The Tears of the Melomancer

Simon Whitechapel

Enjoy the honey-heavy dew of slumber.
Thou hast no figures, nor no fantasies,
Which busy care draws in the brains of men;
Therefore thou sleep’st so sound.
     William Shakespeare, Julius Caesar (1599-1600).

News of the wizard’s death never came, but by midsummer rumor of it hung everywhere in the pollen-hazed air of his northern tributaries, for his great golden bees, long as a man’s forefinger, had never appeared in spring, seeking nectar and pollen on heavily droning wings; and already some of the largest flowers were withering unfertilized on bush and tree.

The thieves Haqqla-Thedrum, Malakwin-Ozdovrec, and Alinan-Tikvi made note of these indicia, and an embryonic plot was soon implicit in their glances as they plotted or dissected lesser affairs in the taverns of Mgulor, but it was not until late summer, when unprecedented numbers of the scarlet ibis came north in migration, that their unspoken thoughts became words, and their words deeds. The ibis flew directly above the wizard’s desert domain in their migration and each previous year a moiety of them, at least, fell victim to the stings of the wizard’s bees.

This year it was plain that they had flown unmolested and the three thieves considered this final proof that the wizard’s hives had fallen silent at last, which was in its turn final proof that the wizard himself was dead. They saddled their camels and rode south, seeing the green and well-watered lands around them fade and parch gradually to fine sand of pale yellow, as though the earth were spread gradually with a universal pollen.

But when they came to the borders of the wizard’s domain, where the sand began to heap and mold in great dunes, their camels deserted them, for as they approached a six-sided tower built of hexagonal flags of honey-gold marble, a great buzzing on a sudden burst from its irregularly spaced hexagonal windows; and the camels, a hardy but self-centered breed, bucked their riders off and fled in terror of the angered swarm within.

Picking themselves up, the thieves waited with resignation for the buzzing to translate into a fatal cumulus of bees, which would outpace the fleetest-footed of them and reward them with death-stings for their temerity at approaching even the border of the wizard’s domain. But now the buzzing faded within the tower and Malakwin-Ozdovrec raised his camel-goad, pointing at its roof.

“See, my brothers, the wind-sails there. They have ceased to turn, and the bombilation correspondingly dies. I believe—”

But now another breeze took the sails and spun them, and again the buzzing burst forth from the tower.

“Aye,” said Alinan-Tikvi, a stoic and taciturn easterner, acknowledging the truth of Malakwin-Ozdovrec’s guess; and without further word the three tramped on past the tower and into the wizard’s domain. They walked two days, guiding themselves by the sun and stars and chancing all that water awaited them in the wizard’s house at the heart of the desert, for they had passed the point of no return on their second midday.

Their dice-throw was successful, for towards the dusk of that second day the great six-sided tower wherein the wizard himself dwelt began to rear through the haze of sand-dust that surrounded them, lifted on the slur of their burning feet; and soon they were walking amid his gardens on pavements of hexagonal flags. But the gardens were withered and sere, half-whelmed with drifting sand and scattered with the sun-shriveled bodies of giant bees: both herbs and harvesters had perished for lack of the water that lay ready beneath hexagonal caps in deep wells.

The thieves uncapped a well and lowered the six-sided bucket of camel-leather that awaited beside it on a six-twined rope; and when they had partly quenched their choking thirst and washed their faces, hair, and beards free of the clinging desert-sand, they turned their feet to the wizard’s tower, congratulating each other on the prescience of their reasoning. The wizard was dead and could no longer direct his elementals to raise water from the wells in sustainment of his gardens and hives; and whatever treasures lay within the tower were theirs, they considered, for the taking.

And even entrance was easier than they anticipated, for the hexagonal gate of the tower yielded to the pressure of a palm, and they passed within murmuring each his favorite cantrip of successful thievery. Now they proceeded to explore the rooms of the tower, searching for portable goods of high value; but after high hope came dusty disappointment, for the wizard, despite the centuried rumors of his wealth, seemed to have lived in the strictest and most austere simplicity, eating from utensils of earthenware at furniture of rough-hewn palm-trunk; and though a vast collection of gold-colored polyhedra promised much in one room they entered in the cool heart of the tower, it proved to be constructed solely of beeswax.

Haqqla-Thedrum crushed a rhombicosidodecahedron underfoot with a snarl of frustration as they made this discovery, and Malakwin-Ozdovrec amused himself by hurling other polyhedra at the walls, flattening their facets that they might fall to the floor bereft of their symmetry. Alinan-Tikvi watched and then spoke their doom.

