Friday, November 1, 2013

Story Time: Hall of the Mountain Lord pt 1

I think that at some level every GM imagines himself or herself a writer (which maybe should be the subject of another article...). If this is true, then this poster certainly is no exception.  
Submitted for your enjoyment is part one of my short story-in-progress, The Hall of The Mountain Lord.
It is said that in the days before the Prophetess - Peace Be Upon Her Name - that in the city of Ur there was a scholar that kept a daemon which he had trapped - or at the very least, had become trapped - within a bottle. 
Now this scholar had a young apprentice, whom he had sternly instructed never to speak to this daemon, lest the creature lead him into peril. 
But the apprentice, being a young man and inherently curious- why become a scholar otherwise?- eventually ignored his master's order and began conversing with the creature whenever his master was away. 
This daemon told the young man of all sorts of wonders- of midworld before The Fall, of the mirror world of the spirits, and of the jinn, marid, dragons(!), and of all manner of beasts common and uncommon throughout the worlds. 
The young man thrilled to the tiny creature's many tales and anecdotes. One day, he asked the daemon: 
"What is it like living only within a bottle?" 
To which the daemon replied, shrugging it's tiny shoulders: 
"One has to live somewhere, I suppose." 
"So then- have you always lived in a bottle?" asked the young scholar. 
"Oh no!" said the daemon. "No, young one. I have seen many worlds, and much of yours as well."
"I have wondered at the halls of the Ymir; vast and forbidding- I have gazed upon the sunrise from atop the great ziggurat- now destroyed- called Etemnananki. I have been to the very depths of hell- and felt the cold, cold - oh-so very cold!- touch of the Black Flame within. I have seen generations of your own kind pass in both wisdom and folly."
"I have done and seen so very much, my companion, before you have found me here." 
The youth stood in silence for a moment; then he spoke, in tones of awe:  
"You have been to so many places, and seen so many things, little daemon. Where as I have barely been outside the walls of this city." 
"Well," asked the daemon "then what can I tell you about living within a bottle that you do not already know?"

- From the 1001 Tales, library of Madinat as-Salam
 
Hall of The Mountain Lord

by Michael Lindsey

The sun was starting to set over the Zagros Mountains to the east, when Hamim suggested that they make camp in the shadow of a rocky hill.

Hamim was but a servant of her household; but Adara, his young mistress, had come to trust in his cautious ways. Plus, she was traveling with her little brother Shamal, and the day's journey had clearly been taxing on his young form.

So they broke and set up their tents (Adara and Shamal each had their own tent- even though brother and sister, a boy and girl would not share a tent). Hamim, as usual, was to sleep beneath the stars.

Hamim cooked them their supper- simple rice with a hint of butter, very lightly spiced for flavor, and brewing a pot of chai as well- a veritable feast in the wilderness. All three youngsters ate to their fill with relish.

Adara sipped the hot chai slowly; enjoying the strong, spicy flavor. She had just recently reached her 15th year; marriage-age, by any estimation - but her father had not found any favor with the suitors that had reached his tent, at least thus far.

But she was a lovely girl; her skin fair, and without blemish. Although her habib covered her long, luxurious black head of hair, her dark eyes and her lovely mouth could be seen by all who gazed upon her.

For his part, her younger brother Shamal shared her beauty, but in boyish form; he was now just in his 11th year, and had the mixture of uncertainty and rambunctiousness common to most boys his age. Regardless of any faults he might have, Adara adored the boy above all of the jewels in all of the Earth.

Hamim was sixteen, and had the gangliness of boy who had grown very tall, very fast. He himself was of dark complexion with light brown eyes and a thin mouth, which seemed locked into a permanent frown. Ever present with him was his shepherd's staff, which he used as both a tool and a walking stick. Somehow, the staff and his demeanor seemed to give him a certain authority that belied his station.

The three ate in silence, only the sound of their feasting rising above the crackling of the fire. The rich dinner and the drink had given life back to Shamal, it seemed; for after their meal was finished, and as the moon rose into the sky, he said unto Hamim:

"Hamim- let's fight!"

He continued, "I can be Antarah ibn Shaddad, and you can be a wicked Ifrit!"

"Young Master" said Hamim, "We have had a long journey. Perhaps it would be better if we all would rest?"

Then Adara suggested: "Maybe Hamim should be the brave warrior, and you the Ifrit instead?"

Shamal frowned, his full little lips making a perfect pout, and replied: "I want to be Antarah ibn Shaddad! Fight me Hamim!"

Hamim sighed, and said: "Very well. Grab a stick- but be careful. This is just for pretend."

"OK!" said the boy, with enthusiasm. He grabbed a stick from their pack that seemed suitable; light enough to wield, and it made a satisfying 'swish' sound when he swung it forcefully through the air.

Hamim held his staff in the defending position, waiting for the boy to make the first move. Shamal, however, would have none of this, and declared:

"You are the villain- you have to attack first!"

Hamim swung the stick with speed, but carefully telegraphed the blow so that his young opponent could easily defend against it. Shamal blocked the faux-attack, and shouted:

"I see that you attack me, foul beast! Prepare thyself for my vengeance!"

