The Mongolian Wizard
The Mongolian Wizard
illustration by gregory manchess

Hugo and Nebula Award-winning author Michael Swanwick launches a new fiction series at Tor.com of stand-alone stories all set in the same world. We begin with “The Mongolian Wizard,” a story of a very unusual international conference in a fractured Europe that never was.

This story was acquired and edited for Tor.com by Tor Books editor Patrick Nielsen Hayden.

 

The wild griffins for which the region was famous were sporting in the sky above the snow-clad peaks of the Riphean Mountains when Sir Toby arrived at Schloss Greiffenhorst, late as usual. The moot had been in session for three days and, truth be told, no one had noticed his absence until his carriage clattered into the courtyard. Then there was such a to-do, with horses ramping and snorting white plumes of steam and footmen unloading brass-bound trunks and the building-master of the conference center shouting and turning red as he tried to wave the luggage around to the back of the building, that the English lord’s emergence came as a distinct anticlimax.

But then Sir Toby, tremendous of girth, smiling widely at the imagined warmth of his reception, and carrying a small kettle-dragon in a cage against the possibility that he might suddenly need to warm his feet, stepped out of the carriage and onto a patch of ice.

He went flying.

Junior Lieutenant Franz-Karl Ritter had just stepped outside, his wolf Geri padding along at his heel, to enjoy a cheroot in the winter air. He was shaking out his lucifer match when he saw this whimsical mountain of flesh hurtling toward him.

Bodies collided. Ritter’s cigar went flying from his mouth, tracing a perfect arc of smoke behind it, and he found himself, half-dazed, lying on the ground. Then he was being helped to his feet by the same man who had knocked him down.

There was barely enough time for Ritter to note with satisfaction that, though Geri stood bristling and fangs bared, he had, as per his training, refrained from attack. Then Sir Toby slapped Ritter’s back so hard he almost went down again. “Gallantly done, young fellow! Thank you for cushioning my fall. I doubt it was exactly deliberate, but at my age one does not look too skeptically at a kind deed.” He thrust out a hand. “Tobias Gracchus Willoughby-Quirke, at your service. British born—as I’m sure you can tell by looking—but now a wandering magician-at-large. And you are—?”

Kapitänleutnant Franz-Karl Ritter. Werewolf Corps. I’m responsible for security here.” They shook.

“Excellent, excellent! You can help my people set up the demonstration. That way you will be assured of a good position from which to observe it.” Sir Toby turned away, saw somebody he knew, and with a happy bellow of greeting, plunged inside. In his wake, Ritter saw four footmen carrying a trunk shoulder-high as solemnly as pallbearers with a coffin.

Quickly stepping in front of the servants, Ritter shook a finger at them and said, “Stay.” Then he hurried after the English maniac.

At the door, however, the Margrave von und zu Venusberg stopped him with an upraised hand. “Let them by, nephew,” the margrave said. “Sir Toby must have his little show.” He gestured the footmen to come within. “You may set up in the billiards room,” he told them. “Up the stairs, down the hall on the right, third door to the left.” Then, returning to Ritter, “You’ve never seen this. I believe you’ll find it diverting.”

“Shouldn’t I be . . . ?”

The margrave raised his eyebrows and pursed his lips in a way that was clearly meant to look wise. “This is the largest conclave of wizards in Europe in over a decade and I pulled a lot of strings to bring you here. There are people to meet and connections to be made. Your parents would not be pleased if you wasted this opportunity by playing soldier.”

“No, uncle.”

Guests were already gathering in the billiards room when they arrived, and, contrary to Sir Toby’s peremptory command, the footmen required no help whatsoever setting up. They carefully placed the trunk down atop a billiard table and then unlatched one side. It swung upward, revealing a set of small, well-appointed rooms such as might constitute a child’s dollhouse if only said child were both wealthy and fixated upon military housing. There were tidy officers’ quarters, barracks filled with bunk beds for the enlisted men, two separate messes, lounges and game rooms, and a kitchen with tiny copper pots and pans a-gleam.

Out marched a platoon of miniature musketeers, no more than two inches tall.

