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Old 06-03-2004, 04:03 PM   #182
The Squatter of Amon Rdh
Spectre of Decay
 
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"Until the devastating and, of course, wholly accidental fire that swept away much of the city of Minus Teeth, there resided in the dusty archives of the Wight City a scroll of darker and more obscure antecedents even than its governing family. Its anonymous author, known simply as the Hermit of Red Hill, tells of a peculiar and singular barrow in a place beyond both time and sanity, where he claims are buried the last remains of the Creator of Muddled Mirth.

Long dismissed as a harmless lunatic, largely due to a three-page digression concerning the formulation of city council signwriting policy*, the mysterious Hermit was saved from eternal obscurity by a peculiar incident that occurred some months after the disappearance of his one remaining manuscript. Even so, the work survives now only in a footnote to one of the strangest documents ever to issue forth from the hoary Entish scriptorium of Canned Corn Forest: the many-scrolled saga of the Re-Unification of the Entish Bow; a source so unreliable that its own author, Deeproot the Ent, appears never to have referred to it for any facts concerning the events of which it is the sole complete record. If we may believe this convoluted and at times bizarre document, Deeproot may well have had access to the missing manuscript, previously considered to have been destroyed in the Sac... tragic mishap of Minus Teeth. If so, only one of great daring and greater academic understanding could possibly have at once rescued and stolen such a priceless item. The name of this paragon of literary archaeology has, sadly, been forgotten by the history that owes him so great a debt."

Dr. P.G.R. Aiten, University of Morbrsluv

******

'For the last time, nobody wants to buy any toilet paper!'

'But this is a once-in-a-lifetime half-price offer: this stuff is so soft that I can hardly tell I'm holding it. I have to get it off my hands before I'm crushed in the scramble.'

An admiring throng of desperate buyers having failed to materialise, Kuruharan returned the tattered piece of vellum to a saddlebag and continued his stock-take. Some successful sales among various bemused and now landless peoples had left him with little on his hands apart from an assortment of protective amulets, the most potent of which promised to protect the bearer from pillow cuts, the deeds to half of Muddled-Mirth and the mysterious parchment that he had swiped from the ruined city back in chapter two. The only people rich and idiotic enough to buy any of these items would be unavailable to make purchases until the next stop, when he hoped that desperation might lend some force to his arguments. Until then there was nothing to do but to take stock and consider the values for a landlord of having a dragon as a business associate.

Some people are made for the horseless carriage; others achieve a certain modus vivendi with it, and others, like Lord Earnur Etceteron, would do better to stick to horses. Although admittedly delighted that this new form of transportation gave no impression of tolerant contempt, he was beginning to tire of interior dimensions that appeared to have been designed with Dwarven amputees in mind. Having been forcibly restrained from lighting his pipe, and acutely aware that lime cordial is no substitute for wood alcohol as a cure for boredom, he had struck up a jaunty drinking song, but had been silenced with seventy-two bottles remaining aloft when a diminutive and well-manicured hand had removed what little sensation remained in his left leg. He glowered at the steady procession of unprepossessing buildings and black roads in silence, noting that the countryside through which he would have chosen to travel, in which adventure and derring-do were no doubt lurking behind every copse, appeared to be keeping a respectful distance from the narrow strip of noise and noxious vapour on which he was currently a passenger. Finally, in desperation, he uttered the fabled Incantation of the Speedy Traveller, which has been known to make many a lengthly journey simply fly past:

'Are we nearly there yet?' he intoned in an heroic and manly whine.

It is almost impossible to kick someone effectively from the driving seat of a classic roadster, and since Ricky Riccadillo was adamant that no blood touch his upholstry, they were forced to halt their journey for a brief lecture on road etiquette. While Orogarn rubbed his stinging knuckles, they took the opportunity to make plans for the journey ahead. Heroically, the Gallowship attempted to overcome their complete ignorance of their location or the meanings of the terms 'motorway' and 'road atlas' by means of applied volume, and in the general confusion Earnur was able to pick himself up and purchase a piece of vellum to staunch his bleeding nose from the ever-helpful Kuruharan. His purse had been digging uncomfortably into his bruised ribs, and his relief at disposing of most of its contents was palpable. Also the removal of blood allowed him to make his first ever useful discovery. There was writing on his impromptu handkerchief, and at least one word was still legible. 'Where's Oxenford?' he asked lightly.

'I already told you, man: we'll get there soon-o,' announced their driver testily. 'Wait a minute: have you been here before?'

'I'm not sure,' mused the gallant knight of madness as he caught sight of the words 'How am I driving?' stencilled on the back of a dilapidated white van. 'Once I knew every Valar-forsaken place in the lands of Elves or Men or Orcs. I can still remember ten of them without searching in my mind, but this isn't one of them.'

'I've got a lot of work there, if you could but know it. Ricky might take you there if you do not blow it.' replied the mysterious traveller.

