The Nightshade Carnival is a travelling group of weirdling entertainers drawn from all over the Santharian kingdom and from many races; most are courtesy members of the Black Butterfly Rover clan, noted for accepting all and any applicants to its peculiar 'family' community. Their train of show-wagons and dwelling caravans ranges from massive to humble, depending upon the touring season and the performers who have signed on for that season's area, but it always, unmistakably, bears the same dark and mysterious aura: tarnished spangles and tattered banners - a little fear and a little fantasy, magic and mystery, the peculiar and the talented, the academically intriguing and the frankly outre. It has said to have been running continually for nearly the last three hundred years, in and out of season alike. The Carnival is usually composed of a mix of elements drawn from the following four groups

Each group is discussed in more detail below, with its specific performers, logistic details, and the caravans involved. However small or large the season's Carnival is, though, the whole elaborate organization is owned, overseen and managed by two unique individuals: Nightshade and Lazardian.

Structure & Organization. The carnival's structure and organization can be summarized as follows:

  • The Nightshade Carnival

    View picture in full size Image description. The Nightshade Carnival wagons, source of a lot of excitement and adventure. Picture drawn by Bard Judith.

    Owner/Managers: 'Nightshade' and 'Lazardian' (no family names known)
    This pair of Styorc (half-elf/half orc) twins possess a weirding enthrallment of their own, being mirror images of each other. With chiseled elven faces over heavy orcen bones, and the musculature of orcs with the grace of elves, these two are strangely beautiful - massive yet graceful, with an otherworldly power that seems to emanate from their taut bodies like a dark shimmer. Nightshade, the female, is black-skinned and sleek as wet charcoal, while Lazardian is an albino male. Nightshade has flowing black hair tinged with deep green. Her eyes are an animal gold, flat and reflective, with odd light streaks in the eyering, making it difficult to meet her gaze for any length of time. Lazardian's hair - all his body hair as well - is a pallid white that seems to glow weirdly in the night, while his rich ruby eyes are the only spark of colour and animation in his white face. Though not exactly forthcoming or sociable, they are both well-read and articulate, and repay longer acquaintance - if one has the patience to cultivate it. They are known to be strictly celibate, as well as ascetic in diet, refraining from meat or any dishes that contain it, although they do consume seafood in large quantities (Nightshade exhibits a definite preference for spiddlemeat, Lazardian for trysters), and have no objection to milch, eyren, or other such animal products. Though it is already difficult for humans to determine an elf's true age, it does seem impossible that they are the three hundred and thirteen they claim, looking as they do perhaps one-tenth of that. Yet in village after village, if one asks the oldest inhabitant, the granther or grannie will tell you, 'Aye, I remember the pair when I was a lad/lass...lookin' the same as they do now!', and as far back as has been recorded, the Nightshade Carnival has born that name, with a pair of mirror twins of those names, day and night, at its helm.

    They run their carnival - a travelling village of temperamental performers, peculiar animals, barbarian crew, and all the props, costumes, equipment, food and water that such an enterprise demands - as tightly as a captain does his ship, or a merchant head her guild. The fine strokes of organization are Nightshade's purview: arithmetic, purchasing, paying out salaries, calculating work hours, drawing up schedules, and similar logistic details. The reins of the finances are firmly in her hands, yet her brother is equally indispensible, for Lazardian is the visionary who sees the long-term picture, and who deals with the personal issues: forming up acts, meting out deserved discipline or praise, hirings/firings, recruiting new talents and freaks, promoting the carnival and continually creating new contacts and deciding on tour locations. He watches every show, every evening, always with an eye for what can be improved, added, dropped, refreshed, keeping his people at peak performance for the duration of the season's tour.
  • Roustman
    Bron the Roustman is this broadshouldered Kuglimz's actual name and title, but it is rarely used, even by his wife. Silver hair crests above an ageless face with piercing gaze, giving him the look of a myreddin or toran or similar raptor. "Jak King", as he is always referred to by the folk beneath him, is the most senior and the sole authority among the Jakkers (see below), or non-performing carny folk - though Nightshade and Lazardian of course have the ultimate say, they rarely need to exercise it, the Roustman running his crew with efficient rigor. He must be familiar with almost every task required to keep the carnival smoothly running - hence the Rover expression "Jak of all Trades", meaning a man skilled in a number of areas. He it is who initially gives out work assignments to newcomers, who promotes or demotes the deserving, and who handles all necessary discipline. As a result, his small kingdom of barbarian jakkers cause less difficulty than you might expect, whether in internal squabbling or painting every new town red.

