Read The Ultimate Stonemage: A Modest Autobiography Online
Authors: Duncan McKenzie
A Modest Autobiography
A Modest Autobiography
By Duncan McKenzie
Copyright © Duncan McKenzie 2015
Published by MKZ Press
All rights reserved
The use of any part of this publication reproduced, transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, or stored in a retrieval system, without the prior written consent of the publisher—or, in case of photocopying or other reprographic copying, a licence from the Canadian Copyright Licensing Agency—is an infringement of the copyright law.
Issued in print and electronic formats
ISBN 978-0-9949409-0-2 (bound). ISBN 978-0-9949409-1-9 (Kindle)
Cover design © Duncan McKenzie
2538 Waterford Street
Oakville, Ontario, Canada L6L 5E7
“My name is writ in stones.”
Stonemage of Antiquity
In Which I Explain How To Write A Great Autobiography
In Which I Tell Of My Arrest In Luthen And Of The Towers I Built There
In Which I Tell Of My Visit To The Duck Islands And My Victories There
In Which I Describe My Voyage To America, The Visions Which Accompanied It, And The Various Actions I Took Because Of These Visions
In Which I Tell Of The Many Good Things Which I Received From The Bishopa And My Execution Of Certain Duties In Quebec
In Which I Tell Of How I Left Quebec, Leaving Two Griefs Behind
In Which I Tell Of My Travels Through A Great Forest And The Events Which Followed After I Left It
In Which I Show How Every Single Event In Life Is Ruled By A Great Plan And Tell Certain Secrets I Have, Until Now, Hidden
In Which I Tell Of My Travels West From Molys And My Coming To Learn Of The Principle Of Directional Exhaustion
In Which I Describe A Series Of Terrible Calamities Which Befell Me
In Which I Describe How I Lost My Army And My Exciting Adventures In A Great Pot
In Which, Through The Use Of An Entertaining Dialogue, I Describe Various Aspects Of The City Of Stanneck
In Which I Describe Several Events And Encounters, Some Of Them Good And Others Bad
In Which I Describe My Practice As A Joiner And Mender In The City Of Stanneck And The Friends And Enemies I Made There
A Further Continuation Of The Eleventh Part
In Which I Describe My Travels West, During Which Time I Educated A Child Until A Sad Thing Happened
A Fifth Section Of The Eleventh Part
In Which I Tell Of The Things I Created In Belpinian
A Sixth Section Of The Eleventh Part
In Which I Describe My Journey To The Imperial City Of Saskatoon And The Strange Employment I Found There
A Seventh Section Of The Eleventh Part
In Which I Describe How I Achieved Further Fame In Saskatoon
An Eighth Section Of The Eleventh Part
In Which I Describe My Meeting With The Emperor And The Things That Came Of It
A Ninth Section Of The Eleventh Part
In Which I Briefly Describe The Passage Of Many Years
A Tenth Section Of The Eleventh Part
In Which I Tell Of My Voyage Across The Pacific Ocean
An Eleventh Section Of The Eleventh Part
In Which I Describe My Glorious And Triumphant Return To My Homeland
A Twelfth Section Of The Eleventh Part
In Which I Tell Of How I Fought The Indians At Sea
A Thirteenth Section Of The Eleventh Part
In Which I Tell Of How I Fought The Indians On Land
A Fourteenth Section of the Eleventh Part
In Which I Reveal At Last How It Was I Who Won The War
A Fifteenth Section Of The Eleventh Part
In Which I Describe My Second Triumphant Return To My Homeland And Events Concerning My Treasure
A Sixteenth Section Of The Eleventh Part
In Which I Describe My Plans For Rebuilding Many Cities And An Injury That Befell Me
The Penultimate Section Of The Eleventh Part
In Which I Tell Of How The Actions Of Others Did Great Harm To My Standing
The Final Section Of The Eleventh Part
In Which I Document My Attempts To Win Back My Money From Our Thieving Queen
In Which I Explain The Meaning Of The Term “My Name Is Writ In Stones”
In Which I Explain How To Write A Great Autobiography
I was going to title
My Name is Writ In Stones
from a quote by the great Henry Eagles. But then I thought to myself, “This is the story of
life and accomplishments, not those of Henry Eagles!” So instead I have named it
The Ultimate Stonemage.
