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In Which the Wizard Acquaints Himself With His New Traveling Companions, the Florid and Well-Dressed Man of Some Middle Years, the Imperious Dowager La Madame, and the Warden and His Young Prisoner, Newly Convicted of Stealing Bread From Mother Edna's Bakery (a Subsidiary of the Consortium). A Dialogue Between Zulkeh and the Youth, With Our Hero's Remonstrances Concerning Law and Reason Countered by the Unrepentant Miscreant's Discourse on Poverty and Its Effects. A Visit From the Forces of Law Themselves, and Their Representative's Unfortunate Experience With La Madame's Dog. A Villain Strikes Again! Pursuit. A Villain Strikes Again!

It is with great regret that I must now inform the gentle reader of a most unfortunate episode in the history of my ancestors' compilation of their chronicle. Or rather, two unfortunate episodes.

The gentle reader will perhaps have noticed two recent oddments in our chronicle, to wit, that the preceding chapter ended in a somewhat peculiar manner, and that the chapter heading above is unwontedly fulsome and verbose. This results from the fact that the chapter heading was not written by Alfred CCLVI, but by his successor, the notorious Alfred CCLVII. For know, gentle reader, that Shelyid's odyssey in the wizard's sack, recounted in the previous chapter, had as one of its unforeseen effects the untimely demise of the great Alfred CCLVI. For though my ancestor faithfully mentioned the dire effects of the unnamed and unnameable fluid which filled various niches of that sack upon the human and dwarf body, he neglected to consider the possible effects upon the louse body. And, as it happens, these effects are most disastrous in their effects and most precipitous in their onset.

Shortly after the encounter with the unnamed and unnameable fluid, Alfred CCLVI was smitten by a most terrible seizure, the which not only caused his mandibles to vibrate like a tuning fork and his appendages to quiver like stalks in the breeze, but also made it quite impossible for him to continue in his duties, inasmuch as his every heroic attempt to do so—and there were many!—led to so much nonsensical gibberish.

Thereafter, though his mandibles and appendages ceased their disorderly motion, Alfred CCLVI fell into a deep lassitude. Try as he might, and despite the exhortations of the many members of our lousely clan which gathered about, he was unable to take pen in foreleg until the excitement which ensued following the reappearance of the villain Rascogne de Sevigneois. Then, most nobly, did Alfred CCLVI rise and scribble the accounts of that episode, upon the completion of which he dropped dead.

The chapter heading was thus written by his successor, Alfred CCLVII, of whose eccentricities we will become all too shortly acquainted. But before I take up that regrettable piece of my clan's history, I will present the final pages of the illustrious Alfred CCLVI's career, that his name might shine forth in history. Only this portion of the chapter exists.

* * *


The coach screeched to a halt. The occupants peered out the window, there to perceive a body of horsemen.

"It's Sheriff Pike and the Posse!" exclaimed the florid and well-dressed man of some middle years.

"And who are they?" demanded the imperious dowager La Madame.

"The local law enforcement agency, Madame," explained Zulkeh, "if such they can be called."

"And what do they wish?" demanded the imperious dowager La Madame.

Her answer was provided by the Sheriff himself. "We're looking for Rascogne de Sevigneois, the notorious highwayman! Do not move until I've inspected the coach!" The Sheriff trotted his horse over to the coach window in order to search the interior. Pushing down the peak of his pique hat to cover his widow's peak and peeking through the window, Pike's pique peaked as La Madame's peke bit him on his peak of a nose.

"How piquant!" exclaimed the imperious dowager La Madame.

[Chronicler's note: These last sentences—grotesque and baroque—were, of course, the penultimate symptom of Alfred CCLVI's fatal condition, which even now approached its sad end.]

"Vicious beast," growled the Sheriff, but he forbore further quarrel.

"The highwayman's not here!" he announced to the Posse. Then, to the driver: "You may be off!"

But, just as the coach began to move, a new voice cried out.

"Stand and deliver!"

The coach stopped again. The passengers leaned out the window. Imagine their astonishment when they perceived that where had seemed to stand the Sheriff and the Posse, stood instead, none other than Rascogne de Sevigneois himself.

"It is I, Rascogne de Sevigneois, cleverly disguised as the Sheriff and the Posse! Descend and be robbed!"

The driver, guard, and all the passengers climbed down from the coach.

"Why is the youth so illy treated?" demanded the highwayman, seeing the prisoner shackled to the warden. Upon hearing the explanation, Rascogne smiled at the youth and said, "Fear not! I shall not permit such injustice to continue!"

It took but a moment for the rascal to strip the passengers of their wealth. Upon seeing the wizard and Shelyid, he said, "So! We meet again!" Here the impudent rogue seized Shelyid by the nape and suspended him in midair, turning the gnome this way and that. The dwarf did protest this treatment—indeed, he swung his little fists most energetically at the highwayman, but all to no avail.

"A snarl-friend, eh?" mused Rascogne, inspecting the dwarf from every angle. "Most strange, most strange."

He deposited Shelyid back on the ground. Then, looking about at the other passengers, he demanded: "But where is La Contessa and her decrepit but doughty spouse?" He stroked his mustachios. "I confess I was much taken by the fair lady."

Shelyid, his indignation replaced by concern, cried out, "Oh, it's horrible! They threw her in prison—her and Il Conde both, because he wouldn't pay the Consortium's fine!"

"What?" demanded Rascogne. "O infamous deed! And where are they held? In the Caravanserai gaol?"

Shelyid nodded.