'You have been there before that you might have business there?' persisted the Lord Privy Attendant, in reckless disregard of his personal safety.

'He has,' answered the fair lady Gucyberry. 'He is the Master of accelerator, clutch and handbrake, although his navigation sucks.'

'Then know you of a place known as the Wolven Cot?'

Rickadillo laughed, saying:

'Ricky's country ends there: he will not pass the borders.
Ricky has his plugs to oil, and needs some help with rhyming.
'

'I'm waiting,' snapped Gucyberry. 'Do you mean to sit around jawing with these freeloaders all day?'

Inspired by this esoteric time-wasting, Vogonw spoke up:

'An ancient tale in Workmud tells of how the Creator Himself tired of life and departed it,' he announced. 'My ancestor, Daebolic the Loremaster wrote: "The Maker is gone; his barrow is flat. There is no more story, so that, mate, is that."'

'If Eru is dead, then thousands of years of religious mania have been a complete waste of time!' cried a horrified Merisuwyniel. 'We must investigate the truth of these cryptic and insane writings, that we may debunk or suppress them!'

Flushed with success, Earnur pointed out his next amazing discovery.

'Yonder is a sign!' he enthused. 'Mayhap it will show us the way we seek.'

"The flying of model bricks in this area is restricted to members of the Oxfordshire Guild of Freemasons by order of the Sherriff," read the Gateskeeper, deciphering the strange letters with ease. 'Looks like a lot of Hobbit-rules and Hobbit-talk to me.'

'You are wise in the tongues of many peoples, quite a few of them now extinct,' said Earnur, once again showing his worth as a judge of character. 'I cannot read the fiery letters; mayhap you may assay with better fortune.'

Perhaps because this inexplicable diversion offered a deferral of the inevitable crisis of alliegiance, perhaps because few people can turn down the chance to look clever, Gateskeeper translated the least blood-soaked portion of the manuscript.

'It's blood, not fire, so don't be so melodramatic.' he admonished; and as though to aggravate Earnur's already galloping case of archaism, continued: "And I beheld me an chapelle, begirt with many paths of greate ordynarynesse. And thence did I follow the signs, that are hid fromme the eyes of many menne, and so came to ye restynge place of ye maker of Muddled-Mirthe. Praise be great Eru thatte I was of alle menne ye firste to looke on its glory. Ye who followe in mine stead, look ye for runes of golde upon a lowe sign, and they shalle show unto thee ye Way."

There was a moment of reverential silence, while the entire company scrambled for the best seats in their chariot of doom, punctuated by a scuffle over which of seven claims to the front seat of the Monterey was valid under the laws of Grundor, Workmud and the Manor of Dun Sbrin; which of these had precedence in a land that was none of them and who had the most powerful left hook. Eventually this proved to be the Lady Gucyberry, who resumed her prime hectoring position with a dainty shake of her winning hand.

The brief interlude of violence and theological enquiry having soothed many a tattered nerve, the remainder of the journey took place in relative calm and civility. Various roads that were apparently not sufficiently important to have real names sped by, while Earnur, convinced that he had at last found a quest of mythic proportions and freed by the absence of danger from the griping of his mighty brand, pretended to read his newly acquired parchment with a scholarly air. His silence in turn provoked random acts of conversation and some disconcertingly misguided eyebrow-fluttering from certain quarters. So it was that they reached at last the mighty necropolis described in the scroll as 'Wolven Cotte', although to the disappointment of the errant heroes, there appeared to be neither wolves nor cottages to be seen. Instead, great iron gates opened onto a path, which led to a bijou chapelette in the suburban Gothic style. Announcing that he had his trailer to mind and promising to be back before the day was out, Ricky handbraked the entire massive combination through 180 degrees, and he and Gucyberry sped away, singing at the tops of their voices. A suspicious creature might have suspected them of relief.

'This is the place,' announced the Warden of the Oddly-Shaped Disputed Bit, somewhat redundantly. Immediately lighting on an arrow, he followed it as all great warriors, and still more mediocre ones, are wont to do. Monuments rose on all sides, proclaiming the names of many generations who were yet to be born when the Gallowship had arisen that morning; a chilling reminder of the fate that awaits all those who are not mythological creatures, Thingwraiths, ambiguously half-Elven immortals or otherwise exempt beings.

'Nice here, isn't it?' remarked Earnur.

Despite the truly immense handicap of being guided by someone who was unable to decipher their only set of directions, it took a bare five hours to traverse the hundred yards between the chapel and their goal. Before them lay a headstone which none of them could read, surrounded by flowers and candles. Come at last to the end of their mighty sidetracking, the Company of the Things spoke as one:

'Is that it?'


******

* The fact that his complaints appear to refer to an entirely mythical city, and to signs that apparently existed only in his own head, has clinched the argument for a large sector of the academic community.

Last edited by The Squatter of Amon Rdh; 06-04-2004 at 05:07 AM.
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