Three Kingdoms – Vol IV – Extract – Foreshortening the Land

The Chinese classic Three Kingdoms is one of a kind historical novel. An epic drama, mostly about warfare and governing; here and there we can find interesting fantasy tidbits.

As the Wei cavalry raced after the procession, they noticed a chill wind blowing in little gusts and an icy mist spreading around them. They pursued strenuously for another stage but failed to catch up with Kongming, The soldiers reined in and said in amazement, « How strange! There they are still –we’ve gone thirty li without catching them! What do we do? » When Kongming saw that the pursuers had stopped, he ordered the porters to rest facing the enemy. After a long pause, the northerners resumed the chase; and Kongming returned to his wagon and began moving with studied slowness. The northerners pursued another twenty li but never reached their objective. Dumbstruck, they watched as Kongming had the wagons turn round again and advance toward them. The Wei troops wanted to pursue. But at that moment Sima Yi arrived with a company and issued an order: « Kongming’s marvelous skill with Eight Gateways and the « Taboo Days » formula has enabled him to control the Six Ding deities and the Six Jia deities. As he is now using the technique « Foreshortening the Land » from the divine text of the Six Jia, the army cannot overtake him. »

Three Kingdoms – Vol III- Extract – Rattan-Armored Soldiers

The Chinese classic Three Kingdoms is one of a kind historical novel. An epic drama, mostly about warfare and governing; there and there we can find interesting fantasy tidbits.

« There is a kingdom that can defeat the Riverlanders. » « Where? » asked Meng Huo. « To the southeast, seven hundred li from here, » the chief responded. « The Black Lance kingdom. Their chief, Wutugu, is some twelve spans tall, eats no grain, and survives on live snakes and vicious animals. His body is covered with scales no arrow or blade can pierce. The men in his command have rattan armor made from vines that grow in the ravines and wind around their rocky walls. Natives pick the vines, soak them in oil for half a year, then dry them in the sun. After being thoroughly dried, they are returned to the oil. The vines are dried and soaked this way ten times before being made into armor. The cured rattan keeps the body afloat and dry, as well as safe from arrow and blade; that’s why they’re called « rattan-armored soldiers ».

[…]

The Man warriors swarmed, covering the terrain. The Riverlanders shot their crossbow bolts; but the rattan was impenetrable, and the arrows dropped harmlessly. Neither the strokes of their blades nor the thrusts of their spears could break through it. The Man wielded their sharp knives and steel forks against the Riverlanders, who, unable to defend themselves, eventually withdrew. Wei Yan turned back and rushed to the riverside, where he watched im amazement as the enemy crossed over in full armor: those taken by fatigue simply removed their armor and used it to float across.

[…]

On the sixteenth day Wei Yan led his battle-worn men forth to oppose the rattan-armored Man. Riding an elephant, Wutugu took the lead. He wore a wolf-beard cap decorated with the sun and the moon. Gold and pearls laced his garment, through which his torso’s hard-scaled skin showed. A subtle fire darted from his eyes. Pointing to Wei Yan, he pronounced his malediction. Wei Yan wheeled round and fled again. The Man gave chase in full force. Wei Yan maneuvered around into Winding Serpent Valley as he made for the white flag. Wutugu closed in for the kill; seeing the hills bare, he had assumed he was safe from ambush.

When he reached the middle of the valley, Wutugu saw several dozen wagons with black-painted containers blocking the road. A soldier reported, « This is the Riverlands grain transport route. Your Highness’s arrival has caused them to flee and leave their carts. » Wutugu triumphantly urged his warriors to press the chase to the other end of the valley. There they found no Riverlands troops; but great logs and volleys of rocks crashed down, sealing the exit. Wutugu ordered his men to open the road, He had resumed his advance, when carts of all sizes loaded with burning wood loomed out of nowhere! Wutugu ordered immediate retreat. But from his rear ranks shouts went up: « The exit is blocked by dry tinder, and the carts, filled with powder, are in flames! » Wutugu remained calm because the site was too bare to conceal an ambush.. He ordered his men to escape however they could. Then, lo, from both sides of the valley torches were hurled down, hitting fuses on the ground that ignited iron missiles. The whole valley began dancing wildly with fiery light, and the rattan armor caught fire when touched by the flames. Wutugu and his thirty thousand men perished in Windind Serpent Valley, huddled together in the inferno.

From a hilltop Kongming looked down upon the incinerated men strewn over the valley. Most of them had had their heads and faces pulverized by the falling missiles. An unbearable stench rose from their corpses. Kongming wept and sighed at the carnage. « Whatever service to the shrines of Han this represents, my life-span will be shortened for it », he said. His words deeply touched every officer and man.

Three Kingdoms – Vol III- Extract- Four Poisonous Springs

The Chinese classic Three Kingdoms is one of a kind historical novel. An epic drama, mostly about warfare and governing; there and there we can find interesting fantasy tidbits.

