Noober the Nice
This is a story set in the Jack Vance's world of the Dying Earth
Noober the Nice pondered upon the nature of choice as he swung gently between water and fire in the warm autumn air. Noober wasn't especially worried about the preen. Although the carnivorous worms could strip a man to the bone in minutes, they would not have time to eat much of his corpulent frame before he drowned in the deep pool, dragged under by a hundred pounds of lead ballast. Drowning would conceivably be a superior fate to the one that awaited him if the rope broke at the other end of its long swing. At that end, Noober would fall onto a bed of hot coals.
So Noober the Nice pondered. He pondered the choices that had led him to this sad state of affairs. He pondered the way that being tied up in a large burlap sack with a hundred pounds of lead could so severely restrict the choices available. The rope would break soon because it was being slowly abraded by a sharp edge as it swung back and forth over the fire and water. Racking his prodigious intellect, Noober could think of no choice he could make to stop that slowly fraying rope. Such a simple problem under other circumstances became such a difficult problem under current circumstances. It was a disturbing insight.
The choices that had led Noober to his current troubles were similar to the ones that had earned his unwelcome nickname: the Nice. Noober was not named Nice because of any untypical compassion or empathy for his fellow man, but because of a marked tendency toward relying on subtle points and refined distinctions, especially in matters of debate or commerce. "That's a rather nice distinction." the buyer would say when Noober explained to him that he had bought merely the shop, and not the land beneath the shop. An extended chain of similar dealings had left Noober with a nickname, a tidy fortune, and an execution by fire or water, depending on the whimsy of chance.
In fairness to Noober, the young man had the soul of a scholar rather than a merchant. Often his sharpness of commerce was due to motivations more pedantic than acquisitive. Noober once sold Regnoor, the town exquisitor, a score of puce-tailed crease-knuckled karoons. Regnoor was negligent in failing to specify the mode of delivery and such imprecision of contract burdened Noober's meticulous soul. To impress upon the exquisitor the need for precise speech, Noober delivered the karoons by taking them to Regnoor's door in a cage, knocking, and then opening the cage when Regnoor opened the door.
The karoons escaped the cage in a black and puce flurry, buffeting and clawing the surprised exquisitor and imposing vile stenches upon his person (as is habitual for the crease-knuckled varieties of karoon). The drama of the release was all that Noober had anticipated, but ultimately his efforts were fruitless. Regnoor did not learn the lesson of the twenty stenching karoons. Similarly, Noober did not learn the lesson that the irate exquisitor attempted to impress upon him by means of a strenuous and extended beating. Ironically perhaps, if either of them had learned his lesson, Noober would most probably not have ended up swinging on a fraying rope between two dooms.
Noober felt a slight drop as one strand of the three-part rope was severed. The severing of one strand represented a loss of only thirty percent of the rope's strength, but according to Noober's estimates the entire structure would fail while slightly over half of the rope's thickness remained due to the weight of Noober and the lead ballast. Noober had counted 233 seconds until the small drop. By his calculations, it would be about half that long till the rest of the rope parted.
In retrospect Noober thought that he should have learned his lesson about teaching lessons to the irritable town exquisitor. But the man had been so smug and incautious when he had hired Noober to deliver the sacrificial virgin to the temple at the top of Mt. Dincolo for the Dincolo festival "You are hereby commissioned," Regnoor had said haughtily, "to deliver the girl, Yasmeen, to the temple of Q'Whoosit at Mt. Dincolo within five days of today, starting the moment our conversation is done. You are further enjoined to allow no man other than yourself to approach her until you deliver her to the priests at the temple. Is that perfectly clear?"
"Quite clear," Noober had answered. But he had not been specifically commissioned to protect the girl's chastity and so he prompted the careless exquisitor to rectify the situation: "You say no man but me. I am allowed to approach the girl without restriction?"
"I hardly think we need worry about you," Regnoor had sneered. "Our conversation is now done and the clock is ticking on your five days." And Regnoor had turned on his heal to stride off, confident that Noober had been sufficiently cowed by their last meeting.
Noober maintained the letter of his contract and allowed no man to approached the maiden but him. Yet she arrived at the temple in a state unfit for the ceremony. By some means, the girl had chanced upon the theory that the ritual sacrifice was a literal blood sacrifice, regardless of assurances to the contrary. Also by unknown means, she happened upon the strategy of making herself ineligible for a virgin sacrifice, employing the common technique by which young women become unqualified for virginal activities. Although the girl had refused to name the guilty party, Noober was convicted on the grounds that he if he was not guilty of directly aiding the girl in achieving ineligibility then he was guilty indirectly by having failed to meet the terms of his contract.
