Secrets of Pavis
The Tale of the Normal Newts
The Tale of the Normal Newts By Nick Fortune Oct 1995
This is a story told me by my Uncle Kevil, the Goldentounge priest who went mad. To be truthful, he was already a little strange when he told me this, but under the circumstances, I’m inclined to believe him.
Uncle Kevil told me this tale just after I became a man. I had pretty much decided that I wanted to join Issaries, and so I went to visit my uncle and talk it over with him. As things turned out, I stayed late, drinking, and after a while I asked him about the last trip he took with my father. This was something neither of them had ever said much about, and I was a little surprised when he agreed to tell me.
I’ll tell it the way he told me, as close as I can remember.
We were headed for Day’s Rest, two days out. About midday, your father turned to me with a look of terrible joy on his face.
“Storm’s coming”, he said. “A big one”.
He had this big fierce grin on his face, which was really annoying under the circumstances. It wasn’t the season for rain, so I didn’t think we’d need to worry about flash floods and such, but a man can choke to death on the dust that gets kicked up. Him being a a storm bull though, he thinks it’s just the finest thing in the world.
I didn’t want to leave the trail if I could help it, because of my Path Watch, so what we did was pick up the pace to see if we could find somewhere to shelter. By midafternoon we still hadn’t found anything that would serve, and that was when the storm hit us.
I tell you now, if it hadn’t have been for your dad, I’d have been dead that day. That monster storm just came howling out of nowhere. As it was we had a little warning, so I took off up the ridge we’d been following hoping to find something we could use for shelter – a cave or a big boulder would do at a pinch. I didn’t see anything directly useful there, but the prospects seemed better, and I figured the lee of the hill should buy us some time. So I headed back to get your father and the animals, and that’s where he nearly gets us both killed.
Instead of staying put, he’s wandered off toward the heart of the storm, shouting and yelling like he’s cheering the storm on. I could barely see him through the dust, and I had to drag him back. Not always a good idea with a beserker. Just for a second, I thought he was going to kill me himself and save the storm the trouble. Then he pulled himself together and we managed to get ourselves and the animals over the ridge. Once we were behind the ridge, things weren’t quite as bad.
What we had was one of those winding, twisting gullies, and I reckoned there was a good chance it might twist back sharply enough somewhere to give us a wall to shelter behind. So we set off following the gully. While we did, and since I could now make myself heard, I asked your dad what sort of foolish notion had got into his head back there.
“You don’t understand”, he said sadly. “To me that storm is a sacred thing. Somewhere beyond Time, the Storm Bull is killing the Devil all over again. This Storm is just the echo of His Rage and His Fury and for the sounds of it He is doing Greivous Damage to the Force of Chaos this day!”
“Now don’t get yourself started again”, I said quickly, because he’d been getting that light back in his eyes again.
“The thing is”, he said, a bit quieter, “were I to stand at the heart of that storm and perform the ceremony of worship, I could join the battle…”
“And get trampled into mush by the Urox himself in his rage to get at the Devil, most like”, says I. “That’s if you don’t drop dead first with your lungs full of dust. Come on, this isn’t the time or the place for such stuff.”
“No”, he said. “It never is somehow”.
Well, I shut up after that lest I start him off again, and we pressed on, heads down against the dust, and all the time, the storm is picking up around us, until we come round one of the bends in the gully and it opens out into more of a valley with what looks like a town in the middle of it. By this time it was blowing so hard I had to shout to make myself heard.
“You ever hear of a town around here?” I shouted at your dad.
“This close to Day’s Rest?” he shouts back.
“This close to the trail! We’d have heard of it”.
“Then what is it?”
“Shelter, I hope!” I yelled at him. “Let’s check it out”. Which we did.
Now that town looked pretty strange from what I could see of it, which I admit wasn’t much. From what I could see, this place had a wall built around it, and it was all towers, rising up towards the middle, like it was built on a hill or something. What was stranger still though was to find a pair of dragonewts guarding the gate. Great big brutes they were, all spikes and horns and armour plate. Didn’t seem bothered by the storm neither.
Now at this time the only Auld Wyrmish I knew was a few bits your Uncle Fillif had tried to teach me one time when we were both drunk. So we’re stood there in the storm and I’m wracking my brains for something useful to say. Then one of the ‘newts spoke to us. What surprised me most was that I could understand him.
