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A Wizard's Discourse. Rather, A Horrid Salamander's Précis of Same. A Demand For Payment. An Offer of Payment. An Offer of Payment Rudely Refused. A Wizard's Indignation. A Lunatic Appears!

"What's your problem, Wittgenstein?"

Such was the question addressed by the witch to the salamander, in response to that latter's vulgar outburst. The creature had a name!

"I told you this foety business was a bad move, Magrit," groused the salamander. It looked over to Greyboar and Ignace. "I told her and told her! Would she listen to me? No! She never does!" Its tiny red eyes glared.

"Now look at the situation!" it continued. "That's all we ever get anymore. One sorry-ass so-called wizard after another." Its already-shrill little voice assumed a particularly irritating nasal tone. "'I can't do my spells because some unknown'—what a joke!—'enemies are attacking me in some unknown'—ha!—'manner for some unknown'—ha!—'reason.'" It stopped, glaring at Magrit.

She shrugged. "It's a living."

"It's a bore."

"May I continue?" demanded Zulkeh. "I must say, madame, these constant interruptions are an affront to the pursuit of science—the more so, coming as they do from this unnatural beast!"

"Unnatural beast, is it?" shrilled the salamander. "Let's put it to the test! Let's see if this 'unnatural beast' isn't capable of plumbing the so-called depths of your so-called science."

The unnatural beast hopped from Magrit's shoulder onto a nearby table. Then, assumed a most unnatural pose, the which, strange to say, uncannily mimicked the posture and mien of the wizard Zulkeh. It proceeded to speak in a raspy style of voice, the which, strange to say, uncannily imitated the wizard Zulkeh's elocution.

"Madame," it began, "a problem has astonished me in my mind. Yet, still more astonishing than the astonishment itself is the very fact of my astonishment! For, as you well know, I rank among the mightiest of the world's wizards, and hence, by this selfsame nature of my dialectical cunning and metaphysical majuscularity, am incapable of being astonished in my mind. It follows then, as night from day, through the simple application of syllogistic logic, that this paradox can only result from the intervention of—enemies."

Here the horrid little salamander began to pace back and forth, its head bowed in the manner of one deep in thought, gesticulating with short but sharply expressive motions of its forelimbs—that is to say, imitated in a most uncanny fashion the mannerisms of the wizard Zulkeh when this latter engaged in profound exposition.

"Alas, due to that selfsame scientific loftiness, I am not an expert on that arcane, uncouth, and obscure branch of the thaumaturgic discipline which goes by the name of foety. Hence—I will speak frankly—have I come to your side, madame."

The miserable little beast ceased its pacing and stood stiffly erect, peering forth intently, exhibiting in every angle of its posture that superlative dignity which was the hallmark of the mage Zulkeh when pronouncing an unpleasant but true truth.

"For you are the witch Magrit, the horrid harridan, the repulsive termagant, the fustigant fury, the lamia rampant, the execrable harpy, the verminous virago, the loathsome she-wolf. Hence are you known the world over as the unquestioned mistress of the lore and practice of foety, this expertise being explained, of course, not simply by its natural attraction to one of your demonic foulness, but, more simply still, by the demands of self-preservation."

The vile little monster ceased and stared at Zulkeh. "Well," it demanded, "has the unnatural beast captured the essence of your thoughts?"

Zulkeh coughed. "As to that," he spoke, "in so far as you explicate the dimensions of my situation, I believe you have succeeded in capturing its focus, if not perhaps all aspects of its permutations." Then he frowned. "But certainly must I take exception to the various descriptions of the witch Magrit which you placed in my mouth! For I can assure you—and all present!—that never once would such intemperate and demeaning characterizations of such a fine and respected sorceress as Magrit cross my lips! I am shocked! I am appalled! I am—"

"Oh no!" interrupted Shelyid. The dwarf took a step toward Magrit, his hands outstretched.

"I can swear to it, ma—Magrit! The master didn't say those things! No, you shouldn't think that!"

The dwarf shook his finger fiercely at the salamander. "You should be ashamed of yourself, Wittgenstein!" Then, turning back to Magrit, Shelyid continued, in a most earnest tone:

"He never once called you a lamia or a harpy or a fury or a she-wolf, and—"

"You see!" exclaimed Zulkeh. "My stupid but honest apprentice vindicates me! And I can assure you all—"

"—he didn't call you a repulsive termagant or a verminous virago, oh no!—not at all!—instead—"

"—that Shelyid shares with many morons an uncanny accuracy of memory, the which—"

"—he called you a crass termagant and a loathsome virago, and while it's true that—"

"Shelyid!" cried the wizard. "Desist at—"

"—he called you a horrid harridan, I don't think Wittgenstein should make such a big deal about that because he called you all kinds of harridan, not—"

"—at once! Desist I say!"