And so Noober found himself counting down the last few seconds of his life. As he got near the end of the count, Noober started to anticipate the swings so that he might violently jerking his body as the pendulum was about to cross from fire to water. On the fifth jerk, the rope gave way and Noober plummeted toward the burning coals.
At the trial, Noober had insisted that he had never actually lied to the young lady and had not actually failed to fulfill the terms of his contract. These subtle points were too nice for the exquisitor and the priests of Q'Whoosit to grasp. His judges had been in a near panic that with the delay in the sacrifice, the sun might go out at any moment. Perhaps their fear hindered their logic. In any case, it had been the judgment of the priestly court that if they were all to die from the indiscretions of Noober the Nice, that Noober should at the very least precede them.
Noober's feet struck the ground hard, spraining his knee and causing him to collapse heavily to the hot coals. He cried out as he rolled back and forth on the burning coals, which activity mostly just spread the pain evenly about his body. Yet, as Noober struggled, he was rewarded by a tearing of the burning cloth and he rolled immediately toward the water, leaving behind the burning rags of the sack.
As Noober fell into the beautiful coolness of the preen-infested water he immediately began pulling at the charred ropes that bound his hands. As he struggled under the water, his breath failing quickly, Noober began to feel the tiny bites of the carnivorous worms. The bites were few, hesitant, perhaps confused by the taste of charred cloth and flesh. Noober gave a great yank as his breath was about to expire and the ropes finally parted.
Noober crawled gasping onto the bank to collapse in pain and exhaustion. As he lay there, an occasional sharp pain would make itself known through the general agony of his burns, and Noober would reach down to remove another preen from its meal. As Noober lay at the side of the pool, he saw the black, iron-bound boots of the exquisitor appear near his face.
"What's this?" Exquisitor Regnoor demanded, "Do you honor nothing, Noober? Will you respect not even your own execution? Back in the pool now!" The exquisitor prodded Noober delicately with a booted toe. "Back now, Noober! You disgrace your own memory!"
"Not the pool, Noober, the fire!" interrupted High Priest Neklepoid whose sandaled feet had appeared next to the exquisitors. "The gods clearly intended for you to die upon the coals. Hop back into the coals at once," the priest commanded, "It won't be a minute, Noober, and it will all be over."
"I have injured my knee and am unable to hop, Neklepoid." Noober said. "You must allow me a few weeks to heal so that I may then continue the process of my own expiration."
"Enough of your frivolous complaints, Noober!" said Regnoor sharply. "Did you expect an execution to be painless? You needn't use your knee to just roll over into the water." Regnoor again used his boot to daintily prod Noober in the direction he needed to roll. "Just roll over and in you go."
"Don't listen to him, Noober." the high priest interrupted. "You must do the will of the gods and crawl over to the coals. It isn't far, I'm sure you can do it on one knee."
"I find both of your suggestions impractical," Noober said weakly from the ground. "The execution has been carried out. It is done. No more is required of the process of justice. If the gods failed to end my life then it is no concern of yours. It is the will of the gods, and your churlishness over the matter is distasteful."
"Your theology is exiguous." Neklepoid observed dismissively, "If the gods had wanted you to survive the execution, they would have turned the coals into the soft down of the winter chrinach and the pool of preen into a mattress of Erych wool. The sack would have vanished in a flash of golden light and the ropes on your hands would have become soft red-wine succrolescence. You would have been snatched from the air by beautiful winged zephyrs and deposited in the main courtyard of the temple to offer your thanks. Such is the stipulated method for the gods to annul the Execution by Two Dooms. Any variation on this sequence of events shall be deemed a matter of pure happenstance and shall not annul the execution."
"If I were to be carried off by zephyrs," Noober asked, "what purpose would it serve to transmute the coals and the water?"
"Your question is nuncupatory." said the priest, "The gods do as they do."
"Not at all," Noober protested weakly. "The gods are wise beings. If you give them contradictory instructions, they are likely to ignore your prescription and to find a more suitable disposition."
"Theology is a subtle art, Noober," Neklepoid said. "and not to be engaged in by amateur scholars in the midst of their executions. Here now!" He ordered the two burly temple guards that had just arrived, "Take the condemned by wrists and ankles and toss him back onto the fire."
