The Annotated Account of Tholomew Mestich and the Tiles of the Ganew

by

(The 42nd Calendar Millennia)

If there ever was a hero in a story, it would certainly not be someone like Tholomew Mestich of the Northern Ganew.1 Tholomew was born with a black heart and an acid tongue, to a pair of the most feared villains in the history of the Ruby Isle. His parents were Jill the Plunderer, the proud daughter of an infamous line of pirates, and Paul the Disappearer, stellar alumnus from the Secret School of Thievery and Lies. With this kind of parentage, it was logical to conclude that their son would grow up to be The Greatest of All Villains, benefiting from the intelligence and vast experience of his mother and father.

Fortunately for the citizens of Ganew, right after Tholomew was plucked from the womb of Jill the Plunderer, Fate stepped in and slapped the bottom of the infant with such a force that it prompted him to scream and wail in fear. His screams were so terrible that it killed his parents, the attending midwife, and all of the master and mistress’s guards and servants. Everyone in the household, except the child and a deaf housemaid, perished.

Now the deaf housemaid did not want to face the prospect of raising an evil child, nor did she want to try her hand at murder, and so she bundled the offending infant in rough cloth and tied him to the back of a horse. She whipped the horse with only the babe on its back, and hoped it would run off into the wilderness and be attacked by wolves.

By some trick of nature the horse was cross-eyed, and instead of going straight into the wilderness where all horses were expected to run to, it got itself lost. It trotted then into the manor of the Mestiches, an old and amiable couple who liked to spend their time tending their vegetable garden. The rough cloth bundling the child got caught in the outstretched branches of the shrubbery, and inevitably loosed its load onto the patch of cabbages.

Geraldine Mestich found the infant boy nestled peacefully in one of her gigantic greens, and was so overjoyed with the find she almost broke her back when she did a little dance. Henry Mestich was more delighted than his wife was for having a child to dote on; he was giddy with glee that they had found themselves an heir for their promising vegetable garden, as well as his family’s heirloom, the Mestich Yellow Tiles.2

Tiles, it must be known, were serious and important concerns in the Ganew. They were treasures in their own right, and being thus had acquired themselves laws and traditions to ensure their safety in the care of the Guardian Families. How the families came to be Guardians was still a mystery in the 42nd C.M. – there had been thousands of years without any record of their ancestors.3 However, all families were given this responsibility; the tiles did not differentiate between rich and poor.4 The Ancient Law of Ganen, the first king after whom the country was named, dictated that all Guardian Families were not to part with their tiles at whatever cost. To disobey this law meant exile into the chasms of Yoor, the land of the forgotten, which was said to be more dreadful than Hell itself.

One tradition affecting the Ganew Tiles concerned inheritance. The Tilers, as the bearers of the tiles were called, had to pass on the set of tiles to their male next of kin when the latter had reached the age of fourteen. Male next of kin were usually the younger brothers of the Tiler or if there were none, his sons or nephews. Because Henry Mestich had neither brothers nor nephews, his male next of kin was by default his adopted son Tholomew. The senior Master Mestich died in peace in his rocking chair after the naming ceremony, leaving old Geraldine to care for the black-hearted child.

Days quickly turned into years and the infant grew into a most annoying young master. His misconduct infuriated the Mistress Mestich at the least; his mischief horrified the servants of the house. Young Tholomew loved to play with people instead of toys, causing them to cry and break into pieces with his irksome games. He found boundless entertainment by hiding in the bushes of the narrow road leading up to Hartgent market and setting pranks upon travelers. His most infamous deed concerned a vile mannequin drenched in pig’s blood hanging from a tree, which dropped on the Bishop Minor’s head. He also admitted to deceiving little girls into following the silly wishes of a talking fairy. The talking fairy was later found to be the stable boy from the Mestich manor, whom Tholomew had forced to wear the Mistress’s clothes and wings made of duck feathers.

Mistress Mestich tried her best to discipline Tholomew – first with strong words, and then eventually with strong whips using her late husband’s belt. But the child was as stubborn as dried mud on a sheep’s hoof – he learned nothing and amended not his misdeeds.

