In The City of Glass at the Edge of the World, a wizard is roused from his peaceful work by the actions of a greedy king. After trying to reason with the king, the wizard is forced to take action against him.
Far out on the edge of the world, where the end of the sea reaches the sky, the water falls off the earth’s edge. In this place, there are always mists and spumes, and there is a total silence. A waterfall’s sound is heard when falling water impacts pools or stone. Here, once the sea water leaves the edge of the earth, it falls and falls and falls. It never impacts anything but falls forever.
Years ago, sailors sailed to find the edge of the world. Most never reached it. Their ships were dragged under by the whirlpools of Charybdis, the great krakens of the sea, or the many headed hydra that is Scylla.
Those boats that reached the edge of world never returned. At the world’s edge, the currents are so powerful that the ships could not sail against them, thus they were dragged off the edge of the world, and those ships are still falling to this day.
There are very few tales of any living creature traveling to the edge of the world and surviving to tell the tale.
One is of a sea witch.
The sea witch’s name was Clymenoptra, and she was a very old and aged witch. She had great wisdom and power, yet even she was afraid of sailing to the edge of the world. Her skin was green. She had golden eyes like an owl. She carried a broom, but she dared not ride her broom out to the edge of the world where the currents of air are more arbitrary and dangerous than the currents of the sea. Instead she sailed upon a charmed sea shell.
Clymenoptra came to the edge of the world in order to save the lives of the men and women of Atlantis who one day came to her for help. But that is a story for another day. Suffice it to say that Clymenoptra, when she reached the edge of the world, filled a glass jar with water from the sea’s edge, and she held the water to the moon, muttered incantations, and added the breath of the wind. When the sea water transformed into a potion, the aquamarine water turned pale pink, and it was with a great sense of urgency that Clymenoptra turned her seashell back and returned to Atlantis.
Another tale of one who survived the journey to the world’s edge concerns a great wizard.
His name was Brollmyr. He came from the fjords of Norway. He wore a long blue robe, and his beard cascaded to his knees and was as white as snow. Brollmyr was a snow mage, one of the last of that race, and he is reputed to have been the greatest of them all. He carried a gnarled wooden staff that stood as tall as he did, and he traveled to the edge of the world by riding upon the back of an enchanted whale.
Brollmyr, like Clymenoptra, had no desire to visit the world’s edge, and only he did so from a sense of urgency. In Brollmyr’s case, a spell of a thousand years of winter had been cast upon the snow covered northern lands, and the folk there had forgotten summer.
Whereas Clymenoptra had not faced the kraken, for her bewitched sea shell had skimmed silently over the water, the sounds of Brollmyr’s enchanted whale awoke that fell creature. The kraken rose from the dark depths where it had been sleeping.
For many days, under lightning and thunder, through the rain and the night, Brollmyr battled the kraken. The waves rose up in a fury, the wizard’s magic spells colored the atmosphere, and the ancient kraken’s powerful strength and many tentacles surrounded the great wizard.
But, like the story of Clymenoptra, the tale of Brollmyr is for another day.
For today there is the story of the floating city of glass that came to the edge of the world.
A city of great splendor once existed. It had a beautiful white palace, and many cool, refreshing gardens that could be enjoyed by the citizens. In this city, there were no murders, and there were rarely any thieves. There were fountains that splashed cool, clean water from which anyone could drink. The inns for travelers were cozy and warm. Their beds were good and the rooms inexpensive. The streets were paved with cobblestones and kept clean of trash and debris. The men and women of this city were well educated and prosperous. There was even a small library, with books that anyone was permitted to read. In the windows of the cottages were planters from which vines and wisteria trailed down. The horses were healthy. The children climbed apple trees in the summer, and, in the winter, on Midwinter’s Eve, they received gifts of chocolate and toasted gingerbread.
For many years, for as long as the eldest of the elders could remember, life had gone on in this fashion. The people enjoyed prosperity under the good King Dunscombe. Then one day the good king died of a fever, and he was replaced by his nephew, a man long known for his greed.