"If you insist on the fire," the exquisitor said, "Be sure you toss him to the center so that he cannot crawl off again."
"If it comes to that," the high priest answered, "when an unruly crab manages to escape the coals we just toss him back on. I anticipate that the same strategy would suffice for Noober." He directed his guards, "Still, in deference to the exquisitor we shall attempt an aimed toss to the center of the coals. Three swings and then let him fly. I shall count."
Noober cried out as the guards grabbed him by his burned flesh and prepared to hurl him back onto the coals.
"I'm not an amateur scholar!" shouted Noober, "I've studied the works of Perihibble the Great!"
They swung him back and the high priest counted "One."
"Riverstack the Younger," Noober cried in a rush, "writes that the will of the gods is a thousand-piece puzzle with a nine hundred and ninety four missing pieces!"
"Quantiple Theroguy," Noober cried in desperation, "says that the gods delight in perversity."
Noober twisted his head around to see the high priest regarding him curiously. "You may not be aware of this, Noober, but my own personal library contains all the writings of the great Quantiple Theroguy. He is thought to be an ancestor of mine. I have studied all of his works in great detail, and I recall no such dictum."
"It isn't in the writings of Theroguy," said Noober quickly, "but in the writings of his student Quen."
"Bah. Quen was cast out of the temple." The high priest looked the men holding Noober's arms, "We shall begin again."
"But this was written before Quen sold the Sacred Philter to the goat-men of Urmenium," Noober said in a rush, "It is one of the rarest volumes of the age of Theroguy and contains many of his private thoughts, shared only with a few students. In it he reveals that one of the Ten Priestesses was Theroguy's first wife, ..."
"... he tells the name of his son by that priestess," Noober was shouting now, "and he reveals the secrets of the Q'Whoosit's hidden treasury."
Noober cried out in pain as the swinging jerked to a halt, then he gasped out, "None of these things are extant in any other source."
"Tell me where the volume is to be found and I shall send for it once the execution is complete."
"I do not find this plan agreeable."
"What use will you have for the book after you are deceased, Noober? Surely you would not deny to your academic peers a work of such great historical import merely to indulge a bit of peevishness at the mode of your demise."
"Peevishness is my last remaining choice," Noober said. "You must release me if you wish to see the book."
"Or we can just search your effects after the execution," the high priest decided. "Let us begin again. One."
"It's not in my effects!" shouted Noober as the swinging resumed, "It lies in a private library that I have visited!"
"Wait. Whose private library?"
"I am not at liberty to say," Noober gasped out.
"I absolve you from your duty in this regard. You are now at liberty to say. The librarian will not be able to reproach you once the execution is completed in any case."
"Nevertheless, I feel a responsibility to protect my friend from the thousand adventurers who would arrive at his door, clamoring for the secrets of the legendary hidden treasure of Q'Whoosit: the Purse of Endless Terces, the Rod of Fire, the Multiple Door."
"I did not know that those items were to be found in Q'Whoosit's treasure room."
"Yet they were in Quen's manifest. And in addition to worldly treasure seekers, there would be all the curious priests such as yourself who care not for the treasure room but who would be breaking down my poor friend's door to gain the secrets of Theroguy's personal life --academic treasures beyond mere wealth."
"Yes, you have struck upon the focus of my own interest," Neklepoid said, pinching his lip reflectively. "In order to satisfy my scholarly passions, I shall delay the completion of your sentence long enough for you to introduce me to this librarian."
"And what will I tell him? 'Here friend, meet the good High Priest Neklepoid who will kill me soon.' I doubt my friend would find your companionship agreeable under such bleak circumstances."
"Should you go unpunished for violating a virgin of Q'Whoosit?"
"Unpunished? I have been bound in a sack ten feet in the air and dropped, breaking my leg. I rolled for many minutes on white-hot coals and have had the flesh stripped from my bones by swarming preen. Even now I swoon in agony as your guards grasp my charred flesh. Let this suffering be my due punishment. I will offer apologies to Q'Whoosit. To the girl's father I will give a bride price whether the girl will have me or not. What more can you demand of a man who was momentarily struck insane by the enticements of a nubile young woman?"
"Momentarily? By her account, it seems that you spent considerable time planting the story that the sacrifice was literal."
"I was perhaps confusing the virgin sacrifice of Q'Whoosit with that of the demon Q'Barian."
"I find such a confusion implausible in a theologian of your experience." said the priest. "Also, it appears that the idea of how to thwart the sacrifice originated with you."
