Dream of the Nine Otherworlds
Quarkelet's Mintrat ul Pinquo Degdrelthoss is one of the traditional classics of Arangothian literature and was printed by the Crowned Swan Press in Drache for the first time in 469 -- but in Arangothek. Now, however, a translation of Quarkelet's Mintrat is becoming available in installments. Even the title of the work is difficult to render into Common, since it could be rendered "Dream of the Nine Heavens" or "Dream of the Nine Hells" with equal accuracy. The best translation might be "Dream of the Nine Otherworlds."
The Crowned Swan Press edition was described as follows:
"This great masterpiece of verse, which describes the wonders to be seen in the higher worlds, is esteemed by many to be a faithful and true rendering, worthy of pious reading and devotion."
Importance in Arangothian Culture
In the absence of any "sacred writ" of the Menxvanic faith, the Mintrat has often been considered the closest thing to this. Note that this account is not accepted by all followers of Menxvan or Menxruk, but that it is widely referred to as an authority and has considerable cultural weight. Obviously much has been lost in the translation of this text from Arangothian, but still it is felt that the importance of making its contents available to the non-Arangothian-speaking public outweighs any artistic failings.
The Mintrat is divided into nine books ( sinthrimatel, literally "foldings"), each dedicated to describing a higher drelth or sphere of existence. Each book is divided into a number of chapters (laltatel, or "speakings") which form the basic units of the piece and are meant to be spoken or performed without stopping -- bards often take a drink of water or something stronger between chapters. The first book describes the world immediately "above" that of mortals: the world in which dreams take place, and into which people pass after death. The metre has been altered to fit the shorter words of Common. A line in the original Arangothian consists of three steps plus five steps:
"Tin apat ul enxenet | ken sedonthalix ve ai mirodalet," i.e.
TIN a-PAT ul ENX'-net | KEN se-DONTH-al-IX v'ai MI-rod-AL-et.
In Common translation, a line consists of two steps plus three steps:
"In your hand's palm | cradle you your servants," i.e.
IN your HAND'S palm | CRA-dle YOU your SER-vants.
In performance there is a pause at the point marked with |, usually accompanied by an instrumental flourish of one sort or another.
The "Dream" is attributed to a poet named Quarkelet about whom little is known. The name Quarkelet itself is very common in Arangoth (it implies that the possessor has black hair), which has led some scholars in the past to identify the poet with such famous historical figures as Galvaroth Quarkelet, inventor of the quintuple-tined dungfork, and Sivrian "Thraxelod" Quarkelet, who is thought to have designed and crafted the Arangothian royal crown out of obscure metals after harnessing the breath of a dragon to heat his forge during the reign of King Tagran. But these claims must be considered merely fanciful.
A number of manuscripts of the "Dream" are known, many of them profusely illustrated. The earliest dated manuscript. is a partial copy in the library of the Palatine of Northern Arangoth, discovered some time ago in the possession of an illiterate fishmonger who had been tearing pages out for wrapping his wares -- hence its now-incomplete state. It bears the colophon: "Written out by N. Q. for Marnuth Dersiod in the year 97." Ever since the discovery of this manuscript, scholars have debated whether "N. Q." is in fact "N. Quarkelet," implying that this is a copy in the poet's own hand and that his (or her) first name began with an N. In fact, there have been fistfights in the main lecture hall of the Royal Arangothian University in Hornath ul-Marfed over this issue.
One problem is that existing manuscripts are highly inconsistent. To take the most obvious case, there are at least two entirely different texts of Book Two. More common is the interpolation and/or deletion of long passages, or the rephrasing or rearrangement of sections. Literary scholars have, as yet, been unable to sort out an authoritative text, and the version printed by the Crowned Swan Press two years ago was based on a great deal of half-educated guesswork. It should be noted that some interpolations are obvious, referring to fairly recent political events. Bards reciting the poem feel free to introduce such material at their whim to "customize" the piece for their patrons.
There is a great deal of archaic language in the poem, and in a number of cases even the most erudite of scholars have no idea what particular words mean.
