the Viaquis people, this useful tropical palm with its nubbly trunk is quite
distinctive. The trunk is segmented into a number of toruses so that it
resembles a tall stack of plump rings or wheels, while the two-ped
long leaves which sprout directly from the top of the trunk are arranged in a
striking ‘spray’ or fountain. As its alternate name might suggest, the "Giving
Tree" has numerous uses, from water conduits
and hats to jewelry and food trenchers.
Appearance. The bark of the palm is laid down in annular deposits; each season another torus is added to the young sprout as it stretches upward, so by counting the rings and dividing by two or four (depending on the local weather) one can calculate the palm’s age in years. The bark wrapped around each torus is a neutral greyish-brown shade which gains interest from the pattern of light and shadow formed by its rough corrugations. Here and there the bark is usually mottled with stains and discolourations – water drips, sap beads, insect depredations, and so on – which lend further variety of tone.
A mature tree is usually about five to seven peds tall, with a base about two fores across. Each ring diminishes in size somewhat so that the trunk tapers – not especially gracefully, because of the bulging ringshapes, but creating a rather childishly pleasing effect.
From the top of this chubby trunk springs a vigorous cluster of gigantic waxy green leaves. Each leaf may range from a ped to two-and-a-half peds long, not counting the thick stalk or limb which supports it out from the top of the trunk, and is fringed irregularly around its perimeter.
A closer examination of the ‘fringe’ reveals it to be shaped most attractively in uneven yet smooth curves and scallops, cut perhaps a finger’s length deeply into the border of the leaf, and slightly lighter and bluish in hue than the rich green of the leaves and the darker indication of the centre stalk. The top surface is tough and waxy, with numerous small ridges running from the centre out towards the fringes. The underside of the leaf is lighter yet again, with a faint texture of stoma or "windpores". Even the heavy drenching of a tropical shower will not shred these leaves, though the edges may grow slightly more ragged!
At the very centre of the spray, in season, the inedible fruits of the Parpalm are displayed on a spear-shaped shaft. The fibrous shaft rises about the length and thickness of a human arm (from shoulder to wrist) out of the spongy central core of the tree, and the ‘head’ is covered thickly with small, hard, rust-orange globes pressed together like a bunch of grapes turned upside down.
When cut away from the bunch, a globe reveals itself to be the size of a taenish egg and the rich colour of a new copperbard, covered with a suede-soft fuzz… but its tempting exterior hides only a cheese-like pulp in a thin layer over a large ‘stone’ or nut. These faux-fruits are known as "Stonegrapes" (translated from the Nybelmarian) or "Parfruit", as they say on R’unor.
Though the fruits are useless, the glossy nuts are of spectacularly intricate design when cut through in cross-section – see Usages, below – and do not shrink or crack when completely dry.
Regional Variants of the Parpalm Tree can be described as follows:
Nybelmarnian Parpalm (Nybelpalm)
As described above for the most part. The hue of the ‘fruits’ may vary from copper through bronze to pale butter yellow, and the leaves generally stay around one ped in length.
Western Isles Palm
These trees tend to be taller and slimmer than the Nybelmarnian variety. The trunk is greyer and the corrugations less pronounced, giving the tree a more elegant silhouette. Its sap does not seem to be as profuse, and is rarely worth the effort of tapping except for a few weeks in ‘spring’ (see Usages, below).
Stubbier and more flourishing of foliage. Sometimes the short trunk seems almost overwhelmed by its drapery of fringed and scalloped leaves. The general hue is more turkoise, with some trees almost an aqua shade, and vivid blue leaves have been spotted here and there.
Parpalm grows luxuriantly in more humid climates. It has yet to be located on
the continent of Sarvonia, for the warmth
of our Southern regions seems to be too arid for it. However, it flourishes in
Nybelmar, present in almost half the
continent – the southwest in particular. Many of the islands in the Barkath and
Amuneth Seas to Nybelmar’s east support the
Parpalm as well. It may be found in places in the
R’unorian Isles, and on the south of Denilou,
particularly the Ylean Swamps. It is guessed to grow sparsely in Aeruillin but
that has not been confirmed.
