Sunday, 29 June 2014
Rubtummis is a land of low hills and scrub nestled between the Dongo and Timpopo rivers. The province is the western-most of the lands settled by the Bejam tribe. The Bejam arrived in Rubtummis in the early 18th century: the previous occupants, the M’Bop, had been attracted to the province by the mineral hot springs that exist in the south of the country. Luxuriating in the cleansing effervescence of the springs, the M’Bop were unique amongst the tribes of the Leech Coast in having invented bath-bombs before the spear and shield: the former proved to be rather inferior substitutes for latter when the Bejam arrived and stole their land. Amongst other things, the Bejam tribe are famed for the ludicrous styling of their hair. By coating their locks in a thick paste made from hippo dung and cocoa beans and then brushing it upwards, the Bejam give their locks a shocking, scarified and twisted look that has led to their being termed by European observers as the ‘curly wurlies’. The Bejam are led by the wily fox, Osman Donni, who, luckily for the Bejam, is actually a man, not a fox, and so he can read a map and rarely feels compelled to sift through bins.
Sunday, 15 June 2014
Half desert, half scrub, and wholly unpleasant, the Arfanarf Desert is a wasteland in the extreme northeast of the Leech Coast. The desert is inhabited by a tribe known as the Doowadidi: a bitter collectivity of nomads who have an abundance of only three things: sand, shrubs, and resentment. The second of these has become central to Doowadiddi society. Too poor to afford camels, but too proud to dispense with the principle of raiding that is the foundation of warrior-societies in surrounding provinces, the Doowadiddi have been forced to substitute camels with shrubs to produce what is surely one of the saddest ‘rite of passage’ rituals in tribal history: ‘shrub rustling.’ Since shrubs neither move very fast; nor do they tend to have much of a bite; nor, since their milk yield is generally poor, does any other tribe actually want them, the rustling of shrubs itself tends to be substantially less dangerous to the tribesmen than their preparatory warm-up routine. Noted French ethnographer Oscar Foxtrotte noted that as ethnographic spectacle shrub rustling was ‘a bit dull to watch; pretty merde, really’.
Lying along the northern banks of the Dongo River, Snuffle was once the site of the vibrant African city of Thriddle, the Pearl of the Great Grasslands. The city thrived on the receipts of trade caravans travelling overland from Loofah and along the great green river to Kassarol. This golden age ended in pre-history – legends tell of the rise of an evil group of dark witch doctors, who called themselves Ikono M’ists, and the rapid collapse thereafter of civilization in Snuffle. The Ikono M’ists advised the Kingdom to adopt mud as its official currency, and for this reason Snuffle quickly became locked into cycles of rampant inflation (during the rainy season) and deep economic stagnation (when the weather was nice). It was during one of the latter that the Ikono M’ists opened the irrigation canals in an attempt at what they termed ‘quantitative easing,’ and washed much of the city away. Most of what was left of the wealth of Thriddle was then appropriated by the Ikono M’ists as something that they called ‘Abonus.’
Monday, 9 June 2014
The wide grasslands of Yarq are the home to a tribe known as the Hee Hee. The Hee Hee have lived in these lands longer than recorded history, although, since the Hee Hee cannot write, that may not actually be very long. As seems to be so often the case on the Leech Coast, the tribe’s name is not an entirely accurate one and the Hee Hee in fact are famed for their lack of humour. Indeed, at least one chief banned the use of doors to remove a dangerous temptation towards ‘knock knock’ jokes. This poorly judged decision resulted in an orgy of theft as the enterprising Hee Hee set about pinching everything from their neighbours that wasn’t nailed down. This was quite a lot, since, in addition to failing to invent writing, the Hee Hee also hadn’t invented hammers. Or Nails. Given that the Hee Hee were thus both very angry and very humourless, it was an unpleasant twist of fate for those concerned that the first white men to encounter the Hee Hee consisted of an Englishman, an Irishman, and a Scotsmen – having barely introduced themselves, the trio the experienced their very own punchline when they were beaten to death.
