Bell Digest vol10p08.txt

Date: Wed, 13 Apr 1994 22:54:24 --100
Message-Id: <9404132054.AA25097@aft-ms.Holland.Sun.COM>
Subject: Volume 10, no 8: Stories from Nick Brooke and Rich Staats.

      Richard C. Staats - The Tale of Thrimball the Storyteller
    	    Nick Brooke - The Fox King

    Two stories, first quoting:
	Nick About the Fox King:  "My story from the RuneQuest-Con
	Orlanthi Storytelling Contest.  Knocked out in the first
	round by a damn' fine Vingan myth, so it's only been heard
	by a dozen or so people (and distributed in half a dozen
	hard copies at the Con). Asterisked bracketed numbers refer
	to the scholarly notes at the end of the story.  Best read
	aloud, to catch the rhythms, but isn't that true of all
	good stories? For the record, I learned it while guesting
	among the Hiording Colymar; but there are other Sartarite
	folk tales that corroborate the events described."

    But first, the honourable Rich Staats, about a different
    storyteller.				- HL


Date: Wed, 02 Mar 94 11:42:33 +0100
From: staats@MIT.EDU (Richard C. Staats)
Subject: The Tale of Thrimball the Storyteller

The Tale of Thrimball the Storyteller
as recounted by
Rich Staats

	I was but ten years old when Thrimball entered our camp one
evening and delivered his tale, but the visit would long be
remembered as the day when our chieftain, Gregor Staffswinger, was
fooled by an Illuminate into sparing a Trickster's life.

	We were gathered for the Dark Season rites, and as was our
custom, all of the best storytellers were gathered to deliver their
tales.  The usual crowd was there, Gomgrof Troll Slayer, Iggy the
Corpulent, Shalishmak the Wise, and a host of others, but the
storytelling contest was open to all.  Iggy was the local
favorite.  The rules for participation were simple.  The story
teller got to his or her feet and presented the tale to the
assembled group.  In exchange the story teller was given a straw
tick to sleep on, a meal to warm his belly and the admiration of
the crowd.

	I was sitting near the door flap, fairly far away from the
blazing hearth at the center as I was not yet of age, when
Thrimball entered the tribal hut.  He looked at the assembled
warriors, women and children of the tribe, took their measure and
nodded to himself in silent approval.  I was close enough to see
the sparkle in his eye as he made his entrance.  He noticed me too,
because he reached down and pulled a lunar from behind my ear and
handed to me!

	Gregor noticed Thrimball at once, but it was not fitting
for the chieftain to greet a stranger in our midst at once.
Thrimball did not have the ritual markings on his face, showing him
to be one of our tribe.  After another flagon of ale, "borrowed"
from a Pelorian trader who strayed into the tribal lands
unescorted, Gregor boomed out "Ah!  And, who is this stranger in
our midst?  Come forward and tell me what brings you here to our
hearth to steal our warmth and light on this cold Dark Season
night?  What have you to offer in exchange for our hospitality?"
Thrimball was half guided and half manhandled to the hearth.

	Thrimball stood silent for a moment while he and Gregor
locked eyes.  A smile crept across both countenances, and Thrimball
bowed somewhat melodramatically to Gregor while addressing his
words to the assembled crowd.  "Oh wise and ferocious chieftain
Gregor!  Your fame has spread far beyond the limits of your tribal
lands - vast though they be - and, I, Thrimball the Storyteller,
wish only to share the hearth of one so noble and a tribe so
powerful and gracious.  In exchange for a warm bowl of porridge and
a straw tick I shall spin a tale tonight as none of the tribe has
heard before."  Gregor laughed aloud for it was well known that
nothing intrigued Gregor more than a good story!  Gregor had felled
nearly as many foes with the honey of his tongue as the sharp edge
of his iron bastard sword.  Gregor gestured dramatically "arise
Thrimball and sit here by the hearth!  As you are a stranger in our
midst, you shall be the last to present us with a tale this
evening."  Thrimball straightened himself while suppressing a smile
and sat down by the glowing flame.

	All the storytellers accounted themselves well, but Iggy
outdid himself.  The tribe rose as one to their feet, stomping,
clapping and cheering Iggy, and he was clasped warmly on the back
by Gregor as Iggy ambled away from the glow of the hearth.  Gregor
turned to Thrimball and stated flatly "Perhaps you have learned
something from the tales before you and in particular the last!
Well now, it is time you earned your keep this evening!  Spin us
this tale Thrimball, entertain my tribe on this darkest and deepest
of nights!"

