Thenigmas is not a planet you would like to visit on a holiday. Everything about the place is violent — earthquakes, volcanoes spewing ash and lava, and fierce tribes that are at war with each other. Mirrortac comes here through the portal connection to his home planet of Mareos, but it is not through his own volition. Nevertheless, he needs to be there as this is where the second Stone of Destiny, Darm, is hidden. This planet is so vast and complex that Mirrortac’s experience of it only touches on a few tribes in the central western sector. Thenigmas thus also features in another novel I am working on, but that is for later. I will discuss all the tribes and their lifestyles here:
NORTHERN TRIBES OF THE FOREST OF TREACHERY
Haks, Futs, Teks and Woks
All the woodland tribes are fiercely territorial but do not indulge in raids of other tribes. They wear animal skins for warmth against the cold seasons, and hunt with the use of bow and arrows. Each tribe has its own identifying arrow design and utilise various poisons to quickly disable the animal or man as the case may be. Food consists primarily of small and medium sized animals up to the size of a deer. Other foods include various herbs, roots and leafy plants; refreshments are from the juices of various plants and include an intoxicating drink made from fermented fruits of the forest. Almost without exception, all intruders are killed and eaten after they have been basted in herbs and roasted in hot ashes underground. Men and women are likewise long haired with hairy bodies and pale tan skin. They are as tall as an erfin (short) and of like build with flat noses. Men exhibit small beards but are the same height as the women. They are agile climbers and build raised huts made of slender tree stems and thatched pine needles. Tribes distinguish themselves by the style of hair which may be tied back in a specific manner.
TRIBES OF THE PLAINS
Zidites, Shrones and Bluves
Zidites: This tribe lives on the edge of the Slosh of Sour (see map above) and the Plain of Scorched Flesh, and ride the plain on a horse-like creature, the Parduk. They wear hide armoury and hunt the large herd animals of the plain with sickle-shaped weapons made of sharpened Mamorf bones which they use to cut the animal’s throat while riding alongside on their parduks. They can also use these as weapons against other tribes they may encounter on the plains. Competition for food animals against other tribes results in constant battles between the tribes. Other tribes-women are also kidnapped and taken as their own and vice-versa. Thatched grass huts are built in the village of Zid. Food is solely meat, including bones and innards, and warriors prize the heart of their victim — animal or man — which is eaten raw fresh after the kill. All Zidites have shaved crowns of their heads. This is a light tan skinned tribe. Fresh blood and water are the only drinks they partake of.
Shrones: This tribe lives farther west and up the coast alongside the plain. They also ride parduks and live in thatched grass huts at their home village of Shron. They wear animal hide armoury marked with the insignia of two parduk shoes crossed at their apexes and also a helm of cranium hide with inward curled horns. Their chief weapon is a wide-bladed bone dagger which they use in a thrusting action while leaping off the backs of parduks to kill their victims. The men are bearded with almost shoulder length hair. They eat the meat of animals but detest the flesh of their enemies, lest they be despoiled by inferior blood. They are also fishing people who build natural fish traps using the tide to advantage. They use reed canoes to cross over to the island of Woin where they invade the people there in an age-old rivalry going back many generations. They drink the milk of domesticated animals and have a liking for an intoxicating beverage made solely by the Woineks.
Bluves: These are a black-skinned race who inhabit the hot northern part of the plain at the foot of two volcanoes — Grorl and Somok. They wear metal breastplates and short leather skirts, hunting on foot. They use a range of metal weaponry forged at volcano fed furnaces. They have long ponytails stemming from otherwise bald heads, and are tall and lithe, with little body hair. They use spears to kill the animals of the plains but have wicked little daggers which they store in their ponytails, and can draw them swiftly to finish off an enemy. They are often at war with the Clunuks to the north of them who always try to steal their food, women, weapons and whatever they can get their hands on. They live in clay huts and eat the meat of animals as well as a kind of bread made by their women. They drink the blood of their victims as well as milk and a floury gruel like porridge.
Warriors of Ning, Huds and Clunuks
Clunuks: The Clunuks are a dark-skinned tribe who inhabit the hills of the Tor of Clun. They have long waxy black hair and wear headbands and spiked anklets. They armour themselves with sleeveless mail shirts with an undershirt and tailed into a skirt of light leather. They often hunt and raid under the cover of darkness, and are discreet and treacherous in their movements. They are notorious thieves, and will steal the enemy’s metal, including weapons and armour off those they have killed in battle, then smith the metal into their own weapons and armour. Their weapons include crossbows, swords and daggers. They inhabit homes made of layered stones transported from the nearby hills, and their food includes animals of the plain, various wild vegetables and wildfowl. They drink a variety of vegetable juices and a steamed leaf tea with a certain narcotic quality that promises to heighten the warrior rage.
