In the absence of me feeling inspired to write anything new (I am particularly rubbish at this time of year), here is a little fragment I fiddled about with, back in the days that Dragon magazine did “Ecology of” articles. They were usually a bit of short fiction, mixed with some game background, to liven up an existing monster type. The characters and locations mentioned would be well known to the players in my own AD&D campaign, being located on the Sword Coast, south of Waterdeep in the Forgotten Realms. They long-suffered from my unwillingness to treat the mortal sentient species as simply monsters to be slain. That’s what you get for playing with a liberal DM.
The situation: Arkenor (My old wizard character from my first ever D&D campaign. Yes, it’s been confusing when I write about his antics, ever since I stole his name for my RL nickname.), visiting his old friend, Redeye, shaman of the Red Pelt clan, has been invited to the funeral of the old chief. He has been accompanied on this trip by Renthalas, a high elf deeply interested in anthropology. (Try to imagine them both sounding terribly British!)
Ren: I can’t thank you enough for this opportunity to compare the customs of the liz, ah, scalykind, with the other primitive, ah, less-advanced cultures I’ve been privileged to encounter.
Arkenor: A pleasure. Though it’s a bit of a shame about old Threesnakes. He was quite the stabilizing influence in these parts. Or rather, (he said quietly), he chose to let Redeye deal with the outside world, and he stuck to worrying about the swamp and neighbouring tribes. All worked out quite well. After all, they’re not eating you.
Ren: *Laughs* Well, I can’t blame them for considering elf-flesh to be the tastiest, tenderest morsel possible. Just as long as they don’t act on it.
Arkenor: Oh, they certainly won’t do that. In this tribe the practise of eating sentient beings is little more than a memory. Redeye has done a great job of bringing about positive social change. If Scalykind is going to survive these changing times, they need to be able to interact positively with the other races. It’s a trend I’ve seen in quite a lot of tribes over the years. There is of course a little resistance from those who remember the older ways, but really, it’s only mentioned in their sacred texts in times of war, against mortal foes, or, ah, in other very special circumstances. And although we might sometimes deserve it, they can’t afford to consider humanity like that any more.
Ren: A new age of understanding? You sound very optimistic, for you.
Arkenor: I have to. I’m rather fond of these chaps, and not at all proud about the way they’ve been treated by history. Things can only improve, I guess. On a local level, we have the assurance, by treaty with the lord of Daggerford, that no more of the marsh will ever be drained. These “Reclamation” plans are one of the greatest threats to our friends. By destroying a people’s natural habitat, at best you displace them, with all the problems that causes. At worst t’is genocide.
In any case, between their more enlightened attitudes towards the non-scaled, and certain other projects, there is the potential for a bright future for ‘em.
Ren: What other projects?
Arkenor: Hmm, well the diverse and scattered scaled tribes are getting better at communicating with eachother. They have to work together, you know, present a united front and all. And there’s some other… projects occurring, but not really able to talk about them. Nothing you wouldn’t approve of, I assure you.
Ren: Of course not. I suppose it is a shame to have not been able to meet this great chief, but what with all the tales I’ve heard of him tonight I almost feel I did know him. Quite the man, umm, of action, wasn’t he?
Arkenor: Quite. Didn’t know him all that well. Didn’t really trust me, I don’t think, but we did take part in a few battles together, Sahuagin, pesky things, and a couple of ritual hunts too. Your sort of thing that, I suppose. Having to hunt Ceratosaur with just his bare claws, to prove his worthiness to continue to lead. Of course, that last one broke his neck, but he had a good innings. *Ren’s eyebrows raise inquisitively* Er, that is, he lived well, and to a good age. A paragon of lizardy virtues. They’ll be singing about him for a few centuries yet I’ll wager. The chief who united the tribes of Lizard Marsh. Bit of a bloody business, alas, but it’s all worked out. That’s one of the things I love about the scaled folks. They’re terribly pragmatic. Once it was clear that survival was best served by joining with the Blue Feathers, all the other tribes, well, the survivors anyway, joined happily, with nary a grudge. Seems rather odd to outsiders, but that’s just how they work.
Ren: Such fascinating rituals. Of course, cremation is a common form of ceremony, especially amongst societies without stonemasonry knowledge. The fire is linked to the sun-god. The smoke will carry the soul of the deceased to the spirit world, I suppose. I would guess the slow rotation of the corpse above the flame symbolizes judgement, in that we mortals know not what the judgement of the gods shall be. Perhaps he shall go up, perhaps down.
I’ve seen the priests anoint him from time to time. I would surmise that it is holy oil or somesuch religiously significant liquid, an honour to a ruler and hero. Or maybe it signifies the bond between the lizardman and the waters of the world. For from the waters did life come, if I understand their creation myth correctly, and to the waters it shall return.
Ren: What? *Laughs* Fear not, friend Ark. I’m used to being wrong about these things. Such is the nature of theorising, and I never mind being surprised. I’ll try to talk to your Redeye later, and ask him about the true meaning behind these rituals.
Arkenor: Ummm, it’s not, oh dear. It’s not a ritual. Well, it is, but not what… *Sigh* I wouldn’t have brought you if I’d remembered this part of their funeral rites. The Scaled Ones believe in wasting nothing, and what greater tribute to a leader than to take them into yourself. They’re cooking him. They’ll be serving him up soon, and if you don’t finish what you’re given they’ll take it as a mortal insult. And most likely so will his spirit, which is undoubtedly amongst us. Which will mean no pudding for you. Actually, I imagine pudding would consist of elfcake, probably followed by wafer thin slices of wizard.
Ren: ! Ugh! Urgh! So if I don’t consume the flesh of a sentient being, I could be cursed by an angry spirit? And get us both eaten?
Arkenor: *Laughs* Actually, they’d probably just kick us out, but really, it’ll make relations a bit tense. It’s not like you don’t have permission. And they don’t taste too bad at all. A lot like crocodile.
Ren: I don’t care if they taste like honeyed milk, I..
Arkenor: Actually, I think there was some honey in the marinade. Ought to be quite delicious.
Arkenor: And very low in fat.
Ren: I’m beginning to understand why so many people want to kill you…
Arkenor: Hush, and listen.
The Lizardfolk, singing mournfully, but quite beautifully. (Translated into Common.):
Thou wert strong, stronger than I.
Thine courage shone for all to see.
We’ll bake thine heart into a pie.
The bravest pie that ever be.
Thou wert the wisest of us all.
Thine cunning would’st outwit the snake.
Without it we should surely fall,
And so we bind, and catch, and bake.
The gifts you’ve granted, past death’s bound,
We’ll pass to hatchlings when we fade.
So none shall lose what has been found,
Nor cast aside what Gods have made.
And when the serpent sheds it’s skin,
Some part of thee shall that behold.
Safeguard the eggs, and guide our kin,
To lands of green, and blue, and gold.
Arkenor: *Eyes watering* There. Now do you understand? It’s quite beautiful, and spiritual when you think about it.
Ren: I think I’m going to be sick.