Conjectures on the Mukul Culture and Society
by Dartanian Lestor in Dark Ages
When I first entered into the stagnating swamps of the Mehadi, my first intent was, of course, directed solely to the curing of the poor Jacqueline in Loures who suffered the ill effects of a horrible disease. I held me nose and entered into the murky clouds of putrid gases and made my way into the depths of the swamp. I saw many creatures, some looking similar to those I had seen before but with subtle differences. Their vipers seemed to look different from those in the Wastelands and Enchanted Garden, and even the individual swamp vipers had their own slight differences. One type seemed to have longer, but thinner fangs and had a crest on the top of their head. The other had a widened jaw that seemed as if it could swallow most of the other swamp creatures in few tries. After I killed and skinned a few of these, I noticed a difference in their glands, one being sharp red and looking as if it were about to combust at any moment. The other seemed a very deep blue, soft and squishy as if it held some sort of fluid. Some creatures looked the same as the dubhaimid-like creatures that attacked our cities. There were some frogs with lengthened tongues. As well, there were also a couple Mukul but they seemed to glare at me with reddened eyes, filled only with loathing.
After negotiating along the river to the north, I finally came across a small group of Mukul that were a lot calmer than the ones I had seen before. Their eyes were a gentle blue, their green reptilian skin glistened from the humid air. They still looked at me suspiciously and curiously but more out of interest than hatred. I held a hydele duem out to one of them and the creature simply sniffed it, played around with the cork a bit, and threw it to shatter on the ground. A bit despondent, I tried a different approach and held out one of the glands I had picked up. The Mukul again sniffed it, but this time nodded and placed it in the confines of her robe. Then, to my own surprise, she opened her mouth and, in a broken Temuairan tongue, said, "Why you in our land, outsider? What you wish known to you?" I staggered for a reply at this, but then asked who she was and if she could tell me anything about his tribe. She replied "I am Rishi Jivanta. You ask much to know of my people. Not many have concern to talk to us." I talked with the Mukul, lived among them, fetched the glands that they so loved, and they grew to call me...I hesitate to use the word friend because the Mukul do not have that strong a bond with any outsider, but they did call me "non-enemy" once. I suppose I can settle for that.
Speaking with the Latika
I first learned a lot of the Mukul culture from my speaking with the Latika. He mostly pointed out the society that they held and it is not much different from our own. It is in fact a complex system of working. Each Mukul in the tribe has a specific duty and two titles. I learned that the first I was talking to was not speaking his name, but his title. The first part of their title is a status that is earned. No matter what side of the society one is born into, they are able to accumulate their status. What is surprising is we have the exact same positions in our own society. There is first the Rishi. This translates, they told me, roughly to sage, but I think a better comparison would be "enlightened one." The sages are ones who think, feel, hold emotion and imagination. I believe that these Rishi are the aislings of their culture. They certainly act in the same manner and conduct themselves with great esteem. Next are the Zudora, the Laborers. They toil restlessly over the swamps, trying to keep the flowers cultivated or gather the harvests. They are rarely seen because they do so much work in their fields, much like the mundanes in our society. The last position that is earned is the title of Chandi, the Outcast. A dissenter of the tribe who does not meet the Mukul ways is cast out completely of the culture, a form of exile. This is the worst state that a Mukul can reach. If us aislings are exiled from a home, we have the possibility of turning to another town if we feel that we were wronged. For the Mukul, being a Chandi is much more serious. There is no where else for them to go outside of the swamp so they remain scorning any living creature that is free. No wonder those I saw earlier glared at me with those hardened, hateful eyes. The most dangerous are the Tirtha Chandi. The Latika said no more on this subject, so I was curious as to what exactly this meant but dared not upset him by asking. They are the most dangerous and hateful of all the Chandi, because they feel that they were the most wronged by being removed from the society.
In addition to the position that the Mukul earn, there are several titles that they are born into. Most of these are similar to the titles we give many aislings for achievements. It is different for the Mukul for they are trained to this position since they are young.
The Latika, who is the one that told me all of this, is the tribal leader. They make the decisions of the tribe, the laws and procedure, and are responsible for casting out the Chandi. This is much like our burgesses except that there is less room for tolerance among the Mukul people. A council of Rishi decide what is best for their tribe, but the Latika has the final say. Since they are born into the position also, they cannot be removed. Much chaos has occurred in Mukul tribes because a Latika went berserk and exiled any who spoke against them from the tribe. Mostly though, these Latika are assassinated and sacrificed to Natesh so that the evil will be cleansed from the tribe. They also are knowledgeable about the various creatures of the swamp.
The title of Jivanta, the one who first spoke to me, basically translates as "Life-giver." These seem to me to be the priests of the tribe. Their job is to know the different flowers and where to find them, as well as their effect. It is also their duty to protect the garden and to collect the sacrifice demanded by Natesh. They know the secrets of the swamp flowers.
