Get Adobe Flash player

Within a day’s journey of the citadel Staameral established when he returned from his journey to the stars, there dwelt another Argandarr lord.  The name of this lord was Kollokh, and while the name of Staameral was already known and feared by all the nations and races of the world, Kollokh was unknown to the peasants who lived in the fields just out of sight of his castle.

Where Staameral had threescore wives or more, all of surpassing beauty, wit and valour, with skin like milk and voices like honey, Kollokh had only three. Compared with the wives of Kollokh, the sea was sweet, the shriek of the Palgar melodious, and the glance of the basilisk alluring; he spent most of his time hiding from them in the topmost tower of his castle.

For each hogshead of rubies in Staameral’s treasure hoard, Kollokh had a brass ring, or a stone with a hole in it.

Where Staameral’s citadel, larger than many mountain ranges, was guarded by innumerable legions of stalwart[1] warriors, so that when they shook their spears, the denizens of distant islands mistook the sound for thunder and closed their windows, Kollokh had no serving men save his three sons, none of whom dared go into the cellar for fear of being kneed in the face by dwarves.

Staameral had hundreds of brave sons who laughed at dragons, and threw themselves down precipices at their father’s command; these sons of Kollokh laughed chiefly at Kollokh, and spent their days skipping stones by the stream with the Prince of the Lomen, though in truth they had once or twice fallen down precipices , while running away from their father.

It must be added, however, that where Staameral has always justly been numbered among the wisest and most knowledgeable of the Argandarr, learned in all branches of the arts and sciences,[2] there are some degrees of cleverness that it is dangerous for Argandarr to possess. These sorts of low cunning, better suited to Lomen or certain of the less reputable Gods, had been superabundantly supplied to Kollokh, and to a degree made up for his other deficiencies.

Now it was the habit of Kollokh to walk the boundaries of his dominion for an hour or so in the afternoon, so as to escape the sharp tongue of Ekorazon, his first wife, and the quick fists of  Ekorazaal, his second wife, and the well-placed kicks and wickedly sharp horns of Ekorok, his third wife. There ran by his dominion on one side a stream – the same where his three sons used to skip stones with the Prince of the Lomen – which also ran near to the mighty citadel of Staameral, and on this afternoon he spied something unusual in the stream. What he saw was a few score of Argandarr women, bathing themselves in the cold rushing waters, naked as birds and far finer than the finest jade. Because of their beauty and fierce wilful eyes, he knew them at once for some of the wives of Staameral. It would hardly be fair to go into further detail of what Kollokh espied, from behind some bushes a little way removed from the bank, for to describe the appearance of  each of three-score wives of Staameral would only incite hopeless envy and despair in my readers. Nothing so marvellous exists on T’sai in these degenerate times.

Kollokh, who shared one attribute with Staameral, despite the many differences between them, was overcome at the sight of these fine young Argandarr beauties, so different from his own three wives. As he hobbled home, barely able to walk, he thought of the warty stick-like bodies of those three harridans and swore to himself a mighty oath by all the Gods he could remember.  This took the whole of the trip home, for it was not a long way, and Kollokh was an educated Argandarr, and knew the names of a great many Gods that more practical Argandarr have no use for. The substance of his oath was quite simple, however, and it was this: that he would get for himself those wives of Staameral, no matter what treachery or trickery it took.

“For what use is wisdom, and knowing all the secrets of the earth and the skies, if the secrets of the girth and the thighs are to remain forever unknown? As my old weapons master used to say, a fine sword should be used, not locked away in a treasure chamber.”

And Kollokh sat brooding in his draughty tower (which was, if the old stories can be believed, a little taller than Staameral) for a night and a day, and in the dark recesses of his mind there grew a devious scheme, as twisted and dishonourable as a Human.  He checked it over twice, and then chuckled to himself. When he had done this, he bade his three sons appear before him.

Gulk,  Kollokh’s eldest son, made haste to obey the summons, for he had just been dashed to the ground and stomped on by the young sister of the Lomen Prince after he made so free as to pinch her scrawny buttock. He feared the Prince of the Lomen would be wroth with him when he found out, and hurried into the presence of his father with his horns all knocked askew, so that one pointed straight up into the air and the other towards the ground.

Nulk, Kollokh’s second son, was rather slower to appear, while Vulk, his third son, was tardier yet, so that the day was nearly done by the time they were all ranked before him.

“Sons of mine,” said Kollokh, I have a plan, the execution of which will make my name great.”

And at this they made as if to marvel, and whispered among themselves as they did so. Said Gulk: “Look at that flush to the neck of our wise old father, and the sweat on his lip.” And Nulk: “See how his hands tremble, and how he hops from one foot to another.” And Vulk: “I think, my brothers, that like ourselves our father has been walking by the stream, and has seen the wives of Staameral, which sight has put him in a fever of excitement.  Now, no doubt, he believes that he can obtain them for himself by some addlepated stratagem.” (For Vulk had been well educated in the household of Kollokh, and admired large words). And Kollokh said: “Stop your gabbling, you useless sons, and attend to me.  I tell you, this is a marvellous plan, and you  should be honoured to assist in carrying it out.”

At this Kollokh’s sons were silent, and he gave them their instructions – to Gulk, he said: “Go out into the fields, and bring me a dozen black herdbeasts, the shaggy kind, and one white one.”  And he said to Nulk: “Bring me one of the braziers that we sold to the tavern, and a flagon of tolsty.”  And he said to Vulk: “Bring me an elven herbalist.”  And then the three sons of Kollokh were disturbed, and raised their voices all at once in complaint, talking over the top of one another. But in the end Kollokh ushered them all out of the castle, and locked the gate, so that they had no choice but to do as he bid them.[3]

Kollokh’s three sons returned over the next several days, laden down with the fruits of their labours.  Gulk was the first to return. He came in limping, and tied behind him on a bit of string were eleven black herdbeasts, wild and dangerous things, with bits of bracken stuck in their wool and fragments of his best cloak draped from their horns. The tip of one of Gulk’s horns was broken, and over his shoulder he carried a sack in which something squawked and struggled, though it was too small to be either a herd beast or a herbalist.

Kollokh counted the herdbeasts, and saw that there were two too few. And at this Kollokh berated his son, saying: “Can you not count? What have you got there in the sack? Not a herdbeast, I’ll warrant . Out with it!”

Gulk dumped the sack on the floor, and out came a bedraggled feathered creature, white in colour. It was of that kind that is called “Duck” and it scuttled over to sit behind Kollokh’s chair, casting evil glances at Gulk.  Said Kollokh: “This is what you call a herdbeast? Tell me your tale, and it had best be a good one, or I will chastise you with many chastisements.”

“O my father,” said Gulk. “It was with a cheerful heart that I set out to do as you bade me, but my joy soon turned to sorrow when I reached the village.  For in every field along the way I saw not one shaggy herdbeast. I asked the villagers what had become of the herdbeasts, and they said to me: ‘There are no herdbeasts within a hundred leagues, for Staameral is holding a great feast at his citadel and has bought them all.’”

“A likely story,” said Kollokh. “Since we Argandarr do not eat meat. But pray continue.”

“So, my father, I asked the villagers if they were certain, and if there might be any herd beasts that were judged too ill-bred and scrawny for the table of  Staameral; and they said, no. But, they said that there were in one remote place a small flock of herdbeasts that were too bad-tempered and vicious for the gamekeepers of Staameral, and could not be caught for all their cunning.

