Disorder in the Court
This story formed because I was thinking about the Great Minds, their secrets, and their excommunication. I thought, “Other casters have secrets, so how would they deal with a traitor?” When I thought of a certain discipline, a tune popped into my head and would not go away.
I don’t always write stories that depend on music. But when I do, I make a joke out of it. I’ll name the song at the end. (Hint: it’s from Disney.)
With a sweaty hand, the man in the threadbare suit opened his door, trying not to let it squeak. He snuck down the steps without bothering to lock the door behind him; there was no point. Once on the grass, the skinny man meandered around his vardo wagon and between the neighboring ones. Night wasn’t really any concealment here in the Carnyvale. Powerball lanterns hung everywhere, illuminating card tables, dice pits, and specially-curtained stages. Other casters strolled every which way, their faces either awed or furtive.
He did his best to look like neither of those, to look calm and open. Being a Carnymancer had taught him that much, at least.
His mind whirred with the rhythm of his neighbors’ nightly showtimes. He curved just outside the lights of stages that had drawn crowds, trusting his neighbors to keep the gawkers’ eyes pointed one way. When he reached the edge of the ‘vale, just under the trees, he sighed with relief.
“Conrad? Is that you, old chap?”
He almost jumped, but then he breathed again and smiled at the voice. “Petey! How you doing, man?”
From the dim light appeared a chubby man with curly, thinning hair. Pete Birnam chuckled and rubbed his temples. “Not so loud, not so loud. Afraid I drank something a bit disagreeable today.”
“So it was the usual dinner, then?” Conrad laughed at his friend’s pained expression, turning and strolling the way he’d been headed. He improvised a wince and said, “Same here. And the old discordion troupe got their instruments repaired today.”
Pete groaned, “Titans, no...” He fell into step alongside him as they strolled on the edge of ‘vale and forest. “Small wonder you’re taking the long way.”
“That’s it. But what about you – leaving Tony to run the stall?”
“He’ll do all right. We’re raking in the Rands, I tell you. We might even be set for a dozen turns.”
“About this? Never. But Conrad... haven’t you considered my offer?”
They were walking too far. He needed to end this. “I couldn’t—”
“With your talent as a roper? We truly could use you.”
“Well... tomorrow, Petey – I promise.”
They’d reached the edge of the ‘vale, in sight of the trail dotted with lanterns that led away into the forest. Conrad glanced into the crowd of carts, then grinned at Pete. “I think I see a certain red-head with her eye on you.” He winked, then gave a tasteful bow as he stepped away.
Pete’s fingers caught his jacket sleeve. “Her hall always has plenty of assistants. Come along. Nothing like it for taking your mind off what ails you.”
As gently as he could, he disengaged himself. “Not tonight.” Inspiration struck, and he slipped a hand to an inner jacket pocket, pulling out a wooden, dented pipe. “I think I’ll stop to smell the Flowers tonight.”
“Your call, old chap. So long.”
Conrad strolled away towards the trail. Yes, this had been the better exit strategy. No Carny would seal off the path to Portal Park at the height of showtime. If I’d waited until dawn, there might have been more security, like a guard or a booby trap...
He heard swift footfalls behind him and thought, ...or a backstab. Then the impact struck his head, and everything went black.
Tugged along... stumbling... hands restrained... he heard muted laughter through the pounding in his ears. He caught a breath, cracked his eyes open, and realized that he was being led by bound wrists through the forest’s underbrush.
Lights swarmed around him – lanterns held by laughing... things? They had wild voices and faces, but their bodies were wooden and misshapen, with pink and orange amongst brown and blue.
Conrad blinked and gasped for breath, tripping over his own feet as his vision and hearing cleared. He was surrounded by fellow Carnies in strange costumes, and the one of them towing him by the wrists was... “Pete?”
The curly-haired caster grinned. “Should’ve taken the job, old chap.” A fresh round of laughter greeted this remark.
With a gut-freezing breath, Conrad recognized the other six casters as well. Around him danced the highest-level Carnies in all of the Magic Kingdom. The Ringleaders...
They leapt and pranced and sneered at him, waving lanterns in his sweaty face. The men wore the brown and blue robes, their sleeves decorated with leaves. The women wore unique robes hung with painted wood panels – one outfit of pink and yellow, another of red and orange, and then...
Conrad gulped. Those were the exact color schemes of the vardos closest to his home.
“Looks like it’s finally dawned on him!” piped a male voice right behind Conrad. An arm slid around his shaking shoulders, and lean-faced Mack Sarade declared, “And lucky him, that he gets at least one more dawn!” As the crowd laughed, the lanky caster pranced and accompanied his subject further into the forest. “Dear, dear Conrad Mann... You walked out on a night of fine entertainment. And for what – to fill your pipe?” He raised his hand.