Warriors of Ning: Perhaps the most feared tribe in Thenigmas because of their slave animals — the giant insectoid Gnax which they use to ride the skies from their homeland in the Hills of Ning in the far eastern quarters of the world, to swoop upon their enemy, the Huds, in the Hills of Crush. Generations of tribal hatred stand between the two tribes who battle on without end; their whole purpose bent on war. The women are left to hunt for food while the men go out to battle, returning only to recover from injury and gather more food supplies. Women hunt the giant creatures in the country north of the Hills of Ning and the volcano, Qaja, that provides the furnace fire for forging helms and the solid metal balls slung at the enemy with sling-shots made from bone and animal sinews. Male smiths operate the forges and also teach the young men to be warriors. These are a dark-skinned but hairy tribe who wear helms with slightly curved horns. They are loud and raucous, fight hard and play hard. Women are expected to be mated early, and to give birth to many sons and daughters, as both ensure a constant supply of warriors for battle where losses are great despite their aerial advantage. A number of domesticated animals are kept to provide milk and eggs; and vegetables are grown to save time in searching for food. They value the heavy mineral waters of nearby springs for drinking and also have a variety of juices.
Huds: This tribe lives in the Hills of Crush in the south and must battle on two fronts, but mainly against their most hated enemy, the Warriors of Ning. Their reply to the slung metal balls from their insectoid riding enemy is to use catapults armed with oil soaked stones set alight and shot at the gnax which are often severely burnt in flight, thus forced to ground where their Ning riders can be killed. The Huds also use the huge Mamorfs to pull their platforms constructed on rounded boulders which offer a vantage point for battle and to literally crush any enemies. The Huds use a variety of metal weapons, including sling-shots and spears. They are similar in appearance to the Warriors of Ning but go naked except for leather loin cloths, and instead of armour, use heavily studded metal shields to ward off shot. Their women collect a variety of water plants from Heathens Sunk in the north and will also hunt with spears for herd animals on the plain if there are none to be found in the hills. The women are also fierce warriors and can take care of themselves against men from other tribes wanting to have their own way with them. A particular bulb collected at Heathens Sunk has highly potent properties and is used as a smoke or in a narcotic drink.
TRIBES OF THE DEVOURING ISLES
Shrids, Ashes and Ihaytites
These closely related tribes are perhaps the most beautiful in appearance as their bodies are deeply tanned, slim but strong, and with little hair over their naked skin. They have multi-pronged spears for fishing and wear no clothes bar ornaments such as shell necklaces, metal earrings and circlets around arms and legs. They live on fish and fruits of the islands, and use outrigger canoes made out of carved out tree trunks. The tribes keep an uneasy peace with one another, killing any who cross the boundaries between their home island and the neighbouring ones. There are no raids but frequent skirmishes in the waters between the islands. Island chiefs can start a war if they feel their tribe has been compromised by the actions of individuals in other tribes. Rising populations strain at relations.
After a voyage across the northern seas of Mareos, Mirrortac lands on a desolate and strange beach from where he is transported into another dimension through the work of an ominous mist. The name of this astral “world” is Hopocus, where deception is the norm. He first encounters the Enchanted Blue Forest — a fir forest at the edge of a coastline where trees are blue, casting orange shadows, and birds fly upside down. A misted landscape leads from this forest to Fog Peak and the Castle of Hopocus that is inhabited by a sorcerer and sorceress, and their many prisoners, among them a wizard and his assistant.
Lying between the castle and the depths of Raven’s Chasm is the Wood of Forgetfulness where the souls of the dead roam in their eternal circles, having lost their minds and any sense of direction. The wood’s other denizens — deva-hogs — are creatures to avoid. Mirrortac’s mission is to cross these woods to reach the Well of Lost Memories, but how can he succeed if soon after entering the woods, he loses all memory of his purpose? How can he survive being attacked by the deva-hogs? Or joining the souls of the dead in their march of despair?
The flaming fires of Vulcan’s Moat further prevents any escape to a higher astral plane where things are a lot better for souls and those still in body such as the erfin and his friends.
The dull red of the unmoving sun was the only light that penetrated the fog reaches of the wood. Mirrortac scanned the black tree shapes for danger and, although he saw none, he felt apprehensive and giddy. He looked down at the silver tablet in his hand and for a moment, blinked at it thinking: ‘Now, what is that doing there?’ The sorcery had started to affect him already, making concentration difficult. ‘If I cross the woods at speed, the danger of it will pass quickly,’ he thought, starting to quicken his pace until he was running at a steady rate, regularly consulting the tablet to remind him of his purpose.