“Greetings, strangers”, says the ‘newt. “Welcome to Tikillitikkari. Enter and find shelter.” Believe you me, I didn’t need asking twice. We piled through those gates just as fast as we could go. Once we were inside the noise and the dust stopped dead..
“Must be some sort of warding spell”, I said to myself.
“They’ll need one”, says your father. “These walled places can get filled full of dust when it blows like this. I saw a place where it had happened once”.
Another ‘newt, one of the little crested ones this time, comes running up to welcome us again and tell us where we can stable the animals and what’s a good tavern for visitors and suchlike. Just as polite and normal as then ones outside. When the little fellow had gone, your father says to me “There’s something funny about these dragonewts”.
“No there’s not”, I said. “What there is, is something disturbingly normal about these dragonewts”. This gets me one of your dad’s famous don’t-get-clever-just-show-me-what-to-hit looks, so I pressed on quickly. “Think on those two at the gate. They were almost casual. They were relaxed! Did you ever see a relaxed dragonewt?”
“I saw one had gone to sleep in the middle of a road once. We couldn’t wake it so we had to roll it over to the side”.
“That’s not relaxed, that’s asleep. Possibly Dormant. I don’t think anyone ever saw a relaxed dragonewt. It’s like looking for a relaxed sparrow. They’re either hopping about full of nervous energy, or else they’re standing stone still, or doing some ritual dance or something. I think if ever anyone does see a relaxed dragonewt it’ll be because it’s part of some higher weirdness that they just aint seen yet”.
“Now there’s a cheery thought”, said your father.
“Hmmm. Good point”, says I.
Well, we stabled the animals and found storage for the goods, and then we set off to find the Inn we’d been told about and swill away some of the dust from the storm. Inside, the town was living up to it’s promise of weirdness, with human type people and dragonewts all mixing in the streets. The ‘newts all seemed friendly enough, but the people seemed a bit stuffy. When we found the inn (the Draconic Principle it was called, a snappy name if ever I heard of one), it was mainly full of humans, all sitting down and minding their own business by and large, which just went to confirm me in my opinion of them as a miserable bunch of so-and-sos.
I went up to the bar and ordered two mugs of ale while I tried to size the place up. I figured we’d want to stay overnight, and I wanted to work out how best I might bargain for a place. The kid who served us, he’d be about as old as you are now I reckon, fills the mugs without saying a word, then he stare straight ahead and says “silver piece” in this flat toneless voice. I had to chuckle.
“Son”, I told him, “I don’t know what you put in the beer around here, but back where I come from, we expect change from a clack. Do you want to run that past me again?”
“Silver piece” he says just the same as before.
“Look, kid: We’ve all got to make a living, huh? Just don’t feel you got to try too hard.”
“Right son. I’m in a real good mood right now, so I’m going to put not one but two coppers down here on the bar. Any time you want to start talking sense…”
I didn’t get to finish what I was saying here, because as soon as I put the coins on the counter he just slams the mugs down on the bar snatches up the coins and hurls them into the fire like I’d mortally insulted him. Then he turns his back on us and stands there all quivering with rage. I heard a scrape of chairs and stuff, and when I looked round, most everybody else in the room has turned their backs on us as well.
“What? What is the matter here?” I said, getting a little peeved myself. “Have you people got some sort of cult prohibition on copper coinage? What?” No reply.
“My brother asked you a question”, rumbles your father. “I’d answer it if I were you”.
“Better not”, I whispered to him. “We just got here, and this would be a very inconvenient time to get run out of town, what with the storm and all. Drink up and we’ll go find someplace sane”. There’s was never anything that calmed me down faster than your dad getting heated up. The thing about me and your father was I could generally talk him into most things. What I couldn’t do was make him like it.
“Kevil”, he says, “I don’t know how you talked me into this trip, but if you ever ask me again…”
“I know, I know. That’s what you said last time. Drink up.”
Well, we got out of there and took ourself off for a look round the town. Old Man Yelm had finally suffled off into the Underworld by this time, and I noticed that they had lots of little dragon heads carved high up on the buildings which were lighting things up by breathing little jets of fire. Your father was in a similar mood, I reckon, and I let him cuss me out for a bit. Eventually he stops, takes a deep breath, and then says. “This place is really weird.”
