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Some say that the Tail People of the Forest of the Lurking are the remnant of an exotic slave population left over from Lloroi times. It is true that the Lloroi knew how to make strange hybrids, such as the pegasii and hippogriffs, but others say that the tribe was entirely unknown before the invasion of "the abominations of the land and the horrors of the air." Thus there is considerable doubt about the origin of the race, but few naturalists believe that it represents a species cre- ated by the gods.
Like the Ercii, the Tail People are handsome, but tall and robust, not fay and lithe. Their single anomaly is the horse-like tail they possess, a tail which gives every evidence of having magical qualities.
Some argue that the Tail People are fairies, possibly an offshoot of the Goligo Favre. To be sure, many legends describe fairies with unsightly appendages. The Klaubauf has horns, for instance, and the Rarash appears as a small boy with claws. But Tail People are mortal -- eating, sleeping, working, and travel - ing as humans do. Nor does it make sense to talk about fairies since no one has ever proven their existence.
Nonetheless, there is more than a little which is peculiar about the Tail People. If their long tails are bobbed, they grow back to full length in just a few days, bespeaking magic. But this characteristic permits a minor industry to flourish. Tail hair, softer than that of true horses, can be woven into durable rugs and other textiles for sale to traders. The supply of this hair is rapidly replenished as if by magic and legend says that sleeping under a Tail Person blanket makes for good luck. Alas, the regrowth of a tail taxes the vigor of its owner for the whole period of its restoration. For this reason the Tail People condescend to bob themselves only occasionally.
The Tail People are not known for their martial deeds, not because are weak or cowardly, but due to their small numbers. To incite the ire of more powerful neighbors might drive them into extinction. But Tail People are frequently engaged by northern travelers and soldiers to guide them through the forests and marshes of the region. Nonetheless, they are carefully watched when they come into towns and villages. This suspicion does not result from a reputation of hostility or dishonesty, but from their tendency to engage in casual affairs with humans, or, if available, Elves. "Lock up your daughters, the Tail People are coming," is a common saying in the Northwest.
This lusty behavior may betoken more than mere promiscuity. Moriz, a trader who knew the tribe well, published a book about his trading days, Trail-Hauling Days. He says that the Tail People freely admit that they are troubled by the smallness of their population and would increase it. Thus it is a duty for its youth to spread the Tail People seed. This duty is not incumbent upon Tail People women, for whom human marriages and love affairs are discouraged.
A half-human, half-Tail People babe is not immediately known for what he is just by appearance. The characteristic tail does not become manifest until after the passage of puberty. This is, strangely enough, true of pure-blooded babes also. A Tail person acquires his tail in a sprint of very fast growth which comes in late adolescence. A half-breed child has approximately half a chance to become a true Tail Person; the others are ordinary humans for all we can tell and their chil -
dren will not be passed the Tail person curse. Or is it a blessing? The Tail People tend to be long-lived and they show little sign of aging until the last few years of their lives, when they start to waste away very rapidly and then die swiftly.
Young people, due to Tail People promiscuity, oftentimes do not know their lin- eage. Most are raised by human mothers and the sudden appearance of a horse-like tail is generally a cause for dismay. Some suicides result, but many of these inconsolable and ostracized young people eventually go to live with the Tail People, sometimes to be welcomed into the Tail parent's family, should his mother's seducer be known.
The origin of the Tail People, as we have already said, is obscure. They were well-established in their present-day habitat in very small numbers by the end of the era of the abominations, circa 1000 A.C. Their language is clearly a dialect of old Vidarnan. The Cult of Huisinga is popular amongst them and leg- end has it that their earliest ancestors were visited by the founding saints of the sect, Tanaro and Sankari.
The Tail People are content to live with their own kind in their own unique com- munities, though individual adventurers and itinerant craftsmen are not unknown over most of civilized Minaria. The Tail People's survival is owed to the remoteness of their home and to the protection of the Eaters of Wisdom, their neighbors across the Well of Lered. Legend says that the early Tail People befriended Gowannuraw, the founder of the Invisible School of Thaumaturgy, and the Eaters ever since then have extended them their patronage.
The Tail People tell different stories as to their origin. The most popular one maintains that a beautiful man and woman with horse-like tails came to the land of the Vidarna when the gynarchy still thrived there. The male was the servant and lover to the woman, who was a sorceress of great power. One band of Vidarnan she-warriors found the man and woman making their way and unwise- ly warned them away, and may even have showed mockery or disgust at the trespassers' tails. In peevishness, the sorceress cast a spell over the hand- some warrior-women, giving them all tails and also subjecting them to her com- mands. They served the woman as bodyguards until the male led them in escape into the Forest of the Lurking, where their descendants still dwell.
It rings true that the Tail Peoples' progenitors were shield-maids, since their women have always held high status. One of these adventurous maidens became famous as the scout and guide par excellence, Eloia.
