Date: Wed, 14 Jul 1999 00:44:27 EDT
Reply-To: The GREYtalk Discussion List
This post is mostly inspired by Chris Jarvis' concept of Ra'al'tsvar, the keepers of the sacred bloodlines. I absolutely adore his work on ancient societies of Oerth. Basically, what I'm attempting to do here is use this concept in the context of Hardby as described in The Adventure Begins and Artifact of Evil, and the Suel language and culture from The Scarlet Brotherhood accessory. I am using tSB's Suel language, though in Jarvis' terms it should probably read Il'shar'aki, or perhaps Il'shar'tsvar. If I'm horribly misusing his ideas, I apologize.
In the wake of the Rain of Colorless Fire, many heresies sprung up in an attempt to deal with the changes forced up on Suloise society. For a while, one of the most prevalent was allowing the belief in the sacred matrilinear bloodlines along which magical potency is passed to fill the vacuum left by the old hierarchies of power. For some, this reverence for bloodlines manifested itself as severe racial intolerance, a fear that purity was the highest and most holy goal remaining, some going so far as to create deliberate human breeding programs. For others, it meant that all of the remaining power went to the carriers of the blood -- the women (among the Cruskii and the Shnaii, it meant that women were actively repressed for fear of their potential influence, and the female thaumaturgii were forced to go underground as witches. The Fruztii remained egalitarian).
The tiny house of Norbe Nehelifon was of the matriarchal persuasion. Mob, the ancient matriarch, saw it as her holy duty to uphold the principle of Shar Aki -- Pure Womanhood -- and nearly destroyed her house warring against the barbarious Oeridians, who treated their guardians of purity like chattel. Her grandaughter Ena was wiser, and lead the survivors of the family (including such historical figures as Molly and Jaka Norbe) to the promisingly-named Wild Coast.
It was not to be. The Coast was too crowded already with crass bandits and desperados scarcely better than Oeridians, ruling each other by strength and force of arms, ignoring their ancient roots and connection to the subtle arts entirely. The Norbes moved on and settled in a deepwater port across the Wooly Bay, trading with and learning to survive from the matriarchal Flan tribes.
It was from the Flan that the new settlement -- called Il Shar Aki by the Norbes, and Harada (later vulgarized as Hard Bay, then Hardby) by the natives -- was to gain much of its culture. While still governed by the principles of its Suel founders, the daughters of Ilshar Aki found that the rather limited pantheon of Wee Jas, Xerbo and Osprem didn't serve them in their new home half so well as the goddesses of the Flan. A temple to Beory was concecrated in the first farms under instructions from the Flan as they taught the new settlements in agriculture, but the goddess that spoke loudest to the settlers was Ehlonna, the Horned Lady. Associated by the locals with moons, magic, the forest, and armed protection from those who would desecrate her, Ehlonna seemed to be the core of everything the Norbes were striving for. While Ena's name is included on the foundation stone of Ehlonna's first great church, and her body was laid to rest in the family tomb there, it isn't clear that the first Despotrix herself ever worshipped anyone but Wee Jas. Certainly, no invocations to the Horned Lady ever appeared in her tomb. Nevertheless, by the time of Ena Norbe's death, Ehlonna's reverence was
Hardby today isn't the dominatrix paradise it is sometimes made out to be by prejudiced sailors and boastful townsfolk. It's a cosmopolitan port, and the casual visitor won't notice any marked differences from any of the other free ports in the domain of Greyhawk and the Wild Coast. Hardby depends on trade for its wealth, and it will do nothing to discourage visitors. Longtime and frequent residents know, however, that the city's balance of power is firmly in the hands of the women. Temples exist that cater to most of the Flanaess' gods and philosophies, but the biggest are the Jasidan, Ospremi, Beoric, and Istusian cathedrals, towering over the port town's skyline.
The philosophy of "Shar Aki" (still in the name inscribed in the city's record books) today refers less to the purity of fleshy blood (Hardby is now firmly multiethnic) than to the "flow" of the world and women's connection to it. The polis of Hardby believes that only women are fit to rule because only women are capable of truly understanding their place in Her greater scheme. This philosophy has also carried over to combat, and female knights are more common than male. Don't mistake this for some drippy New Age mantra; the female powers are old and fierce, and the Oerth's blood runs thick with hate as much as love. The original idea of the sacred bloodline still has currency among magical residents, though no racial stigma is attatched. Magical potential is searched for without regard to racial origin, as the existence of the half-gnomish illusionist Guma Norbe confirms.