“What way in particular?” I asks.
“These buildings aren’t like anything I’ve seen in Prax. Not ruins nor oasis. It’s more like some of the ruins I’ve seen in the Pass. Then there’s the folk here. We’ve got the dragonewts acting like regular folks, and the people are all acting like dragonewts.”
“Must have been a bit like this in the Empire of the Wyrm’s Friends”, I said. “Hey! That’s it! This must be some remnant or somthing”.
“Yeah, apart from the fact that the Wyrms never settled Prax, and apart from the fact that the they all died of being eaten by dragons. Apart from that, I’d be inclined to agree with you”.
“Well”, says I, “you just this minute said how this looks a bit like the ruins in Dragon Pass. And now I think about it, the buildings here have all got that EWF pattern running along them, just like in the ruins in Dragon Pass”.
“I am never coming on another trip with you again, Kevil. Hear me? Never again”.
So we walked and walked and now I was thinking about the Wyrm’s Friends I kept noticing more and more bits of dragon symbolism, like the way the streets were cobbled in this diamond pattern like they were scales, or the way the towers had this zigzag crest spiralling up them. After a while, I also realised we were lost. The streetplan, and calling it such is a mortal insult to anyone who ever so much as laid out a campsite, was real confusing, with streets spiralling up and down and looping over and under each other. Eventually, we wound up near the top of one of the towers where there was this balcony thing that would let us look out over the plains.
“Good”, says your dad. “I want to watch the storm for a bit”. Which was fair enough by me, cause he looked like he could use a bit of cheering up. When we got up there though:
“The storm’s gone”, said your father, sounding dull and tired. “It can’t have blown out yet. Where’s it gone?”
“That’s not all”, I said. “What phase is the moon tonight?”
“Empty-Half” he says without even spitting, which just shows how down he was feeling. I really hated to do this to him.
“So where is it?”
“Hah! right where it’s always been. Right over …there?” He stood gawping at the empty sky. “Kevil, they’ve taken the moon. The bastards! I wanted to destroy it.”
Thinking of your father right then is one of the saddest things I know. I mean I know he was a brave man. I believe he’d have challenged a rhino to a head butting contest if he’d have had half a reason to. Right there and then though, he didn’t have a clue how to handle the situation, and he just looked lost and frightened. I don’t mean that I was much better, just I was used to feeling confused like this. Your father wasn’t and it had rattled him badly.
“I don’t think its gone exactly”, I told him. “It just hasn’t risen yet. The Empire of the Wyrm’s Friend was before the red moon”.
“How can that be?” he asked.
“I don’t know, it’s just my best guess. Come on”, I said, trying to break his mood. “Let’s look around a bit more and see if there are any more surprises.”
“There had better not be”, he said with a touch of his usual truculence, “or I am going to get very angry with someone”.
So we set out again, and I decided to try and navigate towards the centre tower, since it seemed the most likely place to find anything important. When we got there, the street sort of spiraled up around the outside. Let me tell you what it was like at the top.
First of all, the top thirty feet or so was shaped like a dragon’s head and neck. There was a ruff around the neck that was fanned out to make a broad platform you could stand on. On the platform were two to three dozen dragonewts, all milling about and chattering, just like they were dignitaries at a civic convention somewhere.
In the centre of the platform, the dragon’s neck continued up like I said. There was a zigzag crest running along the back of the neck and because of the way it’s neck was twisted, this crest formed a set of stairs spiraling up to where it had its hands (if that’s what you call them on dragons) held out in front of it to make a much smaller platform. On the hand platform, there was a big brass bell hanging from a stand, and the dragons head was facing it, as though this bell was an object of beauty that the dragon had decided to contemplate. Although, to look at it’s face, the dragon had evidently dozed off in it’s contemplations.
I wanted to take a closer look at this higher platform, but when I tried to climb the steps, a couple of big warrior types blocked my way.
“I’m sorry, sir”, said one of them, “but you may not go there”.
“May I ask why not?”
“When that bell sounds”, said the ‘newt, “the world will end. We don’t allow people up there in case there were an accident. We wouldn’t want the world to end before its time, would we?”.
I was all set to try and talk my way past these two, but your father had had enough.