So I snuck to the secluded place where these diabolical creatures were lurking, and cutting the mooring rope of the ferry boat with my knife, made away with them under cover of  darkness.”

“What do you mean, you cut the rope of the ferry boat?  What sort of a secluded place was this?”

“O my father,” said Gulk. “The secluded place of which I speak was a – a very secluded – secluded castle in the wilds, ringed about with fell and terrible mountains, as sharp as spears and crawling with dragons as thick as flies on one of Ekorok’s puddings.  And it was surrounded by a moat – yes, a wide moat, like a river – and furthermore by an open space within the moat where were kept these very herd beasts, which because of their viciousness were used to guard the castle. So I swum the moat, fighting off the sea monsters that dwelt within, and subdued the herdbeasts beyond, and led them on to the boat used to cross the moat – for which reason I called it a ‘ferry boat’.  It was only after all these unimportant details that I cut the rope and made off with the herdbeasts. I had to cut the rope, dear father, because the boat had been tied to the mooring post by the master of that place, a most diabolically clever enchantress, with a knot so fiendishly complicated that she alone could untie it.”

“Your story becomes more ludicrous with each passing moment,” said Kollokh. “But pray continue. Did you chance to meet this fearsome enchantress of yours?”

“Yes, O wisest of fathers. I had the protection of the Gods up until this point in my tale, but they have much to look after across the wide face of T’sai, so it is not surprising that they allowed the enchantress to notice my  daring theft. Not through negligence – nay, far be it from me to calumniate the gracious Gods, but rather through their boundless excess of care for us mortals, endeavouring to employ their powers everywhere at once. At one moment to assist a humble fisherwoman in Nargan, the next to find the stolen sword of a slaver in Torobasnik. But I digress -” said Gulk, who saw Kollokh had a fruit in his hand and was about to throw it at him.

“When I approached the farther shore of the moat, the enchantress was there waiting for me, jumping up and down and shouting: ‘Thief! Thief! I’ll tell my father on you, you Loman-loving pipsqueak!’”

“Now this,” observed Kollokh. “This part of the tale rings true.  But what manner of enchantress was this, that she had need to call her father to punish you? Could she not have blasted you to cinders with bolts of green fire, or turned you into a Velk?”

“Yes – yes, O wisest of fathers, that she could have indeed, but for – but for the amulet I wore, that I had found hanging from the neck of the largest and finest herd beast, and had on a hunch slipped around my own neck.  It was an amulet of protection against all manner of magics, with which she had protected her herd against the malevolent enchantments of her enemies, and thus it rendered me immune even to her potent spells. So she was driven to call upon the unholy name of her father.

For this enchantress (it is well known) was not begotten of mortal loins, but was begotten upon an Argandarr maid by a mighty and terrible fiend of the pit, named Ghraghralzabor, with four arms and the legs of a giant grasshopper and enormous fangs that dripped black poison.  Furthermore this Ghraghralzabor had the head of a Taracen, the tongue of a Flaigar, and cunning nearly the equal of yours, o father. This enchantress in nowise resembled her father, except in wickedness, and was goodly to look upon.  She had, for example, the most delicate white ears. Her thighs also were as smooth and as white as milk. And as for her breasts, they were covered with the finest downy hair, and as she jumped up and down they leapt up like twin calves might jump for joy at seeing their mother.  But again, I digress,” said Hulk hurriedly.

“I made a magical sign to the enchantress, which I had learned in my travels, whereupon she insulted me in gross terms, saying: ‘You filthy beast! I have never seen such a disgusting creature in my life.’  Whereupon I – whereupon I then – I then defeated the enchantress, who had been thought so invulnerable, by a most devious and clever stratagem, the details of which I am too modest to go into. And having done so, I returned to your castle, o father, bringing with me these eleven vicious black herdbeasts.”

“That part. at least, appears to be true.” said Kollokh, picking through the bowl of fruit for a squishy one. “But how came you by this foul-tempered white creature? And where is this magical amulet of yours? I would fain see it.”

“O my father,” said Gulk. “It is useless to try and conceal anything from you, for you are farseeing and wise. This creature is in fact the enchantress herself, so you can see the reason for her foul temper. I had sought to hide the details of my stratagem from you, but now I see it was to no avail. While on the inner side of the moat, I had been driven by curiosity to scale the wall of the castle, as I could see from far below a curious window in its sheer face. I climbed the wall, giving no thought to my own safety, and through the window I saw a room filled with the most wonderful magical treasures, such as perhaps not even Staameral has in his secret chambers.  There were scrying mirrors, orioles of gold that sang and did sums, rings of sapphire and azurite graven with mysterious runes, faeries in bottles, wands of ivory and sceptres of diamond, besides many other things. So I stretched my arm through the window, which was too narrow for my head, and brought out what I could, hoping that it would be of use. All that was within my reach was a pair of magical petticoat trousers, so these I took, and climbed back down the wall.

I knew that I had little time to defeat the enchantress, for her father was certain to arrive at any moment, and besides having magical powers she was as strong as a Gort, and had horns as sharp as spears. So my only chance to defeat her was to hope these magic petticoat trousers were a weapon against her, and hope that they were adequate to the task. So, when the enchantress insulted me, I put them on myself. Then I wrestled with her, but to no avail; I felt no different, as though the magic of the petticoat-trousers was affecting me not at all. Then I remembered the amulet – I was immune to all injurious magics. So the petticoat trousers must be cursed!

I compelled the enchantress to wear the petticoat trousers, whereupon she was transformed into the creature you see before you. She shrank away before my eyes: her arms were transformed into wings, her muzzle into a beak, her buttocks into a tail, and her downy breasts into a downy breast. Only her horns remained, and these I straight away picked up and threw into the moat, so that she could not transform back again. Then, I bundled her into a sack.”

After a pause Gulk began again, eyeing Kollokh’s fruit-hurling arm.

“Unfortunately, in my haste I caught the chain that held the amulet round my neck with the tip of one of the enchantress’ horns. The chain broke, and the amulet was cast into the moat. I would have dived in and recovered it, but almost at once both horns and amulet were swallowed up by one of the sea monsters in the moat.”

Then said Kollokh: “Your tale appeared to me an appalling stew of lies, and I will not bother to pick the bits of truth out, since they are so besmeared with greasy falsehood. Well done, you are a true son of mine!”

And Kollokh commanded Gulk concerning the black herdbeasts, to knock them each on the head with a block of wood, and skin them, and tan their hides; and Gulk promised that he would do it.

Then Kollokh fell upon that beast which is called duck, and tore out the greater part of its feathers, and put them in a sack. And the creature lurked behind the throne, most dishevelled, and stared venomously at the two Argandarr.

Nulk was the next to return, carrying – instead of a brazier – a bronze helmet.  And tucked under his belt he bore – instead of a jug of tolsty – a crystal vial with a golden stopper, engraved all over with mysterious symbols, and with some sort of purple liquor sloshing around inside. He was covered with dust from head to toe, and he walked stiffly, as though he had been trodden on by a riding beast – as indeed he had.

Kollokh was irate, and berated his son, saying “where is the brazier? Did the publican not give it back? And I see you have forgotten the tolsty.  Tell me your tale, and it had best be a good one, or I will chastise you with many chastisements.”

And Nulk sat down on the helmet, which was really too big for him to carry, and sitting on it, told his tale.

