MAP OF THE ABECEAN
IMPERIAL CULT CLOTHES
THE RECURSIVE CHILDHOOD OF PELINAL WHITESTRAKE
In the days of old, before the empire of Man came to be, there lived in the wild lands of the west a proud king, who had seventeen sons. This king loved war and strife above all else, and so it happened that he was slain in battle, and all his sons save the youngest were slain in battle. So the king's wife and her servants took the youngest child, whose name was Pelinal, and left for the hills to live in solitude, and since his mother was loath to see her last son die, she taught young Pelinal nothing of war, or battle, she taught him nothing of the ways of men. And Pelinal grew up in the forest, until one day he saw a radiant knight on horseback drive past. Pelinal grew curious, and asked of the knight, "What are you?", and the knight answered, "I am Pelinal Whitestrake. Come, I see that you are ignorant of the ways of war, and of battle, and I see that you know nothing of what it means to be a knight, so I will regale you with the story of how I came to be a knight."
In the days of old, before the men came down from the frigid mountains, there was a castle in the north, where lived a wise man and his wife. And any knight who came to this place would see the following: he would see seven young maidens by the fire, he would see the wife of the wise man among these young maidens, he would see the old man who ruled this castle, and he would see his only son, named Pelinal, playing the game of Knife-and-Hand. Now one day a knight entered this hall, and without a word he slew the seven young maidens, he slew the wife of the old man, and he slew the old man himself. And Pelinal took hold of a sword, and challenged the knight, saying: "Who are you, stranger, and by what reason did you kill my father and mother, and my sisters too?" Said the knight, "I am Pelinal Whitestrake. To you my action may seem brash and cruel, but I assure you, young master, that I have good reason. Allow me to tell you the story of how I came to this place."
In the days of old, before the men of the North crossed the Sea of Ghosts, there lived an elf on the shores of a great lake. One day this elf found an egg on the shores of the lake, and this egg was made of silver, and the elf was overcome by the greed and bad intentions inherent to his people and took it, hiding the egg 'neath his house. Then one day a knight passed by the house, his name was Pelinal Whitestrake, and the elf offered his hospitality (as was customary in those days, even among people of bad intent). The knight was seated, and given drink and food, but when he took his first bite of his roast he heard a child's voice sing from the foundations of the house. "What was that?", he asked the elf, to which the elf replied, "It was the sound the earth makes." Then, as the knight took another bite, he heard the cry of a child from underneath the house. "What was that?", he asked, to which the elf replied, "It is the sound of the stones." A third time, the knight took a bite, and a third time he heard a child's voice. Then, he took his mace and smashed the elf's head flat, and looked underneath the house, and there he found a child amid the remains of the egg. "And who are you, young master?" the knight asked, to which the child answered: "I am Pelinal. Tell me, o brave knight, how did you come to this place?" And the knight replied, "I am Pelinal Whitestrake, and to tell you that, I will have to start from the beginning."
It was the time of Emperor Gorieus-al-Alesh, the Long-Living, which is also known as the Time of the Fourth of Bulls, and the Age of King-Wandering, when the stars aligned and bestowed their blessings on the following of totem-spirits: Dog, Panther, Hole-Fish, Petty Troll. It is said that in those days the whole of Nibennum was flush with silk and honey, the river was blessed, and from all quarters of the world merchants brought true and goodly things to the star-marked shores: then from east came with green and black glass of great strength and beauty, and then from the north came with pelts and tusk-bones of fierceling beasts, and then from the south came with cat-spice and sugar, and then from the west came with yellow grain, that which we break and by it we make our mak-bread.
In those days the people of Nibenay were virtuous yet, and so there in the village of Vvey there lived three merchants of great piety, who did set forth on pilgrimage to Sancre Tor, where one does profess faith in the One and the totem-spirits. Barely three days had they travelled the dark jungle when they met with a Simoorgh, Kyne-bird, who, with gilded eye, regarded and knew all passage. So it was that the merchants were struck by fear, knowing full well the terrible reputation of the Chorus, who, though holy and joyful in ascendant flight, did inherit from their dismayed patron Divine the displeasure of the storms.
So the merchants prostrated themselves, and argued in hushed whispers to whom the honourable task would fall to sacrifice himself to the terrible bird. But then did the Simoorgh call to them, saying, "Fear not, kind-hearted travellers, for to you I represent danger nor judgement. I was set to guard this road, pilgrim's path to blessed Sancre Tor, and safeguard the passage of the faithful. Remember, if you will, the parable of the Copper-Beater's Daughter, from which we learn that true danger does not stare one in the face, but claws at the neck."
