And Some Parts of the Gathering were Devoted to Business [8 Hispis 4385]
We were eating snails and drinking brandy, of course. What other food and drink are suitable for discussions of commerce and treason?
Saza:"I remember that flock of flaming geese you sent against us in ... 4338, was it?"
Me:"4335. I remember the year acutely; the war distracted me from my Smith's Guild studies."
La Hish:"Very nice work, I must say. I tried to destroy them with jets of water, but they didn't mind it a bit."
Me:"Which is the point of fire geese, instead of something more natural like fire cats."
La Hish:"But of course! And when they landed on the skybridge deck, they left a proper goose-mark of scorch."
Me:"And a plum pudding, of course."
La Hish:"Delicious pastry products do seem to be your signature in battle, O mighty wizard of Vheshrame."
Me:"It's how I was introduced to the art of wizard-wars, when the duke commanded me to get Vae here to teleport a breakfast box to everyone outside the city walls."
Otresto:"Ahem. Oorah Thrassen's retaliation was not a masterpiece of the art. It was due to an uninspired and now-departed colleague, who did not appreciate the subtleties of battle."
Saza:"Ah... those were good wars."
Otresto:"They were indeed. Very profitable."
Phaniet:"I'm not entirely sure that they deserve the name of 'war'."
Otresto:"How could they not? There is diplomatic discord; soon, there are mighty acts of sorcery, and then one city (generally Oorah Thrassen) has won and the other (generally Vheshrame) has lost. If that is not a war, what does it lack?"
Phaniet:"Blood, for one thing."
Otresto:"Pah, don't be ridiculous. What point is there in assembling heroes to fight and sometimes die? The age is past in Ketheria where a half-dozen warriors, no matter how mighty, could storm a city and destroy or conquer it. Now is the age of great magic. A flight of fire geese, carrying perdition rather than pudding, would wreck the sky-bridge. And if Sythyry can manage the one, zie can manage the other. So we must respond with ... with ..."
La Hish:"We turned all the bees in Vheshrame Mene into glass for the space of two minutes."
Me:"A good deal more devastating than providing pudding."
Phaniet:"Why?" She is technically clever, but sometimes not as devious as she might be.
Me:"If they can turn them into glass -- a rather challenging substance to manipulate -- they can also turn them into fire -- and thereby burn up all the crops and orchards and forests in Vheshrame Mene in a moment. Plus, of course, it would kill all the bees, so even if we did rescue the crops, they'd be hard to pollinate."
Phaniet:"... oh ..."
Saza:"Those were good wars. We should have another war, and sooner rather than later."
Saza:"With Vheshrame, or with any other suitable partner. I am not in a position to be fussy."
La Hish:"Ah, more gambling debts?"
Saza:"I have achieve a great mastery of the art of indebtedness. I no longer need to gamble to find myself greatly in need of money. Nor, even, do I need to spend a terch to do so. And that's the last I shall say of the matter, save that I do need money."
Me:"I'm afraid that Vheshrame is not in a position to oblige you at the moment. The city is neither as rich nor as powerful as it once was, and our concerns are closer to home."
Saza:"Except for your concerns, which seem directed at vacation on Srineia."
Me:"I am not Vheshrame. I am simply from Vheshrame."
Saza:"You and the honorable nendrai... [interrupted]"
La Hish:"The mighty nendrai."
Saza:"Is that the proper title?"
Vae:"The better title for us it is, truly. Not always are we honorable."
Saza:"I'm sure you are more honorable than most!"
Vae: turned the air around her into a shower of fluttering pink semicolons, by way of blushing.
Saza:"Now that's a fetching emotive gesture!"
Vae:"Not am I to be fetched though!"
Saza:"A mere pleasantry. In any case, you and the honorable Sythyry ... zie is honorable, isn't zie?"
Me:"As honorable as anyone of our lineage can be!" (Which certainly sounds like we share certain obscure and doubtless occult secrets. In fact, we do share one: our lineage likes to make obscure pronouncements that make it seem that we share occult secrets.)
Saza:"Well, we mustn't talk about that today." (See? Zie knew exactly what I was talking about.) "In any case, once the two of you return from your vacation, couldn't you manage to talk the Duke of Vheshrame into another sorcerous assault upon my poor, misguided, and utterly vicious country?"
Me:"I will, at least, mention your interest in the topic to Hezimikkinen."
Saza:"No, no! Better that it comes entirely from you!"