“Everyone listen to me!” he shouted. “On account of my brother here and his tender sensibilities, I have tried very hard to be patient. However patience is not a virtue my cult cultivates, and mine is now at an end. Somebody around here knows what is going on, and somebody is going to tell me. Either that or I will start killing people until someone does”.
I groaned to myself and set out to try and calm things down. Before I could say anything this tailed priest comes lightly tripping through the crowd and says something. I once saw an Uleria priestess at a party, where she was just breezing through the crowd dropping pearls of wit and wisdom to everyone she passed. This ‘newt was acting just like that, except instead of some little joke, she said:
“The Cosmic Dragon unborn lies, still sleeping in her shell, And in that sleep, She dreams the world, and dreams us all as well”.
“That’s not an answer”, said your father.
“Oh yes it is”, I told him. “Come away from here and I’ll tell you all about it…”
It wasn’t easy to drag your father away from his second near fight of the day, but I did though he kept up a muttered monologue about “lousy, dishonest, sneaking, conniving traders” most of the way back down. Now that the the light had dawned on me, it was a lot easier finding my way around in the town, and I set off back to the inn we’d visited earlier. Eventually your dad stopped cussing me for long enough to ask where we were going. He wasn’t too impressed with that idea either.
At the inn, no one seemed to remember us from earlier on. This time I paid the asking price on the ale without quibbling (two silvers this time, so maybe they did remember) and found a quiet spot to talk.
“It’s like this: You remember the tower? Well it’s a dragon”.
“It’s a tower shaped like a dragon. So what?”
“No, the tower is a dragon. A dream dragon”.
“Keep your voice down. This is a dragon that is dreaming that it is a town. It’s dreaming it’s a town in the days of Empire of the Wyrm’s Friends, and that’s why there is no moon. We’ve walked into the dream, and since the dreamer doesn’t remember the moon from the EWF, we can’t see it from inside the dream. It also means that the storm is probably still out there and just hidden the way the moon is”.
“How do you know this?” asked your father.
“Well, partly it was what that priest said about the Cosmic Dragon. There’s better than that though. Do you remember that picture I brought from the Holy Country once?”
“The one that looked like an old woman or a young maiden, depending on how you looked at it?”
“That one. Well this town is just like that. Look one way and it’s a town. Look another way, and it’s a bloody huge dragon. Go outside and try it if you don’t believe me”.
“Tell me the rest, first. What should we do – wait for it to wake up?”
“I think that would be a bad idea. Suppose the dream ends the same way as the EWF did? I don’t think leaving is an option either. We should have passed the gate we came in by on our way here. I couldn’t find it”.
“You mean it’s sealed us in?”
“I don’t think it did it deliberately. I think the gate appeared so the dragonewts could be helpful to a couple of humans, they way they were in old Empire. Once we were in though the gate served no purpose in the dream, so the dragon forgot it and the gate went away”.
“What does that leave us with – waking it up?”
“Well yes. The touble is waking up the right dragon”, I said.
“Eh? How many of them are they?”
“Well, there’s only one, really. But there’s the real dragon that’s dreaming this dream, and then there’s the dream dragon, who also looks to be asleep. If we wake the real one, the town and the newts vanish. If we get it wrong though, we might just bring on the Dragonkill War part of the dream”.
“And I suppose you got an idea how we can do that”, says your father.
“Well, I think so”.
“You think so? What happens if you’re wrong?” he asked.
“Then brother, you get to practice your dragon slaying”.
“All right, we’ll try it your way first. What’s the plan?”
“I was thinking, suppose you were leading a warband. There’s a battle likely to start at dawn, and you haven’t slept in days. You really need a few hours shut-eye, but you don’t dare oversleep. What do you do?”
“I get someone reliable to wake me up early”.
“Well, I think that’s why the bell is there. I think the real dragon set it up there to be rung at a certain time, so he wouldn’t sleep too long”.
Your father frowned at me. “Can they do that?”
“They can do all this”, I gestured around us. “I don’t know what they can’t do. Besides, it would explain how the bell ‘ends the world’. Once the dragon wakes, this town and everyone in the dream cease to exist”.
“Ring the bell and everyone here dies?”
“Apart from us, cause we weren’t dreamed in the first place”.
Your dad considered this. “Small loss”, he said eventually. “They were never real in the first place”.
“Hum. If that priest was right, the same could be said of us”.