Usages. The Giving Tree lives up to its name with delightful ease and flexibility. Certainly only an ungrateful lout would complain of its inedible fruit, given the many usages for every other part of the plant!
The Viaquis ‘tap’ the tree as we do our maples, inserting sharp hollow spiles into the spongy trunk in spring. The sap can be drunk directly from the tree; it is juicy and faintly sweet, with a distinctive tangy, smoky flavour which is difficult to describe but almost addictively delicious. One sailor says: “It minded me most of those nuts me old innkeep mate used ter roast on the hearth and then toss wi’ foridite. But sharper, eh, mebbe with a sprinkle o’ citron or the like? “ It can be used to cook with, as one might use water, juice, cha’ah, or stock, and flavours food most delectably. See Receipts of the Viaquis, below… Perhaps most popularly, when distilled down and concentrated, the sap becomes a richly exotic drink known variously as Parbourbon, Parpalm Mead, or simply “P’arnt”.
The leaves in particular are multipurpose; both for cooking and eating food, for providing shelter from the atmosphere as shingles and siding for hut dwellings, and even as impromptu hats in a tropical deluge.
Sections can be cut from the waxy-surfaced leaf to serve as fresh plates for a meal, then wiped and set aside for the next or simply tossed away! The Barkath Islanders claim that food served on such ‘plates’ stays good for longer than one might expect in a hot climate, and even go so far as to say that they prefer them to plates carved of wood (our ceramics, glasses, and clays are unknown in that region).
Young leaves wrap food which can then be roasted or set in the coals as our fishermen might bake a barsa in clay. One might think that the leaves would merely burn away, but as long as they are fresh and still damp with their own internal moisture they protect the flesh or vegetable inside, giving them that same sweet-smoky flavour characteristic of P’arnt.
The larger leaves can be stitched or nailed together to form a water-resistant surface on which rain beads and slides away, making an efficient thatch or a simple wall for a shelter.
The trunk’s spongy core can be easily hollowed out - the cylinder which remains is useful as piping, culverts, and aquaducts. It can be cut lengthwise to form simple canoes to cross from island to island, or sliced in cross-section to produce sturdy rings of wood for various applications.
And finally, the Parfruit’s elaborate stone is often used in inexpensive jewelry and small craft projects. Cut in slim cross-sections with a fine sawblade, a delicate and intricate pierced design is revealed, of which the Amuneth islanders claim that no two are the same. Be that as may, it is a unique and lovely natural shape which can be utilized to create both jewelry and decorative effects in fine craftsmanship. We look forwards to the time when an enterprising herbalist or Earth mage makes it his project to find a suitable area within Sarvonia to grow the versatile Giving Tree!
Reproduction. Where a Parfruit falls in suitable ground (moist, humid, warm, slightly breezy) the central nut will split open and a shoot will spring up within the next season. As this slight green shoot grows it begins to build up a bark deposit in the form of a small grey ring around its base. At first only the size of a child’s bangle, it soon becomes thicker and forms a protective ‘dam’ around the shoot.
The gap between the bark and shoot soon fills in with nutrients, building the first ring of the tree. Eventually (before the end of the season), the shoot will open into feathery young leaves about a hand long, which will ride up on the crest of the next ring.
The spike of leaves continues to grow, pushing through the centre of the topmost ring, and more rings are added each season, each swelling out like the breast of a preening coa’coa bird… and so on, until it is the height of a man and ready to fruit and begin the cycle again.
The tree will reach its average height at about six peds but can be found as tall as eight, its sturdy corrugated trunk supporting the eccentric fountain of huge leaves at its apex. Eventually the core of the tree becomes too aged to transport nutrients to the crown, and the leaves yellow and wilt, a clear signal of a tree’s imminent demise. Once they have fallen away, the trunk seems to disintegrate from the bark inwards and from the top downwards, almost as if melting. It is an eerie sight to encounter a plantation or natural grove of Parpalms from the same generation which have reached this stage, as they are only yellowing greyish stubs, horribly suggestive of human limbs afflicted with some cankerous disease. Appearance not withstanding, the tree is harmless and its decaying flesh actually supports and nourishes young sprouts which are already springing in its diminishing shadow.
