THE ORCEN LARDER

A SANTHARIAN GUIDE

 
Culinary Adventures   
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Introduction. After being snow-bound for these six months past in the Kaáer’dar’shin settlement of K’taaj, Ishmael Valaire, researcher for Mistress Azhira, managed to issue a new report regarding his discussions of orcen culture and customs with Ba’kal, the sole inhabitant of the village to claim pure orcen ancestry. This report deals solely with the food he has sampled during the long winter months of the northern regions.
 

973 VAL, REPORT NO. 1347/24, DATE: 14TH AWAKENING EARTH 1669 A.S.
 

Mistress Azhira, at last the snows have subsided sufficiently to allow me this opportunity of once again presenting before you exciting news of my Orcen discoveries. Although not as thrilling as my previous report, these new insights are no less worthy of your consideration, and could perhaps be deemed suitable for inclusion in your next presentation to the Compendium. I fancy also that the MasterBard herself, Mistress Judith, would find great interest in the words to follow.

As you know, I have for the last half-year been living amongst the Kaaer’dar’shin people in their settlement of K’taaj. I am pleased to report that my travelling companion and guide, Valek, and myself have been made entirely welcome during our enforced stay, and we have been treated as honoured guests wherever we went. Indeed, I flatter myself that I have earned a host of new friends within the small population of the village, and I have begun to feel quite at home amongst these simple folk. Further to this, I have some news of a more personal matter which I shall share with you after I have presented you with the facts of this report, if I may make so bold?

After I had despatched my previous report to yourself, as stated, I spent what was intended to be a few days in the company of Ba’kal, the aged Osther-oc herdsman introduced to me by Valek. He was a more than accommodating host, and threw open his humble dwelling to the both of us. We spent many hours each day listening in rapt attention to his tales of orcen life and ‘the old ways’, and I have amassed quite a collection of scrolls dedicated to his lectures. So much have I learned from him that I have had scant time to gather them into presentable form, but rest assured I shall be bearing down on this task over the coming months.

But I digress. Whilst we have been lodging with Ba’kal, he has treated us to a whole host of unusual repasts of orcen derivation. Never would I have suspected his race capable of such wondrous, aromatic and palatable meals. At first I was wary of trying some of these receipts, especially after seeing what went into the pot, but I can assure you that each and every one of them would find favour on the richest of tables. I can especially recommend the Tlor Zidj, or blood sausage, a hearty fast-break if ever there was one!

As I am no cook myself, and having no experience in this area, I have decided to present each receipt thusly: a brief description of the dish, along with any other information I have been able to gather, followed by a list of the ingredients, and this in turn followed by the method of cooking. I hope you find this satisfactory to your requirements.

TLOR ZIDJ ("BLOOD SAUSAGE")

Blood Sausage

Picture description. A piece of orcish blood sausage. Image drawn by Bard Judith.

This deceptively delicious preparation is enjoyed by most orc tribes, although ingredients seem to vary slightly dependent upon local supply.

Ba’kal insists that this preparation is one of the oldest of the orcen receipts, apparently having been in existence for as long as they have hunted boar for food, and has become a staple part of their diet. He has even heard tell of the Rhom-oc, during their annual gathering of the clans, holding drunken competitions to see who can eat the most Tlor Zidj in one sitting, or wagering who can throw one the furthest without bursting the skin! However, these rumours must remain unconfirmed until a researcher witnesses the events personally.

The list of ingredients is as follows: weeproots (or garlick), boar or pig fat, bredden or wheat grain (or similar), herbs and spices (pfepper grass is widely used due to its ready availability and hot flavour, but Ba'kal insists upon Kragghi sap for authenticity) and blood, preferably from a freshly-slaughtered boar, but pig will suffice, and the cleaned intestines of the animal for the skin of the sausage.

