by Keith Matthews
Once upon a time, in a place far, far away, a handsome prince by the name of Elrawkum wandered into the lands of Sifor’um. His cultured brow knotted, betraying a deep pain behind his cool gaze. His was a tortured soul, racked with guilt at the doubts gnawing away at him. He was no longer sure if he loved the beautiful Effem (nee Seaem), who had been the love of his life for nearly fifteen years. Things were strained between them and Elrawkum was compelled to discover if the problem lay with her, or indeed, himself. Where his quest would take them, he did not know. But he knew, somehow, that the answer would lie somewhere in Sifor’um.
After briefly scouting the realm of Jeekue and deciding that there was no intelligent life to be found, Elrawkum made his way deeper into Sifor’um until alighting on a place which made his skin crawl and his blood boil. This dark place, The House of the Spawn, was filled with creatures of low moral fibre and within whom the spark of intelligence barely flickered. He could not hold his tongue. “You are all idiots”, he cried, and then, before the filthy slime creatures could attack, he quickly rode off.
Elrawkum next came upon the pleasantly innocuous, but strangely named Grafskin Hideout. Elrawkum couldn’t really understand what they were hiding from, or why, as most of its inhabitants happily spent their days painting pretty pictures (Elrawkum secretly thought a few of the pictures were garish and quite unpleasant, but was too polite to say so). Everyone seemed to love the Grafskinners, as they were known. They made the world a nicer and more interesting place to look at, after all. After helping a little lost boy find the path to Customart, Elrawkum continued on his way, newly confident after his tentative first steps into Sifor’um.
Elrawkum then approached a strange new land. It was filled with madmen; baying hordes crying for succour… “What manner of place is this?” thought Elrawkum. He saw then that the hordes were worshipping strange scientist gods, and were appealing directly to them, imploring them to help. It seemed they wanted the gods to tell them the secrets of creation. “We want to know everything!” they cried. “Now!” Elrawkum was horrified at the fury of these appeals, as if these gods were beholden to the mob somehow.
Perhaps affected by the frenzy around him, something suddenly snapped within Elrawkum. He began to rage, ranting at the scientist gods. “I don’t want everything,” he cried. “I just want to feel the love I once felt for Effem again. She has forsaken me. She lies and deceives and refuses to listen to anything I tell her. I’m not crazy, it’s her, not me, I am completely calm and rational. It can’t be my fault!”
Immediately feeling embarrassed by his outburst, Elrawkum was about to leave the land of scientist gods and screaming hordes. However, one of the gods, a kindly elder, turned to Elrawkum and said, “It is not she. You are not looking at her correctly. Learn to look at her with new eyes and you will see the deeper beauty she now holds . Far deeper than she ever did in her youth.”
With these simple, calming words, as if by magic, a veil was lifted from Elrawkum’s eyes and soul. He knew he loved Effem once more and rushed to be reunited with her. Somehow, without being conscious of any difference in her aspect, Elrawkum found her beautiful and charming once more. He lavished gifts upon her; a new patch and some pretty clothes he had picked up from Grafskin. He spent hours gazing at the subtle play of her sliders, caressing the soft inner flesh of her training module and once more enjoyed spending nights without end in her company.
Elrawkum was so happy in his rekindled love, that he vowed to return to the land of the scientist gods and help the poor screaming hordes find their own paths to happiness.
For a time, Elrawkum was content. He built a small home for himself and even gained his own small band of worshippers. Although as Elrawkum was not a scientist god and couldn’t help the crazy ones win everything their hearts desired immediately, he never drew a large following.
Something, however, was not quite right. Oh, Elrawkum loved Effem more than ever, but still something was nagging at him. He became annoyed at the hordes who were demanding his help but were too lazy to do anything for themselves. They kept coming back, insisting he do more for them. Always more. And never grateful (oh they kissed his feet and cow-towed in his demesne, but outside his walls they were fickle and deceitful, often claiming Elrawkum’s work as their own).
Some of the cursed horde even attempted to cause war between the scientist gods and the peaceful Elrawkum, accusing him in venemous whispers of stealing the knowledge of the gods themselves. The gods spoke amongst themselves, promising dread punishments upon the errant Prince, their obsequious vassals spouting vile epithets to poison their thoughts against the oblivious Elrawkum.
However, word soon reached Elrawkum of the current of discontent flowing from the gods and their vassals. Confident of his innocence, Elrawkum approached the gods and told them he was angry at them. “I have never crossed swords with you, nor have I ever wandered into your territories. I am innocent of these insidious charges.” Throwing down the tomes which contained all his work, Elrawkum said, “My work. Take it apart if you desire. I expect your apology when I return.” And with this, Elrawkum strode from the Debating Chamber of the Tatt, sometimes known as the Halls of Offtop’ik (Offtop’ik is a small, unimportant god, but his shrines and temples are to be found almost everywhere).
