Michael felt the fur on his back with his hand one last time, still shaking his head. It had not been long since he had woken up, and all the crazy characters he had met only made things all the weirder; Copernicus, Matthias, Pascal, especially Pascal. What in the world had that alchemist been up to, he would never know. Walking down the hallways again, never bored -- how could one possibly be bored in a place where you might run into somebody that looked like something that you'd want to step on if it were just a bit smaller -- he saw the familiar faces as he passed. He wasn't really sure where he was headed, but somehow, he found himself down a familiar passageway, and there in front of him, was Matthias coming out of his little hole in the wall with his stick and a pile of parchemnt beneath his arm.
Matthias's ears perked up when he saw Michael coming down the hall, and he chittered, "Ho, Michael. What mischief are you planning today?"
"Oh, Charles, nothing really, just wandering about."
Matthias winked at him, gnawing at the wood, "Still amazing, isn't it? I bet you never would have believed of this place if somebody had told you about it?"
Matthias hefted the bundle that was underneath his arm and then pointed with his stick down the hall, "Why don't you join me? I'm heading to another Writer's Guild meeting, and I would greatly appreciate it if you would come and see what we do down there."
"Thanks for the offer, but are you sure they will let a non-member come in?" Michael asked, not really sure if he wanted to go to the meeting. He began to ponder whether Matthias wasn't trying to trick him into joining.
"Normally non-members cannot attend, not even the Duke, but since I'm inviting you there won't be any problem."
"Well, okay I guess, I don't have much else to do." Michael stammered.
"Great! Would you carry these for me, they're awfully heavy." Matthias handed the stack of parchments to Michael, who easily carried them in one hand. He looked over the writing, noting the very beautiful script, with the intricate designs imprinted upon it. He kept himself from reading a few lines, not sure if he wanted to spoil it for himself.
"What is this stuff?"
"Oh, that's a story I wrote. I'm going to be presenting it at the Guild meeting today. It is a study in nonchronological ordering of events," Matthias replied, already beginning to walk down the hallway, towards an archway that led out into the sunlight. The twisting ivy that crept along the hewn stone archway was budding with bright purple flowers that gave off a delicate fragrance. Michael realized that his scent of smell must be getting better because each time he passed under that archway, he could smell those flowers more and more distinctly, as well as other scents, such as the ivy itself. It was much more musty, though only subtly so. The stonework of course did not give off any scent for him. He wondered if Charles could identify the stonework by scent, but did not dare to ask.
"What's nonchronological?" Michael asked as they passed the archway, the soothing rays of the sun boring down to his bones. It was already midmorning, and he felt quite alive. The air was bustling with life; butterflies hovering over a nearby garden of pinks, lavenders, scarlets, and marigold; children at play with a hoop and stick, chasing it in merriment as they batted it about the courtyard; birds nestling in the branches of apple trees that lined one wall of the masonry; the air itself, with a slight breeze, and the fragrances of each creature filling his nostrils with harmonious odours.
"Nonchronological menas that it doesn't happen in the order it happened."
Matthias laughed, "Okay, that was a bit vague. What I meant to say was that a story told nonchronologically does not tell the events in the order that they happened, but skips around, sometimes talking of events in the future, and sometimes of events in the past. Do you follow?"
"I think so." Michael stared at the rat who was wearing his incisors down by gnawing at the small bit of wood. "Why would you want to do that anyway? Isn't it much more exciting to tell the story from the beginning to the end?"
"Most of the time yes, but for certain effects, you need to tell it in a different order. Sometimes this comes off badly, but not always."
Michael noted that they were heading in the direction of a low building towards the westerly side of the keep. It was low, but it was large, with very ornate construction; what appeared to be marble balustrades were erected along the parapet off the second floor, and a intricately carved doorframe housed what was obviously the main entrance. There were several statues of pug-nosed dog-faced creatures perched along the four corners of the rooftop. Over top of the door was a large sign with a sgraffito-like picture chiseled into the wood covering silver; it was of a quill pen dipped in a saucer of ink.
"How long have you been writing?" Michale asked suddenly, realizing that the conversation had effectively died.
"Oh, ever since I got here." Matthias admitted.