The new king, King Venwerth, was a tall, skeletal man, with a sharp pointed black beard. He had high cheekbones, and a narrow face. His features were bony and gloomy. He had dark, piercing eyes, heavy black eyebrows, and black hair that he grew to his shoulder. He wore a king’s robe of crimson red and royal gold, embellished with anthemion designs.
In the first month, like a sleeping dragon, he did nothing, but everyone feared him. In the second month, some villagers felt that he awoke from his slumber.
King Venwerth commanded that the nearby mountain, Mount Aristrides, be mined of its gold and silver.
The townspeople felt uneasy. They begged the king’s counselors to intervene on their behalf.
Many years before, the townsfolk knew, Mount Aristrides had been bewitched by the great sorcerer, Huzalmin. The spell that Huzalmin lay upon the mountain granted peace and prosperity to the town, so long as the townsfolk did not dig into the mountain. Huzalmin wished to use the mountain for his home. It was a pact long observed. The townsfolk were permitted to picnic upon the mountain, to climb it, to throw its stones, to enjoy its scenery. The mountain overlooked a valley with a beautiful river.
Huzalmin was not a wicked sorcerer. He let the townsfolk enjoy the natural beauty of the mountain. But his own work, profound and extraordinary, required him to dwell within the deepest chambers of the mountain. Most days, Huzalmin read from tomes of ancient lore, and added, very slowly, to his knowledge. Other days, he cast powerful spells deep within the mountain’s heart. His work in these times was careful, delicate, and dangerous, and he needed silence and space.
The villagers had never sought the gold of the mountain, having prosperity enough.
But King Venwerth was greedy. The simple pleasures of the town were not sufficient. He wanted gold, and he wanted silver, and he knew where they lay: deep in the heart of Mount Aristrides.
Six counselors agreed to intervene on the villagers’ behalf. They requested an audience with King Venwerth, and he granted them time to speak.
The counselors spoke to King Venwerth late one night. The king’s chambers were lit by a burning brazier, and carpets hung on the walls. It was a room that the counselors had found warm and welcoming when the good King Dunscombe was in power. There King Dunscombe had held feasts during the daytime. He’d invited townsfolk and their families to these feasts, and good King Dunscombe had spoken to the men and women as if they were his dearest brothers and sisters. Children had played on the carpets, and mothers had nursed their babes on the benches.
Now the same room, by night, with the scowl of the greedy king and the flickering light of the fire baskets, took on an ominous air.
The counselors, once free with their thoughts before the king, and always ready for a laugh, became afraid to speak. Strange men with battle axes in their hands hovered in the shadowy corridors.
“My liege,” stammered the first counselor, and he explained about the town’s pact with the sorcerer Huzalmin.
As the King Venwerth listened, his anger grew, and he began to consider the counselors weak and superstitious.
At the conclusion of the counselor’s speech, King Venwerth turned up his lip in a sneer.
“Is this how you all feel?” asked the king.
The counselors, casting looks at one another for support, nodded in unison.
“Very well,” said the king. “You may go.”
The counselors breathed a sigh of relief. They scurried from the room.
When they were gone, King Venwerth summoned his Captain of the Guards, a brutal man named Henry Coldcaster.
“See that those counselors do not leave this castle alive,” said King Venwerth.
“Yes, your majesty,” said the captain with a bow.
Beneath the castle ran a river, once famed for its purity. It was cold and clear, and, in the time of good King Dunscombe, it was used for drinking water and for swimming.
Now under King Venwerth, the river had a new use. The counselors were rounded up and captured at the palace door. Their ankles were chained to heavy stones, and they were dropped into the clear river water that ran beneath the palace. There they stayed, and anyone who walked beneath the castle could see the six counselors through the crystal clear water, their ankles chained to stones, the fish nibbling away.
Soon after the counselors’ elimination, tunneling began upon the mountain. For some days, as the surface was scratched, there was no sign of the great sorcerer, Huzalmin. Some in the town whispered that Huzalmin had not yet heard the sounds of digging. Others said that Huzalmin was simply being patient, while hoping that the king’s men would stop digging of their own accord. Still others muttered that Huzalmin had died.
After five days, the last group was proven wrong.
