A long and twisted tale.

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A Querulous Quest Chapter 2

Razzles, Hob and Fürgůïn quickly became friends, enjoying the delights of the city’s juicy molenut parlours and strolling together in the lush meadows beyond the walls. As time went by Fürgůïn began looking for the best way to introduce Razzles to his precious pages and the ventures that they conjured up before him. Yet, it seems first that another was destined to share their path. It all began on what Razzles would later dramatically call “the day of the lost eye”. Two burly urgh-banes were lazing in the lush fields of Tullgotha boisterously eating, drinking, discussing future exploits and generally not paying much attention to what was going on around them. One appeared to be poking about in a purse, checking what loose coins remained, the other was disappointedly upending an impressive boarsface flagon.* Both let out a roar of amusement as they simultaneously let their empty objects of investigation fall to the grass.

*A boarsface is not to be mistaken for a hogshead which is more a reference to capacity than design and although a good urgh-bane is capable of downing a butt in a sitting, he would not generally have more than a kilderkin about his person, rarely a hogshead. No, this was a flagon made from a hog’s head in similar fashion to a pig’s bladder wine skin, holding a mere fourth of a firkin.

On a normal day Razzles would carefully have avoided these urgh-banes, but he had strayed across this pair whilst experiencing an involuntary build-up of frolicsomeness. The compulsion to cavort was something that all male knohms periodically suffered and at its lunar peak such amassing of pent-up friskiness positively demanded some sort of outlet. Today these giants were too much for Razzles to simply pass by, the absurd drive to sneak up and perpetrate some sort of knohmish rascality overwhelmed all common sense. Hopefully these lackadaisical urgh-banes wouldn’t mind; everybody knew that knohms were just like that.

By way of a plan Razzles had instructed Hob to keep watch and to whistle secret bird signals to warn the creeping knohm should his targets notice him. However, Razzles’ plan was a flawed plan, no bird in good health ever made noises like the peculiarly strangled tones emitted by Hob. The situation wasn’t improved when Razzles’ hat-bell muffler came off. One of the muscular urgh-banes spotted the knohm’s red hat approaching through the grass and clambered to his feet. Now in full view, his bell-tipped hat and turquoise tunic in stark contrast to the fresh greenery, Razzles panicked and began dithering about in a bizarre figure of eight. He hadn’t fully appreciated just how big urgh-banes were close up.*

*Urgh-banes were huge in comparison to most inhabitants of Tullgotha, but in comparison to a knohm they were veritable towering behemoths of almost unimaginable brawn. Their size and strength made urgh-banes aptly suited to a range of specialised roles both within and on the outskirts of general society. The common urgh-bane often tended to brawl and terrorise; the more genteel among them preferred using their talents in more creative ways – not least of all – to excel upon the field of sportsmanship.

“What’s up Grimm?” called the black-clad urgh-bane still lounging in the grass.
“It appears that we have a knohm with a gambolling problem,” the one named Grimm replied. The flustered Razzles attempted to recover from disaster with a rather impressive display of running away, but it was not to be. Grimmbros had deftly thrown a passing grovelhoglet* at Razzles, catching the rapidly retreating knohm on the back of the head, spinning him round, dislodging his artificial eye and setting the bell on his hat jangling like a biscuit tin full of brass grasshoppers.

* Grovelhogs are curious beasts: strangely feline, porcine, armadillo-like creatures. Genetically closer to boars than cats, they are more like an armadillo than either except for the tusks and retractable whiskers. They are oft underestimated creatures due to their stumpy legs and the overhang of their armour-plate. Nevertheless with whiskers fully deployed and voracious appetite one underestimates a mature grovelhog at one’s own peril.

Observing his projectile meet its mark, Grimmbros Darktale Woeweaver punched the air, concluding that justice had been served. He strode back mumbling to Ignatious, “What is it with those nefarious knohms, nibblins and nnn…?” His inability to come up with a suitable n-word for renlings frustrated him, however, he continued, “Their ridiculous shenanigans get right up my nasal passages! Howbeit, come, my good fellow! I still have with me one last bottle of fruity-drink; a sweet ‘Loopi-koo-wacka!’ port**.”

*Loopi-koo-wacka! the deep purple-brown drink favoured by urgh-banes is often simply known as ‘fruity swine-port’. It is made with limax-berries which, when fermented, give off a rather bacon-like odour. Yet rightly processed they can make a fruity, sweet, but very strong, port-like substance. This is not good for the teeth,** yet it sells rather well.
# see end note 2

**Not good for the teeth in that abusers of the beverage tend to kick them out given half a chance.

Grimmbros thoughtfully inspected his prized bottle as he settled back into the grass, stretching out his feet and relaxing again.
“A fine port indeed,” he said with approval. “What say you my friend, about partaking of a hog’s noggin of said fine beverage?” The pair of urgh-banes returned to their indolent carousing, not expecting ever to encounter the knohm or his companions again. The pesky things came and went like wasps; everyone knew that knohms were just like that.

It took a day or two before Razzles gathered the courage to go back to look for his lost eye. The rabid twitch of repressed zest had gradually descended into a jittery shiver before subsiding sufficiently to allow a cautious return. Razzles, Hob and Fürgůïn trailed about the fields around the city until Hob eventually spotted a shiny object in the grass. It was coated with a suspicious mildew and had a bug stuck to it, but it was nonetheless Razzles’ artificial right eye, the orange-yellow ball that belonged in the empty cup-like goggle still strapped to the knohm’s forehead.

“Look – I’ve found it! I’ve found it!” he whooped, doing a jerky little dance around the eye which lay glistening in the sunshine. As Hob and Fürgůïn looked on, Razzles deftly slotted the mucid orb into his monogoggle and carefully adjusted the green and yellow supplementary lenses arrayed above it. He then blinked with satisfaction and made a show of peering nobly skyward through the eye, even though everyone knew that he couldn’t actually see anything through it, before finally glancing nervously about in case the urgh-banes were still in the vicinity.

In fact they were. Until today, many of these strapping, heavy-set creatures had roamed Tullgotha in droves, having come for the great Chicken-Scratch match.* Today, though, had seen the vast majority leave the city. Most vacated following the heavy weekend of celebrating their boys’ victory and headed home or started the journey south for the up-coming UnKnown World Chicken-Scratching Championship. Indeed, Grimmbros and his trainer Ignatious also had plans to be making their way, but were happy to bask a few more days in the glory of recent victory, sign a few more autographs, pose for a few more pictures, discuss the approaching World Championships, eat a few more free meals and generally bask in the glory of winning the Tullgotha City-Championship before making their way.

*Chicken-Scratching is a simple game. Played by a group of ‘scratchers’ as a team or as individuals, on a square, or round field. A suitable object referred to as ‘the ball’ is thrown into the field and players attempt to score points by removing the ‘ball’ from the playing area.

# see end note 3

However, by the time Razzles was reunited with his fine eye of excellence, Grimmbros and Ignatious were nowhere to be seen. Fürgůïn sat down in the long grass and watched as Razzles fiddled with the lenses of his goggle frame. Hob peered into the coloured swirls of the eye to see if he could see his own reflection.
“Can you see anything out of that thing?” Hob asked as the knohm angled a little green supplementary lens a bit higher over his ‘eye’.
“I can see enough to poke you in your eye you pogonophobic midget,” Razzles replied defensively, still feeling self-conscious after his recent embarrassment with the all-too-well-aimed grovelhoglet.
“It’s gone to your head!” Hob observed with an unwise choice of words.
“My shoe’ll go to your head in a minute! Let me concentrate, it needs setting right.”
“Those urgh-banes will be back by the time you get that thing working,” Fürgůïn pointed out. “I don’t think we want a repeat of what happened last time do we?”