"You never wrote before you came here?"
Matthias looked distinctly uncomfortable, "I always have had a gift with words, and ideas are not something that I am ever short of. However, I never was serious about it until I came to Metamor Keep."
"Why the change of mind?"
"Well, when the body changes, the mind does too." Matthias told him, and then muttered something quietly to himself, before visciously gnawing on the stick, biting clear through a small bit. The broken piece fell to the stone walkway in the courtyard with a clatter. Michael felt a distinctly uncomfortable shudder, and he knew that he was trodding on dangerous ground. Even more, he thought he could smell something in the air. That spell was taking hold over him, in more than just the fur on his back.
"Are we going in?" Michael asked as they neared the front doors.
"I haven't walked through the front gate in years. I think I'll need to take you around back to my entrance."
"You have your own entrance?"
"You bet. I am the headmaster after all."
"I thought you were one of three?" Michael was now confused, just who ran the show here?
"Technically I am, but I do have the power to change any decisions I feel like. Let us just say that I have never had need to exercise this right, and I don't plan on doing it in the future either." Matthias smiled, walking to a much less spectacular oaken door, with a simple brass latch. Matthias slipped a small key into the lock, which was nearly at his chest level, and then pulled the door open. Michael walked in, and Matthias closed the door behind him. "This place was originally a garrison, but since the war, they've built a better one on the other side of the Keep. I had this one remodeled when I came here. They still haven't gotten around to changing the door though."
Michael looked at the small alcoves where now stood shelves of books and scrolls. He let his mind wander and he could imagine racks of swords, bows, and other tools of death lining those inner spaces. He even saw a few rust stains on the floor of one, where a suit of armor had stood for untold decades before finally being removed. There were a few doors along the way to a much larger room. He pointed to them in question.
"Those are the headmaster's offices. Doctor Channing works there," he pointed at a door with a star chipped into the frame, "but he's hardly ever about. Channing usually spends most of his time in his tower, but he usually comes down for our weekly meetings. Phil works there, in that office without any sign. Oh, that reminds me, Phil is not going to be making today's meeting, he's on patrol duty at the moment. I have no idea why he signed up for it. Anyway, the third office, the one with the cheese, that's mine. And this door right here leads to the main chambers. Now remember, this place used to be a garrison."
Matthias threw wide the double doors that led into the front of the main hall. Whatever had once been a garrison was now completely redone over to look like a large table with three other tables, each furnished with parchment and ink bottles at every seat. Many of the seats were filled, including the first seat to the left of the central chair. The central chair was odd for one reason alone, it was set up very high. It was quickly obvious to Michael that the center seat was intended for Matthias.
Charles climbed into his large seat, smiling at the towering figure of the goose that sat next to him. The goose was quite large, but very slender. Michael estimated that he weighed no more than 150 or 200 pounds for all his height. However, the goose was still much taller and much larger than Matthias who seemed dwarfed by everything around him. However, the goose seemed pleased to see Matthias.
"Hello Charles, I see that you are doing well."
"Thanks, Reverend." Matthias smiled, setting his chewstick on the table. Matthias then turned to see Michael still standing at the back of the room looking embarrassed. "Michael, take Phil's seat, he won't be using it today, and set that stack of papers down right here."
Michael sat down in the other chair, looking a bit ridiculous. He felt the fur on his back push down against him as he leaned against the wooden supports. He looked over at the other two, setting the parchments down, and smiled. Matthias nodded, "Before I go on, let me introduce you to one of the other headmasters. Michael, I am honored to introduce you to The Reverend Doctor Johann Nathaniel Melchior Channing Friedrich Hernandez Sebastien Wells (de LaFontaine). Reverend, this is Michael, a recent inhabitant of the Keep."
The goose bowed his head in deference, "You may call me Doctor Channing."
"Okay." Michael smiled. This goose was one person that he had not seen before, in all his time here. He had seen most of the inhabitants of the place at least once, but this Doctor Channing was certainly a new one to him. He engaged himself in idle chit chat with the two as more and more people began to file in for the meeting. He noticed that many were staring at him and asking questions of each other. He felt like some dead animal that was being poked at by passerbys. He certainly did not like the feeling, and he definitely did not want to make eye contact with any of them.