  • Mippmon Fallow
    This season's ballyman, as for the ten last, is Mippmon Fallow, a Rover born and bred. Almost as wide as he is tall, this lecherously-lipped fellow seems to have a strain of something bestial about him - thus his nickname among the showfolk, 'Mipp Fylja'. Perhaps it is the slightly too-pointed dog-teeth that show when he smiles, often... or the broad jaws that look to be set at ninety degrees from each other... the heavily curly pelt of black chest hair that spills up and out of his open collar... and his murky brown hound's eyes, like the water of a peaty pond. He and the Hourglass Sisters share a wagon, though apparently not a bed, for Mipp attracts female companionship more easily than the fastidious might think from this description. "A woman in every town, and Mipp in her knickers and moneyplacket," he brags without reticence. His tongue is certainly one of his gifts, for his main task in the carnival is that of barker, or ballyman - the loud-voiced, smooth-talking merchant of wonders who introduces all the performers, describes their acts in enticing but veiled detail, and draws as many folk as possible into the sideshows, attraction tents, and Midnight Way to separate them from the maximum amount of their coin.  
  • Mogghie
    While Nightshade knows every san, su and erg in the moneychest by name, as the saying goes, she does delegate the actual collection to her moniesman, or steward. This individual is actually neither a man nor even male, being a she-troll from the Ghereghut tribe in the Tandala Highlands. It is true that trollish intelligence is on the lower end of the sentient spectrum, but "Mogghie" has not only learned to speak some of the orcish Kh'om'chr'om, but a few score words in Tharian, and can count to ten - all she needs to ensure that every customer has paid fair due for the priviledge of viewing the Carnival's amazements. Since her advent as steward, the Carnival has had no further problems with defaulting or objectionable debtors; it has also cut down on the number of impoverished lads attempting to crawl under the canvas edges to view the show for free. It must be said, however, that Lazardian has taken unfair advantage of her rather fearsome appearance and the many folktales featuring trolls as villains: the ballybanner behind Mogghie's ticket platform depicts her with fangs and trollish breasts bared (saved from outright immodesty by her tangled troll-locks falling liberally over her nude shoulders) and raising a screaming boy above her head as if to tear him limb from limb. With the addition of several 'golden' coins painted artistically strewn at her feet, the point seems not to have been lost on the crowd attempting to enter.
  • Zook
    Also a person of authority, though he doesn't look it, is the mild-mannered gnomish Chatelan. Kerek Zuquiz, or 'Zook' as he is known, reports directly to Nightshade regarding amounts and quantities of every commodity the carnival requires, from animal feed to straw bedding, fresh eyren for the cooks or rancid meat for the demondrakes, satine for a costume replacement or canvas to patch a tent. Bald as most gnomes, but with three tufts of bluish-grey hair for brows and beard, Zook is pot-bellied and bow-legged, with a perpetual bland smile under a prominently pointy nose. He has never been heard to raise his voice or employ epithets in any haggling session, which would seem to be a disadvantage in most areas of Sarvonia, but somehow the carnival never gets the worst of the deal... Shortfalls, surpluses, rising costs, local specialties, and so on, are locked in Zook's head as reliably as a ledger or the latest newsheet. In addition to which, he is the gnome to see if you are a local farmer wanting to trade haybales for dung, say, (oh, yes, the 'output' of the various exotic animals is considered an asset, and sold as such. Imagine being the only market gardener in town to be able to claim that YOUR lythebels were grown with genuine thunderfoot fertilizer!) or the duke of the region hoping to sell the carnival his two-headed Wilderon kitten. Return to the top

Symbols, Trade-Marks and Signage. The Carnival's colours are dark red and yellowed ivory (referred to irreverently as 'Puked Pasta' by the barker Mippmon, more prissily as 'Faded Teki Berry and Winter Yealm Reed' by the artistic Hargwude, and 'wine-n-cheese' by the majority of the showfolk), used on all the tents, banners, signs, and properties in alternating stripes, painted more or less in regular widths. Sometimes superimposed on a background of these bi-coloured stripes is the carnival's 'logo' of a stylized plant in charcoal silhouette, representing the eponymous nightshade herb. Major performers have their own names and tag-lines (e.g. "Malvul the Mysterious, Mage of the Monstrous!" which they have painted splashily across their background 'ballybanners', on their own properties trunks, and on their caravans, but the faded red and ivory stripes are a constant motif underlying these individual variations. There is a recurring myth among some of the younger performers and ropejakkers to the effect that the colours are supposed to represent blood and bone, but the truth is simpler, if less dramatic: the owner/manager Styorc twins chose them to complement their own unusual eye-shading, a constant reminder of the power behind the panorama.

Caravans come in all sizes, from eight-bunk travelling/sleeping vans to wagons made especially for transporting and displaying animal exhibits. There is always a Vittleswagon (food and cookstuffs) and a Stores-van (other necessities, from spices and medicines to replacement canvases and costumes) with the Carnival, no matter its season or size. Sometimes the ridewagons bulk out the train, basically flat wheeled platforms made as lightly and sturdily as possible so that the various parts of the ride (e.g. see the Carousel, below) can be packed efficiently atop. Nightshade and Lazardian's private caravan, simply striped in red and ivory and with dark-curtained actual glassed windows, leads the train, its two drafthorses chosen for their matching ruddy and yellow-grey hides as much as their brute pulling power. Return to the top