“I set out, o wise father, with the best will in the world, to fulfil your command and make your name glorious. Before I had gone a tenth part of the way to the tavern in the glen, however, a great weariness overcame me, such as I had never experienced before. I believe it must have been a malevolent ensorcellment of your enemies-” he said, and then he had to duck, for Kollokh had thrown a fruit at his head.

“-An ensorcellment, so I lay down and slept forthwith in the road, thinking but to rest myself a short while. I lay there, and so great was my ardour to fulfill your wishes that in my dreams I faced a thousand dangers and unspeakable torments. In my journey to the distant goal, I slew twenty serpents, each of them as big around as a town of moderate size, with my own hooves and horns-”

And Kollokh threw another fruit, which stuck on the end of one of Nulk’s horns, so that he was forced to continue.

“I woke to find that a riding beast had trodden on me, bruising me (as you can see) severely, and that it had reared up – upset, no doubt, at causing such distress to a scion of the house of  Kollokh. Its rider, I saw, was one of the liegemen of Staameral, gorgeously caparisoned, beweaponed and bearmoured to an awful degree. He was returning from the wars in distant mountains, and his satchel bulged with spoil. This warrior urged his mount toward me, and spoke angry words to me for lying in the highroad, slandering our house in vivid terms. He pursued me with his great sword in one hand, whirling and flashing above his head, and the great hooves of his riding beast smashing stones to dust as they crashed down a hairsbreadth behind me. And by a clever ruse, which I am too modest to recount, I made my escape.” (“By which he means,” said Gulk, “that he hid himself in a bramble bush, from the look of his raiment.”)

“Returning to the scene of my resting to retrieve my cloak – which was sadly beyond repair – I found these two items lying in the road, having doubtless fallen from the warrior’s satchel when his riding beast reared. I saw at once that this helmet would afford, with a little application of the blacksmith’s art, a fitting substitute for the brazier you asked for; and that this vial no doubt contained a liquor finer than tolsty, for why else bring it back to Staameral from the strongholds of the dwarves? And I saw that this occurrence must have been my destiny, that the merciful Gods had prepared for you these finer substitutes for the things you had asked for, and I praised them forthwith. And I sought no more the braziers and the tolsty, for it is always foolish to refuse the gifts of the Gods. And so as not to waste any time, as I knew you craved to bring your plan to fruition, I hurried back at once, pausing only to regain my strength after my dreadful experiences.”

And Kollokh would have thrown another fruit at his son Nulk, but his son Gulk had eaten the last one in the meantime. And it is related that Kollokh then said to Nulk: “How well I remember it! When Ekorazaal was bearing you, she was frightened in turn by a log, a large rock, and a philosopher – and you have turned out to be stupider than any of them!” And he kicked the helmet of Staameral’s liegeman out from under Nulk, so that it rolled off behind the throne, where the creature called duck was hiding. Kollokh chipped his hoof as he did this, so that both Gulk and Nulk laughed to see him hopping about on one leg, and his anger waxed greater.

“Fool! Dolt! And as for this foul concoction -” he seized the crystal vial full of purple liquor – “I had hoped to refresh myself with a drink of tolsty before beginning my great work, and instead you have brought me this irstwhyell liniment, this perfume for Ruhurdh harlots, this vile fluid extracted no doubt from the pussy sores of some noisome reptile. Drink it, shall I? Let’s see how you like it!” And Kollokh grabbed hold of Nulk’s nostrils with one hand , forced open his mouth, and poured in the contents of the crystal vial. “Better than tolsty indeed!” said Kollokh to Nulk, who was standing quite still with steam rising from his tongue, “one would hardly think so, to look at you now, you microcephalic halfwit-”

And then Kollokh paused, because something odd was happening to Nulk. First his tongue, and then his eyes, turned a delicate shade of pale green, which turned to a bright grassy green, and flowed over the rest of his face, and cascaded down his neck and chest – yes, and all the rest of him – right down to his feet. Even his horns were green, like jade, or milk that has been left sitting from Midsummer’s Day to Muustagon’s Eve. When it was finished he looked just like a smaller and uglier version of the emerald statue of Prince Vhulgar that Staameral stole from the treasure chambers of the Emperor Dzagash of Flilpansnik.[4]

When they saw the change in Nulk, his father and brother fell about in helpless laughter, rolling on the floor and making sport of him.

“You had best avoid the cucumber patch from now on,” chortled Gulk. “Or else some accident might befall you!”

“Yes, and when you go swimming you had best mind yourself,” advised Kollokh. “For a Klemn might fancy you, now that you are such a handsome hue!”

And Kollokh and Gulk continued in this way to taunt Nulk, and laugh at him. But Nulk ran off to his mother Ekorazaal, and told to her the tale of his unjust treatment, so that she left off what she was doing and came out to give Kollokh a hiding.  There is a fine ballad of the Argandarr that recounts how thoroughly Kollokh was thrashed, called “The Thrashing of Kollokh by Ekorazaal”, which is full of good advice to Argandarr husbands.   Unfortunately, it is rather too long to recount here in full.

Evening turned to morning, and the next day had nearly passed, before Vulk finally arrived at the fortress of his father, staggering under the weight of a large sack. He tipped it out in front of Kollokh and his brothers, and true enough it contained a Loman. with long white hair in which burrs and fish bones were tangled.  The Loman wore no shoes, and its eyes and face were flushed with wine.

“You are going to tell me this sot is a herbalist?” said Kollokh to his son Vulk,. He was still sore from his hiding , which could be seen from the way he stood in front of his chair, instead of sitting on it., and was in a foul temper.

“Why yes, this is an Loman herbalist,” said Vulk proudly, if a bit out of breath. He had evidently suffered less on the journey than his brothers, but was weary from his exertions.

“Can it talk?” said Kollokh. “It seems a sorry sort of creature.”

“I wonder what it makes of Nulk,” said Gulk. “Herbalist, this is Nulk – half marrow, half Argandarr.” Then Gulk

and Vulk fell to laughing, but Kollokh still ached from his thrashing and bade them shut their traps.

“Of course I can talk!” said the loman, sounding peevish. “What are you going to do to me? I was peacefully sleeping, minding nobody’s business but my own, when this lout dragged me out of my resting place and stuffed me into a sack! I demand that you release me at once!”

“Quiet!” said Kollokh. “I have need of a herbalist, and bid my son Vulk fetch me one. You need not fear, for you will be treated as well as might be expected, and rewarded handsomely. You are an herbalist, are you not?”

Then wailed the drunken old loman: “No! Let me go!”

And Kollokh’s face darkened, and he said to Vulk – “I commanded you to bring me a herbalist, and yet this loman appears to be something else entirely. Can you do nothing properly?” And Gulk and Nulk cried out together “Chastise him!” and the elve cried “Let me go!”

Vulk puffed out his scrawny chest and began to speak: “My most wise father, and my valiant brothers; hear my tale before you condemn me out of hand {this should go before!} Surely you know that elves are tricksy creatures, and do not hesitate to bend the truth when it suits them. Why, if an elve thought it might avoid some irksome task, it would deny its own head, and claim its nostrils belonged to someone else.”

And  Kollokh said: “Tell go ahead and tell me your tale, and it had best be a good one, or I will chastise you with many chastisements.” And Nulk and Gulk cried out together: “Chastise him!” and the elve cried “Let go of me, you pointy-headed lunatics!” And then Kollokh said, “Be still, you lot, or I will poke out your eyes!”