The meeting started only a few moments later, and Michael had to admit that it was probably one of the most boring hours that he had ever been through. Although the few stories that were read were very good, especially Matthias's -- Doctor Channing did not contribute that day, for reasons that he did not bother to say -- most of the rest of the time was used to instruct others on the proper way of writing, as well as planning for future events and what show to put on for Thomas when that time came. It was all very involved, and Michael felt quite left out of it all. It wasn't until one of the writers, some crazy looking person with a small head, and a very thick reddish tail -- he vaguely recalled having heard somebody call this guy a roo or something -- stepped into the center of the tables that anything remotely interesting began to happen.
Matthias looked like he was going to run from the room, but Channing always seem to keep an eye on him as the roo began to shadow fight the air, and call out challenges to several people. Michael looked at Matthias inquisitively, "What is going on?"
Matthias snorted contemptuously, "It is a semiannual contest that we host. I forgot that it was today. It's supposed to increase the spirits of the writers who in general don't get to see much action themsleves. Habakkuk there is the current champion, has been for the last two tournaments. I always hate it when this time comes around, it is so pointless."
Channing cocked his beak towards Matthias, "That's because you don't take the time to appreciate the simple fun and enjoyment that the writers get out of it. It doesn't have to be intellectually stimulating to get the mind working."
"I know that."
Channing shrugged, "Well, it seems that Habakkuk has gotten his first victim. Ol' Nahum seems to think he has a chance."
"The fox?" Matthias looked up to see Nahum, a bright red tailed fox slipping over the table, setting his quill down, and flexing his muscles. Matthias looked at the idiotic grin on his face, and shuddered. "Nahum's tough, but I think Habakkuk can take him down."
Michael noted that Matthias did his best not to watch, always keeping an eye on the floor, or worrying excesively about his quickly disappearing stick which he gnawed furiously on. Channing watched the game, squawking delightedly on occasion when Nahum and Habakkuk exchanged powerful blows. The two appeared to Michael to be pretty evenly matched, but it was quite evident that Habakkuk had a slightly more powerful punch, and finally managed to knock Nahum down for the last time. Nahum sighed, getting up, and crawling back under the table.
"You were right, Charles, it looks like the roo got the fox," Michael reported.
Matthias looked back at the scene, his eyes looking for a moment with Habakkuk, who seemed pleased with his victory over Nahum. Habakkuk smiled at the leader, "Hey, Charles, want to challenge me?"
Matthias took another vicious bite at his wood, "Not a chance."
"Oh, I'll go easy on you."
"Sorry, Zhypar, not this time," Matthias replied, his eyes trying to remain soft, though Michael could see that Matthias was being pressured into something he didn't want to do.
"Oh please, I'll finish that story you've been bugging me to write for the past three years." Habakkuk pleaded, looking desperate to get their headmaster into the ring so to speak.
However, the reaction that came from Matthias was hardly to be expected. His right hand balled into a fist, and slammed down into the table with such force that it cracked up the middle. "I said no!" Matthias snarled, "Find another who will fight."
Habakkuk nodded, "I apologize if I offended you headmaster."
Matthias nodded, but said nothing. Channing shook his head mournfully, before leaning over, and whispering to the two of them, "Why wouldn't you take up the challenge? Let him beat you up, and then you could have saved face."
"You know I'm a pacifist," Matthias replied hotly.
"Yes, you are now," Channing replied mysteriously. The subtle probings were not lost on Charles, who turned to snarl at the goose.
"What are you trying to say?"
"Nothing. Just making an observation. Would you like me to tell the carpenter that we need your table fixed again?"
Michael could see the anger that had built up in Matthias over the course of the few hours had quickly subsided and was completely gone. When he spoke again it was with calm assurity, "Reverend, please don't do this."
Channing nodded, "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to pry."
"I understand. Just watch your little fight." Matthias pointed at Habakkuk who had gathered a foolish young wolf into the ring of tables. Michael wondered just what it was that Matthias was hiding, but he decided to worry about it later, this little brawl between Habakkuk and the wolf was simply too interesting.