Actually Ignatious had gone into the city to negotiate a deal with a representative of the Torturers’ Emporium. Grimmbros left him to it, remaining in the fields outside the wall, he was not really interested in all the promotional aspects of the business. Ignatious Urlurcher on the other hand was renowned as a trainer-manager skilled at cutting lucrative deals for sporting urgh-banes. Grimmbros too though was an urgh-bane of renown, he was in fact, an urgh-bane celebrity. He was the reigning Tullgotha Chicken-Scratching* Champion, and a very popular champion he was too.

*The etymology of the name has its fables, the best known being that early players literally used a small fowl as the ‘ball’; the winner would be awarded the bird to eat or to wear as a hat at the end of each round.

# see end note 4

Early on, the urgh-bane Grimmbros had lived a simple life, kicking animals round the streets with other youths. Just a normal young urgh-bane, proud to have ‘proved his age’ at his ‘Chakarava’ (a term which can be roughly translated from native Urgh-banian as: ‘That which nobody knows, that which nobody has seen or will see, that cannot be known by any who are not – Chakarava”).*

**Outside of urgh-bane society ‘the term chakarava’ is not well understood. Many know it only as part of an urgh-bane chant, or war-cry, uttered with the pulling of faces and much odd posturing: ‘chakarava – hoo hoo wakka wakka’ being the first line. The famous renling philosopher Alexånðërb The Great Beetle-Whisperer claimed that even Urgh-banes don’t know what it means. However, those that are ‘Chakarava’ say that these are just the idle speculations of those who are themselves not ‘Chakarava’.

Grimmbros had been burned by the blazing fire of excitement that was ‘Chicken-Scratching’ in his teens, a fire that just would not die down. Chicken-Scratching was by far the most important and popular of all sports in the UnKnown world. It had a long and colourful history; it was not only a multi-race pastime, but a huge multi-faceted business that covered the map. Each town and village had its victor, each city had its champion; each country its hero; and once every three years, the fans of all races of all lands would unite in the spectacle that was the ‘Super-Scratch’ to crown the UnKnown World Champion of Chicken-Scratching.

Eventually Grimmbros had achieved great success within the sport, bringing him a substantial income and a tremendous change in life-style. He enjoyed the finest hand-stitched tweed and hessian suits, ochre-yellow, with a striking orange, hand-rolled twill thread stitched into a check pattern. To top it off he had taken to wearing a black-cherry coloured beret. His larder was now one of quality foods from polished tables and culinarily eloquent purveyors’ counters; fine beverages out of delicate cups and fluted goblets, fit indeed for a sport icon’s parched throat. He was invited to soiree with members of a social circle previously unknown, having a tremendous effect on his education and elocution. Yet, despite the erudition and the adulation, deep inside the urgh-bane known as Grimmbros Darktale Woeweaver often yearned for simpler times.

Sadly, beyond the sporting arena, urgh-banes still met with a mixed reception in society, such fearful giants not usually being welcomed by the smaller races among whom anything bigger than a well-fed sheep tended to be viewed with a degree of suspicion and menace. Grimmbros desired to dispel the negative stereotyping of the common field-urgh-bane, demonstrating that not all are the brutes their names, often indelicately, imply; he indulged in generous urghbanitarian acts, to convince the less bigist members of Tullgothan society that the application of brute force was not their only strength. Ignatious, on the other hand, revelled in all that was urgh-banian, with all of its negative misrepresentations.

 

 

 

# Endnote 2

Loopi-koo-wacka! is a dark, sediment-heavy brew, that is not really a port at all. It is considered revolting by many, obnoxious even, to the sensibilities of some. The lesser races quite admire urgh-banes for even being able to sniff the pungent bouquet of the brew without passing out. The upper classes and races of the UnKnown World often employ the ‘drink’ as a weather-proofing agent for the underside of their mules. Nevertheless, once introduced to it, most urgh-banes can’t get enough of the stuff. Full strenth Loopi-koo-wakka! undergoes a further prolonged and complex maturing period referred to as ‘the enranciding’. At this point the beverage is generally laced with essence of verminion and infused with curdled dandelion milk, to give it a viscous, snouty overtone that perfectly compliments the rather earthy porcine undertone – hence ‘fruity swine port’.

 

# Endnote 3

*Chicken-Scratching is a simple game. Played by a group of ‘scratchers’ as a team or as individuals, on a square,or round field; the shape of the field does not really matter at all, what is important, is that there is a clearly discernible boundary that marks what is ‘In’ and what is ‘Out’. The players begin in a huddle in the middle of the marked field of play. A ball of sorts – what is used is of little significance – is thrown into the middle of the huddle by the Marshall, who then, if experienced or simply just has any sense at all, gets off the field. His job is pretty much done at this juncture, other than keep score and return to re-throw the object of choice back in for round two, and then to leg it off again. There then commences a vigorous attempt by all ‘scratchers’ to claim possession of, let us say, ‘the ball’ and proceed in any fashion propitious to getting ‘Out’ of the marked playing area with the said ball, while all other players ‘In’ the field of play make their attempt to claim possession themselves of the carried object. Whoever gets out of the marked field of play with the metaphorical ball scores a point. The winner is the first to an agreed score, or scores the most in an agreed time: it varies. The ‘game’ can last as little as a few seconds, or as long as a week; it all depends on who is playing who. Rules are optional to most areas, and can vary considerably from nation-to-nation, city-to-city or even park-to-park; but most noticeably from race-to-race. However, after many years of negotiation and persuading, there has coalesced a stringent conformity to a strict set of rules that apply to all ‘League’ games (those that contribute to the national and international ranking systems) and all Championship games, especially the highly revered international tournament, known simply to hoards of adoring fans of scratching the world over as ‘The UnKnown World Championships’.

 

# Endnote 4

*The etymology of the name has its fables, the best known of course being that early players literally used a small fowl as the ‘ball’; the winner would be awarded the bird to eat or to wear as a hat at the end of each round. There is definitely some truth to that tale, as in some villages, they still do play with chickens (and all manner of frantic animals actually – depending on the culture). The legendary multi-time, and reigning ‘three-peat’ UnKnown World Champions, the H’ra-lm Rock-Apes, have been known to use giant snow-llamas (hence their unprecedented success, that and the fact that rock-apes are arguably the strongest and fastest of all known bipedal creatures alive). However, the simple

truth of the name comes from the image of the group of ‘scratchers’ during play, especially, during the opening scrum. For once the ball/rock/bird/animal of choice is tossed in, the pack closely resembles a giant chicken-scratch: the resultant scrap among chickens, known the world over, for scattered meal thrown into their pen come dusk. The kicking, the pecking, the scratching; all in a desperate attempt to claim enough seed to fill the gullet: a commotion of legs, wings, whole chickens even; ducking, diving and zigzagging about in frenzied competition with each other for more meal. And so, the teams competing in a Chicken-Scratch contest, thus resemble, and are so named.

 

CHAPTER 3 WILL FOLLOW SHORTLY

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Some pictures from book 3.

Book three in the series Tales of Strangeness and Charm is well under way.

