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Of Millinery and Magic(s)

by Rudi Dornemann

The system had worked perfectly for years. Illusionists wore top hats, neat and shiny black. Wizards and witches wore tall peaked caps, of course, and embroidered them with whatever arcane symbols they fancied. We mundanes wore our bowlers, rarely adorned with anything more flamboyant than a bit of feather or sprig of seasonal greenery. And it all worked well; we all knew each other's nature by our hats. And then he came to town, the stranger.

In his fez.

A crowd began to form from the moment he stepped through the east gate, and only grew as he made his way to city hall square. All our leading citizens were there.

The wizards claimed him for one of their own.

"It's truncated, this is true," said the chief Wizard. "But it's clearly conical."

"I'm afraid I must disagree," said the Grand Houdin. "It may lack a brim, but it's as flat on top as any top hat. He is clearly of the prestidigitator persuasion."

"Hurrumph," said the Mayor of the Mundanes as the noon sun gleamed from his gold-brimmed bowler. "He looks to me like some kind of hybrid of both your ilk -- a trader in both flim-flam and miracles.

The stranger only smiled.

With a flourish as practiced as any matinee magician, he raised one hand. With the gravity of the most learned mage, he shifted his hat's tassel from one side to the other.

From that day forward, the meaning of the hats changed. The illusionists found themselves pulling real rabbits from hats. They knew the identity of every hidden card, and the economy of our city collapsed under the deflationary pressure of all those coins pulled from behind ears. The wizards found themselves unable to levitate without the aid of nearly invisible threads and unable to transmute lead to gold without a false-bottomed cauldron. Their oracles spouted vague pronouncements that might mean anything and their grimoires were full of diagrams of fake thumbs and boxes holding hidden mirrors.

As for the rest of us, we found that our comfortable bowlers were gone and, in their place, we too wore fezzes that were always sliding askew, and tassels that swung like pendulums, whether we wanted them to or not.

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