The preparation of the sausage is simplicity itself, requiring no great skill or special equipment. In fact, in my opinion the only thing vital to the process is to be possessed of a strong stomach, unless one finds the thought of having ones arms covered in warm boars blood as far as the shoulder acceptable! The Zidj is often served with a spicy paste known as Ch'utni. Made from Meldarapples, Doch nuts, Vinagre and Kragghi sap, each orcen cook seems to have their own preferred mixture, more meldarapples for sweetness, or more kragghi sap for spice. Ch'utni is served with many orcen meals (which, I must confess, can be quite bland without a certain amount of it, and is sometimes even eaten as a dish in itself.

Finely chop the weeproots, boar fat and herbs and crush the grain into a rough powder. Thoroughly mix all the dry ingredients together in a pot, and then pour in sufficient quantity of the blood to turn the whole into a thick, crumbly mixture. Cut a fore-long piece of the cleaned intestines and tie one end with a sturdy knot. Fill this ‘pouch’ with the blood mixture until there is just enough of the intestine left empty to allow another knot to be tied at the top. When you are satisfied that the knot is secure, drop into a pot of nearly-boiling water for between five and ten minutes.

After this, the sausage can be eaten immediately, or allowed to cool and stored for up to a week, ready to be warmed up again when needed. It is easily sliced when hot, which I found makes for easier eating, but Ba’kal and Valek took theirs whole. No mean feat, as they are particularly filling.

This dish has found great favour amongst the Kaaer’dar’shin hunters, who take several of them in their packs when they leave on a trip as they are wholesome and simple to cook in the field.

The texture of a well-prepared and properly cooked zidj should be slightly moist but crumbly. The flavour is impossible to describe, being reminiscent of nothing else I have tasted before. I can but suggest that you try one for yourself, Mistress Azhira. I guarantee that you will not be disappointed.

Some of the local women have taken to preparing a mushroom gravy to pour over the sausage, which compliments the taste of it tremendously. Ba’kal sometimes pours a generous amount of ale into the mixture which I must say adds an extra level of pleasure to the consumption of this more-some treat. I also found, quite accidentally, that small pieces of Malsapple added to the mixture, or pulped and eaten alongside the sausage, creates a whole new flavour which Ba’kal assures me will be well received by his Osther-oc compatriots when they arrive in the spring.

PORACK (LIT. "FEAST")

Another dish created from the most unappetising of ingredients, when prepared in the orcen manner it presents a mouth-watering and substantial meal for even the hungriest of folk. The Porack is traditionally served at feast-times, such as celebrations of a victory in battle, coming of age, marriage (in those tribes who celebrate the ritual) or indeed any other excuse for a party that can be mustered. As you well know, Mistress Azhira, the orcs need no encouragement in this direction!

Like the Tlor Zidj, the Porack has also become a favourite of those orcs whose daily tasks take them away from the village confines, being easily ported and simple to cook.

There are many variations in the contents of the porack, usually due to the vagaries of local consumables, but I shall present you with the most common of these ingredients in order that you may sample this worthy repast for yourself.
The most important part of the stuffing of the porack is the entrails of a local sheep or goat, all parts should be used, including the stomach bag to hold the filling. Some large weeproots, a handful of Wison fat or similar, local grains, salt (if available) and crushed pfepper grass, a cupful of gravy and local spices. Again, a small bowl of kragghi sap is commonly served alongside this dish.

Like the tlor zidj, porack is simplicity itself to cook, although the preparation of the ingredients takes somewhat longer.

Clean out the stomach bag with cold water and leave it to soak overnight. On the following morning, carefully turn it outside in.

Clean the entrails and drop them into boiling water for slightly longer than an hour, or one turn of a large sandglass. Crush the grains and put them by the fire to warm.

Roughly chop the cooked heart, lungs and liver, and finely chop the weeproots and fat. (I found the lungs particularly tough, considering my jaw muscles and teeth are decidedly weaker then those of orcen heritage. I suggest that the kidneys may be better employed in this instance.)

Mix the chopped ingredients with the warmed grains in a large pot and add the salt, pfepper grass and any spices.
Pour into this mixture sufficient of the water used to boil the entrails to make a watery paste, and then fill the stomach bag with this mixture until it is half full. (Or half empty, if that is your preference.)