Myth/Lore. On R’unor they use the expressions “False as a Parfruit” – meaning, of course, that appearances are deceiving – and also “Pretty as a Parfruit” – never used to locals, but to outsiders ironically.
Barkath Islanders say “I’m parpalmin’ busy…” This expression is sighed in exasperation when one has too many projects on the go at one time, a nod to the usefulness of the tree.
An Island ‘false-lover’ song, probably ‘touched up’ by whatever Sarvonian bard imported it to the mainland… as the overly formal structure and care for scansion demonstrates. Compare with the second ‘false-lover’ ballad below…
Under the Parpalm’s Spreading Leaves
And another, more loosely sung, also from the Islands:
If Only I had the Curves of a Parpalm
Receipts of the Viaquis. Most of these are taken and translated from "The Definitive Guide to Neo-Sharosarian Culture", by Déárán Zhia Icewind. We should note that the original Sharosar Empire, much imitated but never replicated, was "known for its severe social hierarchy, elaborate rituals and drawling architecture…" as a scholar notes. Neo-Sharosarianism, if we may infer solely on the basis of these receipts, seems to have elaborated still further – but we digress. Enjoy, if only in spirit, the receipts given below!
Parpalm-Drenched Kiang Jerky
Do thou wrap thin-sliced kiang meat around slivers of waterfruit wood, cut no less than a finger in diameter. Soak in unreduced Parpalm sap flavoured with keelo, quassia, seasalt, and chjune for three days, from dawn to dusk. Unwrap the slices and heat them slowly over a fire made from the waterfruit wood until the surfaces bubble. Hang the slices to dry under the sun for three further days, that they may form silver crystals on their exterior. Serve on the proper meat stand (which we note here that it may be done aright: a peeled waterfruit branch set in a heavy base of bronze, with many small limbs over which the meat is hung. Some nobles of younger family bronze the branch as well, but that is mere snobbery and modern affectation.) and give relishes or other dipping sauces with it.
Parpalm Fruit Balls
This receipt does but make a mimic of the fruit of the Giving Tree, for as all know they may not be consumed. Yet as a conceit this a pretty one, and worth the trouble. Begin with kitrone and oranges, their peel grated finely and set aside. Juice the fruit and reserve also. Then prepare a pastry of best floure and sweeten well; spice with lavano. Peel and mash a liu’lian fruit, the older the better. Mix all but the grated peel together, adding more floure as need be. Form into small balls like a man’s eye or hen’s egg, and roll thereto in the peel, so that it may be orange all about. Bake in a hot oven. To serve, group into a pile and glaze with heated syrup that they may bind together. Then set upon a fresh leaf from the Parpalm Tree and lay to the table ere cooling.
P’arnt-Roasted Quagga Haunch with Stranglevine Seeds
See that a haunch of quagga is cleaned well, and washed with kitrone juice. Pat it over with seasalt, and hang to season for a day in the smoking chimney (and ensure that thou addest Parpalm pieces to the other wood used). Remove and let cool. Slice over the surface of the meat with a silver knife (no other may be used lest it taint the meat), in crossing lines to make a pattern of scores like unto a lady’s diapered gown. With a skewer (again silver) make holes at each intersection of the lines, and insert therein a stranglebean, so that the haunch is well-peppered over with them. Thrust a roasting skewer through and have thy spit boy not slack to turn it often. Baste with p’arnt each turning, catching the juices again for the basting next. When tis fully cooked on the outer but still pinkly sweet next the bone, it may be removed and cooled.
Slice it thickly, retaining the seeds within the flesh, and coat with the smallest chazar leaves that may be found, then cover each slice with egg dough and bake not one touching another, yet in the order cut away.
Reassemble the baked slices so that they form the haunch shape yet again. If they stay not well together, use a paste of beaten egg, reduced p’arnt, and keelo glaze to stick them upright. Lay on a bed of Parpalm leaves and set what roast vegetables you will about the haunch; sprinkle again with stranglevine beans and thus serve it forth to praise.