	Thrimball rose slowly, and as he did so, the fire crackled
loudly three times.  Was it my young imagination or did the very
flames seem to bend toward Thrimball in an effort to better hear
his tale?  Thrimball bowed again, though curtly, to Gregor and
queried "Oh wise chieftain, is it also not the custom that the
storyteller be not held liable for his words on this hallowed eve
when Yelm begins to reclaim the sky from the grasp of Xiola Umbar?
I ask that in addition to a tick on which to sleep and a meal to
warm my belly that I be granted the traditional immunity that you
have bestowed so many times in the past."  It was still enough that
I could hear the thumping of my own heart while Gregor eyed
Thrimball slowly and stated "you shall be free this evening, and on
the mourn you shall be given one hour's head start before you are
pursued if any are offended by your tale!"  The tribe thumped its
spears and shouted its approval of the ruling.  Thrimball said "Oh
mighty chieftain, you are too kind!"

	As the tribe came once again to silence, Thrimball began
his tale...  "It is a story as you have not heard before!  A story
of gods and goddesses, of Life and Death, of Powers and Portents
and of the Time itself!  There was once and there was not in the
days before Time a humble servant of Arachne Solara named Taron.
He was a simple being who willed only to serve She Who Is All
Things.  In those days, mighty Yelm presided over the world far
above the lands below."  As Thrimball spoke, the hut seemed to warm
and the flames took on a soft quality.  I felt at peace and relaxed
as though I were wrapped in my blankets after a good meal and a
hard day of chasing and working.  Thrimball's voice broke through
my solace like a knife "But, there came a period when mighty Yelm
did not rule the skies when all was darkness!"  The flames dimmed
and a cold wind blew through the door flap, chilling me to the
bone, but Thrimball never faltered.  "Do you remember well the
tales of the days when Yelm was lost in the black abysses of Hell?
Do our children not yet shudder at the passed remembrances of those
most cruel of times?  I see in your faces you do remember.  The
very visions of the time are passed on through the flesh from
mother to child.  Creatures of darkness strode upon the world.  The
gods found Death's true, black sting.  God fought against brother
god and sister goddess.  The world shook and in those crazed
moments of godly struggle, the world was shook to its foundation
and protean Chaos oozed through the cracks in the world's
foundation!"  The shadows seemed to weave and slither.  Something
soft, cold and slimy slid across my hand in the shadows by the wall
of the hut.  I pulled my hand back but there was nothing on it!
The inside of the hut had taken on an ashen appearance and for an
instant I thought I saw fear creep across the haggard visage of
Gregor in that ghastly light.  Thrimball's voice softened and
pulled me back with a start from black despair.  "Arachne Solara
saw that all threatened to be thrown back into the Void from whence
it came!  She wove a mighty spell, the mightiest conjuration from
the creation, and threw her cosmic webs across the face of the
struggle catching all in her net."  Webs seemed to fly from
Thrimball's fingertips across the hut.  I flinched as something
brushed my face.  "Arachne Solara put all of her strength into the
enchantment to hold back the destruction of Creation.  She sought
to drive out the Chaos, but some of her webs had struck and touched
the protean Chaos as webs flung out are wont to do.  The gods
pulled one way and Chaos another.  Arachne Solara called out to her
servitors to aid her, and one did come.  Does any remember his
name?"  There was silence in the tent as Thrimball shrieked on.
"No one remembers for his name is lost to us now.  It leaves us
like sugar on our tongues is lost.  He, Taron, took the webs while
the world tilted anew upon its foundations.  How many of us have
seen a millstone so heavy it would take twenty brave, strong
warriors to lift it?  Yet, when the millstone rests for less than
an eyeblink on its edge, even the smallest toddler is able to push
it and determine its path.  So it was with the Dawning.  This least
but most faithful of all Arachne Solara's minions pushed the world
disk and caused it to spin."  I felt the ground heave beneath my
feet.  Thrimball looked across the crowd and asked "And, what was
the name of that fiery orb that rose for the first time from the
East that day of Dawning?"  As one voice the crowd called out
"Yelm!  Mighty Yelm!"  The hearth sprang back to life and warmed
the dark corners of the hut once more.  Thrimball continued "And so
to this day Time continues.  The world spins on a fine edge, and
here too is the nature of Illumination.  Taron recognized that both
the old order and protean Chaos are part and portion of Time.  If
one or the other of the forces pulling the strings that bind the
World, it will fall, and Time will cease as the world shatters." An
angry gasp rose from the voices of the warriors and Gomgrof grasped
his spear to impale the heart of Thrimball the Illuminate!
Thrimball cast his gaze to Gregor and spoke.  "Orlanthi put down
your spear for your own chief has sworn an oath to protect me for
the things I say this night!"  Gregor, though he fumed mightily,
said "what he has said is true.  Put down your spear Gomgrof."
Thrimball took up his tale again.  "And so it is the end of the
tale, or is it just the beginning?  Now bring on a bowl of porridge
and my straw tick!"