On seeing the title, some have said to me, “Friend Yreth, we are puzzled. Do you mean your book will teach the reader to
the ultimate stonemage? Or do you mean the stonemage is the ultimate mage and stands above all others? Or do you claim you personally are the ultimate stonemage?”
It is a difficult question.
I do believe this book may teach the reader to become a better stonemage, for I have revealed many magical secrets within its pages.
And it is certainly true that the stonemage is the ultimate mage. Oh, the curser inflicts diseases on the skin of his victims, the firemage lights his sparkling candles, and the mage-of-the-kitchen makes meals for our pleasure, but what are these professions compared to the fearless stonemage, who casts his magic to sculpt huge castles with towers a thousand feet high? I think we can all agree that using magic to construct a mighty castle is a much greater thing than using it to cook a tasty egg!
I am reluctant to claim I am the ultimate stonemage, for humility is a virtue. And yet honesty is a still greater virtue, and, if I am to be honest, I must confess I have never met a stonemage who is more skilled than myself, nor heard of one either.
All in all, I think it is best if I remain silent on this issue, and you may reach your own conclusions after you have read this autobiography. You may decide, “Yes, Yreth is clearly the world’s finest stonemage.” That is a valid opinion, certainly. Or you may decide, “No, Yreth is not the ultimate stonemage.” And that is also a valid opinion—although I would then encourage you to reread the book, perhaps paying closer attention the second time.
So much, then, for the title. But what of the words between the covers?
There are many rules for writing a great autobiographical work, which this one most certainly shall be. The authorities tell us, for example, that such a book must never have pictures, because the pictures should be created in the reader’s mind by the author’s words. And it is agreed the writing must be in prose, or in rhyme of no less than fourteen syllables to the line.
Of course, it is widely known that life stories of all sorts, and particularly those recounting great adventures and accounts of travels should contain exactly twelve parts, for twelve is the number that resonates most perfectly with geographical principles (twelve empires, twelve seas, twelve great rivers, and so on).
But there is one point on which the experts are divided—the question of where to start the tale. Some favour the
Retrospective Method, where the author begins by describing his current circumstances, then works backwards to recount the events leading to them. In this way, they say, the narrative remains rooted in the present and is therefore bound faithfully to reality.
On the other hand, advocates of the Chronological Method say that, since life itself begins with the moment of birth, any account of that life must also begin there, and the story must proceed systematically through childhood, adolescence and adulthood. By following this sequence, they claim, the story more truly reflects the order of nature.
Countless writers, embarking on their life stories, have chosen between these extremes, using either the Retrospective Method or the Chronological Method. As a result, their stories are flawed from the outset; for, in choosing the merits of the
Retrospective Method, they eschew the advantages of the Chronological, while a preference for the
Chronological Method throws away the benefits of the Retrospective.
How, then, to begin a story which is to be perfect and without flaw? Why, the answer is simple. Strike a balance between these extremes.
Today, as I write this, I am seventy years old. When I was born, I was a young lad of no years. It follows that the ideal place to begin my story is at the centre point of these ages—specifically, at the age of thirty-five. And this is precisely where I shall begin.
