The Shendar Book of Myths   
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Introduction. Magnus Maas, a mage of impressive proportions who is, it has to be said, not very fond of mud, is about to have a very bad day... The Horsemen have been spotted again, his ward has gone missing, and to top it all, Marduk wants to hire foreigners! (At least the diet seems to be working.) Must a poor old mage do everything himself?

et me the Axemen!”

It had rained so hard and rained so long, outside the little Burrow, that Magnus Maas, the old mage (formerly of the Malakai), has several times taken off his spectacles and cleaned them, to make certain that the drops were not upon the glasses. Master Maas might have been sufficiently assured by hearing the rain and by the unmistakable scent of wet earth, but that he is rather deaf and his olfactory awareness is not what it used to be - which nothing will induce him to believe. Nevertheless, he is a fine old wizard; stout, stately and wonderfully neat, measuring an impressive ped and two palmspans (headgear excluded). Weather affects Magnus Maas little. The earth and his stomach are there in all weathers, and his stomach is what he looks after.

“You mean Madoc and Maedoc, master?” inquired Marduk, continuing to whet his axe.

“No need to get foreigners involved!” replied Master Maas with a very audible snort, “Fetch me the Axemen!”

The present wizard of the Burrow is an excellent master. He supposes all his dependants (or attendants, as the case may be) to be utterly bereft of individual characters, intentions or opinions, and is persuaded that he was born to supersede the necessity of their having any. Indeed Marduk has remarked often that were he to make a discovery to the contrary, Magnus Maas would be simply stunned – would never recover himself, most likely, except to gasp and die.

Thus went Marduk to fetch his cloak, and then to fetch the twins, Madoc and Maedoc, the Axe Throwers – grunting under his breath about the singular persistence it takes to remain ignorant of the names of one's travelling companions for three months.

Before Marduk had strapped his great axe onto his belt and proceeded in that general direction which, eventually, would expose him to the ferocity of the elements, the round door of the Burrow burst open with an accentuated Thump! The wind, like a gluttonously nosy miscreant intent on crashing parties to which he is not invited, came in a ferocious gust but to its dismay, having discovered everything brittle or otherwise disposable to be snugly tucked away and secured (Master Maas is, afterall, wonderfully neat), found itself trapped at the other end of the room, inside Master Maas’s Windcatcher.

“Well done, Mardick!” exclaimed Master Maas, when he lifted his head from the task of lighting his pipe which he had been meticulously pursuing for some time and noticed the arrival of the aforesaid Axemen. “You can have two slices for supper.” And at that he made a quick note on the manuscript of next year’s Almanac, spectacles sliding down to the tip of his nose with the effort: Fasting shown to increase rapidity of function. A firm hand and a judicious attitude on part of the master believed to enhance responsiveness to treatment.

“Master, beware! There – ”

“Your feet!” cried Magnus Maas, profoundly dissatisfied. Master Maas’ hands lose their composure whenever the sense of order in his world is interrupted, and unfolding themselves from his stomach, tug at his pointed white beard in a half agitated half indignant manner.

“Master! Down there – ” began Maedoc, interrupted by his twin:

“we saw – ” continued Madoc, who, in turn, was interrupted by Master Maas.

“Your feet, said I!” insisted the old mage. Marduk reflected that for a mage who makes a living and a reputation from bending various forms of earth, Master Maas was rather particular about mud. The twins duly wiped the said substance off their boots.

“Master Maas,” began Maedoc again, with a degree of urgency, “we spotted the Horsemen again. A small group –“

“ - we managed to, er, pacify one but the other four got away.” said Madoc, eager to impart his share of the day’s news. “Oh,” he added, somewhat sheepishly, his gaze wandering from the severed head he was holding to his feet, which seemed to occupy themselves by drawing abstract patterns on the floor. “I suppose I ought to get rid of this now.” Madoc had not been possessed of an exceptionally quick mind at birth, but the mind he did have was nimble enough to draw a lightning-sum conclusion that dried blood looked rather suggestive of mud in the dim light.

“No need to be finicky! Such is the way of nature: All things commence life, grow, take root and eventually –“

“Have their heads severed?” suggested Madoc, always the dutiful gentleman’s gentleman.

“and eventually die” concluded Magnus Maas, undeterred by the interruption. Madoc gave a start when the skull began to calcify under his fingers.

“That makes seventeen this month.” said Master Maas, neatly tucking the petrified head alongside other memorabilia of its kind inside the chest he was in the habit of using as a footstool. “Alas, it seems our mutual acquaintance departed this world before the decease of the pretty fashion of bodily ornamentation. Axemen, be so kind as to modestly hide his – along with the rest of his body – in a corner of the courtyard, near the mouldy porch.”

“We have disposed of the remains, sir. We would have given the body a burial befitting an officer of his rank,” Maedoc had considered hauling him up and off the cliff, “but Madoc here, advised that we be more discreet.” Maedoc’s face darkened in a peculiarly resentful manner; apparently the decision had not been unanimous.

“If the other four are not stopped, they will give away our position, sir” said Marduk, determinedly.

“Indeed they would - how did you put it again? – give away our position.” The old mage enjoyed a quiet chuckle. He always seemed to regain his mirth in the presence of military terminology. Amusement suddenly drained from his face, a fatherly anguish overtaking its place, “He still has not returned.” His hands once again lost their quiet, “No doubt lingering on those wretched cliffs again!”

“The Horsemen. They were heading west” Maedoc said, quietly.

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