You sigh, examining once more the carnival troop before you.
Unfortunately, their request was a reasonable one, and would be granted in most cities, but the people of Jube had an uneasy history with clowns, even forbidding the wearing of bright clothing - though standards had slipped of late.
It was not surprising, considering your history - you had once been under a very different ruler - a mad clown king. The youth were fond of remembering him as a more benevolent ruler with whom there was great freedom, few rules and laughter rang through the streets.
You snort. Practically alone amongst the city, you still remember those days, though you were but a boy when they closed.
Ay, you remember the laughter that rang through the streets, you remember days spent laughing, cavorting and dancing, a smile eternally at your lips...yet inside there was not a scrap of pleasure. Unlike the rest you still pray that the winter would return, that this thaw would cease and the world freeze anew, for it was the winter that caused the clown king to abandon you, leading a trope of your best hunters into the wilderness.
It was barely two months after that that his regime was overthrown - the courtiers and noblemen had tried to keep the kingdom running, out of fear of their fickle leaders return. But Anargon would not allow it.
He had been a young man then, barely older then your son is now, and possessed with such cold determination. Not a passionate man, but one of such steely stuff that he made you wish you could match it.
It was not the most traditional of revolutionaries, but, by Mulcarn it worked!
He began by standing in the square arguing with the noblemen. At first they brushed him off with rhyme or jest, but this was not well taken by the masses, and soon they were forced to debate themselves hoarse.
And always they would be destroyed under Anargons cold stare.
Anargon had been allowed to go un-adorned in motley colors due to his status as a priest, but when he tore the clothes off his followers he drove society to its knees.
"What are these carnivals, freak shows, clowns? What have they ever done for you but bond you in this regime? You spend your days laughing and grinning - yet what do you have to smile about?
You, what is your name?"
He pointed to a young boy in the front of the crowd.
Reeling back, the youth muttered "..."
"Speak up boy, I'm not here to hurt you,"
"Tallemacuss Ruminations Smith, sir," the boy muttered.
"Tell me then...Rum, when was the last time you felt happy?"
"Well last night Rupert Deuteronomy Malacious - he bein' my little cousin sir - fell over when trying to climb into his stool and we all laugh-"
"I don't mean the last time you laughed, Rum," his voice was soft now, gentle in a way it rarely was, "I mean when you genuinely enjoyed yourself - felt happy, content, relaxed even?"
"I...I don't know sir," the boy said, hesitant at first, yet with increasing wonder, "I'm not sure I've...ever been, sir!"
With that Anargon lifted his hand high "From the mouths of sucklings might the path to salvation be reached! Can any among you here answer me very different? Can any one of you remember contentment?" His piercing eyes scanned the crowd analyticaly, searching for any disagreement.
Finding none he plucked the jesters cap from your head - for of course Tallemacuss Ruminations was you - and waved it aloft.
"This then, my brothers, is your chain! This costume in which you cavort has enslaved you! Abandon the trappings of a mad clown king - he has abandoned you! Cast down this revelry, return to the roots of what you are!" The crowd had become more swayed, but for a moment it seemed like they were not ready, that it was too soon to speak in the open, that in this critical time they might abandon him!
But you had been watching that night, standing spellbound at his words, and when they stopped and no-one made to move, you knew what you must do.
Jogging forward you alight upon the top of the steps and calmly, starring straight into the winter priest's astonished eyes, rip off your entire costume, until you stand naked in the ice. But you do not feel the cold, for Anargons normally chilly stare is upon you, and where normally it is cold and hard it is now unbearably soft and full of wonder.
This unguarded moment past, he simply nods once in silent gratitude then turns to berates the crowds reaction (for even in Old Jubilee it was considered scandalous to go naked in the streets).
"You would call out shame on him for abandoning his chains?! Fie onto thee clowns and cavorters - for whose is the greater shame? Is it the puppet who abandons its strings to stand tall on its own, or those that cling to the established order? For I tell you all, you are the puppets, and for too long have you been made to dance!
