Chronicles of the Proceedings of the Hall of Tumescence

Priapus brought his iron-shod staff down on the floor of the Hall.  The insistent thudding rang through the chamber, silencing the attendants that milled around the lords.  There were cape-bearers and courtesans, flower-strewers and floor-sweepers — all scuttled away through darkened side-aisles, leaving the suspended braziers to illuminate only the august presences of the Nine.  Grudgingly these remaining few assembled around the table, taking their thrones.  A wrack-limbed scribe wearing pince-nez set up a rickety folding desk and chair and began to take notes.  The meeting had begun.

Lord Priapus surveyed those with whom he shared his power, recalling weaknesses and indiscretions along with past alliances and points of strength.  Lord Mourningwoode was attentive as usual, brightly reviewing the prospects before him.  He had all the appearance of strength and noble lineage.  A straight frame, unthinning hair, and fine vestments with bright brass buttons lent him a vaguely military air.  But he would soon lose interest, unable to muster the attention span for the bureaucratic tasks that lay ahead.  No doubt he would excuse himself to the privy chamber at the time of the vote, yielding his authority to a proxy.  Priapus intended to be that proxy.

Lord Iago, on the other hand, was scrupulously reliable in his perseverance.  A newcomer would not believe that such an ancient presence could be so forceful in argument.  His mottled scalp was unconcealed by a few strands of long white hair.  He glared at his audience through reddened glistening eyes.  His tattered robe was filthy, worse than a penitent’s after pilgrimage.  His only accommodation to luxury was an ornate silver box of powdered blue snuff into which he dug his yellow-nailed fingers at every opportunity.  His upper lip was permanently stained and crusted with the residue of this habit.  But despite all evidence of decrepitude, Iago’s apparently withered limbs would show great strength as he pounded on the table, cords of sinew standing out on his arms and neck so that he nearly took the form of a gnarled tree as he made his case.  For all that he lacked any guile or subtlety – qualities which he found womanly and beneath someone of his station.  In many cases he had no need of these traits.  Perhaps this decision would be another example of this, Priapus thought.  Or perhaps not.

Less easy to predict was the squirrely Lord Chesterhold.  He fidgeted atop his throne, sweating slightly in robes too thick for the weather.  As always, there was something inappropriate in his garb, something that inevitably left him uncomfortable.  Even as Priapus looked on, Chesterhold suddenly sat upright and set his lapdog on the floor, looking about as if he had made some transgression.  Priapus had seen this before when the Lord had bounced some minor prince’s child on his knee in an effort to curry favor amongst the ruling class of the outlying provinces.  Chesterhold would fold to any who intimated that they knew his hidden proclivities, whatever they truly were.  The trick was to convince him that this was the case.

L’Enfant, on the other hand, beamed in childlike bliss.  A hooded regent stood in shadows behind the miniature lord’s throne, making himself visible only to translate the coos and gurgles of his master, or to wipe spittle from those royal lips.  L’Enfant’s attentions and interests were entirely whimsical and transitory.  There was no predicting what might trigger his delight.  His vote was that of a coined tossed in the air.  A margin of two in Priapus’ favor was needed to be secure in victory.  Otherwise L’Enfant’s imbecilic caprice could undo the most elaborate of plans.

The Lich stood in stark contrast to L’Enfant.  Whatever weird necromancy gave him life had exacted a horrific toll:  his skin was mummified, hollow cheeks shriveled and with a pallor fading to green, as if rot had started and then been unnaturally arrested.  Beneath his sepulchral cloak a gallowsman’s noose adorned the Lich’s neck, either part of a dreadful bargain or an ironic ornament.  Priapus thought the former more likely, as he had never seen the Lich so much as smirk.  But the Lich was stalwart, constant, a reliable ally.  His dedication was eternal.

Not so that of Lord Percival.  Certainly that scion believed his convictions would last forever, for all that they were hot and demanding of immediate action.  The boy-Lord was a bit ridiculous, perhaps, in his maroon corduroy and feathered cap, although Priapus felt a distant fondness for him, as if he recognized an echo of himself in the child’s foolishness.  Percival kept journals of his thoughts – so easily available to any crude spy that one wondered if they were intended to be read – which catalogued his ambitions and naïve schemes.  Poetry shamelessly cavorted with his clumsy politics on those pages, along with his earnest declarations of support for one thing or another.  But this ardor would fade with each milestone accomplished.  Percival would move on to another task with equal fervor to the one just abandoned.  But if his eye were caught at the right time his vote would be certain, at least for a short while.

And then there was Cerulean.  His bloated presence was an affront to all, including himself.  Heavy perfume and layered vests and topcoats did not conceal a pervasive stench which followed him.  He alone had brought no retinue to the meeting, glancing about longingly at the serving girls and washerwomen before they were sent from the room.  They in turn had studiously avoided having any more to do with Cerulean than was absolutely required.  His weak smiles and breathy remarks went unreturned.  And so he challenged the structure of his throne in a morose funk, self-pity poisoning any prospect of alliance.  He crossed his tiny hands on the uppermost buckle of his girdle, waiting for the debate to begin.

Finally, amidst swirling vapors that distorted the firelight of the room, loomed Xorkaal, ruler of the swampland wastes, alien and aloof.  Knotted scars ran up and down his body, which was covered by only a thin network of chains running between bizarre piercings.  In places the chains – which were of a motley collection of alloys, some links bright and some dull and rusted – disappeared into seeping voids in the swamplord’s flesh.  Xorkaal’s vote was as unknowable as L’Enfant’s, but certainly not capricious.  There was definitely a form of logic and intent behind his decisions.  But Priapus could not fathom it, nor did he think any human ever could.

So then it was a stroke of some fortune that the voting turned out as it did.  The arguments flowed over the course of hours, Cerulean weeping at times, Percival making undying pronouncements, Chesterhold taking great and sudden interest in his shoes, all under the subtle influence of Priapus.  He cajoled and scolded, prodded and relented.  Xorkaal uttered a polyphonic drone for several minutes which interrupted all communication save that of L’Enfant, who giggled while urinating on the table.  Eventually the claims and counterclaims subsided and the group settled into that rarest of states:  unanimity.  Priapus quickly called for a roll call, and the scribe smoothed a fresh sheet of parchment to record the final tally.

Each of the Nine Lords intoned their decision:

“Fuck it.”

“Fuck it.”

“Fuck it.”

“Fuck it.”

“Fuck it.”

“Fuck it.”

“Fuck it.”

“Fuck it.”

“Fuck it.”

–Steve Kilian

The Great Defeat in Georgia

Adventures in Filing

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