Paeanfuul, the Punishment – In which I take a joke too far.

So, the first of my Fantasy/Fiction/Gaming posts. Extreme geeky-ness ahead, be ye warned.

This was in part inspired by a conversation I had with a friend of mine, in which, when we were discussing ridiculous character concepts, I jokingly said that I would totally play one (setting-specifc jargon aside, the core concept was <sarcasm>”Totally not a crime boss”</sarcasm>, with the trouble of “Actually not a crime boss.”), when said friend objected on the grounds that I would find a way to make it a legitimate character. Because that’s what I do. I take the joke so far it turns around and becomes something real.

So, here is a little something, a joke gone too far. In this case, based on a college joke of a god of puns and illegitimate children, purely so that the favored weapon of his clergy could be the bastard sword.

***

One of the only constants in this strange world of ours is the fact that the universe likes to laugh. Paeanfuul is evidence to the fact that, on occasion, that laughter can hold a distinctly manic edge.

The being now known as the Punishment was once a mortal man, illegitimate son of some unimportant noble who’s name and line has been lost to the ravages of time. The scripture that is touted by his faithful claim that his father renounced his mother, for she was merely a peasant, a vassal to his noble father, societally more a resource of his lands than a person.

He was raised a miller, content to help his mother pay her taxes and live quietly, but when he came of age, his mother revealed to him the circumstances of his birth. Outraged that he and his mother could be so discarded as to scrape a living out of the soil while his father supped at the table of luxury, he snuck into the noble’s keep during a feast, and publically confronted his father. All could see the familial resemblance in his face, but of course the assembled guests scoffed at him and laughed at his claim. They had little sympathy to spare one such as him, for indeed many of them had dalliances of their own back in their provinces, and spared them less thought than the shoeing of their favored horse.

It is impossible to say whether it was shame, sympathy, or simple cruelty than moved the nobleman, but moved he was, and before the assembled guests he offered his son a deal: Serve as his jester for a year and a day, and he and his mother would know no further want. Should he serve well and with distinction, he would supplant the noble’s heir as his successor. Thinking the peasant boy cowed from damaged pride, the guests laughed long and raucously, so much so that they at first missed the boy agreeing to the terms. A moment of stunned silence later, the laughter redoubled, and he was sent off to the servants’ quarters to find the previous jester’s attire.

He had always been an illegitimate child, but it was this ordeal that turned him into a bastard. Not one to do things halfway, he threw himself into study of his new trade. By the first week, he could juggle. A month in, he was tumbling like a professional. But where he found real joy was in wordplay. It was many months before he considered the subtle art of language mastered, but when he got it, he wielded his silver tongue as surely as any swordsman could wield a blade. He made full use of the peculiar immunity enjoyed by court fools to make mock of the nobility, turning their biting laughter on their fellows for his own amusement. Six months in, he destroyed a courtship with implication and double entendres, mostly to see if he could. At seven months he engendered the seeds of a trade embargo, and inflamed it into border skirmishes by nine. The egos of the noble class turned out to be ever so fragile, and it was his secret pleasure to shatter them from his position of safety.

His father, it is said, fully intended to keep his end of the bargain, pained though he was by his words. When he had not given up after ten months of humiliating performances, he began giving the boy lessons in etiquette, finance, and swordplay alongside his heir. The half-brother, who constantly abused the boy during his trials, replaced the training sword set aside for him with a massive hand-and-a-half broadsword, remarking that “A bastard son should learn with a bastard sword.” Undaunted, he took to his studies as fiercely as he had his foolery.

As winter deepened, and the year drew to a close, the legitimate heir grew ever more worried after the security of his birthright. He spent the final month threatening, haranguing, even attempting to bribe the boy to quit the castle and never return. All of which, naturally, proved ineffective according to the priests’ scripture. So, as such stories often go, he decided to remove the competition by force.

Paeanfuul was lured to his mother’s home by a letter in her handwriting, only to find the mill aflame. Thinking her inside, the young man rushed to rescue her, and braved the flames in his quest. However, she was not inside, and when he attempted to leave, found the door barred from the outside. It is said that his cries that night could be heard in the bedchambers of the keep, and that they carried with them the promise of vengeance.

The next day, as the noble feasted his court in sorrow of the loss, the legitimate son died. Some versions of the story go that he was poisoned, others that he was run through with a bastard sword, even others that he went mad and hurled himself into the bonfire. All agreed that the mother of the bastard son was responsible, and for her crimes she was hung at the crossroads.

The next morning, however the noose hung empty, and the tree was draped in harlequin jester’s clothes.

Within a fortnight, the noble’s wife killed him in his sleep, before hurling herself from a tower. Rumors of disease among the herds tore down the fortunes of the region. The peasantry left as one group, going abroad to practice their trades in safer climes. In a popular version of the myth, they take up motely, becoming the first acolytes of the Groaning God.