The Kerani are Artisans of the tribe. They are similar to our artists and bards, telling stories and making pictures for the tribe. The details of exactly what the Keranis duties are were not exactly clear.
The Vibha are known as the Keepers of Time. Basically, these are the historians of the tribe. They remember all the events of import that occur in the swamp and keep as detailed a record as they can. These members are highly respected in the tribe as their history and tradition depends on remembering the past. Their whole society is based on connections to the past.
The other thing that the Latika spoke with me about were the animals in the swamp. He told me to beware of the leeches and shriekers. The leeches poison is deadly, often burning the skin as they latch tightly onto an unsuspecting traveler. They transfer the blood they suck to their own bodies and live parasitically off of all those they attack. Shriekers seemed the weirdest creature, resembling a fungus but mobile. The putrid spores they emit can incapacitate the unsuspecting victim easily, where they then proceed to feed off the sleeping creature, whether they be another swamp creature or aisling. The dubhaimid-like creatures, called the Dunan and Servitor, were demons spawned by this Natesh due to his rage at the ceremony being disrupted. Also, he spoke much of the two types of vipers I saw earlier. That one with the sharp fangs and the crest on its head with the reddish gland turns out to be the Anala viper. These creatures are the more dangerous of the two vipers and are ruled by fire. They are chosen as guardians of the garden heart at the center of the swamp. Their bite is not fatal but sends a fire of pain through the blood, making them particularly nasty and jealous creatures. Their lesser cousin is the Malini viper. The jaw is wider and their heads and teeth are flatter than the Anala. They rule by water. A bite from them releases a venom that chills the blood, only slightly less excruciating than the Alana. They as well guard the garden but they are less territorial and only attack when extremely alarmed. The most important creature it seemed was the frog. The Latika went on talking about the frog for hours but never truly making any advance in his statements. I only got that they were sacred to the Mukul and that I mustnt kill any under any circumstance, even if they are not seen. I swore by oath that I wouldnt.
Speaking with the Jivanta
After several days talking with the Latika, I decided to spend my time with the Jivanta that had first spoken with me. I was very curious about the flowers, especially the pinkish meal that the Latika tried to entice me into trying. I politely refused. I also wished to know what flowers would best cure Jacqueline.
Again, I learned a lot more than I expected. The Jivanta are the herbalists of the Mukul culture, the "life-givers". But they also play a sort of clerical role. It is their duty to gain the blossoms that are to be sacrificed to Natesh. They treat disease and wounds that occur in the tribe. They also lead the prayers to the 6 gods as well to the frogs who are sacred to the Mukul.
The flowers that the Jivanta gather are all located in the heart of the Mehadi swamp. This garden is what the vipers guard so jealously. Through the shifting swamps lies the garden, which lies southward of the Mukul village (southeast to be exact if me memory serves correctly). These swamps appear to be built on an unsolid floor so the current moves them every once and a while. This makes telling others of navigation difficult. Once the heart is reached, there is a beautiful garden at the end. The Jivanta gather flowers from here and quickly head to the river delta where Natesh devours the offerings presented to him.
There are three specific types of flowers that the Mukul gather. The Nili is a pink flower with 6 petals and a yellowish pollen in the center. These are prepared by the Kerani into a ceremonial meal and eaten by the Mukul when the Mela is to be performed (Mela is the Mukul word for the sacrifice of flowers). Preparation of this flower is extremely delicate. First the pollen must be removed but the petals themselves cannot be damaged. Any damage to the petals before theyre properly prepared would ruin the meal. Then they are coated with the venom of an Anala viper. When it comes in contact with the petals, they turn a brighter, more vibrant colour. The petals of the Nili flower neutralize the Anala venom and flavour it while its whole. After the venom is fully absorbed, the petal is crushed into a fine grain and made into something similar to bread. This bread is quite a delicacy to the Mukul but it is poisonous to humankind. I feel meself lucky for not eating that portion that was offered to me with the Latika.
The other type of flower was the Sevti. This flower she (I assume it was a "she" I could not truly tell the difference in the Mukul gender and I dared not ask.) showed to me was said to cure a horrible disease called Ratri. Ratri is apparently first like a type of flu, but it escalates to form large black sores over the body. These sores emit a stench similar to burning coal and swamp gases. It seemed the exact same horrible fate that Jacqueline was facing each day so I sat, intrigued. These flowers are all snow white and have the light scent of lemon. Even the pollen and stem take on a whitish colour. There is somewhat in the soil where these take root that are absorbed by the flower in such abundance as to turn the flower itself white. It is this mineral in the soil that is responsible for the purification effects but it is only effective once it has been absorbed by the flower. Two petals of this flower should be stripped and placed in a half-bottle of wine in order to make an effective cure. The swamp, however, does not have anything resembling grapes to make the wine, so they make due with a wine made from fermenting liquid inside the swamp reeds. This is more pungent than regular wine, but once the slight irritation passes the tip of the tongue, it is an excellent delicacy, having a strawberry-like taste. This wine is also not as intoxicating as regular wine, and the Mukul seem to handle alcohol better than us aisling kind. I fortunately stopped the drinks before becoming too inebriated. When used as medicine, the irritation is even less and the sweet taste does not make it as bitter a medicine as most. They do this because it is easier to swallow with the reed-wine (which they called Sevtibroma, "Sevti cutter"-- it cuts the foul taste of the petals out) than to chew the petals themselves, which have the texture of leather and taste like swamp grass.