The Wagons of Wonder - Various Skilled Performers. Nightshade and Lazardian - besides running the carnival, these two also condescend to perform almost-nude feats of balance and strength in the main circle, using only each other as 'props' - fantastic lifts, holds, and poses which display their amazing bodies like a sculpture made from nor'sidian and white marble. Here an excerpt from the newsheet of one bard who saw them perform in New-Santhala recently:

"Now 'Day' holds 'Night', her back arched into the palm of one arm,
elbow-locked directly over his head.
She curves like a pard, moving her arms and legs
in perfect equilibrium with each other, a horizontal dance
as if she were floating effortlessly in water.
The two flow from one pose seamlessly into another,
a ripple of motion and then a stillness which defies gravity,
human boundaries, even the passage of time.
One becomes completely lost in the powerful beauty of this performance..."
Return to the top


  • Malvul the Mysterious, Mage of the Monstrous
    This slight human with his ragged beard and darting eyes does not seem to live up to his title... but when he dons his tirpanblood velvurteen robes, and sets his silver-webbed hat atop his mousy locks, he seems to increase in both stature and confidence. The illusions he summons with his simple spells would seem laughably unchallenging to even a second-year Ximaxian mage-student, yet they have an eerie loveliness that haunts the mind's eye even after they fade from the real. The 'Silver Pear Tree', one of his standards, has been known to set women weeping for the decay of its beauty; the sapling that rises from the darkened stage, the shimmering flowers that bud into pears seemingly pickable, and the scent of the perfumed fruit wafting through the evening air... but his 'Old Weaver Transforming to Cat' is equally artistic, his 'Grave-risen Orc' completely terrifying - none the less for its flickering, patchy quality - and the 'Dragonfire' finale a spectacle that even a duke might envy.

  • Pol & Tout Fettirer
    Pol & Tout Fettirer
    These two stocky, grinning lads might be aging hobbits, or then again, strangely wrinkled boys... their bellies permanently bloated with their stock-in-trade diet of onns and althz'onns, pease, brockale, and other gaseous-inducing substances, and their large heads topped by stiff reddish mops... Pol and Tout might be described as 'a cross-talk team', except that they do not exactly talk; rather, they produce their noises from the other end of their bodies. Able to 'fettir', or 'fart' on command, the two can create a wild cacophony of sounds, from 'Snowcat Roars' to 'Krumhorn Blasts', 'Tittering Spinster' and 'Wetly Weary Workhorse'...they even go so far as to do 'impersonations' and 'musical reenactments', such as the various city anthems. While this particular talent might seem somewhat crude to the more sophisticated audiences of the larger cities, it is without doubt hugely popular with the rustics of the villages where the carnival often finds itself. The Fettirer brothers claim to make quite a few extra sans on the side (or perhaps that should be 'from the end'?) by challenging local trenchermen to 'belch-n-fart'n' contests after the show...
  • The Black Hourglass Sisters
    Also not for the prudish among us, these five slim-hipped, ageless wenches are ably-gifted in lissom displays of suggestive dancing, leaving no doubt about the authenticity of their various endowments. Impossibly long, black tresses swirl about their gyrating forms, at first mere accents to the gaudy silks and translucent skirts, but as layer after layer seems to vanish in the spin of colour, eventually their hair becomes the only 'clothing' remaining to them, standing out against pale skin. (Women, children under the age of 12, priests, elves, and mayors not allowed. No one seems to know why this last prohibition was dictated, nor if the 'girls' are really sisters.) However, it is suggested, though never stated outright, that their gifts may be on private and individual display after the main sideshow performance, and one may book such 'demonstrations of art' through consultation with Mippmon, the show's 'barker'...

  • Dukkeri of the Inward Eye
    A Rover matriarch who claims knowledge of the future. She requires her payment to be "a coin and sacrifice", which she discerns from her clients before she consents to use her gift for them. For a rich man, a gold coin... and perhaps a lock of his already-thinning hair, about which he is vain. For a young girl, she may ask a san or two, and a tale or a memory. Dukkeri smiles enigmatically as she tells of how she demanded only an erg and a promise from one merchant woman that she speak no unkind word to her husband through the next four full moons... and how that woman came to seek her out the next time the carnival wagons passed, a year gone by, filling her hands with money and her ears with thanks, telling of how her marriage throve and her business prospered since Dukkeri's prophecy... The old Rover female refuses to read for any of the carnival folk, though, invariably declining those newcomers who have not heard of her strict policy of 'not in my own nest' with some courteous excuse, leaving it to other long-termers to explain in more detail. "They say" that once she broke that rule, in her lovely dark gypsy youth, for a handsome Jukker lad who swore his future was twined with hers forever; they say she screamed once, swooned over the table and refused to speak, and that the lad died that very night, caught and strangled by a whipping rope in a failed take-down of the big tent's main support pole... or so they say. Yet every moon or so, Dukkeri closets herself with Nightshade and Lazardian for a candle's breadth, and comes away dark-eyed weary but serene - and since she has been with the carnival since her birth, clearly they are not engaged in salary negotiations...