Both problems got in the way of efforts to translate Book 1, Chapter 2. Every version of the battle of Menxruk's princes of the first otherworld is absolutely riveting, but every manuscript has unique details of its own -- no two were alike. Furthermore, the names of weapons and some verbs were completely unknown to the translator, or (apparently) to anyone else. Were these nonsense-words even for the original poet?
- Book 1, Chapter 1 - first chapter is an introduction to the first "degdrelth" or otherworld, in which the minions of Menxvan and Menxruk are separated into two warring empires, as they are not in the lowest or "mortal" world of ambiguous affiliation. It then continues by describing the half of this world inhabited by Menxruk's subordinates. Though constantly engaged in war with the realm of Menxvan, the Menxrukek lands are dominated by two princes who dwell in two black towers and skirmish between themselves in an endless civil war. The first chapter concludes as the poet becomes a spectator at one of the tournaments of these two princes. A translation of this chapter can be read below.
- Book 1, Chapter 2 - A description of the tournament between Menxruk's princes, in four rounds, with ambiguous results.
- Book 1, Chapter 3 - A description of a final single combat between a warrior with the head of a cockroach and a creature described as a cross between a gryphon and a vulture.
- Book 1, Chapter 4 - The cockroach-headed hero having been victorious, one of the princes enjoys his triumph while the other pays the penalty of loss as he is urinated upon and his candidate for the Queenship of Darkness is violated. In one manuscript known as "Quarkelet for the Little Ones," this passage is replaced by a description of a celebratory feast in which any manner of vile things are eaten.
- Book 1, Chapter 5 - The poet draws the listener's attention to the implications of the battle for the world of mortals, i.e., that the adopted darlings of Menxruk's various representatives of the first otherworld similarly fight among themselves in the world of the living. This preachy chapter is one of the most boring in the "Dream" and is rarely performed by bards. It is sometimes known as the "Chapter of Rotten Eggs," in reference to a frequent response to it.
- Book 1, Chapter 5.2 - Found only in some manuscripts, this is a lament by the common inhabitants of the Realm of Menxruk for their misfortunes.
- Book 1, Chapter 6 - A description of the frontier between the land of Menxvan and the land of Menxruk, and the kinds of battle that go on there.
- Book 1, Chapter 7 - A description of the leaders of both sides in war. The forces of Menxruk are led by a figure named Fandor, while the forces of Menxvan follow a she-warrior named Danasra.
- Book 1, Chapter 8 - This is one of the more story-like chapters in the "Dream" and consists of a well-known episode in the life of Gigsin by way of illustration. The goddess Gigsin is considered one of the most powerful of Menxvan's servants. In life, she is said to have been very beautiful, such that a powerful ruler known as Sithire Kengail swore he would have her as his mate. She resisted his advances, being far more interested in her visions of the otherworlds, something about which Kengail professed to be highly skeptical. Kengail and Gigsin agreed to a test of the reality of the otherworlds: two Menxvanic priests would be placed in separate rooms, where both would pass into the world of dreams. If they awoke and related that they had seen the same things, Kengail would leave Gigsin alone; but if their stories did not agree, Gigsin's supposed visions were no excuse and Kengail would insist on taking her as his mate. The two priests did pass into the first otherworld as instructed, but only one of them awoke -- the other one died in his sleep. The first priest related that both of them had appeared on the field of battle between the warriors of Menxvan and the warriors of Menxruk, and that his companion had been killed there. But since the two priests obviously could not tell the same story about what they had seen, Kengail insisted that he had won the right to seize Gigsin as his mate. Gigsin is said not to have given birth to a mortal child, but to a plant - the dararukia flower, whose white blossoms are fragrant to those of pure intentions but nauseating to those who pursue evil ends. So much for the story itself -- the version given in Quarkelet's "Dream" is actually not this clear or straightforward, since the poet was able to assume his audience already knew the plot. Instead it focuses on the experience of the two priests and the metaphysical ramifications of the death of the one priest within the world of the living. Quarkelet's conclusion is that the priest, by dying in the first otherworld, must have passed straight into the second otherworld. At least that is what we find in most manuscripts -- some versions have been "revised" to include other interpretations.