The blossom most have probably heard about is Tulsi. This is mostly the flower that Natesh demands as a sacrifice. The flower itself has a thick green stem that exudes a sticky white sap when cut. It is this sap combined with the blue heart of the plant that is said to produce the effects of longevity. However, it does take considerable concentration to prepare as the amounts are exact. In fact, no one, human or Mukul, knows the exact mixture to get the immortality effects it is said to have. Supposedly, though, Natesh does know these secrets, but does not reveal them to anyone. Around the heart, 7 green leaves grow. This element of the Tulsi is poisonous and must be handled with great care. The Mukul have special gloves made from the skin of the vipers to handle these plants. Any damage done to them could anger Natesh.
Speakings with the Kerani
After talking long with the Jivanta and thanking her, I slept that day off. In the morning, I decided to go for a brisk walk in the swamps when I noticed a younger Mukul looking upon a frog posed on a tree stump. It seemed that he was studying the creature with great care and took a reed brush to put colours onto a leaf of a large swamp plant that I saw in the garden a couple days back. I greeted him heartily, but the Mukul did not answer at all nor acknowledge me presence. I started to speak again, but the Mukul held one hand up to me, then proceeded with his reply softly.
"I have heard of you. You are the outsider who so curious about our culture? I shall speak to you once I have capture the essence of this great frog."
After he had finished the painting, which I saw held many vibrant colours and emotion in it, the Mukul turned to me and spoke of himself. He couldnt tell me too much except that Keranis were the Artisans of the tribe. They tell the stories, make the arts and crafts, prepare the meals (except for ceremonial ones), and forge the bells they use to worship. The bells I found interesting since I cannot think of any metal in the swamp. Yet they showed them to me and there was definite metal in it, but slightly dull metal, possible Talgonite. This seemed to re-enforce their story of them having been in the sewers during ancient times, since I have seen many a creature down there carry them, as well as some creatures of the swamp holding it. The twinkling I heard from it was quite melodic but slightly sorrowful. The Kerani told me that this was a bell forged for Natesh. Apparently, although the Natesh give sacrifices to this god of theirs, they do not personally think highly of him. Rather, they fear his wrath and are imprisoned by his demands. They formed this Pact with the hope that mayhaps one of the aislings could be a saviour to them from their fate.
I asked this Kerani what the Mukul value and I found it interesting that he did not say anything about their gods. Rather what they value are things found in the swamp. They find these dear to them and only things coming from the swamp they can count friendly, anything outside they can be at most indifferent to. This would explain why the hydele deem I gave to them was wholly ineffective in gathering their attention but the glands I had picked up piqued their interests.
I also, while I was there, heard a few stories told by the Kerani. Mukul do not know the meaning of lying in any circumstance. They thus have no fictional stories, only what has been passed down from generation to generation. The stories I heard most of was their great goddess Matrika. Her golden light shined with the sun. She stood fast against Natesh in her battles and sought to protect them from the fate of persecution that was to come. I have my own theories on Matrika and Natesh but I shall save them until Ive said more to justify it. They spoke next most of the evil of Natesh, and how he sought so much flowers and held the Mukul in fear and awe. When Natesh was born, he apparently ripped the swamps with his mighty roar from the steady path that held them. By separating these swamps, he made the Shifting Swamp which periodically moves and changes itself due to the currents underneath. Soon after he did this, he started his demands. The last they spoke of were the frogs. They think them more than animals, but long-lived, almost spiritual beings. They spoke with the old gods in the sewers and with those the Mukul called the "old ones." I still intend to search down in the Piet sewers to possibly find these they speak of. The frogs are protected furiously by the Mukul, and are said to be their ancestors. This would make sense as their green skin and feet seem to match. Ill need to look more into that.
Speakings with the Vibha
After listening to the stories of the Kerani, I headed off and saw an old dark figure approach me. He raised one finger level with me brow and, with less of an accent and more fluid Ardmaghian speech, said to me, "You have done very well, Outsider, to speak of us of our ways. However, you have thus far neglected to speak to the wisest of us all. I am one of the Rishi Vibha. I would be pleased to impart my stories."
