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In Which We Return to My Ancestors' Chronicle, of Which, Joyful to Relate, Remains Extant All Portions Retelling of the Sorcerer's Adventures in the Famed Oasis, But in Which, Due to Sad Circumstances Soon To Be Related, those Portions Recounting the Journey From the Famed Oasis to Prygg Exist Only in Truncated and Misshapen Form.

A Difficult Decision Made—Yet Failure Withal. The Dwarf's Quandary. The Serendipitous Results Thereof. The Wizard's Praise. The Wizard's Reproof. Our Heroes' Fortune Restored!

As the coach for Prygg did not depart the Caravanserai for two more days, 'twas necessary for wizard and apprentice to obtain lodgings. Fortunately, in the cursed highwayman's bemusement at Shelyid's unexpected tale, he had not thought to inspect the gnome's person. Thus did Shelyid retain the shilling in his waistband, this being the annual allowance permitted to him by his master. The coin proved just sufficient to cover the cost of a small room at the inn for two nights.

Exhausted by the journey, Shelyid curled up on his pallet and promptly fell asleep. Not so the thaumaturge, who was—any fool could see it!—engulfed in a humor both sour and bleak. He paced to and fro until the wee hours of the morn, muttering loud imprecations at the foibles of happenstance, and bringing down many fell oaths, curses, and contumely upon the absent head of a certain Rascogne de Sevigneois. At length, however, this amusement palled, and the wizard fell into silence. Clear it was that he pondered over his present worldly state. As the first light of dawn appeared, he sighed deeply.

"Alas, there is no other way. Shelyid—arise! Arise, I say!"

Grumbling and mumbling, the dwarf rolled over and sat up, rubbing the sleep from his eyes.

"What is it, master?"

"Get up, dwarf. We must discuss our present circumstances, eschewing all pusillanimous melancholy."

"Yes, master!" exclaimed Shelyid, astonishment writ plain upon his face. Rare indeed were the occasions upon which Zulkeh deigned to discuss their common situation with his apprentice. Unheard of, in fact.

The dwarf now awake and attentive, the mage began his exposition of the problem. "Shelyid, we find ourselves in dire straits—this, the result of our recent calamity. I refer, of course, to the reiving of our funds by that insufferable rogue, that leprous villain, that feculent dastard, that heinous rapscallion, that irremissible scapegrace, that—"

"Rascogne de Sevigneois."

"I shall thank you not to interrupt me!—caitiff miscreant, that—well, in any event. We have not a copper to our name, not a sou, not a farthing. True, our passage to Prygg is already paid for, but we shall require further monies to obtain provender—food, drink, and such—the which is necessary even for a thaumaturge of my talents and abilities. Do you find yourself in agreement with my diagnosis of our plight?"

"Oh yes, master!" cried Shelyid, pleased beyond compare at his master's confidence.

"The problem which thus presents itself to us, in all its indignity, is the acquisition of pecuniary resources. This follows, does it not?"

"As night from day, master!" cried Shelyid. Would wonders never cease?

"Fortunately, all is not lost. The Caravanserai is, as you may be aware, notorious not only for its many criminals, prostitutes, and suchlike ethical wantons, but for its enormous traffic in slavery, as well. Indeed, it is the chief slave market of Grotum. The conclusion, I am sure you will agree, is both obvious and inescapable."

"Oh yes, master!" cried Shelyid, overcome with pleasure at his master's bonhomie.

"Excellent!" spoke Zulkeh. "It is settled, then. I shall sell you into slavery at the first opportunity—this very day, in fact."

"Slavery?" shrieked the dwarf. "But—but—no! You can't, master! I won't!"

Zulkeh sighed and patted his apprentice's head. "No, no, good Shelyid, do not quail now at the force of logic. I appreciate your loyalty and can only commend you for your selfless desire to share my perils and travails, ill-equipped though you are for the task. But no—a slave you must be."

