Morning, clear, a little damp.
I am sitting on a hillside outside the tiny shepherd village of Gildenglade, still a couple days ride west of Melvaunt. Our band has decided to aid the village in fending off a near-inevitable assault from the Kobold Kingdom. Should we live through the next couple of days, I am sure that tales of our heroics will live on through the ages.
Warfare, is of course, not my forte, but I have endeavored to take a role of command so as to not frighten the maidens. I am collecting drawings of the village and the surrounding terrain, and taking stock of our magical capabilities.
As might be expected from my recent research, there was some discussion yesterday about the possibility of summoning of extraplanar entities to aid in the battle. Teldicia even provided me with a Tract of Teratology, a thing I was somewhat disturbed to find out she owned. Apparently it was given to her by Rietta, the shapeshifting ogress we met previously. As with must such major summonings, the tract called for the sacrifice of a sentient as part of the spell. While Sister Winona was somewhat helpful in pointing out methods of sacrifice that might be legal under Melvauntian law, the group as a whole objected to the practice, so we were forced to ignore that particular line of strategic thought.
Having thus abandoned immediate thoughts for the use of conjuration, I shall digress into other areas of interest while I sit here. Namely some fascinating stories that I heard from one of the old village crones this morning. Whether true Lore or folklore, I cannot say, but these snippets may be useful in the derivation of material components for future spells.
First, there is the Root of Lightning, as the old woman called it, which I take to be the root of the infamous Ginseng herb. She described her “root of lightning” as having a distinctive forked shape, like the legs and arms of a man, and as causing headaches, breast pain, and insomnia, by which I can surmise that it must, indeed, by the ginseng root. Most excellently, it grows near the hills around the village!
Named panax, from panacea, or cure-all, in the scholars tongue, no medicinal plant is quite so controversial. There are eminent herbalists and physicians who swear that it is no more effective than strong tea, and there are those who swear that it is effective in treating anemia, cachexia, scrofula, catarrah, and malfunctions of the lungs, kidneys, liver, heart, and genitals. Long ago, when the plant was plentiful, peasants would mix the ginseng root with owl brains and turtle fat and smear the mixture over the heads of patients to cure insanity, or blend it with the powdered horns of wapiti dear and sprinkle it over patient’s chests to cure tuberculosis. While such remedies may or may not work, they do lead one to some interesting thoughts regarding the root and the horns taken from our friend Gendry. A more readily available curative for the psychic plague afflicting us perhaps?
The legends regarding those who collect the root are most marvelous. The old lady claimed that it is called the “root of lightning” because: it only grows on a spot where a small stream has been dried up by a lightning bolt. After a life of three hundred years, she claims, the green juice turns white and the plant acquires a soul. It is then able to take human form, but never becomes fully human because the plant does not know the meaning of selfishness. It is totally good, and will happily sacrifice itself to aid the pure of heart.
Clearly we are getting into the realm of folklore here, but there is much to be learned about the art from such old wives’ tales, as is reflected by the many kinds of plant spirits and fey that have been observed and verified by science. I know of no confirmed sightings of a ginseng spirit, but that does not mean that such may not exist, especially given the rarity attributed to them in the story. I shall continue her stories and save further speculation for the end, so as to not confuse my future readings.
The root, in human form, is said to take the shape of a child, plump and brown, with red cheeks and laughing eyes. Long ago, evil men discovered that a ginseng child could be captured by tying it with a red ribbon, and that is why the plant is now so hard to find1 — It has been forced to run away from evil men. The ginseng hunter must display the purity of his intentions, and so carries no weapons. He wears a conical hat made from birch bark2, shoes of tarred pigskin, an oiled apron to protect him from dew, and a badger skin attached to his belt on which to sit3. He carried a small spade made from bone and two small pliable knives with which to dig up and prepare the plant.
The hunt for the roots is something of a religion here. Ginseng hunters who have thoroughly searched an area and found nothing will mark the bark of trees with tiny secret signs to tell others not to waste their time there. Where ginseng has been found, the hunter will erect a small shrine, and other hunters will leave offerings of stones or scraps of cloth. If a hunter finds an immature plant, he will put stakes around it to mark his claim.