Whatever the version, the clergy of Paeanfuul have no small following in the modern day, especially in the Northern Kingdoms and the Terghan Protectorate. It is said that anywhere north of the Sunspin River, you can easily identify a noble bastard by their wealth and carefree lifestyle, mayors and justices all. None in those parts would dare risk the wrath of the Church of the Punishment.

Superstition? Quite likely. However, as with all myths, there are points of truth. For example, the clergy of Paeanfuul are legitimate, being able to produce miraculous feats of divine power on-par with the priesthood of more commonly worshipped gods. So, their god is either an ascended divine force, or there are not yet words to describe the skill of the charlatanism at work.

It is also a matter of history that, several times during the reign of Groelbard (Called “the Regal” by his subjects, and “the Promiscuous” by his detractors) of Upper Crafton, his heirs would find themselves beset on the road by a sole figure in tattered clothes and padded armor, bearing a harlequin mask and a massive hand-and-a-half sword, who would demand their clothes and riches. Those who acquiesced were stripped naked and robbed, then sent on their way, while those who refused were attacked. From the wreckage of their carriages, which were discovered sometime later, the figure had monstrous strength, and the sword it bore could apparently shear through the iron-backed hide shields of the family guard.

Some claim that it was Paeanfuul himself, avenging the other illegitimate children, of which Groelbard’s reign spawned many. Most believe that it was the bastards themselves, using the imagery of the church to strike fear into the hearts of their prey as they turned to robbery to survive. Some state that it was the revenant of the original bastard’s mother, still carrying out her vendetta.

In any case, there is one recorded instance of the figure being defeated. Groelbard the Lesser (The fourth child to bear the name, as a matter of fact), is recorded as saying that he was accosted by the figure that had attacked so many of his kin, and struck him down. He says the figure burst into ash that smelled of millet and flax burning, and all that remained was a rusted sword hilt and a motely cap. While most write this particular case off as the proud boastings of a lying nobleman, it is worth noting that family records reveal that he was so adamant in his version of events that his father disowned him and had him committed to the care of a rather disreputable asylum. He was broken out four years later by a sympathetic nurse, and returned to the family castle to demand his rightful inheritance. The palace guards, not recognizing the wild-eyed lunatic, killed him at the gates. The servants that later retrieved and disposed of the body swore that the faded clothes he wore were once harlequin diamonds.

Food for thought, certainly.

-From “Religions of the North,” a journal by Hadric Luistoter

Killing the Buddha in the Road, A musing on judging your heroes

A koan that I often hear repeated is “If you see the Buddha in the road, kill him.” This one often freaks out people unfamiliar with the concept of a koan, which I personally have always taken to be statements and questions that don’t have a definitive answer, but the answer(s) that you find yourself in thinking on them help you to reach minor epiphanies about yourself, and in doing so, expand your consciousness. (Phew, that sentence.)

Of course, their lack of familiarity with the concept of a koan may make them even better suited to utilizing one, much in the same way that a trap generally works better if one is not aware that they are walking into a trap. On the other hand, not knowing that they are supposed to think on it, they may just dismiss it out of hand as gibberish. It’s kind of a funny concept like that.

In any case, this particular koan has always led me to a conclusion that many have drawn from it: Challenge your preconceptions, especially concerning those you hold in high respect. Never let anyone get away with anything, especially if you would dismiss their faults over the other things that you like about them. Judge your heroes. Judge them HARD.

Which isn’t to say that you can’t have heroes, and appreciate them for their works. It just means acknowledging them for the human beings they are.

A personal example: This mindset is especially important to me, as an avid reader. Some of the most acclaimed authors in history had serious flaws as far as societal/personal views went. This is of course, an effect of looking back in time and judging the past based on modern standards, but even so.

Howard Phillip Lovecraft, old H.P. himself. I love Lovecraft’s stories. I love the effect he had on horror as a genre. I love the cosmic dread that he evokes, and the artwork that it has inspired. His way of crafting a scene is one that creates a world that I can easily drop into, the icy water in the air of the Massachusetts pier, the cool fog of the streets at night, the musty tomes in a private library lit by candlelight. He was a brilliant writer, and the culture that has sprung up around his writings is one that I can appreciate on so many levels.

He was also a huge racist.

I’m talking unfathomably huge by modern standards. Even worse, his views leaked over several of his more famous writings. The Deep Ones of The Shadow Over Innsmouth? Directly inspired by the worst Yellow Peril propaganda concerning people of Chinese descent. Several times during his canon he describes anyone of darker skin as “Sub-human,” and goes out of his way to point them out as the main body of the cults to spring up around his cosmic entities. Even the Necronomicon, a tome that has become an artifact of the genre and spilled over into several others, was authored by the “Mad Arab,” who gets descriptions as unflattering as his moniker.

And here’s the trick. He’s one of the better ones. Supposedly (Some researchers agree, others disagree) his views softened over time, and he repented that portion of his writings on his deathbed.