"I am a scholar by nature. The presentation of a problem, no matter how abstract, bedevils me until I find a solution."
"A more convenient solution would have been to assure the girl that the sacrifice is only symbolic."
"That depends upon whose convenience one is concerned with. I was naturally led to focus upon my own."
"Your convenience very nearly cost us the sun, Noober!" the high priest shouted. "Nevertheless, I will delay your sentence long enough for you to take me to the book." Neklepoid looked at the guards, "You may release him."
The two guards dropped Noober's burned body to the ground causing Noober to pass out from pain.
The next morning Noober was led in shackles to the priestly council. His burns were magically healed but the once sprained knee still caused a minor twinge. Noober suspected that the healing elixir had been past its prime. He was led through a stone hallway softened by tapestries of cow-patterned brown and ivory on which were depicted various forms of dairy products. There were cheeses of all types represented with mouth-watering exactness accompanied by various wines, fruits, breads, and sweetmeats. Over all the delicacies were figures of Q'Whoosit, the cowherd god or his various minions, consorts, and devices.
The hallway opened out into a courtyard dominated by a fountain --an enormous cow standing human-like on her back legs with a grandmotherly expression on her face. The water fountained from the cow's eight upturned udders. Since Noober had first seen that fountain many years ago, he had determined to one day count the udders on a real cow, but had never thought to do so when an opportunity presented itself.
Noober was dressed in a lose flaxen robe, lent grudgingly by the guards so that he would not have to parade around the temple naked. His previous clothing had been entirely destroyed in the fire. Noober was a short stocky man who walked with head high, as befits one who has nothing to lose. His face was not terribly unattractive although it was marred by a nose that had been too intimately involved in several unfortunate beatings throughout his life. His hair was set in a tall wave with a jeweled inset comb in the manner of a chumquisk player or, which is much the same thing, a male doxy. Noober's inspiration for the hair style was not these two disreputable professions but the styles of the Queen's advisors of the Charad Dynasty.
When he attended social events, Noober also copied the clothing styles of the honored scholars of Charad: sheer silk stockings in dark brown or black with a brightly colored, short-kilted, broad-sleeved silk robe, left open at the chest to reveal jeweled chains of silver or gold, depending upon one's hair color. Noober admired these queenly advisors because they had been the last example of honored academics in recent history. Indeed, the queen's dedication to, and affection for, her advisors had been legendary. These men were said to be of comely appearance and elegant manner, each of them an accomplished poet, dancer, or musician in addition to a scholar. Unfortunately, and for inscrutable reasons, the styles of these honored scholars, both in coiffure and dress, had survived to Noober's day only the conceits of high-priced gigolos and players of phallically-styled instruments.
Past the fountain, Noober was led into a door he had entered only once before in his life --for the trial where they had condemned him to death. Behind the door was the meeting room of the Committee, the set of five priests who ran the temple. Noober entered to find all five priests sitting at the heavy teak table in their cow-patterned robes of office waiting for his appearance.
"Noober," the high priest said without preamble, "we are all agreed. You will introduce us to this librarian of yours, and we will delay your sentence for one week."
"One week? It will take longer than that just to reach the city where my friend lives."
This caused some consternation among the priests. "We assumed the library would be in Thew, or perhaps Tolingpor. Are you saying that it is further?"
"I will say only that the journey is longer than a week. Beyond that you will have no hints from me."
"Surely you can tell us in what region your librarian friend lives?"
"I have said too much already. Any more and you could dispense with my services."
"This is not an insuperable barrier," said one priest, a strong-looking young man with a square beard and pierced upper lip, "Joakim and I shall go with Noober to fetch the volume back here for you to peruse, Neklepoid."
"Your offer is generous Ashrok," Neklepoid said, "But your services will not be required. I shall fetch the book myself."
"But your age," implored another, presumably Joakim, a slight young man with eyebrows so thick that when he furrowed his brows, it looked like two furry black caterpillars were boring into the corners of his eyes, "let the two youngest members of the Committee bear the burden of what will no doubt be a rigorous journey."
"I am not yet ready to expire of old age," Neklepoid rebuked the young priest, "I can survive a modicum of discomfort. I will take Braakwurk and Plimmons with me." The other two priests smiled smugly at that. "The three of us will manage nicely."
