IF YOU ARE OF THE PECULIAR PERSUASION—and if you’ve read this far, I sincerely hope that you are—then this is a book that likely needs no introduction. These tales were a formative and beloved part of your upbringing, and you came of age reading them and hearing them read aloud with such frequency that you can recite your favorites word for word. If, however, you are among those unfortunates who have only just discovered their peculiarity, or who grew up in circumstances where no peculiar literature was available, I offer this brief primer.
TALES of the PECULIAR is a collection of our most beloved folklore. Passed down from generation to generation since time immemorial, each story is part history, part fairy tale, and part moral lesson aimed at young peculiars. These tales hail from various parts of the globe, from oral as well as written traditions, and have gone through striking transformations over the years. They have survived as long as they have because they are loved for their merits as stories, but they are more than that, too. They are also the bearers of secret knowledge. Encoded within their pages are the locations of hidden loops, the secret identities of certain important peculiars, and other information that could aid a peculiar’s survival in this hostile world. I should know: the Tales are the reason I’m alive to write these words now. They preserved not only my life, but those of my friends and our beloved ymbryne. I, Millard Nullings, am a living testament to the enduring usefulness of these stories, though they were written many years ago.
That’s why I’ve devoted myself to their preservation and dissemination, and taken it upon myself to edit and annotate this special edition of the Tales. It is by no means exhaustive or complete—the edition I grew up reading was a famously unwieldy three-volume set that weighed, collectively, more than my friend Bronwyn—but the stories contained here represent my very favorites, and I have taken the liberty of annotating them with historical and contextual insights so that peculiars everywhere may benefit from my wisdom. It’s also my hope that this edition, being more portable than previous ones, will be an easy companion on your travels and adventures, and may prove itself as useful to you as it once did to me.
So please enjoy these Tales—before a crackling fire on a chilly night, ideally, a snoring grimbear at your feet—but remember, too, their sensitive nature, and if you must read them aloud (which I highly recommend) make certain your audience is peculiar.
—Millard Nullings, Esq., EdD, MBCh
The Splendid Cannibals
The peculiars in the village of Swampmuck lived very modestly. They were farmers, and though they didn’t own fancy things and lived in flimsy houses made of reeds, they were healthy and joyful and wanted for little. Food grew bountifully in their gardens, clean water ran in the streams, and even their humble homes seemed like luxuries because the weather in Swampmuck was so fair, and the villagers were so devoted to their work that many, after a long day of mucking, would simply lie down and sleep in their swamps.
Harvest was their favorite time of year. Working round the clock, they gathered the best weeds that had grown in the swamp that season, bundled them onto donkey carts, and drove their bounty to the market town of Chipping Whippet, a five days’ ride, to sell what they could. It was difficult work. The swampweed was rough and tore their hands. The donkeys were ill-tempered and apt to bite. The road to market was pitted with holes and plagued by thieves. There were often grievous accidents, such as when Farmer Pullman, in a fit of overzealous harvesting, accidentally scythed off his neighbor’s leg. The neighbor, Farmer Hayworth, was understandably upset, but the villagers were such agreeable people that all was soon forgiven. The money they earned at market was paltry but enough to buy necessities and some rations of goat-rump besides, and with that rare treat as their centerpiece they threw a raucous festival that went on for days.
That very year, just after the festival had ended and the villagers were about to return to their toil in the swamps, three visitors arrived. Swampmuck rarely had visitors of any kind, as it was not the sort of place people wanted to visit, and it had certainly never had visitors like these: two men and a lady dressed head to toe in lush brocaded silk, riding on the backs of three fine Arabian horses. But though the visitors were obviously rich, they looked emaciated and swayed weakly in their bejeweled saddles.
The villagers gathered around them curiously, marveling at their beautiful clothes and horses.
“Don’t get too close!” Farmer Sally warned. “They look as if they might be sick.”
“We’re on a journey to the coast of Meek,”1 explained one of the visitors, a man who seemed to be the only one strong enough to speak. “We were accosted by bandits some weeks ago and, though we were able to outrun them, we got badly lost. We’ve been turning circles ever since, looking for the old Roman Road.”
“You’re nowhere near the Roman Road,” said Farmer Sally.
“Or the coast of Meek,” said Farmer Pullman.
“How far is it?” the visitor asked.
“Six days’ ride,” answered Farmer Sally.
“We’ll never make it,” the man said darkly.
At that, the silk-robed lady slumped in her saddle and fell to the ground.
The villagers, moved to compassion despite their concerns about disease, brought the fallen lady and her companions into the nearest house. They were given water and made comfortable in beds of straw, and a dozen villagers crowded around them offering help.
“Give them space!” said Farmer Pullman. “They’re exhausted; they need rest!”