	True to his word, Thrimball had told us a tale as none had
ever heard before.  The next day when Yelm rose in the sky, Gregor
also true to his word gave Thrimball a full hour before he sent all
the warriors of the tribe out to blot the Illuminate from the face
of the world, but they never caught him, and perhaps even if they
had, Thrimball might have lived on in the words he spoke to us that
evening.  For one's perspective on the way of the world does change
as one grows in wisdom...

	Hope you enjoyed it.

	In service,



Date: 08 Apr 94 04:54:07 EDT
From: Nick Brooke <100270.337@CompuServe.COM>
Subject: The Fox King


Esmeralda was the daughter of old chief Rastan of the Hiording clan {*1},
in the days when Venharl Intagarnsson ruled the Colymar tribe {*2}. Now 
Esmeralda was young, and Esmeralda was fair. She had three strong brothers, 
and more lovers courting her than you could shake a stick at. But the 
tallest and most handsome of all of them was King Fox {*3}, whom she had 
met when she was hunting in the forest north of the Creek. He had russet 
hair, and deep dark eyes, and he wore a fine clan tartan that had never 
been seen in those parts, and a torc of silver about his neck. No one knew 
who his people might be, but as a King he was certainly brave, and surely 
rich, and of all the men who loved her, Esmeralda cared for him alone. At 
last it was agreed on between her kinfolk that they should be married {*4}, 
for apart from all else, he offered a fine bride-price in gold. So 
Esmeralda asked the Fox King where they would live, and he described to her 
his clan-stead, and where it was; but, strange to say, he did not ask her, 
or her brothers, to come and visit.

So one day, near the wedding-day, when her brothers were out hunting, and 
the Fox King was away for a day or two on a godi's business (he said), 
Esmeralda took her two spears and crossed the Creek, setting out north into 
the woods and following the trail that King Fox had described. And after 
much searching she came to the edge of the tula of the Fox Clan {*5} -- and 
there, staring at her through empty sockets, were two skulls atop poles to 
either side of the path {*6}.

Esmeralda threw her Cloak of Mist about her, to hide her from their sight 
and avert whatever evil they might do her, and so concealed she walked into 
the tula and up to the stockade. And there another grisly sight met her 
eyes, for the stockade was of sharpened stakes, and atop each of the fifty 
tallest stakes an impaled, severed head stared outward, silently screaming 
in their deep decay.

But Esmeralda was a brave one, and followed Vinga's path. So through the 
portal she passed unseen and into the stockade of the Fox Clan. And there 
she spied the hall of the Fox King. And the hall was roofed, and from the 
eaves of the roof there dangled by their hair more heads of dead men and 
women and children.

Now Esmeralda slipped on her Sandals of Darkness, that none within might
see her, and she passed between two thanes of the Fox Clan and into the 
King's feasting hall. And here she could see that the roof of the hall was 
of thatch over bones, and the benches of bone likewise, and in niches about 
the hall were set the severed heads of freshly-dead maidens. And their 
headless bodies lay all bloody and dead in a stall behind the Fox King's 
seat. And for another thing, none of the maidens had any fingers on her 
hands, but bloody stumps were all that was left.

Well, this was quite enough for Esmeralda, who had by now taken a strong 
aversion to her mysterious suitor, but as she left the hall and would have 
left the stockade, whom should she see coming through the gate but King
Fox, and he dragging a beautiful young lady along, all in her finery. Well, 
Esmeralda was afraid he would see her, for all her cloak and sandals, for 
his eyes were so deep and so dark, so she rushed back into the hall of
bones and hid herself in an empty stall, just in time, as the Fox King came 
in with the poor young maiden, who now seemed to have fainted.