The First Part
In Which I Tell Of My Arrest In Luthen And Of The Towers I Built There
It was the morning of
my thirty-fifth birthday, and I had received a sorry gift. It was an invitation—at the point of a spear—to appear before
Gavor Hercules, the murderous Spanish sealord who was the terror of the Mediterranean. With four myrmidons around me, escorted like a common criminal, I was taken from my room at the inn and marched through the town, finally ascending the road of oaken steps which rises up the hillside to
I was filled with fear. I am not ashamed to confess it, either, for it is not shameful to feel fear. Indeed, the mark of true bravery is to feel fear and to face it well. As I passed under the dark gateway of the castle, I determined in my mind that, if death awaited me here, I would die spectacularly well, with my eyes shining like those of the eagle, my nostrils flared, and a gentle smile upon my lips. I took care to maintain this proud visage, as the soldiers pushed and jostled me through the castle’s dark corridors and through the black doors leading to the presiding room.
The room was constructed like a ship, with oppressive oak beams looming overhead and small shuttered windows. All around, the wall hangings showed themes of war, gold, and murder. In the room’s centre, upon a dais bench, sat Gavor Hercules himself, clothed all in black and surrounded by guards. He was an old man—in his eighty-third year at the time I am describing—but his expression was ferocious, and the beard on the tip of his chin thrust forward like a white dagger.
He glowered at me over drooping lower eyelids, and growled, “You are Yreth the Stonemage?”
“I am,” I replied.
“They say you are a Cypriot?”
“Yes, and proudly so.”
He snorted, and said, “If you are so proud of it, why did you not remain in Cyprus?”
I answered him frankly. “I learned the magic arts at the
School of Eopan. It is the tradition of my school that, after some years of work, we should travel abroad, to be inspired by the great building styles of other lands.”
“Hear! Hear his words!” said the sealord to those around him, slamming his fist upon the arm of his dais bench. “He comes to learn from our great buildings.”
I was pleased by his tone, for it was clear to me now Gavor Hercules did not plan to kill me; but his words also made me cross, for they were wholly untrue. I had stopped in Luthen to await a ship to Ireland, where they say the towers glitter like diamonds upon the hills; whereas, here on the south coast of Spain, the architecture was a sorry collection of rough hovels grouped around low and squalid castles.
Still, I said nothing and waited for the sealord to continue.
“I understand,” he said, “you are trained in the repair of buildings.”
I said yes.
“Certain of my towers are in need of work,” he said. “Would you be capable of performing a task of this magnitude?”
Now, this question was absurd. I had noticed his towers as soon as I arrived in Luthen. The structures were twisted and bent. Obviously, the wefts and enchantments supporting the stone walls had decayed and distorted with time. Repairing them would be a simple task even for a stonemage’s apprentice—a few days’ work at most.
Still, when the powerful speak to you, it is good to treat their questions as weighty ones, so I appeared to calculate and think over the matter for a few moments before I replied.
“My lord,” I said, “I believe the task you describe is within my capability. However, these are old buildings, and the art of construction has come far since they were built. Let me replace them with new towers, made from white onyx, each more than five hundred feet high.”
He shook his head. “The towers please me as they are,” he said. “I do not want to create a gaudy monument to myself, but wish merely to preserve these ancient buildings in their original form. I will pay you two hundred arrans for the task—seventy here and now, and the remainder when you have completed the work.”
Two hundred arrans! In the provinces of Cyprus, a stonemage who received just thirty arrans for such a job would consider himself richly paid. And it is said the
Long Wall of Tennet was repaired by the great
Henry Eagles for nine arrans and two grotecs. Clearly, two hundred arrans for such an elementary repair job as this was gross overpayment.
Many an unscrupulous stonemage would have accepted the job on the spot, saying nothing about the excessive fee, but not I! My integrity cannot be bought at any price, and I knew I must speak my mind.
“O, great Gavor Hercules,” I said, “such a sum is far more than I would ever ask for this task. If you wish me to repair the towers in the way you have asked, I can take no more than fifty arrans for the work, and even in this payment I will consider myself indulged beyond my expectations.”
He looked at me then for a full minute, saying nothing. Finally, he shook his head in disbelief. “Yreth the Cypriot,” he said at last, “it has been many years since I encountered such integrity. Your words gladden my heart. And so I shall now pay you not fifty, but five hundred arrans for the work I have described.”