And Vulk continued: “When you commanded me to seek a herbalist, most wise father, I set out for the wood. For I knew that there dwelt the Prince of the Lomen and his people, among whom herbalists are not uncommon. But the Prince would not receive me, for reasons of which Gulk knows better than I, so I was forced to travel further afield. And neither in the villages close at hand nor in the further towns across the water  could I find rumour of a herbalist.  So I wandered, footsore and weary, for many days-”

“One moment,” said Kollokh. “You have not been gone a week. What do you mean, you wandered for  many days?

“So I wandered, footsore and weary, for several days,” Vulk continued. “Over mountains and valleys, through forests and across rivers beyond number, until I came to the renowned elven city of Laparodromis. I told the guards at the gate of my quest, and they brought me before the king of that place. He was an hoary old elf, with arms and legs like twigs, and sat hardly moving on a high throne of ivory. But his eyes were bright and clear and as he gazed upon me he seemed to search my inmost thoughts. I met his gaze proudly of course, as befits a scion of the mighty house of Kollokh, and said: “O King, I am called Vulk, of the House of Kollokh, and I have journeyed many long miles across mountains and valleys and rivers, and seen many wonders. I am seeking a herbalist, so that it might enter the service of my father. Have you such a thing in these parts?”

And the king stared at me with his cunning lomenish eyes, that seemed to burn with unearthly fire, and his bloodless lips parted in a faint smile as he said: “Yes.” And his voice was as dry as salt.

“Yes?” I said, hardly daring to believe my luck.

“Yes,” said the king, “-and No.”  And he gave a signal with his hand, and all the men and women of his court fell to weeping and wailing. And he gave a different signal again, and they stopped and dried their eyes. “Yes, for among our people herbalists are held in great honour, and Laparodromis has always been famed for the skill of the herbalists who dwell here. So it has always been, and so it always will be. Indeed, we are named in the old songs, “Laparodromis, City of Ten Thousand Herbalists”. All of the cleverest and most honourable of our youth are trained in the arts of herbalism, in the lore of  all plants and flowers, and our king,” he indicated himself, “is advised in all that he does by a council of eleven herbalists.” And he proceeded to tell me what each of them were titled, and what sort of herbs they concerned themselves with, and I thought to myself “what tedious and long-winded bores these Lomen are!” but what I said was: “It appears that I have come to the right place.” And I said further: “Show me to these herbalists of yours, and I will take the best back to my father, who is a King of  Incomparable Power.”

“Do not be so hasty, worthy Prince,” said the King. “For my answer was also “No”. Know that a great calamity has befallen Laparodromis. Yes, a very great calamity.” And he gave the signal again, which set the women and men of his court to weeping and wailing.

“Three and twenty years ago this very day, the High Herbalist of Laparodromis, chief of the Eleven, sailed forth on a quest. She left to seek the exceedingly rare flowering shrub which is called Cyriac’s Balm, or Sweet Nepenthe of High Autumn. For the High Herbalist wished to restore herself to her youthful beauty and vigour, such being the reputed property of this Cyriac’s Balm. And she said she wished also to restore to their youth all the citizens of Laparodromis, sparing not even the king himself.  I tried to dissuade her from her rash quest, saying: “No loman has seen such a shrub in a hundred lifetimes.” And: “To make designs on such things is to incur the anger of the Gods.” But she would not listen to me, and we quarrelled. And with her fine oratory she filled the livers of all the herbalists of Laparodromis with the same mad dream, so that the greater part of them sailed off together with her, on a fleet of eleven silver ships.

It is our custom not to ordain new herbalists, nor give them leave to enter the service of other monarchs, without the approval of the High Herbalist. And though I  have forgiven her of her rashness, and would fain make peace with her, she is gone; and all our herbalists likewise, save a few half-trained apprentices and half-blind dotards.  And not until her return can even such as they be sent with you.”

What manner of city is this,” I said, “where there is not one hero to go forth and seek a missing sage of such importance? If this were my father’s city, a hundred – nay a thousand – kollwart warriors would have set out on such a quest each Muustagon’s Eve, and a further two-thousand on each day of Vorraghis.”

“It is a rare and curious thing that you should speak thusly,” the King said to me, smiling a little more broadly. “For, you see, we have in our possession a mighty work of sorcery from days long vanished, a magical talisman which will unerringly lead its possessor to any Loman anywhere in the world. But the bearer of the talisman must be pure of heart, and must never have known fear.”

And I said: “Do not tell me there is no one pure of heart among you!”

And the king shrugged his gaunt shoulders, and said “We are lomen.”

“Then it falls to me,” I said, “to find this herbalist, and bring her here, and afterwards to bring her to my father; for I am pure of heart, and my valour has never been tainted by fear.””

And Nulk cried out in a loud voice: “Ha!”

And both Gulk and Nulk fell about laughing, for Vulk had started at the sound, and gone to hide behind the throne. But the creature called duck was there, and drove him away again.

Said Vulk: “The king gave me the talisman, which was carved out of carnelian, and in the shape of an eagle. And I held it over my head, holding one leg in my left hand and one leg in my right, as the king had told me. And I called out the name of the High Herbalist in a loud voice, as he had instructed.  Immediately the eagle sprang to life, and lifted me into the air, so I dangled in the middle of the throne room. The king smiled broadly, and made a gesture, and one of his court came forward with a long thorn, and stabbed my foot with it; and the king said: “Be back in an hour for the antidote.”

Then the king made yet another gesture, and a hole opened in the domed roof of the palace, through which I could see the sun shining; and the carnelian eagle flew straight for it like an arrow shot from a bow. It carried me through the hole in the roof of the palace, and up into the sky, so that the city of Laparodromis looked like a jumble of stones at my feet.  And behind me I could hear the laughter of the king, and knew that he was an evil king, and he had arranged things that I might have no hope of conveying the herbalist to you, dear father.

Meanwhile the carnelian eagle flew through the sky with prodigious speed, over mountains and valleys and forests, and rivers like skeins of silver thread, till it came to earth again, in less time than it takes to tell it. It deposited me alongside a hedge in a place many leagues from Laparodromis, whereupon it turned to dead stone once again. And I recognised with some surprise that the hedge was within a few score paces of the inn in the glen, dear father, and I marvelled greatly at the ineffable workings of the gods which had brought me back so near to your castle in such a brief time. And when I had praised them all mightily, I saw laying at my feet this very herbalist which you see before you, and I recognised by certain indications which the king had told me that this was indeed the High Herbalist. I roused him, and spoke to him, and found that he had not only changed his gender, as is the habit of the elves, but had lost his memory.  I would not listen to any of his protests, but straightway stuffed him in the very sack you see before you, for I knew I had but little time to return to Laparodromis and get the antidote for whatever foul poison the perfidious king of that place had jabbed me with. I knew, also, that I must devise some stratagem to outwit him, or I would never leave his palace with a herbalist – or, perhaps, at all.

So I took the eagle again in my hands, and pronounced the name of the King of Laparodromis, which was Lambarandoraxeras-”

“Verily, this tale is a heap of dung,” said Kollokh. “It is but lies from one end to the other, like a podrigast is black from the tip of its nose to the tip of its tail.” And he clouted Vulk on the head and said – “I do not think I need to hear anymore.” And Gulk cried out: “Chastise him!” and Nulk cried out: “Chastise him!” but the loman had given up shouting, and was sneaking very quietly to the door, knowing himself to be among madmen.