The legendary mountains of Absinthia were famous in medieval times as the rumoured site of a fabled lost Christian Kingdom. The ruler of these legendary lands was said to be King John, known, because of his refusal to take a bath, as Fester John. Even the monks in faraway Lindisfarne had heard of ‘Ye Kingdome of Festor Jonne;’ an entry in their ‘Faire and Compleate Historie of Englande with Ye Smalle Appendix Covering Eventes in Wayles and Thee Reste of Thee Worlde,’ noted that Festor John’s Kingdom was ‘riche with gold and turnips.’ Discovering the text in the archives of Lampeter St Bunce University, the noted academic Sir Hugo Frottage in 1746 led an expedition to Absinthia on the basis that, whilst he could take or leave turnips, he really liked gold. Frottage was more than a little disappointed to find that the lax academic standards at Lindisfarne, especially in footnoting and proofreading, had led them to render as ‘gold and’ what should have been rendered as ‘golden.’ In consequence, the plunder obtained by Frottage’s expedition had a rather lower ratio of hard cash to root vegetables than he had anticipated. Frottage’s disappointment was as nothing compared with that of the Absinthians: as is so often the case with indigenous populations, the arrival of Europeans brought immense upheavals. In particular, the value of the turnip-based Absinthian currency was destroyed by the introduction by Frottage of carrots and parsnips. The principle town in eastern Absinthia is the walled mountain fastness of Gabba-Gabba.
Monday, 2 June 2014
Mittelheim’s links to the Leech Coast go back to the 1720s and the exploits of a small and bedraggled band of ship-wrecked travellers. These fellows not only discovered the Leech Coast, but were single-handedly responsible for introducing to the local population a range of the key benefits of European culture, including Christian religious practice; wigs; and chamber pots. This strange tale began in 1719, with the then King of Gelderland, Ludwig III. Tired of being left off the guest lists of Europe’s most fashionable royal get-togethers, Ludwig decided it was time to extend to Europe at large the benefits of Mittelheim culture. To this end, the King assembled a touring troupe of Gelderland’s very best cultural emissaries, including Herr Hans Pantzpuller, poet and badger wrestler; Reverend Hans Leiderhosen, scientist and inventor of the famous Leiderhosen mechanical tricorne; Hans von Frischnetz-Stockinge, playwright and alchemist; and the octogenarian Baron Hans von Sockelkock, composer, and semi-professional groper. Sockelkock, the octopus-handed coffin-dodger, was appointed the leader.
As might be supposed with anything devised in Mittelheim, this plan ran about a well as a wheeled turbot. Crossing central Europe, the group met, amongst other European luminaries, Johan Sebastian Bach. It was at this time that Bach penned what would later be known as the ‘Well Tempered Clavier’, a collection of fugues and preludes, widely considered to be one of the most influential pieces of Western classical music. In fact, it was composed by Bach in order to drown out the noise of Baron von Sockelkock’s triangle concertos’s, being named originally ‘Sod off back to Mittelheim, Mister Wobblebottom’. Arriving in England in 1720, the troupe encountered the English writer Jonathan Swift. Sadly, Swift was so bored by his time with them that he tried to end it all with a normally lethal dose of opiates and super-strength stilton: recovering later, he recorded his strange cheese dreams in his work Gulliver’s Travels. Also in England, the group encountered Edmond Halley: Halley was appointed Royal Astronomer in that year, his sudden interest in gazing at the stars motivated by a desire to find a place where no one from Mittelheim could find him. In France, things were even worse. Voltaire noted that von Frischnetz-Stockinge performed ‘acts of true theatrical alchemy: transforming at will inestimable theatrical gold into leaden horse flop.’ The Mittelheim trip culminated in a trip to Versailles to the Court of Louis XV. In the wake of Pantzpuller’s moving poem ‘Crikey, What’s This I’ve Found in my Britches’, the Mittelheimers were tried in France for crimes against the Performing Arts and sentenced to a slow and musical death. Escaping their captors, the Mittelheimers fled by ship hoping to return to England.