- Book 1, Chapter 9 - Describes the bounty of the realm of Menxvan and the happiness of its inhabitants. Accounts of fruits and vegetables calculated to make the mouth water.
- Book 1, Chapter 10 - Describes the architectural wonders of the City of Menxvan. Streets paved with seashells. Fountains of milk.
- Book 1, Chapter 11 - Describes the poetry and music of said city. Contests of art and song are substituted for the skirmishing of the realm of Menxruk.
- Book 1, Chapter 12 - Describes the relationship of this world to those below and above; that this is the world of mortal dreaming, and that beings of the upper worlds appear there more frequently and in greater magnificence; that the beings within this world may tilt events in the mortal world at their whim, but that their personal abilities in this line are limited to what might be considered minor magical acts. Examples thereof.
- Book 2, chapter 1 - Introduces the Second Otherworld, in which the physical nature of things reflects their ethical nature. Thus, beings affiliated with Menxruk are made of "lead" and those affiliated with Menxvan are made of "gold," though Quarkelet points out that these words only hint at the true substances involved. This is the highest world into which mortals can see directly -- and then, only persons especially well attuned to such visions. But beings within this world can themselves see into yet higher otherworlds. In terms of afterlives, this is where most ordinary people eventually end their journeys.
- Book 2, chapters 2-12 - little consistency among different manuscripts, except for a passage (usually chapter 5 or 6) describing a golden lake filled with golden-scaled fish, Menxvanic mermaids, etc.
- Book 3, chapter 1 - Introduces the Third Otherworld, the highest world in which individuals are clearly recognizable, or the "abode of the gods." This is where the entities dwell whom mortals commonly invoke as deities, creatures who were once mortals and who now intentionally use their powers to manipulate events in the lower worlds. These might claim to be messengers of Menxvan or Menxruk, or they might act on their own behalf under their own names, such as Naarundil. Each chapter describes the dwelling-place of a different "god" or "goddess" in this sense, to wit:
- Book 3, chapter 2 - On the goddess Gigsin, her physical appearance, her palace, and benevolent interventions with which she has been associated.
- Book 3, chapter 3 - On Kolpetir the Faithless, who raises up servants for Menxruk in the lower worlds and grants them various powers in Menxruk's name, only to abandon them whenever doing so will cause them the greatest anguish.
- Book 3, chapter 3.2 - In many manuscripts there is inserted at this point an account of the rise and fall of the Menxrukian priest Serpruk Dargoth as an illustration of Kolpetir's intervention in the mortal world.
- Book 3, chapter 4 - On Naarundil, his mighty deeds, and his sponsorship of the Templars of Menxvan.
- Book 3, chapter 5 - On Galgroth the Witherer, who delights in plagues and famines and has, when he chooses to manifest himself visibly, the appearance of a corpse writhing with maggots.
- Book 3, chapters 6ff. - Inconsistent from MS. to MS., but dealing with other similar figures such as Inora the Snake Maiden, etc., etc. As there is nearly an infinite number of such figures, the possible variations are endless.
- Book 4 (10 chapters) - Describes the Fourth Otherworld, which consists of breath and motion without substance. Starts to get hard to understand or summarize, with much obscure and archaic terminology.
- Book 5 (8 chapters) - Describes the Fifth Otherworld, which is described as comprised of an endless sea of "dixelarn," a substance with bizarre characteristics. Again, basically impossible to summarize or to understand. Both this and the previous book contain a number of what seem to be nonsense stories, the significance of which (if any) is hotly debated.