And Kollokh would have chastised Vulk with many chastisements, but Vulk pleaded with his father, saying: “Please, O father of the wise and valourous; I know you can see what others can not, and it is fruitless to tell you the least little untruth. Let me but finish my tale, and then you can decide what to do with me.”

So Kollokh relented, and Vulk continued: “The eagle came again to life, and took me up into the sky, and bore me back to the king’s palace of Laparodromis in less time than it takes to tell it. And the king rubbed his hands, and  cackled; and his laughter was like dry branches clashing together when the winter shakes them. And he cried: “At last, o vilest of traitors, I have brought you back! What you would not give me then I will seize today!” And he gave orders to his guards, and they came forward, and seized hold of the sack containing the High Herbalist, and dragged it to the throne. And they loosed the cord that bound it, so that it fell down around the herbalist’s ankles. And the old king hobbled down the throne, and grabbed from the belt of the High Herbalist a silken pouch marked with many runes, which I had not seen before.

Then the king cackled again, so that the palace rang with his laughter. Said he: “You did not think you could keep it from me forever, O traitor, the secret to youth dieternal?” And he opened the silk pouch and took out a handful of dried leaves. “Sweet Nepenthe of High Autumn!” he cried out. “Balm of Cyriac! Now the power that belongs to the Gods is mine!”

And the herbalist stood up to his full height, and though he was of great ugliness, and had burrs and fish-bones tangled in his hair, I could see the power of Lomen-magick shining in his visage, and knew that he was a great sage, and had only pretended to lose his memory. “Do not take it,” he said. “I beg you, who were once great. You little know what it is that you would do…”

And in this way the herbalist and the king continued conversing. But I paid little notice, and said to one of the king’s guards who was standing close at hand: “Bring me the antidote, and be quick about it.”

But he only laughed and said, “There is no antidote.”

And I knew then that I had no hope, and I said: “At least I can die a hero,” and made to rush forward at the throne, but the guard grabbed my arm, and said: “Fool! There is no antidote, because our city is without herbalists, and there is no one with any knowledge of poisons. You were only stuck with an ordinary thorn, smeared with butter.” So I hit him.

And then I rushed forward and threw myself to the floor, and grabbed the herbalist’s sack with my horns, and lifting the carnelian eagle above my head cried out in a loud voice the name of a fair loman maid who is known to me. Then the eagle lifted me up into the air, sack, herbalist, and all, and we were carried through the hole just as it closed. It swiftly bore us to the inn in the glen, from which we-”

“The Inn in the Glen! You spent all this time with some loman harlot at the Inn?” And Kollokh was about to clout Vulk over the head again, when Gulk said: “I am sorry to interrupt you, dear father, but that herbalist of Vulk’s seems to have scarpered.” And true enough he had, having made his way out the door while Kollokh and his two sons listened to Vulk’s tale. “Nine and Ninety and Ninehundred and Ninety festering pustules!” shouted Kollokh, and he dashed about seeking the herbalist. And while he was doing this, Vulk snuck off into the forest, and avoided being chastised with many chastisements.

And Gulk and Nulk snuck off after him, for they were sick of running about on behalf of their father, and being pelted with fruit.

Then Kollokh took his grandmother’s axe and knocked the eleven black herdbeasts on the head, and skinned them; for Gulk had not done as he had been commanded. And Kollokh stitched the eleven skins together, one after another, and made something that was not quite a cloak and not quite a sack, but hairy and more odorous than a Irstwhyell.  It was big enough for three Argandarr to fit in, if they were small, and stood close together in single file.

And Kollokh took the helmet that Nulk had brought, and hammered it, and attached a rusty chain to it, so that it looked something like a brazier.

Afterwards Kollokh sent for the Prince of the Lomen, who had reason to be wroth with the three brothers, and wanted to obtain damages from their father. And Kollokh closeted himself with the Prince of the Lomen, and blandished him with many blandishments, and drank many hornfuls of that drink of the Lomen which is called “brithilbrim”[5] until a whole day had passed and great clouds of blowflies were swarming about the thing he had made of hide, for he had not bothered to tan it.  And the Prince of the Elves agreed to send Kollokh a herbalist, after they had spoken and drank together, and Kollokh spent the whole of the next day closeted with this herbalist.

Then Kollokh stood at the gate of his castle and shouted for his sons to come. And come they did not. But after the sun had set, and the night had grown cold, they came sneaking back from the forest, in through the back door of the castle, and there Kollokh was waiting. He caught them by the horns, one by one, and dragged them into his throne room.

Kollokh showed the thing he had made out of the herdbeast skins to his sons, that was not quite a cloak and not quite a sack, but hairy and far more odorous than an Irstwhyell. And they peered at it as though they had some interest, and muttered one to another. Said Nulk: “What on Tsai is that noisome thing?” And Gulk: “Whatever it is, it has a most vile stench.” And Vulk: “I do not like overmuch the way it seems to be made to fit three Argandarr. If I am not mistaken, my father intends to fit us inside.”

And Kollokh said: “Stop your gabbling, you useless sons, and attend to me. This is a Kollokh-beast, a creature of mine own invention, designed with cunning artifice to cast fear into the breasts of the wives of Staameral.”

And Gulk said, thinking that his father had gone mad: “It is very fine, father.” And Nulk said: “It is the finest Kollokh-beast I ever saw.” But Vulk was wary, and asked: “What manner of creature is a Kollokh beast?”

And Kollokh said: “It breathes smoke and fire, and has six legs. Its body is black, but its head is as green as emerald.”

Then Kollokh’s sons spoke out altogether, crying: “Truly our father is a lunatic!”

But Kollokh grabbed Nulk and tied the front of the Kollokh-beast around his neck like a cloak, so that only his bright green head stuck out. And he grabbed Gulk, and attached the brazier around his neck, and stuffed him into the Kollokh-beast behind Nulk. And at the hind end of the Kollokh-beast he put Vulk.

Then Kollokh said: “Go forth now, my sons, while the darkness lasts, and conceal yourselves by the river at such-a-place, near unto the place where Staameral’s wives are wont to bathe. When you hear the sound of their merry and innocent laughter, light the brazier, and issue from your hiding place, and raven forth at them in your guise as a monstrous thing, driving them from the water and into a thicket which the herbalist lent me by the Prince of the Lomen shall point out to you.”

And the sons of Kollokh obeyed their father’s command, though they grumbled and lamented loudly among themselves as they went down to the river, and moaned and pulled their horns. And the herbalist smirked at them in the darkness, and was careful to stay well upwind.

“Woe!” lamented Nulk “I am still footsore from my long journey, and am wearied like unto death by the innumerable labours our father has laid upon us!”

And Gulk: “Woe! I too am weary, and yet what can we do? If we do not do as our father bids us, we must stay out of doors always, and that too is a grievous and wearisome labour.”

And then said Vulk: “Come, my brothers, let us get this cursed nonsense of our father’s over and done with, and then it may be he will leave us alone for a time. More than likely Staameral will catch us, and squeeze us like pustules, so that our brains burst out, but that will be better than staying out in the forest night and day to avoid our father.”