Here are some pictures from the nearly completed book.

Kapucha Woods 2

Rabbits

Sledge New

Razzles Home 2

Woods Walk 4

Bird Chase


A Tremulous Test

Book Two of the series Tales of Strangeness and Charm.

A Tremulous Test is introduced below.

The first few colour pages will appear here.
Below the pages is the first chapter in text form in case you’d like to read a sample.

CHAPTER 1

Grimmbros felt the morning sun on his face, warm and gentle. He heard the soft hum of meandering bees and the light rush of leaves swaying in the breeze. Keeping his eyes closed he allowed the remnants of dreams and sleep to disperse slowly, enjoying the gradual return of his senses. The simple, tranquillity of the moment: a thick moss carpet and crisp air that… The sharp crack of a twig and a looming shadow broke the urgh-bane’s drowsy reverie, he blinked and awoke with a start. Right before his eyes Razzles and Fürgůïnðërb peered down at him, faces so close it was like looking into the back of a spoon and seeing two big-nosed midgets instead of yourself.

“Gah!” he spat, scrabbling in the grass, trying to recoil backward, “What are you two doing in my face?”
“It’s time to go,” Fürgůïn said in a cheerful voice.
“He says we’ve got to go to the Forbidden Forest,” Razzles explained angling a thumb at his fellow halfling.
“What? Why? Ohhhh… What? Ohhhhh… go away! Go…”
“But the Forbidden Forest!” the knohm whinged uncertainly.
“Don’t you humanoids sleep?” Grimm moaned, yawning the kind of yawn that threatened to turn himself inside out accompanied by a sound not dissimilar to that emitted by a great oceanic whale. He stretched and gave the two intruders a disgruntled scowl.
“Slept, got up, found breakfast and planned our route for the day,” beamed Fürgůïn enthusiastically, “Old hairy went off that way – headed for the Forbidden Forest, I reckon.”
“What do you mean ‘found’ breakfast?” Grimmbros asked suspiciously. Fürgůïn proudly held up a mass of orangey-brown fungus that oozed a bit from one edge and had a rash of purple spots and blotches on it.
“That’s purpler than is healthy that is,” disapproved Grimmbros wth a scowl, “I’m not eating that!”
“How about this!” chipped in Razzles equally proudly holding up a dead mouse and two leaves. “We can barbecue it!” he tempted. The urgh-bane looked woefully at his stomach and back at the pair of irritants now standing out of breath’s reach. He looked a little too long for their liking before saying, “I’m not hungry.”
“So we’re not going to the Forbidden Forest?” Razzles tried optimistically.
“Pah! Forbidden forest my flannel jacket!” mocked Grimmbros.
“It is!” the knohm shuddered, “It’s dark there and full of, of, of…”
“Trees?” completed the urgh-bane. Razzles looked at Grimmbros enquiringly.

The knohm knew that there was more than just trees to the Forbidden Forest, but nobody ever wanted to talk about that. He knew that Fürgůïn would never admit to anything more than ‘just trees’ in the forest, because he wanted them to go to it, but the urgh-bane, Razzles thought, had no reason to hide anything. He begged Grimmbros for support with a long, imploring look, but the urgh-bane didn’t offer any help.
“Yeah – them,” grumbled the reluctant Razzles, giving up.
“So you’re just going to up and off for the forest…” the urgh-bane mumbled, stretching and sitting up. “What makes you think that beest’s off there anyway?” Grimm seemed to be contemplating the possibility of coming along.
“You’re going to go?” Razzles moaned looking like a balloon that had just had the air drained from it.

He was not happy about going to the forest at all, but if they had to go at least the urhg-bane would offer some protection against… against whatever was there. He didn’t know whether to keep whinging in the hope of not going at all or to try and cajole Grimmbros into coming along.
“Aren’t you afraid of the ‘trees’ too?” he tried rather weakly.
“You knohms frighten your children with mention of the place and you don’t even know why” Grimm growled.
“We do!” Razzles countered with increased feebleness.
“Go on then – what is it that’s so ‘forbidden’?”
“There’s stuff! Stuff! S-T-U-F !”
“Stop it! Stop it!” came Fürgůïn’s voice, “You’re upsetting him. What are we doing anyway? We never used to be like this – bickering, squabbling. We didn’t used to be this way!”

Razzles and Grimmbros’ expressions became momentarily pensive as they doubtfully considered this claim. “We didn’t used to be any way,” Grimm corrected.
“There is no we. N-O  W-E !” he mocked.
“I know,” Fürgůïn continued regardless, “We’re all quaking ourselves silly over the Forbidden Forest. That’s why we call it ‘Forbidden’ it makes us feel better to think we think we can’t go there. But we have to go there. It’s the only way, the only way.”
“Quaking ourselves silly!” repeated Grimmbros in scorn, “Speak for yourselves half-wits! Put an alarming adjective in front of anything and you lot will run a league: ‘Oh I say my little knohm, I see that you have an ‘outlawed’ arbour at the bottom of your garden. Ahhhh! Run for your lives my delicate little knohm family, danger threatens…’
‘Well I do declare my fine renling, I certainly can’t approve of your ‘prohibited’ cabbage patch next to the bank that you have invaded’: ‘What? Oh no! save yourselves; everyone flee for their lives… Cabbages!’” taunted the urgh-bane, chuckling to himself as he spun the scenarios.

Fürgůïn wasn’t impressed, he glared briefly, spun round and set off with an air of purpose, licking his finger as he went and holding it into the wind, “This way.”
He didn’t know why people licked their finger before going anywhere, but it looked impressive and made him look like he knew what he was doing, besides it tasted good since he’d been poking some odd toadstools earlier – at least that’s what he thought produced the odd tang.
“By the way we have to go via the toll bridge,” he added nonchalantly striding onward.

Grimmbros stretched again and began to follow.
“You are going?” squeaked Razzles surprised.
“Whah? But…” He looked at the mouse clutched in his hot little hand then at his leaves, stuffed one inside the other and began to skip rather reluctantly along behind, his head bobbing thoughtfully. “I’m not going in you know,” he mumbled quietly, “You can lead a knohm to water but you can’t make him fish… wait did you just say toll bridge… T-O-L bridge?”
But Fürgůïn appeared not to hear Razzles’ anxious enquiry, he just paced on as if his personal momentum was what was required to get the party to follow.
“Oi ! Did you hear what I just said, the knohm called. “You can hear me can’t you?”
“Yes, that’s right. Something about fish trollops. Now the bridge is off over there… bit of a walk. If we hurry up, we should be there before midday. That device does weird stuff and we need to get it back as soon as possible,” called back Fürgůïn in his now familiar, optimistic and confident manner.

Razzles didn’t like it. Razzles stopped skipping for a moment, stood still and looked ahead at Grimmbros who seemed oddly resigned to the journey yet not fully engaged with its purpose The knohm was still hoping for some kind of  confirmation as to what really lived within the forest, and therefore have a solid reason not to go; but nothing was forthcoming. Secretly he was pleased that Grimmbros had been persuaded to come along with them because whatever did lurk between the towering trunks of the forest, he had good reason to believe that they would manage to survive the experience if he stayed close to the urgh-bane. Grimmbros might use a lot, an abundance, a copious profusion even, of words – many of which Razzles didn’t understand – but in a fight he was of more use than either of the halflings, whose best unarmed combat technique was the unashamed coverage of as much ground as possible.