  • The Triplets
    The Triplets
    Two (yes, we wrote 'two' ) lovely girls, who ARE clearly not only sisters but identical twins. Though they presumably once had individual names, they are rarely far apart and difficult to distinguish from each other, not only in face and body, but in personality - so generally they are referred to by their hair colour ('Rouge' and 'Caramel'), created by dyes for the sake of the act they perform in the ring. They disturb most non-carny people who talk to them for any time, since what is said to one twin the other seems to know, immediately - which makes it almost impossible to remember the status of an individual relationship. Likewise, what one experiences, the other does - not only sharing pain or excitement, but directly down to minor wounds appearing in duplicate, skin irritations, broken fingernails, and the like - as their bodies seem to require that they be truly identical at all times. In fact, their hair must be redyed almost weekly, as it fades with unnatural swiftness to the neutral mid-hue of a reddish brown. The positive side of this strange symbiosis is that one can sleep while the other eats, or one practise while the other studies, and both seem to acquire the benefits. Yet this is not the strangest thing about the girls; they insist that there are actually three of them, and that the third, their invisible sister, is the link which joins them and makes their bizzare relationship possible... thus their nickname, 'The Triplets'. They perform a sister acrobatic act, doing various tumbling and leaping stunts with a few basic props: a see-saw, a springy canvas, some hoops, and a balance rail. They invariably wear the carnival's colours of dark red and old ivory which just happen to complement their artificial hair colours perfectly, and when not actually performing or practising their act may be found engrossed in whatever books, scrolls, or chapbooks are locally available for sale or lending. Return to the top
The Dark Menagerie. A collection of strange and exotic animals, and animal acts: Return to the top
  • Lyliena Serpent-Tamer
    Lyliena Serpent-Tamer
    Ballyhooed as being an ex-Kasumari assassin - or Kasumari ex-assassin, more accurately - this lean dark girl was actually once a farmer's youngest daughter from a far northern settlement. Used and abused in her family, she finally rebelled, making her way on foot to the coast where she flagged down a merchant caravel and bartered her body for passage to the far South, escaping forever the bitter winters and more bitter memories. Now she has a new life and a new persona, handling 'poisonous' snakes without fear, her eyes as ophidian as the reptiles that curl around her body... She seems to have scant friends among the carny folk, though there is no enmity (save from Ophari, see below). "Ya can't get close to 'er," says Follie, the Fat Lady, a motherly sort whom few refuse to confide in, and other perfomers confirm this: "She talks ta Dirk, if she talks ta anyone," say the Jakkers. Since Dirk speaks almost as little as she, it is unclear how the full story of her life has come to be so well-known among the show people, but they were quick to inform our Compendiumist of her true past - possibly fearing that 'officials' might take an undue interest in a genuine Kasumari...
  • Ophari the Dragon Mistress
    She is statuesque and auburn-haired, and considers her 'Demon Drake' act as being in direct competition with Lyliena's 'snake show' - as she persists in referring to it. After all, don't her miniature dragons sound and look much more dangerous than a few defanged wrigglers? Certainly they look impressively fierce, but there is always an element of showmanship involved in every carnival act, and her drakes are in actuality as sociable as a favourite horse or pet dog. Still, it takes timing and dedicated training to get those flame blasts at just the right point, and to coordinate the aerial performance so that two flyers don't crash into each other... and almost as much skill to keep Ophari and Lyliena from each other's throats. Ophari is also skilled on the windgrass flute and has some ability with the lap harp, so she provides musical accompaniment for other performers when it is required. It is an open secret that she and Brightsword (see below) are bedmates, though they pretend indifference in public.

  • Brightsword the Kuglimz Horsemaster and Knife Thrower
    Tall, red-haired, well-muscled and impossibly handsome, he is as much a visual set piece for the ladies in the audience as he is a performer. He does incredible stunts of balance and daring on the back of a black-as-midnight Sarvonian draught horse. He has two pretty assistants (Ari and Beti) who, clad in gauzy, skimpy garments, do lesser stunts on a couple of dainty white "Centaurian" horses. His knife throwing act consists of using knives (thrown behind his back, under a lifted leg, overhand, underhand, and similar showy moves ) to outline the bodies of his pretty assistants against a dark cloth-covered background. Ari and Beti are, even charitably, lovely but brainless: one supposes that lacking the imagination to flinch when sharp objects are tossed in your direction might actually be a benefit in this profession. In their free time all three accumulate credits in the cook tents and lose them as quickly drawing luxuries from Stores or gambling with the other carnies.

  • Dirk Houndmaster
    If he ever had another last name, he too has forgotten it long ago. The taciturn small man with wrinkles making birds' nests of his eyes and cutting grooves in his dark cheeks is clearly an Eyelian, his skill with animals half learned, half born. He directs the troupe of trained hunting hounds who perform amazing feats of obedience, such as running obstacle courses, herding a recalcitrant sheep (any local ewe of infamy), scaling walls, walking narrow rails, and returning audience members' possessions by scenting them. He also owns Mut and Geff, two sassy little rimrunner dogs who spice up the otherwise serious act by mimicking the larger dogs in absolute synchronicity, but always with a twist - and they do it all in costume. With wine-red and ivorine-gold ruffs around their necks, and lavish matching bows at the base of their perky tails, the two white terriers charge madly after the sober hounds, their dog muzzles split with that characteristic rimrunner grin of enthusiasm.