 

It’s not just limited to authors either. Mother Theresa, whom many are brought up to think of as a saint, if not a Saint, is famous for her works helping the poor. It came out later, however, that while she treated the symptoms of poverty, she actively fought against solving the problems that caused it, as she viewed poverty as a more enlightened state of being. The Scandinavian countries, especially Sweden and Norway, which socialists such as myself often tout as shining idols of human rights and equality, have been carrying out a campaign of systematic discrimination against their native peoples, the Sami, for years.

It is important that these faults be acknowledged rather than covered up. It is up to the individual whether or not they are a deal breaker as far as respecting the person/organization/country goes, but don’t let them go uncommented on.

This is especially an issue in the U.S. that I have seen, with celebrity figures using fame as a shield to blatantly ignore the legal ramifications of everything from public intoxication to Drunk Driving/Murder/Rape. Anyone else committing a crime would but tossed away and forgotten by society, (My rant about the state of the US Prison System is for another topic, another time) but for those with enough fame to be instantly acquitted in the court of public opinion, all blame gets instantly shifted onto the victim. In most cases, the unfortunate athletes and celebrities are the ones that spend a single night in jail. Others go to court, publically weep, and the adoring masses forgive them.

Everyone has faults. Many are quick to shift blame to hide the fact that they are flawed themselves. There is a constant war between Perception and Truth, and rarely the two shall meet. Though I generally consider myself an optimist, I am of the belief that all told, Perception is the stronger of the two.

By all means, love their works. I still appreciate H.P. Lovecraft’s writings and everything that they have created in modern times. But acknowledge things that are wrong. If one does not, then you do not like a person, you like an ideal. Holding the person to the ideal, and idly dismissing anything about the person that does not fit the ideal you’ve built up around them is downright dangerous.

Love the beauty that people bring to the world. Acknowledge the ugliness rather than hiding it away.

And if you see the Buddha in the road, kill him.

Cheers

Here’s to You, Humanity (Now with foreword)

Some of you have likely already seen the content of this post. Those of you who have been following me for some time on Facecult especially. I’m posting it again here, because I need to have a quick-link to it, as it is something that I need to re-read every now and again.

About this essay: I wrote this on a very, very bad day. One of the worst in recent memory, though it was just under two years ago at this point. I was wallowing in confused anger, self-loathing, and general badness. It was not good by any means, but then I started to pity myself.

I can’t stand self-pity. Especially when I’m the one doing it. So, I took everything that I was feeling, and used it to drive me forward. I wrote this with a passion in a single sitting, crying the whole time. I was determined that, rather than let myself be consumed, I was going to create something beautiful and put it out in the world.

I hope you find as much meaning in it as I do.

***

Here’s to you, Humanity.

We all have had bad days, some of us bad months, even years. We all bear our private demons, each and every one of us. We have been battered, bruised, broken, and some days it seems rare to see a person with more whole flesh than scars, metaphorical or otherwise. Things don’t always go our way, and sometimes a single no will appear to erase all of the times an answer has been yes.

Maybe it was a hard time, harder than any we had previously encountered. Maybe there are far too many clouds to see the silver lining, at least for now. But that, in a nutshell, is what makes us human. The clouds will break for us.

Maybe not now, maybe not today, maybe not for years to come, but we persevere. At the end of the day, when the little voice of our demons whisper how it would be easier to give up, to accept what is, we wipe the sweat from our sunburned brows and press on. The night holds no fear for us when we walk as one people, the song of our collective hopes, dreams, and souls on our lips.

Look around us. We are ragged, tired, overworked. We are radiant, energized, fulfilled. We are the eye of the beholder, we see each others’ scars and declare one another beautiful. We march through the pain, pressing onward until our feet become calloused and strong.

It is through our trials that we discover ourselves. It is too often easy to look around and say that we are content. We can become better. What better is, we are still figuring out. The important thing is that WE do it. It is not for any one person to say what is better for any other. By uplifting our fellows, we become stronger as a whole.

A chain is only as strong as its weakest link, or so it is said. Ostracizing a weak link exacerbates the problem, it does not solve it. We are humanity. Human is a descriptor that we can all ascribe by. Rather than distancing ourselves from a problem, we can work together to strengthen the chain as a whole. Strength is whatever can solve the problem at hand. We are stronger than we know, wiser than we think, and together, any challenge can be conquered.

Maybe it’s all a pipe dream. Maybe we are stuck in a holding pattern. But, then again, maybe we aren’t.

We can do anything. WE are the embodiment of chaos and order, method and madness. WE are the force for change. WE may have had a bad day, but WE wipe the blood from our split lips and keep trying. WE have no use for obstacles claiming to be insurmountable, for WE have already defeated far worse. WE are HUMANITY, and WE are getting better.

So, here’s to you Humanity. It may seem bad today, but we’ve already done this dance. We know the steps, and though our muscles ache and our bodies bleed, we live. We live. WE are LIFE.

Here’s to you, Humanity. Here’s to all of us.