"Verily," said one of the merchants, "Truer words had never been spoken in the presence of this humble merchant. The reputation of the great Chorus is in no way fantasy, their wisdom speaks from every angle, and their very presence enlightens and blesses even the wretch and the reacher. Let us sit, break mak-bread, and drink pepper-tea in your honour."
And so the tree merchants shared a joyous meal with the Simoorgh, remembering all the right commandments and precepts, offering food and tea to the invisible spirits, and praising the One and his prophet, Marukh. So it was until they were sated, when did say one of the merchants: "Many a tale did I hear spoken on the winds, murmured by the streams of Nibennum, and told in the idle cries of man and beast, but never did I hear the Parable of the Copper-Beater's Daughter, much as it sounds like a wondrous and enlightening tale. Do speak, Simoorgh, let your gilded tongue be a fount of knowledge to these ignorant ears.” Spoke the Simoorgh: “ Verily, I will tell thee:”
The Parable of the Copper Beater's Daughter
There once on the shores of the river of Corbolo lived a copper beater, who fashioned the most exquisite of bowls and plates, so that from all of the sacred valley of Nibenay men and women would come to this shop and marvel at her craft. Now this copper beater had a daughter, who was beautiful as all daughters of Niben are, but was wont to stray and wander the jungle, and lose her path. Beware the jungle, for it is not only a place without, but also a place within, it lives in the hearts of men and beasts, where it festers and obfuscates. If ever one is lost in its verdant embrace, remember the true words of the prophet Marukh, which are as a white tower in the darkness, and ever guide our stride through the dark places, be they of the world or of the heart.
So it came to be that one day this daughter was lost in the jungle, and she happened upon the path of three Bitermen, foul idolators who, through worship of demons, may assume the shape of the limpid reptiles of the deep river. As the Bitermen had not spotted her in the verdant darkness, the copper beater's daughter decided to follow them and observe their actions, knowing full well that every deed of such foul creatures spelled evil for all decent river folk. Then, when she had followed them for an Emperor's mile and more, the Bitermen stopped to parlay and argue among themselves, as is their habit.
"Why do we walk the deep paths of the jungle to and fro, coming at the bidding of this evil master, when in truth we should lord it from our own lair, and let the Moth-Eater come to us for his demands? For no man do I walk an Emperor's mile and more, and a Moth-Eater is surely less than a man, it is known!"
"Silence, brother-of-fools, lest you incur on us the wrath of one of the many swamp-spirits surely to inhabit this loathsome and desolate place, such as Low-Walker, Blind-Seeker, or Liilmo-Tooth-and-Claw, the curious spirit whose wily riddles and tricks have so often robbed us of our legitimate prey! Have you forgotten the story of Emperor Gorieus and the Seventeen Traitors, from which we learn that it is better to remain silent, even if our words may be so true?"
"It is so, I have forgotten this tale you mention, brother. Please, recount it to us in full."
"Very well", spoke the murky demon, “I will relay it to you:”
The Story of Emperor Gorieus and the Seventeen Traitors
In those days the wealth of the Niben was without measure, and any beggar could walk the street and find an emerald the size of a robin's egg in the dust, in the temples miracles occurred on the hour, and the forges produced many marvels of fish-bone and jewellery. Then the faith was different, we held fast to the totem-spirits, and the monkey-prophets burned our offerings and called the hours.
In those days the Emperor was Gorieus-of-Roses, who is also Gorieus-al-Alesh, the Long-Living. He was not Long-Living yet, but wander he did on the broad avenues and silent byroads of his white city, wreathed in a thousand layers of silk. In the evening dusk Emperor Gorieus was wont to walk and see his city in solitude, and in disguise, so that the merchant would not speak is name in whisper, the priest would not walk in the prescribed manner. There on one such a night wandered Emperor-in-Disguise past a lustrous canal in the Quarter-of-Fishes, and a barge-man stopped his barge for him, whispering in earnest: “Come, stranger, you are called upon by my mistress, who holds in her hand the hearts of secrets and wandermen, and has a great and terrible task for one such as thee.” Spoke the Emperor-in-Disguise: “Surely your lady knows to wait a man who wanders and watches the stars, for he who watches the stars may never be disturbed, less he loses sight of his favoured constellation, so it is said in the story of the Three Merchants of Vvey.” Spoke the barge-man: “Never have I heard of this story, not in the taverns of Nibennum frequented by one such as I, where we speak in whisper and worship evil totems such as the Ibn-Bird or the Pigmy Troll. Stranger, speak, even for a minute or more, and tell this story wondrous and true, even if it costs me a heart and more to my evil and wicked-willed mistress.” So the Emperor-in-secret did bow and speak, “This story is not long, but I will relay it to you in full:”