  • Granmer' Silatha
    Have you ever seen an ancient mermaid... a mer-crone, to be exact? Look your fill then, for you may never see another... Her fish half resembling a great salmon with pitted, algae-green scales, and her top half a wrinkled grandam with swirling silver hair half-covering her dried-apple face, Silatha is truly unique among her kind, for most mer die young in the merciless seas. Silatha the ancient brings with her five tame hydragons, 'family pets' for years, and lets them swim freely about her gnarled body in its tiny tank. The curtains of her caravan are only drawn back for a short time during the menagerie bally, as Nightshade does not wish to stress the old mer unduly, and Silatha seems to appreciate this consideration - a privacy many a carnival exhibit does not enjoy. She may usually be found with the Carnival on the spring and autumn tours, when the weather is more moderate, as heating or cooling her travel tank would require a great deal of magical energy, not to mention tiring Silatha. For the winter and summer seasons this grandmer makes her home with a few dolpholk friends in a protected coastal bay on the Eastern rim of Sarvonia, somewhere near the Waist. Its exact location is kept secret, and a caretaker couple (both retired sailors who speak some Mer) reside in a small shoreside cottage to ensure Silatha's security and continued health.

  • Dueg and his Dancing Bear
    This is one of the darker acts, though it would seem on the face of it to be amusing. A tall, gaunt rimmer bear comes out on his hind legs into the ring of the main tent with his equally tall, gaunt owner, walking in jerky unison. Since both are extremely hairy, Dueg being as thickly-bearded as a Thergerim, and both are dressed alike in a grey tunic beneath a long black frock coat, the resemblance is uncanny. They pull up the long hoods that are attached to the back of their coats, covering their faces in shadow, then do a lurching dance about the ring, changing positions and turning each other about. They proceed in this incognito to sit down at a table together and cut bread, butter it, eat it, then lean back and light a pipe, and so on... the bear faithfully imitating the man - or perhaps vice-versa. Their performance is done in complete silence, save for the click of plates on the table, the tss'wik of flint on steel, and other incidental noises. One would think that in contrast to the drama of many of the other acts, this would quickly draw the audience into restlessness - but it seems to mesmerize child and adult alike, as they watch intently for some cue as to which dark shape is leading which - some tic of movement that will betray whether a nose or a muzzle lurks in the recesses of the hood. Nor, at the end of their performance, do they reveal this; Dueg and the bear leave together, arm in arm, still hooded, two grim figures that seem somehow to both be parodying humanity.

  • The Makakrobats dreadful name for a tangle of rather endearing little makaka apes, which really aren't very well-trained, but are quite amusing to watch performing their natural scampers and leaps. One of the Jakker girls (see Staff, below) is usually in charge of them, and the apes - being used to her bringing their food and cleaning their cage - will happily tolerate her standing in their midst, and merrily incorporate her still form into their acrobatic shenanigans. When one particularly clever makaka realized that stopping dead in midswing and scrambling to the top of his mistress's head brought not only howls of laughter from his audience but showers of whatever snack food they had to hand, he began to repeat the trick every session - and other apes seemed to learn from him. Now that is a standard in the 'performance', though most of the other behaviours are completely unrehearsed.

  • "See The Northern Giant of the Frozen Wastes!"
    ...says the gaudy banner. The single (scrawny, by northern standards, and rather patchy of coat in the southern heat, but still impressive) thunderfoot with the show is usually the wagon train leader, pulling the heaviest caravan wagon (Silatha's, with its water tank). When the carnival is stationary, it gets its own shade/rain tarpaulin in a circle of trees (or poles, in a pinch) and, upon the collection of payment from each spectator, goes apathetically through its rounds of lifting and stacking thick chunks of logs with its trunk, letting its barbarian master put his head in its drooling mouth, and crushing rindmelons under one stump-like foot. It then finishes off its 'demonstration' by patiently suffering two squealing 'saddlebags' of children to be loaded on either side of its shaggy back and trudging around the circle - for an additional su or erg per rider, and such is the novelty that many a child is able to extract the requisite fee from his or her parent's reluctant grasp. At least, it is very rarely that the saddlebags go empty!
    Return to the top