Shamal began swinging his stick swiftly, wildly - Hamim blocking every strike with minimal effort. Seeing an opening, Hamim struck the boy, lightly- so light that it could barely be felt- on his left arm.

Shamal cried out: "Foul, foul, treacherous creature! Thou hast wounded me; but I shall best thee still!"

Shamal then began a full assault, lashing out with full force; blow after blow being blocked by Hamim's skilled staff. This seemed to only anger his youthful rival, and Shamal resorted to swift and random hits; now high, now low, now in Hamim's midsection.

At last, Hamim blocked one of Shamal's attempted assaults; but Shamal's polished wooden staff slipped past the block, and struck Hamim in the face; hard. Shamal looked at Hamim in shock and awe for a moment- then a warm trickle of blood began to run down Hamim's cheek.

"Oh!" said Adara, seeing that Hamim had been struck. Then she saw the blood.

"My word!" swore Adara, unwrapping the scarf that she wore upon her neck, and pressing it against Hamim's now bleeding cheek. "Shamal, what have you done?"

Shamal stood now silent, frozen in place with the stick still in his hand.

"My lady" said Hamim, blushing beneath his dark pallor as Adara, his mistress, stood so close- her hand upon his cheek - "this is nothing. Please..."

"Shamal!" said Adara, "Apologize to Hamim! Is this how you treat a servant of our house, who has done us no wrong?"

Shamal stood still -frozen, but tears began to roll down his plump cheeks. "I didn't mean to... we were playing..." he said.

"Playing?" she asked "I saw you- you wanted to strike Hamim! This is not how we have raised you, brother."

"I'm..." the boy began blubbering now in earnest. "I'm sorry! We were playing! It was an accident!"

"Milady" said Hamim, taking the scarf from Adara's hand, the blood still in his face, her scarf now dyed red with the same. "I will be fine. Please- see the young master to bed. I will treat this little, minor wound myself. Thank you for your kindness; I am hardly worthy of it."

"No- thank you Hamim" said Adara. She touched her servant, briefly, but tenderly, on his shoulder. "Please do take care of your wound."

Then to Shamal she said: "Brother- let's see you to bed now. We have had a long day." She then kissed the young boy on his forehead, and watched as he made his way to his little tent, and hopefully soon after - slumber.

Adara asked after Hamim, who again insisted that all was well, while holding a rugged cloth to his face to soak up the blood from the still weeping gash.

"Please- do take your rest, milady" he insisted. "I myself cannot sleep until I know that you are also in the land of nod. Tomorrow we must start out early, before the heat of the day is upon us", he reminded.

"Alright" said Adara. "Thank you, Hamim."

"You embarrass me" said Hamim, truthfully. "Please rest well." He then saw her to her tent, careful not to gaze upon her as she entered. He lowered the flap behind her, and then walked back to the fire.

When he was sure that the bleeding had finally stopped, he crawled into his own bedroll and fell asleep beneath the stars.

-------------------

Shamal heard the tinkling of a bell.

He was sure that's what it was; although he was in darkness, and the sound was heard from so very far away, it was clearly a bell. A bell that he was meant to hear.

Rubbing his sleep-crusted eyes, Shamal emerged from his tent. The moon was full in the sky; illuminating the desert with a bluish light. Shamal then looked upon the face of the moon itself; so bright and beautiful in the sky. The Imam taught that this was the manifestation of Destruction; Shamal wasn't sure about that, really. He thought that the Moon was very lovely, himself.

He looked over the horizon. Somehow, even asleep and in darkness, he had known what was the source of the sound. The rock, over yonder; standing like a temple- like some primitive mosque- in the moonlight.

The bell tinkled again in the distance- calling him, summoning him over. The sound was- it was- like the moonlight itself? Shamal could not describe it, even if asked to do so. He looked over at his sister's tent, at Hamim's bedroll, looking like just a clump of cloth beneath the stars. Clearly neither one had heard the call. It was for he alone.

Again the sound! He felt it in his breast, if not in his ears. Like the Call to Prayer, but stronger; pre-verbal.

The light of the moon marked the path. He set out in the cool night air towards the rock, towards the summoning tinkle.

Climbing now- climbing over the rocks, over the sand, over every minor barrier - following the tone of the bell; louder and louder still it rang.

He now stood atop the embankment and looked back towards the camp, now yards away; the campfire a fading, a flickering light in the distance. He thought of his sister now, and a little pain formed in his heart. He knew not why.

Then he turned about. The moon seemed to make a line in the rock- to form a path- and a door appeared before him; a door of moonlight, pale and blue and mysterious.

And still the bell rang; it's source now obvious; it rang now from within the stone itself. Beyond the glowing door.

He looked back toward's the camp, one last time. He thought of Hamim; serious, bloody. And his sister- so beautiful- and so angry.

The bell continued to ring, impatient. Shamal walked towards the light.

-------------------------------------
End Part 1
Continued in Part 2
Part 3
Part 4