Between the two rivers, in the towering, bulgesome city of Tullgotha, there lived a small, neatly bearded knohm named Razzles.
Razzles enjoyed the good life: loafing, skipping and the wearing of bells on his long-toed, loosely laced, lilac shoes. He shared his home with a hobnibblin, a small, pale-green midget that the gentle Razzles liked to call ‘Hob’ since he hadn’t ever made any real effort to learn his actual name. Living and working together they both loved and wanted to slap each other in equal measure. Their home was a delightfully crooked stone cottage a hop, skip and a jingle away from the lower city centre.
Owning a stone house, of course, was odd for a knohm, as they usually are fond of nesting in attics or the cellars of other persons’ homes. Often they can be found settled into garden sheds or even inhabiting the bottom shelf of broom cupboards. But Razzles had done remarkably well for himself over the years, surpassing knomic-norms within the diverse society of Tullgotha. So well in fact that Razzles was currently allowing a small family of nibblin paupers to live illegally in his shed.
Although the residents there fondly referred to their densely knotted region of rambunctious architecture and ramshackle hovels as the ‘city centre’ this was actually something of a misnomer since Tullgotha was in reality a series of concentric rings, each inner ring ascending on a flat plane higher than the last. The outer, lower ring, therefore, had no centre. Yet it felt like the centre; the higher, more important tiers somehow lacked the earthy realism of the base level. Down here where most of the buildings had wildly overhanging upper floors and drunkenly warped roofs you sensed that this was the true city, the genuine heart of the place. Down here you could really get lost in a maze of back streets and alleys half of which you honestly believed were not there the last time you happened along that way; this was where it all happened. At least, that’s what the common folk said.
Razzles and Hob enjoyed nothing better than strolling aimlessly round the city’s stores and taverns; perhaps looking at fishing rods, evaluating the optimum spot on your average lawn or discussing the comparative merits of diverse toadstools. It was during one of these leisurely strolls on a sunny morning just a couple of weeks ago that they had chanced upon meeting up with a smug little creature called a renling*.
*Renlings are resourceful, gregarious, scrawny little beings with long flapping hare-like ears and – despite their appearance – they are surprisingly rugged. They often live below the ground in anything from spontaneous scrapes to elaborate, ancestral burrows that are enhanced to a greater or lesser degree with various architectural elements and crafted fixtures. As a race renlings have a number of fine features, not a few irritating ones and many annoying vices; but there are two particular things in which renlings really excel:
1) Hoarding and collecting assorted esoteric items and interesting paraphernalia. A good renling almost always had pockets full of ‘stuff’. Most have hidden pockets and pockets within pockets, secret little spaces stitched who knows where. They love anything to do with secrets: having them, keeping them, telling others that they have them, telling others that they can’t say whether they have one or not, even pretending to pretend to have them.
A favourite mantra of the legendary general, and founder of the once enormous Renling-Empire, Alexånðërb The Great Beetle-Basher and Truly Impressive Ladybyrde-Leveller was: “Power flows from the one who knows.” This is largely an historical mis-quote however; what he actually said was, “Power flows from the one with the biggest nose,” but that did not sound quite as pithy, despite, of course, making perfect sense: because as is well known, when one has a secret, one taps one’s nose. So the bigger the nose, the bigger the secret, the bigger the secret, the more power he has: Alexånðërb the Great Beetle-Basher and Truly Impressive Ladybyrde-Leveller had a really big nose!
2) Renic whistling. Renlings had near-perfected a peculiar and rather raucous form of echo-location. This was actually a clever, but very noisy method of using of high pitched ‘whistles’ that, to anyone other than a renling, sounded no more than an unabashed, brazen display of screeches and squalls. These nonetheless, allowed renlings to ‘see’ potential enemies around corners. They had developed an entire system of multi-functional whistling expressions, encompassing the use of every possible wheezing, whining, or wailing noise imaginable; at times employing multiple sonic sources. Indeed the worrying thing about their whistling ways was that it was never really that clear from which orifice a ‘whistle’ originated. Still, such foreknowledge of the whereabouts of would-be attackers enabled crafty renlings to sneak up from an unexpected direction and at the least, poke nettles into any unguarded sleeves or trouser-legs, usually resulting in much merriment and rejoicing on the part the renling in question.
The renling in question for our story was Fürgůïn, who, at the time of meeting, was scavenging around the cobbled streets of Lower Tullgotha picking bits of straw out of piles of old horse dung with a long pair of bone tweezers normally kept for removing wax from his ears. These he employed so as to keep his efficient sense of smell at a safe distance and his delicately manicured fingers nice and clean. Perched on Fürgůïn’s right shoulder was a small mammal that he had named Niggit (Niggit was a fidgety, hairless, little creature of the genus tibmibling ovularus) and because the little fellow loved to suck the fermenting dung out from the middle of straws, Fürgůïn gathered them for him. He would deftly extract a straw with his tweezers, then let his pet chew on the contents before later reclaiming the cleaned, thoroughly nibbled straw which was now malleable enough to be made into hats, baskets and sometimes, even small carpets, which in turn Fürgůïn would then sell at the knohm markets.*
* Legend has it that back in the Knohm-Renling wars (otherwise known as the great beard-pulling and ear-yanking campaign of 1323) whole platoons of renlings survived by hiding in the stables of Groll (then the capital of the knohm world) eating cheese made from tibmibling milk. Sadly some rather wilful tibmiblings eventually resisted milking and so the intrepid renlings were forced to eat the tibmiblings themselves. In turn, when there were no tibmiblings left, the renlings subsisted on straw collected and cleaned by tibmiblings from the only remaining source.
