Prelude: Thomas the Rhymer

“Laird Learmont, beg your pardon, but there’s one of them tattoo’d wizards on the grounds,” the guard explained nervously.

“Ach, what is it now? As if I don’t have enough to worry about now. Very well, the midwife has told me there is plenty of time. Send him in.”

“Um....I’m sorry, m’lord, you don’t seem to understand. He’s not asked for an audience. He’s just....on the grounds.”

“How do you ken he’s a wiz-... a magus, then?”

The guard was getting very uncomfortable now. “Well, sir, there’s the tattoos.” The two were walking now. “And...well, sir, when we found him, he had Hamish the Houndmaster tied up with some vines or something, and he was playing with the dogs.”

“Could just be a heathen.”

“M’Laird, he was playing draughts. Plus, he glows. Just a bit, m’laird. Only in the dark, but....but he does glow, m’laird.”

“Losing, too,” adds the Criamon, who is sitting on the floor in front of a red and black checkered board. A small pack of bloodhounds on the other side were animatedly sniffing each other and making growling noises. “I did not need to speak with you yet, Laird Learmont. Your houndmaster, you know he lost his wife this winter?”

Laird Learmont looked up now and saw that Hamish was suspended amid the rafters high about them. He appeared quite vexed. Come to that, Learmont was as well. “Yes, what of it?” He’d heard about the tattoos from Christiniana scholae Bonisagus, his contact at Horn’s Hill, and so he knew better than to goad or threaten one of them.

“Have you not noticed that the daughter has been experiencing prolonged grief at this loss? Have you not asked why? His actions have been...what is the word you use? Sinful. I am taking his daughter back with me. Also, this hound.” He points at Learmont’s prize breeding dog. She whines, then places a paw on one of the red coins upon the board, and slides it to another space, taking three of the Criamon’s pieces. “Ah, very well. The hound does not object. She may stay.”

Learmont could feel his men-at-arms behind him stiffening to attention in the manner that suggests they were all doing a very good job of not laughing. “ cannot just take one of my people. I’ll have Horn’s Hill come down on you like a ton of bricks.”

“I’m taking her to Horn’s Hill. She will experience happiness there. Or at least, she won’t have to live with her dog-humping, child-beating alcholic father while she’s there. It amounts to the same thing.” The wizard stiffens. “My Laird, you had best attend to your wife. She is calling your name in a most vehement way. Forgive me, I cannot stay for the celebrations. Pause only to hear my message.”

Learmont had already turned to run back inside. He paused now, and turned his head back to the magus. A beat, then two. Then it became unbearable. “Yes, what is it?”

“Do not worry. For there will come a day when you love your first born as much as your second. In the meantime, teach the boy his Latin.”

Learmont gaped. His wife was upstairs, ready to produce his first child, and now he was being promised a second son already?


Gregarius Criamonis filius Demetrius Criamonis, Keeper of the Common Forest, faced the reflection in the pond and admittedly confusion. “Not at ALL what I imagined. She and the child died, you know. Still in the womb. And his new bride has given him nothing but daughters since.”

The reflection, Gwidion doctrinae Verditii, chastised his friend good-naturedly from another continent. “You know that this is what prophecies are like. That’s why you always act so strange and cryptic when delivering them. Oh, don’t even try to argue with me on this one. Now stop dawdling and go pick up the boy.”

Gregarius balked. “I’m nearly a century old! I’m in no position to take on another apprentice.”

“You prophecized his Gift. Okay, you were off by a year or two, but still. You prophecized it. You’ve had your little birds watching him this entire time. Everybody assumes you’ve already taken the boy on. Didn’t you say you got a letter from Horn Hill?”

“Yes, a letter reminding me of the quality of their library and the size of their mansion. An obvious invitation, but they didn’t specify a price for their generosity.”

“What other option do you have? Do you want him studying vis?”

“I can teach him myself! The forest can teach him! He doesn’t need books!

Gwidion smiled, knowing he’d won. “So then teach him.”

His childhome was not yet even out of earshot when the wizened, tattood man gave him his first lesson. “Names have power. The name your parents gave you is particularly powerful. I shall continue to use it when we are in private, but we shall guard it jealously from all others. Do you have any questions?”

Edward looked up at the disturbing apparition and gawked at his directness.