One morning, young Tholomew discovered himself braced to his bed, preventing him from instigating a self-made rebellion on the Royal Soldiers of the Blue Tiles. The battalion was marching back to its barracks after a year of war with the seacoast pirates. It had taken Tholomew weeks and weeks to come up with the perfect surprise attack using the most meager tools in his possession – small amounts of gun powder, beating drums, and some mirrors. The Mistress had learned of this plan from the stable boy who had become Tholomew’s personal servant. She immediately ordered all her housemaids to gather rope and tie the sleeping master to his bed the night before the battalion’s return.

The following day, once the soldiers were safely in their barracks, the young master was released. Naturally Tholomew was livid over his thwarted plan. He charged towards the threshold with a rucksack upon his back and in an angry voice said that he would leave the manor and never return if the Mistress would continue treating him like a child. Although, one could hear through his loud voice that he was only feigning his threats. He simply could not imagine a life away from comfort. To his shock, Mistress Mestich was ecstatic, unburdened finally of a very difficult fourteen-year old boy. The woman ran to the threshold, kissed her stepson on the cheek, and shoved some money and a small pouch of Mestich Yellow Tiles into his hands. With one quick push Tholomew was out of the manor, followed by the sound of the heavy door being shut behind him.5

As far as black-hearted Tilers go if there ever were any before Tholomew, they were a proud lot who would never consider asking forgiveness from those they have offended. At this point Tholomew made up his mind to set out on his real adventure, and never return. The possibilities of a million pranks thrilled him no end.

Tholomew became notorious in the Ganew for his practical jokes, and later was nicknamed Tholomew the Obscure, owing to his ability to hide masterfully from his victims before he struck. Years went by and his company grew in number – drifters, beggars, and thieves who were bored by their occupation joined him in his crusade to make fools out of dour citizens.

Of course, Tholomew gained enemies with equal measure. Generals and Bishops Minor plotted his end for his band’s offenses against their offices. But the one who hated him most was Erginette Acrom, the eldest daughter of John Acrom.6 the master swordsmith, Tiler of the Unbroken Black Tiles. It seemed that she was Tholomew’s favorite target, as he always picked on her whenever she was on her way to the rose gardens. Tholomew picked on Erginette not because he hated her, but in some mysterious, untold region in his black heart, a tiny red stream was burbling with joy at the sound of her voice. It reminded him of old Geraldine’s garden song, the one she was singing when she first saw him in the cabbage patch.

Erginette on the other hand, failed to notice any trace of affection in Tholomew’s words. His was an acid tongue, and in moments of panic, nothing but the sharpest and most hurtful sounds came out of his mouth. Still, Erginette could not resist letting her eyes linger on Tholomew – the prankster bore a handsome face that was unrivaled in the Ganew. He kept appearing like a demented angel in her dreams, sometimes dancing with her at an elaborate ball; at other times throwing overripe tomatoes on her pretty head.

In due course, Tholomew the Obscure’s band of pranksters was declared a threat to the kingdom, and sentenced to the chasms of Yoor upon capture. Tholomew then led his band deep into the Unfathomable Wood to escape punishment from the Royal Soldiers.

The wood was thick with dark trees and thorny plants; wolves howled even in the mornings because the dense canopies made it impossible for sunlight to sift through. After several days of walking, they came onto a small clearing near a river that flowed out of a cave. They were tired and hungry, and then beset with misfortune when it began to rain.7 Tholomew ordered his men to run for the cave and to climb the stone platforms on the river banks to keep themselves safe.

Once inside, the men lit more lamps and much to their amazement, saw that portions of the cave’s walls were covered with a shining, unfinished mosaic. The tiled wall, as tall as two giants with one standing on the shoulders of another, glimmered green, gold, red, and silver in the light of the lamps. The tiles set on the wall were not perfect squares, but looked as if an enormous hammer struck them and shattered everything to smaller pieces. A bare stony wall was in the center, bordered by countless, tiny, dark-colored tiles.

At the same instant, the men inside the cave realized that they were all Tilers. Even though they were drifters, beggars and thieves, they obeyed the Ancient Law of Ganen, and had with them, bound to their bodies since they were fourteen, small pouches of heirloom tiles.