Then, conscious that he was being left behind, Razzles looked down at his reassuringly stuffed mouse, gave a lick and smiled to himself before picking up the pace again, his hat bell creating a merry, if cautious, rhythm. Although he was feeling uncomfortable about the whole adventure he felt it best to keep quiet for now, he didn’t want to do anything to dampen Grimmbros’ already water-logged spirit,  or to show himself up before his friends either.

The book A Tremulous Test can be found here.


News

A Querulous Quest (book one of the series Tales of Strangeness and Charm) has now been completely overhauled and improved.

Read it in serial form HERE.

More news can be found via the Ananth Van Der Lekh Facebook page  including pictures from the currently in-development book three of Tales of Strangeness and Charm.

 

The book along with the others in the series can be found most well-priced here.


Temporal Tantrums

 

Book One of the series In Search of Truth and Beauty
Temporal Tantrums is presented below in its entirety.

Colour pages will be serialised with a new page added every few days.
Below the pages are the full chapters in text form in case you don’t want to wait.

SECTION 1

Subject: Horaios   Locator: 284.14.000-23

Assessment: REM sleep phase showing signs of partial awareness of probe.
Recommend: Run psycho-heuristic and general pre-erasure scan.

Why is it that dreams take narrative form? What makes the brain tell us stories in our sleep? Whilst we are dead to the world is the mind just rearranging its contents, playing out alternate possibilities, exploring hidden depths? Do our thoughts run free of conscious control? Or are there other influences at work?

Mistletoe’s dreams of late were unusually lucid and colourful. She still dreamed of the usual things: the perplexing peculiarities of people she knew; the lingering impressions of recent events; the dim, soft-focus nostalgia of the distant past. Still, recently there was a sense of greater depth, of greater intensity, greater direction even…

It was by no means unusual for Mistletoe to experience wild night-time flights of imagination: her sleep seemed naturally to produce a phantasmagoria of pink hedgehog-things that strained to get into her mouth; creatures that sought her trust, shifted shape and went for her; strangers that lurked in the dim peripheries of her room… Most of these left her glad to wake up, relieved that everything turned out to be just a dream in the end. Still: over the last few days there was something else, a different hint of nightmare.

The most vivid of her dreams often arrived just before waking, when the last lingering mists of sleep were not yet dispersed by the morning sun. Today was one of those days.

In her dream she saw herself, going about her house early one sunny morning. Serene, unhurried, she idly wandered from room to room, distractedly picking up different things and looking at them with casual interest as though they were new again and curiously unfamiliar to her. Mistletoe turned in her sleep, contented, enjoying her dream, when that sense of something faintly awry began to bother her as it had yesterday and the day before… Something not right… Something… She was dreaming about herself, but that was common enough. Most dreams loop and furl around ourselves, unselfconsciously exploring our innermost selves. Still, something about ‘herself’ was making her feel increasingly uncomfortable.

In the dream she came into her bedroom smiling, looking at the things on her dressing table. Something not right – what was it?

The dream-Mistletoe ran her fingertips along the assemblage of make-up, scents, ear-rings and then turned her hand revealing something held delicately between thumb and forefinger: a slim straight pin. Her smile tightened. What was it? What was wrong?

She found herself feeling heavy, detached. Detached? That was an odd point of view.
That was it! Point of view. The mind’s eye mimics vision; a dreamer sees the world as through their own eyes, at least Mistletoe did. This Mistletoe in the dream was moving about there in front of her eyes as a separate character. Someone else.

The sleeping Mistletoe felt a growing sense of discomfort and an urge to cry out.  Her mouth seemed remote, a distant place where just the faintest of whispers hung between her lips. She felt a suffocating weight on her chest.

Now the Mistletoe in the dream was leaning over her, peering down, holding the pin as if looking for the best spot to jab it. Now she wanted more than anything to wake up, to move! That wasn’t her… Who? Who was she? As Mistletoe motionlessly, noiselessly gasped the other Mistletoe leaned closer, the pin glinting in a shaft of morning sun that cut through the curtains – ready to stick it…

Suddenly the alarm went off – Mistletoe woke instantly, rolled over, stopped the alarm, then looked round nervously. No-one there, a dream… a dream?
She relaxed, sank back into the pillows, began wondering… where did these dreams come from? Just then a moving shadow passed across her field of vision. She sat up barely breathing, unsure if her eyes had been open or closed. The movement of the curtains? The remnant of a dream? A false awakening? Dream within a dream? Was she still asleep – something like that?

The room was empty, Roan must already be up; relax, a few more minutes in bed.

*****

She had first noticed that he was not the same long ago: days had become weeks and weeks had started to feel like years and somehow she had learned to live with it. At first she thought it was just in her mind but it hadn’t been too long before the almost undetectable changes became too much to dismiss: the mood shifts, the irritations and the constant worry. Frequently she would find him staring out of a window or into a dark corner for endless hours. At other times he would mutter to himself and then go quiet when she questioned him. Then there were the numerous occasions when he would jump right out of his skin as the phone or doorbell rang or when the door slammed shut.

No, it was too much to bear, it was like a heavy stone weighing down on her and suffocating her spirit. So they had decided to get away,
“That’s a start,” she had said, “a break will do us some good,” and so they went.

The Yorkshire Moors had always been a favourite place of hers and she had many fond memories as a child walking endlessly across the barren grasslands and climbing to the limestone pavements. This time they would rediscover some of the old magic, that ‘missing spark’ that had so long ago left him. As Holi looked out of the window she mused, “It’s really coming down now, it’s so windy, and look at those trees. I hope it clears up for tomorrow.” But again that familiar response as he withdrew into the corner.
“Yes, I know.”
“Who would have thought it would turn so quickly. I feel a bit scared now, what if something happens? No-one will find us here!” Holi exclaimed. However the truth was that she would have felt a lot better if Elmo had given her a little bit of reassurance. “It’s dark too; this cottage is in the middle of nowhere and miles from the main road,” she said. Again, no response.
Suddenly a huge gust of wind slammed against the wooden door and Holi jumped up, “What was that?” Elmo was already on his feet, his face was unusually drawn and he had almost tripped over the small wooden table, hitting his elbow on the wall as he rushed to put on his black rain mac and snatch up a holdall. He was in a numb panic and Holi overwhelmed by the situation screamed out to him, “Where are you going? What’s wrong?”
“It’s time Holi; I have to go now. Lock the door behind me and whatever you do, don’t let anybody in. I’ll be back in… in a minute.” Holi, scared more than angry, ran to the door staring helplessly at his back but then remembered what he had just said and retreated to the window. She was still calling out to him from behind the misted glass overlooking the moors. But he was gone – vanished.

An hour passed by and she was still looking out of the window, but her hope for his safe return was steadily waning. She was clutching in her shaking right hand a note that Elmo must have scribbled and left on the small table that he knocked over in his hasty retreat. There were just two words – ‘Rimgumbaldy’ and ‘Gumm’.
She had no idea what it meant.

