The Citadel: Undone
He drew the catgut through the powdered jewels, trying not to cut his fingers too badly in the process. Then he strung the silver lines between the nodes of the vault, tracing out the patterns he’d found scattered among the texts he’d collected. In places the web-work was so dense he needed a wooden shuttle to thread his way through the lines. When that was done he went about the floor, plugging cracks with beeswax. Finally it was sealed tight and he rolled over the cask, cursing the lead lining that kept its contents pure. He worked it over onto its side and pulled the stopper, letting the quicksilver flow out onto the floor, settling into a perfect round mirror reflecting the shuttered oculus above. The domed ceiling was covered with the runes he’d drawn over the previous three weeks, words in forgotten languages written with inks obscure and profane in their composition.
Now all he had to do was wait for the sky to catch up with his plan. The almanacs said he had two days to wait. It was just time enough to begin the incantation. He climbed the winding stair to the roof, pulled his cloak tight around him and began the chant. Every hour or so he would drink from a flask of bitter spikepine liquor, and his hunger would subside. His urine ran from his pantleg down to the gargoyled scupper at the edge of the roof. The sun wheeled by once, chased by a sliver blade of moon. On the second day the moon made its cut, the black disc edging its way across the sun in time with the rising words of the spell. Finally the sun was directly overhead, obliterated by the moon, and he cried his throat raw, cutting his tongue on the harsh angles of the alien words.
He threw back the shutters of the oculus, exposing the quicksilver mirror. He could see the sun’s halo flaring in the vault below, the strings fired with its muted light. The sun above flared brighter, as if in response. Blue wisps of arcane energies pulsed along the lines of web. The sky folded along these lines, forests and continents compressed into irrational geometries. He could not hear the final words as they were torn from his throat, drowned out in the great rush of in-folding matter and event. Time bent to the same twisted skein he had created, battles and famines curled like scrolls and tucked into newly formed alcoves in the universe. His body was buffeted by the swirling forces around him, chaos shrieking as it was imprisoned in the calculus of the spell. In three short barks he uttered the closing syllables that would mark the unbending of the new world, changing the paper-doll creases just slightly, but enough to work his will:
The first battle for the Citadel was undone, recast, and became again, and the forces of Matthew stormed the black walls, finally taking the parapet.
The second battle for the Citadel was shattered and the fragments cast into the ocean. A million times the sea tumbled the shards, blunting them into dull rounded memories of what had happened. A old fisherman’s widow collected the pieces and lined her hearth with them, where they fused into a sooty bowl. After she died her few possessions were distributed among the villagers, and a small girl held the bowl up to the setting sun, where she saw images of the black keep under siege, the forces of Daniel being repelled from the walls. Matthew’s soldiers had won again.
The third battle for the citadel raged in the signet ring of an imbecile king, a drooling savant who cared only for digging mines in the barren hills of his dying kingdom. Fields went unplowed as the peasants starved and still he sent troops to the pits and galleries, looking for nonexistent treasure. When the king was finally assassinated the ring was stolen and passed from noble to noble, losing value with each transaction as if it somehow bore the curse of its former owner, until finally being paid to a storyteller in exchange for a tale of a defeated army throwing their bodies against an obsidian fortress, unable to avenge the deaths of their brothers in the previous battle. It was yet another song of Matthew’s victory.
As these restructured events blossomed back into being the wizard finally lost consciousness. He wondered in that last moment if even he would remember the thing he had wrought.