And he took her hand in his own, and bared his bright white teeth, and he 
bit off her fingers, one by one, and threw them into the stew-pot that hung 
from the rafters and simmered in the centre of the hall. But when he chewed 
through and cast away the first finger on her left hand, he missed his aim 
and it landed flat in the lap of Esmeralda. She was mortally afraid he
would note his mistake, but the Fox King was now sawing at the neck of the 
unfortunate girl, taking her head for a vacant niche beside his seat, so 
while his back was turned she slipped silently from the hall and fled the 
tula of the Fox Clan, as fast as her legs could carry her.

Now it happened that the very next day was to be the wedding of Esmeralda
and the Fox King, when he would bring the bride-price and take her from her
clan. All the things had been made ready, guests had arrived from far and
near, and a Lightbringers' Ring formed to sanctify the bond, with Esmeral- 
da's older brother as the chieftain, and so on down to a wandering vagrant
as Flesh Man. And the Fox King came with his thanes, and was greeted with
all ceremony, and he was seated by Esmeralda's side as the feast was laid,
and holding her pretty white hand in his own {*7}, when he chanced to
notice that she was white as snow.

"How pale you are this morning, my dear," said the Fox King, all concerned.

"Yes," said she, "I had a bad night's rest last night. I had horrible 

"Dreams may go wheresoever they will," said King Fox; "but tell us your 
dream, and we shall see what we can make of it."

"I dreamed," said Esmeralda, "that I went yesterday through the woods to 
visit your clan, and that when I found the bounds of your tula they were 
guarded by twin skulls on poles."

"Why, that is so {*8}," said the Fox King, "for the ancient enemies of the 
Fox Clan must now guard our bounds and warn us of unwelcome visitors; 
though certainly there has never been a guest as welcome as I shall make 

"And then in my dream I walked up to the stockade, and there were fifty 
tall stakes to it, and a severed head topping each of them."

"Why, that too is so," said the Fox King, "for our more recent enemies whom 
we have defeated in war now ring our stead to warn others away. And I find 
it very moving, Esmeralda, that you should have dreamed so of our future 
home on the night before our wedding day..."

"And then in my dream I passed into the stockade and up to your hall, and 
from its eaves there hung more heads, of dead men and women and children."

"Ah. But that is not so," said the Fox King, "for dreams are often..."

"And then in my dream I entered your hall, and its roof and furnishings 
were all of bone, and the heads of maidens adorned its niches, and their 
bodies were all slumped cruelly dead in your stall. And there were no 
fingers left on their hands, but they all simmered in the stew-pot hung 
over the hearth of the hall."

"Now that is not so, and it was not so," said the Fox King.

"And as I would have left the hall, you came in, King Fox, and you dragging 
a young lady behind you, and she in a swoon. And you bit off her fingers, 
one by one, with your bright white teeth, and you threw them into the 

"It is not so, and it was not so, and the gods forbid that it should be 
so," said the Fox King, and he was rising from his seat when Esmeralda 
cried out:

"Ah, but it is so, and it was so, and here's her finger to prove it!" And 
she pulled out the lady's finger from her dress, and pointed it straight at 
the Fox King. And at that, all sprang to their feet and drew their swords, 
and would have cut King Fox to mincemeat there and then, but the Grey 
Lawspeaker stopped them.

"This man has been offered the hospitality of our board," he said, "and a 
curse will be upon our clan if we kill him now." And Flesh Man, who had 
come from the road and who carried no sword {*9}, answered him thus: "Aye, 
he has been offered your hospitality. But will the gods permit that he 
should accept it?"

Then King Fox snatched up his guest-portion from the table, and cried, "I 
accept this meat gift {*10} with gratitude, oh Hiording men, and I will 
speak ever of your generosity." And he raised the succulent roast to his 
mouth, and would have bitten into it with his bright white teeth, but it 
choked him and he could not swallow. He snatched for a mead-cup and would 
have drained it dry, but the foaming drink leapt from the cup and spilled 
itself all down his russet beard and his fine clothes. And the Hiordings, 
seeing this, knew that he was in no way protected by their hospitality: the 
gods forbade that it should be so. They drew their swords and drove him 
from the hall, striking many mortal wounds. And after that, King Fox was 
never seen in Hiording lands again.

				The End 


{*1} Like all unabridged Orlanthi tales, this one begins with a
brief genealogy to set the scene. On the Hiordings, cf. King of
Sartar p.207:  "Also sometimes called the 'Swansons,' this clan
are descendents of Hiord and Safeela, a swan maiden. He stole her
magical wrap, and so she stayed with him for seven years, and their
children head the main bloodlines of the clan. When they were
attacked by the savage Varmandi, they joined the Colymar tribe for
protection." None of these details are germane to the story at hand,
though they help in its interpretation.