Gregarius smiled. “Second lesson: play to people’s expectations, and they will always underestimate you. Among Chrisendom and even when dealing with the Fae, I am a heathen, a stranger, a confusing riddle. So, I play the part of a riddle. Between us, master and apprentice, pater and filius, clarity is essential. So I play the part of an educator. It is important to know when to be which. Do you understand? Good. Now, I’m afraid that far too many people have already had a chance to learn of your coming -- one of the many problems with prophecies, but we shall try to fool them all the same. I shall call you Thomas in front of others, and thus we will hide the truth in plain sight. Do you understand.”

Edward nodded soberly. “All my life, I’ve heard the story of how you came and promised Father a son. He named the unborn babe Thomas even as he ran to his dying wife. Marion, my elder sister told.”

Gregarius made a noise with his mouth that Edward would come to think of as his Approval Noise -- the closest thing he would hear to praise for the next two decades, and continued. “We will be spending a few years in Horn’s Hill, the covenant which supports and, in some senses, controls your father’s lands., the Tytalus Imperator there owes me a substantial favor. You will get to meet his own apprentice.”

Gregarius colors slightly. “Her name-of-apprenticeship is Dogsbreath.”

Excerpt from a letter delivered by golden eagle to the Cave of Twisting Shadows
From Gregarius filius Demetrius doctrinae Criamonis
To Demetrius filius Abdkypris doctrinae Criamonis

...and then he said to me, “You stare at puddles all the time too, what’s the difference?” I mean, can you believe the nerve of him? And of course, it was no good trying to explain to him that I know how to stare into puddles when my apprentice still needs to be walking in circles. I mean, you were the one who taught me the riddle about arguing with the Tytalii.

So, of course, after that there was nothing for it but for us to leave. I just don’t know anymore, Pater. Ever since you Transformed into your Receptacle of Perfect Transmission, I’ve been feeling really disconnected from the Hypostasis. Maybe Villinquinis is right, and I have been too on my own for too long.

Thank you once again for your generous offer. I think that finishing his apprenticeship in the Cave of Twisting Shadows is exactly what young Learmont needs in order to truly understand the Path of Seeming, and his role in Shepherding The Enigma. Of course, I am also looking forward to the time among my brethren -- I cannot wait to have a real conversation with someone about the unenduring agony of existence and the cyclic nature of punishment. The Common Forest is a truly Enigmatic place, but I am just one magus, and even after working on it for half a century, it is a pale shadow of the Cave....

There’s probably a pretty good riddle in that. Reflections of the Cave of Twisting Shadows. I have to work on that for a bit. Reminds me of beer.

Though not a sound had disturbed the peaceful glade, the apprentice felt a sudden chill on the back of his neck. Having learned to trust such things, he immediately bolted away from the shimmering pool.

He ran but a short distance down the forest path before a pine tree leapt out onto the path and ensnared him. The master appeared from behind the tree.

“Will you never learn, boy?” The master despaired.

“No fair! You were going to assault me at the Scrying Pool,” the insolent apprentice interjected, uninterested in yet another of the master’s bizarre lessons.

“Was I?” the master replied, his voice full of cool certainty.

“I felt the danger! You planned to hurt me!”

“What makes you sure t’was I who meant you harm?”

“You’re the only one here!”

“Indeed, and at this very moment, the clouds above the glen are raining shards of ice which would have flayed the flesh from your skin. What is the lesson in this?”

“You’re a bastard!”

“No,” the master replied through clenched teeth. “That assumptions can kill you!”

The apprentice shot back, “The Founder says that all answers are correct!”

“All answers are correct, if you stop and think about it!” the master corrected hotly. “Did you stop and think about it?”

This finally got past the child’s insolence. “No....I just felt the danger and moved. I never had a second thought.”

“No, you failed to have a first thought. Had you thought before acting, you might have remembered that I also can see into The Unwritten Now.”

“But if I had stopped to think, I would have been caught in your attack. I knew that I had no time to think.”

“Indeed. Now, what is the lesson?”

The boy thought long and hard before it came to him. “You’re a bastard!”

“Yes,” the master admitted. “If you stop and think about it. I really am.”

The master waved his hand dismissively at the tree, which put the apprentice down.

