flock of bay-gulls swooped along with him, their wings beating a rollicking march as the trumpets and krummhorns of Tho’rakyn’s imagined orchestra sounded their brass farts in ebullience, horse-bells ringing out aloud too and the harpies yodeled in tones melodious and true as they set the Hand to the Sarcoline Udder upon the planks of the wharf and then took off spiraling with laughter, spinning a skyward helix with the bay-gulls in tow.
Hardly a soul turned their nostril at this triumphant debut, whose gallantry brought to mind the theatrics of those vision-seekers who trekked to the vast barbed-ques and bonne-freres of the Nereval Burning Men but here, in more bustling and industrious lands, such pomposity and insistence was met with an efficient shrug, for there is eternally the specter of work. And so laborism, that backbreaking ideology developed by rich perverts in Othracia, went on: the stevedores – wearing elegant diapers of Nymdian cotton – swung their brass hooks and hauled ass as the wharf-wardens enumerated legumes and the rum-fetchers sloshed towards the hog-shackles and alehouses which constituted Festooned Street. Smelly cucks nipped at Tho’rakyn’s heels as they chased one another with dried out tentacles affixed to reeds, the raw lack in between their legs plainly visible. Above it all, carefree nimbuses of mirthroot vapor ambled their way from Horniquen’s Saloon to the docks and over the elevated goat-rail, which Tho’rakyn marveled at as though a child drunk for the first time. Although hardly a stranger to these strange piers, he was ceaselessly impressed with their vitality and their dankness.
He eyed the declension of this season’s harrowing orangegreen sun, estimating the time to be a little past Dodecum-Thirty and thus nearing Eventide-Minor when all the ships shacked up for the night, save the scant few – “the wisest of the fools”, they are called in the untranslatable bubble-voicings of the Mergons – who cast off to make the Night Sail. Who among the fleet deign to make that voyage this dusk? Who among the barquentines and triremes and xybecs and feluccas and trabaccolos and – in case you thought I forgot but tell me, distant friend, does one ever truly forget, for even when the image is naught but ebon mist in the mind’s eye is it truly forgotten…it is simply misplaced in the many ateliers of the Memory’s Palace awaiting fain circumstance – no, I did not forget the heaving dromon which sat apart from all other ships due to its girth and odium, what with its zyyggurat sails scouring the skies. Nor did I forget the menacing and manifold oars lining its flanks as though a sharpened ribcage. How many rippled warriors gripped the wood within its sweaty gloom as the dromon lolled in the Mer as though a sinister d-j’in on its hypnotically-woven cassowary feather carpet? Undoubtedly more than the number wishes a d-j’in is allowed to grant in its lifeline, that is to say one hundred and thirteen. And so Tho’rakyn, swallowing a lump in his throat, knew he would be taking his seat among them to make the Night Sail.
Yes, although Gohodrun had offered to pay for Tho’rakyn’s passage, that did not mean it came free.
ENZIO DE KIIPT is the author of several Romaunces, including The Romaunce of the Abject Apiary.
KIT SCHLUTER is a translator of The Romaunce of the Abject Apiary.
MITCH CALZONE is another translator of The Romaunce of the Abject Apiary.