Eventually, Holi unlocked the door and nervously ventured outside. She knew that she had been told to stay inside but what was she to do? It had been ages since he had gone and she didn’t have her mobile phone with her to ring him. It was still raining and she was unable to see very far beyond their little holiday cottage that had previously seemed so appealingly remote. She walked towards a wooded area about fifty yards from the cottage shouting anxiously,

“Elmo… where are you?” But there was no response. She approached the edge of the woods. The trees swayed uneasily, waving their branches around as if they were desperate to make their presence known. The woods were dark and wet and she stood there uncertain as to whether she should enter or not. She stopped and waited…

He had gone this way hadn’t he? She kept wondering again and again why Elmo had asked her to lock the door. She waited and wondered and then waited some more… Where had he gone? Why had he asked her to stay inside? It was at that moment, lost in thought and rain, frantic inside, she suddenly knew why!

*****

Mistletoe moaned faintly in her sleep.

“Sound’s like Mistletoe’s having a bad dream,” thought Roan as he crept quietly into the bedroom. Mistletoe was sleeping uneasily, her lip quivering. Roan sat on the edge of the bed hoping that his presence might be comforting but the movement woke her.
“You alright love?” Roan asked.
“Oh I dreamt I was about to be attacked by someone; a poke in the eye, a pin, only that ‘someone’ turned out to be me. Do you have dreams like that Roan, do you?”
“I often don’t remember what…”

“But then I woke up in the dream, you know – a dream within a dream…” Roan was used to his wife’s dreams within dreams, he patted her hand and Mistletoe turned over sleepily, the emotion of her dream lingering like early morning mist.
“What did that dream mean?” she wondered as she drifted back down into slumber. “Was it really me or just someone like me? Oh why couldn’t I have a pleasant dream about meeting people like me in a good way or being somewhere exciting…” she sighed.

“Ah, maybe that kind of fantasising isn’t good for you… might as well just try to re-dream my horrid dream.”  She had just about dozed off when Roan glanced at his mobile realising that someone had left a voicemail.  He reached for the phone and heard an anxious voice.
“Hi Roan, it’s me… I can’t really talk now… I’ve only got a moment… but I think we’ve been compromised. I’m not imagining it this time. I don’t know how and I don’t know why but it’s just like you said. You see, I’ve been having those dreams again. I can’t contain it any longer. I think you’d better come clean with Mistletoe… tell her the truth because…”
The voicemail came to a ragged end and Roan slowly brought his hand down from his ear pausing, deep in thought.

“Who was it Roan? breathed Mistletoe without opening her eyes.
Roan seemed distracted, far away, and finally after hesitating some moments whispered under his breath “Rimgumbaldy.”
“Rim who?” asked Mistletoe absently noting the light playing upon the walls as she blinked – was that what she had seen earlier? Was this the dream of the dream or just the dream – no wait she was awake now. The call was probably just Elmo again.

*****

As Holi stood at the edge of the trees she spotted a shifting brightness ahead deep among the silhouettes of tall pines and stark, straggly sycamores – it was the light of some torch or mobile phone or some other glowing device. Edging forward gingerly Holi began to discern a pale pool of light amid the dripping black twigs and tangled ivies. There scrabbling within the luminance was Elmo, waving his arms wildly and hopping about on the spot – and what was that on his head? Throwing caution to the wind Holi dashed forward shouting, “Elmo – what are you doing out here?”

When she got closer she was able to make out a small, bearded figure swinging from Elmo’s hair, whilst Elmo seemed to be trying to keep the torch object out of its reach. Stopping sharply, Holi almost froze at the sight. Elmo’s hopping seemed to be increasingly agitated and now she could see another small figure apparently attempting to shove stinging nettles and other things up Elmo’s trouser leg. A third little person stood a metre or two to the side, appearing to shout instructions to the other two.
“That’s it! If you stick your foot in his ear you’ll reach it! Argh! Get it, get it!” The ear-treading, hair-puller made a last frantic lunge for the light source clutched by Elmo at about the same time as the trouser-feeder introduced a damp rat up Elmo’s ankle. The small instruction-shouter leapt gleefully as Elmo lost his grip on the glowing object and tumbled to the ground slapping manically at his own knee.

Suddenly everything went dark and quiet – the struggle stopped without any warning, the small assailants just seemed to have vanished along with the glowing device. Elmo sat up peering around him in the gloom panting in frustration.

“Elmo?” came Holi’s tremulous voice. As she ventured forward she could just make him out sitting in the gloom. He was clearly shaken and he had his hand up his own trouser-leg trying to reach something that was distressing him.

“They disappeared as quickly as they came!” he muttered, struggling with the rat clinging tenaciously to his knee. As he sat up they could both see a small green body, half crushed into the soil where it had fallen beneath him. It moaned and clutched its forehead – some sort of midget, quite human-like.

“You took the device,” Elmo groaned despondently at the small figure.
“What device? Who did? What’s going on and what on earth is that?” blurted Holi pointing at the peculiar creature swooning on the wet ground where Elmo had fallen upon him.
“What device… ‘What device?’ she says… What device do you think Holi? Ow!” shouted Elmo, jumping at the feel of a really meaty rat bite on the knee cap. His expression conveyed the fact that he hated rats along with a growing realisation that removing this rat in a way that would preserve his dignity would be no easy matter.

“I’m sorry. It’s just that you know how important that thing was to me. It’s become like an obsession. Why did I find it? Why the pictures?” He pointed then with a pained, pleading expression to his knee and Holi knew what he was getting at. She closed her eyes and thrust her hand at the rat but he was a stubborn rat and was not budging an inch.
“Look I can’t get him off and…” she faltered before reaching a decision, “And I’m not going to help you any further unless you start telling me what’s going on. I thought we were coming here to… to…”
“OK, I’ll explain on the way,” Elmo was now hobbling along on his feet, attempting to flex his knee in such a way as to drive his unwelcome passenger out. In his right hand he firmly gripped the crushed and clearly disorientated midget. “I’m holding him by the ear Holi. It’s the only way you know. These things may appear small, pathetic and ugly but they really pack a punch.”
“What?”

Holi followed Elmo, feeling more and more confused in the darkness and the relentless rain. He clearly considered his deranged explanation to be sufficient.

The wood was far from quiet. The wind heaved through the trees and the little midget was groaning and muttering in a strange language that Holi had not heard before. Elmo was searching around the trees frantically, circling the broader trunks and looking up into the branches. He was even muttering back at the crumpled midget.

“I don’t think you’ll catch them now. They have long gone. Elmo… Please tell me what’s going on. I’m really confused. Shouldn’t you get that rat off your knee… he’s really moving around now!” Holi was trying to find anything that made sense.

“I’m not looking for ‘them’, I’m looking for the portal…” Then in explanation, “It’s like a secret chamber, a… a… time chamber perhaps that allows you to move through space and time. That’s where they’ve likely gone and this thing knows where it is. He’s not going anywhere until he tells us where it is… Ouch!!!.” The rat dug its claws further into the knee in an attempt to scale the overhang, just as Elmo twisted the ear of the midget some more. The rain kept falling.

“The secret chamber allows you to travel… travel to all types of places – places such as rock caverns, abandoned castles, even certain wardrobes…” gasped out Elmo as he paced urgently through the dripping trees. He seemed unconscious of how ridiculous all of this sounded, “But it all depends,” he went on, “It depends if the chosen places are portals in themselves. Not every wardrobe or cavern or or… tree is a passage that leads to another realm in our world or in another… obviously…” He lingered, collecting his thoughts. “You’re wondering how I know all of this aren’t you? The truth is I don’t know how I know… But I do know that this particular one is near here somewhere. Somewhere near. Somewhere…”

It appeared that Elmo had now taken to hugging trees. With his body pressed against the bark, he ran his hands across the rough twisted surfaces of a number of the larger oaks growing in the woods, moving from one to another leaving the bewildered green midget watching with a melancholy scowl.

