Widowhearth Hall was full. Every seat was taken from high in the rafters right down to the pit. The buzz of muted conversation could be heard even outside where the unlucky ones, too late to squeeze inside had to wait and listen. The Hall was dimly lit; slowly the lamps shrank until the place was in darkness. Conversations wavered to a halt. Expectancy shivered through the air.
Suddenly the platform was swathed in bright light and the audience gasped in anticipation. Two rows of chairs glimmered softly. Every chair in the back row was filled with the figure of a man or woman, sitting rigidly upright. The front row had several empty chairs which glowed with rainbow glints where the lights struck angles or grooves.
Maister Commander Allgarth was a tall man, broad-shouldered, narrow-waisted whose voice reached the highest nook and cranny without any aid. He strode to the front of the dais.
“You are invited here tonight to witness the elevation of three Maisters, each at the peak of his or her career. The awards are not made on academic merit alone but include consideration of service to the State, to individuals and to the future. Each of these three have given many years of loyal service to the citizens of this country and tonight reap their reward. Their names and records will be secured for eternity in the ranks of the Crystal Unforgotten”.
“Maister Woodwright, please step forward”.
With some hesitation and apprehension, a stocky, weather-beaten man walked hesitantly to the front of the stage. Commander Allgarth’s lips curled in a victorious smile. He and Maister Woodwright had a long history of confrontations. With an expansive gesture he indicated that the other should take a seat in one of the glittering chairs. Maister Woodwright hesitated.
“You know, I really don’t want to retire just yet. I’ve many more years of work left in these hands”.
“I’m sure you don’t”. Was there note of victory in the Commander’s voice? “But you see, I have made all the arrangements and you are due for an honorable and long retirement”.
“But …” began the stocky little man, looking around wildly for support.
“No buts” roared Allgarth. “Sit down!” Taking the shorter man by the shoulder he pushed him towards one of the empty chairs. Woodwright tried to struggle but the Commander was stronger. He forced the smaller man into a chair and stepped back quickly.
Wheelwright began to twist and scream as the chair began to change shape. Slowly but inexorably it shortened its legs until his feet touched the ground; the seat expanded to accommodate his ample buttocks; the back curved around his torso and rose to support his head upright to look straight ahead; worst of all, the arms of the chair began to enfold his arms and hands, curving around those fingers which had caressed and carved so many beautiful artefacts. He tried to wrench himself free but glass is not malleable unless spelled to be so and he was captured. The faces in the back row of chairs did not change as they watched his efforts but the figure in the chair to his left winced in sympathy. “It gets easier” she murmured, “as the glass hardens the pain fades away”.
Maister Commander Allgarth looked triumphant. The next candidate for elevation to the ranks of the Unforgotten stumbled as she was assisted to the next vacant chair. She was weeping as she beseeched the Commander. “Please, please reconsider”. Again the evil smile. “Now, now, Mistress Cotton, think of the honor to your family” and she too was roughly pushed into a second chair. In this case, the chair shrank to accommodate her tiny form, nipping her waist and encasing her thin shoulders and her long, narrow fingers and gripping her neck tightly.
As always, the audience was silent. They watched this procedure once a year. Some saw only the honor being inflicted on the loyal workers for the State; others wondered at the agony etched on the faces of the luckless victims.
One chair remained and with a flourish, Maister Commander Allgarth unfolded the last piece of paper bearing the name and eulogy of the final candidate. He froze. “Ah, there has been a mistake. There is no candidate for the final chair – ”
“Oh, yes there is!” The voice was clear and rang throughout the hall. “Maister Commander Allgarth, in recognition of your years of bullying, intimidation and cruelty to the unfortunate members of your staff, you are raised to the ranks of the Crystal Unforgotten”.
Maister Commander Allgarth looked around him wildly. “Who is that? This is outrageous. Stop. Stop”. He screamed as unseen hands forced him into the final chair. The chair grew to accommodate his long legs, narrowed the seat around his muscular behind, expanded to fit his broad shoulders and raised his head until he was looking straight ahead, out into the auditorium. Bands of crystal bound his wrists and tightened. The glass framed his head, keeping it in plain view of the audience who could watch the agony and horror as it hardened around him.