One clever youth removed a small pouch attached to his waist and brought out a chipped black tile. He raised the small object near the mosaic, trying to find the part where it could fit. Tholomew became amused and told the youth to give up – the mosaic was massive and it would take him months to find the adjacent piece. The youth was about to follow Tholomew’s advice when an invisible force started to pull his hand, leading him to stick the tile onto the base of the wall. The mysterious force let go of his hand as the tiles on the base shifted of their own accord, grating stone tile against stone wall, and then realigning to form what looked like the claw of a gargantuan eagle. The men gasped in terror at the eerie occurrence, yet the youth remained unfazed. He approached the base and laid his palm on it for he wanted to know how the tiles could move. But he was famished and this prevented him from thinking clearly. In desperation, he said out loud that he wished there was some food to keep his stomach from grumbling. Out of the eagle’s claw, roasted mutton and fowl flowed onto the floor, with citrus fruits and grapes tumbling right after.

The youth picked up the roasted mutton, smelled it, and tasted it. “It’s real food!” he declared, and soon the band forgot the Ancient Law and stuck their black chipped tiles on the wall and wished for the lot that their hearts desired. In a few moments there was more food than anyone of them had ever seen, beautiful women stepped out of the wall to dance with the men, jewels and crowns adorning their heads.

Only Tholomew, who remained standing on the edge of a stone platform, hesitated to part with his tile. It was as if one prankster was detecting the tricks of another, filling his head with suspicion about the mysterious mosaic wall that granted the wishes of his men. Why would a wall bestow gifts in exchange for a measly tile? His black heart grunted haughtily. There is a trap waiting to be sprung, it said.

As he furrowed in thought, the youth who had laid the first tile proposed Tholomew to approach the wall and ask for the lovely Erginette to be his bride. With him bearing a set of colored tiles, the wall would certainly not refuse, and may provide him even more.

His pulse raced with thoughts of Erginette. Her soft rosy cheeks glowing, her lips slightly parted in delight, her slender arms around his neck. “Oh! She is joy to me and there is nothing I will not do to be with her!” he thought. The tiny red stream in his heart was now a raging river, threatening to break the black solid mass. Tholomew lifted one yellow tile out of the two in his possession, raised his hand toward the mosaic wall, and waited.

The men took notice of Tholomew and the Mestich Yellow Tile. For a long time nothing happened, but the earth gave a gentle shake. Suddenly, Tholomew’s hand was being pulled up, up, up towards a high perch on the wall. From the air he could see what the men in his band could not – the mosaic tiles had reformed into an outline of a huge beast with the claws of an eagle, the wings of a bat, and the head of a reptile. It was tattered in some parts, for not all tiles needed were present in the cave. At the end of his flight, Tholomew was horrified to see that his yellow tile fit into a section of the beast’s head, and the mosaic tiles shifted to form a dragon’s eye.8

The force that held Tholomew up began to wane and soon enough he fell straight into the river below. A magnificent dragon made of multicolored tiles was moving its form restlessly inside the wall; it was trying to break free from the stone. It stopped moving when it saw a frightened old man hiding behind a column of rock. This man happened to be Charles Medelin, black sheep of the Guardian Family of the Red Tiles. The tile dragon lowered its head to where Charles was, and the rock became a column of spiders that fell on poor Charles, making him jump up and down at the sight of the crawlers. Without any protection, Charles became more afraid and therefore vulnerable to the tile dragon. He gave up his Red Tiles and raised them to the wall in exchange for his life.

The Red Tiles did not fit any part of the dragon in particular. Instead, they disappeared beneath the skin of the dragon and forced other tiles of blood to flow. The tile dragon beat its wings and a powerful wind broke. With its every movement, a sound similar to gigantic boulders crashing into each other was heard. Finally, the tile dragon pushed its head against the stone wall and then the rest of its body followed, wriggling free of the cave rock that had imprisoned it for millions of years. It attacked the men on the platform, maiming them and stepping on their fragile bodies. Charles Medelin was spared, although the tile dragon breathed on his head and set his hair ablaze. With that it flew out of the cave in the direction of the villages.

Now Tholomew did not so much as drown, but he did have a hard time fighting the torrent in the river. Upon reaching the banks he realized instinctively that the Ganew was in grave danger. The tile dragon would circle the land to get all of its tiles back, and this would mean the beginning of an everlasting darkness, and the end of whatever happiness there was between him and Erginette.