The first, the Spring of the Mute, causes loss of speech; whoever drinks it (though the water be sweet) will perish in ten days’ time. The second, the Spring of Death, is hot, and bathing in it leads to putrefaction of the flesh; death follows after the bones show through. The third, the Black Spring, has somewhat clear water, but a few drops can turn your hands and feet black, and death will follow. The fourth is the Spring of Languor, whose icy water takes away the drinker’s warm breath while his body turns limp as cloth and he perishes. Neither birds not [sic] insects live there. During the Han, the General Who Tames the Deeps passed through; after him, no one.

Three Kingdoms – Vol II- Extract- Vast the River

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The Chinese classic Three Kingdoms is one of a kind historical novel. An epic drama, mostly about warfare and governing; there and there we can find interesting fantasy tidbits.

That night tremendous fogs spread across the heavens, and the river mists were so thick that even face-to-face people could not see each other. Kongming urged his boats on into the deep fog. The rhapsody « Heavy Mists Mantling the Yangzi » describes it well:

Vast the river! Wide and farflung! West, it laps the mountains Mang and E. South, it grips the southern shires. North, it girdles the nine rivers, gathers their waters, and carries them into the sea, its surging waves rolling through eternity.

Its depths holds monsters and strange forms: the Lord of the Dragons, the Sea Thing, the river goddesses, the Ocean Mother, ten-thousand-span whales, and the nine-headead centipede. This redoubt of gods and spirits, heroes fight to hold.

At times the forces of yin and yang that govern nature fail, and day and darkness seem as one, turning the vast space into a fearful monochrome. Everywhere the fog , stock-still. Not even a cartload can be spotted, but the sound gong or drum carries far.

At first, a visible gloom, time for the wise leopard of the southern hills to seclude itself. Gradually darkness fills the expanse. Does it want the North Sea leviathan itself to lose its way? At last it reaches the very sky and mantles the all-upbearing earth. Grey gloomy vastness. A shoreless ocean. Whales hurtle on the water. Dragons plunge and spew mist.

It is like the end of early rains, when the cold of latent  spring takes hold: everywhere, vague, watery desert and darkness that flows and spreads. East, it blankets the shore of Chaisang. South, it blocks the hills of Xiakou. A thousand warjunks, swallowed between the river’s rocky steeps, while a single fishing boat boldly bobs on the swells.

In so deep a fog, the deep-domed heavens have gone dark. The countenance of dawn is dull: the day becomes a murky twilight; the reddish hills, aquamarine jade. Great Yu, who first controlled the floods, could not with all his wisdom sound its depths. Even clear-eyed Li Lou could not use his measures, despite his keen vision.

Let the water god calm these waves. Let the god of elements put away his art. Let the sea creatures and those of land and air be gone. For now the magic isle of Penglai is cut off, and the gates of the polar stars are shrouded.

The roiling, restless fog is like the chaos before the storm, swirling streaks resembling wintry clouds. Serpents lurking there can spread its pestilence, and evil spirits can havoc wreak, sending pain and woe to the world of men, and the storms of wind and sand that plague the border wastes. Common souls meeting it fall dead. Great men observe it and despair. Are we returning to the primal state that preceded form itself — to undivided Heaven and earth?

In the Maw of the Earth Monster

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Some caves are truly awe inspiring and it’s no wonder people have so often associated them with the sacred. Needless to say, one can exploit such a rich domain to extract gameable/storytelling content…

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Inspiring tidbits:

  • Cave of the 4 Winds
  • Caves of the Earth Lord/ Earth Owner
  • associated with rain and thunder spirits
  • Caves of the Inner Maze
  • Lair of  soul-stealing sorcerer
  • the cave opens its mouth at midnight
  • sacred stalagmites (guardians)
  • stone idols
  • Land of the Dead
  • body preserved by fire and then mummified
  • the Mazatec fear the Masters of the Earth who live underground
  • it is said that thunders are controlled by little old men
  • access to the cave-tunnel is difficult as it lies in a deep, steep canyon filled with enormous boulders; its size dwarfs the human visitor
  • representation of a skeletonized figure whose heart is still in place
  • shell trumpet, incense burner
  • cenotes are sources of evil winds; plants and animals that inhabit them , especially tortoise, are sacred

 

On the matter of Ambivalent Entities

or how to say no to D&D alignment:

From the Nahua perspective, nature is not always beneficient, and absolute good or evil does not characterize the major entities. A benevolent manifestation of the earth mother, tonantsij, may kill if she feels neglected, while even the feared spirit of death, miquilistli, can be entreated to spare a patient’s life. In the Nahua view, nothing happens without a cause.

Extract from Chapter 2, Rites of Passage and Other Ceremonies in Caves, Doris Heyden.