‘What am I doing?’ he thought, unable to remember why he was running and what he was doing in these woods. The erfin stopped and stood lost for thought. ‘These are…what are these? I do not…who?’ He sagged to the ground with his head in a muddle. He had forgotten everything, even his own name and the reason he was in the woods. He racked his brain to recall thoughts that eluded him just beyond mind.
A broken harsh voice shouted out of the fog. ‘Follow me!’ the voice said. ‘Follow me!’ it repeated. And as Mirrortac raised his eyes, he saw an old man wearing a tatty brown robe. The old man sauntered in his general direction, leading a group of bent over and dejected Nerthulians, all dressed in their rags and mumbling and shaking their heads. ‘Follow me!’ the old man kept shouting, waving his arms about in exaggerated movements and staring in front of him with glassy blind eyes. By some mindless rational, Mirrortac responded to the old man’s call and joined the group at the end of the queue, marching behind them as they strayed aimlessly through the woods.
Around and around the souls wandered in their eternal pathway of despair, mumbling meaningless dirges to themselves. Mirrortac followed, engrossed in his own confused mutterings until the blind old man staggered headlong into a tree and tried to walk up it. The band of souls sprawled into the old man and tumbled into a mass of arms and legs, crawling over each other as though they had all been struck blind. Mirrortac tripped and fell, passing right through the soul of a woman who lay in front of him. His head hurt and he lifted his hand to feel the bruise. The silver tablet passed before his eyes and recognition dawned in his consciousness.
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Here is an excerpt of the beginning of The Wizard’s Sword where Mirrortac first discovers the mysterious sword in the woods.
The woods were a forbidden place for erfins. The scent of the fir trees was pleasant as the erfin Mirrortac went in search of firewood for his hearth, his paw-like hands deftly picking out the dry twigs and branches as he kept a wary eye at the woodland deep for any danger. Beyond the woods were the steep slopes of Mateote – the Mountain At The End Of The Earth – its snow covered summit partly obscured in cloud. Erfins were afraid of the mountain and believed the oblivion of the Netherworld awaited anyone foolish enough to attempt to cross over. Even before one reached the foothills there were nite-wolves to contend with – vile smelling creatures with shaggy hair, fanged grins and cold yellow eyes.
Mirrortac stumbled and cursed the ground. He bent down to massage his sore toe and saw the faint sheen of metal winking up at him from amongst the litter of fir needles. Coming down into a squat he sifted away the litter with his fingers, exposing more of the metal. His eyes widened and he sighed with awe. Beneath his hands was a short sword of exquisite design; its hilt adorned with three stones of precious amber and its blade gleaming as though it had only been fashioned yesterday. Glancing into the dark of the wood, he picked it up and handled it with reverence. The sword was weighty yet balanced easily in his grip. He stood up and swung the blade through the air, feeling at once the clean gliding motion and a sense of strength and power. He tested it against the grey fur on his legs. Its cut was precise, deadly. Where had such a weapon come from, he thought. No erfin owned a sword though there were tarnished examples on the walls of the Halls-of-Eol and the High Halls of Mateote. The high priest was keeper of a ceremonial sword that was rarely used and was unlike this one, though it had been kept sharp and in good order. No, this was a warrior’s sword and countless seasons had passed since erfins had been feared warriors. All their enemies had been conquered and none remained to challenge the might of the fierce erfin warrior. The last to be conquered were the Madin, who were mountain people, but in the end, it was the mountain that brought their demise. Forced upwards, the Madin were trapped on the edge of the earth. The erfin warriors were remorseless in their pursuit and sent the last of the Madin warriors over the edge and into the great abyss beyond. Both peoples were from the same stock. The erfins were grey of fur and thickset with pointed cat-like ears and large eyes. The Madin’s fur was courser and they were slightly taller than their erfin cousins.
Now, gone were all the warriors. The last had died many moons ago but the stories of their conquests had been passed down from generation to generation until they had attained mythological status alongside the great god of the mountain and the gods of the day and night skies, Luma and Mogog.
Mirrortac brushed fragments of soil off the crevices in the hilt and looked up as his neighbour, Fillytac, approached from across a meadow of nif-grass. His was the portly figure of an elder erfin, his fur shaggier and exhibiting the silver tips of age. His eyebrows lifted theatrically above luminous green eyes and his voice betrayed surprise.
‘Mirrortac, what have you there? Is that a sword?’
The younger grinned. ‘Yea! I must have walked over it dozens of times. I can’t imagine how it has escaped my notice all these moons.’
Fillytac bounded the last few steps and stood staring at the sword while he regained his breath. The blade gleamed in the afternoon sunlight.
‘What will you do with it? Present it to the priests to display on the walls of the great hall?’
Mirrortac ran his fingers along the blade. ‘That would be the place for it,’ he said, uncertainly. ‘But I think I shall keep it for a few days; show it to Yenic and the child-fins. It is such a fine piece of work!’