The Caucus of the Wizards was a rare and wondrous event and it was only by the accident of his squiring to Faeldon the Aelf, first of seven in the honor guard of Magus Shrib, that Derpin was begrudgingly allowed to serve his master as a Page. Watcher Solomon, foremost among sorcerous practitioners, the Keeper of the Stone called the convocation with a summons that read: They have voted to break the stone.
Thus Magus Shrib stirred from his dark and dusty lands, called forth his best Rangers, and trekked to the Dome, the great marble hall of wizards shining on the land from the center of a dense and fetid swamp. The journey had been filled with doubt and remonstration—Faeldon believed the boy not ready—but the inscrutable Shrib had seen in the lad things unquestioning and pliant, twin seeds of potential and portents of great deeds. As he walked through Wishing-on-the-Bog, the hard scrabble town around the Dome where one either prospered in service to wizards or survived their inattention, the boy was mesmerized. For the first time Derpin the Outsider felt at home.
Inside the dome many magical greats arrived: Manx of the North, ever dressed as the dour pauper, Reggmen the Bearded Numeromancer, Friejeck the Splendid, Champion of the Hand, and other such great personages that Derpin grew mute of mouth and weak in the knees in the presence of such prestige. Herein were the best and brightest, those of the longest beards, finest robes, and pointiest of hats. Men with power over demons who had turned excrement into gold and purchased great power. In this hallowed ground stood such towering figures that their names outshone their deeds and none would be accountable to the latter.
A brazier was lit and filled with magical powders so that it sparked and whistled with great ferocity and billowous smoke. The room was filled with trumpets’ blare and from several inconspicuous colombiers white doves and other lesser pigeon fowl were released. So was Watcher Solomon introduced to the Caucus. After the coughing subsided and unintended fires extinguished and the less fortunate columbids collected and disposed of, the Watcher spoke:
The Stone grows weak. Throughout the land the power of magic is doubted and the title Wizard reviled. Not one fortnight ago, five hundred lay gentry gathered and, after much contention and violence, agreed that some wizards are good, many wizards are bad, but that no wizard should have power to manage the Stone which sustains the land. So it falls to you, preeminent among wizards, to solve the crisis or initiate the splintering and dissolve this chamber. The House of Lords has given us two moons time to decide. Speak your hearts, make steel your minds, and let us settle the fate of our great country.
A quiet filled the chamber as each wizard examined his conscience and considered what great and selfless spellcraft might yet save them. Surely the great and complicated system of doling out the power of the Stone to some and not to others by byzantine traditions and arbitrary preference had taxed its magic and spread its bounty thin. It glowed green and indifferent in the center of the chamber. Derpin found himself lost in the facets of its cut, in some lattices seeing a great and happy land and in others seeing want and waste and destruction. It called to him, but he could not hear what it said. Perhaps it was calling to everyone at that moment. After a short reverie, a wizard from the hinterlands arose and began the august proceedings.
The Stone is not weak, Sanctorem the Sanctimonious declared, What has grown weak is men’s hearts. If we expel the swarthy leeches from the south countries and purge ourselves of the buggering libertines that dominate our epic poetry, prosperity will return to the land as we will surely return to the good graces of the Hand. Also, we must take strong action against vile slander and subversive humor, and make it so the Goggler cannot promote libel above the truth when it might damage the prestige of a wizard. This latter sentiment was met with general approval as no one savored any slander against a wizard, though oft they maligned their fellows. In turn, another wizard stood and spoke.
Something must be done to save the serf. He needs seed paid for by the public coffer and lands kept fallow so that he might manage his soil by rotation. No serfs: no food. A powerfully popular invocation. Another stood up and argued that the laborers making mechanical dragons should be protected. Others called for more floating golems to secure borders and hunt enemies in foreign kingdoms. Men from the guilds advised the council. Bladesmiths demanded a sword in every home to lower crime and alchemists insisted on recipe protection to secure their trade while tar miners assured that their extract burned the cleanest lamps and nature minded Aelves proposed that trees were people. All demanded some portion of the treasury.