Press out any air from the bag and sew or tie it tightly shut. The tendons from the sheep’s leg are ideal for the purpose.

Boil the whole in an open pot of clean water for perhaps three hours (or 3 turns of a giant sandglass). If the porack swells such that it seems likely to burst, prick it with the tip of a sharp knife, lest you are willing to wear the contents as hair decoration!

After this time you can serve the porack while good and hot. If it is to be eaten at a celebratory feast, it is traditionally served with mashed Neeps and Tuberoots, or any local similar.

After boiling, porack can be left to cool and stored for several days until needed, when it should be once again dropped into boiling water until hot enough to eat.

Although Ba’kal insists that this receipt is of orcen origin, it is worth noting that many of the northern tribes have very similar receipts. Whether Ba’kal’s claims prove to be true, or whether it is the orcs who have borrowed this receipt from some outside source remains to be seen.

Wherever the answer to this question lies, I am disinclined to persue it, as regardless of its origins, porack is undoubtedly one of the finest repasts I have taken for many a long year, and I feel sure that if you were to request your cooks to prepare you one using the methods I have presented, you would also enjoy the nutty, savoury tastes hidden within.

But may I suggest that you try not to muse over the contents too much, as this may spoil your appetite.

 

SLYGGS (SOMETIMES REFERRED TO AS "SLUGS" BY NON-ORC RACES)

Roasted Slyggs

View picture in full size Picture description. Roasted slyggs on sticks. Image drawn by Bard Judith.

Excepting the tribes who dwell in the frozen north, slyggs are a part of the everyday diet of all orcs. Whilst most races regard them as little more than repulsive pests, the orcs have created an extensive list of possibilities for these slimy little mollusk-like creatures, many of them surprisingly palatable.

As there are so many different ways of preparing them, I have chosen not to present here any lists of ingredients, but rather I shall describe a number of the more common meals they are used in, along with such facts as I deem pertinent enough for your good self.

So important has the slygg become in the diet and indeed, survival, of the northern orcs, that I intend to prepare a fully-researched and documented entry for the Bestiary keepers of the Lorehold. I shall forward it to you as soon as is practicable, Mistress, that you may pass judgment on it ‘ere it reaches the hands of the keepers.

The first, and most important, thing to remember when preparing slyggs for the pot is their dietary habits. As is commonly known, they are omnivores of the first order, equally content to eat plants or meat (fresh or rotting), but more ominously, excretions of all kinds from the beasts who inhabit their territories.

Aside from the obvious risks of not knowing what your slygg has inside it, the worst effect this wide-ranging diet has is that slygg-flesh takes on the taste of whatever it has recently been eating. The outcome of these two facts surely need no further explanations from me.

In order to ensure your slyggs contain nothing harmful or distasteful, it is necessary to keep them in some kind of container for at least two days. In this way one can feed them naught but fresh and clean materials, thus preventing any possibility of causing sickness. If you require a specific flavour to your slyggs, then this is the time to feed them on whatever it may be. Favoured flavours are kragghi vine, pfepper grass, malise honey, mushroom and fruit. Slyggs are also particularly fond of ale, which provides an excellent lure for slygg-traps. Also, ale-soaked slyggs are a vital ingredient in many orcen receipts.

The most common way of preparing slyggs is to skewer them lengthways on a thin twig or metal skewer and roast them over a flame. Obviously, the longer the twig, the more slyggs can be skewered at one time. A popular variation on this is to use several slyggs which have been fed on different materials beforehand, thus presenting many interesting combinations of flavours in one mouthful.

The more southerly tribes, in particular the Rhom-oc, dip the skewered slyggs into malise honey and then roll them in herbs and spices. They then roast them in the usual manner. This method is usually used as a treat for the young of the tribe.

The barbarous Losh-oc are less inclined to waste time cooking their slyggs, and happily chew on them live and raw with scant regard for what they may have been eating. This perhaps goes some way in explaining the overpowering stench of their breath.

Boiling is the other main method of cooking, with handfuls being thrown into the ever-boiling pots seen steaming over most camp-fires.