For the sons of Kollokh were not over fond of sleeping on rocks and bracken, nor were they used to lay themselves down to rest joyfully on a bed of rimy reeds, with a coverlet of snow, like the other Argandarr princes which are spoken of in other stories.

So before dawn the sons of Kollokh could be found hiding by the stream, in such-a-place. Such-a-place was a morass of mud, so that their feet were caked in freezing mud up to their knees, which were blue with cold. And Nulk said: “Light the brazier, Gulk, for I am cold.” And Vulk said: “Yes, light the brazier.” So Gulk lit the brazier, and at once noisome smoke poured out of it, filling the Kollokh-beast, so that they all began to choke and cough. For Kollokh, having nothing else to spare, had filled the brazier with dung and with feathers from the beast called Duck.  Now when Gulk coughed, the brazier around his neck shook; and when it shook, it struck him in the chest; and as it was burning hot, it burnt him, and so he began to bellow, as well as choke and cough, and to jump up and down from one foot to another. And as Gulk jumped, burning bits of dung flew out of the brazier and hit Nulk in the back, and he too bellowed; and they charged for the stream to put out the fire, leaping and bellowing and thrashing, so that the sides of the Kollokh-beast rippled and poured forth smoke, as if it were having twins, and they were on fire.

And because the sons of Kollokh were blinded by the smoke, they could not see what they were doing or where they were going, and thrashed right through the stream to the other side. Up the further bank they went, and out onto the broad meadow that lay between the stream and the citadel of Staameral.

Muustagon, one of Staameral’s wives

Now in a glade nearby the three-score wives of Staameral had just arrived; and while they were disrobing for their morning bath, they heard the bellowing of the Kollokh-beast.

And Azorrak, who was one of the youngest and handsomest of Staameral’s wives, and had delicate white ears like mother-of-pearl, perked up her head, and said, laying aside her overcloak:

“I hear the cries of some wounded beast, if I am not mistaken. But its cry I do not recognise.”

And then Ashalon, who was one of the bravest and strongest of Staameral’s wives, and had one green eye like an emerald and one blue eye like a turquoise, peered her head out from between the trees, and said, laying aside her kilt:

“And I see a strange beast thrashing around in the meadow, with green horns, and a long black body. But I have never seen its like before.”

And then Tashkaar, who was one of the oldest and cleverest of Staameral’s wives, whose voice was like gold, and whose teeth were like two score snow-white Argandarr youths standing as an honour guard for their lord – Tashkaar laid her hand on her sword, which was a bearing gift from Staameral and had been quenched in the blood of three and forty lomen, and said:

“If there is a new beast in the world, a thing of fury and danger, with horns like spears and – so it appears to me – a belly full of fire; if there is a new beast to be hunted, then let the wives of Staameral be the first to do battle with it, and prove our valour thereby.”

So all the threescore wives of Staameral at once took their swords in hand, save a dozen or so of the youngest, who had spears, and charged off across the meadow to do battle with the Kollokh-beast. And each one strove to forge forward and be the first to reach the creature, that she might add more glory to the name of the House of Staameral by cleaving its neck and spilling its dark ichor upon the dewy grass. They cried out as they ran, singing one of the many songs that had already been sung about the valour of the House of Staameral, and their shouts shook bird’s nests from the trees.

The terror which gripped the sons of Kollokh can hardly be imagined by those such as you and I, who are little used to fear. They were not raw, unpracticed cowards, experiencing the chill of fear for the first time – they had been frightened many times before, and had perfected the art, and were accomplished masters of cowardice. Perhaps they could have stood their ground at the approach of one muscular Argandarr woman, her dew-spangled hide glistening like gold in the first light of dawn – had she not been clutching a sword as long as they were. Perhaps even then, had she been holding it still, and not been sprinting towards them, threatening to sheath it in their bowels.  The sight of three-score of the same was certainly too much for the sons of Kollokh, and they broke and ran. They ran in a number of directions at first, for they each had their own ideas, and forgot they were tied together. But eventually they ran mostly in that direction which is called “away”.

And as the Gods looked down upon them with favour that day, their panicked flight took them to the very thicket which their father’s herbalist had pointed out to them. They charged into the midst of it, and became tangled up in the thorns and brambles, and separated from the Kollokh-beast, spilling out from beneath it just before the wives of Staameral fell upon it with their swords and spears, and hacked it to bits. So they crawled out of the thicket on their bellies, unseen by the wives of Staameral, and escaped a grim death.

Perhaps it was Korazon, the mother of the Gods, who took pity on the sons of Kollokh, and spared their lives for the sake of their youth. Or perhaps old grizzled Zargud, the grandfather of the Gods, was watching them from afar, and knew in his wise old heart that the time was not yet come for such as they to pass the Penultimate Threshold and come to the feasting halls of Korzalnikashsh.

But there are those who say that Korazon and Zargon trouble themselves but little in the affairs of mortals, and so perhaps it was raven-black Muustagon, Goddess of Victory and War, who saw the sons of Kollokh, and wanted to keep them as far away as possible; and not bring them any sooner than possible to the Eternal Feasting Halls on the Edge of Night, where some place as scullions or dung boys would have to be found for them, and she would be bound to run in to them sooner or later.

The wives of Staameral crashed through the thicket and hacked the Kollokh beast in many pieces, and when they found it had no entrails they knew they had been tricked. So for a time they sought up and down the banks of the stream for the sons of Kollokh, though they did not know who it was they were seeking; but the sons of Kollokh were hidden well, for they were used to hiding from their father, who was great in cunning. And the wives of Staameral did not find them.

Meanwhile, Vulk, Gulk, and Nulk crawled away back to the castle of Kollokh, bruised and burnt and weary from their morning’s trouble; and Gulk said to his father: “Your plan was as great a success as could be expected, most wise father.”

And Kollokh rubbed his hands together and said: “As I thought! As I thought!”

And Nulk the green said: “The wives of Stameraal ran screaming into the very thicket which you pointed out to us.”

And Kollokh hopped up and down, first on one foot and then the other, and said: “Well done, well done, my good and faithful sons. Your loyalty shall not go unrewarded!”

But Vulk thought that the plan of Kollokh’s had not amounted to much, save to burn and bruise him and his brothers, and keep them from their sleep, and he said: “Your plan was as great a success as I expected, as well – which is to say, no success at all, since it does not seem to have achieved anything whatsoever.”

Then Kollokh clouted Vulk over the head, and said: “Mind your tongue, you curdle-witted oaf. All will be made clear in time, as you might say.”

The sons of Kollokh took themselves to rest after their long exertions, and slept for the rest of the day, and the greater part of the night. Then in the dead hours before dawn they awoke with a great itching all over their bodies, and found that their skin had become inflamed and blotchy; for an odious rash covered  their hands and their feet, the skin of their chests and of their faces. Indeed, everywhere that they had so much as brushed against the thicket had become red and weeping. And Vulk remembered how the herbalist had smirked at him in the darkness, and his wroth waxed great.

Now Stameraal was of a mind to visit his wives that night, and sire himself some more sons, for he had just had news that a dozen of them had been slain while conquering the Nine Kingdoms of the D’nar, and another dozen had fallen foul of a Kelp-Wolde, and been drowned. So he took himself to where his wives dwelt, and the first chamber he came to was the chamber where his wife Azorrak lay sleeping. And he roused her, and threw himself down upon her. But he saw that her shoulders were marked with an odious rash, inflamed and blotchy, for she had laid her overcloak aside before she went hunting the Kollokh-beast, and he thought to himself: “There is something wrong with this one; I will go to one of the others.” And he got up and left.