Diminutive pipers piped and wee drums rumbled. All but unnoticed, the servants latched up the trunk and whisked it away, while the soldiers formed up in two lines on the green baize.

“Parade, atten-shun!” Sir Toby commanded.

The soldiers snapped to attention.

“For this demonstration, my men will be firing powder without shot,” Sir Toby remarked. “Just for safety, you understand.” Then he barked, “First section, prime and—load!”

The front line brought their muskets to the priming position, pans open. They drew cartridges, bit off the tops, and poured a pinch of powder into the priming pans and the rest down the barrels. Then they drew ramrods and drove paper wadding down the barrels, tamped twice, and returned their ramrods to the hoops under the barrels of their guns. It was all done in perfect unison.

“Second section, prime and load! First section, present arms! Fire!”

Ritter watched, entranced, as the back line loaded their muskets and the front line fired a crisp fusillade.

“There are ten steps involved in loading and firing, but the commands I have given are those which, for efficiency’s sake, would be employed in actual combat. Now my men shall demonstrate skirmish formation. Second rank, advance and—fire!”

The rear line of soldiers stepped through the spaces between the men before them, put muskets to shoulders, and fired. Behind them, what had been the front line was reloading.

“British soldiers can routinely fire three shots per minute,” Sir Toby said. “In this formation, that amounts to one shot every ten seconds. Formidable indeed! Firing in rapid succession rather than simultaneously, my men can lay down a wall of bullets while advancing steadily across the battlefield. Now let us see what happens with a formation of three ranks. You will note that . . .”

Ritter found himself mesmerized by the beauty of Sir Toby’s innovation. Utilizing such a toy militia, a military theorist could design and test new formations with a minimum of expense and no danger to actual soldiers. Here, before him, were the beginnings of a true science of war—one whose findings would be testable, verifiable, and reproducible. He wondered if Sir Toby was aware of its possibilities. This could modernize warfare, ushering it into a new and more efficient era!

Ritter was awakened from his speculations by polite applause marking the end of the show. Sir Toby beamed as if the accolades had been thunderous. “Thank you! Thank you! What you have just seen was but my little party trick. Now, however, comes my pièce de résistance!” At a gesture one of his footmen solemnly knelt and pried open a baseboard with a silver wedge. The miniature soldiers, meanwhile, had affixed weapons and instruments to their backs and were rappelling down from the billiards table on ropes no thicker than threads. They formed up again on the oriental carpet. “When people ask me why I am welcome, as so few are, in all the great houses of Europe, I always reply: Because after the display of close order drill, I send my men into the underbelly of my host’s house to systematically hunt down and kill all the rats and mice, leaving it literally vermin-free. This house gift, if you will, is why, for all my faults, I am universally beloved.”

Nodding downward, Sir Toby said, “Sound the charge.”

A tiny figure lifted bugle to lips, producing a sound as faint and distant as the horns of Elfland. With a cheer, the soldiers charged into the wainscoting and disappeared.

Ritter’s jaw fell. He managed to hold his peace until the room was nearly empty and then, turning to his uncle, murmured, “Did you take note of exactly how many of Sir Toby’s toys went into the wall?”

“No, of course not. I doubt if anybody did.”

“Exactly! And if nobody’s counted, who is to say that the number of men who come out of the walls is the same as the number who went in?”

An amused tone entered the margrave’s voice. “Are you suggesting that Sir Toby is a spy?”

“I’m just saying that it’s the sort of thing we should be keeping an eye on.”

“Come outside with me.”

Ritter followed his uncle on to the balcony. The margrave seized the railing with both hands and stared into the distance. “Have you ever wondered how it is that the ability to work magic is largely concentrated in the nobility?”

“I had always assumed that ability was responsible for their ascension in the first place.”

“Possibly. Yes, that is the story we tell. Yet it could easily have gone the other way, with the common ruck of men reacting with fear and loathing rather than awe and respect. We would then be an impoverished, persecuted minority—untrained, unable to develop our powers, and slowly dwindling toward extinction. Sometimes I wonder if it wouldn’t be better that way.”

“Uncle!”