Do not be tempted to sprinkle salt on your slyggs, as this is regarded by all tribes as being an insult to their food, and it also leaves a nasty mess on your platter.

Believe this or not, Mistress, but there appears to actually be a polite way to eat your slyggs when invited to dine with orcen company! However, it would serve you well to make certain of which tribe you are dining with, as there are two ways of eating slyggs, and each tribe has their own favoured method, considering the other to be a slight on their table. The Losh-oc can be discounted from this description, as they have no conception of the term ‘polite’. Indeed, it is impossible to comprehend ever being invited to table with them, unless you were to constitute the main course.

Likewise, the Osther-oc do not appear in this description as they live in the permanently frozen regions of Cartash where no slyggs can survive. They do eat them when they venture further south, but seem to have no preference over the method of consumption.

The Ashz-oc, Volkek-oshra and, to some extent, the Kaaer’dar’shin half-orcs prefer the following method. Select a single slygg from the dish offered, hold it by the tail-end using the thumb and fore-finger. Next, tilt back your head and using the thumb and fore-finger of your opposite hand, run them down the body of the slygg, squeezing and sucking the yellowy-orange innards out of the mouth-end and into your open mouth. You can either chew or swallow the contents, but be sure not to allow any to escape your lips. There will be a small bowl beside you to discard the empty skins.

The Rhom-oc and Gob-oc tribes use a different method, but are equally firm in following the correct procedure. Oftentimes, these two tribes will serve raw slyggs to guests, coated in herbs, honey, nectar or fruit pulp. If this is the case, select a single slygg and pop it into your mouth whole. Do not be tempted to bite it before it is fully inside your mouth. Once you have the slygg in your mouth, you should bite down on it as hard as you can with your back teeth. You may find that grinding them slightly from side to side will help in breaking through the tough skin. One should refrain from closing the teeth or lips during this part of the ritual, as when the slygg eventually bursts (accompanied by a loud popping noise), you must attempt to let as much of its sticky innards splash onto your teeth, lips and chin as possible. You must then eat the rest of the slygg with your mouth open, making appreciative slapping noises with your tongue and lips. If one can force a belch at some point during the meal, so much the better.

Until now I was unaware of a significant fact regarding the consumption of slyggs, and being unsure as to whether you were in possession of said fact, I present it here for you now. Many of the rangers in the northern Sarvonian region owe their lives to the insignificant slygg. All of them, at some point, have found themselves in some isolated area without much in the way of food, and were it not for the humble slygg, they would surely have starved to death before reaching civilisation. I only pass on this snippet so that you can advise your other researchers of the fact, lest they find themselves in such a position.

THUNDERFOOT HEEL ("Z'ROVKYA TULAK")

The Orcen name for this dish, is taken directly from their name for the Thunderfoot; Z’rovkya (Hairy) Tulak (Large animal). As with all animals slaughtered for food, very little is wasted, but there seems to be no distinction made between the various parts of the carcass as far as naming goes. Whether it be a stew made from the meat, or a broth made from the gristle or intestines, the name remains the same, a subtle hand gesture being the only way of marking the difference.

Of all the receipts available which originate with the Thunderfoot, I have selected this one as my particular favourite as it contains a part of the animal which I, and I doubt many others, have ever eaten before. As this is really just a simple stew, I shall forgo the list of ingredients and concentrate on the preparation of the heel.

Set a deep pot of water to boil, and drop in three of four generous handfuls of roughly-chopped Thunderfoot meat, along with any herbs and spices you have to hand. Ba’kal suggests that Wison would be a good alternative if your cooks encounter difficulties in obtaining fresh Thunderfoot so far south.

Whilst the pot is readying, take a Thunderfoot (or Wison) leg which has been severed at the knee. Cut off the foot (or hoof), strip the skin and remove any small amounts of meat from the bone and beneath.
You should now have a section of bone encased at its lower extremity within a misshapen lump of white gristle which formerly held the foot to the leg. Remove this gristle, (no easy task, as it is extremely slippery and will actually bounce and skitter away if one drops it!).

