The Iron

I was not surprised when early in November I was called to the Council Chamber of the King with instructions to bring my notebooks and maps.

There had been much talk among the tradesmen when, earlier in the year, the royal sloop had been stacked high with corn, and the ducal telescopes sharpened to an unprecedented fineness of tuning.

Now all became clear - there was to be a new assault on the realm of scrubium which lay beyond the black wall of the mountains, and, what is more, Wollis and I were to prepare the charts for the regal force.

Thus we were called to the Council, and thus we addressed the assembled company of ministers, favourites and royal kin, giving advice on all matters where our experience constituted the only available information.

We were given free rein to explore the royal attics for any implements which would help us in our quest, and the King put the Royal Armourer at our disposal with instructions to fashion whatever weapons and accessories we deemed necessary for the success of the expedition.

Wollis's obsessions came, unbridled, to the fore: before I knew what had happened he had ordered a brace of astrolabes which, to this day, we have not unpacked from the rucksacks. But happily the Regal Censor took him in hand and whipped him until he could no longer talk.

I, meanwhile, was equipping myself on the basis that I would need twice as much of everything as my father had taken on his journey half- way to Grebia, and thus, with his notebook in my hand, I spent two days roaming the store choosing pens, pencils, rubbers, rulers, set squares, anoraks, and the other equipment which any cartographer-geomancer desires.

I never forgot, though, the fate of the party for whom this store had last been opened - perhaps it was as well that I kept them in mind, for it softened the blow of the discovery of their powdered bones in the Mortuary of Abbus the following week.

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