Stameraal went into another chamber, and this was the chamber of his wife Ashalon, and he called out in a loud voice: “Rouse yourself, woman. I have come to sire a brace of sons upon you.”  But when Ashalon roused herself he saw that she had a rash not only on her shoulders, but on her belly and on her legs, for she had laid aside her kilt before giving chase to the Kollokh-beast. And at this Stameraal was disturbed, and thought: “There is something wrong with this one as well! How unfortunate!”  So he left Ashalon of the one blue eye and the one green eye, and said to himself: “I will go in to Tashkaar, for she is one of the oldest and wisest of my wives, and has had much practice at bearing sons. I am sure she will have avoided any misfortune.”

But when Stameraal came into the chamber of Tashkaar, and bid her rouse herself, he saw that she was covered in a ghastly rash from head to toe, sparing nothing in between, and he grew exceedingly wrathful. “What is the matter with these wives of mine?” he bellowed, and his bellowing was such that he roused the whole citadel, and several villages nearby. Kollokh heard his bellowing too, from where he lay in the topmost tower of his castle, and he smiled. When Stameraal had wakened everyone in his castle, he inspected all of his wives, and found a full three-score of them had been stricken with a mysterious rash, and could not stop scratching themselves, and had become hideous to behold. And with each wife he found berashed his wroth waxed still greater. Then he took a couple of his men-at-arms, and tossed them into the moat, at which he felt a little better, and he commanded that a doctor of healing arts be sent for, so that his wives might be improved. But he gave no more thought to siring sons that night, and stomped off to his bed of iron alone, and fumed until daybreak.

In the morning Stameraal went down to his second best throne room, where the doctors of healing had been lining up already for several hours, for they knew of the great wealth of Stameraal, and the fine presents and honours he might give to those could cure his wives.

The first in line was Borkus, a learned and famous chirurgeon and alchemist of the Argandarr. He had once cured the Duke of  Torobilan of a vile pox, when all had despaired of his life. Another time he had reattached the head of Prince Bastarash of  Nuursh, though it had been kicked around a battlefield for half a day, and then lobbed into the fortress of  Kluthnak with a catapult. Prince Bastarash had recovered completely and gone on to sire nineteen children, and it is said that his wits and demeanour were much improved from before his head had been severed.

“Most wise and mighty Stameraal,” said Borkus gravely. “What manner of ailment has befallen your household?”

“Threescore of my wives have been stricken with a rash,” replied Stameraal, “so that they have become hideous to look upon, and cannot keep from scratching.”

And Borkus said: “Most wise and mighty Stameraal, that is indeed irksome.”

And Stameraal said: “Well? What is wrong with them?”

Upon which Borkus replied: “If I might first look upon one of your unfortunate wives, o most wise and mighty Staameral, and then I shall be able to answer you.”

So Staameral called for his wife Tashkaar, she who was stricken from head to toe with the rash, and she entered the throne room. Borkus drew near to examine her, and close behind him gathered all the other learned doctors in a great crowd, eager to gain for themselves a share of  Staameral’s largesse by contradicting anything he might say.

After a moment, Borkus spoke, saying: “Most wise and mighty Staameral, it appears to me that this rash is nothing more than a -” But what it was he did not say, for at that moment he was seen to fall heavily forward against Tashkaar, clutching at her shoulders, and disarranging her overcloak.

Then the learned doctors drew back aghast, and a keen-eyed observer might have spotted one who drew back rather faster than the others, a short one, with a long beard; and an even keener-eyed observer one might have seen that same figure shove Borkus in the back, an instant before. At the same time Taashmulk clouted the learned doctor over the head; and Staameral bellowed at him in a loud voice, saying: “What do you take me for? Do you think I am an loman, to let others paw over what is rightfully mine?”

Then Borkus made many apologies, as well as he was able after begin clouted on the head, and abased himself on the ground before Staameral. But Staameral would listen to nothing that he said, and taking hold of him by the horns, threw him into the moat. Fuming with anger at such impudence, he gave command to the doctors: “From now on, none of you are to approach any closer to one of my wives than eleven paces, or I will break off your horns and throw you in the moat.”

Second in the line had been a venerable sage named Korvak, and now he stepped forward to take his turn at curing the wives of Staameral. He was renowned among all doctors of healing,  and bore with him a list of references from the Emperor of the Eastern Isles, and the Margrave of Kalabash, and the Princess Yirtash, and the Dukes of Ash-Karad and Murzagoth, and sundry other notables. All of these he had cured of gout and pleurisy and nine-days-drop and various other ailments, most of them unimaginably rare and only treatable with the most rare and costly medicines –  which fortunately he had in good supply.

Tashkaar wanted nothing more to do with doctors, so Staameral called for his wife Ashalon, she of the one green eye and the one blue eye. All the doctors marvelled at her loveliness, for her rash was only on her shoulder, and her belly, and her legs, and was concealed by her kilt and her overcloak.

And Korvak peered at her from distance of eleven paces and a half, and could see nothing wrong with her. So he said: “My lady, I can see no trace of any injury upon you; where have you been afflicted with this hideous malady?”

To which Ashalon replied: “In the first place, the rash is upon my shoulders.”

And Korvak said in turn: “Would you please lay aside your overcloak, my lady.”

And Ashalon: “What, before this lecherous rabble?” – for curiously enough, the gathering of learned doctors did indeed look very like a lecherous rabble – “Most certainly I shall not.”

Then Korvak had words to Staameral, speaking of the necessity of such action, and of the great and terrible vows to which all doctors of healing were sworn; and at length Staameral was persuaded, and said: “Wife of mine, remove your overcloak.” And Ashalon obeyed Staameral’s command.

Then Korvak peered at Ashalon, but his eyesight had lost its edge of keenness, and from a distance of eleven paces and a half he could not clearly see the rash on her shoulders. So he felt in his pocket for his eyepiece of green crystal which he was used to look through, but he found it not. And a keen-eyed observer might have seen a short doctor of healing, with a long white beard, reach into his pocket a moment before.

So Korvak said: “My lady, I can still see no trace of any injury upon you; have you been afflicted elsewhere with this rash?”

Upon which Ashalon said with great reluctance: “The rash is somewhat worse on my legs.”

And Korvak said in turn, still hoping that he might be able to see the rash, and cure it: “Would you please lay aside your kilt, my lady.” But his voice quavered a little.

And Ashalon looked askance at the learned doctor, and glowered at Staameral; and again Korvak had words to Staameral, and at length persuaded him that such action was truly necessary. And Staameral gave command to Ashalon to remove her kilt, and she did so.

Then Korvak squinted closely at Ashalon, but his eyes were failing badly, and from a distance of eleven paces and a half he could not clearly see the rash on her legs. So he said again, in a nervous voice: “My lady, have you been afflicted anywhere else with this rash? I can still see no sign of an injury upon you.”

And Ashalon said: “I suppose to tell the truth it is worst of all on my belly.”

And Korvak said in turn, though his voice shook, for he could already see the rich rewards of Staameral passing to another doctor: “Then could you possibly – might you perhaps – lay aside your petticoat trousers, my lady-”

But at this Staameral shouted: “Enough! What do you take me for? Do you think I am a human, to let others gorge their eyes on what is rightfully mine?”