Rascogne's face flushed with anger. A most ferocious smile, like unto a wolf's, spread across his features. He stroked his mustachios vigorously.

"Well!" he exclaimed. "We shall have to deal with this—most certainly!"

Just then a cry was heard. "It's Rascogne de Sevigneois! After him, men!" Turning, all saw that a sizable body of men had appeared on the eastern horizon.

"It's the Hue and Cry!" exclaimed the driver.

Rascogne bounded onto his horse. "A chase! A merry chase!" he cried gaily, and galloped away over the western horizon. A moment later his pursuers pounded past the coach, a motley horde of ruffianly bounty hunters seeking the reward for the highwayman's head.

"Ah, malediction," spoke Zulkeh. "The villain has struck again!"

Suddenly the florid and well-dressed man of some middle years pointed to the northern horizon. "Look!"

Turning, all saw Rascogne de Sevigneois furiously galloping toward the coach, pursued now not only by the Hue and Cry but also by the Lynch Mob and the Band of Outraged Fathers and Husbands. The highwayman pounded up to the coach, cleaved the manacles binding the youth with one blow of his sword, swept the erstwhile prisoner onto his saddle, and galloped away over the southern horizon. A moment later his pursuers mounted past the coach, leaving the dust of a small army in their wake.

"Ah, malediction," spoke Zulkeh. "The villain has struck again!"

* * *

Such were the last words penned by the illustrious Alfred CCLVI, to whom we bid a sad adieu. Sad, first, for the untimely passing of this great chronicler in the prime of his powers. Sadder still, for his demise led to the succession of Alfred CCLVII.

Every great line has blots on its escutcheon, and Alfred CCLVII is one of the greater ones on the noble clan of the Alfredae. To begin with, Alfred CCLVII was a mere apprentice at the time of his ascension to the inkwell. Heretofore, under the tutelage of Alfred CCLVI—who was known not to be overly admiring of his student—he had been restricted to the writing of chapter headings. This necessary, but of course not sufficient, aspect of the chronicler's trade, was known by all Alfredae to be his sole skill, in which, truth be told, he was not skillful.

And here lay the first of his two great faults. Of the second of these, his grotesque egomania, I will speak in a moment. But the first of his faults was perhaps even worse. For Alfred CCLVII was given, even in the writing of chapter headings, to verbosity.

Know, gentle reader, and I speak here as an experienced and accomplished chronicler in my own right (as the gentle reader has already had occasion to judge, from his perusal of these preceding pages of our tale), that of all the sins and foibles which afflict the writer—be that writer a scribe or a scribbler, a diarist or a dramatist, a narrator or a notary—there is none so foul, so odious, so disreputable, so arrant, so untoward, so deplorable, so infamous and so peccant as verbosity, yes, I say again, verbosity, that malignant cancer of the narrator's craft, which, under its many names—whether those be the names preferred by the educated gentility: wordiness, long-windedness, prolixity, superfluity or garrulity; or yet those more exact and fine-focused terms which are the natural optation of the scholar, the rigor of whose training in the necessity of precise meaning naturally leads them to such labels as: longiloquence, largiloquence, grandiloquence, multiloquence, polylogy and rodomontade, not to mention the yet-more-technical terms of the specialist: nimiety, pleonasm and amphigory (or amphigouri, as the purists insist); or those euphemisms which are, not surprisingly, the terms of choice of the verbose themselves, I speak here of: circumlocution, loquacity and eloquence; or even, for we should not in natural pride of our intellect and refinement ignore their cultural contributions, meager and crude though these be, the coarse epithets which are oft heard from the lips of the uneducated and unwashed: chatter, jabber, prattle, gabble, babble, blabber and blather—wreaks the greatest havoc of all the literary vices upon the heart of literature and narrative itself, that heart being, although most (even exceptionally well-read) literates are unconscious—say rather, not fully conscious—even of its existence, much less its centrality, the fundamental bond of trust which develops 'twixt writer and reader as these twain intersect, though indirectly and at a distance (a distance measured not simply in space but in time), without which education itself becomes an impossibility, for the reader becomes wearied and overtaxed, and thus loses his concentration, indeed, even his interest, while—what is worse!—the writer loses all sense of the purpose of his craft, the which is not to aggrandize himself, in a frivolous display of empty virtuosity, but to impart to the reader the pith and the meat of the tale which he tells, and in so doing, loses all grasp on reality and reason, falling thus further and further into the fell sway of those psychologic disorders which we know as solipsism and egomania.

Even so was Alfred CCLVII struck down by his vice. For not only did this callow youth know nothing of his trade save the writing of chapter headings, but once come to the Alfredship, he proclaimed his very vice a virtue! It was astonishing! This crazy little louse began strutting about, telling one and all that chapter headings were the essence of narrative, indeed, all of narration that was significant!

And so—here I come to the heart of the matter—it is with great regret that I must inform the gentle reader that the next few chapters of my ancestors' chronicle exist, alas, only in the form of chapter headings. But do not despair! For the Alfredae were and are a stern breed. Once it became apparent that the newly-penned Alfred was a madlouse, the clan did meet in full assembly and with no further ceremony did seize the apostate and maroon him on a passing peddler. And so was Alfred CCLVII succeeded by Alfred CCLVIII, of whose narrative skills nothing but praise can be said, as the gentle reader will soon learn for himself.

In the meantime, however, I must ask the gentle reader's indulgence. Glean what can be gleaned from the chapter headings and then, in the next portion of our tale, glean what can be gleaned from an extraneous source, the which was most cleverly obtained by my ancestors through mechanisms which remain, to this day, a deep secret of my clan.

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