Huzalmin emerged from the mountain. He was a man of dark black skin, a shaved head, and with a golden ring in his ear. He wore a shirt of light white cotton, open at the neck. He wore silk red pants that were baggy at the knees and tapered near the ankles. He wore comfortable leather sandals whose insides were lined with sheep’s wool.
He emerged with a frown on his face, and he went first to see an old friend, Florian Derfler, who lived in the town.
Mr. Derfler, who was now ninety years of age, and who smoked cherry tobacco from a long-stemmed pipe, was delighted to see Huzalmin. He gave him as hearty a handshake as he could. Mr. Derfler had one good eye and one that was sky blue from cataracts, and his good eye twinkled with happiness at seeing the wizard.
“It is good to see you again,” said the old man.
“And good to see you,” said the wizard.
“I thought that we might never see one another again.”
“Well, here we are. And you are looking well.”
“Thank you. I feel my age.”
“Of that I’m sure,” said Huzalmin. “But tell me, dear friend, what’s the explanation for this digging? There have never been problems in the past.”
“We had a different king in the past. We have a new one now.”
“Hasn’t he been told of our agreement?” Huzalmin asked, astounded.
“Of course he has! And he killed the six messengers who asked him not to dig.”
“That’s terrible! And what does he want by digging in the mountain anyway?”
“Gold,” said the old man.
“Gold!” Huzalmin exclaimed, astounded once more. “But he has prosperity! He is the king! What does he need gold for?”
“You had better ask him,” said the old man. “Because I don’t know.”
“I will!” said the wizard. “What is his name?”
“Venwerth,” said Derfler. “King Venwerth.”
“Well, I will ask him now.”
“Very well. Good day to you, Huzalmin,” said the old man. “If I don’t see you again, then goodbye.”
“Good day, my old friend,” said Huzalmin, giving the old man a hug. “And lots of love to you.”
“Lots of love to you as well,” said the old man.
And with a wave of his hand, Huzalmin cleared the cataracts from the old man’s eye. The old man blinked once or twice in wonder, then he looked around eagerly, and he chuckled heartily.
“Many thanks!” he cried.
Huzalmin waved his acknowledgement as he left, heading toward the palace.
At the palace gates, two guards crossed their battle axes, and they denied the wizard entrance.
“Who goes there?” said one.
“My name is Huzalmin,” said the wizard. “I go here. I have always been accepted at the palace, and I have always been a friend of the king. Now he’s mining on the mountain in violation of our concord.”
“King Venwerth made no treaty with you,” said the guard. “And he said that you may not enter.”
“May not enter!” snorted the wizard, and he waved his hand. At the wave of his hand, the guards lifted up their axes against their will. Huzalmin walked past them, feeling frustrated and upset.
Huzalmin walked through the lush courtyard, once filled with hanging plants and singing birds, now overgrown with weeds. He frowned.
He walked up the marble stairs, normally clean and white, now dusty and littered with garbage. He scowled. The torches, which used to always be lit, were now burned out in five or six places, and their condition made for a darker hall. Huzalmin shook his head.
Outside the king’s chambers, Huzalmin saw two guards, and, bidding them good morning, he introduced himself.
“My name is Huzalmin, and I am here to see the King Venwerth.”
“You may not,” said the guards.
“Preposterous,” muttered Huzalmin, and, like before, he waved his hand, and the guards, whose hands had crept toward their swords, paused in their motions.
Huzalmin knocked on the chamber doors, then, after waiting a moment, he turned the handle, and he let himself in.
King Venwerth was standing with his advisors over a map, and they were discussing how to tunnel into the mountain. He looked up angrily when Huzalmin entered.
“Who are you?”
“My name is Huzalmin. I am a wizard. For more than three centuries, I have lived under Mount Aristrides, and I have kept a peaceful and happy accord with each of the kings. Now I have heard you mining on my mountain, and when I come out to investigate, I hear that you are digging for gold.”
“Who told you that?” demanded King Venwerth. “And how did you get in here? I gave special orders that you not be allowed into this castle.”
“Never mind that,” said Huzalmin. “Is it true? Are you mining for gold?”
“I am,” said King Venwerth, and he straightened himself up. He lifted his chin arrogantly. “And I’ll have you know that I have no plans to stop. I’m king. I’ll do what I please.”
