Tammin and the Mountain

Started by Jubal, August 13, 2015, 09:47:24 PM

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Tammin and the Mountain

This is a story of Tammin. Some of you may have heard of Tammin, and some of you may not; but he was a very wise man, and he lived in the Hidden Kingdom, far from these western and windswept isles, where the stars are strange, and there are a great many tales of him to be told.

Somewhere in the north of the Hidden Kingdom, there lies a mountain that they call the Silver Spire. It is tall, taller than the highest mountain this side of Constantinople; it is steep, and no paths wind up its slopes; and its peak, covered in snow, sparkles like the finest glinting silver. But the Silver Spire is no friend to men, or to any of the other creatures who walk the earth; the mountain is fickle, and it was said that on the Silver Spire no man could walk where they pleased.

Now, the great King, Prester John, decided on a contest for the young men of his court. He made a proclamation, loud and clear (for when Prester John speaks, no heralds or trumpets are needed; his voice is loud and deep enough of its own to fill the valley his castle sits in). He proclaimed that whosoever should be able to bring him a small, round pebble from the top of the Silver Spire should be given the entire valley below the mountain; and it was a rich and a pleasant place, with a village and a stream and a forest and a hundred cows and a hundred villagers.

Two people stepped forwards to try their luck; the first was a great soldier, strong and brave and quick. The second was a priest – not like the parish parsons of this little country but a missionary, clever and firm on his feet. No other was to be found until Tammin stood – Tammin who was then but young, and worked carrying scrolls for the Vizier, and was one of the least people in the castle – and asked if he could be given a try. The older men both agreed, laughing and glad of what they thought would be easy competition.

Each was given a week to prepare for the task, and anything they wished for in that time. The soldier went out to the yard, practising climbing the bare face of the castle. The priest studied the contours of the mountain, and prayed night and day for luck, and blessed each part of his equipment nine times for good measure. But Tammin just sat and read what he pleased, and talked to the cats, and played a hundred games of chess with the serving-men, and wandered up and down the castle.

After the week was done, they set off; the soldier, the priest, and the scribe's boy.

On the road they first met a cat; and the priest shooed it out of his way, and the soldier aimed a kick at it, and not minding it they kept walking. But Tammin knelt down and gave it a rub behind the ears, distracted from his quest; and so the other men went ahead of him.

The next thing they met was a Golem, abandoned by some long-gone master; this time the soldier saw it first, but walked past it, for golems were servants, and base, and beneath his concern. The priest looked at it a moment, then strode to the other side of the road, for golems were thought of as sorcerous, their brains forged in wizardry. But Tammin, when he reached the Golem, brushed the moss off it, and told it the time of day; and so the other men went further ahead of him.

At last they got to the village beneath the mountain; and a man with a donkey was staying there, and he challenged them to a game of chess (not the chess you or I would play; this was the Old Chess, and like all things in the Hidden Kingdom was much finer and nobler than the lesser things the world outside puts up with). The soldier made his excuses and hurried past. The priest sniffed at the frivolity of the game, stalking by. It was an hour later when Tammin turned up; and he and the man with the donkey talked a while, delaying him still further; and then he sat down and began to play, and the older men left him far behind.

Onto the slopes of the mountain ventured the soldier and the priest: but they both walked tall, and proud, and the Silver Spire has little love for humans. They found screes at every turn, and trees and boulders, and the trees shook their branches and the snows tumbled left and right, and they found that though they eventually got past, it was true that on the Silver Spire no man could walk where they pleased.

Then there came the place where the rock was steepest, and there the soldier and the priest struggled further; the soldier pulled himself up, rock after rock, but tiring and going slower with every inch. The priest worked his way along the contours, but taking time, slow and painstaking. And they found again that it was true; on the Silver Spire, no man could walk where they pleased.

Finally they scrambled up to the peak, and there searched, stone after stone, wishing their eyes were younger, until eventually each found a stone that seemed just about round enough; and then they descended, slowly and carefully; and each now knew he would have to race the other back to the king's court, but until they were off the mountain neither started out quickly, for they were wary of the Silver spire and did not walk as they pleased.

And what do you think they found, as they both rushed down the road, over hill and river, towards the castle?

The court! All in procession, silks and flags billowing in the last breezes of spring, music playing on harp and zither... and in the middle of it all, Tammin riding next to Prester John, bedecked as the new lord of the valley.

"How is this possible?" the men asked, backing away. "We left the boy far behind us. Either he is a cheat or he is a mighty conjuror, to have accomplished such a feat."

And then Tammin replied to them: "When I needed to know how to walk so none would mind me I asked the cat, for everyone knows that cats will always walk where they please. And it was the golem who carried me where the rock was steepest, for he could not tire. And then when we got back to the village I hopped on a donkey, for I had beaten the man there quite soundly at his chessboard, and rode all the way back to the court of Prester John."

And then the men fell into the procession, embarrassed; for a boy had with the sound of his voice and the sharpness of his eyes and the cunning of his mind done what neither great study of the scriptures or long years of training in the field could achieve.

And Tammin was for ever after known both for his cunning and his humanity; and in days long after, when he was a very wise man and a very great hero, he would always tell his story to the children of the valley beneath the Silver Spire, where only Tammin of all men had walked as he pleased – and remind them to always be kind to their cats.

Tellers' Notes
I'm slightly embarrassed that despite this being the first one I'm posting, I've never actually told it. Will update this when I have done! Worth noting that it contains a lot of trio patterns. It's also got what I call a "pseudomoral" ending - that is to say, a "moral of the story" that isn't actually the moral of the story, something that's quite common in folk tales. In this case it's "always be kind to your cat", which is a good moral, but what underpins the story is actually a broader moral along the lines of nobody being able to do everything themselves and needing community/others to get things done that you can't.
The duke, the wanderer, the philosopher, the mariner, the warrior, the strategist, the storyteller, the wizard, the wayfarer...


I like this; some more about the life and adventures of Tammin would be welcome, if they come to mind. And though you might not have told this aloud, I think I can "hear" it as I read it; the pacing and phrasing seem good for this.

One question from idle curiosity: has "the Silver Spire" been borrowed from an old and better-known story-teller?


I don't know that I borrowed it consciously, but I may have done unconsciously!

I've got 8 or so different Tammin stories to transcribe, so your wish will be fulfilled! I may even compile them into a book when I have enough - I'll certainly get an overarching threasd made for discussion of the pseudo-mythical setting I've made up for them all.
The duke, the wanderer, the philosopher, the mariner, the warrior, the strategist, the storyteller, the wizard, the wayfarer...