The Birth of Elmal

The Birth of Elmal

or, “Why I screwed up your Glorantha”

Being a Chief Bard is not easy. I have been saddled with the task of revealing Glorantha. I accept it. Like most good Orlanthi, I do not have too great an ambition for myself the world. In my youth I had wild dreams and mad fancies, and they have either been discarded, come to fruition, or are still actively in progress. I am willing to engage in a fight, to investigate for right and wrong, and have an honest will to apologize when I am wrong. No one expects more of me than that, I hope. I am just an entertainer.

Now there is a division among the tribe, and I discover that I am once again at its source. Woe to the tribe which chooses a heroquesting bard as its leader! I had thought that you all knew the inherent problems of following an artist, and thusly could understand how Elmal, the Loyal Thane of Orlanth, came so late to the fore. Instead I see that once again the divisive effect has become manifest: we have become either Yelmalio or Elmal people.

This division makes me uneasy, for although I am not responsible for the peace and satisfaction of everyone, I am still uncomfortable hurting anyone. I am grateful for the men and women who took me into their fold and gave me the field in which to graze my ideas. They were the early Chaosium fold, guided by a spirit conjured in a Tarot reading. We sent our early stock into the fields and they prospered. Our success raised the interests of others in the tribe who had been lost, and brought them to us until we were a wide and ranging tribe. These were the RuneQuest tribe, a diverse people with many clans.

At first I was amazed at how many came just to listen to my own songs and stories! When I first summoned this Ring they laid out tools and devices which we all loved, and which we thought everyone would love as well. And the RuneQuest tribe did, no doubting that!

Ho, indeed loved nearly to death. They asked more and more of what I knew, and I gladly supplied whatever was in my humble power to provide. I had originally laid down a foundation, my rough sketch based upon what I knew at the time. It was the tribal society of Dragon Pass, first portrayed in print in the boardgame of White Bear & Red Moon. I had an idea, and I developed it the best possible with the tools at hand.

I love tools, whether chisels to carve wood into something beautiful, or ideas and systems used to shape my visions for others. I began with imagination, added intent, and then a mimeograph machine, and worked to manifest these ideas.

One mad vision of my youth was to inspire a variety of people who were so entranced by the world of Glorantha that they would contribute to it. So I thought in 1966, when I was in college, when I first began writing about Glorantha. In 1978, after the appearance of RuneQuest, this dream had begun to come true. I spent my time shaping and overseeing the increasing exploration of Glorantha. A few were authors or co-authors, but more important were the thousands of gamemasters and players who began to explore the mythic realm.

Alas! These are the same folks who, I learn, have been betrayed by me.

Why? I have heard them ask. The is a sharp edge of hidden pain in their voice. Well, here is your answer:

I had to.

I am, after all, the Son of the Twisted One: the Arkating of the First Degree. It is my nature to betray you.

I guess I forgot to tell you this, and perhaps it was not apparent in my work. Well, now you know. I hope you understand we don’t do it to intentionally cause you discomfort, but to reveal the drama of mythical masks. Your hurt should ignite your inspiration.

It was Heroquesting that did it. I guess my curse is the curiosity which I have had, and the insight needed to light my way through its frightful caverns and shadowy inner and outer worlds. I think it is a curse sometimes because it never gives me rest, and for all my security-seeking I have found only more wander and wonder.

I did not mind living with trolls before my initiation. Honest I didn’t. I was used to it, after all, and had spent a good part of my life proselytizing for them. No one was more politically Green for Trolls than I was. “For a human,” they told me, “You are very without fire. Your stick is big enough for us.” No, being a member of the Darkness Tribe and living among the Sartarites was not a problem for me.

The face of Mythology is never the same. Its precise nature is its mutability and ability to reform. Ambiguity, error, and illusion are the stuff from which mythology is made. It is impossible to find an unchanging mythical Truth.

How it Happened

I have always been under the guidance of an Arkati. Most of us self-taught Heroquesters seem to be. As we all know, Arkat was the glorious Liberator, the first human being to discover the real way in which we mortals may obtain immortality. His dictum is mine: “No heroquesting without Respect and Compassion.” It would have been easiest for me to just let go and absolve myself of responsibility at that moment. But the Arkati Guide would not let me live with such irresponsibility. Thus, the tasks which were at first pleasant and exciting became irritating and finally burdensome. The very purpose of my liberating tasks became oppressive to me. The Arkati gloom once again settled about me, and as expected, the Guide deserted me in the darkness. I had only my lessons.

You might have heard from me at that time. I could have been undead, if I had not been an Arkati, but most folk who met me in daylight were not fooled. All did as they were supposed to do, and Life went on. I saw it watching me. It fed me porridge each morning, nothing else. And so the gloom eventually dissipated after I digested the porridge.

I think now I was lucky to be able to come back to the family and stead. I value this more than anything to bear and sustain me every day. Any journey or insight I undertake must be viewed in how it impacts my wife and children. I have not always been kind in my execution of duties. Neither has my patron Orlanth, nor his wife, Ernalda. Yet they, as well as Goldentongue, have given me the Insight which makes Heroquesting both possible and necessary.

The curse! I could not resist exploring once again this bright world which we all have visited. Who among us has not been drawn back to the call of the RuneQuest tribe?