"—just a horrid harridan but a vile harridan and a noxious harridan and a debauched harridan, too. So you can see—"

"Desist, I say!" This last in a roar, following which Zulkeh smote the apprentice with his staff, knocking the gnome flat. There can be little doubt that this first well-deserved buffet should have been followed by quite the proper thrashing, but his staff was suddenly snatched from his hand.

Turning with indignation, the mage beheld the staff firmly held in Greyboar's giant fist.

"What is the meaning of this outrage!" demanded Zulkeh. "You, sir! Return my staff at once!"

"Do you wish this staff in its most suitable place?" inquired Greyboar, in a very mild tone.

"Certainly! And at once!" The mage extended his hand. "And furthermore—" He paused, considered.

"A moment!" spoke the mage hastily. He pondered again. "It occurs to me, in retrospect, that your inquiry was phrased somewhat oddly. I should—"

"Magrit, I'll need some chicken fat," rumbled the chokester.

"Got lots of the stuff!" said Wittgenstein cheerfully.

"Just give me a minute!" added Magrit, heading toward the pantry.

"One moment! One moment!" spoke Zulkeh. "There is no need—"

He was interrupted by Shelyid, now risen to his feet.

"Why did you hit me, master?" demanded the dwarf, in a most untoward tone of voice. "I didn't do nothing wrong, I was just setting the record straight!"

"Bah!" oathed Zulkeh. "You—"

"Bah yourself!" shrilled Shelyid. The wizard's eyes goggled at this impudence.

"I'm tired of you hitting me all the time," grumbled the dwarf, "especially 'cause most of the time I don't deserve it, and even most of the time when I do, I don't deserve to be hit as hard and as often as you hit me, and even the few times I maybe deserve to be hit as hard and as often as you do, you still shouldn't do it because, well, because it's mean." He ceased and stared up at his master, a preposterous look of aggrievement upon his semi-simian face.

The wizard was still speechless, due, one suspects, to his bemusement at the gnome's unwonted impertinence.

"And especially this time it wasn't fair," continued the dwarf, "because I was just telling the truth like it happened. I know I'm real stupid, but you yourself said I have a good memory and I can tell you each time you said what you said about Magrit and where you said and when you said it." He paused, knitted his brow. "Like the time you called her a vile harridan was when we were still in Goimr, just after you decided we had to come here. We were in the study where you had been sitting for days without moving—and I was real good and I dusted you off and everything!—and you had just gotten up and called me and I was sitting on the stool where I always sat when you were lecturing and—"

"Enough!" spoke Zulkeh. "Desist, I say!"

The dwarf stopped, pouted. Then said quietly: "It's true. It happened just like I said."

Zulkeh cleared his throat. "Well," he said. "Well, there is perhaps some modicum of accuracy in your account—in a vague and general—"

"Oh, shut up, you old fart!" snapped Magrit. "I'm quite sure that you said everything about me that Shelyid says you did and I'm sure he could tell me exactly where and when you said it. Who cares? Do you think I give a shit what you ever said about me?" She snorted. "I'd lie awake at night worrying about the sex life of fungus before I'd lose any sleep over what you think." She glowered at the mage for a moment, and then made a small gesture to the strangler.

"Oh, give the fool back his staff, Greyboar! He looks lost without it." The staff was handed back. Magrit then said, very softly: "If you ever hit that kid again when I'm around, you'll find out why they call me the horrid harridan." And it was odd, this ridiculous threat from a blowsy, pudgy witch, how it brought such a feeling into the room, of an ancient, bitter wind, blowing across a field of ice.

But the moment passed. Magrit turned away and dropped herself into a chair.

"All right, let's to it. Tell me what your problem is, Zulkeh, and why you think you have enemies."

Then did the mage launch into a discourse anent the problem that loomed before him, eschewing not a full explication of the entire scope and dimension of the task. The clarity and precision of his elaboration of every aspect and nuance of the question were all the more admirable given that he was forced to proceed in the face of frequent interruptions by the salamander, in which the scurvy beast uttered many sour phrases extolling the virtues of brevity and succinct exposition. Yet at length, these uncouth interpositions notwithstanding, the wizard finished with his tale.