“You see that dead tree on the mountain slope across the valley?” Ritter did, though it was little more than a brown smear in the distance. “Watch it carefully. Count to three under your breath.”

Ritter did so. One . . . two . . .

The tree flashed into flame.

“Impressive, you might think. A cannon could do as much! Yet because I was born with the aptitude and my parents insisted I put in the years of hard work required to develop it, I am entrusted with some share of responsibility for the fate of my nation.”

Ritter nodded, wondering where all this was going.

His uncle turned his back on the mountain. “Magic is a very poor basis for power. You must learn to excel in politics if our house is to survive. Most of the great families nowadays do not realize this, which is why they are led by mutton-headed fools, suited only for small wars and wizard-feuds. Weak as watered milk, the lot of them! And Sir Toby is the worst of all. When he was young, some predicted that he would someday become one of the preeminent wizards on the continent. Yet what has he done with all his potential? Nothing, God help us, but play with toy soldiers!”

“I see,” Ritter said. Privately, though, he wondered. Exactly how clever were Sir Toby’s automata? Could he possibly see through their eyes and hear through their ears? Sir Toby might not be the fool he presented himself as being.

He knew better than to say so to his uncle. But it was worth keeping in mind.

* * *

Most of the conference’s work was done in closeted meetings, both large and small, to which Ritter was not privy. But judging by the informal conversations he overheard, Ritter didn’t think that much was being accomplished behind those closed and guarded doors.

“I am sick of hearing about the Mongolian Wizard!” Madame de Lafontaine exclaimed at the cocktail party at the end of the day’s session. “Why are we so afraid of this scarecrow? Five years ago, nobody had even heard of him.”

“Yet now he controls all of Russia,” Count Gasiewski said. “Do you not find that alarming?”

“Anyone can conquer Russia. I could do it myself. But I should like to see this upstart try to conquer France.”

“So would I, were my nation not situated between the two of you.”

The Frenchwoman ignored the jibe. “Anyway, how could even one tenth of the powers ascribed to him be true? It would take centuries to develop them.”

“Some say he is a thousand years old,” the Swedish general Tino Järvenpää said. “Others that he is immortal. Having faced down his forces at Ladoga Karelia, I am prepared to believe anything, and reluctant to provoke him a second time.”

Standing with his uncle, listening respectfully, Ritter happened to glance at the far end of the room, where Sir Toby had been holding forth on the tactics of close order drill, and saw the Englishman take a step backwards from a knot of conversation which had clearly moved beyond his signature obsession—and disappear.

Ritter blinked.

But the margrave chose that moment to squeeze his arm and comment warmly, “Madame de Lafontaine is quite a striking woman, isn’t she?” Which, indeed, was so. Half the men in the room were drawn to her as flies to a ripe apricot.

“She is as beautiful as springtime.” Why would a man draw attention to himself by his boorish conversation and then literally disappear? Because he wanted everyone to recall that he was present long after he departed. Surely there were innocent reasons for such an action, but other than an assignation with a married woman, Ritter could not think of any. And Sir Toby did not strike him as the womanizing type.

“She is in her late fifties,” the margrave said.

“Eh?”

“Her power is glamour and her weakness is vanity. So she employs it in order to appear forever young. A politically negligible creature, but talented in the boudoir.”

“You speak from experience?” Ritter would have liked to follow Sir Toby and find out what the scoundrel was up to. But he knew his uncle would not tolerate it.

“From many experiences. We once spent a week in Trieste which . . . Well! I think that it would be well worth my time to rekindle our acquaintance.” He winked in a confidential manner. “Watch and learn how a man of experience handles such a woman.”
Madame de Lafontaine had just produced a cigarette from a jeweled clutch. So the margrave strode forward, a flame dancing atop an outstretched finger, to light it. “My darling Gabrielle!” he said. “How delightful to see you again.”

Madame de Lafontaine’s face froze. Then she turned her back on him.

Somebody gasped. A gentleman or two raised a handkerchief to his mouth to help stifle involuntary laughter. Whispers spread through the room as those who had witnessed the event described it to those who had not: The Margrave von und zu Venusberg had been snubbed, by God! Cut dead and in public too.