During this time, Elrawkum, now feeling restless and no longer comfortable with the dishonesty and lack of ethics of many of those around him, started to look outside the relative comfort of his ivory tower in the land of Tatt.
For sport he found some pleasure in taunting the brainless creatures of Jeekue, occasionally using magic to transform into an ape like creature. However, after almost being banished for throwing faeces and inciting threats of violence, Elrawkum decided that perhaps Jeekue was not somewhere he should be spending his time.
Back in the land of Tatt, the scientist gods, upon discovering that Elrawkum’s tomes contained no knowledge stolen from them, apologised humbly and begged for Elrawkum’s forgiveness. Elrawkum, knowing that it was not the scientist gods who were at fault, but their dwarfish vassals, made peace with them, but knew that it was time for him to find a new home.
During this period of reflection Elrawkum discovered a rather wondrous but hostile little island, known as Llamaland.
There were screaming hordes here too occasionally, but the natives, rather than opening temples of worship, were banishing the base creatures, occasionally even throwing them on huge fires and dancing around with marshmallows.
The natives were a strange breed indeed. They were a kind of fairy-like creature, often savage, but occasionally showing remarkable levels of culture and intelligence.
They refused all pleas of help from strangers, callous in their absolute refusal to offer succour, in stark contrast with the scientist gods of Tatt. They refused to aid even each other, unless threatened by outsiders, when suddenly they would come from nowhere to beat off the incursion with swift and merciless determination. It was a tough, harsh environment.
They were led by a great Ogre, with a name that sounded strangely like a chocolatey orange treat. It spoke with a strange, guttural accent, so Elrawkum figured the name must be something from the beast’s native tongue. Despite its terrifying demeanour, it turned out that the Ogre was a canny and occasionally benevolent creature, capable of great destruction, but wise in the use of its power. Unlike the realm of Tatt, the Ogre was not worshipped as a god, and although accorded a measure of respect, he and his subjects spoke with great familiarity.
Elrawkum tried to understand their conversations, but they communicated in strange symbols and used a kind of code to obfuscate the meaning of their words.
Bizarrely, despite all this, Elrawkum was drawn to these odd creatures. They had a kind of moral purity, lacking elsewhere in the lands Elrawkum had visited. They were pragmatic and self-sufficient, relying on no-one but themselves to find their way in the world, doing what they needed to do to survive, but never behaving dishonourably in order to gain advantage over others or their environment. When they overcame the odds their world threw against them and became strong, there was a nobility about them that only comes with achieving great things with ones own mettle.
Occasionally, however, one of their number would break their strict code of honour and betray the tribe’s ethos. Punishment would be quick and severe. Elrawkum never knew what became of those poor pathetic souls, but they were never seen again and no bodies were ever found…
Occasionally the natives would allow an outsider to join their tribe. Elrawkum found this a fascinating ritual. First the outsider would approach and then attempt communication (the smarter ones reconnoitred first, not revealing themselves for many months in some cases). Often the outsider would break one of the tribe’s taboos or customs (which were clearly displayed in hangings and signs around their territory) upon first attempting communication. Teeth would be bared, knives sharpened, fires lit. An air of danger and death would linger, but no kill… yet. The newcomer would be given one chance to redeem themselves. If they prostrated themselves before the natives and begged forgiveness for their infraction, then they would be allowed to live and wander freely (although some of the natives made it their duty to watch the newcomer carefully). If they failed to show the requisite obeisance, however, retribution would be swift and merciless until the transgressor managed to escape back to their heathen lands.
Elrawkum saw that, provided the tribe’s customs were adhered to, outsiders could be welcomed. Elrawkum knew that this unusual little island in the depths of Sifor’um held the answers to the emptiness growing inside him. This was a society which would challenge him, he knew, but he was not afraid. He knew he and Effem could be happy here.
Knowing the natives would recognise him as being from Tatt, a realm which they had been at war with since the birth of Sifor’um, Elrawkum came humbly before the natives and begged to be allowed to join their community.
Others from Tatt had followed Elrawkum, however and failed to show the same respect. The natives, concerned that this was the head of an invasion, were suspicious and expelled all the Tatters from their lands. All but Elrawkum, whom they allowed to state his case. He was tested and probed.
Some of the natives didn’t trust in Elrawkum’s integrity and wished to banish him. Elrawkum argued his case passionately, desperately trying to convince the natives to allow him to stay. Already he had decided that should they banish him, he would adopt their customs regardless and he and Effem would live in the wilderness alone.
Then the great Ogre stepped forward. “You may stay,” he announced. “But I’ll be watching.”
And ever since that day, Elrawkum and Effem have lived together in sweet, harmonious bliss.
Well, maybe not completely harmoniously, nor particularly blissfully, but happily ever after nonetheless.
Elrawkum’s Odyssey by Keith Matthews is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.