- Book 6 (8 chapters) - Describes the Sixth Otherworld, which after the previous two worlds seems relatively comprehensible. This is the world in which the passage of time arises, filtering from thence down into other, lower worlds. The most important chapter is:
- Book 6, chapter 8 - Describes the singing of Lartha, who is associated with this world and referred to as the bard of Menxvan, his song being coterminous with all events that happen in all worlds. Also the Loom of Happenings, in which these same events are woven into the cloth of existence, only to be torn apart immediately by rats and pigeons as each moment passes.
- Book 7 (8 chapters) - Describes the Seventh Otherworld, which is the highest world to which anything in the lower worlds is ever directly referred or connected. It is described as a sort of court of judgment in which beings whose power exceeds all mortal comprehension somehow ensure that the order of the various worlds is preserved. Little understood; much debated. Apparently Quarkelet associated this particular world with absolute ethical principles, since several chapters are devoted to this topic.
- Book 8 (8 chapters) - Describes the Eighth Otherworld, in the most opaque and baffling of terms. Chapter one seems to describe it as a realm of pure thought; chapter two as a place of pure motion; chapter three as a sort of musical vibration; chapter four as a lantern; chapter five as pure emotion; chapter six as pure violence; chapter seven as a sieve; chapter eight as a total absence of anything known.
- Book 9, Chapter 1 - Description of Menxruk.
- Book 9, Chapter 2 - Description of Menxvan.
- Book 9, Chapter 3 - Description of Menxned, the once and future unification of both principles.
- Book 9, Chapter 4 - Closing passage and offer of thanks to Lartha for inspiring the poet's words.
Translation of Book 1, Chapter 1
Visions grant me, to my eyes show wonders,
Menxvan Wellspring, fountain of all graces!
In your hand's palm cradle you your servants
Who seek sunlight and not widows' wailing,
Who wish wisdom and not louses' lying,
Who vaunt virtue, greed for truth unsated.
Highest truths, lo! they are the most hidden!
Draw back, Menxvan, your great lantern's shutter,
Slowly, slowly, lest the brightness blind me!
Beam forth lamp-swords for our duel with darkness,
Show the contours of the worlds ascending,
Worlds that spiral into your dread presence
Where dwell monsters, where the moon's maze arches.
Lartha, Master! grant my tongue your spirit;
To my fingers lend your knack so nimble --
Picking, striking: song should please the hearing,
For my singing tells of worthy wonders,
And to couple Menxvan's courts with chaos,
Jarring noises!, mixes mead with milksour.
Then espied I, wonder beyond telling! -- 
Lands and meadows, forests dark and brooding,
Climbing castles, seas and lakes and mountains,
Vales and dales and fields far-spread and florid,
Make and manner most like those of this world.
We belowlings know no neighbor's heartways:
Good folk, ill folk mingle in all cities,
Nor can any say where dwells all virtue,
Where dwells chaos, wicked men and cruel.
Lo, how different in the world of dreaming!
There beheld I two opposing Empires:
One was Darkness, and the other Sunlight;
One was Nightmare, Fantasy the other,
Unresolving, no frontier more frantic,
Hosts more headstrong, hearts all lust for glory,
Endless warfare! Tireless crash of armor!
Ere I sing it, of the war's unfolding,
Let me linger on the landscape's lustre,
Tell my travels in the world of dreaming:
For in wrestling, when one knows the fighters --
What their weakness, what their strength in striving --
All their struggle strikes the soul more strongly.
Lo, behold them, two opposing Empires,
And survey them, all that one might see there.
First prepare you for the Land of Darkness!
Though you witness woes most grim and ghastly,
Though you shudder with the sight of horrors,
Know that Menxvan guides you in this vision,
In your dreaming, in your darkest nightmares:
The dark Shadow neither can enwrap you
Nor entrap you while the spark of Menxvan,
Glowing steadfast, burns within your spirit.
Lo, before us stands a sky-stretched tower,
Black as midnight, swathed in clouds like embers
In a sick sky, ever red with sunset.
Round about it flutter joyless vultures,
With eyes yellow, carrion-bloated bellies.
The horizon shows another tower,
Far and distant, but the same in structure:
No stone differs, not a window varies.
Vultures circle that far tower also.