And I soon saw what the Vibha meant by his statement. His stories were basically the entire history of the Mukul. Shortened as he told me, because the Mukul would never reveal all the secrets of their culture to any outsider, but I listened enthralled.
The basic unit of time they use is similar to our own in the fact that we use our patron god, Deoch who was father of all aislingkind, to date it. Previously, we had used Danaan, the goddess of Light, because she meant so much to us. The Mukul too use their most prominent god, though not necessarily their most loved, Natesh. I am not certain how long exactly a Natesh is in terms of Deoch dating but I assume that it is just a bit longer than our own Deochs. Some of the events seem to coincide with our own and that is how Ive placed them. It may also be set with the blooming cycle of the Tulsi, also slightly longer than a Deoch. This is pure speculation.
The first Natesh was the speculated date of Nateshs birth. I say speculated because I believe Natesh might actually be much older than the Mukul imagine, this date was simply when he made himself known to the Mukul. Natesh was the 6th god, which means there were 5 others, at least one being Matrika. So who are the other four? I suspect that each of these are representative of the patron gods of the four titles: Jivanta, Kerani, Latika, and Vibha. They would not tell me their names unfortunately.
By the third Natesh, the god was demanding that flowers be sacrificed to him. The first was the Nili, after it was ground into the ceremonial meal described. Then he asked later for the Sevti, or he would cast the plague of Ratri upon the Mukul. The Mukul saw no choice but to obey. Whenever the Mukul had suffered Ratri, they died by the hundreds, leaving precious few left. It is a disease theyve known to fear. By Natesh 16, Natesh further demanded a Tulsi Mela. He said that his "heart would be rekindled by it." I suspect Natesh needed this to become immortal, which would make it passing strange since as a god, one would think him to already be immortal. Only Natesh truly knows this secret.
Some of the Mukul started to wonder this too. The conjecture I made earlier with the Latika was realized here as the Vibha called those who opposed the decision the Tirtha. One Natesh after he started to ask for the Tulsi, the rebels decided that they would refuse to give it to him. They thought that if Nateshs heart was so weak, by refusing the offerings, they could soon be rid of him. The Latika did not see this as wise and a war resulted. It was the bloodiest period in the history of the Mukul. There was a civil war that broke out. In addition to this, Natesh was not appeased and Ratri ravaged the culture. Over 2000 Mukul on both sides died from this battle. They are very sensitive about it. The Tirtha that survived were cast out forcefully and grew with a bitter hatred of everything around them, Natesh, outsiders, as well as the other Mukul, even the ordinary creatures of the swamp. Their eyes turned dark to everything other than their own Chandi kind.
Matrika, the Mukul goddess of the sun, was saddened by this needless slaughter and, on the 23rd Natesh, their beloved goddess of the sun sacrificed herself so that the Mukul could have a savior. There had been much bloodshed among the Mukul and with Natesh. The Mukul had hoped that one among the aislings had been that. I pray they were not disappointed. The Mukul honoured this sacrifice by making the Ratri Mela this Natesh the largest any Mukul had ever seen. They had great hope as well and were happy to collect the blossoms for the first time in a while.
This current Deoch, Deoch 7, corresponds with the Mukul date of Natesh 28. The Mukul believed that if Natesh was not appeased in time, this would have been their final Natesh. Ratri would sweep the Mukul villages and utterly destroy them, completely incurable because none would have the strength to gather or mix the Sevti, and they think no outsider would help them.
Final Conjectures on the Mukul people
As I left the Mukul, I got to thinking about their culture and one thing bothered me. The Vibha had told me a lot that got me thinking. What I believe now is that this Matrika they speak of is none other than Danaan herself. She is goddess of the sun and light as she is in our own culture. She sacrificed herself so that their culture might be saved as she did for ours. This is another reason I believe that the period of a Natesh is slightly longer than our Deochs, for they have had only 5 Nateshes pass to our 7 Deochs since the sacrifice. But it is a reasonable assumption. This would place Nateshs birth at about Deoch 3260. I also said I speculated that Natesh was not truly born at this time. This is because that Nateshs actions seem so similar to what either Chadul or Sgrios would do. This Natesh seems to seek the same resurrection that they do. In addition, the dubhaimid-like creatures that appeared coincide with the possibility that he is one or the other. Demanding the Tulsi flowers, Chadul might be seeking to regain his own power after being weakened by the battle with Danaan. That or this Natesh might be part of him reborn. Either way, Matrika and Natesh seem distinctly at odds, much like Chadul and Danaan. Natesh also seems to resort to threats of plagues and destruction, much like Sgrios or Chadul would be apt to commit. There are many things left unanswered, but many speculations I have made as well. According to the Mukul, only the frogs know for certain. And they refused to speak on it.
-Treatise written in late winter, Deoch 7, by Dartanian Lestor