Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Tales from the Book of Aqueducts

Recently the Boy has been inventing countries...as longtime readers know, when the Boy is productive, his efforts are quickly transcribed, given a veneer of Daddy-dream, and added to the Wampus canon in some fashion or another.


The Book of Aqueducts is an ancient codex from the Long Ago which scholars believe predates the rise of Koz and perhaps dates back into shrouded antiquity.  Its actual age is difficult to pinpoint, for it has chief amongst its curious enchanted qualities the inconvenient yet amazing habit of rejiggering all of its illustrations to portray the characters as of the same species as the reader.  Thus, the Book of Aqueducts itself could perhaps come down to us from the Simian Era, or even the legendary Time of Owls - we may never know.  Historians and some wizards often read copies of the Book; the original is kept under lock and key, as a wondrous object and historical treasure.

The tome itself is oversized by today's standards, bound in the purple hide of an unknown extinct creature.  The cover bears no title; it is known as the Book of Aqueducts due to the small, geometric marginalia designs which feature on many pages, which resemble pipes or waterways not unlike those used during the time of the Peacock Throne, yet far more complex - more like tiny labyrinths.  Some scholars who have studied the original Book say the marginalia have a hypnotic quality in person, and may be some sort of living code or interplanar map, indecipherable to modern eyes attached to smaller brains.  Although several relatively faithful copies of the Book exist, only the original has "proper" enchanted illustrations every few pages which animate to tell the story and sometimes even change or add meaning to the written narrative which may vary depending on the reader.

"...discussing with dear Professor Plinst our favorite tales from the Book of Aqueducts, and of course I mentioned the Travails of Poom, specifically that wonderful illumination in which the beleaguered boy knight Poom draws a whistling-sabre and decapitates the Three-Eyed Baron.  Plinst recalled it differently, insisting that when he had read the same tale in the original codex, Poom was depicted strangling his foe and spitting upon the corpse.  Wishing to settle it as a bet of honor, I sent a letter to a mutual acquaintance who lived near the city where the Book was on tour that summer, instructing him to go and read that specific story and make note of the illustrations, but not alerting him to what Plinst and I expected to see.  Well, you can, no doubt, imagine what happened.  A month later I had a letter from my friend, describing the very satisfying animation of Poom defeating the Baron in a lengthy quarterstaff duel, while noting that the text itself merely says 'killed'.  There was no doubt then that the question was settled."  -- Harcourt Runcible

The frontispiece of the Book of Aqueducts depicts a continent unknown to man, and the endpapers yet another continent.  Both feature prominently in the tales within the book, and much scholarship has been spent analyzing whether the strange lands in the stories are intended to be representative or satirical of ancient city-states, to no consensus.  Some of the countries are obvious fairy-tale sorts of destinations which exist for a narrative purpose, or are merely a humorous mention within the flow of a story; others seem like plausible stand-ins for contemporary political rivals or a historical lesson valued by the authors.  Perhaps strangely, the maps do not change, as the other illustrations do.

Below, some notable places from the Book of Aqueducts:

The land of Norbread is ruled by a clever young Prince-Regent who defends his land against the rapacious Grand Duke of Hambonia in The Tale of Two Dead Brothers.  Norbread itself seems rather vanilla compared to some of the nations in the Book; it is primarily a long valley dotted with farms, known for its apple cider.

A Grand Duchy with a large standing army, Hambonia is the aggressor in more than one story, with stock phrases describing the waves of green-clad Hambonian soldiers pouring through breaches in city walls.  The people of Hambonia prostrate themselves before idols of a deity called the Celestial Pig, and their soldiers carry destructive man-powered firearms called blunderpipes, which are halfway between a blunderbuss and bagpipes.

Outsiders know the deserts of Bejje as a white sand waste where people live in very tall houses that stick up out of the sands like spikes.  As the desert is constantly shifting and rising like a tide, they must add more levels to their house every few years, and of course the lower levels are all buried by sand.

In the valley of Boggdoggle, nobody can stand a straight line, so everything is built and crafted in curves and circles and the people live in spherical houses.  The standard of beauty is such that it is quite advantageous to be very fat and as spherical as possible, a cultural feature which factors heavily into the plot of The Princess Who Was Cursed To Eat Only Butter.

The rocky badlands of Eepgato are populated by near-naked savages who ride great cats as steeds and drive humongous scarabs before them in battle; they are ruled by the cruel, immortal Pharaoh Kwaytunkhamun.  The Pharaoh beseeched his sorcerors and scientists to make him deathless, and they succeeded - but also drove him mad.  A distant cousin and legitimate heir to the crown, the Princess With Blue Hair, hides in exile amongst the barbarians of the dunes, biding her time to regain the throne.

The many baronies of Pleplackia are now united as a single republic, having previously been one kingdom, and before that, squabbling city-states.  The beneficent guidance of King Moofus II - now Prime Minister Moofus - has been a stabilizing influence on an area once riven by sectarian conflict, as told in The Story of Six Wandering Knights and alluded to in Poor Little Ashen-Tongue.

The city of Naupiqistan is said to be invisible unless you're inside its walls, but surely that is where any curious traveler would wish to be.  At the center of Naupiquistan's red-cobbled streets lies the Unknown Library, which contains a thousand mysterious books which seem blank unless read by moonlight, in a mirror.  Each page of one of these books contains a secret which no-one knows; and once you read the page, it disappears, for now someone knows the secret.  Sadly one cannot then learn a second secret, for all the books of the Unknown Library will be blank to your eyes forevermore.

There are a great many other nations mentioned in the Book of Aqueducts, from the mountaintop abbeys of Eeglopolis, populated by balloon-people, to the floating casino-island of Lobster City.  No doubt debate as to whether these lands are real or imagined will continue long into the future.


  1. Many of these sound like they could be the locations for campaigns in themselves - "The Basements of Bejje" would make a great dungeon crawl, for example. I suspect The Boy has a bright literary future ahead of him.

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