“The mountain is my home,” said Huzalmin patiently. “I’ve been in peaceful relations with this city for centuries. Are you aware of the agreement?”
“I am,” said King Venwerth. “But I did not make it. Therefore I have no obligation to honor it.”
Huzalmin breathed out through his nose and mouth. “Look here, King Venwerth,” he said with some heat. “I was initially under the impression that this mining may have all been an accident. But now I’m beginning to see that it’s not. Now, on the whole, I consider myself a pretty nice guy. But you’re provoking me. I really feel that you’re provoking me. Just say that you’ll stop mining, and that we can go back to the way things were, and all will be well.”
“No,” said King Venwerth.
“Look,” said Huzalmin reasonably. “Is there gold in the mountain? Yes. Is there silver? Yes. I don’t deny it. I never have. But why do you need it? Your city has prosperity. You’re the king. You can have virtually whatever you want.”
“I can have whatever I want,” said King Venwerth.
Huzalmin threw up his hands in exasperation. “King Venwerth, you don’t understand who you’re dealing with here. I’m powerful. I’m a wizard. If you don’t stop mining, I’m going to curse this town. It’s been a beautiful town, and I’ve liked the residents. Just stop. Leave me and my mountain alone.”
“The mountain is mine,” said King Venwerth.
“It’s ours,” said Huzalmin. “I’ve shared it with the villagers for hundreds of years. We can keep sharing it. Just don’t mine the mountain. I make delicate potions, I study, I do my work beneath the mountain, and I can’t do that work properly with you drilling and making noise and tunneling.”
“Get out,” said King Venwerth.
Huzalmin sighed, and he shook his head. “Look, King Venwerth,” he started to say.
“Get out!” roared King Venwerth.
Huzalmin’s head snapped up. “Don’t talk to me that way,” he said abruptly. “I feel like I’ve been very polite.”
King Venwerth took a marble bust of himself from off the table, and he hurled it at Huzalmin. “Get out!” he shouted again.
Huzalmin raised his hand, and the marble bust stopped in the air. There it floated.
“Do you see the kind of power I have?” Huzalmin asked. He snapped his fingers. The marble bust burst into flame. It stayed floating in the center of the room, the stone burning. “I’m going to make trouble for you if you continue.”
“We’ll stamp you out,” sneered King Venwerth.
Huzalmin’s eyes widened in astonishment at the foolishness of the king. He shook his head.
Huzalmin said, “Don’t tunnel any more, or you’ll be sorry.”
He left the room.
When he left, the marble bust remained floating in the air at eye level, still burning.
Huzalmin returned to his home beneath the mountain.
“Is this wizard dangerous?” King Venwerth asked his advisors.
No one, his advisors told King Venwerth, had seen Huzalmin perform any strong magic in the last three hundred years. The way that Huzalmin made the marble bust float in the air was weak magic, the advisors said. The king’s soldiers could overpower a man of that sort. There was no need, King Venwerth’s advisors counseled, to fear Huzalmin.
Over the course of the next two weeks, King Venwerth doubled and then tripled the work force of the men who were mining on the mountainside.
Not a peep was heard from Huzalmin. The townspeople waited in fear. This time there was very little disagreement upon them—they all seemed to feel that Huzalmin was going to be as good as his word, and that he would curse the town.
Then one evening, just as the sun was setting, and just as a group of miners was carting a load full of gold from the mountain to the palace vaults, Huzalmin appeared. He stood up on the ledge of a mountain like a preacher on a pulpit, and he started to speak. The words that he spoke began with mutterings. Then, as the sun set, and the sky grew darker, and the stars glittered, and the moon shone, then his words became a shout. He raised his hand, and light flew from his hand, illuminating the night.
The night flashed with a bright light.
Everyone stopped in fear.
The flash vanished, and all was dark again.
Huzalmin retired to his chambers in the mountain.
From the room atop the castle spire, King Venwerth looked out on the wizard first with terror, then, after the flash occurred and nothing, seemingly, of import followed, then King Venwerth’s terror changed to contempt. He curled his lip. The old wizard was just smoke and lights.
