Monday, December 25, 2017

The True Meaning of Narblesnard.

Seasonal greetings, Burrowers!

I hope that wherever you are, your holidays of choice are or have been bringing you spiritual fulfillment and/or really freaking neat stuff.

I am at least distantly observant of the Yulesmas, if only because I can't fit any evergreen larger than a shrub through the front door of my burrow. But I do have my own rituals. I can't say that it's a goblin holiday, since I haven't really met any others of my kind- probably because I'm usually hiding. Then again, if there are any other goblins in the Upstate mountain valleys, I can't help but imagine that they must celebrate it as well.

After all, our lives depend on it.

You see, a goblin is not the most secure creature in its environment. The rivers we enjoy living next to can flood, or the weather can trap us indoors with snow, ice, or mud. The mountain-folk can occasionally make sport of hunting us down with their brand new Weatherby hunting rifles, or accidentally run us over when we attempt to cross a street. And any pet larger than a large mouse is a natural predator to us, in sufficient numbers and with the necessary viciousness of course.

But all of those pale in comparison to the danger of the squirrels.

Masters of the trees overhead, possessed of an unnatural speed and jerkiness of movement, and obsessed with gathering food in these trying months, squirrels have spelled the doom of many a hapless goblin. Either by ravaging our food stores, or attacking us directly in their rush for supplies, only woe betides one who sees those black eyes and massive incisors during the first ghost of winter.

Or so I like to imagine, to make my ideas make more sense. Like I said, I've never seen another goblin.

At any rate, a great deal of trial and error went into developing the perfect response to the hostilities of nature's most godless nibbling-machine. The answer, it turns out, is appeasement. It required cutting almost all of the acorns out of my diet, but by leaving a trail of them leading away from my territory, deep into the woods where a mighty cache of the nuts can be found, a goblin can live in peace for the most trying of weeks before the beginning of the long cold. You just have to get used to the sounds of savage fighting, if more than one squirrel followed the trail to the distraction.

That time of huddling in one's burrow is an excellent opportunity in which to try brewing any new tea recipes you've discovered on the backs of recycled boxes that year, or to finish stitching patches into the heels of your decade-old socks. Or, if you're feeling particularly daring, try taking just one or two of those acorns you secreted into your person, and roasting them in your oven made from discarded terracotta pots and votive candles.

But in the end, the sounds of chittering, narbling, and rapid munching comes to an abrupt snard of an end, and the quiet of winter can set in at last. This is Narblesnard, and it is a moment for collective sighs and relief among all goblinkind.

Of course the bushy-tailed devils don't actually hibernate, so it's back to basics every week when they wake back up to forage some more. But the spirit of the holiday is to remind us all that we can survive. That the future brings with it new potential for good, as well as for terror. This feeling is reinforced by the fact that, after the day of Narblesnard, the hundreds of convenience stores in town finally stop playing those infernal songs about jingling bells and unwheeled chariots drawn by mutant snow-deer.

So, Blessed Narblesnard to all!

May you survive the New Year, so that we can do it all again next time.

And the next time.

And the next time...

And the next time.

Saturday, December 23, 2017

Looking Toward the New Year.

Well, I managed to do it. I've finished my final year of college, earning myself a delayed diploma as well as the eternal ire of Roberick Litte.

This means a lot of things, but the only relevant one for right now is that I will finally be back to semi-regular posting!

[This is where I would insert
a picture of an exhausted Furt
with deflated party blower
and slightly tilted cone hat,
if I could afford to pay an artist]

Also, while I can't make any promises, I might make a New Year's Resolution to create a Patreon for my blog, assuming I can write enough quality junk to furnish one with.

What would my reader(s) want to see in future material coming from the Burrow? I do have a plan for the next few months, at least broadly speaking, but I bet input from all of you would allow me to address topics and bits of lore that I wouldn't ever think of.

Leave a comment down below, if anything jumps out at you.

Now, on to other things. Like a continuation of the travelogue!

Looking Southward and Backward, Part 2.

The Fourth Gate to the campus grinds open ahead of us upon our arrival, the gatemasters having just completed their morning rituals.

Every day at exactly twelve talecks¹ after dawn reaches the turquoise banding of the Ivory Tower's observational promontory, the gatemasters--alleged descendants of the very first doormen and personal guards of Laizij--perform the ritual for which they are best known today. When the patron of the University lived, he had a retinue of intellectuals in his service. All were treated equally before him at first, but this changed on the occasion of his martyring at the hands of the Lie-Keepers of Dherna.² Those who were not present at the time of His death are still respected, but are considered to have failed in their final duty to him. Those who were with Him to the bitter end meanwhile, enjoy a more favorable position in the liturgy and historical chronicles both.

