Less than a week after the Battles of Abri and the Final Gate, Haplo had been asked by approximately one thousand, two hundred and thirty-seven Patryns just why they were suddenly all buddy-buddy with their ancestral enemies. After the first hundred or so queries, the Runner had begun throwing up his hands and snapping, "It's a long story, okay?"
Because it was. It started on Arianus and looped through all seven of the worlds, intersecting with other stories and other races with their own unique histories. He couldn't possibly summarize his (and Alfred's) complex emotional, physical, and spiritual journeys in five minutes or less.
"You should write a book," the Sartan advised, watching Questioner #1237 stalk away. "You wrote several journals in the elemental worlds, didn't you? You should duplicate them, give them to whoever asks."
Haplo considered. "I haven't written anything since my last stop on Arianus. I was too busy trying to keep you alive."
Alfred blushed. "Oh. I'm s- um, perhaps you could scrawl something down while they're reading the journals you've already written?"
"We'll break you of that habit yet," his friend murmured, lips quirking in a tiny smile.
Alfred's plan was a good one. It kept the questioners busy- for a while. Then they came back for more. Not just more details on what had happened after Arianus- minor things like why Xar and Samah were dead and the Sartan had taken up camp on the other side of the Nexus- but more about the mensch worlds themselves.
And so Haplo found himself thrust into the role of best-selling author, biographer, and memoirist.
He had help, of course. Alfred could obviously provide information about his own adventures. Hugh had told them about his experiences while they were imprisoned in the time well. Zibnab's dragon related the story of the Redleafs and Quinindiars, both before and after Haplo's encounters with them. Balthazar had kept his own journal while journeying through Abarrach, and Grundle's diary had survived the Nexus fires.
But with so many people involved in the production of a book series, the Patryn was bombarded on all sides by requests to gloss over this or neglect to mention that. Sometimes he gave into their suggestions- he was not publishing Alfred's Sartan name where any dragon-snake could find it- but usually, he put his foot down. A typical conversation went something like this:
ALFRED: You make it sound like Orla and I had some- some grand romance going on. We didn't.
ALFRED: Then why are you-
HAPLO: You were in love, weren't you?
ALFRED (blushing): Well, yes, but-
HAPLO: It's staying in the book.
HAPLO (flatly): I said it's staying.
And that was that.
Since most of the materials were already assembled, he found it fairly easy to compile them. In fact, all of the writing and editing was easy. The hardest part was finding names.
Dragon Wing, for the ship he'd acquired on Arianus, the ship that had taken him all the way to Chelestra. Elven Star, for the citadel that had later held Lord Xar captive, buying him and Marit and Alfred precious time. Fire Sea, Abarrach's source of life. Hand of Chaos, describing both him and Hugh. Into the Labyrinth, because that was when they went… well… into the Labyrinth. The Seventh Gate which had saved them all before Sang-drax destroyed it.
But try as he might, he couldn't come up with a suitable title for book four.
"Of course you can't," Marit said, when he took his complaints to her. "Chelestra wasn't exactly your finest hour, Haplo."
"Seamoon?" Alfred suggested. The Sartan was sitting across the room, scribbling notes on rune-magic. Balthazar's people had very little knowledge of their innate powers- they hadn't even known about the gift of tongues- and Alfred had somehow been elected their main teacher. "Seasun Hunt?"
"I just named a book after the sea," the Patryn pointed out.
"Something about the dog being missing, then?" Alfred shrugged skinny shoulders. "Or perhaps something about dragon-snakes, as they- no, you already have a book with 'dragon' in the title. Hmm." He tapped his chin, lost in thought.
"You could name it Love Stories," Marit suggested wryly. "If I remember correctly, there were at least three in that book."
Alfred went scarlet. "It wasn't about love stories," he said stiffly. "It was about discovering internal and worldly truths, about friendship and compassion and courage, about battling the evil within us and the evil manifested in the dragon-snakes. It was about-"
"You," Haplo interrupted. "Because in all honesty, Coren, I didn't do much on Chelestra until the dog came back."
"That's not true. You saved brought the royalty back, you kept Prince Devon from killing himself, you helped the mensch on their journey. Then you fought Samah to save the poor children's lives."
"What did any of those things have to do with 'discovering internal and worldly truths, friendship and compassion and courage' and all that jazz?"
The Sartan found himself unable to answer.
"Maybe a reference to the climax of the book?" Marit suggested, steering them back on topic.
"That's it!" Alfred exclaimed, triumphant. "You can call it Royal One!"
Dead silence greeted his proclamation. In Marit's case, the silence was due to disbelief at Alfred's ridiculous idea. In Haplo's case, it was because he was thinking.