For four and fifty days they debated. No cantrip, however small, was passed without bitter fight. Under a banner that read Swords Don’t Kill Knights—Dastards Do Biddings the Gaff suggested short broad bladed daggers as alternative to military style claymores. Objective Polrond evangelized the Book of Indifference as true wizardly government. Ghost Reegan analogized the Stone’s power to champagne in a tower of cups—fill the biggest at the top first until it trickles down to the thimble fills below. Every wizard sought to cut the tithe in his own domain while protecting his entitlements, offering to eliminate the privileges in another wizard’s hold to offset the bursar’s loss. The nefarious practices of money lenders were frequently lambasted with no consensus as to whether they were a result of too little or too much wizardry. The pork provisioned was weighed a hundred times and counted a thousand ways and the only thing understood about it was that it was somehow bad and someone was taking unscrupulous advantage.
For four and fifty days they argued. For four and fifty days cobble broke, roads were overgrown, bridges faltered, fruits rotted on the vine. For four and fifty days they drank milk and honey and ate beef while the commoner supplemented his watery porridge with chaff and dirt and bitter grasses. For four and fifty days they cavorted with bacchanalian glee—taking whores and wine with lavish abandon. For four and fifty days the scriveners transcribed their performance, recording statements and impressions to be read to dull and loutish commoners in the temple and the square in the cant and interest and omission of those who would lead them, so that the illiterate could feel informed and the ignorant aware.
For four and fifty days Derpin ran his master’s messages. His hands grew waxy with their charge as did moon wax and wane through the considerations of its own synod, traversing the sidereal path towards dragon’s mouth once and again without consensus among the Caucus. As the second lunation approached its apogee wise Solomon returned to the chamber with the smashing stick.
Speak, wizards and let us know our fate.
The Stone’s power should be apportioned equally to all and magic returned according to one’s ability! cried Manx.
You cannot manage the magic of the Stone through wizardry, only through faith in the Hand might we be saved! declared Friejeck
We have the keys to manage this crisis, Reggmen intoned nasally, Through history and the specific use of magic we can save—
Magus Shrib motioned towards Derpin. He scrawled a hasty note that read four hundred head sheep, keep the caravan folk, purge the libertines, break the stone. His councilor, the frog faced Rovsputin, nodded. The wax sealed the note and Derpin was charged with delivering it to Magus Sanctorem. The reply from the Sanctimonious was furiously scribbled and near indecipherable, yet clear as day: five hundred sheep, no swarthy nomads! no libertines! stone broken. Magus Shrib looked at Rovsputin and shrugged: I’ve done all I can.
As the speeches and posturing died down Watcher Solomon called for a vote. Wizards cast their marbles. After an anxious wait Wall, Guard of the Points, announced the decision:
“Ayes thirty two, nays thirty three,” and with the unstated admission that thirty four wizards had failed to summon the will to compromise, the lunatic moment arrived. Spellcraft had failed. Solomon raised the smashing stick and brought it down against his charge. The Stone glowed brightly for a time until its fissures became apparent and the light within seeped through the cracks in a dancing requiem of green arcs and crepuscular rays. Then the light was gone forever. The Stone shattered into a hundred shards of differing sizes, reminiscent of the stone with a faint glow but nothing like the monolith that had sustained a United Confederacy of Wizards. The shards were rewarded to individual wizards according to their influence, and each returned with a glittering splinter to their holds. They stripped off the green sleeves of their office and turned them in for gold. They title of wizard was abandoned in favor of king, and domains became walled fiefs. A convocation of the Caucus was never called again.
Derpin stayed in service to the Royal Shrib until pursing a position in the guild sector. As a guild broker he made a fortune parlaying his influence among former wizards into opportunity for artisans to monopolize markets. The kingdoms withered. Fields were barren, roads lost to weeds. Serfs became slaves and freemen supplicants to the generosity of their capricious lords. The land was conquered by mediocrity and avarice. It was forever consigned a footnote to history while other kingdoms gained their ascendancy in its stead.
Derpin the Insider died without regret on his Squire’s estate. Eventually it was divided and sold to pay for debauchery and then debts, and then his legacy was scattered to the wind and lost. Another way was never considered.