Conrad saw not his pipe held in that hand, but the Carnymancy scroll he’d been scribing all day. The scroll he’d had in his inner pocket...
“But never fear,” cheered Mack. “We’ve got a special night planned just for you.” Other casters produced flutes, horns, and string instruments as he added, “In fact, it’s once-in-a-lifetime.”
The stumbling prisoner began to stammer as the music began – a deep, steady beat that resonated with those slinking, darting escorts. “What...” The music picked up faster as Mack conducted it. “What are you doing?”
The Carnies swarmed and sang, “Maybe you’ve heard of a terrible place
That the treacherous Carnies
Have reason to fear.
Maybe you’ve fled from that mythical place
Called the Court of Carnivals.”
“Hello, it’s here!” said Mack.
“Where the trees can walk,” sang the men.
“And the vardos see,” sang the women.
“But the croaked don’t talk,” added Mack,
“So we won’t let you go
To reveal what you know!”
In unison, “We have an answer for spies and for traitors
Rather like quakkens patrolling the sea
Here in the Court of Carnivals
Where you’ll be courting the Titans immediately!”
Conrad had begun shaking and sobbing, and his seven captors laughed and shoved and pulled him forward faster and faster. In a moment, the crowd burst into a clearing that held a ring of unlit torches. A gesture from Mack ignited their powerball flames, and Pete gave the rope a vicious yank, flinging Conrad face-first into the dirt at the ring’s center.
He shuddered, pressing his eyes into the leaf litter as he gasped for breath. Slowly, he looked up to see the Ringleaders capering in mad circles around his last stage. “P-Please…”
Mack waved the scroll lazily, a baton to guide the swaying trills of flutes. “What, let you go? So you can go off to your new side?”
“The side with the pink portal, eighty-four paces into Portal Park?” He grinned, holding the scroll to his forehead. “The side waiting so anxiously for you to spill your heart?”
“I never… I wouldn’t…”
“Of course you wouldn’t – what am I thinking?” He pocketed the scroll and pointed a finger. “Your heart only went to one person there!”
The last breath died in his lungs, and the deep music resumed its steady pounding.
Every other Carny stood still as Mack skipped into the ring of torchlight. “Quorums are quick in the Court of Carnivals;
We are the council and punishing force.
Don’t even bother to give your excuses –
We already know how it’s ending, of course!” He saw Pete take a black cloth from a pocket, and Mack leaned down. “Any last words?”
Conrad wailed, “I was trying to save lives!”
He grinned. “That’s what they all say. Now that we’ve seen all the evidence—”
“Wait – hear me out!”
“Not a chance!”
“Let me say—!”
“why?” The word came out muffled because Pete had whipped the black hood over the prone Carnymancer’s head.
They all stood on the ring’s edge, and Mack whispered, “We find you totally honest,
Which is the worst crime of all...”
They boomed, “So you’re going to fry!” Seven hobokens blasted their target.
Most of them had strolled back into the forest, knowing the way by heart. Only three of them remained in the torchlight: Mack, Pete, and the scorched form on the ground.
Mack clapped his compatriot on the shoulder. “Fine work! I knew you’d make an excellent Ringleader!”
Pete managed a small version of that toothy white smile. “It would be a poor caster indeed that can’t croak a rat.”
That smile opened even wider. “Congratulations, you’ve just won tonight’s grand prize!” He stooped to the motionless body, and with a flourish, he whipped off the hood.
Pete looked down into Conrad’s eyes.
...Yes, his eyes. Not X-marks, but glassy eyes. “We didn’t croak him?”
“Croak a fellow Carny?” Mack raised a hand to his gaping mouth. “What do you think we are – crazy?”
Both men’s mouths split back into grins, and they burst out laughing. Pete calmed down, “A-hah... so, now that you cast to save him, do we leave him here?”
Mack took his hand and shook it. “Want me to tell you what we do?”
Pete only maintained his smile, knowing that the word “we” had not been lost on either of them. Indeed, that other hand tightened around his knuckles ever so slightly as the murmuring answer reached him.
They extinguished the torches, hoisted up their burden, and lugged it into the underbrush. Mack steered them through the darkness.
Pete kept up his pace, thinking about anything at all except for how a barely-alive Carnymancer might be useful to Charlescomm.
This story was brought to you by “The Court of Miracles” from “The Hunchback of Notre Dame.”
(Note: user was awarded 50 Shmuckers for this post, and I may have to use "ringleader" or maybe "ringmaster" as canon. -Rob)