The margrave flushed furiously and, turning on his heel, fled the room.

* * *

In the wake of his mentor’s departure, Ritter led his wolf out of the Great Hall, pausing now and again for a brief pleasantry (for he was not entirely deaf to his uncle’s teachings) with a dignitary whose acquaintance he had already made. In the vestibule, he slid into Geri’s mind, expertly soothing the animal’s natural resistance to the invasion. Then he visualized Sir Toby. The wolf’s mind immediately called up a scent compounded of human sweat, pipe tobacco, dark beer, Italian boot leather, gunpowder, and India ink. Follow, Ritter commanded. Find.

Wolf first, they moved all but noiselessly out of the public areas of the conference center and into the warren of narrow corridors employed by the servants. When Geri started to turn into the kitchen, Ritter laughed and yanked back on his mental leash. “No, no, greedy-guts. I shudder to think what a fuss the chef would make if I let a carnivore like you into his demesne!” He doubted that Sir Toby would have been looking for a snack when there were servants with trays of canapés working the reception. So he must have been merely passing through. Patience, Ritter thought, and led the wolf out a side door and around the back of the kitchen.

Picking up the trail again, Geri led them to the rear of the conference center. There a large pair of doors opened on to a set of stone stairs leading down into the storage cellar. The soldier Ritter had set there on guard saluted at his approach.

“Did anyone go into the basement just now?”

“No one, sir!”

“You are positive?”

“Yes, sir!”

Through the wolf’s sensorium, Ritter could taste Sir Toby’s scent, mere minutes old, leading downward. Without another word, he plunged down the stairs.

The storage rooms were all but lightless. But Ritter did not strike a match, trusting instead to his animal’s night vision. Stealthily, they moved through labyrinthine passages, always following the Englishman’s trace, until finally they saw the glow of a candle in the darkness and then the corpulent outline of Sir Toby. He was frantically shoving luggage to one side and another on the shelves.

Ritter coughed to announce himself.

Sir Toby spun around, holding the candle high in one hand and simultaneously thrusting the other into a jacket pocket. Then, upon his recognizing Ritter, the hand emerged empty.

“Junior Lieutenant Ritter!” Sir Toby exclaimed. “I am extremely glad to see you.” In his voice was not the least trace of the jovial buffoon he had earlier presented himself as being.

“I hope that is true,” Ritter said. “For I am alarmed to see you in such incriminating circumstances, Sir Toby. Tell me exactly what you are doing here, sir—and do not think to use your disappearing trick on me. A wolf’s senses are not so limited as a man’s.” He kept a light hand on Geri’s mental leash, prepared to launch him at the Englishman at the first sign of aggression.

But Sir Toby showed none. “I am searching for my men. Forty went into the wainscoting and not a one has come out. Something terrible has happened here in the darkness and I fear it was a massacre.”

“A massacre . . . of toy soldiers?”

“They are not toys,” Sir Toby said grimly, “but living, thinking men like you and me. Those you saw are mercenaries from a recently-discovered island nation in the Pacific Ocean. They—” Sir Toby paused. “It would help if I knew how much you already know.”

“I know that you are in a very suspicious position and I am all but certain that you are a spy—for whom I cannot say. Allow me to assure you that the diplomatic immunity you enjoy upstairs will not of necessity protect you here, where there are no witnesses.”

“You are a hard and suspicious man, kapitänleutnant, and I wish I had a dozen like you working for me. Yes, I am a spy, in the service of His Majesty King Oberon VII, and, yes, I was placing agents in the building to determine the disposition of the various powers represented here. Your nation and mine both recognize the threat posed by the Mongolian Wizard and thus it is but prudent for us to do all we can to promote an alliance of the great houses of Europe. I make no apologies for a deed that requires none.”

Geri made a low noise in the back of his throat. Careful to keep his outward attention focused on the English spy, Ritter followed the wolf’s thoughts and then said, “It seems that at least part of your story is true. My partner scents small corpses—many of them—two rooms further in.”