“Elmo, do you think maybe you need to see a doctor?” She stopped trailing behind him, flailing mentally for something that made sense. “I don’t mean your knee!” At that point, Holi lost all sight of Elmo though as he disappeared around the bole of an especially gnarled and ancient tree.

“I just know it is around here somewhere…” came his voice from the far side. Holi clambered reluctantly around the enormous twisted trunk, her feet unsteady upon the broad snaking roots. Elmo was up to his elbow in a deep knot hole, feeling for something inside. “Watch out for the roots they are really quite slippery. No – it’s not here.” He thought for a moment and then turned his attention to a dense veil of ivy that draped the old tree.

“Elmo no!” Holi pleaded as he disappeared completely from view beneath the dripping leaves. Seconds later fine shafts of blue light stabbed out from the ivy. Elmo’s voice could be heard grunting in frustration among his rustling. “Where is it?” he complained, emerging with his mobile phone highlighting the disappointment pulling at his face.

“Elmo?” Holi queried, but her restless husband was already on the move again, circling back around to the front of the tree.
“Wait!” Holi called as the faint reassurance of illumination went with him.
Elmo’s head reappeared, his mobile beaming blue onto his questing features. “We don’t have time,” he sighed, “What if they’ve already found it? If they’ve got in?” Again he was gone.

When Holi stumbled after him she jumped at the sight of the midget, still standing like a wilted pot plant right where Elmo had left it.
“Not only do they have the device…” came Elmo’s cryptic voice. “If we could just get in…”
He was on his knees near the midget, feeling around the base of the tree. “Maybe the city…”
Elmo paused mid-sentence, pointing his phone-light into the grass. He lifted a small shiny object and held it close to his eye. It was a pin. “Hold on, wait a minute… I… Oh no! Someone has been here – we are too late.”
“What are you talking about?” begged Holi, desperately lost, “I’m frightened Elmo! Can’t we just go back? I don’t like all this! Please…”

Elmo looked up, his shoulders slumped, the energy of the past few minutes draining away, leaving his face a mask of failure and abject weariness. The wet rat in his trouser leg took the opportunity to ascend to the level of his undergarments.

 

CHAPTER 2 WILL FOLLOW SOON


A Querulous Quest

Book One of the series Tales of Strangeness and Charm.

A Querulous Quest is presented below in its entirety.

Colour pages will be serialised with a new page added every few days.
Below the pages are the full chapters in text form in case you don’t want to wait.

CHAPTER 1

Between the two rivers, in the towering, bulgesome city of Tullgotha, there lived a small, neatly-bearded knohm named Razzles.

Razzles lived in a small stone cottage a mere hop, skip and a jingle away from the lower Tullgotha city centre. The residents there fondly referred to their dense knot of rambunctious architecture and ramshackle hovels as the ‘city centre’ yet this was something of a misnomer since Tullgotha was in reality a sprawling series of enormous circular steps precariously stacked in the manner of a gargantuan wedding cake. 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 ground level. Down here where most of the buildings had wildly overhanging, wood-beamed upper floors and drunkenly warped slate 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 narrow back streets and winding cobbled 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’ ownership of his own stone home, was somewhat unusual, as knohms are commonly fond of settling in garden sheds or unguarded broom cupboards. Sometimes they can be found clustered below the floor or in the ceilings of other folk’s houses from which they can be quite difficult to dislodge. But Razzles had done remarkably well for himself over the years, surpassing knomic-norms within the diverse society of Tullgotha. His homely cottage had once been little more than a hutch, but gradually he had added closets, alcoves, nooks, crannies chimneys, attics, passageways, porches and a rather nice cellar until now it felt truly palatial for a knohm.

Razzles in fact was a knohm who enjoyed the good life. He had appreciation for the noble knomely pursuits of loafing, cavorting and disporting. He knew a fine dangly hat when he saw it, he understood the value of pastel hued hosiery and he certainly would not be seen out and about without a display of nifty little bells on the tips of his long-toed, loosely-laced, light-lilac shoes. Razzles also possessed a rather wonderous eye. Not a natural eye, an eye of artifice. But more about that later.

Razzles shared his home with his apprentice, a hobnibblin, a small, pale-green midget that he liked to call ‘Hob’ (having never bothered to learn to pronounce his true nibblin name). They lived together, worked together, had too much of each other’s company and frequently bothered and annoyed each other immensely. Nevertheless, they were good friends.

When together the pair often found themselves 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 as they were setting out on one of these leisurely strolls one sunny morning that they had chanced upon meeting up with a smug little creature called a renling.* This renling was Fürgůïnðërb. He was scavenging around the cobbled streets of Lower Tullgotha picking bits of straw from piles of old horse dung with a long pair of fine bone tweezers.

*Renlings are scrawny little beings with long, flapping hare-like ears and strong clawed feet. Despite their diminutive appearance, they are fast and surprisingly rugged. They often live below ground in anything from spontaneous scrapes to elaborate, ancestral burrows enhanced to a greater or lesser degree with various architectural elements and crafted fixtures. They like wearing clothes with pockets, because a good renling is adept at hoarding and collecting and almost always has 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.

Perched upon Fürgůïn’s right shoulder was a small mammal that he had named Niggit (Niggit was a sensitive, hairless, little creature of the genus tibmibling ovularus). Niggit loved to suck fermenting dung from the middle of straws and so Fürgůïn often spent the early hours of the morning gathering them for him. Fürgůïn’s fine bone tweezers were originally obtained for poking at the wax that would accumulate in his prodigious ears, yet, to keep his keen sense of smell at a safe distance and his fingers nice and clean, he now employed them otherwise. He would deftly extract a straw with the tweezers, let his pet chew on the contents and reclaim the thoroughly nibbled straw, which was then malleable enough to be made into hats, baskets and sometimes, even small carpets, which in turn Fürgůïn would 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) making baskets and eating cheese made from tibmibling milk. Sadly some rather wilful tibmiblings resisted milking and so the intrepid renlings were forced to eat the tibmiblings. When no tibmiblings remained, the renlings ate the baskets followed by whatever untreated straw they could scrape up and eventually their own clothes.

On that warm, lazy morning Fürgůïn had strolled along the foot-worn cobbles of the city streets feeling the freshness of the air slowly dissipate just before the crowds gathered. He liked this time of day, it felt clear and full of promise. The market traders were setting up in the square and the crows hopped about hopefully looking for scraps. Scavenging with his tweezers Fürgůïn whistled softly to himself whilst his tibmibling nibbled away contentedly.

At about the same time, the knohm Razzles emerged from an important meeting regarding his work in the flourishing area of Knomo-Niblic translation. He had received glowing commendation for his work, all actually done by Hob, and had been awarded ‘the eye of excellence’ in recognition of his contributions to the field. This ‘eye’ was a small, artificial, orange orb shot through with swirling patterns and worn in a monogoggle in the manner of an eye patch with a strap. There were two additional levered lenses on the rim of the eye that could be adjusted, angled into position, as needed. It was fine eye and Razzles would wear it with pride.