The Cabinet of Curiosities. Freaks and sideshow acts:
  • Selkie Ore-Eater
    "Breaks his fast on iron! Dines on coal! Eats silver for his dessert, and washes it down with whal-oil!" A mis-shapen human, whose limbs are stunted flaps resembling a pinnip seal's, Ore-Eater cheerfully swallows... and later regurgitates, with no ill effects... the most peculiar objects. His mouth and throat are abnormally enlarged, which allows him to ingest solids such as coal chunks or coins, and even such dangerous-appearing things as blunted nails and bits of sea-glass. A popular trick of his is to request a bard - "preferably golden cos it tastes better!" from an audience member, usually the mayor or other prominent citizen, and swallow it as the grand finale - but somehow when every other item is heaved back up, the coin fails to reappear. This invariably gets a laugh at the citizen's expense, and is usually taken in good spirit. Of course, Ore has never swallowed it in the first place, merely retained it under his tongue, so in the infrequent event that there is a complaint, the irate individual will get his goldbard back - spat directly into his hand, with plenty of 'gob' and a beaming grin from Ore. Ore-Eater appears on the bally stage for viewing and his performance, also assisting with music when necessary, as he has a good sense of rhythm and can easily play a drum with his 'flippers'. He does not, let us add, actually breakfast on iron, but prefers oatmeal gruel made with meat broth. Odd, perhaps, but at least nourishing when compared to chunks of ceramic, or small wooden carvings...

  • Dr. Deth and the Fat Lady
    The Human Skeleton
    ... is 'married to' The Fat Lady, as a matter of course. He answers to 'Mr. Deth' or 'Dethie dear' impartially, while she goes by 'Follie'. He is skilled at sleight-of-hand (let us emphasize that this is NOT done by simple magic, but requires a high degree of digital skill to create the illusion of magic!) while she, apart from being one of the carnival's best cooks, is a calligrapher who produces miniatures and other little mementos for sale. To watch her pudgy hands handle the dip pen without ever blotting the parchment or smudging a line is almost as marvelous as trying to follow her husband's impossibly long fingers flickering through his deft tricks of fool-the-eye. The two spend their time partly on the bally stage, being viewed as curiosities, partly in their own caravan producing mementos or practising sleights, and partly in the dining tent, taking their turn on the work roster. Despite initially having been placed together as a further draw for the carnival's audiences, this ill-assorted 'couple' seems to genuinely enjoy each other's company, as they are rarely apart. It is a scene of both pathos and sentiment to see the bony man with his sunken eyes moving deftly about his hugely bloated 'wife', tending to the various bodily needs which she cannot perform for herself, from the scratching of an itch or the mopping of sweat, doubtless to intimacies more personal which can only be imagined.
  • The Living Puppets
    A group of the so-called 'Whitebark' or 'Birch Brownies' - completely colourless; some few brownies from each colour group are sometimes born without their natural pigmentation. Lazardian has what might be described as a 'soft spot' for these small oddities of Avá, and there is always room for another albino in the troupe. Of course, they are not just there to be gawked at - they, too, have their own act. A strange combination of acrobatics and pantomime, it resembles a puppet show come eerily to life. This atmosphere they enhance with bright spots of rouge on their pale cheeks and lips, and gaudy, doll-like costumes, all set against their own miniature stage, draped in the ubiquitous 'wine-n-cheese' colours with tiny backdrops and furnishings that look straight out of a wealthy child's poppethouse. Eerie, yes, but also weirdly fascinating, as they move effortlessly from a stiff, jerky mimicry of two nobles at swordplay or a puppet couple quarrelling, to the sleek motion of an otter pack tumbling about the stage.

  • Hargwude the Gurner an outcast 'bachelor' dwarf who has actually shorn his beard and who can contort his face into the most grotesque shapes and expressions. His moustache, which he has left, but waxed and curled into the most peculiar curvatures, and his nearly bald head, add to the grotesquerie as he stretches his cheeks, bulges his jaw sideways, and wiggles his gigantic ears and eyebrows. He can form 'dwarven rune' shapes with his tongue, fit five boiled hen's eyren into his mouth without cracking them, and pop his eyes nearly from their sockets. Children in particular, of any race, are agog and delighted, and Hargwude, despite the glum expression to which his stubbly face defaults when not gurning, seems to enjoy their attention and outdoes himself for their approval. He also doubles as the character (or as some call it, the caricature) artist of the show; before and after his spot on the sideshow he sits behind a short easel and for a mere five sans will sketch you as your choice of hobbit, elf, orc, dwarf, human, merfolk, or race which you aren't. Or as noble, mage, royalty, pauper - whatever you like.

