Tékumel Archive

The Book of Visitations of Glory

Issue Six

The Tale of Pthuanath

by Joseph Pizzirurso

Tirvor Antashma, Priest of the ‘Lord of Sacrifice’, Traveler and Councilor, guest of the Red Mountain Clan, had found himself walking in on the tail end of a conversation between several worthy individuals, including Epengar hiVu'uvanu, Clan of the Sweet Singers of Nakomé, Verússa hiTlekolmu, Cloak of Azure Gems, Arumel hiChankolel, and Hríthik hiAnadán, of the Red Star Clan. Although he had missed much of the early foundation of the discourse, and thus was unsure of the greater context, it seemed that the conversation had spiraled out to where possible interpretation included the insulting of one Iyena, priestess of Vimúhla, wife of Arumel hiChankolel, or possibly offense against the Ito clan or even one of the assassin clans. In the free-wheeling discussion that followed Epengar diplomatically tried to absolve anyone from ill intent, but Hrithik hiAnadan suggested that Epengar might have a hidden agenda or perhaps some construct of mind as to what conditions would have to be met to justify the final incandescence of the possible offender. It seemed as if claims of shámtla were soon to be filling the air like chrí-flies gracing a summer battlefield.

Tirvor, who would usually keep his own counsel when sailing in unknown and troubled waters, chose this moment for an ill-timed quip. Perhaps wisdom and caution were temporarily lost in the lingering intoxication of finding oneself still alive and unscathed, so recently rescued from what seemed to be the unavoidable severing of the threads of his skein.

"And just what would you want him to get roasted for?" Hrithik hiAnadan, the corner of the left side of his mouth rose in a half smile, clearly showing the verbal pitfall laid out for all to see. It almost seemed to say that skirting the trap would be cowardly, leaping into it and seeing if one would survive would make a tale more worthy of retelling.

Before Epengar was able to respond, a voice from the shadows spoke. "Lá, does one really need a 'reason' for a good roasting?" The tall, foreign priest shot a smile to the warrior, as a slave filled his wine-bowl.

"On occasion one just needs to attend a good immolation, just because ... it clears the mind, it balances the five selves that make the man, the alignment of the planets calls for it, the fine olfactory feast is pleasing to the 'Lord of Red Devastation', it serves as edification and entertainment for the clan children...the list goes on and on."

"Olfactory feast?!" cried Hrithik scornfully, "Are you proposing that 'The Catharsis and Cleanser Through Flame' has a nose?"

The gazes of the two men locked as each man sized up his partner in this qadárni, this 'little war'. Tirvor had known many a man like this young, brash warrior. "Chá! By the 'Eternal Blaze'," Tirvor smiled inwardly, "I seem to recall being much like this in my youth, so many years ago." This young noble projected pride and strength for all to see, like a newly forged blade. He would have great spirit, flexibility, and energy. He had not, however, been tested and retested in the flame; he had not yet been beaten and purified, hammered again and again. He was not yet like the ugly, battle-worn, blade that he would one day become, not like this old war-priest. As such he would likely to speak and act precipitously, to be the ravening flame, following the path provided by opportunity and fate. It was good that the faith had such weapons to be used by the elders and the planners. Such it was in the old country, and, it was good to see, such it was in this land as well. The 'Flame' would remain strong.

"Well, speaking non-theologically, it seems to stand to reason that not having a nose would be an awful waste of the sentient barbecue, so painstakingly provided to the god. Not to mention the temple’s lavish use of rare and expensive incense and obscure and sacred woods, often specified as being especially pleasing and even reserved solely for the veneration of specific aspects. It would be something like assigning Perfect of Drá to the best cushions, right between the wine vat and the warm oil-pool, at the high festival of the green ladies. Wasteful. And waste seems ignoble somehow."

"Speaking more theologically," Tirvor paused and lowered himself onto an ornately carved bench, arranging his bulky, travel-stained, frayed and faded robes, all crimson and black, about him. He reached up to remove the strange, heavy conical headpiece by the ornately carved earflaps, and placed it beside him, the metal chains and dangling ornaments clinking faintly on the stone. "I was able to lavish enough másh-brandy and silver upon the 'Hierophant of the Dusty Shelves at the 'Pavilion of Twilight’s' library, and he was able to locate a, very possibly spurious fragment of an Irzakh recension of the 'Lament of the Wheel of Black' (then known locally as either 'The Eternal Glory of the Inferno All-Consuming' or 'The Ode to the Great Wheel of Fire') and, as possible evidence in the "yes-Nose of Flame, no-Nose of Flame" dogma debate, I must point out the verses where the Pthuanath, the sandal-bearer of our Lord of Red Ruin, begged for permission to strike a blow in the battle. With your kind indulgence…"

Tirvor placed a hand over the silver egg-shaped medallion he still wore, closed his eyes, and began to sing in a deep rumbling voice. The cadence was different, unusual, foreign, but not altogether displeasing. He continued for several minutes, slowly swaying with the rhythm, and then stopped to view his audience. "That was the opening to the ode from which I plan to quote. I do little justice to it…a singer of epics I am not. I beg your pardon, but I thought it useful to give you the feel of how this tale would have been presented by and to a people who swept across the civilized world, conquering and cleansing in fire, for the glory of the 'Lord of Red Devastation', and, who are now nothing but ash and dust.

I must also point out that in translation the poetic structure and most of the imagery is lost, and for the sake of time, the honorifics and formal forms of address have been withheld. We are not, after all, a band of warriors and brothers gathered around the cooking fires waiting for the night to pass and for the dawn, and glorious battle, to come."