The boy explained his comprehension. “You knew that I didn’t want you to catch me, again, at the pool. But if I sensed your anger coming then I would have fled as you entered the glen. So you attacked the glen from the opposite direction, forcing me to run into you!”

“Yes,” the master preened, basking in the brief burst of affection from his hot-headed disciple. “It was rather long-sighted of me, wasn’t it. Now, I have told you many times, child: If you spend all your time looking out into the world, no one will be able to look in. You have seen one meaning behind this wall of words, now I shall show you another. Come.”

They returned to the glen, now encased in a thin, even sheet of ice. The master looked up, and beckoned for one of his eagles, who came willingly, landing with exquisite grace on branch. The master gestured at the tree, and it opened, revealing a hollow space inside with many trinkets. The master began to reach for one before pausing. “Never trust your premonitions, boy. I think I know what is needed, but were I to act before confirming, precious time may be lost.”

As he spoke, the scrying pool began to shimmer and glisten. The trees around him began to sway in the stillness, producing a singsong rustling of leaves that traveled throughout The Common Forest. A voice spoke, and soon the apprentice could see a face in the water -- a face, covered in stigmata and contorted in pain.

“Eagle One to Base! Eagle One to Base” cried the brother, somewhere far away into a muddy pond. “Eagle One to Base! The rabbit has landed in the soup! I repeat, the rabbit has landed in the soup!”

“I hear you, Resting Walnut. What is your dilemma?” the master replied.

“Charlie is in the house!” the Criamon who called himself Resting Walnut replied. “I say again, Charlie is in the hiz-ouse! Jesus Christ, captain! It’s raining fire down here! We need backup!”

The master merely smiled and nodded while more seemingly nonsensical drivel poured out of the scrying pool. The apprentice listened attentively, seeking the string of sanity that he knew was within the words.

After a few minutes, the master raised his hand to silence his raving lunatic brother. “Easy, now, Walnut. I want you to listen very carefully to me. That thing you are holding right now is the ground. You want to place it against your back, breathe slowly and then count backwards from 42. When you wake, you will have journeyed through the Alam of Repose and come back the other side.” He shifted his gaze slightly as the other man obeyed. “I say, is anyone else there? Yes, come closer, it’s alright. There’s a good chap. And, oh look! It’s Diana! Thomas, look, it’s your friend Diana from Horn’s Hill. My, you look good. All grown up! And looking good in that armor, I must say. Don’t you think so, Thomas?”

A slightly baffled “Hello, Gregarius,” emerged from the pool. Though the apprentice could not see her, he dully replied to the familiar voice, “Hello, Dogsbreath.”

“Gregarius, what’s going on?”

“Yes,” replied the ancient, wizened master. “What you and your companions are dealing with is not, I’m afraid, a creature of Infernal origins. It is what we Criamon refer to as an Adulteration, which is to say that it is a being of Magic, whose thoughts are solely of the particular experience that it craves. In this case, a homosexual appetite.” The old man pronounced “hom-o-sex-ual” as if it were a street in Barcelona that he'd read about.

“Where did it come from?”

“Alas, I cannot explain that to you without obfuscating matters further. Not to worry though, your fiery friend’s habit of firing first and asking questions later should, if I judge correctly, still be of enormous help. Though Walnut would appreciate it if he wore looser pants.”

A third voice came out of the pool. “No way is that a Criamon. He makes far too much sense.”

“So,” the master replied cryptically. “It would Seem. Goodbye, Diana. Say goodbye, Thomas. Diana is off to fight evil now.”

This last sentence he said in a tone which was meant to sound genuinely impressed but which every child who has ever lived in the history of the Cyclical and Countercyclical Alams has found unbearably condescending.

“Goodbye, Dogsbreath!”

When the pool’s inner glow faded back to reality, the apprentice was full of questions, but the master raised a hand, silencing him.

“No more questions, no more sitting by the pool. If you spend your whole life looking out, no one will ever be able to look in. There is no telling how many of our brethren you have left friendless and alone as they face the Hypostasis. For those who walk the Path of Seeming, it is our duty to translate the Enigma for those without understanding. Only through us can our House can and keep allies in the fight against Strife. Go! The forest shall be your labyrinth. Meditate upon what has happened thus far today, and when you come back, we shall discuss it like proper Criamon. In riddles.”