Of the disgraceful scene which followed these stern but stoic words, we shall exercise our narrative responsibility and draw over it a discretionary veil. For in truth, the gnome Shelyid did comport himself in a most unseemly manner, refusing, in flagrant violation of all custom and reason, to accede to his master's command, even after the forbearant mage had chastised him most soundly. So great, indeed, did Shelyid's intemperance become, that the wizard was required to bring forth from his sack that fearsome instrument which he employed on those (fortunately, quite rare) occasions in which routine thrashings were of no avail.

We refer here, of course, to the "Apt Malediction for the Reprovement of Sullen Stableboys, Impudent Domestics, and Other Artless Imps," the which, as the gentle reader is perhaps aware, has been the subject of great dispute among the savants. For though D.I. Laebmauntsforscynneweëld argued in his definitive On the Use of False Scrolls that Zulkeh's application was conditioned by the scroll's thaumaturgic deficiencies, the which rendered it useless for any purpose save the chastisement of drub-deserving dwarf-dolts, to this opinion did Torquemada Sfondrati-Piccolomini take sharp exception in his ground-breaking Flagellation: The Romantic Face of God's Terror, claiming instead that the mage opted for said instrument from a keen sense of poetic justice, only to call forth in so saying the intervention of his half brother Draco, this latter advancing in his controversial Two Jerks Jerking Off yet the third view that the wizard's use of the scroll was determined neither by goety nor poesy, but by the material substratum of both, in that the scroll was actually not a scroll, but a carved inscription upon an oaken rod.

Be that as it may, the instrument availed its purpose. Thus was propriety restored, following which, wizard and his sullen-but-subdued servant set forth for the great slave market of the Caravanserai. Yet, as the day wore on, it became apparent that the dispute between our protagonists had been needless as well as undignified. For, try as Zulkeh might, he simply could not sell his apprentice. Scrofulous though the average slave was, Shelyid was so grotesque even in this company that no slave merchant would so much as discuss the possibility of purchase.

The closest approach which the wizard enjoyed to success was also the most ignominious. All other establishments on the Boulevard of Bounteous Labor having spurned his offer, Zulkeh advanced upon the very last edifice on that noisome street—the term "edifice" being used very delicately. The ramshackle building—say better, disintegrating hut—was conspicuous for any apparent volume of trade. The only customer in sight was a large animal urinating against the rear wall, as if expressing its opinion on the architecture. It might have been a hog, it was difficult to tell.

Above the half-open door—half-open of necessity, since two of the three hinges had fallen loose—was a sign which read:

Herbert & Gertrude Sophist, proprietors
You've got a right to work!
So we'll sell it to you.

Zulkeh strode within, Shelyid in tow. In the gloom beyond, an elderly couple so slender they seemed almost skeletal were lounging on an ancient divan. The male half of the pair was snoring. His female counterpart, eyes widening at the appearance of an actual customer, jabbed him fiercely in the ribs. Given the sharpness of the elbow involved, it was a bit astonishing that no flow of blood ensued.

The man jerked awake. Then, seeing Zulkeh and Shelyid, sprang to his feet. Using, again, the term "sprang" with considerable delicacy.

"Yessair, yessair," he chortled, rubbing his bony hands together with a sound not dissimilar to that made by certain insects. "Yessair, yessair—I've got just what you need!"

He gestured grandly toward the far corner of the shack, where his wife was now occupied hauling forth what appeared to be the only merchandise the establishment had in stock at the moment—a woman whose age was impossible to determine, clad in rags, festooned with chains and shackles, and so skeletal she made the owners seem obese.

"Premium quality house servant!" the man pronounced solemnly. "Not quite suitable fer y'proper carnal abuse—I'll be the first t'admit it, I'm no huckster tryin' to pass off cut-rate merchandise as anythin' more than 'tis—but I'll knock twenty percent off y'price."

Alas, the intended sale turned out to be a skeleton in actual fact. After being dragged halfway across the earthen floor, the arm in the wife's hand came loose at the shoulder and the rest of the body flopped to the ground.

"Vile slave!" the woman snarled. "Wretchit thief! Try and steal from me, would yer?" She proceeded to thrash the corpse with the limb in her hand. Alas, after a single thrash the elbow joint gave way as well, leaving the wife disarmed as well as dispossessed.