In this Nightmare, in the Land of Darkness
Dwell two princelings. Each seeks Menxruk's favor.
Each, most eager for his foe's subjection,
Seeks to humble his elite opponent:
Unity none, but division utter.
Fiercest fighting they save for the border,
Where they wrangle with the Sunlight's soldiers:
Yet for sporting do they play at warfare.
Gnawing hunger plagues their wretched peoples:
No crops grow there, where blood chokes the furrows.
If light flickers, judge it no Sun's warming:
None bask in it; doubtless one more village,
Barns and beer-halls, burns to heat their war-play.
Folk are fodder for their gleeful combat,
Highroads deathways where prance black war-stallions,
Peace-prayers futile: wailings are their music.
Menxruk, Dark One, in this strife rejoicing,
Lends his power to the prince who needs it;
Ending never, this war knows no victor.
But each season, that they might taste triumph,
Menxruk's princes gather each their heroes.
Their arena, slick with blood and entrails,
Like a butcher's, sits upon a mountain.
Facing squarely sit two thrones high-lifted;
Each side has one, all festooned with banners:
One's a vulture, the other shows a cockroach.
On both high thrones squat two Menxruk-princes,
Faces hidden neath hoods that eclipsed them,
Evil vipers, save their eyes dark-glowing.
Lo, beside them sit their maids of choosing,
Sleek as dolphins, gaunt as rib-taut whippets:
She whose side wins, for the year before her,
All triumphant, will receive their homage,
Crowned and toasted as the Queen of Darkness.
If her side lose, her doom's the more dreadful:
To the victor she shall pass as trophy,
Ravished, murdered as befits their liking.
One hour's glory or a victor's plaything,
Highest honors or vile violation
On a dice-roll; yet with vain ambition
In the Dark Land all the maidens quarrel,
Each with other, for the chance to sit there.
Then behold I all their hardy heroes,
Bristling blades, enclosed in shells of iron,
Helmed and faceless, pawns of Menxruk's bidding.
Round about them shrieks a throng of gawkers,
Human-bodied but with heads more beastly,
Snouted swinelike, beset with tusks and drooling.
Then, resounding through the gore-grimed chamber,
As announcement that the fray's beginning,
Blasts a trumpet, though no joyous music;
No mouth blows it, but a nether wind-pipe.
Listen further, if you'd hear their battle!
- In the same sense that Dante's Inferno is considered an accurate portrayal of its subject matter.
- At their most extreme, these portions might sound to an Arangothian something like the poem "Jabberwocky" or the novel "Finnegans Wake."
- One might think of the insect-eating scenes in "The Lion King."
- "The Invocation of Menxvan": This formula is thought to predate the Mintrat and its authorship is sometimes attributed to the goddess Gigsin. In its essence it is an appeal for the "vision" into the upper worlds often ascribed to Menxvanic priesthood.
- "The Appeal to Lartha": In this passage the poet invokes the inspiration of Lartha [a.k.a. Larfa], traditionally said to be Menxvan's personal bard and the greatest incarnation of poetic virtuosity.
- Milksour is a traditional Arangothian drink similar to a thin yoghurt, very sour, and thus contrasted with sweet honey-based mead.
- "The Entrance to the Second World": The opening line of this section has been interpreted as signifying that the dream-vision was granted as a result of the poet's actual invocation of Menxvan and appeal to Lartha: "THEN espied I...." The line "We belowlings know no neighbor's heartways" has also been translated nonmetrically as "No mortal knows the orientation of his neighbor's heart."
- "The Land of Darkness": Optest as an epithet of Menxruk means simply "the Dark One," and Optarna ("the Dark Land") is synonymous with "Land of Darkness" ( Arn' ul Optedossath ). The description of the "war-play" of the two Princes of Menxruk, which begins in this chapter and continues into the next one, may be interpreted as a scathing critique of the jousting and tournaments of Arangothian noblemen, much as the description of the afflicted state of the Land of Darkness is a veiled lamentation of civil war in general.