Sunday, May 19, 2019

On the Disappearance of Haraal.

It has come to my attention that nowhere in my recent writings have I actually addressed the vanishing of Haraal. And while it is my first instinct to assume that any potential readers of these mad scrawlings would be intimately familiar with the major cultural myths of the known world, assuming is exactly what I should not do. Indeed, perhaps one of you right now lives far and away from knowledge or influence of Deneroth.¹ I would be remiss in omitting anything which could contribute to a more complete understanding of the world in which I write, and the context of powers that currently be.

Haraal, unifier of the Ersuunian tribes, emperor of a burgeoning empire, living culture-hero on the receiving end of cult-like levels of reverence even before his deification, removed his crown and abdicated from his throne one day after a strange visit, leaving without a word, never to be seen or heard from again.

Of course it isn't so simple as that, but those details are all that can be agreed upon between sometimes starkly contradictory sources.

First, we are unsure of exactly how long Haraal reigned as king-chieftain. Histories of All by Yashka the Sage reports a reign of 114 years and this number is often regarded as canon, particularly in Deneroth. But Yashka wrote his chronicle several centuries after the disappearance of Haraal. Mythinterpretations of History by the late Berschut Groz offers a more conservative estimate of 70-80 years. Both theories either explicitly or implicitly support the idea that Haraal was blessed with supernatural vitality and long life, but neither gives Haraal a definite point in the timeline of history which we so enjoy using. We can relatively safely say that he reigned no earlier than 800 years before the time of Yashka however, putting Haraal no more than 2,300 years in the past.

Second, we are unsure of where Haraal disappeared from. We do know that his imperial palace-camp was somewhere in the northwest region close to the sites of his last great battles, but its exact location has remained a mystery shrouded in myth, with more than a few frontier folktales and cunningfolk assertions clouding it up further. It is assumed that the camp was located on a relatively flat area of land where the royal herds could graze comfortably, but that still leaves a very wide possible range of area. Again, we can only judge by the broadest limits, and say that the palace must have been located somewhere south of modern settlements such as Bluehill, and that it would have given the Axebite a wide berth- even Haraal was cautious of some dangers, it seems.

One day, traditionally emphasized as being just like any other with no foreshadowing or warning, Haraal was adjudicating cases brought before him in his throne room. After the third or fourth defendant graciously accepted his imminent beheading after prolonged exposure to The Presence and The Gaze, a hush suddenly fell upon the court. There was a muffled sound in the distance, outside, and it was slowly growing in clarity and volume. Haraal took notice of this after he found his servants not immediately responding to his commands, and had the doors to his court opened wide in order to better hear what the disturbance was.

It was crying.

Deep, gut-wrenching weeping, growing in volume and in voice.

Haraal waved a hand to send two of his guards out to investigate, but in a matter of moments they filed back into his throne room with limp arms, stunned expressions, and thoroughly overactive tear ducts. Again, he sent guards out to confront the issue, sending four this time. Four sobbing messes returned to him. A third time, sending six guards, Haraal was once again confounded. This almost comical mix of repetition and escalation continued for some time until Haraal had dispatched his entire royal guard, to no avail.

The other members of his court were growing concerned by this point, so Haraal rose from his throne and cast his aura upon them. Calmed somewhat, they begged their lord to go and see what this dreadful thing was. He proclaimed that he was already on his way to doing so, and then strode out into the light of day. Huge, dark-bottomed clouds were already approaching on the horizon, but his eyes fixed on something far more immediate.

At the base of the hill which his palace crowned, his people had fallen into disarray in droves. Hundreds of men, women, and children had absconded from their duties and their leisures to add to the mournful cacophony. They did not heed their lord when he commanded them to rise, to rejoice in his presence. They only bowed their heads lower in grief toward a single point in the distance. Haraal's smoldering bronze gaze tried to fix it in place, but it only continued its approach.

A small, greyish hunchback of immeasurable age was hobbling his way up the slope, one withered, useless arm clutched tightly to his side. He was weather-worn and almost hairless, with one enormous shoulder and a clubbed foot which he dragged along the ground. His scabrous, diseased-looking skin was stretched tightly across his emaciated frame clad in nothing but rags soaked in morning dew. Despite his disabilities, he moved with surprising speed, and his voice, though labored, sounded not the least bit short of breath. For the hunchback was the loudest of the crying voices- only his weeping was song.

It was wordless, lacking in any real rhyme or meter. But what it lacked in composition, it made up for in dreadful emotion. They were the sounds of raw, ageless sorrow and loss. Of grief and regret for everything that has ever happened or never happened. Of a child yearning for a mother.

And that was exactly what he asked, when at last he climbed the hill and halted before Haraal, eyes only dimly registering the man towering over him as they rose up from their naturally downcast state.

"Have you seen my mother? I was lost by her. I have not found her. Have you seen her?"

These questions were all that he interrupted his quavering song with, and he repeated them again and again as he stood pitifully before the emperor. His words were strange and rustic to Haraal's ears, like the tongue of some of his most distant Ersuunian subjects, many centuries removed. Haraal, being uncharacteristically compassionate, was able to look beyond the breach of conduct in addressing a chieftain which would have ended in a greater man being beheaded on the spot. He made an exception for the strange creature, and asked him his name.

Depending on the age or dialect of the account, the hunchback's name varies in form. But each name is generally a recognizable cognate with the others others, for his name when taken literally was "Grief".

Haraal treated with Grief then, all the while becoming increasingly suspicious of the outsider and the effect he was having upon his subjects. It seemed that the influence of Haraal was mitigated in the hunchback's presence, for he could merely quell their weeping rather than elevate them to an exultant state more pleasing to his senses. But Grief would not bend to Haraal's will. Nor did he even seem to be conscious of the effect his presence seemed to be having on the palace, as if he had spent so long in his current state that this was his 'normal'. He asked over and over for news of his mother, whoever she was, and patently ignored any of the emperor's attempts to assuage his anguish and coax him into staying and reveling at his court.