“What was that?”
“Never mind”, I said. “You always said you weren’t afraid to die, didn’t you? I suggest we get a few hours rest and give that storm a chance to move on. Come sunrise we’ll go and see about that bell. I doubt they’ll let us near the thing, so what I suggest is you keep the guards busy while I do the ringing part”.
“There’s finally someone I can hit? Praise be to Urox!”
“That’s settled then. Let’s get some sleep. Big day tomorrow; we have to destroy the world”.
Early the next morning saw the two of us climbing the central tower. Once you could see the dragon as well as the town, there was a sort of logic to the street layout and it didn’t take us long at all this time.
When we reached the platform, there were still a few ‘newts milling about, but the majority of them had gone off to whatever passes for home if you’re a dragonewt. There were still a couple guards by the stairs though. We wandered over trying to look casual.
“Hey fellows”, I said when we got close. “Do you like poetry? My brother here has some he’d like to recite for you. He made it up himself”.
“Oh, sure”, said your father taking his cue. “Everyone likes poetry. Listen to this:
Wind of the desert, My enemies now stand before me, Grant me your strength that I may destroy them, Grant me your courage that I shall not falter Grant me your rage that I show no mercy”
He started off making out like he was a great poet, but as usual with his battle song, he didn’t get beyond the first line before the rage took him. I knew what was coming of course so I had stepped back, and then once he was off, I dodged past them all and sprinted off up the stairs. From the sounds of things, I’d say your father was causing all sorts of commotion, which I suppose is what you expect if you invite a storm bull to a party. I didn’t have time to watch though, those stairs were steep.
It’s the always, little things that always trip you up. In this case it was the gap between the stairs and the platform. Wasn’t much, no more than six foot to jump, but I wasn’t expecting it, and it gave me pause. Down below I could see your dad had dropped one of the guards, but the other one was still going strong and there were more arriving from all over the place, so I jumped, and slipped and ended up hanging onto the bell to keep from falling off the platform. It was bigger than it looked from below. As I grabbed it, the clapper inside struck the side of the bell, but I must have been muffling it hanging on like that, cause all I heard was this dull “dunk” noise, I knew that was never going to do the trick. Then the bell swung back again and I couldn’t hold on, and fell off the platform. And as the ground rushed up to meet me, the bell swang back again, and tolled a single sweet note, and everything faded away to white. Happily, everything included the ground in this case.
It took a moment for my head to clear. When it did, everything was still white like I was floating in thick fog. There was however this huge dragon that front of me, and I could see that just fine. Except it was more like he was inside my head, or maybe it was a bit like both and not quite like either. I guess you had to be there.
The dragon looked at me, and I could feel how ancient and powerful it was. Then it spoke.
“Little human”, it said. “You have dared to awaken me from my slumbers”.
“Little human, I admire your courage. As reward I shall answer three questions truthfully”.
“Little human. Your presumption must be punished. After you have your answers, I shall devour you”.
“Little human, ask your questions. Already I grow impatient”.
My mind was racing. I thought of every clever trick and fast deal I’d ever pulled or heard of, looking for something to get me off the hook. Then I looked into those awful eyes and knew that nothing like that was going to work with this customer. I needed more information, and I had three questions to try and get it. I could either take a wild stab in the dark and hope to get lucky, or I generalise and try and cut to the heart of the matter. I’m the plain spoken sort by nature, so I decided to keep it simple.
“So”, I said. “What’s it all about, then? What’s going on?”
“Little human”, said the dragon. “You already have the answer to that question”.
”’The Cosmic Dragon unborn lies, still sleeping in her shell, And in that sleep, She dreams the world, and dreams us all as well.”
“Since you failed to understand this the first time, I shall provide two proofs to aid your comprehension.”
“The first proof is this: Dreams are illusion. All illusions that are created in that which you call ‘reality’ do themselves become real for as long as the illusion does persist. Thus your reality is but a dream. This is the truth of the Illusion Rune.”
“The second proof is this: When the Cosmic Dragon dreams of dragons, and when in her dream those dragons themselves dream, that which they dream also becomes reality. This is the proof that the Dragon is the Dreamer.”
“I further tell you that when the Cosmic Dragon shall at last hatch, all of dragonkind that she has dreamed will be re-constituted in the new reality she shall create. All else is distraction and therefore irrelevant. That is all you will ever need to know about ‘what is going on’.”