Liane the Wayfarer

I recently read the first of the Dying Earth books and was much delighted by the inventiveness of these short stories, with so many colorful characters…

Of course Cudgel the Clever is the most well-known, but here’s another, at least as unforgettable in my opinion:

Liane the Wayfarer

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Art: Konstantin Koborov

You could easily  be deceived by his looks, this guy is, in fact, a true murderhobo!

I mean, beside being an overconfident jerk…

  • He tortures a couple (killing the woman in the process) so he can get a lead on some sort of bounty-hunting.
  • He wants to steal an object (one half of a tapestry), just so he can have his way with a beautiful woman.
  • He must hide his identity in a city, less his own nefarious reputation brings him unwanted attention.
  • He kills a helpful old man in cold-blood after questioning him ’cause he might, very hypothetically, serve someone he wants to steal from!

 

The romance of archeology: extract – V

Magoffin, R.V.D, Davis, Emiy C.The romance of archeology, Garden City Publishing Company Inc., 1929, New York

Chapter Eight: Archaeology in British Isles, p 173-174

The stone huts cleared of sand are large, with ceilings as high as ten feet, but the doors are low, so that even a short man must stoop to enter. Inside a typical house were found stone tables, stone cupboard shelves, a fireplace, and scattered household articles of a seaside home of the Stone Age — bone laddles, drinking cups of whalebone, simple earthenware dishes, and polished stone axe-heads. in addition there were beads and amulets of walrus ivory, which the fishermen and their dark-haired wives wore to set off their costumes of animal skins or to ward off evil. An unexpected discovery was that huts were connected by a network of indoor streets made of roofed-over stone passages. The untidy villagers cast kitchen refuse on the roofs of these indoor streets, and at times even built campfire there and cooked their meals.

In the corner of one cottage the archaeologists discovered a mysterious grave containing two skeletons. These appear to be not the remains of inhabitants of the stone house but victims entombed by some gruesome rite when the house was built. Barbarians elsewhere have been known to sacrifice a victim at the foundation of a new building in order to confer a magic stability upon its walls. The meaning of the burials is carved in plain view on a slab in front of the grave; but the marks have defied modern scholarship. They are like, and yet unlike, runic letters.

The romance of archeology: extract – IV

Magoffin, R.V.D, Davis, Emiy C.The romance of archeology, Garden City Publishing Company Inc., 1929, New York

Chapter 5: The Glorious Past of Hellas, p107-108

In the argolid, on a mountain spur 912 feet high, Schliemann in 1876 first found a double ring (87 feet in diameter) of stone slabs. Twenty-three feet below the surface he came upon the first of five graves. In it and the others (a sixth grave was discovered later) were found face masks of solid gold, bracelets, rings, daggers (sixty swords and daggers in one tomb), ivory, amber, silver, bronze, alabaster, diadems, pendants, grasshopers of gold with chains of gold wherewith the royal ladies attached them as ornaments on their dresses or in their hair; more than seven hundred ornaments in all. Nothing to equal this had ever been found before. Small wonder, it is not, that the world got into training for an archeological race?

The romance of archeology: extract – III

Magoffin, R.V.D, Davis, Emiy C.The romance of archeology, Garden City Publishing Company Inc., 1929, New York

Chapter 3: Glamor of the Gift of the Nile, p67

Reisner believed  from the first that he had discovered, not a burial, but a reburial. Pharaoh Sneferu had made a tomb for his queen Hetepheres near his own pyramid at Dahshur. Sneferu died and was entombed. When Hetepheres died, her son Cheops placed her mummy in the prepared tomb, as is proved by inscriptions. Thieves broke into Queen Hetepheres’ tomb, but were discovered, and of course killed, before much treasure, if any, had been carried away. Cheops, seemingly, was having a secret tomb prepared near his own pyramid, but did not wait for its completion, but removed his mother to it at once.

Inside the tomb chamber was a marble sarcophagus, over which lay a number of faïence-inlaid sheets of gold. On the floor were several chairs overlaid with gold, and a set of eight marvelous toilet jars of alabaster. on what was left of a palanquin and bed were four identical inscriptions which, when translated, say: « the mother of the King of Upper and Lower Egypt, the Follower of Horus, the guide of the ruler, the favorite one whose every word is done for her, the daughter of the god of his body, Hetepheres.  » Inside a gold-encased box […] containing deben rings,  » were found two sets of ten anklets. These rings for the legs are inlaid with dragon flies of malachite, lapis lazuli, and red carnelian. They are of different diameters, graduated in size to fit the leg. On the floor also were discovered three cups of gold, two gold and five copper razors, three gold and four copper knives, as well as several flint knives and many pieces of pottery and alabaster. To the dismay of the excavators, when the lid of the sarcophagus was raised, no mummy was inside. It must have been hidden somewhere else.