Name a book after a character, eh? he thought, smirking. Why Coren, I do believe you're onto something.
"Good idea," he said, without a trace (okay, maybe a tiny one) of sarcasm.
Marit's expression clearly indicated that she was questioning his sanity. "You're not going to name it Royal One." Her tone allowed no argument.
"Of course not," the other Patryn snorted. "That's a horrible name. I'm calling the book Serpent Mage."
He waited. Five, four, three, two, one.
"What?" Alfred squeaked, eyes bulging. Then, "Is that a joke? Because it's not funny."
"No joke, my friend. It's your book, your story, even more than any of the others. Why shouldn't I name it after you?"
"Because it feels arrogant," the Sartan replied immediately.
Haplo snorted. "You, arrogant? That's the stupidest thing I've heard in my life."
"He has a point," Marit acknowledged. "And it's a lot better than Royal One." She shook her head derisively, making her opinion of that particular title abundantly clear.
"What's wrong with- oh, I see. But really, Haplo?"
The Patryn scrawled the runes onto the cover of his book. "Really."
"…But I don't want you to. If you're going to name something after me, you should do it with my permission or not at all." He folded his arms, attempted to look resolute.
"You won't give your permission, though," his friend grumbled.
"Exactly! And it's so- so- show-off-ish."
"You could do with a bit more showing off," was the Patryn's dry response.
Alfred scowled, huffed indignantly. "I disagree."
"Good for you."
"Go for it," Marit interrupted. Looking at Alfred, she added, "I thought that you'd accepted your title?"
"I have- or at least I'm trying my best- but there's no need to name a book after me. There really isn't." He proceeded to launch into a long, hastily improvised list of reasons why Serpent Mage was a horrible title for any book, especially one wherein he, Alfred Montbank, was a main character. The Patryns listened silently until their Sartan friend ran out of excuses.
Smiling slightly, Haplo inscribed the cover of his fourth book with the human words Serpent Mage. He began to chant a duplication spell.
"Haplo," Alfred whined, "please don't."
The Patryn ignored him.
"Think of it this way," Marit advised. "The dragon-snakes will be even less happy about the title than you are."
"That's supposed to comfort me?" Alfred wasn't buying it.
Haplo hefted the first pile of books. "I need to deliver these to the readers."
Alfred planted himself firmly at the threshold of the door. "Not until you change the title," he proclaimed stubbornly. "Bad enough that you overdo my feelings for Orla- you realize that Ramu will have even more reason to hate me now? I flatly refuse to let you publish anything named after me."
"You're being ridiculous," Haplo informed him.
"No, you are." Alfred folded his arms, attempted to look intimidating. It didn't work very well.
"When's the last time you bragged about something?" Haplo asked.
Alfred thought for a while but was unable to answer. He honestly couldn't remember. There had been moments where he felt powerful, capable, worthy of the gifts he'd been granted, but he hadn't boasted about those moments. Only Haplo was aware that such instances had existed, and he hadn't been told. Finally he admitted, "I think it was when I was courting Lya. The attempt didn't go so well- I remember her laughing at me."
"So nine hundred years ago, give or take." Haplo was grinning.
Marit, too, was extremely amused. "If that's the case, you're long overdue. You need to show off some."
The Sartan still didn't seem convinced, but he was smart enough to realize that the Patryns wouldn't listen to his I-don't-want-to-show-off argument. He changed tactics: "Why don't you name it after yourself, Haplo? Or perhaps Alake, make it a tribute to her." He really did like the second idea. He should have suggested it right away.
The Patryn actually hesitated. Alfred pressed his advantage. "We didn't even know what my title meant until we were in Abri, but Alake's identity was clear from the start. Or name it after Grundle or Devon."
Marit frowned. "Are any of their titles even mentioned in the book?"
"I don't think so," Haplo admitted. "So Serpent Mage it is."
Haplo grimaced. "This is supposed to be a compliment, you know," he pointed out.
"I know," the glum older man replied.
Not many people could make Haplo feel guilty, but Alfred had a gift for it. "If you hate it that much, my friend, I can change the title."
Alfred perked up. He opened his mouth, intent on getting rid of the wretched name, then stopped, grimaced. "It's your book," he mumbled. "And… thank you. It is a compliment." The Sartan was clearly trying to convince himself.
Haplo chuckled. He chuckled even more when Serpent Mage became the most popular of the four books yet released.
Well, of course Serpent Mage is the most popular yet. It has epic dragon fight scenes and the Royal One gets pwned. How awesome is that?
Haplo's right, Alfred- you could do with a lot more showing off.