Then Korvak made many apologies, proclaiming once more the purity of his intentions and abasing himself on the ground before Staameral. But Staameral would listen to nothing that he said, and taking hold of him by the horns, broke off first one, and then the other. And he gave command to the doctors: “From now on none of you are to look upon my wives, as I see that was just an excuse for your lechery. You may remain in the next room, or have a cloth put in front of your eyes, else I will break off your horns and throw you in the moat.”

When Staameral had thrown Korvak into the moat, he came back into his second best throne room and found it empty, for all the learned doctors of medicine had fled. There was only one creature remaining – a dwarf, by its height, and by its bushy white beard.

“Where are all the doctors?” thundered Staameral.

“Begging ten-thousand pardons, most erudite and omnipotent Staameral,” the creature replied. “But they felt their skills insufficient for the task.”

“Then I am well rid of them,” said Staameral. but he waxed more wrathful, and put questions to the creature, in hope that he might find excuse to throw it in the moat.

So he said: “What manner of creature are you?”

Upon which the creature replied: ‘A dwarf, most ineluctable one.”

“And for what reason are you cluttering up my throne room?” Staameral asked. “Speak up smartly now, or I will throw you in the moat.”

“I, too, am a learned doctor, O most iridescent and peripatetic Staameral,” said the dwarf, bowing deeply, so that its horns scraped the floor. “Kollokharg Son-of-Argulbarg, at your service. I am quite able to diagnose your wives given the conditions you have set – namely, that I must remain at least eleven paces away, and be blindfolded.”

“Then I suppose you will have to do,” said Staameral. And Staameral had the dwarf blindfolded, and bade it enter his wives’ callisthenics hall, where they were used to do their kneebends and star jumps. But they were not doing these exercises now; instead three score of them were standing around, scratching themselves and looking mournful.

‘Ahoy there, wives of mine!’ called Staameral. ‘I have brought you a learned doctor of healing, who will cure you of your malady.’

‘Why is he done up like a dwarf?’ asked Azorrak.

‘He is a dwarf, most ignorant of wives,’ Staameral shouted. And paying no heed his wife, he asked the dwarf, ‘So, puny one, what is the matter with them?’

And the learned doctor of healing Kollokharg Son-of-Argulbarg gave one quick glance at Staameral’s wives; and he saw nothing at all, because he had a cloth fastened in front of his eyes; and then he said: ‘This rash is only a symptom of  the Miasmic Fever, most irrefutable and cataleptic Staameral. There is only one sure cure for the Miasmic fever, and that is removal to the high mountains, where the air is pure and cold and the stars come near to the surface of T’sai. We have such places in the homeland of my people, the dwarves-’

‘But you’re not a dwarf!’ said Ashalon, ‘You’re an Argandarr wearing a false beard.’

‘Do not insult the doctor! Of course it is a dwarf.’ replied Staameral. ‘Is it not far too stunted and ugly to be any kind of Argandarr?’

And the learned doctor Kollokharg nodded his head sagely.

And Staameral said to the learned doctor Kollokharg. ‘Very well then, dwarf. Take them away and cure them, for they’re no good to me like this.’

‘But he’s not a dwarf!’ said Tashkaar. And all the other wives said the same.

‘Do not be foolish!’ said Staameral. ‘How could any Argandarr be so squat and misshapen? Of course it is a dwarf!’

‘Let us put him to the test,’ said Tashkaar, and she reached out and grabbed a hank of the learned doctor’s beard, tearing out a great chunk of it. At this he clutched his face, and rolled about on the floor in pain.

And Staameral said: ‘Now you insult this dwarf by tearing out its beard! Woe and perdition! Was ever an Argandarr cursed with wives as insolent and stubborn as these?’

And the learned doctor Kollokharg nodded weakly – weakly, because he had stuck the feathers from the creature called duck to his face with glue, and they had left great raw patches when they were torn away; and nodded, because he was thinking of his three wives at home, and how insolent and stubborn they were.

“He’s not a dwarf!’ cried Tashkaar once more. ‘Look, his beard is made out of-’

‘Enough!’ bellowed Staameral. ‘I do not wish to hear one more word of such nonsense. Off with you, curdle-witted dolts of wives, and take your cure at the hands of this dwarf.’

Then the wives of Staameral protested again, and Staameral said to them: ‘Get out of my sight, of all wives the most rash-stricken, most foolish, and most insolent! I command you to leave me at this instant, and go with this dwarf.’ and he pointed at the learned doctor Kollokharg. ‘Furthermore, I do not wish to see hide nor horn of you till you see sense and admit that it is a dwarf! And I further command you to follow whatever orders it gives you, so that you will be cured, and become useful again. Now, go!’

What could Staameral’s wives do? He had given them his command. So at his command, they followed the learned doctor Kollokharg (who was, of course, Kollokh in disguise) out of the fortress of Staameral, across the stream, and into the castle of Kollokh. And as they had been commanded by Staameral to stay away until they admitted that Kollokh was a dwarf, there they had to stay. When they found out the clever trick Kollokh had played on Staameral, they were greatly impressed, for they had never heard of anyone besting Staameral before. And they grew swollen with admiration at his cleverness; and once their rash had been cured (using a salve provided by the elven prince’s herbalist) they grew swollen with something entirely different. But that is another story altogether.[6]

Kollokh was a minotaur lord

Brave as a sheep with legs like cord

Could just about lift his father’s sword

Skilled in the arts of flight!


Kollokh had two minotaur wives

Sweet as the sea with tongues like knives

Covered over warts and sore and hives

Gave all the orcs a fright!


Kollokh was a minotaur king

Strong as a rat with arms like string

Had a treasure hoard of one brass ring

Made all his subjects wince!


Kollokh had three minotaur sons

Taller than dwarves with brains like crumbs

Scrawny-looking, longhaired, lousy bums

Friends of the elven prince!


Kollokh dwelt near Staameral’s Hold

(Taller than hills and twice as old)

Cluttered full of wives and lumps of gold

Wealth like a dwarfking’s dream!


Kollokh saw four minotaur maids

Naked as birds and fine as jade

Staameral’s wives with their charms displayed

Frolicking in the stream!


Kollokh was a lecherous fiend

Wicked as night and awfully keen

Jumped on his nurse the day he was weaned

Now all his wits were fled!


Kollokh saw five minotaurs more

Pure as pearls, bare as the four

Fresh new maidens for Staameral’s hoard

Down in the stream’s swift bed!


Kollokh hatched a devious plan

Warped as the soul of elf or man

Too complicated to understand

Staameral should beware!


[1]: The Argandarr word literally translates as “Staameral-worthy”

[2]: Rhetoric, Weaponsmithing, Navigation, and Callisthenics

[3]: As it was also rendered in verse: Kollokh bade his three sons find / thirteen sheep of sundry kind / an old brass pan, a jug of wine / and an loman ranger! Kollokh’s offspring trembled sore / loman whore / se might be less danger

[4]: The full story of this exploit can be found in the eighth volume of the “Staameraliad”

[5]: Old High Elven of Talis, “squeezings-of-the-dregs”

[6]: ‘The Tale of How Staameral Recaptured His Wives’ – which tells how three-score Argandarr wives with child prove to be three-score times as evil-tempered as the three wives Kollokh started out with; and how his efforts to make Staameral take them back are continually frustrated by Staameral’s valourous attempts to regain them.