Now, though, I was armed with new tools and new insights. I called a new Ring and sat down to explore the world anew. With Phil Davis, Gregg Maples, Stephen Martin, Jeff Okamoto, and a brief visit by David Hall, we again ventured our souls to heroquest into the other realm. This time I looked at things anew, as always. Importantly, while wandering throughout the Stormtime and Nowtime, I looked up and wondered, for the first time, “Who is the Orlanthi sun god?”

I realized that the place of the Sun in Orlanthi myth, as revealed so far, was that of the enemy and foe, the Emperor. Nonetheless, there was the Sun of Life which anyone can see and feel when they go out on a sunny day. Without that then the Dark Tribe would rule again. The Orlanthi knew it and surely acknowledged the Friendly Sun. I knew that, but even as Storyteller I did not know where this might be. It was complicated when I looked into the sky in the Lesser Darkness, and there were the Lesser Suns giving aid to humans.

All speculation was laid to rest, as always, upon the ground of action and being. We heroquesters followed the path before us. We were our ancestors, we were our gods, we were children again. We were blessed by Luck to have our young lives attached to that of Tarkalor, the debauching prince of the royal Sartar house. And all about us, then, was the disintegration of our people and ways by the incursion of Lunar ideas and gods into our lives. Kings, princes, and princesses died to prove this, and no one could organize the people enough to resist efficiently.

This dissidence of the sun-worshippers was something which grew only slowly into my realization. With the blessing and financing of the young prince we explored arcane paths. We went to foreign lands where they had strange gods and customs. Lord Tarkalor wished to see elephants, but what I marveled at was that they summoned great powers from their sun, Somash. When our lives depended upon my explanation of how our god and their god had never met, I told of my vision of the Many Suns. We proved it was true. We survived. It was the spark of Elmal which brought me back to life.

We went other places. Egil Dancer, Longfoot Family, the charioteer, was our greatest benefit in these travels. He never shirked from broaching the most arcane legend for its implications.

We always returned to Boldhome. After defeating the Kitori trolls, even the jealous king could not ignore that our prince was a promising hero. At the celebration feast, where undiluted wine was served in profusion, I finally squinted my eyes the right way, and the pieces which had remained out of focus came together. Yes, I was drunk and looked into the sky and there saw the Multiple Suns of our own pantheon, both Elmal and Yelmalio, and even some others. But this time I understood something. I’d often had this problem, but now I tried to communicate it.

I told Lord Tarkalor what I had seen. I had always provided these types of helpful suggestions to my Lord, and he always asked my advice, so that I could help shape others’ ideas as well. But though I had ideas, it was Tarkalor’s inspiration to seek the truth about the sun god, and discover which was of them was worshipped by the dissidents. In a seven-day solitary ritual, upon a snow-covered peak, he went and found the New Sun. What occurred after that is, as we know, history.

I am not dismayed by disagreements since then. (I am dismayed, instead, by people’s hurt over this change.) I am glad that the Yelmalions insist that their god, Yelmalio, is ancient with history stretching from before the Dragonkill War. They insist that we brought back Elmal by our heroquesting.

I expect them to swear by this, and to proffer artifacts and tales to prove that it is Yelmalio who was the original sun god for us. To them Monro, perhaps the most honorable man I have ever met, preserved the original form of our Godtime worship and maneuvered to remove the last of his True Believers from among our corrupting influence. I do not disagree with this, and am proud of my little part in liberating them from us.

I am an Arkati and am cursed with knowing both sides of each question. Their deep convictions prove the effectiveness of our actions, whatever really occurred. And, most importantly, the real benefit is visible among us today.

Fact: the Yelmalio worshippers went to their new lands in the Phorthan’s and Amber Fields or in Prax, and then our tribes found unity and unanimity behind the leadership of Prince Tarkalor.

What other benefit has come from this for us? Indeed, the path, histories, and apparent results of a heroquest are only its initial, most obvious effects. The pay off is to be found in the subsequent results. If the community itself is not enriched by the quest, then it is not a full return and completion, as we Arkati know. It could be damaged, too, and it is necessary to investigate any other results, too.

For instance, another result is that I have been given permission to confess to being an Arkati. Some of you will recognize how liberating this can be.

Second, I feel even more liberated from the need to be Chief Arkati. The Guardians have summoned me and assured me that they are on duty and that it is not my job to know or try to ensure this any more. They have, collectively, done their best to infiltrate the other heroquesters in theRuneQuest tribe. There are enough guidelines, conscious or not, for me to end my own Guardianship of Purity.

Third, my new status has freed me to explore other aspects of Glorantha which had previously been prohibited by the rules and laws of the RuneQuest tribe. As a result I have been delving deeply into the Solar Way (thanks to the entryway provided by the Many Lesser Suns) and, as a natural consequence, the Lunar Way.

I hope to present the finding on that research soon. I have been translating the so-called The Masks of the Goddess, the “Lunar Mythology Handbook.” Such effort has overturned other earlier works as well, such as The Glorious ReAscent of Yelm and other Dara Happan documents. I hope to present these, too.

In the meantime, I invite all of you to recognize that if you see Arkat in me, you can also find it in you. I encourage you to step forward into the roles of subcreation and exploration within Glorantha.

I welcome you.

Greg Stafford 1993

Black Fang Brotherhood

Parent: Glorantha

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