A weatherworn, crazed, half-starved ginseng hunter will sometimes have the good fortune to come upon a small plant with four branches that have violet flowers and a fifth branch rising from the center crowned with red berries. The stalk is deep red, and the leaves are deep green above and pale green below. He will drop to his knees, arms spread to show he is unarmed, and kowtow to the plant’s spirit, then cover his eyes and lie still for several minutes so as to not see if the plant decides to run away.4 Opening his eyes, he takes the seeds and carefully replants them so that the root of lightning can grow again. The leaves and flowers are stripped and ceremoniously burned, with many prayers5. He then digs up the root with the bone spade and uses the knives to clean the tiny tendrils, called beards, which are supposed to be crucial to the curative powers. The root is wrapped with birch bark and sprinkled with pepper to keep pests away, then joyfully carried back to civilization.6
1 Other than it only appearing where a stream was dried by lightning…
2 Not unlike those worn by modern wizards as a sign of their station.
3 You’ll note the inherent practicality in the latter three items, in addition to their ceremonial standardization. All are designed to protect against moisture. Actually, given the dew on the ground as I sit writing this, I wouldn’t mind a badger-skin myself.
4 This bit gets to the ridiculous root of the local folk religion, but also gives useful information about how to identify the mature plant.
5 Something like “Oh Great Spirit, do not leave me! I have come with a pure heart and soul, after freeing myself from sins and evil thoughts. Do not leave me!”
6 Again, instructions for the proper collection and packaging of the plant are couched heavily in folk-religious mumbo-jumbo and the idea that the plant is some kind of enforcer of moral thought and behavior.
The old woman, also regaled me with other bits of the local folk religion. It seems the people of the village practice the pantheism typical of the northern Moonsea, worshiping such diverse beings not as Aþ, god of wells, Aglaos, god of torches, Bashiuus, god of wine, Diplodias, god of poor harvests, and other such petty deities unknown in the civilized South, even a god of good shoes (which seem to be sorely lacking in the village). There was also some concern with elemental spirits, for she spoke of also making offerings to such beings as Sylphs, Salamanders, and Undines.
These elemental spirits seem to form the other three corners of the pillar of this simple folk-religion, with the fourth being the “root of lightning” desrcibed above. I will not go into the full extent of the old woman’s stories and irrational fears, but, since they were mentioned, and thus may be found nearby, have decided to include that which I remember about such creatures, as described in which we studied at the academy.
“As the gnomes were limited in their function to the elements of the earth, so the undines (a name given to the family of water elementals) function in the invisible, spiritual essence called humid (or liquid) ether. In its vibratory rate this is close to the element water, and so the undines are able to control, to a great degree, the course and function of this fluid in Nature. Beauty seems to be the keynote of the water spirits. Wherever we find them pictured in art or sculpture, they abound in symmetry and grace. Controlling the water element—which has always been a feminine symbol—it is natural that the water spirits should most often be symbolized as female.”
“Ancient investigators of the Nature spirits were of the opinion that the most common form of salamander was lizard-like in shape, a foot or more in length, and visible as a glowing Urodela, twisting and crawling in the midst of the fire. Another group was described as huge flaming giants in flowing robes, protected with sheets of fiery armor. Certain authorities, among them the Abbé de Villars, held that Zarathustra was the son of Vesta (believed to have been the wife of Noah) and the great salamander Oromasis. Hence, from that time onward, undying fires have been maintained upon the altars in honor of Zarathustra’s flaming father.”
“To the sylphs the ancients gave the labor of modeling the snowflakes and gathering clouds. This latter they accomplished with the cooperation of the undines who supplied the moisture. The winds were their particular vehicle and the ancients referred to them as the spirits of the air. They are the highest of all the elementals, their native element being the highest in vibratory rate. They live hundreds of years, often attaining to a thousand years and never seeming to grow old. The leader of the sylphs is called Paralda, who is said to dwell on the highest mountain of the earth. The female sylphs were called sylphids.”
These three, at least, have been verified by the observations of the learned. If such beings are, in fact, real and present in the area, it may give greater credence to the existence of this “ginseng child”, the verified existence of which would cause quite the sensation in the scientific community. Perhaps once our current predicament is past, I may follow the path of these ginseng hunters and see what mysteries lie within these hills.