Stand free, as men born again in the shadow(???) of winter!"
It began as a ripple, until the square was full if naked, shivering bodies. But where in the days before this site would've awakened a passion or orgy in them, on that wintry morning there was no passion in any of them. No fire, no rush of emotion or drive, only a cold clinical transcendance, as each of you rose above your petty existence in a spirit of triumphant liberation.
In that frosty evening, you were born again, Anargon naming you Talleas (which means wisdom in high Illian) for that day you were born again in Mulcarn.
You remember little of what followed, only that all who had stripped of their costumes and carnival attire built a pillar of them in the castle courtyard, at Anargon's request. Those who would not abandon the clowning ways were slain and their bloodstained attire added to the pillar.
When the time came some of the men asked Anargon if they might burn it then and there. He turned on them, in cool condemnation:
"You would burn it, and thereby absolve yourself of your past shame - of the horror you allowed yourself to partake in? I think not! No, this pillar of chains will stand forever - a testament to your failure, and a reminder of what we must never be again!"
From that day forward order was returned to this city of jubilee and a time of stasis persevered. Anargon was appointed leader, though he would never take a crown or hold a title - indeed all jewlery of any sort, as well as dyes, silk and cotten were quickly banned.
Anargon led your people in the worship of Mulcarn, teaching them how to survive in the harsh winter. You he took as a protege, teaching you the governance of your people, and philosophizing about the importance of maintaining their path, never wavering, never faltering.
It was odd in truth, an age passed since the onslaught of winter, yet for you it feels like barely 60.
You had seen an age pass before you, and watched the seasons pass like a stream flowing quickly before your eyes. Watched as the kingdoms fractured and fell, watched as the winter grew, watched as the forests fled, watched an innumerable blizzards pass, watched the hunters come, again and again - like a history repeating itself, the same acts, the same deaths, the same births, the same feasts...and through it all, Jube remained forever constant, a city clothed in ice that ne'er saw the Sun.
In all those years Anargon and he aged barely three decades, and through Anargons constant presence, their society was maintained. There was no great improvement, no innovation - it simply stagnated into a self-sustaining cycle, with the status quo maintained.
Throughout this, you remember little specific, simply realising quickly that little change was occurring - particularly to you, as Anargon eventually explained the gift his god had granted you - that of a life that stretched millennia.
You remember how Anargon quickly made you his protege - when the king himself was unavailable you were made to serve in his stead. At first this only occurred for the leading of the hunting parties, but as you grew past childhood it quickly extended into all matters of governship, with the priest keeping you at his side always.
For a long time you were asked for little, but not twenty years past there was a change in you and your master...
In truth it had been a change in the very fabric of your world.
The brooding spirits of the ice god - from the karacochan swarms to the great aquilon - had long sensed its coming. Months before, their spirits had departed Jube in droves, and in some great haste, as though they were being called to return. Anargon, seemingly divining some hint of his patrons mind began to grow uncharacteristically brittle and worried, lashing out even at you when you attempted to seek his advice.
With your king shutting himself off from society you were slowly pushed into more responsibilities, forced to reside over matters of state.
Until at the fourth feast of [LOOK UP], when the hall, while he was addressing the triumphant hunters, was suddenly struck by a powerful force - a veritable avalanche of power that roiled upon them, hurling strong men to the floor, pinning them as they screamed in anguish.
You too were thrown from the councils dias and struck the side of the beastmasters chair, and throughout the cataclysm that followed were constantly drifting into and out of consciousness.
It seemed to last a lifetime - though in truth it was little more then a hour - but the image that lasted (as though it was burned into his mind) was that of Anargon standing as though frozen in his place, his face a tumultuous mix of powerful rage, agony and despair.
While you'd seen such emotions before, none going to your mind like that one - the lone figure standing in the raging maelstorm of divine power, his cloak billowing about him as if to match the chaos swirling about him, while he stood immovable through some massive exertion of will, and, most of all, that face (which never exposed a scrap of feeling) contorted in uncontrollable emotions.