On that warm, lazy morning Fürgůïn had strolled along the city street just before the crowds gathered, scavenging with his ear-wax tweezers and whistling softly to himself whilst his tibmibling nibbled away contentedly. This was just a peaceful, whimsical whistle, a merry little tune, not to be mistaken for the highly-developed echo-location whistling noises or the renling battle whistle that both sound very different. *
* Renic-Whistling had ingrained itself so thoroughly on renling society that in certain parts of the land there were whistle-vetting committees and prestigious whistling competitions. The Squealympics as they were called, attracted hopeful renlings from all over the land, drawn by the lure of the golden bowl of dyshel wine presented to the winner – ‘The Bowl Drainer’. But the teaching of Renic-Whistling, or ‘susorrificophonics’ as they are technically known, to any creature other than a renling carried a grim sentence. Tales are told of unfortunate renlings being bagged-up, and carried off by black-clad, beetle-helmeted renling Squall-Troopers appearing from nowhere, and whisking them away to certain execution for breaking the secret or just letting less savoury beasts like urgh-banes get wind of it in mixed-race pubs!
Renic Whistling could also be used in battle and had once been Fürgůïn’s father’s weapon of choice. However, his cousins too were likewise skilled: Bєnðërbmin (‘Benny’ to his pals) Butterfly-clapper, and Eliðërb the Frog-urger in turn both could give a good whistle with a huge force. Above all though, it was the House of ‘The Thunder-Cheeks-Whistlers’ that stood pre-eminent. It was one of the most respected households in renling hierarchy and as the only direct and sane descendant (for he had a big brother, Ålånðërb Bowlegged-lizard-blower, who was not too bright, but he had had the presence of mind to declare himself insane, thus forfeiting the right to inherit anything bigger than a wooden shed riddled with woodlice) Fürgůïn was the living heir: sole inheritor-to-be of the once-proud former renling chieftain, and founder of the House, Topherðërb Thunder-Cheeks.
The knohm Razzles had just emerged from an important meeting regarding his work in the flourishing field of Knomo-Niblic translation. Now he and Hob found themselves on a bright Tullgothan street with time on their hands.
“I’m tired,” Razzles had whinged, “There’s always so much work for me to do.”
There wasn’t – he was always tired. Hob did all the actual work and so he scowled up at the knohm wondering just what made him so tired.
“How about some refreshment before getting back to the daily grind,” Razzles offered, “Ratnut ‘n’ twinkle sprinkles perhaps?”
Hob sighed, but he did like a good deep-fried, sugar-coated rodent – rather a lot.
Furguin initially hadn’t noticed the knohm and nibblin loitering some way down the street since he was deep in thought. There had been many things on his mind since his recent discovery of an old chest in the Forbidden Forest. He had returned thence with a pair of unusual books, however these had frustratingly been taken from him and now their contents sat heavily on his brain like a toad on a walnut. Whistling helped him think. Anyone seeing him might imagine him to be a picture of leisurely carefreeness; but, dark things gestated deep within his renling brain, his intestines even, building into a cacophony of barely concealed cogitating that would test to the limits his Renic-Whistling abilities in all of their polyphonic wonder. It was in this distracted state that he had strayed across Razzles and Hob.
Upon first spotting the knohm and his midget associate, Fürgůïn’s reflection had been broken. It appeared, as he watched, that this unlikely pair had little purpose in life other than to mosey around window-shopping and to enjoy snacking at the city’s juicy ratnut parlours. It hadn’t taken long for Fürgůïn to decide to join himself to them. Not for the ratnuts it might be noted – though he loved them so – sadly he was on a diet due to a build-up of phlegm, a side effect of a carefree youth spent stuffing rat-rich produce with abandon – as most renlings do. Fürgůïn had been distraught at the realisation that the phlegm build-up had begun to impede his whistling abilities, so he was forced to cut all rat-based produce from his menu. No, the actual reason for joining this pair, was that they just might be the right company for certain ventures that he had planned; not just any company, it would take a certain type of company. Hob and Razzles appeared to meet the requirements almost too perfectly: they had a kind of innocent, sheepy look about them. There was something endearingly vulnerable about them too, perhaps rendering them an easy target for Tullgotha’s less savoury citizens to exploit, they were obviously in need of a leader… He was clearly the halfling for the job… Although they probably didn’t realise that bit yet.
Fürgůïn hoped that Razzles wasn’t much of a traditionalist though as knohms and renlings had a bit of a bad history *
* Tension, unfortunately often ran high between knohms and renlings ever since the assassination of the knohm Arch-Duke Furryhand by the renling Ravealot Punchup who was a member of the activist group “The BlackToenails” gang, which in turn was the cause of the great Knohm-Renling wars otherwise known as The Thousand Days Head Cuffing among other such fond appellations as those noted previously.
Sauntering up, tibmibling on shoulder, Fürgůïn felicitated, “Nice eye.” Then, offering his long tweezers to Razzles he enquired, “Do you like feeding animals?”
Taken aback, Razzles, who didn’t like to say no to anybody, eyed the tibmibling rather self-consciously and politely asked, “What does it eat?”
“Straw,” said Fürgůïn simply.
Razzles later regretted not checking the details.