"How then," concluded Zulkeh, "may I uncover these enemies?"

Magrit sneered. "Just like that, huh? What do you think I'm running here—a charity?"

"Most people offer to pay for her services," groused the salamander.

"I am no beggar!" responded the mage hotly. "I am quite willing to pay for services rendered me!" And so saying, Zulkeh reached into his purse and brought forth a fistful of oddly-shaped gold nuggets, the which he flung onto the table in a manner both imperial and scornful.

In a trice, the salamander scurried over and examined the pile of nuggets. This took but a moment. The miserable little beast cocked an eye at Shelyid.

"You ought to be ashamed of yourself," it said. Shelyid flushed.

"Dwarf shit," sneered Magrit.

It was now Zulkeh's turn to flush. "Well, as to that, madame, gold is gold. 'Tis widely known that the essence of a substance resides in its properties, not—fie on such witless notions!—in its origins, these latter being oft murky and uncertain. Of no substance is this more true than gold! Did not Midas Laebmaunt—"

"Fuck you and your Midas!" exclaimed Magrit. "Save your breath. I wouldn't fool around with this stuff under any circumstances. And you'd better watch your ass! The minute the Consortium finds out about this, there'll be hell to pay. Pity the poor dwarves of the world!" At this last remark Shelyid frowned, his ugly little face filled with puzzlement and apprehension.

"What would you then, Madame?" demanded Zulkeh. "I am a thaumaturge, not a merchant. Rich in intellect, logic and lore—yet not, it must be said, overburdened by material wealth."

"No tickee, no washee," sneered the salamander. With great disdain, the loathsome little creature flicked the gold nuggets off the table with its tail.

Suddenly, Magrit grinned. "Never mind," she laughed, "I just couldn't resist the needle. 'Not overburdened with material wealth'—hah! The fact is, Zulkeh, I knew you were coming. And I already know how you're going to pay me for my help. You're going to do a job for me."

"What?" demanded the mage. "How did you know I was coming? And what is this—if I may use the uncouth expression—'job' you are talking about?"

"As to your first question, I found out you were coming yesterday. An old friend dropped by and told me. You may know him—Wolfgang Laebmauntsforscynneweëld."

"The fraud!" cried Zulkeh and Ignace in one voice.

"The philosopher!" exclaimed Greyboar.

Magrit sneered. "You're all full of shit. He's no fraud, and, as for you, Greyboar, I don't suggest you call him a philosopher to his face. Professional fingerwork be damned, he's big enough he'd probably tie you in knots."

"Quite a large individual," agreed Greyboar, not, or so it seemed, noticeably distraught at the implied threat. "Eight feet tall, as I remember."

"You've met him?" asked Magrit, surprised.

"We were not properly introduced," explained Greyboar. "But I attended one of his lectures in New Sfinctr some time ago. A most fascinating evening! The philo—uh, how does he respond to 'thinker'—?"

"Prefers to be called a lunatic," said Magrit.

"And quite rightly!" exclaimed Zulkeh.

"—lunatic, then," continued Greyboar, "clarified the powers of madness and amnesia, and their capacity for wreaking good and justice in the world. I enjoyed the exposition immensely! Although, I have to say, I didn't understand most of it, seeing as how it was delivered in a peculiar argot."

"The common, everyday babble of idiots," explained Magrit. "It's his favorite language for public discourse."

"Ah! That explains it, then!" Greyboar scratched his head. "The question and answer period was not especially fruitful, I will admit. Wolfgang answered every question with the statement that he had forgotten the answer."

Now did the wizard, who had been impatiently following this dialogue, interject himself forcefully.

"Madame, you cannot be serious in this project, whatever it is! To bring in the person of Wolfgang Laebmauntsforcynneweëld! Well! Madame! The man is known the world over as a sciolist, a medicaster, a humbug, a hoaxster, a trepan, a—"

"Want me to get the chicken fat, Magrit?" interrupted the slimy amphibian. Zulkeh clamped shut his jaws and glowered at the horrid beast.

"Much as I hate to be on the same side as the pedant," chipped in Ignace, "I've got to tell you I think he's right, Magrit. I was at that same lecture with Greyboar, and let me tell you it was pure and simple gibberish. I mean, that big clown probably couldn't—"

"Shut up!" snarled Magrit. "Both of you! The day I want your opinions, I'll ask for them. Ha! Eternity won't be long enough. Others may laugh at Wolfgang's twin powers of madness and amnesia, but I'm not one of them."