"I told ye we 'ad to feed 'er more often, Gertrude," hissed her husband. "Onc't a week jest won't—"

Zulkeh cleared his throat noisily. "Sirrah, you misunderstand. I have come here to make a sale, not a purchase."

The mage grasped Shelyid by the shoulder and shoved him forward. "My apprentice. A stout lad, if stupid, and well inured to labor. I warn you I shall not be cheated."

The man—Herbert Sophist, presumably—eyed Shelyid with skepticism. But, unlike all the other slave dealers they had approached that day, he began to examine the prospective merchandise. And if his bony fingers poked Shelyid's ribs with no great vigor, and pried open his lips to inspect the teeth with even less, still and all 'twas at least a semblance of proper slave-dealer custom.

After Sophist was finished he stepped back, planted hands on hips, and announced firmly: "I'll take 'im off yer hands. Nay a problem, sair. Be my pleasure." He eyed Zulkeh for a moment, gauging the possibilities, and then added (not quite as firmly): "Twenty quid. And don't think ye can talk me down, sirrah! I'm being generous as 'tis."

Zulkeh frowned. "I have no intention of talking you down! Your offer is absurd. Thirty quid and not a penny less."

Sophist's eyes widened. "Thirty?" he choked.

Before he could say another word his wife shuffled forwardly eagerly and hissed: "Done! Thirty quid it is!" Her hand stretched forth, palm up, like the petal of a Venus flytrap. "Cash now. No credit."

Zulkeh's frown deepened. He stared at the woman's clawlike hand. "There seems to be some confusion here . . ." he muttered.

"No confusion!" snapped Gertrude. "As 'tis, even at thirty quid we'll like as not lose money."

Her husband nodded solemnly. "Indeed so! A dwarf? Scrofulous as thissun? Th'feed alone'll mos' like bankrupt us afore we kin find some idiot—ah, customer who'll take 'im off our hands."

It was Zulkeh's turn to choke. And choke. Eventually he managed: "Insane! Do I understand you aright? You expect me to pay you for—for selling my own merchandise?"

Hearing these words, Gertrude Sophist began to spittle. "O'course! 'Tis the law!"

"Sairtainly is!" snapped her husband. In the singsong tone of one reciting memorized words: "No dwarven slave may be purchased without payment from the seller, lest the foul notion be established that dwarves are worth anything." In a less stilted manner: "Sorry, sair. No point arguin' th'matter. Thazza direct quote from ye Honorable Judge Greased Hand's decision in th' case o' The Dreaded Scot vs. the Pewling Dwarf-Lovers' Association."

He lifted his nose. "The Dreaded Scot bein', as I'm sairtain yer aware, reckinized 'cross Grotum as th'slave trader's slave trader."

"In the Hall of Fame, 'e is," snapped Gertrude. "Made it on th'first ballot, too."

These words spoken, the mage proceeded to open up to the understanding of Sophists, man and wife, the preposterous and pernicious nature of their logic, reason, rationale, sanity—

But he had barely warmed to the subject before the distaff member of the couple, displaying a vigor quite out of keeping with her anorexic appearance, threw him bodily out of the establishment's doorway. Dislodging, alas, the final hinge in the process, the which produced a shrieking promise from Gertrude Sophist that she intended to sue the mage for every penny he owned in damages.

Shelyid scuttled out of the building, nimbly evading a savage blow from Gertrude on the way out—so nimbly, indeed, that the hapless woman overbalanced and injured herself on the doorframe, the which mishap produced yet another shrieking promise that she intended to sue the mage for every penny he might ever own in damages.

But, by then, Shelyid had hoisted the mage back onto his feet. Master and apprentice hastened from the scene, followed by the shrill curses and imprecations of the Sophists, man and wife, until the cadaverous pair apparently ran out of breath altogether. Which, in truth, did not take long.

* * *

Midafternoon, therefore, found Zulkeh and Shelyid trudging back to the inn. Once arrived in their room, the wizard turned to his apprentice and spoke.

