THE RIZJO PLANT

APPEARANCE - TERRITORY - USAGES - CULTIVATION - MYTH/LORE

The Rizjo (RY-so) plant is a cultivated grassy plant that is usually grown in flooded fields. Though during spring and summer it is brilliant green in color, it becomes a golden-brown in autumn, when the fields are drained for harvesting. This plant produces numerous small kernels, which may be boiled, simmered, steamed and eaten. These kernels are known in the plural as Rizj (Rys, Rise) and form an important part of the Nybelmarian diet. They are also commonly fermented into an alcoholic beverage called "Rizji (RY-zee) Wine".

Appearance. The Rizjo grows two to nine fores high. At first, the young Rizj plant is made up of only one shoot, though eventually one, two, and often many more offshoots develop from the base of this main stem. Each stalk has five or six joints from where slender, thin leaves grow. The leaves of a Rizjo are slim and very long, sometimes a fore in length! These leaves tend to be very stiff and are pointed at the end. When young, the leaves and stalk will appear bright green, but as the plant ripens, it will become a dull greenish yellow and eventually a deep yellow. After harvesting the stubble fades to a soft greyish-yellow.

At the highest joint of each stalk, the plant branches into a tassel from which many little flowers emerge, inside which the Rizj kernels form. These kernels when harvested appear light brown. This is the color of the rough outer shell, which isn’t very good to eat. However, this shell is only a loose coating of chaff, and when the Rizj is threshed will easily slip off to reveal a lighter, off-white kernel.
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Territory. The Rizjo is almost entirely a cultivated plant whose seeds are sown by farmers and whose grains are harvested for food. Rizjo plants require a lot of water and are thus grown in flooded field or in places where rainfall is heavy. They are commonly found in the southern part of Nybelmar, west of the Sohol Dolion and south of the Bothon Dolion, including around the city of Gelm, Coihaven, and Anpagan. They are also commonly grown on some of the southern islands of Nybelmar, including the southwestern part of Kaleman, the northern part of Jekin'thar, and the southern tip of Mohen Toi. Rizjo plants are rarely found anywhere else as they require good rainfall and warm climates.
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Usages. Rizj is a commonly-eaten meal prepared by boiling or simmering the grains in water. During cooking, the Rizj grains will swell up to two or three times their regular size because of the water they soak up. It is advised that, for every tot of Rizj, one should boil it with 1¼ tots of water. Rizj can often be sticky and thus molded into certain shapes before being seasoned or put into soups or stews. Rizj, when fermented, will make an alcoholic beverage called “Rizji Wine”, though the grains can also be used to make beer.
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Cultivation. The Rizjo can only be grown in humid regions with heavy rainfall. Slight hills are more suitable than flatlands, as the land variation assists in drainage. Rizjo plants are grown in shallowly-flooded fields known as "Paadiezj" or "Padiezj", which we render in Tharian as "Paddies". The seeds are initially sown in thick beds under careful shelter, divided into 'flats' of about a seatprint in area by slim wooden barriers. The flats are then tended until the Rizjo is thickly green and about a hand high (in about 30 or 40 days). Then the flats are broken up and transplanted to the flooded fields, each bristling clump poked individually into the mud beneath the surface of the water. The planted paddies then appear to be large, shallow lakes with slender green stalks poking up through the surface.

The
water level in the paddy is carefully controlled by systems of dykes and drainage. The paddy is usually guarded around the perimeter with a small dyke or earthen berm to keep the water in. A section of this wall will be pierced through with clay pipes or tunnels to drain the field if the water rises too high, and the wall itself can be carved away to drain the field completely for harvest. The field itself tends to be created by flattening a stretch of gently-hilled land into stairsteps, draining from the top to the bottom, and then building dykes around the perimeter to define the various paddies. Many paddies have been handed down from farmer father to farmer son, although new ones are still being constructed as people try to expand their holdings.

Rizjo farmers tend to begin planting Rizjo in Méh'avashín and Alé'veván, but start growing them in nurseries a month or so earlier. Depending on the region, some farmers will produce two Rizj crops a year on the same land as the climate is such that it allows it. The paddies are kept flooded, usually with 5 to 15 nailsbreadths of
water, until the kernels in the head are fully developed; then the waters are drained and the field allowed to dry out for harvest in the autumn.

When the golden or yellow-colored head of the ripe Rizjo plants bend down, it signals to farmers that it is time to harvest. Workers will cut down the grassy stalks, usually with long curved knives or sickles, then tie the stalks into sheaves, or bundles, before leaving them to dry in the sun. Once dried, the plants must be threshed to remove the Rizj grains from the stalks. In some places, people or animals will trample the sheaves to thresh the grains from the stalks. Other areas hit the sheaves against wide plaited screens that cause the grains to slip through the openings in the screens and fall to a basket or tub below. The grains are then tossed from basket to basket during a windy day to rub and blow the outer chaffy hull from the Rizj kernel.
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Myth/Lore. Since Rizj forms such an important part of the diet of Southern Nybelmarians, there are naturally many references to it in their songs, stories, and even religion.

The islanders say that Rizjo can only grow where the "Rizjian Maid" has walked and blessed the ground. From research it appears that the Rizjian Maid is a type of nature spirit, a lovely translucent female shape clad in golden robes who moves through the paddies, floating with only her toes touching the water's surface. She lies down between the rows of Rizjo seedlings at night, and where she has slept the Rizj will be firmer and more delicious. The great golden cranes that stalk about the paddies by dawn and by evening are associated with her and are said to be her avatars.
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