Tirvor took up and unrolled an age-stained scroll upon his lap. Following the text with a calloused finger he read:

Pthuanath, humble and small, kneeled and places the Mighty Flame’s right foot upon her head. "Dread Lord," she pleaded, "Grant me leave to depart from your radiance for just the span of a few heartbeats. Permit me to stand for just a moment in the midst of the vanguard of your host and raise a hand in righteous anger against the rabble of the 'Vain and Impotent Lord of Secrets'!"

A hint of a smile crossed the Flame’s face and He raised his shield and pointed the boss at the foe’s left flank.

Pthuanath, humble and dutiful, struck her forehead to the ground nine times, and then leapt to her feet. She strode to the leading edge of the battle-line, pushing aside many a great demon-lord of the Flame, who dared not notice an affront given in the directed service of the Flame.

Pthuanath, brave and wise, drew a small bronze blade and cut a lock from her long braided tresses. From her virginal left breast she coaxed three drops of life-giving milk, which glinted copper in the half-light. These she touched to the lock, whispering nineteen words of power unto it, as she wove it into the mystic glyph.

Pthuanath, flushed with pride in her Lord, raised the lock over her head where it began to glow, then shine with a crimson light. Here, to the far left, advanced the uncountable demonic legions of the Blue Lord’s brhé'tha -- great undulating land worms whose skin and adamantine claws glistened and hissed with the corrosive venom whose slightest touch spelled a quick and agonizing death. The hootings and wailings that emanated from multiple orifices grated and creaked in ways that turned to water the bowels of many Hero’s of the Flame.

Here also, on the near left, advanced a thousand thousand of those demons who served the 'Black Sword of Doom'. The vhákth, shadowy and billowing puff-bladders, floated two man-heights above the broken and scorched ground, trailing their masses of silver and blue tendrils. Where the tips of these tendrils touched the earth they laid open gaping furrows, much as the butcher lays open the breast of a hmélu. These drifted quickly forward, as if blown by a strong and directed wind, but in utter and disturbing silence.

Pthuanath, radiant with joy, cried out the three secret names and flung the lock towards the advancing lines on the left flank. It sped, like the stooping küni-bird, towards the murderous rabble, until it froze suddenly in the air, a mere spear’s cast before the advancing line. The glowing glyph hung there slowly rotating growing ever brighter. The cowardly demons of the dark quailed before this wonder, until they were beaten forward and rallied by their masters, who laughed and mocked this feeble effort.

Heartened, the foe advanced to reap dire slaughter in the ranks of the faithful, when a sound ripped the air, like that of a cliff-face sundering, and a tsán of living granite hurling itself into the sea. Coruscating flame ripped the glyph in two, to the right and to the left. First a great wave of crimson light, outflying the flame crashed over the lines like a tidal wave, buffeting and hurling bodies like leaves in a great inundation. Unnatural screams tore from brhé'tha as dark and clay-like flesh was ripped from carbon-blacked bones and eyes blanched and melted in sockets. To the other side vhákth slammed into each other, casings excoriated as if by thousands of razor-sharp claws, tendrils blown from bodies as the antennae and legs are pulled free of the still living étla-crab.

Then, as is the compassionate and noble nature of the flame, the suffering ended. The expanding wall of flame whelmed the demon hordes, silencing the anguished cries of the brhé'tha, consuming their flesh, purifying their unnatural venoms, and reducing the imperishable bone to a fine white powder, to settle and blend harmoniously with the sands of the field. The vhákth shriveled silently, the blackened membranes desiccated and thrown to the skies in a great heated upwelling, like a basket of autumn leaves tossed in a raging fire pit, to float gently on the breeze, ash-white and fragile.

Back on the hill, as the two legions of sharetlyal collapsed and vanished from the field in ash and smoke, the fan bearers, servants to the Flame, took up their task and in great gales wafted the sweet scents of the burning towards their Lord, who stretched out his mighty arms wide, planted the butt of his spear in the earth and breathed deep the pleasing offering, the gift of his sandal-bearer.

Tirvor fell silent and slowly rolled up the fragile parchment. "Here ends the fragment. The tale goes on to tell that Pthuanath returned immediately to her duties as the Dread Lord’s sandal-bearer, content with her lot and her place and eternally honored that she was permitted to have a deed recorded in the 'Eternal Book of Burnings'. 'The Mighty Flame' later rewarded her dual strike with a pair of offspring, twins of His loins, puissant demon-lords of the flame.

Throughout the tale the refrain of the chorus repeatedly moves to the view of the Flame’s coterie and particularly the fan-bearers. These great towering men, with skin of sizzling black iron, have the duty to fan the life-giving heat from the 'Mighty Flame' out to the myriad worlds under his protection. The nomads of the great deserts of the south, and those who inhabit the cities bordering the blazing sands know well the nature of 'Breath of the God', which sears the lung and desiccates all before it.

This image of the Flame "breathing deeply" of the results and gifts of battle are oftrepeated thru the epic. Perhaps its poetic license...perhaps it is a facet of the nature of the god and something in this offering, real or metaphorical is sustaining to the god.

This traditional tale may thus and fuel to the fire of the debate. Or it may not. What matters what one old man has to say, né? Such are some of the debates of the templedorm theologians."

(Translator’s note: One can clearly see the hand of a later commentator or writer wishing to turn the tale to his own ends. The description of the nature of the dark demons is self-contradictory and imbues them with incongruous human failings.)

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