Things might have gone very differently, had Haraal decided to quit his attempts at dominating the will of the hunchback.

But there was no challenge insurmountable to the son of the pine tree, scion of the sacred peak. No individual had ever resisted him, and a hunchback would not be the first. He butted heads with the cluelessly resilient Grief until his own followers were red eyed, vomiting, and bleeding from their noses with the force of that sympathetic misery. He promised rare silks, jewels, and iron to him if he ceased his weeping. He promised him a place in his court if he told him his story, and the root of his cursed power. He promised him a mended body and thousand purebred horses to draw an army of chariots across the land in search of his mother, if he would kneel before him. All of this and more was ignored by the hunchback, who continued to whimper the wordless lullaby of his missing parent.

At last, Grief announced that he needed to find her, and turned his back on Haraal to begin ambling back down the hillside.

This is said to be what sealed the fate of Haraal.

He went after the hunchback, quickly overtaking him with his long stride full of indignant purpose. The chieftain put himself in the way of Grief several times as he tried to shuffle away, each time demanding that he halt and show him the reverence which was due. Each time, Grief slunk around and sidestepped the tall, bronze man. Finally Haraal seized the hunchback in his hands and lifted him off of the ground, shaking him violently as he commanded him to come to heel.

Grief locked eyes with Haraal for the first time, then. His song and his mourning stopped, and a silence fell over the campgrounds so heavy that it could be cut with an obscure bladed weapon of Ersuunian origin, the identity of which is still fiercely debated in some highly semantic circles.² Then, slowly and deliberately, Grief began to move his arm. Not the "good" one with its swollen shoulder joint, but the shrunken and skeletal one which had been held to his chest for the whole time. Ruined joints popped and cracked loudly as he extended his limb toward Haraal, who regarded it strangely but did not pull away, even as the bony fingertips touched him upon the cheek, and then reached around to the nape of his neck.

There shouldn't have been any observers of the event capable of seeing through unclouded eyes by this point in time, but the narrative nonetheless states that Grief appeared to grow in size suddenly, while Haraal shrank. Perhaps he also shrank back in fear, despite the long-held belief that Haraal knew no fear. The hunchback met his stature and then exceeded him, somehow standing tall and straight despite his shape remaining the same. Then his other massive arm rose up to embrace the dwarfed form of the chieftain, almost like a parent would a child.

And then he whispered something into Haraal's ear.

What was whispered is unknown, but it is one of the most highly speculated-upon pieces of history and/or mythology to day.

Whatever the hunchback's words were, in a span of seconds they broke the spell. Grief was shrunken and warped again, Haraal as tall and statuesque as he'd ever been. Grief was singing anew, and ambling down into the wilderness beyond the reach of the Haraalian camp. The wracking sobs which had plagued the palace subjects subsided at long last, much to the relief of all. But when they looked up to their lord uninhibited, they saw him turning away.

Haraal had a haunted look about him. His burning eyes were darkened and glassy, and they looked around wildly as he staggered back from the spot where the hunchback had grabbed him.

Then he screamed.

He screamed, and clutched his ears as if it were ringing in his own ears, and then he fled in a frenzy across the palace grounds before leaping atop and unbroken horse and riding beyond the horizon. As he passed by the ever-growing tapestries which lined the thoroughfare leading to his court, it is said that their intricately woven programs twisted and morphed to depict not their history and grand achievements, but a bleak future of clouds and blood. Haraal fled into reaches unknown, forsaking crown, throne, and people as the failing of his powers and the ineffable words of the hunchback shook him to his core.

Sober-minded from the catharsis of the hunchback's influence, and free of Haraal's Presence and Gaze both, his subjects are said to have promptly burned the settlement to the ground and then dispersed, the site of that short-lived capital forever lost to history.

Traditions which venerate Haraal as a deific figure tend to describe his confrontation with the hunchback as a penultimate battle against good and evil, which ended in Grief being banished at great personal cost to Haraal, who vowed to return to his people one day once all pain and decay had been driven from the land. Belief in the imminent return of Haraal has waxed and waned with the centuries, growing particularly strong during times of hardship when many such millennialist movements are taking root, but dissipating soon after it becomes apparent that the end is not nigh.

Even among less dogmatic communities across the Ersuunian Basin, where birth defects and deformities often set an individual apart as special or touched by divinity, the possession of any aspects associated with Grief is a universally dire social stigma lacking in any duality or complexity of meaning.

The streets of Porylus seem to be free of such anxieties as we pass them by, but I have heard rumor that Haraalian movements are beginning to come back into fashion with the approach of the three-hundredth year After the Rupture.

¹ If so, please tell me about this distant place so that I might move there.
² The "skirpha" referenced originally by Yashka the Sage has been variously interpreted as a sword, long knife, grain-scythe, or horseman's axe, with concessions to the theory that it was a generic term for "blade" being few and far between. Our own Professor of Fencing & Swordsmanship Berchtold Vogt claims in a footnote in the Appendices of the recently released second edition of his Manual of Masterful Martial Maneuvers that the skirpha was actually a pole weapon having more in common with an earspoon spear with a weighted, metal-capped butt. As his theory goes, the weapon was not actually meant to slice the silence at all, and Yashka's description was actually a subtle infiltration of the old Nambarish tradition of metaphysical poetry, in which the fundamental properties of poetic subjects are altered dramatically for emphasis or coded layers of meaning. Though remarkably deep and compelling compared to his usual area of... expertise, Vogt's theory has only drummed up more conflict among etymologists.

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