  • "Half Man Half Dragon"
    "Half Man Half Dragon!"
    This poor deformity may have been born with the scale-like callouses and chitinous patches covering most of his body, or he may have contracted some strange affliction later in life - an exotic ailment contracted in a sailor's life, a curse of the gods, a punishment from an angered mage... who can know? At any rate, he closely resembles a member of the race of Psyrpents, those peculiar lizard-men who feature in childrens' tales. His face elongated into a scaly snout, nails thick and claw-like, his arms and hands dappled and puckered with the rough inlay of horn, around which human flesh seems to bubble up, swollen and pale... one stares in mesmerized revulsion, unable to believe in what the eye informs us. His time is spent curled on a pad of canvas stuffed with straw, appearing to sleep like the lizard he resembles for great portions of the day, rousing for his food and water and returning to somnolence whether there are folk gawking in front of his wagon's bars or no. The carnival people class him with the animal acts, not unkindly, for though he is human - most probably - in species, there is little else left to him. He does not have a name; he seems to barely have enough sentience left him to indicate his hunger, thirst, or need for a privypot - doubtless a rough blessing from some merciful god.
  • The Cabinet
    Depending on the size and season of the Carnival, there may also be an actual 'Cabinet' - a collection of natural curiosities, all neatly exhibited on pads of dark red velvurteen or in bubbled glass bottles of murky amber fluids. Such exhibits may range from magnificent geodes, their interiors encrusted with crystals the length of a child's finger, to... well, a child's finger. There are indeed two-headed kittens and frogs, also dogs born with eight legs, vudu toxin-poppets, a 'Cyhalloi were's fang', the poison ring of the Mad Baron Keskase, a bizzare sculpture formed of crystal spider carcasses, blown eggs of all sizes, peculiar fungi and perfectly mummified rodents with their eyes replaced by rubites and topazum, dried medlarapples the size of pompions, lisdra 'witchsnakes' preserved in wine, and much more. Scraps of parchment neatly inscribed (many in Follie's perfect hand) tell the stories and histories of each item, from fascinating to ghastly. Return to the top

The Midnight Way. Entertainment, games of 'skill', chances to win something or, more likely, have your money separated neatly from your pouch...

Often abbreviated to 'Mid'way', this lane formed of side-opening caravans and the peculiar machines that unfold from them is one of the better illuminated areas of the carnival. Various gameshillers lean out, hawking the virtues of their particular amusement and demonstrating how simple it is to win. There can also be some rides and other entertainments which require more room at the end of the lane. What with the extra caravans and horses required, the additional feed, the folk to run it, and so on, usually the Mid'way is only added to the carnival when the season's tour includes a number of large cities or at least medium-size towns; there is rarely enough room, nor are there enough people, in the smaller villages to make bringing it along and setting it up at all worthwhile.

However, enterprising marketers at a few of the Carnival's most common stops have seen the potential in the Mid'way, and erected semi-permanent stalls along a little-used 'green' or fallow clearing, which they occupy as farmer's booths during much of the year but which the Carnival can use each season in exchange for fodder rights and merchantile exclusives. In other words, 'you can use our stands for the week and you'll buy the veggies we'd ordinarily be selling in them...' Assuming the largest possible space and potential customers, then, here are some of the offerings on the Midnight Way:


  • The Carousel
    The ballyman bellows, "Magnificent animals, carved and painted realistically by some of the most skilled crafters in the country, offer a ride of unparalleled excitement and delight! Accompanied by a marvel of mechanized music, you can experience the thrill of riding a wild stallion, a powerful pard, the mighty ulgaroth, or even a fire dragon!" Gorgeously carved and gaudily painted, with glass 'gems' and gilded inlays, these faux beasts are indeed quite remarkable. And as the huge drafthorse leans into his traces and the gears begin to turn, the whole circle of shimmering colour whirls on its own axis, with a tinny tinkle of melody underlying the ballyman: "Two sans a ride! Two sans a ride! Come on up for the ride of your dreams, children! What'll it be? A proud Centoraurian steed? A monstrous pardurin? A mighty gryph? For a mere two sans, you can ride any one of these amazing beasts! Be a ferocious barbarian, a powerful dragon tamer, an exotic Beastlord - the choices are limited only by your imagination! Right over here, little lady, young sir, yes, step right up for the ride of your life!"

  • The Warg Ride
    Beneath a gaudy pavilion tent, five or so smallish wargs (hand reared from pups and thus comparatively "tame") are chained to a large turning metal post, each at the end of a long pole which radiates out from a central, pivoting post. Muzzled and saddled, they step restlessly from paw to paw as half-terrified, half-thrilled children are boosted to their backs. The pivot post locktooth is kicked free and the Wargmaster (a bored half-orc youth wearing a fur vest open over his pale green chest, and flicking a long whip listlessly) goes into his spiel: "The amazing Warg ride! These ferocious monsters, tamed by master Beastlords at great expense and with vast difficulty, may now be ridden fearlessly by your little children. Take this rare chance to actually ride a live Warg and live to tell your grandchildren about it! For a few extra sans, you can even get your picture sketched on this brute by one of our amazing artists!" Next to the small wooden corral where another couple of 'spare' warglings are chained sits Hargwude or another of his ilk with parchment and dip pen, ready to do a quick illustration of you posed on the back of said 'ferocious monster', helpfully exaggerating its size and teeth, and flattering you as the subject.

