Lies of Glorantha

Lies Of Glorantha By Nick Fortune

It seems that talking about the truth can get a chap into trouble around here. So with your indulgence, I propose to tell you all a lie…

I had this tale from a sage called Emos Pelmet. I met Emos in a tavern near the edge of Prax. He was low on funds and offered to share with me a story of his wanderings in the waste, if I would in return stand him a meal and some ale. I asked how it came to pass that the learned gentleman should part with any of his lore for so petty a price, at which he looked down at the table and mumbled something about not being sure that the lore was fit for his temple. Naturally, I was intrigued.

“Oddly enough”, Emos told me, “my story starts under just these circumstances. A stranger asking me for a meal, and offering to pay with a story.”

Emos had been on an expedition to the Block. On the return journey, he and his companions were approached one evening by an ancient and ragged stranger who walked out of the wastes and asked that he might share their camp, and any food they might have to spare.

Emos, though not by nature (he claimed) a particularly inhospitable man, was disinclined to share his groups meagre provisions with the bulk of the return journey still ahead of them. Then again, the old man certainly looked as though he could do with a meal. Inevitably the question of “what do I get in return” cropped up.

“I can tell you a dark and mysterious secret, known only to myself”, offered the newcomer.

“A tempting offer”, allowed Emos, “but how can we verify your truth, if the secret is know only to yourself? At the temple of Lankhor Mhy we uphold the highest standards of scholarship. My standing would surely suffer if I was to submit a report based only upon a single source.”

“Well then”, said the old man, eyes twinkling, “think of my tale as a preposterous but entertaining lie, and you can submit my tale to your temple as the words of a mad old man you found wandering in the wastes of Prax”.

At this Emos, who had secretly been planning something of the sort, agreed. “Come and eat with us then”, he said. “I am Emos Pelmet, a servant of Lankhor Mhy. What shall we call you, fellow?”

“What!” The old man spat in the dust. “You want my name as well? You would never verify that for your papers. Call me Two-Tongues, to as a reminder to yourself never to believe anything I say”.

In due course, and after the old man had eaten more than any had thought possible, he began his tale. “See that there?” he said, indicating the horizion where the Block loomed against the night sky. “Well, it’s not what poeple think it is. That’s what.”

“I think I ought to warn you”, said Emos in the mildest of tones, “that that simple statement is nowhere near entertaining enough to justify the amount of our food you have eaten this night.”

“I’m not started yet”, snapped the Two-Tongues. “I’m not saying all that stuff about Storm Bull and the Devil is wrong. It’s just that it misses the point”.

“Go on”, said Emos.

“Well, back when the Block was part of the Spike, the Spike itself was the physical expression of Universal Law. It could not long co-exist with Chaos. That’s why, when the Spike felt the Devil’s arrival in the world, it knew that it must soon be destroyed…”

“Hold on a moment”, interrupted Emos, “what do you mean, ‘felt?’”

“That’s part of what I’m trying to tell you. The Spike was the product of Maker and Grower working together. It was both made and grown. After it was destroyed, the two no longer acted in unison, and much of the worlds ills stem from that fact. And since Grower had a hand it its nature, the Spike was alive”.

“And sentient?” asked Emos.

“Perhaps. It doesn’t really matter”.

Emos smiled cynically. “So you’re saying that the Spike deliberately exploded to crush the Devil, and that the Storm Bull was just some johnny-on-the-spot who took all the credit?”

“You’re not listening. I already said the bit about Storm Bull was right enough. He fought the Devil, and he called the block down to land on his foe. But it wasn’t him that made the Spike explode though, and it wasn’t the Devil neither. The Spike did that itself.”

“See, the Spike knew it’s time was done, and that a cycle was ending, just the same way as a flower knows when Dark Season approaches. And it did just what the flower or any of Grower’s other children would do”.

“What? Explode?”

“It produced a seed. A seed big enough to grow a mountain from. And that seed landed on the Devil and has been guarded by the Storm Bulls ever since”.

There was a pause around the campfire, broken only by distant thunder by the Block and the howls of a baboon troupe to the north. At length Emos smiled and offered his hand to the old man.

“Well, I have to admit, your tale has been both entertaining and preposterous”. he said. “Still, there is one tiny flaw in your narrative”.

“And what would that be?”

“Well, if the block is, as you suggest, the seed of a cosmic mountain, then why, in all the years my temple has been studying it, was it never been observed to grow?” And Emos whooped delightedly at his own wit, though Two-Tongues did not seem to share his enjoyment.

“I suppose you think that a thing like that will just take root any old how?” he asked. “Some seeds take more nurturing than others. This one just never had the right care for it to grow.”

“And what care would that be?”

“Well, that I don’t know myself. But it should be plain to any fool that it’ll need a special kind of lore to tend such a monstrous seedling…”

“Many things are plain to fools”, Emos murmured blandly.