“He remains.”

Malakwin-Ozdovrec paused in the moment of hurling a snub dodecahedron against the wall, and nodded. Then he hurled the thing and said: “Aye, ’tis so. The miser himself remains. His eyes and fingers and most especially his phallos will fetch much gold in the markets of Mgulor or Ikporresh, can we persuade the traders of their authenticity.”

“We will carry a dead bee or two back with us,” said Haqqla-Thedrum, “proof sufficient for the most skeptical”; and the matter was settled: they went in search of the wizard’s corpse. Haqqla-Thedrum believed it would lie in the highest room of the tower, Malakwin-Ozdovrec in the lowest, and Alinan-Tikvi cast the deciding vote with a simple: “Down.”

Down they went with lamps of clay that burnt malodorous and smoking palm-oil, into the rooms awaiting them in the foundations of the tower. And here, perhaps, were more promising goods than in the rooms above, for they found the half-hundred or so codices of the wizard’s library, and though none of them could read the variety of hexagonic scripts in which they were written, they determined to carry one of the smallest back with them and test the market in Mgulor. If it sold, they would return for the remainder, having guarded against usurpation of their monopoly by transporting the library out of the tower and burying it somewhere in the gardens.

Cheered at this thought, they sought deeper rooms; and at last, in the very deepest of all, with its six walls of chiseled sandstone, they came upon a sealed sarcophagus of golden wax cast in the shape of a giant bee-pupa. It was lying on a dias beneath an inscription in one of the wizard’s scripts, which Malakwin-Ozdovrec paused to score through with the knife he had drawn.

Wizard's hexagonal beescript

“Words will not protect thee now, wizard,” he said, and turned to assist his fellows to open the sarcophagus. The soft wax yielded readily to their blades, and they soon cut away the lid and exposed the narrow corpse of the wizard lying within in a coarse garment of greying linen, his white beard braided in six strands upon his breast. Alinan-Tikvi, the least superstitious and most courageous of the three, for all Malakwin-Ozdovrec’s and Haqqla-Thedrum’s bravado, cut into the cloth over the wizard’s groin and lifted the shriveled root of his phallos, prior to striking it off with a single slash of his knife; but he paused, for Malakwin-Ozdovrec had chuckled and was pointing at the wizard’s face.

“Look, he weeps for the desecration he is about to endure.”

And it was true: from beneath the closed eyelids of the wizard heavy tears were creeping. But the tears shone strangely in the lamplight, and crept with unnatural sloth down the death-smooth face.

“Nay,” said Haqqla-Thedrum with unwonted seriousness, “it is no tears.”

And as though in confirmation of his words, the shining fluid began to well simultaneously from the wizard’s mouth, nostrils, and ears; and Alinan-Tikvi released the wizard’s phallos with a grunt, wiping his fingers on his robe, for from that orifice too the fluid was welling.

“It is honey,” he said. “See it rise.”

And indeed, it was flowing faster by the second, filling their nostrils with its too-sweet scent. The sarcophagus would soon overspill, and the three thieves, all thought of harvesting the wizard’s body for gain struck from their brains, waited in a sudden sweat to hear, in a variant on a hundred tales of wizardly revenge they had heard in childhood, doors begin slamming in the tower above them, sealing off their escape that they might drown with apposite irony in the fluid that had nourished the wizard during his long life.

No sound came, but their stretching nerves on a sudden snapped and they turned with one accord and fled from the room. At the threshold Alinan-Tikvi paused and looked back, lifting his lamp to see into the re-fallen darkness; but the sarcophagus remained dim in the shadows and only an edge of flowing gold advanced across the floor into the pool of light cast by his lamp. He turned again and followed the departing footsteps of his companions; and though he retained the presence of mind to pause a moment in the scriptorium, hoping to seize a codex in attempted salvage from the wreck of their thievery, his lamp showed him tongues of honey licking forth from all pages in sympathy with the wizard’s corpse.

He fled the tower in earnest then, and the light of the setting sun showed him the footprints of Haqqla-Thedrum and Malakwin-Ozdovrec arrowing desertward across the wizard’s drowth-slain gardens, while honey flooded slowly beneath the shifted hexagonal lids of the wells, forming ever-widening pools around each. He fled between the pools in the sand-recorded steps of his fellows, the scent of the honey thick as fog in his nostrils. The flow continued when he had passed and soon the honey would cover the gardens, obliterating all footprints in an expanding lake wherein the zenithed moon would view itself at midnight, having risen three hours before at the backs of the fleeing thieves.

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