I answered this quickly enough, saying: “My munificent lord, if I have brought pleasure to your heart, that is reward in itself for me and needs no golden bonus. Fifty arrans is all I have asked, and with that sum I shall be well satisfied.”
“Yet I, Gavor Hercules, have commanded that you shall receive five hundred,” he said—and now there was anger in his voice. “Do you spurn my gift?”
They say there is a time to speak and a time to plug the mouth with cotton. So, I said nothing, but merely prostrated myself on the wooden floor, shaking my head and moaning as if in pain.
At last I raised my head and gazed up at the fierce old lord. “O, great Gavor Hercules,” I said, “I am trapped by your terrible largesse. I implore you, if you would pay me this sum, let it be for such work as deserves it. Let me transform these old towers into jewelled spires that shall be the wonder of all Spain.”
“No!” he replied. “I wish the towers to remain as they are. Your task shall be only to repair them.”
“Then, great lord, I decline!” I replied, shaking my fist at him. “Though you throw me into your jails and have me killed for my insolence, I cannot accept so great a wage. For a bitter enemy I would charge but seventy arrans. To accept more from you for my work would be an insult to your honour, and
honour will never allow me to give such an insult. There, have it then. My piece is said, and I now throw myself upon your mercy.”
At this, Gavor Hercules was amazed. “
Yreth,” he said, “I said it has been many years since I have encountered such integrity as yours. I now retract my words. I have
encountered such integrity. Since you will not accept five hundred arrans for your work, I shall give you what you asked—fifty arrans. But I shall insist that, during the course of your work, you shall dine at my table every night. And you shall receive a chest containing seven hundred arrans as a gift from me. Do not shake your head so, for this is a lordly gift and cannot be refused! Moreover, I make you a gift of a fine ship, the
, which sits now at the docks of
Luthen. Its value is close to six hundred arrans. That is all!”
And with those words, he raised his arms, signalling the meeting was at an end.
This, then, well shows the generosity of Gavor Hercules. It also shows the value of integrity, for, by declining the lord’s initial gift, I received both his friendship and a wage five times greater than the one he first offered.
Later, I went to the harbour to inspect the
. This was a proud vessel, such as a noble or a wealthy merchant might use in the east. It was constructed not of wood but of a white substance known as chank. This is the same material from which Virenian warships are built, and Ered’s death barge, and it is the sign of a very superior construction. Indeed, I have talked to many seafarers, and all are agreed in saying ships constructed of chank have no equal upon the sea, and they would choose a single such ship over ten ships whose hulls glitter with gold and diamonds.
Inspecting the interior of the ship, I was impressed by the fine carvings and the bold decoration of the cabins. The slave crew were well trained and strong, and the general upkeep of the vessel spoke well of their dedication. The slaves were not common
Trags, either, or even
Lopers. They were
Pakes of the most expensive variety—the ones with the blue stripe over their eyes and the elongated fingers. Such Pakes are almost as tall as a man, and very strong for their size.
As I walked about my ship, I was filled with joy at the magnificent gifts I had received. I saw I had been wrong to fear and despise Gavor Hercules. I knew now that, despite his fearsome reputation, he was a man of wisdom. He had made a generous payment to me, and I vowed to give my new patron the full value of his coin.
That evening, as he had promised, Gavor Hercules invited me to his dining room. At least twenty people sat at the table. At the head, of course, was Gavor Hercules himself. At the other end was his consort,
Chryse, and between them the guests were arranged in the usual way, which is to say, according to the degree of their favour with the lord. Those most highly regarded were seated closest to him; those least regarded were furthest away, although, of course, their presence at the table at all was nonetheless a great honour.
As I entered, I made to take a seat at the most distant chairs, but the lord called out to me and said: “None of your modesty, Yreth! You must sit on the chair closest to me, on my right side.”