"An inspired choice of traveling associates, Neklepoid," Ashrok said, petting his square beard in thought, "Neither of them has ever handled a sword or been more than thirty miles from his place of birth, but they are both very pleasant companions. So long as there are no highwaymen, breakdowns, or disasters, I am sure that you will find travel with these two gentlemen most enjoyable."
Neklepoid pulled his lip at that, but before he could speak, he was interrupted by the rotund Braakwurk, a perfectly bald man of middle age who wore smile-lines about his mouth and scowl-lines about his eyes. "No, Neklepoid," said Braakwurk, "I am too flattered by Ashrok's generous endorsement. Perhaps you would be better off with a younger man, one more accustomed to violence. I am certain that Ashrok will not prove as reckless in your company as he has proven in Thew where he is known to start frequent brawl. Surely he would be too circumspect to involve you in a tavern brawl in a foreign city."
"As Braakwurk has so courteously recommended me, I will of course be glad to accompany you in his place." said Ashrok quickly.
"You misconstrue," interrupted Joakim, his dark eyebrows twitching and boring into his eyes like twin centipedes seeking to unearth twin stones, "Braakwurk recommended a 'younger man', not Ashrok. I am sure that the oblique reference to tavern brawls was meant to indicate his endorsement of myself over the respected, but rather impetuous Ashrok."
"Indeed?" said Ashrok, "Perhaps Joakim is correct. I could hardly imagine a more perfect traveling companion. Pleasant and vigorous, able to face the most daunting challenges undaunted. His qualities are so excellent that it hardly seems worth considering that spiders, snakes, insects and similar pests will send him screaming from the room like a small girl. But so long as there are no obnoxious pests to be encountered on the journey, you will never lack for the valiant defenses of the redoubtable Joakim."
"I made no specific recommendation!" Braakwurk said. "Nor did I resign my own position in the company! I rather meant to offer a more robust alternative to the estimable, yet somewhat enfeebled Plimmons who, it is well known can hardly go an hour without washing his hands. Much as I admire and respect our learned and aged temple treasurer, I would not wish upon him the hardships of a journey fraught with danger and filth."
The elderly, and skeletally thin Plimmons responded, "I am grateful for your consideration, Braakwurk, but in time of need I believe I can forego my usual fastidiousness. And if the weighty Braakwurk feels able to make the journey in spite of his rotund shortness of breath, he will be a valuable ally. Indeed, Neklepoid, I hate to broach so delicate a subject, but in case you are concerned about Braakwurk's legendary capacity for emitting malodorous vapors after a meal, I assure you that this will be of little consequence, so long as there are never any contingencies in which the travelers must fare in close quarters, say in a coach or a shared room at a crowded inn."
Braakwurk started to respond, but the high priest interrupted, "Yes, yes, thank you all for your suggestions. Your comity and mutual regard is inspiring. It becomes clear that each of us is blessed with such a unique range of aspects and that it would be foolhardy to venture out on this journey lacking any of our amiable company. We shall therefore travel as a group to find this marvelous history that Noober describes."
The high priest's suggestion brought reluctant agreement all around until Plimmons said, "What you propose, Neklepoid, is a full-scale expedition. How shall we fund this endeavor?"
"Why from the temple treasury, of course," said the high priest. Then given the nature of the conversation he added, "The extant one."
"This plan is lacks subtlety." Plimmons objected.
"What else should the temple treasury be used for than to fund temple business?" asked Neklepoid.
"I require more parsimonious allocation," the treasurer said. "I am, as has been pointed out, no longer a young man and I need to prepare for my retirement."
"I fail to see the connection between the temple treasury and your retirement," said the high priest.
"I have been planning a small stipend for myself from the treasury, in addition to the purchase of a small cottage in the foothills of Tolingpor, where the warm dry air is said to be salubrious to old bones."
"Your plans are impertinent." Neklepoid said. "As treasurer, your responsibility is to disperse the funds of the temple according to the direction of the Committee and the high priest, not according your own whims."
"I did not wish to bother the Committee or the high priest with so trivial a matter," said the treasurer.
"Yet the Committee and the high priest are bothered," Neklepoid insisted, "We shall discuss this matter further. For now, you must render sufficient funds for the journey."
"This is not possible," said Plimmons, "the treasury has been depleted by the purchase of the cottage and the unexpected delay in the ceremony of the virgin sacrifice has suspended the return to solvency. The virgin-sacrifice ceremony has always been a remunerative engagement for the temple."
"Your unauthorized expenditure must be reversed. You must render the funds by tomorrow morning when we depart." said Neklepoid.