Stepping out into the sunshine, he and Hob had found themselves on a bright Tullgothan street with time on their hands and an eye to show off. Fürgůïn initially didn’t notice the knohm and nibblin loitering some way down the street since he was deep in thought, straw-gathering. There had been things on his mind for a few days now, ever since he had had a particularly peculiar dream. He had dreamt of an old chest hidden deep in some woods. An odd dream, very vivid, as if it were more a memory than a dream. As he walked on his peaceful, whimsical whistle took on a slightly discordant tone, not a nice tone: a droning murmuration. *

* The renic ‘whistle’ is unique amongst humanoids and has a number of applications. One particular version aids rumination. A mature burrowing renling is blessed with a variety of whistling hairs (known as pika) located about their bodies; these in association with an imaginative approach to physical posturing extend the sonorous repertoire of renlings greatly.
# see end note 1

It was in this distracted state that he had strayed across Razzles and Hob. Upon first spotting the knohm, Fürgůïn’s concentration was broken. It appeared that the fellow had little purpose in life other than to mosey around raising his eyebrow at passers-by and winking at his reflection in the diamond-leaded windows and distorting bull’s eyes of the market square. Fürgůïn was intrigued.

This pair just might be the kind of company he needed for the daring ventures slowly forming in his mind. Fürgůïn knew that the woods in the dream were more just woods, they were a part of The Forbidden Forest. That wasn’t the kind of place that you wanted to visit on your own or indeed visit at all given the choice. But in the chest in the forest had been a pair of unusual books. Truly, truly unusual books… Dark things were gestating now within his renling brain, stirring his intestines, building into a cacophony of barely-concealed cogitating that tested to the limits his renic-whistling abilities in all of their susorrificophonic wonder. Fürgůïn had known instinctively that the books were unusual as soon as he had seen them but what made him absolutely certain was that when he had awoken he found himself clutching the books.

How does that happen? Things in dreams stay in dreams. They don’t materialise into real life! Do they? So was it a memory? Was he remembering something? If so why had he forgotten how came to be clutching them? A pair of heavy, leather-bound volumes with metal corners, hinges and clasps. They certainly looked unusual. The covers were embossed, with old gold pressed into all of the sunken letters and ornate patterning. They had felt weighty and rich in Fürgůïn’s unsteady hands. However, these treasures hadn’t remained within his grasp for long. Frustratingly they had been stolen from him, all except for a few pages torn out, snatched in haste. He had barely begun to explore the intriguing tomes before they were gone, and now their contents sat in his thoughts, a dull weight on his brain like a toad on a walnut. He had been a fool to try reading the books outside in the open air, in the daylight where others could see. Why hadn’t he been more careful? He should have known that the city guard would notice. Those rats see everything. Still, maybe he had read enough, had salvaged just enough. Enough to envision a journey ahead, it was calling him. He would require company, not just any company, it would take a certain type of company. Fürgůïn thus hoped that Razzles wasn’t much of a traditionalist as knohms and renlings had a bit of a bad history. *

* Tension, 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 and The Thousand Days Head Cuffing.

Sauntering up to the knohm and his nibblin associate, tibmibling on shoulder, Fürgůïn casually commented, “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.
# Endnote 1
Renic whistling involves a complex array of ‘whistling’ expressions, encompassing the use of every possible wheezing, whining, or wailing noise imaginable; at times employing multiple sonic sources. Known technically as susorrificophonics, ‘the whistle’ has different forms. Cogitacophonics, for example, are a ruminative aid by which a renling deep in thought might chew over his ideas in a series of aural stomachs of the mind if you will. Sonacophonics can be employed for echo-location, employing a system of high pitched ‘whistles’ that, to anyone other than a renling, sound no more than a brazen display of unabashed, screeches and squalls, allowing renlings to ‘see’ potential enemies around corners. Renic-Whistling is ingrained on renling society such that in certain parts of the land there are prestigious competitions – the Squealympics. These attract hopeful renlings from far and wide, drawn by the lure of the golden bowl of dyshel wine presented to the winner – ‘The Bowl Drainer’. Yet the passing on of Renic whistling without due authority carries a grim sentence. The weaponised version of ‘pugnacicophonics’ being especially guarded, not something to be entrusted to the wrong orifices. Tales are told of unfortunates being bagged-up, and carried off by black-clad, beetle-helmeted renling Squall-Troopers appearing from nowhere, never to be seen again.

 

# Endnote 1

Renic whistling involves a complex array of ‘whistling’ expressions, encompassing the use of every possible wheezing, whining, or wailing noise imaginable; at times employing multiple sonic sources. Known technically as susorrificophonics, ‘the whistle’ has different forms. Cogitacophonics, for example, are a ruminative aid by which a renling deep in thought might chew over his ideas in a series of aural stomachs of the mind if you will. Sonacophonics can be employed for echo-location, employing a system of high pitched ‘whistles’ that, to anyone other than a renling, sound no more than a brazen display of unabashed, screeches and squalls, allowing renlings to ‘see’ potential enemies around corners. Renic-Whistling is ingrained on renling society such that in certain parts of the land there are prestigious competitions – the Squealympics. These attract hopeful renlings from far and wide, drawn by the lure of the golden bowl of dyshel wine presented to the winner – ‘The Bowl Drainer’. Yet the passing on of Renic whistling without due authority carries a grim sentence. The weaponised version of ‘pugnacicophonics’ being especially guarded, not something to be entrusted to the wrong orifices. Tales are told of unfortunates being bagged-up, and carried off by black-clad, beetle-helmeted renling Squall-Troopers appearing from nowhere, never to be seen again.

 

CHAPTER 2


The Great Citee of Tullgotha

“The Great Citee of Tullgotha”

Extracts taken from the ‘Annals of Citees’ by Tarquin Itus’.

…In the words of the renowned traveller, and my fellow chronicler, the true patriarch of historee, Herod Otus:

“A fraveller’s ffirsf sighf of Tolgotha, would have it appear to be a large bridal cake, discarded and alone in an empfee ffield, surrounded by the high and haughtee hills of Tul, lefff  ffor the predaforee beasf of day, and scavenging rodenfs of nighf, to ffeasf upon at their leisure…”

…The celebrated, and most regal of architects, Topher Ren, based the design of the Great Citee on the Plain-Citees of Han.  He had been taken muchlee by the order and structure of these conurbations that he had frequented throughout his sojourn across the Empire of Han. Impressed by the remarkable organisation and configuration of each citee; marvelled by the way that the citee’s design facilitated the remarkable reign of order and justice within the walls of each polis; he had such desire to replicate this recipe for utopian rule within the boundaries of his own homeland.

… (He) took to being learnered in the ways of Han culture, and persisted upon understanding of how each citee, was itself, an embodiment of that land’s code of command and righteousness of rule, and visioned,  first-eyed, how the organisation of the polis supported that code through its very structure and formation.

Within the walls of each citee, such order and justice thrived; these ethics were woven into the life of the population by the very arrangement and devise of the citee itself. So utterly impressed and magnificently inspired by this achievement, Ren determined upon himself to transplant this system of noble rule and benevolent sovereigntee to his home land of Tul.

…Upon his returning, he sought much financing and commissioned the building of a new and mightee metropolis, to stand greater than even, the sprawling harbour citee of Watersure itself. Not only would this wondrous architectural symphonee be innovative in its design and function, but Tullgotha would also be revolutionaree in its rule: it would become a beacon of justice and order to the deprived and unrulee citees that are rifelee found throughout Tul.