Erginette! He exclaimed. He had not yet declared his wish to the wall! Quickly he laid his hand on the remaining tile blocks and fervently said, “Let me and my men be returned to the villages that we may warn the people of impending danger!”

The wall glowed faintly and crumbled to dust, expending the remnants of its power, and soon they were on the streets of the village. The first to set sight of them were the Royal Soldiers, and in next to no time they were pursued.

“Wait!” Tholomew said, “Do not capture us! I bear news of an unspeakable terror! A tile dragon is heading towards our villages, and it shall destroy everything in its path!”

“We cannot believe your acid tongue, Tholomew the Obscure!” the soldiers answered.

“Then you will believe mine!” The voice was from a woman – it was Erginette’s, the honorable swordsmith’s daughter. “I have just come from Hartgent, and I saw a beast made of tiles attacking men and women. Tiles were flying towards it! It was as if a force was calling all the tiles together to bind themselves to the beast!”

“It’s true then!” the people declared, and they all became very frightened, even the soldiers, for they had never fought a dragon before.

“I have a plan, if you would consider!” Tholomew said. “If the dragon is after the tiles then he shall have them. But not without wounding him!” The people listened and obeyed his ingenious plan. They immediately forgot that it was the infamous prankster who was trying to save them.

Tholomew asked that all Guardian Families fasten their tiles to sharp objects – a spear, an arrow, a javelin, whatever they could find. The small ones they would fit even onto a table knife. Tholomew asked John Acrom to fuse his remaining yellow tile which was half the size of his palm to one of the latter’s best blades. John, with his own inventiveness, affixed the Acrom Unbroken Black Tiles onto Erginette’s heavy sword. Tholomew also asked the Royal Soldiers to acquire the Ganen Blue Tiles from the King, and to pound and mix them into the exploding powder for the canons.9

The following night, the tile dragon flew across the Ganew sky and descended on the village where Tholomew, his band, Erginette, the Royal Soldiers, and the rest of the citizens, waited inside their houses. The tile dragon beat its wings and a powerful wind swirled around it. It breathed fire on the rooftops and drove the men and women out into the streets. The dragon then let out a long shrill cry to summon the tiles.

The swords, spears, spikes, knives, forks, combs, and scissors to which the tiles were attached began to shake. The light ones then flew instantly toward the dragon, and inflicted tiny wounds on its body. Some light weapons were able to inflict more respectable damage to the dragon; however, the beast remained strong and feisty, still able to demolish the general’s office in a single blow. Unfortunately the heavier weapons were only clanging about and getting stuck in windows; some tiles were successfully wriggling free of the swords and then flying out to join the dragon.

Most of the swords and spears were unable to pierce the tile dragon, and Tholomew began to hate himself for not thinking about that. If he did not act quickly, all of the tiles would be lost, and they would be left with useless weapons against the mighty beast.

It was at this moment that Tholomew collided with a brilliant thought. He took the Acrom blade to which the last Mestich tile was still attached, pried the tile free and clenched it tightly with his teeth.

Erginette saw all this and tried to stop him – she knew that once Tholomew left their iron house, he would be bodily lifted towards the tile dragon. Tholomew had no acid words for her now; the tile was keeping him from talking. Erginette met the boy’s glassy eyes and understood finally what Tholomew had been meaning to say for the longest time. She kissed him on the cheek and told him to come back alive.

Tholomew boldly charged out of the house bearing the sword of Erginette Acrom in his hands and the last Mestich tile in his mouth. Quickly he was lifted up and flew straight towards the dragon’s chest. The Unbroken Black Tiles, so it seemed, formed part of the tile dragon’s dark heart. Tholomew pointed the Acrom sword at it, and when he struck, plunged it mightily and deeply into the beast, cleaving a path through its chest. In the blink of an eye he was within the dragon’s heart. He raised his sword and pointed it straight up. The Mestich yellow tile forcefully pulled itself through the dragon’s head towards its other eye, and Tholomew cut the dragon’s body through, at last emerging like a geyser at the beast’s crown. The dragon gave one final shrill cry as it exploded into a thick cloud of dust and rock.