Its still hard for you to remember how it ended but you remember that something powerful was ripped from you, and you began to age as fast as the rest of the city.
Not so with Anargon.
He was greatly changed by what occurred that night, and he seemed to wither before their very eyes.
He had always been greybearded and old - yet he had never seemed frail, always very active and involved.
But now it all changed - as their society flourished in the melting ice and forthcoming spring, so too did Anargon wither away like snow exposed to the noonday sun.
You expected that this decline would've made him a recluse as he had been in the days before, but it only seemed to invigorate him in that last year - as though your leader was suddenly conscious of his mortality and recognised that a legacy was necessary.
You became that legacy, and if he had lifted you up before, it was nothing to what he now did.
In a week you had become more then his confidente and aide - you were his heir in truth.
As he was confined more and more to his bed, he came to rely on you not just as a representative, but a policy maker as well.
When...he died, 6 months after the Death of Winter (as the youth have begun to call it) it was a terrible occasion.
The last of the aquilon fled their temple, and their last blizzard followed it - though you had cursed that blizzard and the snowstorms perhaps a million times, its departure arose a strong feeling of despair - that the old ways were now well and truly gone, and it was up to you to administer the coming of the new.
You buried Anargon in the traditional manner, hauling his body up the mountain and leaving it for the carrion to consume.
By common consensus you were his successor, but there were rumours that you were chosen as the only true spiritual successor, the only one who could maintain the favour of Mulcarn in the darkness.
If that rumour is true, then they chose foolishly. For a week before he died, the "high priest" confirmed what I suspected - that the Ice Lord was dead, and his precept wrought.
You sought to mantain order in Jube, to keep the old ways going.
But as the snow melted, as farming became viable, as the hardship that had persuaded the citizens of the old ways began to fade, they lost their affinity to it. Their shallow nature - which you had always suspected but hoped against - meant they cared nothing for the old ways, embracing the luxury of the new...and the even older. The young radicals now call on their clownish past with new vigour - some spit on the Pillar of Chains!
Only you remember the...fun it was then, and within your sight they dare not mention it...but there are whispers, whispers that grow stronger and more insistent with each passing day.
That had been eighty seasons ago, and each day you feel your grip on the city loosening. Your son has grown into a fine lad, and a excellent ambassador to the cities youth, treading the fine line of indulging in their rebellion and quietly halting it.
He breaks your reverie now, as he often does, for your mind tends to wander of late. His voice is harsher then usual, and filled with a maniac tune.
"Oh dear king, let the clowns in to play!
We know that if you had your way,
They'd not be let into Jube today.
But the town doesn't want your way today,
They want these clowns in to play!
And they'll not find any shelter today,
Nor would their clowning long keep the barbarians at bay.
So, dear king, let these clowns in to play!"
You gape at your son, astonished at this betrayal.
"Very well, let them in." You mutter bitterly.
Your son flashes a bright smile at you - out of place in his normally dour persona. And as for the singing...
As you hurry back to the longhouse, unwilling to watch the carnival enter, you feel the truth in your sons words - there would be open riot if the hunters brought back their bodies after you turned them away. Despite this, you are still reeling from the way he said it - and worse, that maniacally meery twinkle in his eye...
Later that evening...
You attack the town finances viciously, trying to shut out the revelry outside. It seems to you that practically everyone is joining in with the festivities, and the noise of it is a constant irritation...Ghosts of the past seems to speak to you through it - vaguely sinister snatches of the nightmare clowns of your youth, your mother's laugh as she is torn apart by freaks - laughing hysterically for her families sake... and through it all, Anargon's sad, disappointed voice - he seems to loom before you, condemning you for your failure, lecturing you once more about the slippery slope.