…It was in the naivetee of Ren that he did not see to realise that it was not the tangible construction of bricks and stones that created a culture of justice and order, but the intangible constitution of the hearts and minds that lived within those walls that dictated such morals.

…The basic structure of the Plain-Cities, which Ren so yearned for imitation and took copious pains to replicate, was as follows (again, I turn to the quill of Otus for details of such a culture, of which I myself, have not the depth of knowledge as he):

“Each of their cifees are builf upon a series of concenfric rings, rising levels one thorough six; builf upon a natural knoll of large proporfion and perffecf circumference, of which, raise high and proud out of the Great Plains of Han. Each of thus levels, builf into the hill, is called a ‘Ward’. Each Ward is thus independenfly ruled by its very own governor, called a ‘Reeve’. This Reeve is enfirely responsible for the liffe and existence of their Ward. Each Ward, rising above if, though smaller than the one below, would equally be ruled by the order of ifs Reeve, and this ‘higher’ Reeve would, indeed, have superiorifee of rank over the Reeve below. Af the very fop of the cifee, in the highesf, buf smallesf, of Wards, would reside in the Greaf Cifee Hall, the Marshall of the Cifee. He, although having the smallesf Ward, carried, by ffar, the most responsibilifee and charge, having oversighf and command of all the Reeves below him: for he was accounfable for thaf enfire cifee to the Solon of Han himselff.

…Han sociefy is, by nature and producf off ifs Empire, a military one. Their whole culfure is builf on the concepfualism off promofion by achievemenf. One can achieve fo such high posifion off a Cifee Marshall, onlee through the progressive and successfful command off the ranks off Cifee Reeve; and then such promofion would onlee be on such recommendation, and subsequenf vote, off the individual wards – cifee-ffolk of Han are nof refferred to as cifizens, as we do our urban dwellers, but ‘wards’, thus so emphasises the responsibilify off care that the Reeve, and even Marshall, has foward the populous within their respecfive Ward. And so, frulee, a Reeve can onlee become a Marshall through oufsfanding success of dominion, and ffaithful adherence to the culfural principles of Jusfice, Order, and Achievemenf, on which the Empire of Han is proudlee, and solidlee, builf.

…It was Ren’s deepest desirement that he implant this very method of just dominion; this key of urban splendour, into those who would be chosen to sit in rule over it. With such grandiose purposing and such high aspiration, he was viewed by many throughout the Twelve Peaks of Tul as a prophet of a new order.  It was to his great heart-break however, that no great time had passed before the ostensity of his vision blurred into no more than the pretensity of a dream. Ren had not the perspicacitee of an historian, nor even, carried the discernment of a Chronicler, and underestimated the ingrained, and millenniallee developed, cultural differences of the native Tuls from those of the exemplable Hanites. All too soon, the established governencee of Tullgotha, constitutional of true Tul blood, saw to impose their own methods of ruling through the avenues of this innovative citee. The Han ideologee crumbled under the relentless siege of indigenous Tul custom and practise. Monarchic machinery bombarded to oblivion the righteous call of responsibilitee and replaced it with the oppressive demand of hierarchee; the citee may have looked like a citee of Han by its walls, but it was very much a citee of Tul in its street.

…Such disappointment naturallee provided fecund soil to propagate the birth to legends: for among those philosophical disciples of Ren, refusing to accept the inevitabilitee of failure, diagnosed by the many ponderers and philosophers since the Citees fall from expectation,  proposed stronglee, with all manner of persuasionables, that the failure of this magnificent experimentation to establish a bastion of new charge among the Twelve Hills, was to be lain at the feet of the Royal House of Tul itself. This ‘Order of Topherites’, as they became known, promulgated and circulated with all voraciousness, that a usurpation had happened to the ‘Stewards’ (the title given to the governors of each level), supposedlee chosen from among the greatest and noblest of thinkers and achievers from throughout the entire undulous land of Tul, and indeed up to the veree seat of the ‘Solon’ itself (the given title of Tullgotha’s preeminent-seat, in honour of the founding patriarch of the mother-citees themselves).  They conspired to feed the insatiable people of Tullgotha, ravenous for justice, that in that grand seat of power, instead of the afore-promised free-thinking, vulgar-blooded, common-man, now sits a tyrant of despicable hegemonee and regal-blood: a true prince of the House of Tul.

…The stones for the great walls were cut from the surrounding hills. So much stone was needed that many of the minor hills were, indeed, levelled in the accruement of sufficient stone. By the time that the citee was completed, the excavations had, entirelee by artificial means, created Tul’s only true plain: and within the middlement of this vast expanse, the citee now sat in all its towering gloree.

Each wall rose up in concentric rings above the lower one, just as the original. Each level of citee was completelee independent from the others, above, or below.  The layout and street plan of each level was designed, originallee, in thorough replication of the other. This afforded a traveller of comfortable knowledge of either level that they frequented; facilitating their transit from where they may be, to where they would need to go, and where anything they required could be found.

Over the passing of many years, much straying from the ideal pervaded. The toleratation of the increase of corruption throughout the Citee saw that much had been changed, rearranged, and restructured within each level. Compounding on this issue, has been the increased building projects undertaken to accommodate the increasing cosmopolitication of the Citee: more and more species and nationalities have seen the need to take up the open handed welcome of the Citee walls, resultant in the perpetual increase and magnitude of veritable confusion and variety that has taken root within the these crowded walls.

Over the life times that have flowed through the alleys and thoroughfares of Tullgotha, each level has developed an independent life of its own, separate from its sibling, formerlee never intended or imagined.  There seems, often, to be no comparison or compatibilitee between one level to the next; both in structure and society. Even in the ever-watchful, ever-eager eyes of Citeee Law, what may be legal and acceptable in one level, is by no means the same in another. No mistake should everbe made, for fear of severe consequences, that the wardship of each level is fiercely defended by its incumbent petty regals.

…Over each of the gates set into the massive walls of each level are monstrous edifices; giant hands out-stretching into the plain before the Great Citee, in open palmed invitation to all and anee. The Cities of Han have of course, these protrusions, but they are formed into great eagles; each, watch points for the centuries to stand and keep guard from. These great stone hands, in imitation of the giant eagles that stand in sentry from Han walls, were designed to embody the spirit of welcome, offered to all that would see her, and approach her, but also fulfil the purpose of sentry points for Citee guards to keep vigilance from, either out across the fabricated plain for trouble without, or over the level below, from trouble within. At the lowest level, there are eight such creations; six on the second wall, four on the third wall; two on the fourth, and one on the only gate that allows entry to the Citadel, crowning the final heights: one for every gate throughout the entire Citee.

…Tullgotha’s rule is in the hands, officially, of the ‘Solon’, so named as I have taken effort to describe above. The Solon fulfils the role of the Hanite Marshall; in the reality of today’s much confabulated present however, this seat has but titular standing.  The current political manifestations of Tullgotha, very much put the Citee under the power of the Chieftain of the Citadel. Just how this repositioning of hegemonee occurred is forgotten to most of us who would wish to know, hidden from those who seek to ask, and violentlee guarded from those who desire to find. Such surreptitious circumstances as these only succeed in adding fuel to the fires of former conspiracees, again, formerlee mentioned, and indeed, gives plentiful quantities of suspicious support to the legends that pervade through Tullgotha’s tumultuouslee desperate and disparate populous: and, for sure, if truth be contained within such a canister of conudrumous concerns, then the return of the true Solon would certainly be meet with euphoric ceremonee.