Wednesday, 25 March 2020

Hrotha's Town

Everyone knows that Hrotha’s Town exists. They see its people - the women bright-eyed, intelligent, gregarious, quick to laugh; the men laconic and somehow ponderous and bland - coming to their markets to trade, and they are real enough. And everyone knows that the Town lies somewhere to the north of Drummond’s Quarter, up the Sixthstreet. But few could take one to the spot, nor tell one how to get there, and its people will never say, no matter what the inducement.

To get into Hrotha’s Town, one must know that its entrance lies between two trees in a glade not far from the bridge over the Red River, and that, when drizzle falls on a bright day such that one could expect to see a rainbow, if one looks through the rain falling between those two trees where the sunlight strikes it, one will see the faintest outline of a wrought-iron gate. One must then step forward, making as though as to grasp the bars - convincing oneself that, despite the fact that they are as delicately translucent and as pale as gossamer, one can feel the hard cold metal as one presses one’s palms against them - and at that moment one will realise that it is in fact a real gate, and that it is as strong and heavy as iron can be, and that behind it is a track leading to what is clearly a large village with fields and orchards and people laughing in the distance.

Hrotha is a wizard with a thick black beard that bristles almost to his feet, and hair to match it. His violet eyes twinkle from a tanned face creased by laughter lines and his nose and cheeks are red with humour and the flush of wine. He is the image of avuncular affection. But he carries an iron rod, and rules with it both literally and figuratively. None of the populace dares to cross him, and his vengeance when he feels himself slighted is terrible.

It is their terror of his wrath that ensures the people of the Town continue to abide by Hrotha's rules for the most part even after his long and unexplained absence, which has now stretched to three years and thirty-three days with no sign of ending. One morning the people awoke to find he was gone, and his servants - the bands of unruly goat-men who serve as his eyes and ears - would not say where, nor even reveal if they knew that destination. Life has continued as before because the expectation is that one day he will come back, and none of the people of the Town wishes to be found in violation of his rules at that moment - the consequences of that far outweighing whatever benefit might have been gained from breaking them. For their part, the satyrs could not care less whether anybody abides by the rules, and in principle there is nothing stopping anybody flouting them at will if they were of a mind to do so.

The rules themselves are simple. First, it is forbidden to tell any outsider how to get into Hrotha’s Town, unless they are being brought there directly. Second, an outsider must not be brought to Hrotha’s Town without having agreed to Hrotha’s terms of residence. Third, once one has agreed to the terms of residence and come into the town, one may come and go as one chooses on the proviso that one never spends a night elsewhere again. And fourth, one must take part in the bacchanals, held each equinox and solstice. In return, one is guaranteed the safety and comforts which life in the Town provides.

Were a stranger to visit Hrotha’s Town one would be struck by the happiness and fulfilment of its women and the demoralised bitterness of the men. This is for the simple reason that, over time, being exposed to the vigour, virility and joyous abandon of the satyrs, the women of the town usually become dissatisfied with their menfolk, who come to strike them as unimpressive and weak-willed - not least because they have sacrificed all courage and zest for life by seeking craven comfort in this hidden place of safety. They readily take on lovers among the goat-men, and scorn their erstwhile human husbands. The men as a consequence grow almost visibly pale and wilted. The consequence is that Hrotha’s Town is largely barren of children, and the population only sustains itself by bringing in outsiders. A slow trickle of these flows in, perhaps in the order of a dozen people a year all told - a family with young children seeking protection; a runaway; an outlaw - brought by promises of safety and of plenty given in whispered conversation. The women of Hrotha’s Town’s desire to bring in others of their sex is evangelical in nature. For the men, it is more accurately described with the old saw that misery loves company.


  1. It's fun when noisms is quarantined.

    1. It did occur to me after I had written this that something of the current situation had bled into it.