Sadly for the troupe, terrible storms arose in the Channel, battering the ship for weeks. Occasionally, there was a break in the weather, upon which the stark desolation of the local coastlines and the savagery of the inhabitants reassured them that they were probably approaching Grimsby. It was not to be, however. Contrary winds had pushed them far to the west and south. Lady Luck, tired, clearly of Pantzpuller’s attempts to rhyme ‘orange’ and ‘door hinge’ had had enough and one night the ship struck a rock and sank. In Gelderland, nothing was heard from the vessel after its exit from France, and it was assumed that the ship had gone down with all Hans.
A decade later, French merchant ships brought amazing news: the Mittelheimers had not only survived the ship wreck, but had survivied contact with the indigenous inhabitants, a circumstance that seemed almost miraculous given the war-like temperament and perpetual hunger of the local tribesmen. Lacking weapons, common sense, and their pantaloons, and without even a cinematic montage with which to prepare a defence, there seemed little that the four could do to prevent themselves from becoming a selection of delicious cold cuts. But having rescued his harpsichord from the wreckage of the ship, Sockelkock subjected the assembled locals to the prelude from his concerto ‘Straight outta Gelderland’, entitled ‘F*ck tha Night Watch.’ Terrified by the violent assault of sound, the natives concluded, given the god-awful noise, that Sockelkock must be some kind of deity: possibly powerful and certainly very deaf. Moreover they also concluded that, even if he wasn’t the God Snafu, Bad Spanker of the World, there was at least a chance that, by prostrating themselves before him, they might convince him to stop whatever it was that he was doing with his plinky plonky devil-box. Having saved themselves, the four Gelderlanders determined to stay in Africa, motivated by God, duty, and the spectacular nakedness of the local womenfolk.
By degrees, interest grew in the trading possibilities of this slice of the African coast. Small landings showed a coastline of fetid swamps, scorching savannahs and gloomy, humid jungles, riddled with malaria and a hundred other terrible diseases; in short, a paradise compared with Mittelheim. Eager to stake a Mittelheim claim to these territories, the King of Gelderland financed a military expedition to stamp his authority over the area. Military control was wrested from a few sleepy Portuguese forts. The garrison of one was overwhelmed when he was in the privy; the two year siege of another ended when the Gelderland troops discovered that the gate was unlocked. Reports that wended their way back to Mittelheim were encouraging. Strange, and not at all rude-looking fruits, animal skins and precious stones were all to be had. Moreover the local tribe were described by the Gelderland military commander as ‘very tall, and not unattractive’, a tribe that the Mittelheimers called the Waffa and that their Portuguese captive called ‘some Giraffes’.
Though still tiny, the trading settlements of what became known as the Leech Coast have become increasingly profitable enterprises thanks to their involvement in one aspect of commerce in particular: slavery. First to see the opportunities afforded by this mode of trade was a Rotenburg merchant, an Irish émigré by the name of Mister Ryan Hare, Esquire. Promised ‘a short and relaxing break in the sun’, bewildered Mittelheim peasantry were packed like sardines in vile conditions and then transported from ports in Rotenburg and Bestwestung by Ryan Hare’s vessels to the slaving entrepot’s of the Leech Coast. Now, many merchants are involved in the Leech Coast triangle trade: African hippo knees to New Mittelheim, where they are sold to pay for local loin cloths; loincloths to England, where they are bartered as napkins in exchange for false moustache’s; false moustache’s to Mittelheim, where they are used as part of the disguises to lure unwary peasant’s aboard ship; and sea-sick peasants thence to the Leech Coast. There the sad fellows are sold to local Arab traders, though only after having been given a very vigorous scrubbing. Then, it is off to labour in the salt mines of Bumsak or the crocodile pits of Belliboob, or to be touched inappropriately in the harems of Khazibar. Little is heard of most of them again, especially since surprisingly few try to escape back to their homeland. The back-breaking toil, appalling exploitation, poor food, and beatings at the hands of criminally insane overlords make Mittelheim an unappealing destination. In the Leech Coast, it is so hot that even psychopathic slave-lords have to take the afternoons off.
Now, as the War of the Spanish Suck Session expands faster than King Wilhelm’s waistline, Prince-Rupprecht of Saukopf-Bachscuttel and Landgrave Choldwig of Hesse-Rotenburg plot to seize the Leech Coast for themselves ...