The next morning, King Venwerth woke early. Even before he rose and dressed, he noticed that his room had changed. The castle had changed. It had been a palace of dazzlingly white stone. Now it was transparent.
The castle was made of glass.
King Venwerth stood, and he looked out of his window. A vista of pleasant meadows, hills, and cottages usually greeted him. Today, he found that the glass castle stood upon a cloud that floated over water. The water was like an ocean, and it was rushing off the end of the earth.
King Venwerth ran down the stairs in his royal robe. Along the way, he passed his golden candelabra, which was now made of glass. He passed through the grand hall, where the dining table and the portraits had been turned to glass. King Venwerth pushed open the castle door, and it shattered for its hinges were glass. He ran across the castle’s acreage, normally made of pleasant green grass. Now the courtyard was smooth glass. When he reached the glass castle wall, he wrenched the castle door open. Its hinges, too, were of glass, and this door shattered as well.
King Venwerth looked in horror upon the scene. The cobblestone streets had been turned to glass. The pretty wooden homes had been turned to glass.
The wizard had turned everything to glass.
King Venwerth looked out along the horizon. Aside from the pretty village and the king’s castle, there was no recognizable marker. His city now lay at the edge of the world. There was the ocean, all around. To the east, the ocean stretched as far as he could see. To the west, the world ended, and there was a precipitous drop where the water poured off the edge of the world. Mist and the smell of salt water permeated the air.
One by one, like kittens first venturing away from their mothers, the townspeople came out of their cottages. They looked round at the desolate scene, and they cried out in grief. They were not ocean people. They were inland people. Many of them had never swum before. There was not a boat among them. They found themselves, quite suddenly, isolated in an ocean at the edge of the world, with no shelter except glass houses. They looked through the cobblestone street. All that suspended them above the rapid, rushing ocean water was a puffy cloud.
A number of townspeople, sobbing, ran back into their glass houses. The king ran back to his glass castle.
No one did much that day. From time to time, people would walk out of their cottages, and they’d walk the short distance to the edge of town. There they’d stand on the road of glass cobblestones, and they’d look out over the edge of the world. They looked out upon the glass castle, and they saw through its clear walls the king alternately pacing and sitting. They looked through their neighbors’ glass houses, and there the townspeople saw despondency to mirror their own.
When the sun reached its zenith, there was no shade. The people seemed to cook in their glass homes. Some citizens went outside where they sat on the edge of the town, with their legs dangling off the brink, and they’d look out over the sea.
The king did not leave his palace again that day.
Then the sun set far beyond the edge of the world. The night was very beautiful, for the stars shine brightly at the edge of the world, and the moon makes a pretty glint off the smooth ocean surface.
But the villagers were melancholy. They felt bitter and despairing. They were cold during the night, for the sheets on their bed were made of glass, and glass sheets provide no warmth.
The next day, the villagers, in one body, marched up to the palace, and they called the king out.
He came into the courtyard, bleary-eyed and sleepless.
“This is the fault of the wizard!” he cried. “He cursed this town.”
Never before had any of the townspeople had any reason to dislike the wizard, Huzalmin. They saw no reason to now. There was an angry murmuring from the villagers.
“This is your fault!” one of them cried.
“Yes!” cried one.
“Yes!” shouted another.
“No!” cried the king.
“Yes!” cried the crowd.
And without further preliminaries, they dragged King Venwerth out of the courtyard, and they carried him to the town’s boundary. The king kicked and screamed. The townspeople hardened their hearts to him. They tossed him over the edge of the town, into the sea. The swiftly moving ocean took King Venwerth in its rapid current and pulled him over the edge of the world. He is still falling to this day.
As soon as the king disappeared over the edge of the world, the palace, and the town, and the townspeople were restored to their former setting. They were surrounded by meadows, fields, and the spectacular mountain. There was fresh green grass. There were tall trees waving in the sunshine, orchards, and lakes.
Huzalmin was there. He instructed the townspeople to choose a new king. They chose a good man, a fellow with red hair and a red beard, tall, strong, honest, and wise.
After he was crowned king, Huzalmin paid him a visit.
“Will there be more tunneling into the mountain?” Huzalmin asked.
And the king said, “Certainly not.”