Now the gristle can be dropped whole into the pot with the meat. Gradually, as the pot boils, it will begin to soften and break-down into smaller pieces. When these pieces are of a size which would fit easily into the mouth, the stew can be served. Chopped vegetables can be added to the stew during the boiling, dependant upon regiona nd availability.

Although the Thunderfoot meat is extremely tasty of itself, the addition of the gristle, which we southerners would ordinarily dispose of, elevates this repast to regal proportions! It adds a delicious sweetness which compliments the strong taste of the flesh wonderfully.

WOOLLY BOARS FEET ("Z'ROVKYA TAK'BORA", "TAK'BORA")

As is commonly known, the Woolly Boar has been widely domesticated by many of the northern tribes, and as with most livestock in the area, very little of the animal is wasted after slaughter. The feet of the boar, however, appear to be a dish enjoyed only by a few. I personally found them to be quite bland in taste, with barely enough meat on them to satisfy even my average hunger. However, I couldn’t bring myself to eat the entire foot, as the Orcs do. For one, the bones are too tough for my teeth, and the actual hoof proved to be far too chewy for my tastes.

In the same way as the Thunderfoot receipt, the forelegs of the Boar should be severed at the knee joint. After cleaning the feet, (which Ba’kal only did, I feel, in respect for my delicate ‘southerner’ sensibilities), they should be plunged into a pot of boiling water until the bristles begin to soften. Remove the legs from the pot and scrape off the remaining bristles with the edge of a sharp blade, then drop them back into the boiling water and add pfepper grass or any other desired seasonings.

Keep the pot boiling and the water level consistent until the skin on the legs begins to turn white. Remove the legs from the pot and serve with local vegetables.

As I have already said, the Orcs traditionally eat the whole of the leg, bones and all, but this isn’t strictly true. They only break the bones between their tusks, which allows them to reach the sweet marrow inside. I find it necessary to scoop mine out with the tip of my knife blade.

The skin of the leg is very tough, even after prolonged boiling, and altogether too salty for my tastes. All in all, though, what little meat is to be found within this dish as wholesome and delicious. I just wish there was more of it.

WISON STOMACH ("TULAK AKA", "AKA")

Although the Orcs traditionally use the stomach of Wison in this receipt, since they have begun to turn away from their battle dominated heritage and turned to more peaceful pursuits, such as animal husbandry, they are as like to use sheep, goat, boar or deer stomach. It is when they use something other than Wison that the name is shortened to Aka.
Like most of the receipts I have presented here, it is very simple to prepare, and is therefore popular amongst the hunters and herdsmen of the tribes when they must spend protracted periods away from the comforts of the village. Indeed, such is the simplicity of its preparation that a pot of boiling water is the only equipment needed.

An orcen chef

View picture in full size Picture description. An orcen chef preparing a meaty dish. Image by Bard Judith.

Against what the name suggests, it is not the actual stomach of the animal that is used but rather the inside lining, a thick, yellow-white substance covered in a pattern identical to the honeycombs found within Malise nests. Of all the meals I have shared with my host, this one is the only one I shall not be trying ever again. I found the taste repulsive and it was all I could do to keep myself from spitting out the only mouthful I ever tasted. I managed to scrape the rest back into the pot before Ba’kal noticed. Valek, on the other hand, was delighted by this new discovery, and to my dismay has convinced Ba’kal to serve Aka several times since.

After removing the whole stomach from the carcass, the tough skin-covering is carefully removed, leaving the smooth outer skin of the Aka. A sharp blade is used to slice it open from one end to the other, and then the whole is turned outside-in, revealing the honeycomb pattern I described. This is then washed clean of whatever was in there beforehand.

Once clean, the Aka is laid flat on a large cutting-stone and cut into long strips which are then dropped into clean, boiling water until they soften, at which point they should be removed and rinsed in clean, cold water.

