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Sunday, July 12

Castle Ambrose: Prologue

Sebastian was in a crowded ballroom, with a balcony at its back. All the Hasturites were present; they all wore white masks with the visage of the Stranger, to which individual taste added grotesque variations. The result was that each mask looked like a famous person. The costumes were also various and fantastic. Sebastian still wore the silken robe with the Yellow Sign, and Cassilda, though masked, still wore the diadem, as did the child prince. Many were dancing to a formal measure, something like a sarabande, something like stalking.

Cassilda watched the masque from the balcony, Carcosa and the Hyades behind her. The moon had vanished.

“There, Princess,” said Sebastian. “You see that there has been no sending, and there will be none. The Pallid Mask is the perfect disguise.”

“How would we know a sending if it came?” asked Camilla in her singsong voice.

Cassilda descended from the balcony and joined them.

“The messenger of the King drives a hearse,” replied Sebastian.

“Oho,” interrupted Cassilda. “Half the population of Hastur does that. It is the city’s most popular occupation, since the siege began. All that is talk.”

“I have heard what the Talkers were talking—the talk of the beginning and the end,” said Sebastian. “But I do not talk of the beginning or the end.”

“But—the sending?” asked Camilla. “Let us hear.”

“Also, the messenger of the King is a soft man,” said Sebastian. “Should you greet him by the hand, one of his fingers would come off to join yours.”

Camilla recoiled in delicate disgust. Noatalba, who had been circling closer and closer to the group, finally joined it.

“A pretty story,” said Naotalba. “You seem to know everything. I think perhaps you could even tell us, given gold, the mystery of the Hyades.”

“He is King there,” replied Sebastian.

“As everywhere,” said Naotalba curtly. “Everyone knows that.”

“He is not King in Arcanis,” said Sebastian. “That is why Carcosa was built. It is a city in exile. These two mighty stars are deep in war, like Hastur and Alar.”

“Oh, indeed. Who then lives in Carcosa?”

“Nothing human,” said Sebastian. “More than that, I cannot tell you.”

“Your springs of invention run dry with suspicious quickness,” said Naotalba.

“Be silent!” snapped Cassilda. “Stranger, how did you come by all this?”

“My sigil is Aldebaran,” said Sebastian. “I hate the King.”

“And his is the Yellow Sign,” said Naotalba, “which you mock him by flaunting before the world. I tell you this: he will not be mocked. He is a King whom Emperors have served; and that is why he scorns a crown. All this is in the runes.”

“There are great truths in the runes,” replied Sebastian. “Nevertheless, my priest, Aldebaran is his evil star. Thence comes the Pallid Mask.”

“Belike, belike. But I would rather be deep in the cloudy depths of the Dehme than to wear what you wear on your bosom. When the King opens his mantle—“

Somewhere in the palace, a deep-toned gong began to strike.

“Now is the time I never thought to see,” said Cassilda to herself. “I must go, and announce the Succession of Aldones once more to the throne. Perhaps … perhaps the world itself is indeed about to begin again. How strange!”

As the gong continued to strike, everyone began to unmask. There were murmurs and gestures of surprise, real or polite, as identities were recognized and revealed. Then there was a wave of laughter. The music became louder and increased in tempo.

“You, sir, should unmask,” said Camilla.

“Indeed?” asked Sebastian.

“Indeed, it’s time,” said Camilla. “We have all laid aside disguise but you.”

“I wear no mask,” said Sebastian.

“No mask?” asked Camilla. Panic was in her voice. She turned to Cassilda. “No mask!” [MORE]

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posted by Michael Tresca at 11:04 AM


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