”...and any tender of a seed like this is going to have to share something of its dual nature. Now with the Spike destroyed, the world spirit knew what needed doing, and created a gardener who could do the job. A Stone Elf it was, and like the Spike and the Block it took its nature from both Maker and Grower.”

“The Stone Elf was created out on the outer plain and expected to walk in to do the job. And things probably would have worked out but for the compromise. You see before Time, distance didn’t matter so much. But the Stone Elf’s creation came just as the Compromise was declared, and he found himself about as far from where he had to be as was possible, and no means of getting anywhere than by walking. So walk he did.”

“By the time of the Gabaji Wars, he had almost made it as far as Dragon Pass. Being a creature of Law, the Stone Elf had certain powers to combat chaos, and so he joined up with a local clan who had broken with the second council and were themselves fighting to keep their lands free of chaos. Perhaps he couldn’t start his proper work while the was a major chaos incursion, and perhaps he just though that after some five hundred years of walking, he could afford to devote a decade or two to a good cause. Whatever the case, he stayed to fight Chaos and he never left.”

“The Stone Elf forgot that there more sorts of wickedness in the world than just chaos. His allies had profited from their association with the Elf, and treacherously, they bound him with enchantments from the second council and Lore gained from the Elf himself and most of all, with treachery.”

“Now the Stone Elf had mighty powers, but they outside of fighting Chaos, (which his captors were not) or tending the Block (which was not conveniently to hand) they didn’t amount to much. Still, he did what he could to try and escape. As long as his mission remained unfulfilled, the Compromise would remain in effect and the way would remain open for Chaos to re-enter the world.”

“In the decades that followed, the Stone Elf made his displeasure felt. In the area around his prison, grasslands twisted into hills, hills weathered into moorland and rocks grew into fantastic and threatening shapes. His captors grew mighty on his stolen magics, and as their lands spread, so did the desolation of the Stone Elf.”

“Also during this time, the character of his captors darkened, their rule becoming harsher and more sinister with each generation, as though their minds were being twisted along with lands of their estate.”

“At length, around the time of the Syndics Ban, the strain became too much for the world, and the whole estate twisted itself off into the Hero Plane, the only mark of its passage being a clump of deformed hills which no man may cross without becoming lost, if he crosses them at all. Of the clan itself, no-one will admit to knowing its name, so terrible was its reputation”.

The wind changed abruptly to gust from the south carrying with it the demented sounds of the denizens of Devil’s Marsh.

“So if this Stone Elf is trapped in the Hero Plane”, said Emos, “why do the Gods not intervene? They have much more freedom of action there than they do in the Inner World.”

Two-Tongues leaned forward, his voice barely above a whisper. “But would they want to? The regrowth of the Spike would end the compromise and return the world to the Godtime. What then of Proud Yelm who only lives through the terms of the Compromise? Will he risk being forced to return to the Underworld? I think not. The storm gods are no better. In the days of the Celestial Court they had no place in the world, and their attempts to claim one started the chain of events that eventually destroyed the Spike. Perhaps Orlanth is content with the status quo. “Better the Devil you know…” and all that.”

“But…that’s monstrous! That cannot be true!”

“It isn’t”, said Two-Tongues. “It’s all a lie remember. I’m going to sleep now. I’ve paid for my meal. Good night”. And the old man lay down and began to snore, and could not be stirred to answer any of Emos’ questions. In the morning when Emos woke after a fitful night, Two-Tongues was gone.

“Well”, I told Emos when he had finished. “It seems you got value for you investment. Preposterous and entertaining indeed”.

“Yes, but it leaves me with a dilemma”, said Emos. “Had he purported his tale to be the truth, then I could have dismissed it as a lie, but since he admitted it as a lie, logic insists that I treat it seriously”.

“How do you make that out?” I asked.

“Because as a confessed liar, I must consider that he might have been telling the truth, knowing that I would think it to be a lie.”

“Ah … Emos, how much of that ale have you drank tonight?”

“If I report his tale as fact and he is in fact lying, my reputation is ruined. If I report his tale as the ramblings of a mad old man, and they are later verified to be true, than I shall look equally foolish. If he is telling the truth then it is vital that I spread this knowledge. If he is lying, I will offend my god who is a god of Truth.”

“And if”, and he looked at me here with haunted eyes, “if the old man was telling the truth at the end, then I cannot even be sure that the Lord of Learning would welcome my report…”

Well, that was enough for me. I made my excuses and left Emos to his drunken brooding. He stayed in town for the remainder of the season. I didn’t speak to him again, though on the occasions I saw him he seemed to be looking more and more haggard. I understand that he eventually went back into the wastes, announcing his intention to find this Two-Tongues and shake him until he would say whether the tale was true or no.

The last I heard was from a caravan guard who told me that a mad old man had approached his camp on his last trip, offering to pay for his supper with and entertaining lie. Apparently the man gave his name as Emos Pelmet. Then again, this particular guard has a fondness for tall tales, and so I am forced to conceed this: He could have been lying.

Lies of Glorantha

Secrets of Pavis Ultor