Boil a pot of fresh water and chop in spices and herbs, then drop in the Aka strips and leave them to boil for two turns of a large sandglass, or until they begin to soften sufficiently to allow you to poke a finger through them easily, (might I suggest that you remove them from the boiling water before trying this?). At this point, the Aka is ready to eat, although it can be eaten cold if so desired. I personally found it made very little difference to the taste. Or the smell. Neither did eating large spoonfuls of kragghi sap during the meal. Although it had a detrimental effect on my own stomach the following morn.

Ba’kal serves his Aka with weeproots, as he says the one compliments the other wonderfully. I have my doubts.

I have many more receipts of this nature buried within my notes, but I feel that these should provide ample opportunities for you to sample the delights of the Orcen larder for yourself.

Most of these receipts are variations on traditional feast-time dishes, but simplified for ease of preparation. Believe me when I say that an Orcen banquet is an impressive sight indeed, with seemingly endless quantities of food and ale being ferried from fireplace to table until even the heartiest of appetites has been subdued.

And now, if I may, I would like to discuss the personal matter of which I spoke at the opening of this report.

During our enforced but entirely pleasant stay with the people of K’taaj, Valek and I have been guests at almost every bromer in the village, and most especially that of the Chieftain, Mok'tar. Hardly a week has gone by without him requesting our company where he delights in our news and tales from across the lands.

It is during these visits that I have come to know his eldest daughter, Yul'ma, an uncommonly pretty but shy girl of some eighteen years. The women of the family are not allowed into the room while we are there except to serve us food and drink, but I began to notice that she always sat just outside the doorway, listening to our conversation. When I caught her gaze, she dropped her eyes and disappeared into the shadows.

Then I began to see her more often at the small village market, but when I tried to approach her, her cheeks darkened in hue and she hurried away. When I discussed this matter with Valek and Ba’kal, they looked at each other and burst out with laughter, telling me what a fool I was if I could not see what was ailing her.

I confessed to my lack of knowledge on the ways of the fairer sex, and was again met with peals of raucous laughter from my companions. Valek explained, to my great surprise and embarrassment, that the ailment which afflicted Yul'ma was one for which I held the key to the cure. He told me that she was obviously attracted to me, and as a gentleman of standing, it was incumbent upon me to seek audience with her father in order to arrange a visit with her to discuss what may become of these matters.

I thought the both of them overly presumptuous regarding my feelings for the girl, and wasted no time in telling them so. I was met with yet more howls of laughter. “Do y’ fink us blind, Master Ishmael?” chuckled Valek. “’Ave us no eyes in us ‘eads? Or is it be that we two sees more’n you is see? You is ‘ave a taste fer ‘er, an’ no mistake! Us sees, Master Ishmael, us sees.”

I must admit to being quite taken aback by this uncharacteristic outburst from Valek. Never before had he spoken to me in so forward a manner. But I knew he was right. I had indeed harboured feelings for Yul'ma for some weeks past, but had dismissed them as rising from the isolation of our position. I assumed they would fade if I kept my mind to my work. Alas, I was wrong. Not only did they not fade, but they grew daily ever stronger.

After we had retired for the evening, I lay awake thinking of Yul'ma, and how I was going to word my request to her father for a private audience with her. He was, after all, the Chieftain of the village, and as such a certain amount of decorum and ritual had to be observed in these matters.

I decided that a simple request for an audience with her would be the most suitable approach, and the following day I presented myself nervously before him. He seemed to recieve my request with a non-commital air but, two days later, he sent a messenger to find us with an invitation to a great feast that very evening, where he had an important announcement to make. I was to be seated beside him in a place of honour, and the messenger presented me with a Wison hide cloak, which I was instructed to wear for the evening’s festivities. I noticed Ba’kal and Valek nudging each other and grinning, but failed to understand the meaning behind their silent conversation.

Later that day, seated beside Mok'tar and wearing the heavy (and incredibly itchy) cloak, watching the painted young females of the village dance to the infectious drumming of the warriors, it occurred to me that the eyes of almost everyone present were fixed on me. I began to wonder just what was going on, what was the purpose of this obviously special event? I had not long to wait for my answer.