{*2} King of Sartar, p.210: Venharl Intagarnsson was twelfth king of
the Colymar, ruling from 1492 to 1502. He led the tribe to join the
confederation with the man named Sartar. It is uncertain whether
this event predates the present story: King Sartar seems as likely
to have wandered outside as within the bounds of his confederated

{*3} Interesting, in that Esmeralda (as a Hiording maiden) would
represent a Swan. This tale is perhaps an ancient Hsunchen or Durulz
cycle (cf. the cautionary tale of Jemima Puddleduck and the Foxy
Gentleman, ed. Potter), now repeating itself in the more developed
folklore of the Sartarite Orlanthi.

{*4} The Hiordings, descended from a swan maiden, would presumably
have been favourably inclined towards marriages with mysterious,
unknown, but above all powerful figures from beyond their
experience: they could look to their own magical ancestry as
evidence for the beneficial results of such matches.

{*5} The sacred home territory of an Orlanthi clan, wherein all its
ritual sites would be located.

{*6} Compare with the well-documented trollish practice of creating
"Foe-Cursers" (Troll Cults p.81).

{*7} At the Lightbringer wedding of Biturian Varosh (Cults of
Prax p.111), the officiating priest orders the bride and groom to
hold hands throughout the ceremony - a detail which adds a rather
horrible frisson to this particular tale.

{*8} Head-hunting was an ancient practice and by no means a
despised one, though it was rare by this stage in the evolution of
Sartarite Orlanthi culture. There would have been no shame in the
Fox King's admission that his clan had formerly followed the
custom, but perhaps some slight awkwardness in admitting that it
was current. Beyond this point, the disclosures become repugnant to
ordinary Orlanthi sensibilities, and have to be denied.

{*9} These traits are enough to identify this mysterious Flesh Man
as the legendary King Sartar in disguise. Sartar was said to be a
Master of the Motion Rune, and was never seen to raise a weapon
against another person.  For his wanderings, cf. King of Sartar
p.137: "Sartar was loved by the common tribes people, for he often
went disguised among them and searched for those worthy and just
enough to help convey the kingdom towards a good future. Those who
he found sufficient were rewarded, often in simple ways..."

{*10} In the traditional Orlanthi rituals of hospitality and
gift-giving, the meat gift is "a thing we offer only to kinsmen,
and those as good as them" (King of Sartar, p.62). It would thus be
appropriate at a wedding.  Certainly the curse for breaking such
a hospitality-tie would be great, and the Lawspeaker's caution is
wholly justified.


This story is essentially an Orlanthi retelling of "Mister Fox",
a traditional English folk-tale (obliquely referred to in
Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing). My text owes much to the
1821 version collected in Angela Carter's excellent Virago Book of
Fairy Tales, and at least as much to the oral version recounted by
Peter Ewing at several meetings of the Oxford Arthurian Society. The
original Gloranthan tale is told in King of Sartar, p.137:

> One time, in disguise, Sartar dealt with the foul Brangbane, the
> king of the Dinacoli tribe who was buying daughters from distant
> families with illusory gold. He would cut off their fingers to
> make a vile brew of evil potency which gave him great power,
> and then kill the women.  Sartar's magic gave the evil king an
> insatiable appetite, and an illness which made all real food
> repulsive to him. Brangbane solved this by eating the dead, and
> extracting power from the corpses. But though he survived as a
> ghoul, he was ever pursued by the ghosts of those he had unjustly
> slain. Furthermore, the ghosts of these women can be called upon
> by any Sartarite who needs help against ghouls. Brangbane still
> runs about the hills of Sartar, plagued and hating, still full of
> great power until the wailing ghosts catch up with him. His name
> is usually not spoken, and he is called the King of Ghouls.

For this version of this story, it proved difficult at first
to identify the antagonist without giving the game away from
the start. But as Brangbane is customarily not named (to avoid
attracting his attention?), while any of his modern epithets would
be inappropriate, it proved overwhelmingly tempting to identify him
with the trickster, Fox, a mythical enemy of the Ducks and the Swan
People. The key element of the lady's finger plays the same role
in both versions of the tale, and appears even more appropriate
in its Orlanthi setting than in the old English story from which
it was derived; while Mr. Fox's "God forbid's" find their ironic