“Little human, I await your second question.”
As Eurmal once said to Orlanth: ‘Well, that didn’t work.’ I thought maybe if I narrowed the scope of my question.
“Very well. You were dreaming now of a time we call the Empire of the Wyrm’s Friends. There was a big secret there that was lost to humanity. What was that all about?”
I asked the question, and the dragon told me. Not in words though. It was more like the knowledge was poured into my brain. It was as though I could feel thoughts and ideas being moved around inside my head to make way for all this new stuff and it seemed like it would go on for ever. After about an Age or two the dragon spoke again.
“Little human, do you now understand?” And I did.
I can’t explain it to you. It’s like the words or the language is the wrong shape for the ideas, but I knew then and I still know now. It isn’t an easy knowledge to own sometimes.
“Little human”, the dragon said. “Ask your final question.”
I reckoned I was just pure out of luck here. My head was spinning with all this new lore, and neither of the answers I’d had had given me the least clue. The fact of it was, I thought to myself, that I’d woken the wrong dragon, and now I would die. And then I remembered a dream I once had where I realised that I was dreaming, so I asked:
“Answer me truly then – are you awake?”
“Little human, I … I am asleep.” The dragon sounded surprised by this. “I am asleep and merely dreaming that I have awakened”.
And the dragon’s presence began to fade. See, every time I’ve ever realised I was dreaming, I’ve been so surprised that I woke right up. I was just gambling that it was the same wih dragons.
“Little human, you are clever. Your life is spared”. Then it was gone.
The next thing I knew I was lying in the dust. No storm, no dragon, no town. Your father was close by, and I spent a bit of time healing him up again. He’d had a close run with those ‘newts, it seemed. Then when he was feeling better, he showed his appreciation by cussing me out. Then he didn’t say anything for a bit. At last he says, “So you woke the dragon, then.”
“Seems like”, I said.
“So what do you think will happen now?”
“Well I get the distinct impression that something as big and old as that might take its own good time betwen waking and getting up, but I reckon before too long we’ll have a new dragon appears somewhere. Probably in Dragon Pass”.
“Hmmph. I just hope it eats a few lunars when it does”, he says.
And that, boy, is pretty much it.
- * * The events in my uncle’s tale happened when I was about 10 years old. It was shortly after that that my father, once again out in Prax, found another storm and this time no one stopped him when he walked into its heart. He never came out again. I think Kevil felt guilty about that, though I can’t really see that it was his fault in any way, but I think that was why he told me the tale. To the best of my knowledge, he never told it to anyone else.
I few people must have suspected something of the truth though. See, he kept that secret knowledge, and he kept the trick of talking to dragonewts. Properly talking, that is. Often he’d trade with them, and one time he had a wyrm come and talk with him for a couple of days. Of course by this time he was acting pretty strange, and everyone said he had gone mad. I’m not so sure about that though. I think that the dragon could give him information, but not understanding. The understanding of what he’d been taught by the dragon had to grow slowly over the years, and as it did, I think my uncle grew more and more draconic in his thinking and more and more alien to us. The end came one day when a party of ‘newts came to see him with a noble at their head. He talked with them a while, and then told me to settle his affairs and set out with the dragonewts, never to return. He said something about a chance to get himself an Egg.
As to my father, I like to think that he was being Called that day in the wastes. He couldn’t go then because of an obligation to his brother, but as soon as was settled he went back to heed the call of his god. He was always telling me about heroes when I was young, so I like to think he made it through to his Eternal Battle and is even now killing chaos alongside the Bull.
Who knows, maybe someday my father will return, bigger, meaner and nastier than ever and roll up ‘the whole of the stinking lunar empire right that way back to Glamour’, just the way he used to say. Aye, and maybe someday my uncle Kevil will sit on the throne of the Inhuman King. Right now I’d settle for that dragon to wake up and eat a few regiments of lunars.As Uncle Kevil used to say: A man’s allowed to dream.
(And here’s what one great man thought of the tale…)
Nick Fortune, I must confess I skip over most stories and campaign retellings in Glorantha Digest (not that I object to their presence -—I’m sure others appreciate them). But I enjoyed the Tale of the Normal Newts, and look forward to the next installment.