A QUERULOUS QUEST
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.
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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.