"I tried, master!" You cry silently too him. "I have fought this decadence with every inch that I had, I have tried-"
You know what he would say then - that there is no point trying, that sometimes one must 'bet for seven with four in the hand' to use a somnium example...
But this was no ordinary knock - not Maccus' strong, sharp smack nor Banly's hesitant rat-a-tat-tat...this was a ominous, hollow rapping.
/wet slap, like whacking a sandal into a paved road.
Worse, you realise that the music outside had stopped and as much as you hated the sound its absence leaves a odd vacuum in its wake. Nor is it replaced by the normal sibilance(???) of Jubian nightlife - no tonight there was nothing, not even the howl of the wind - the sound of it whistling through the Pillar of Chains had always calmed you. That was why you placed your office in its shadow after all...
It comes again, more insistent then before.
You sigh, heaving yourself out of the chair with exaggerated care. You pull open the old door and gasp, leaning on it for support.
For before you stands Anargon - and you can remember every scar, every pit.
He smiles beatifically, "Our city we've come to take, I heard you've held it for our sake?"
You can do nothing but stand entranced, once again you are the little boy, made shy by his notice.Eventually you realise that he awaits a answer and begin to garble a response - he breaks you off with a toothy smile.
"Oh! Have you worked the day away?
My dear Rum, you look so weary,
There's a time for even you to play.
So come out, and we'll make merry!"
Suddenly you feel so foolish. You take his hand - it feels even more bony and gnarlier then you remember - and he leads you out into the square. It seems that half the town is there, and all are talking and laughing in excited voices. Some greet you raucously, and it startles you, for this is the friendliest exchange youve had in years.
For some reason that makes you absurdly happy, even as Anargon leads you to a break in the crowd, where a group of torch bearers stood apart from the rest.
"To breathe of fire - 'tis a great thing,
And yet the breathing bears no sacrifice,
For 'tis a mere trick - like making an iceicle sing.
In a brand of fire - there lies sacrifice.
For in the screams as flesh is shorn,
Lies the choice of fire over ice,
A choice of Bhall not the dead Mulcarn!
But what else could we scorch in Jube?
What else could we unmake to mark the end of winters cold?
To rend the rebellion gone and not pertube,
Upon the puppets that I would mold?"
As he spoke the laughter amongst the torch bearers reached fever pitch, and one - laughing hysterically - began to...cook himself. The torchers laughter grew, mingling with screams as the hapless torcher seared flesh and bone.
Anargon clacks his teeth in approval, a mannerism much louder then it once was, and turns to you, with an odd smile on his face.
A bonfire I have conjured,
For your party let us alight
Said pillar of kindling masked
And celebrate through the night!
He hands you a green-flamed torch, and leads you to the icy pillar of chains. A thought strikes you, coming slow and weak out of the mist that snares your mind - that its odd to structure a bonfire around ice - and you hesitate, looking back at Anargon...but he only grins that toothy sneer and gestures you forward.
As you move further from him, the mist begins to disperse and a part of you starts to scream out to stop, to turn back...
But a much larger faction only laughs - a sound alien and cruel - and pushes your limbs ever forward.
When you reach the pillar you turn and look at your master and, fighting against unwilling limbs, drop the brand into the oily mass.
The result is horrifyingly spectacular, with the flames moving like magic, engulfing the bonfire, and quickly licking at nearby houses. As you stand, unaccountably sad, something goes out of you, and the ice that has so long protected and preserved the city fades, with the city itself seeming to dim...
And then you are laughing, hysterically and growing to a fever pitch, and your master is there, dancing with you in unadultured pleasure as he grins with triumphant malice.
And deep, deep inside you, a voice is screaming and weeping, watching helplessly as you dance with a skeleton to the music of your city burning around you...
The next day a small party leaves Jube, escaping as the inferno engulfs their friends. There are scouts, warriors, even a small band of settlers - the makings of a civilization. But their every action is bubbling with laughter, and they tumble and cavort for every move, all to please their ever present, ever watchful, mad clown-king.