"Besides, she's sweet on him," piped up the salamander. It scampered to the edge of the table, away from Magrit's fierce look. "'Course, she's sweet on lots of—" It sprang to the floor, evading the witch's backhand. Once on the floor, it looked back at Zulkeh.

"Sorry, old boy," sneered the beast. "I know the truth hurts, but you might as well know your ex-girlfriend's a nymphom—" It darted into a nearby mousehole, one scuttle ahead of a hurled teacup. A moment later, its head popped back out.

"Missed, you slut!" The head disappeared as a volley of teacups landed about the mousehole.

"Madame!" exclaimed Zulkeh. "If you might leave be this interchange with that horrid creature, let us please come back to the subject at hand!"

Magrit turned on him, teacup in hand. Zulkeh flinched. After a moment, she took a deep breath and slammed the teacup back on the table.

"Why'd I have to get a salamander for a familiar?" she demanded to no one in particular. "Sassy little slimeball! Should have settled for a cat like a sensible witch—a cute little furball, sweet, dumb, playful—"

Out popped the salamander's head. "Who'd do your books?" it demanded. "A stupid lazy feline? Ha! Think a cat could cover your accounts payable like an octopus with your accounts receivable like a clam?"

"I know, I know," growled Magrit. "That's why you aren't a wallet."

The squabble apparently over, the creature slithered out of the mousehole and returned to the table.

Zulkeh cleared his throat. "Madame, let us leave aside for the moment our differing views on the capacities of Wolfgang Laebmauntsforscynneweëld. The question of consulting with him remains moot in any event. For, do I not mistake me, he has been for some time now incarcerated in the world-famed asylum for the insane in Begfat. Under lock and key, so I am told."

"He escaped."

Zulkeh gasped. "Escaped? From the asylum at Begfat? Surely you jest! The institution is noted for its rigorous security, its—"

"Wolfgang escapes whenever he wants to," countered Magrit. "Not hard for him. After all, he owns the place."


"You didn't know? Wolfgang founded the asylum. Said he needed a home of his own. He's its main patient." She chuckled. "He's also the head psychiatrist, the chief tester as well as testee of experimental drugs, and the captain of the security guard."

A loud knocking sounded from the floor below.

"That'll be him," said Magrit. She headed toward the stairs, giving the wizard a sneer as she passed. "Some people use the front door."

"Madame!" exclaimed Zulkeh. "This is preposterous! I have no time to fiddle away doing some 'job' for you—certainly not a task which involves such a mountebank as—"

The witch paused at the head of the stairs. "Fuck you," she snarled. "You came here looking for my help. You can't pay anything, except in that dwarf gold I wouldn't touch in a minute. It's like they say: 'no freebies from Magrit.' If you want my help, you've got to do me a service—and the service I need will require Wolfgang. So! There it is—you want my help finding your enemies, stay and wait. You don't need my help, after all? No problem—get lost!"

When Magrit reappeared, climbing the stairs, the wizard was still protesting volubly. His voice was stilled by the sight of the figure who followed, a gigantic man who was only able to negotiate the staircase in a stoop.

"He's even bigger than I remembered," muttered Greyboar.

"Disgusting, the way he drools like that," whispered Ignace.

Once at the top of the landing, the giant straightened up slightly, rolling his eyes toward the ceiling.

"I do wish you'd raise this ceiling a bit, dear," he said. "Last time I was here I couldn't ever stand up straight." A grotesque leer came upon his face. "Not that I spent much time in a vertical position." He reached out a huge hand and patted the witch's ample posterior. Magrit squawked with laughter and slapped the hand away.

Still stooped, the giant turned to the wizard.

"Zulkeh!" he boomed. "Have you led me a merry chase! Been following you ever since you left Goimr!"

"Following me?" demanded the mage. "For what reason? And by what right?"

The giant giggled. "By the right of lunatics to do anything that crosses their silly minds, of course! As for the reason, you're about to hear it."

Wolfgang spread his hands, still giggling. "I now declare this council of war open!" Then, slapping his head. "Oh, but wait! I'm so forgetful! The others!"

He leaned over the railing and emitted a piercing whistle. "Come on up, boys!"

There came the tramp of heavy feet. Then, appearing in a row up the stairs, came six wide grins on six lumpy faces.

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