* * *

When Sir Toby saw the tiny bodies scattered about the floor, he hurried to them and, kneeling, searched anxiously for any sign of life. “Dead, all of them!” he moaned. “Yet there’s not a mark on anyone. What can have caused this horror?”

Meanwhile, Ritter followed a foul stench to the foot of a crate that had been broken open and, among its splintered slats, found something that looked like the bedraggled corpse of a rooster tangled up with a dead adder. He nudged the thing over with his toe, and lit a match so he could examine it. His blood ran cold.

It was a basilisk.

“I’ve found the cause of the massacre,” he said. “Dead, thank God.”

Sir Toby brought his candle close. “Its breast is riddled with bullet-holes. Dying though they were from its poison, my men brought the monster down.” He wiped a tear from his eye. Then, “The basilisk is a desert creature. How in the world did one wind up here?”

“They released it. For some reason they broke into this crate and it was waiting inside.” Ritter put his hands into the breach and began pulling slats free. Most of the crate’s interior was empty—living space for the guardian basilisk, obviously—but at its center was a smaller box, perhaps three feet across, made of teak. Its surface was richly carved in geometric patterns and stylized flames. He lifted the lid and the scents of cinnamon, spikenard, and myrrh wafted forth. Inside the box, nestled among dried spices, was something smooth and golden and round.

It glowed in the darkness.

Sir Toby grabbed Ritter from behind and pulled him away from the thing. “Don’t touch it!” he cried. “It’s a thousand times more lethal than the basilisk ever was.”

“What is it?” Ritter said wonderingly.

“A phoenix egg.”

* * *

The conferees did not much like being evacuated, of course. But Ritter knew his authority and was prepared to act on it. He set one of his men to hammering on the alarm gong and others to emptying out the Schloss floor by floor. “Don’t be afraid to shoot anyone who disobeys you,” he said, knowing that a soldier with such orders would present himself in such a way as to make the action unnecessary. To the building-master, he said, “Have the ostlers get the horses into harness and line up every carriage you have out front. Lords and wizards go first, naturally, but I want every human being down to the meanest servant out of here by midnight.”

“But where will they go?” the man demanded.

Ritter glanced at Sir Toby. “The village at the foot of the mountain ought to be far enough,” the wizard said.

“Send them to Plattergarten. We can requisition space for them when we get there. Nobody is to wait on luggage or to take more than they can easily carry. When you run out of carriages, send people down the road on foot. My soldiers will go last and rest assured they will not be easy on anyone who tries to stay.” A distressed nobleman came running up and he turned to face the man. “Yes, uncle?”

“What madness is this? You are making enemies of half the wizards on the continent!”

“Better that they should hate me than that they should die.” Ritter crooked a finger and one of his men stepped forward. “See the margrave to his carriage and make certain that his is the first to leave.”

When the margrave had been led away, Ritter murmured, “Do you think we can get all of them safely away?”

“Somebody brought the phoenix egg here, and that someone can only have been one of the visiting wizards. Whoever it was, you may be sure, is high in the Mongolian Wizard’s trust. He would not be somebody to be lightly discarded. Yet all the delegates are still on the mountain. That, and the tradition that says that the phoenix is invariably reborn at dawn, tell me we have time enough and some to spare.”

“Very good,” Ritter said. “Things seem to be well underway here. Let’s see if we can catch our saboteur.”

* * *

It was twilight by the time the first carriage rumbled down the mountain. Standing at the gatehouse by the entrance to the grounds, Ritter saw his uncle’s face, white and disapproving as a ghost’s, through its window. “I hope I have not just disinherited myself,” he remarked. Though, in fact, the prospect did not bother him one whit. He was now convinced that war was coming, and in time of war there was always work for a soldier.

“I, meanwhile, hope that your furry friend is as good as you say.” Sir Toby stood, hands in pockets, scowling, with his greatcoat flapping slightly in the chill breeze.

“Cinnamon, spikenard, and myrrh are distinctive odors. Geri sensed the combination more than once over the past three days, but I thought it merely a whiff of perfume worn by one of the ladies. Our saboteur has traces of those spices on his hands and does not know it. We shall sniff him out, never fear.”