On the ground there was a mass of colored and black tiles, a harmless mound of pulverized dirt and stone. Tholomew stopped flying and fell gracefully to the ground, and there his heart turned red and happy when Erginette Acrom claimed her sword and his undying love.10

Elyss Punsalan is based in Manila and works as a brand manager for a company that sells millions of lipsticks every year. When she’s not crunching numbers Elyss spends her time bonding with her family, joining Quiz Nights, and watching romantic comedies. Her other published works can be found in A Time for Dragons, Philippine Speculative Fiction III, Philippine Genre Stories 3, First Love, Heartbreak, Match Made and Story Philippines.

  1. The Northern Ganew used to be the habited portion of the Marcks Ruby Isle, located mid-east of the Spurious Sea. It was a thriving and commercial country, but soon became uncharted when the Great Flood in the 70th Calendar Millennia (C.M.) moved it. []
  2. There were actually two sets of colored tiles inherited by the Mestiches, one of them dubbed the Mestich Grays. Its whereabouts are still unknown to this day, but myth has it that the Tiles were thrown by mistake into a pile of charcoal by a cleaning servant in the 10th C.M. It was said that the cleaning servant was sent to prison for a total of thirty-seven years, and was then found dead with his hands around his eyes. The prison guards believed that the servant was driven mad everyday by the sight of gray tiles covering the walls of his cell. []
  3. Earthquakes and fire destroyed almost all records in the first dwelling caves of ancient Ganew, around 6th C.M. []
  4. Although the tiles being available to all did not offer any basis for prejudice, there were some families who, based on the shape, rarity of color, and condition of the tiles, imposed their superiority over other Guardians. Most tiles were commonly chipped and colored black. Higher-valued tiles were perfect squares with a thin glasslike cover over the pigments. The most precious of them all were the Ganen Blue Tiles held by the king of Ganew, Matthias Jarqoal. []
  5. Geraldine Mestich was later found dead on the floor of her house. She died at peace like her husband did, however there was tittle-tattle around town that the adopted son Tholomew had something to do with her death. That is only partly true, of course. When Tholomew left the Mestich Manor, old Geraldine did her little jig and broke her back completely, and that became the ultimate cause of her demise. []
  6. The Unbroken Black Tiles were then considered less precious than the colored tiles, but higher in value when compared to the more common chipped black tiles. []
  7. Rain inside the Unfathomable Wood does not come from the clouds in the air. The trees themselves produce it, as it is their way of reducing the amount of water in their trunks. []
  8. In the 55th C.M. Year 17, modern Ganew scholars were able to decipher the name of the beast as Gargashen (translated as “the moving fear”). This name was mentioned in rare annals unearthed from the 3rd C.M. Cave of the First People, south of the Ancient Ganew cave dwellings. Gargashen was originally of real flesh and blood not unlike animals that roam the Ganew; it wreaked havoc on the First People for two millennia. It was at the end of the 4th C.M when a young but brilliant shaman, later crowned King Ganen the First King, used a puissant spell to trap the living Gargashen into one of the caves’ walls. King Ganen was only able to devise a more permanent way of keeping Gargashen from re-entering the Ganew when he was advised by his bride Queen Alexia, on his seventh year of rule. He transformed the dragon into a tile mosaic and then distributed its important tiles to all the families in the kingdom. It was also in that year when the Law of Ganen was believed to have been decreed. Unfortunately, the magic of transforming the beast into tile was an imperfect one, as the beast was still able to use some of its formidable powers. []
  9. Obviously, King Matthias refused to let go of the Blue Tiles; he had not forgotten Tholomew’s prank on his 30th birthday where a naked squire was seen streaking through the royal party with the words “King Matthias’s Lover” on his back. The squire was never captured and was believed to have taken great protection from Tholomew’s band. Furthermore, the Blue Tiles had just been returned to the castle, handsomely set into the king’s royal crown and scepter. The Royal Soldiers, Tilers all, then decided to pound their own heirlooms and mix it into their gun powder. []
  10. Tholomew Mestich and his band were given royal clemency and dispensation. Tholomew then wed Erginette Acrom the next day, officiated by King Matthias himself. (The band was still able to set His Majesty’s long cape on fire, which was quickly put out by Tholomew with a pail full of blessing water.) The couple bore three sons – Henry, Benedict, and Simon, and a daughter Johanna, who collectively gave Erginette absolute joy, and Tholomew persistent bother. []