Presently, the Chieftain stood and raised both arms skywards. The music stopped abruptly, and the dancers scurried away to join the seated throng. The silence which fell was deafening.

Mok'tar's voice suddenly boomed out from beside me, causing me to start. I understood but a few words of his speech, as he turned slowly, addressing each person present. He was talking of some great celebration, and of a trial or adventure of some sort, presumably to be undertaken by those who had reached the age of warriorhood. I wondered what all this had to do with me being the guest of honour. I didn’t have to wait long for my answer.

At a clapping signal from Mok'tar, the drums began to sound again, but this time with a slow, deliberate beat. A small opening appeared in the crowd before us, and the village shamut, dressed in furs and wearing a mask made from animal bones, ran screaming into the central clearing. He began a long, garbled monologue, aimed directly at me, which was interspersed with loud shouts of approval from the crowd. I was now totally confused, and not a little frightened, by unfolding events. I spotted Ba’kal in the crowd to my right, he smiled reassuringly and nodded for me to watch the shamut.

After several more time-ticks, the shamut approached me and, taking my arm, urged me to join him in the middle of the open space. As I stood there, he seemed to vanish into the very air itself, leaving me alone, surrounded by all the village folk who were staring at me in silence. Now I was definitely frightened.

After what seemed like an age of standing in isolated silence, a high-pitched ‘La-la-la-la-la-la-la-la’ began to emanate from the throats of the females. On and on it went, growing louder and louder with each passing moment until it was almost unbearable. Then, almost as suddenly as it started, the chanting stopped, and I realized that Yul'ma was standing beside me. She was dressed in what surely were her finest clothes, being fine spun cloths of many colours with precious stones sewn in intricate patterns around the seams. She was wearing more jewels around each wrist, and about her head was a headdress of woven grasses and leaves which hung down and partly veiled her face.

Once again, Mok'tar addressed the throng in his deep, powerful voice. Once again I failed to understand most of what he said. I learned later from Ba’kal that he was announcing the betrothal of his eldest daughter to the tall southerner of many travels. And he was also saying that in respect of the old ways, I should have to undergo the 5 Trials to prove myself worthy of the hand of the Chieftain’s daughter.

So, Mistress Azhira, that is the news of which I wanted to inform you. I have fallen in love with the daughter of the village Chieftain, and I am to undergo a series of 5 trials to prove myself worthy of her hand. I cannot say that I am entirely joyous at the thought of these trials, and the fact that no-one is allowed to tell me what they constitute does little to ease my thoughts. As for how the betrothal ceremony came about with such speed, I must confess that I had very little to do with it!

Taking the advice of my two companions, I spoke briefly with Mok'tar about a meeting with his daughter. After listening intently, but with a slight smile about his face, he told me he would consult with his wife and the shamut before giving me his answer. It appears that my request was not entirely unexpected and no sooner had I left his presence than arrangements were being hastily made for the events which I have described above. Even Ba'kal and Valek were secretly summoned to the chieftain's bromer and given details on what was to come. I should have remonstrated with them for keeping such things from me, but so happy am I with proceedings that I feel no desire to cause any upset to anyone.

If I succeed in my trials and gain the hand of Yul'ma, I would very much like to stay in K’taaj and continue my researches in the area. I am also in the unique position of being first-hand witness to the previously unknown ritual of ‘The 5 Trials’. I am sure this will make a fascinating and valuable addition to the Compendium.

However, should you require my presence in some other region of these lands, I will leave K’taaj, and Yul'ma, behind me, albeit unwillingly.

Should you agree to my requests, and assuming that I survive the trials, I would deem it a great honour if you were to attend the nuptials as my esteemed guest. Mok'tar and Ba’kal are both equally keen to make your acquaintance, and it is too long since Valek and I shared a flagon of ale with you, Mistress. I hope the chance to witness a traditional marriage ceremony of a tribal Chieftain's daughter is enough to lure you north.

I remain, Mistress, your obedient servant,

Ishmael Valaire
 


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