One by one, the carriages paused at the gatehouse, then trundled down the road from Schloss Greiffenhorst and disappeared into darkness. Ritter stamped his feet and blew on his hands to keep warm. Occasionally a runner came, bearing news or requesting instructions. But Geri, though he dutifully sniffed at each conveyance, discovered nothing.

Until Madame de Lafontaine’s carriage stopped and the wolf let out a mental howl so loud that Ritter was almost surprised when the lady herself showed no signs of hearing it. “If you would please step out of the carriage, milady,” he said. “This is only a formality.”

She alit. “All this fuss, simply to meet me?” Madame de Lafontaine said in an amused tone. Coquettishly, she pointed her fan toward his chest.

Without warning, Geri leaped, snarling, at the woman. Ritter thrust himself into the wolf’s mind, merging identity with it, all but becoming the wolf, trying to bring him under control. But before he could, a puff of smoke appeared at the tip of the fan. Agonizing pain washed through him as a bullet penetrated Geri’s brain.

The wolf, though dead or dying, was carried onward by momentum, and his body knocked over Madame de Lafontaine. Clutching his own head, Ritter also fell to the ground.

It was from a prone position that, uncomprehending, he saw Sir Toby walk toward the fallen woman, pistol in hand. Her eyes widened in shock as he pointed it at her.

Sir Toby fired.

In an instant, Madame de Lafontaine’s appearance changed. Gone was the beautiful young Frenchwoman, replaced not by an older version of herself but by an equally young woman with short black hair and sharp features—a glamour-wielder, like Madame de Lafontaine, but in the service of a different master. The fan she held was now revealed to be a pistol.

All this Ritter saw in the instant before he passed out.

* * *

At sunrise, the mountaintop erupted in fire and ceased to be. Everyone in the village below, standing in the streets to watch, threw up their arms to block the sight and turned away from its fury. When Ritter could see again, there was a luminous cloud of smoke and ash rising from what had been Schloss Greiffenhorst. Coalescing in the heart of the fire, a mighty firebird slowly took form. It started to move its tremendous wings even before they were complete. Then, over the course of several minutes, it broke free of the rising cloud and began the long flight back to its ancestral homelands in the East.

“A terrifying sight,” Ritter said at last.

“There are worse to come,” Sir Toby replied. “I arrived at the conference late because, by a special dispensation of your Emperor Rupert, I had arranged an interview with the Wittenberg Sibyl. She foresees cities destroyed, farmlands blasted, the slaughter of millions in a pointless and genocidal war. This she told me in great and horrifying detail.”

“But surely that is only a possible future,” Ritter said. “As I understand it, the Sibyl always offers two contradictory predictions, one much darker than the other.”

“You don’t understand. What I told you was the good outcome. The one where, after terrible suffering, the Mongolian Wizard and his evil empire are defeated. The alternative—well, I do not care to speak of the alternative.”

They stood in silence for a time, watching the cloud over the mountain rise and then spread, like a tremendous mushroom. At last Sir Toby said, “I am sorry your wolf died.”

“Geri was a soldier, like me. When one is a soldier, it is occasionally one’s duty to die.”

“I understand that necessity, but I still regret each death. Today, before I sleep, I must write to the families of forty soldiers, informing them of their loved one’s heroism—and of his death. Believe me, I understand your loss.”

“Thank you.”

“They tell me you have a second wolf, almost fully trained. How long before he is fit for service?”

“Freki should be ready in three weeks. Why do you ask?”

“Because you’re working for me now.”

Ritter turned to face the English wizard. “Eh?”

“I intend to ask your uncle to arrange for your government to lend you to me under extended leave. After all this—” Sir Toby gestured up at what had been the mountaintop “—I don’t see him refusing me much of anything.”

“But . . . why me?”

“You’re smart, you’re skeptical, and with a little encouragement I believe you could be ruthless. Also, I’ve recently lost one of my best agents. I have an opening.” Sir Toby placed a hand on Ritter’s shoulder and squeezed briefly. “Welcome to the British Secret Service, son. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have letters to write.”