Me:"I think that the ducal budget for extravagant gestures at distant nations is rather low. Especially distant nations who have, on the whole, sent us home with our tails tied in knots."
La Hish:"Now, now, I wouldn't say you've done that badly. The plum pudding was excellent."
(Which is a tacit acknowledgment that Vheshrame's display of power was actually beneficial -- or at least delicious -- to Oorah Thrassen, while theirs was wholly menacing to us. While we didn't win the exchange, we were ahead for style.)
Otresto:"Well, if we can't start a war with Vheshrame -- and while their wizard and their nendrai are on vacation, we can't -- and if you're in such a Flokin-petted hurry to have a war -- who should we start one with?"
Me:"Maybe one of the Aradrueian cities? Lenkasia would probably make quite an excellent competitor."
Saza, who was about to sip zir brandy, choked and sputtered. La Hish stopped in mid-snail. Otresto looked distinctly, even incandescently, unpersuaded. Lenkasia has one of the best magic academies anywhere, with a dozen wizards -- several of whom far exceed anyone in the gazebo. Oorah Thrassen has the Temple of the Dark Trinity, a mighty center of priestly power; but Lenkasia has an actual goddess.
Me:"Ah! You don't simply wish to indulge in a wizard-war; you wish to win!"
La Hish:"Well, yes."
Otresto:"It's not strictly necessary of course."
Saza:"But we generally get paid a bonus if we win."
La Hish:"And of course we're less likely to get hired for the next one if we lose."
Otresto:"For some reason, duel-wars are still quite popular."
Saza:"And the Gormoror hill tribes produce some superb champions for duel-wars."
Me:"They do indeed." The Gormoror hill tribes allied with Oorah Thrassen are mighty and frequently-victorious. The Gormoror themselves are fierce and courageous, and the wizards of Oorah Thrassen have given them many mighty talismans over the years. They are rarely defeated in duel wars. Which, like wizard wars, don't quite deserve the name "war"; they are, in many cases, more of a bloody sporting event with consequences for international diplomacy.
La Hish:"Still, once you return, please do talk your Duke into declaring war on us. It's as much for your benefit as ours."
Me:"I'm sure it is." Which she can take as a 'yes' if she likes, but I don't mean it as one.
It may be callous of me to abandon my cousin in such a financial doom -- and my associate Grinwipey being responsible for that doom -- but I don't think that wizard-wars happening entirely for the benefit of the wizards are really appropriate. If we're going to expend vast amounts of time, money, skill, and cley on some spectacular workings of magic, why not on things that do some actual good?
(To which the standard answer is "What are city walls, water systems, and skyboats, if not things that do some actual good?" But there are surely other things too ... but the tricky part is to find something new to work on that won't step on the tail of some guild or other.)
Or, for a different dimension of callousness: Enchantment provides me a constant income. If the wealthiest people in Vheshrame aren't buying magic items, then I can (and do) make cheaper items for less wealthy people. I have made lightcasters, water-movers, fireproofers, salt-strainers, bread-speeders, and all manner of assorted tools and utilitaria. It is, on the whole, less dramatic and less imposing (and less expensive) than ritual magic. The effects of a complexity-5 [unimpressive] enchantment are no greater than my customers could achieve on their own with a spell they bought at the neighborhood store -- the difference being that an enchantment doesn't cost cley and a spell does. Which is a serious difference: being able to create five gallons of water at the cost of one cley is useful to save someone a trip to the well or fountain; being able to create five gallons of water every two seconds all day long can have a rather greater cumulative effect. But it is still the same spell that the housemaid can cast.
Ritual magic can do much more than other magic of the same complexity. It takes only a few minutes or hours to perform, rather than the weeks for enchantment. But nobody is going to go to a karcist to buy something cheap and practical. Ritual magic is for emergencies, for wizard-wars, for producing slow catastrophes like Lithia. A karcist charges hundreds or thousands of lozens per cley -- and sometimes it's worth it.
If Saza were willing to get up before dawn every day, money wouldn't be a problem for zir.
For that matter, zie could probably do a respectable business with bound spells, except that is beneath a wizard's dignity, since bound spells are sold in country fairs and market squares these years.
Or, for a third dimension of callousness: I don't like being called upon to help my cousin in ways I can't talk about even once, and starting a wizard-war would be a second variety.
Ah, well. The snails and brandy were superb, in any case.
I am displeased with:
- My seamstress;
- My cousin;
- My fellow wizards
Though I don't see that complaining at any of them is going to do any good.