A scion of the lower caste arrives first, often left to stamp his feet in the cold for some time, such as the occasion is on this morning. Meanwhile, a representative of the more favored house of gatemasters with that direct and intimate connection to Laizij arrives with an armed escort, leftover from the days when the Ivory Tower maintained its own military force. Upon meeting one another at the wide bars of each of the six gates to the University grounds, the higher of the two demands the identity of the lower, who is himself barred from entry into the grounds directly. The lower gatemaster announces himself and his lineage back to a minimum of eight generations, and then a key of silver and inlaid electrum large enough to bludgeon an ox to death with is passed between the bars, as the higher gatemaster consecrates this action in the name of his own lineage, which has a minimum of at least twenty generations. On very formal occasions, the entirety of one's family history dating back to one of the contemporary servants of the Scholar is recounted.

Once the exchange is completed and the lower gatemaster uses the key to unlock the intricate series of locks placed upon each of the gates, the way is opened to those outsiders who would enter, and those freshmen who would flee their first two weeks of classes.

Our wagons were passing through the gateway while the last formalities were still playing out just to the side of the threshold, and I was able to witness it in great but fleeting detail. The lower gatemaster knelt before his superior, who then had one of his retainers receive the key from him, to be thoroughly wiped down in a cloth before being handed back to the keeper of the key, and ultimately set in its case in the fortified northern extension of the University's security offices.

The retinue quickly beats its way back toward the warmth of the buildings, while the lower gatemaster is left to get back up off of his knees and make his solitary way back home. Moments of disgruntlement punctuate long periods of resigned placidity in the man's round, pinkish face as he disappears into the crowds reluctantly emerging from their homes set upon the city's highest tier.

None of the other civilian gates in the city have such a tradition attached to them, and so traveling down through the rings is far easier, though still slow at the lower levels where markets and other congregations had already awakened. From the third tier down, my colleagues and I are given increasingly strange looks for our attire. It is rare to see a member of the ITU so far from home, and the Book and Key emblazoned on so many of our possessions like a logo paints us each as a rather undesirable guest.³

Still, we are able to reach the edge of the city before mid-morning, having to only occasionally pop our ears from the changes in elevation. Our treat with the guards and customs representatives at First Gate is refreshingly brief despite the wait we all expected, and before we can even reposition ourselves upon the carts, the False City yawns before us.

The first, bottom-most tier is the broadest, as well as located directly at ground level, but it is only a tenth of the size of the False City of Deneroth, built up around its perimeter. These districts, not constructed during the original founding of the city, and swollen with the vast majority of the population which has come to live in the area in the intervening centuries, feel as always like entirely new worlds of their own. I am able to take a brief moment of levity in watching the reactions in my assistants' faces as they see the shift from sterile grey brick walls to vast jumbles of wood and earthwork. Smells unlike any I've experienced in many years envelop us, and the hawkers swarm us to offer up their goods. They recognize the likelihood of wealth in our kind, but are not so well-versed in True City history or politics to know that we represent anathema to them in many ways. Sarq swears that he recognizes a Nambarish recipe in a nearby stand of meat-skewers, and I do not doubt that for a moment. But we cannot stop to sample the mingled local flavors yet.

Even if the existence of this city is denied by those above, there are many hours of riding left before we reach its outer limits.

¹ Also rendered as taliq, talkh, or taleg depending on the literary tradition in question (taleck being the standardized Gertisch-Haraalian spelling, while taliq, talkh, and taleg are the Nambarish, Proto-Ersuut, and rarely-seen Esgodarran spellings, respectively). The taleck is the traditional unit of measurement of time still used by the University and several other conservative institutions and facilities in and around Deneroth. It is equal to 2.37 minutes by low-tier reckoning, or 0.4 cyclical iques for my readers in the Pach-Yul region, vanishingly rare though you may be. The taleck originated with the Ersuunian nomads who came to populate the basin regions, allegedly referring to the length of time it took for a sub-chieftain's black-dappled mare to move at a full canter from one side of the king's camp to the next, favorable weather and open space allowing of course.

² Note that the exact cause of death for Laizij, according to the official statement released by the Senior Pain-Taster of the Basilica of Najis, was a bowel obstruction caused by massive collections of gallstones. The role which the clergy of Dherna played in the act was suspected at first, and the belief that they were in fact wielding black magic to eliminate a political rival has persisted into the modern day.

³ I anticipate that this and other large swaths of my travelogue will be heavily censored upon my return to the grounds of the ITU, but for my own satisfaction I will exercise my ability to deny the myth that members of the University--student or faculty--are the pride and joy of all Deneroth. Even as I write, Ciudo is still wiping the wad of saliva and other bodily fluids which was flung at him with expert, marksman-like precision from a nearby doorway as our caravan passed by the notoriously "wide-thinking" second-tier neighborhood of Lesken's Way.