"Shelyid, I command you to remain here. You are forbidden to leave this room under any circumstances, no matter how dire or urgent they may seem to you. I now depart, to rendezvous with a certain individual who, such is my hope, may be interested in purchasing your person."

"But we already went to every slave dealer in town, master," protested Shelyid.

"You are too pessimistic, Shelyid. The individual of whom I speak is not a slaver. He owns a circus, and has, I am led to understand, a sizable collection of freaks and sports of nature, to which he may wish to add another specimen." And so saying, the wizard departed, locking the door behind him.

Following the wizard's departure, Shelyid huddled on his pallet, misery writ plain upon his face. Now that his feeble mind was no longer distracted by the sights and sounds of the Caravanserai, it was plain as day that the wretched dwarf's thoughts were focused with undivided attention upon his plight.

"A circus freak," he muttered. "A slave was bad enough, but a circus freak!" Many long minutes of silence followed; then—"People'll laugh at me. Point fingers. Throw food. Probably get better food thrown at you than they give you to eat regular, anyway." Many more long minutes of silence. "And what about upward social mobility?" he called out suddenly, into the gathering twilight.

Many more long minutes passed. Then did a look of discomfort come to sit upon his face. Alas, the dwarf's fears had produced the inevitable biological concomitant.

"Gotta shit," said he. And so saying, rose and minced toward the door, which opened into the corridor where the water closet was located. But at the door he halted, muttering.

"Can't leave the room, master said. Under any circumstances, he said. Besides, door's locked." He turned away, mounting agony writ plain upon his face.

"But I gotta shit." He stared at the floor—a wild surmise—but then: "Cripes no, dummy. Issa Consortium floor—prob'bly gut ya f'that." Suddenly his legs coiled about each other like vines.

"Gotta shit bad!" he wailed. Then did understanding and wisdom come and sit upon his brow. "O'course!" he cried. "The old scroll! S'no good anyway."

And so saying, the dwarf hopped across the room, limbs still entwined. He flung himself upon the wizard's sack, feverishly scrabbling through its contents. At length he emerged, clutching in his hand an old and much-worn scroll entitled On the Transmutation of Base Elements Into Gold.

"Master'll never miss't—s'tried it dozens a times, s'never worked." And not a moment too soon did the apprentice spread the scroll upon the floor and attend to his urgent business.

There did Shelyid squat for a time, staring placidly at the opposite wall. Eventually finished with his work, the dwarf rose and buckled his breeches. Then, turning and stooping over, he prepared to pick up the scroll and its contents and hurl them through the window onto the street below, this method of waste disposal being de riguer throughout Grotum. But he was of a sudden transfixed. For imagine his astonishment when he perceived that, where should have lain certain objects the precise nature of which we will delicately leave to the gentle reader's understanding, lay instead—mirabile dictu!—several large and oddly shaped ingots of gold.

And it was at this very moment that the wizard returned to the room. It required a full ten minutes for Zulkeh to decipher Shelyid's ensuing babble, following which he smiled approvingly and patted the dwarf's head.

"You have done well, Shelyid. I perceive now my past error concerning this scroll. My mistake lay in assuming that by 'base elements' were meant the common metals, whereas in fact were meant base elements, of which, as is well known, there is none baser than dwarf excrement. And there is a lesson to be learned from this, my stupid but loyal apprentice, in that subtlety of mind can be, on occasion, its own undoing.

"Indeed, this stroke of fortune comes at a most opportune moment, for the individual I went to see expressed a total lack of interest in buying you for his circus. All this, however, is now behind us. Armed with this newfound wealth, we are funded not only for our present needs but for some considerable portion of the future as well."

Shelyid's ugly little face crinkled with pleasure. Not so the wizard's—for Zulkeh's benign smile turned in a instant to a fearsome scowl.

"I note also, however," spoke the mage in a stern voice, "that you have grossly defiled one of my scrolls, the which I had faithfully entrusted to your care." And the sorcerer thrashed his apprentice soundly.

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