The dinner itself was delicious, and the foods seemed all the more succulent to me when Gavor Hercules told his other guests about the strange negotiation he and I had undertaken, and how deeply he was impressed by my character. As I heard his appreciative words, I could only nod and weep with joy.
The next day, I went to the tallest of the towers and examined the binding wefts of this ugly structure. As I expected, it was held together by a few cross-bindings. (If you do not know, these are invisible gossamers of force which function like a sturdy beam between two walls or like a pillar between floor and ceiling.) The cross-bindings had been badly placed when first created, and had also become bent and decayed with age.
Yet as I examined the enchantments more closely, my scorn changed to puzzlement for the composition of these spells was unfamiliar, and I could not identify their type. They were clearly very ancient, and I wondered if this was some powerful enchantment whose secrets were lost in antiquity.
At this point, an impatient stonemage would have laid down new bindings, to reinforce the ones that were failing. Indeed, I had several times raised my arm to cast new spells, but each time I did so an inner voice spoke to me, saying, “Yreth—stay your hand! Solve the mystery before you! Understanding must precede action!”
Suddenly, in a flash of inspiration, I realized the bindings before me were that contemptible type known as the Struts of Atlas, but so badly distorted their form was barely recognizable.
From the grand name, you would think Strut of Atlas a strong enchantment, but it would be better named the Bane of Atlas, for instead of holding your world aloft, it is more likely to bring it tumbling to the ground! It is a crude, treacherous and unstable spell, given to collapsing in a violent manner, and its use is the sure mark of the untrained builder.
But woe to the stonemage who thoughtlessly tries to replace or remove the Strut of Atlas!
I knew one boastful fellow back in Cyprus who had learned a spell or two and fancied he could amaze the world with his powers. He had little training in the arts of the stonemage, but he set about repairing a certain feast hall—against my advice. He detected the presence of a distorted Strut of Atlas. The strut supported a ceiling, and he decided to shore it up with a second beam of greater strength. But he had no sooner placed the preliminary runes than the Strut of Atlas collapsed, its ends snapping powerfully together. Instantly, the ceiling above him was pulled down with great force, and he was crushed and killed by the huge stones. As they say, live a fool’s life and you will die a fool’s death.
No, be counselled by me, replacing the Strut of Atlas requires the utmost care and caution, and it is often better to leave the wretched enchantment in place and do what you can to repair it than to try replacing it.
I am sure if I had tried to cast new cross-bindings in that tower in Luthen, the precarious struts would have collapsed, destroying the tower and killing me. But my wisdom, insight and restraint saved me then, as they have often done since.
I set to work repairing the vile Struts of Atlas. With great care, I used an ivory turning wheel (together with the resonating whistle) to twist the coils, bringing the strut’s central wefts back into alignment. A little dab of acorn oil upon the base rune ensured the roots of the treacherous spell would stay firmly within the stones for the present.
The tallest tower contained fifty-one Struts of Atlas. I tightened them one by one. In just a few hours, I was able to reverse the warping effects of centuries.
As I worked to make these adjustments, the stones of the old tower rumbled and scraped, the walls twisted, and pieces of dust and grit showered down from the exterior walls onto the streets below. Of course, these are the usual signs of a stonemage at his craft, but the townspeople of Luthen were not used to such work, and the transformations caused them the greatest alarm and wonder. When I emerged from the structure, I found a crowd of several hundred waiting outside, gazing in slack-jawed astonishment at the tower and its newly straightened walls.
As I walked down the steps, the people moved aside to make a path for me, and from their faces you would think I had changed their tower into an onion or caused a rain of dragons or some other such miracle, rather than adjusting a few invisible struts inside an old stone ruin.
I proceeded to the next tower—the short tower in the wall. The crowd followed me inside the building, lining the spiral staircases and watching my every movement as I carried out similar repairs to those I have already described for the tallest tower.