Ritter watched the enormous man walk away and, as he did, could not help but wonder.

There was only one individual who would have benefited from the phoenix’s birth while the conference was in full session—the Mongolian Wizard. The act would have killed half the leadership of lands he was sure to invade soon. Seen that way, the attempted sabotage had backfired. Those same lords and wizards who could not get along with each other would now assuredly set aside their differences to form a cohesive alliance against the common enemy whose ruthlessness had just been so vividly demonstrated.

However . . .

However, looked at another way, as an act of sabotage that was intended to fail, suspicion must necessarily fall a little closer to home.

Though the sun had risen, the morning was still bitter cold. A wind blew up and went right through his clothing, chilling him to the bone. Sir Toby had said that his best agent had died recently. Ritter could not help thinking of the look of shock on the face of the glamour-wielder when Sir Toby shot her. Shock, possibly, at his betrayal? Her body had been left on the mountaintop. There could be no identifying it now. No way that Ritter could ever know if his dark supposition were true.

Yet, even if it were, could he entirely condemn his new master for an act whose repercussions were surely for the good? Forty-one deaths weighed against millions. Sir Toby valued tough-mindedness above all things. To him, that was the kind of calculation that solved itself.

Dark days were ahead, and he was going to be a part of them. Ritter fervently hoped he would never reach the point where such a sacrifice would seem to him a sensible thing.

But he rather suspected that he would.

 

“The Mongolian Wizard” copyright © 2012 by Michael Swanwick

Art copyright © 2012 by Gregory Manchess

15 comments
Speculations
1. Speculations
Ugh. (The moral calculus, ugh.)

As always, Swanwick is challenging.
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2. JohnnyMac
Once again, Mr. Swanwick demonstrates why his name is on my list of authors who are always worth reading.

Are these stories going to be available in book or e-book form?
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3. AlBrown
An excellent tale, which reminds me of the best aspects of the work of Randall Garrett. Can't wait for more installments!
Irene Gallo
4. Irene
The second estallment will be out August 8th. Here’s a look at the cover:

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5. JeanMarieWard
Fabulous story! I can't wait for the next installment. I sincerely hope the collection will be offered for sale, with color versions of all the gorgeous covers.
Iain Cupples
7. NumberNone
Brilliant, as alwasy with Swanwick. I also loved the art.
Alexander Austin
8. AlecAustin
So I don't want to put a damper on things here - and I actually enjoyed this story more than many of Mr. Swanwick's other stories - but does it bother anyone else that the Mongolian Wizard is literally the unnamed Yellow Peril here?
"You don’t understand. What I told you was the good outcome. The one where, after terrible suffering, the Mongolian Wizard and his evil empire are defeated. The alternative—well, I do not care to speak of the alternative."
All I can say is that I hope that Mr. Swanwick problematizes or undermines this impression as the series goes on, because it's going to be incredibly difficult for me to recommend a series which deploys said trope uncritically.
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9. Michael J Swanwick
I'm glad that everybody liked and/or was challenged by this story. Ritter and Sir Toby really have their hooks in me, and I plan to write a lot more about them.

And even at this early stage in their saga, I have several major surprises in store.

(Here you must imagine me grinning fiendishly, because I am far too stuffy to use emoticons.)
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10. Skyros
A really enjoyable story. I look forward to the next tale, with these quite cool two characters.
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11. Lisamnoble
Thanks for such a lovely literate start to my day. The winks to Shakespeare were particularly enjoyable.
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12. dgc2
Jolly Good Show , once again, Sir Michael!

Absolutely hooked, chomping at the bit for more, would love to see what other,Southern European, nations are like though...Anyway, it is delightful stuff and I agree with an earlier poster that I hope this will be available in paper complete with the lovely illustrations, I'd buy that penny dreadful for sure!
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13. Sheila J.
Thoroughly enjoyed this tale.
John Quinn
15. jq3
A great story - can't wait to see how this develops!
Heidi Breton
16. AnemoneFlynn
What a terrific introduction! I hope we run into Ritter again at some point. He's pretty quick on the mark.

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