Archimandrus was fifty when the commission first came. A poem, a psalm
for the new coronation. Oh how glorious! He had waited so long for
this. Years. Decades. Had pushed away wife and child alike. Locked
himself in dark rooms for months at a time. Writing. Mumbling rhymes
under his breath. Until he fevered from the fire of song. Until his
hands bent like meathooks and could not unbend. Until his fingers were
quillstained with the blood of words.

Two weeks he had. Two weeks to compose his magnum opus. He would forge
a crown of words, a masterpiece unrivaled. Words like gems blazing and
vast inside. Phrases of gold bent into perfect shapes.

He began immediately. Scribbling images and themes on a page. Digging
out old scrolls filled with his notes and scribbles. Sifting them.
Panning them. Turning each word one by one, peering deep into its
flaws. Crossing out the ideas too weak to use.

Only two days later, they were all crossed out. Every inspiration and
insight of the last thirty years. Some were good to be sure, but none
good enough for this. The color was muddy, the luster too dim, or the
gleam too pallid. He tore scrolls in half in a fury and raged across
his room uptilting inkpots until not a single thought still gleamed in
his head. In his skull, once a mine filled with gold and gems, only
dark and barren rock remained.

He retired alone to his garden and sat among the bright-maned flowers
there and spoke to them and told them that he was a bounder and a cad
and his truest artistry was fraud. For three days he miseried there
and peered up at the clouds as if in prayer and hoped the sun would
shine down through his pupils and into the shadowed caverns of mind
and cast light down a new tunnel that he had overlooked. But the sun
refused to peek from behind its mantle of mist.

Then he fell ill. Fevers forge hot. Hammers pounding his skull apart.
He woke every night screaming the name of his golden-haired wife, whom
he left so many years ago. Remembering the faces of his children with
jewellike eyes.  Without his servants and the soup they brought him
he would have perished there, seared from the face of the earth by his

When he roused himself at last from his illness it was his fifty-first
birthday, and only two days remained. Still aching and still shivering
and sweating he sat at his table and his fingers shook as they crawled
around the quill. The ink on his fingertips, somehow, had faded. Part
of him had faded too.

He began to write then, long continuous lines of song. Passion and
fever and perhaps even madness spilling through his eyes onto the
pages. Within two hours he was done. He had something. Or the
beginnings of something, at least. Something wonderful.

The next morning he set to work again. Shaving each syllable and
phoneme over with a gem-cutter’s precision. Polishing each shining
letter. Pinging dented lines back into place. Twining in the sparest
hints of filigree. Forging the gold purer and purer still. Shaping the
crown of sound for his king.

He worked this way until noon, when only the last two lines remained.
A couplet, a bit strained. Then, exhausted, he lay down for a nap.

When the royal couriers knocked on his door that evening, he did not
answer. His servants tried the door, but it was barred. Under orders
from the courier, they pounded the door down.

There they found Archimandrus dead in his sleep, wrapped up in
blankets three layers deep.




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