"I fear that the seller of the cottage will not be concerned with the temple's requirements in this regard." Plimmons said, "Perhaps we should rethink the expedition. What confidence do we really have that the book exists at all?"
The priests all turned as one to look at Noober. But Noober had been expecting this question since he woke up and he was ready with a response. "If I may interrupt your conversation," he said, "I would like to discuss the disposition of the treasure. How are we to divide it up?"
The question had the intended effect of diverting attention from the matter of Noober's reliability. "Of course the treasure is a minor matter," Neklepoid said, "If it even still exists after all these years then I, as high priest shall take it into custody for the use of the temple."
"Although the treasure is of small consequence to all of us," said Braakwurk, "I propose that the valuables and magical items would be more effectively exploited if they were divided up equally among the Committee. The high priest alone could surely not make effective use of these resources."
"We can engage the details later," said Neklepoid curtly. "For now, we must decide how to fund the expedition."
"I propose that we have Noober fund the expedition," said Ashrok, still petting his beard, "He is reputed to be a man of means." Again, all eyes turned to Noober.
"This is impudent!" Noober cried. "You expect the condemned man to pay for the journey that leads to his own execution?"
"Don't be so penurious, Noober," the high priest said, "What use will you have for the money?"
"I will have a week to spend it, will I not?"
"I would regret to see you waste away your final days in dissipation," mused Neklepoid. "Better to spend the time in fasting and self-flagellation, the better to prepare your soul for its meeting with the gods. We will provide a suitably sparse chamber for your use at no charge. You should consider yourself fortunate to know the time of your death so that you may be ready."
"There-in lies the fault of your reasoning," said Noober. "If I change my ways because I know of my impending death then the gods would surely see this as a dishonest and insincere gesture. Better to die as I lived. The gods will applaud my honesty."
"Have we not already discussed the perils of amateur theology?" the high priest asked.
"I will not fund your treasure hunt."
"In that case, the entire enterprise begins to seem impractical," said the high priest, pulling his lip, "We may as well resume your execution."
"Your arguments begin to persuade me," said Noober. "but as the financier, I will of course be the captain of the expedition and will receive first pick from the treasures. I might then, be persuaded to leave my estate to the temple, so that you end up with whatever treasure I cannot spend within a week."
Neklepoid pulled his lower lip some more as he thought. "Leadership of the expedition is, of course, not negotiable. That exacting duty will fall to myself and you shall act in the capacity of a silent partner. Still, your proposal for first pick of the treasure does not sound unreasonable. We will, of course, have to discuss the exact terms of your will. For example, it might be less confusing for you to leave your estate to the high priest than to such a nebulous entity as the temple."
"I think there would be no confusion if Noober were to leave his estate to the temple." said Plimmons, "It would simply go into the treasury, there to be disbursed by myself as needed for temple business."
"A better solution yet is to divide up Noober's estate like Theroguy's treasure," said Joakim, who seemed more relaxed now. His twitching eyebrows had given up the effort to excavate his eye sockets and were now butting heads over the bridge of his nose. "Have Noober leave his estate to the temple. The Committee will divide it up for optimal practicality."
"I find this obsession with Noober's estate indecorous," Neklepoid chided. "Must we speak callously of the man's impending death with him standing right here in the room with us?" Without waiting for an answer, the high priest stood, "Very well, we have a plan. We shall leave in the morning. But first we shall prepare Noober for the journey."
Neklepoid swept from the room and the other priests followed. Noober was hustled after them by the temple guards.
Noober was feeling good about choices. He was still bound, but they would have to release him for the trip. The foolish priests, blinded by their fantasy of a great treasure, were going to allow Noober lead them into strange lands. Noober, whose wide-ranging business interests had left him with contacts all over the continent, would get them to Filindora or Krisalla or some other city where he had friends. In such a city, Noober anticipated one especially attractive choice: to have his friends capture the priests and burn them all with hot coals before sending them home penniless and barefoot. His choices were widening by the minute.
They stopped at the bovine fountain. "Step into the pool, Noober," the high priest commanded.
"Why?" Noober asked suspiciously.
"You will grasp the udders of the cow and swear an oath to take us to the book without delay and without treachery. We will cast a spell that will lay the oath upon you as an entollment."
Noober's heart sank. The entollment would bind his actions. If he tried to resist it too strongly, it would kill him. As Noober stepped reluctantly into the pool of the bovine fountain, he could feel his choices narrowing once again like a burlap sack being lowered over his shoulders.