  • The Golden Unicorn
    Actually a romanticized version of the ordinary horseshoe toss pitch which you might find on any hamlet green, the 'Golden Unicorn' relies on some clever 'gaffing' or carny tricks to favour the carnival's odds of winning, not to mention the show dressing. The horseshoes, carefully gilded with a bit of mica in the gilding for extra sparkle, are smaller than usual - "real cast-off unicorn shoes, look how dainty they are!" - which makes it just that much more difficult to ring the stick - a tapering spiral 'horn' carved from wood, likewise painted with mica-gilt, and which, being set on a panel at an authentically unicornian angle, invariably throws off the eye. Stalwart village lads rarely spot these discrepancies, being far too eager to win an 'aurium' necklace or a 'golden' bangle - perhaps even the grand prize of a bit of actual unicorn horn, sure protector against poisons!

  • Assorted Sports Game and Games
    Perhaps we need not describe in detail the Archery Butt, the Knife Toss, and the Fishing for Mithanjor stalls? Again, they are nothing you might not find at most village fairs, save for the twist of uncanny atmosphere which the Nightshade Carnival exudes so effectively. The arrowheads (and knifeblades) are made of nor'sidian, the fletchings in dried-blood red and yellowing ivory, and the target straw butt covered with a painted canvas shroud depicting a giant spider, its painted eyes veritably glowing with malice and its fangs dripping venom that looks ready to eat through the canvas. As for the mithanjor, they are released into a giant cask of murky water, filled with water weeds, drapes of algae, and the like, and you must attempt to catch one with a miniature net strung between the first and second fingers of your right hand - before the sandglass empties. Return to the top

Staff & Hangers-On. The carny folk who cook, clean, set up, take down, etc.
  • Jakkers
    Of course everyone has their own jobs to do both on and off stage - there is no room for a pampered diva on the traveling trail, or in the narrow confines of the equally multi-purpose wagons. But some work takes specific muscle and training, so there is always at least one wagon of 'jakkers' - the general men- and women-of-all-jobs. Many of them are Kuglimz, used to the nomad life... There is a constant 'jakking', or jostling, for ranking within the knockabout society of the jakkers, but the definite 'bottom of the mine' would be the 'tush-jakkers' (the politest of their many names), the poor greenies who have to clean dung out of cages and keep replacing filthied bedding with fresh straw. The top of this ladder, on the other hand, would be the Roustman (see above), or 'Jak King', who keeps it all running smoothly. In between, of course, are the many levels and specialties which every community, even roustabout barbarians, seem to evolve: rope-jakkers, canvas-jakkers, paint-jakkers, and so on. While everyone is expected to fill in as he or she is needed, 'lending a jak-hand' at call, generally everyone has a task and knows exactly how, when, and where to do it, so there are rarely gaps to be filled! And again, when one task is finished, you move on to the next; it is not until the tents are struck, the animals fed, the fires banked, and the privytrench limed that you can take your much-deserved rest and/or recreation.

  • Cooks
    Depending on the size of the Carnival for the season, there may or may not be an assigned cook with the train. Most showfolk have a contract which allows for 'bed and board' - that is, a bunk in a shared caravan, and two meals at the dining tent or vittleswagon a day - but they frequently use their saved monies to purchase extras, whether local delicacies, rare treats, birthing-day celebrations, or a racial specialty that may be hard to obtain on the road. While the gnomish Chatelan, Zook, tries to keep the most-demanded items, such as orcen Jhelhi or dwarven Mossbread, on hand, it's not always easy to get smoked horse or shroom-cream just when you crave it, either! But the basics - tuberroots, barlay bread, bacon, onn beans, and the like - are always in Stores and may be drawn against. Thus, most performers have a pot or two, a knife and a spoon tucked away in their carny-chest, under their costumes, and are able to make at least one meal a day for themselves, or make do with less when times are spare.

  • Musicians
    In top season, Lazardian hires an existing 'chamber group' or small 'band' of minstrels to accompany the carnival and provide music for as many attractions as possible. A skillfully-played tinwhistle creates just the right sort of sibilant drone that sets off the Snake Mistress' set piece, while the thump of drums and grandiose tootle of a krumhorn makes for a true spectacle as the Carnival draft horses trudge their way into the next town. In low season, whichever performer is not actually on the bally stage or in the ring usually makes the best of a small handpumped organ or musicchest. In between, Lazardian expediently sends ahead to engage any locals who might have some musical ability and sets them to work the next morning as soon as the caravans are parked. Return to the top

Indeed, as the show's bally banners proclaim in painted canvas:

"If you are one of the isolated few
who has never heard the drums and horns of the Nightshade Carnival approaching your town,
may we suggest that you move?
An experience you will never forget,
skills that defy explanation and curiosities
to keep your mind musing for years to come.
Strange beasts! Incredible performers! Twisted monstrosities! Peculiarities of nature!
Dark and fantastic, weird and wonderful,
the Carnival will open your eyes and pump your heart.
Come, linger and learn, watch and marvel!"


"The Nightshade Carnival", composed and performed by Gean Firefeet
Format: MP3, Length: 3:24, Original Santharian work.

Click here to download the song, use right-click and "Save as..." (3.12 MB). Return to the top

 Date of last edit 22nd Molten Ice 1669 a.S.

Information provided by Bard Judith View Profile and Alysse the Likely View Profile