The most commonly accepted story runs this way: Rebek, a wandering hunter, saw a human woman fleeing from the river bank. He deigned not to follow the wayfarer to ask about her source of distress, for that might lead to misunder- standing. But he did wonder what along the bank had frightened her. He descended to the stream and saw a child struggling in the water. He sprang into the current and drew the babe out. As he did so, the infant grabbed on his bow and held fast, as a child much older would do, but not an infant. The hunter per- ceived this to be a sign that this was a special baby, and so he wrapped it in his cloak and took it back to his wife. They named the girl Eloia, "River Maid," and raised the girl themselves when weeks of inquiry failed to find its parents. After that Eloia's young life was like any other Tail person's, since Tail People children all resemble humans.
Eloia was not told about her true parentage and so expected to develop a tail of her own as she neared the age of twenty -- an event considered much more important than is a human lad's first beard growth. Rebek realized that he must soon tell the foundling the truth, but feared that Eloia would consider herself an outcast and leave the forest to start life anew with her own people.
Before he found the courage to tell Eloia the truth, he was met by her on his return from a long hunt. She now possessed a flowing blond tail rippling thick - ly behind her in the wind.
All her life Eloia had been fascinated by woods-lore and tried to learn all she could from her forest-wise father. She also sought out other accomplished hunters and trackers as tutors. Her exploratory forays in the wild carried her far
Once, at river crossing into Ercii territory, the inhabitants disputed the right of any Tail person to cross. She challenged any comer for the right of passage and the Ercii put forward a woman-warrior named Enea. It was a hard fight, for the Ercii were a robust outdoor-savvy people, much like the Tail People themselves, though, generally, were more lightly muscled. Eloia finally won the match and gained the good will of the Ercii; from that day her tribe has enjoyed the privi - lege to cross into the land of the half-Elves.
Not long after this incident, war came to the Forest of the Lurking as a merce- nary band made to join the forces of Immer and Elfland then laying siege to the Invisible School. Always friendly to the Eaters, Eloia sought to join the Immerites in order to spy on them. Thus she presented herself as a scout -- but woe to one who attempt unnecessary deception. The invaders were mostly loutish mercenary hirelings and these, instead of sending her to the list master, locked her in chains and told her that she would be turned over to their officers for sport.
Eloia wanted to avoid this fate, and also to discourage outsiders from making free with other Tail women. So it was that with the aid of a camp trull who was only too glad to help a beautiful rival leave, Eloia gained possession of a rotten chicken and hid its parts under her garments. Every officer who approached her was repelled by the stench, which she explained was Tail-person mating musk that only the women have. That was the reason, she lied, that tribeswomen won few human lovers. The mercenaries wanted nothing more to do with her and Eloia was subsequently put to work as a laundress amongst the camp followers, but was no longer closely watched. She darted into the woods at first opportunity and, back in her own element, no village-bred mercenary bumpkin could ever have caught her.
Still determined to help the Eaters, Eloia sought out a column of their allies, the Hothiorans. She offered herself as a scout to guide them to the Invisible School and was accepted, the friendship of the Eaters and the Horse People being well-known.
When the column reached the Well of Lered, opposite the Invisible School, they saw that its magical defenses were down and it lay under close siege. So Eloia crossed the lake by canoe and stole into the School, there to meet the Grand Master of the order. To the wizards she explained her strategy.
The Sorcerer's Ship shortly appeared on the lake and glided to the Hothioran camp, concealed by the heavy mists for which the lake is famous. The magic ship could hold a thousand men safely and it made several trips in one night. By dawn the Eaters had troops enough for a sortie against the besiegers. Their Reflector worked great slaughter upon the enemy soldiery and even slew the Immerite's general. The invaders were glad to get even a remnant of their force away alive.
This battle, Benna Broc, created Eloia's fame and her continuing good per- formance in peace and war thereafter made her the most sought-after scout of the Northwest -- a status that she is likely to enjoy as long as physical vigor and a zest for adventure stirs within her breast.
In the early Vidarnan kingdom of Immer, kingly authority was very weak prac - tice, though powerful in theory. The greatest power was local power and this was wielded by dukes whose domination of their subjects was all but absolute. Many lesser nobles envied holding this kind of power and cast greedy eye on the northern lands occupied by primitive barbarians.
At this point in time such ambition combined well with the kingdom's need for territorial expansion. The north was held by tribesmen collectively called the Conodras, who were less warlike than the Vidarnas themselves. A license was created which allowed any well-born nobleman awarded it to carve out a fief- dom of his own from barbarian territory, so long as he provided his own soldiers and paid his own military expenses. The private armies thus crated became known as the "thargals."
Many Vidarnans took the call and for the next two hundred years, scores of new Immerite dukedoms were formed at the expense of independent Conodras tribes. The conquerors varied as to bloodthirstiness and temperament. Sometimes the vanquished Conodras were made ducal subjects; sometimes they were expelled, sold off for slaves, or even massacred. But, in the main, the tribes were slowly assimilated, until today an Immerite is likely to have as much Conodran blood as Vidarnan in his veins. Nonetheless, the prevailing culture came to be Vidarnan.
In the early Thirteenth Century, egged on by the Eaters of Wisdom, a king's army moved north. Not only did its presence accelerate the subjugation of the Conodras, it tightened the monarchy's control of the independent dukes.
The dukes, not unexpectedly, resented their sudden loss of status and many of them rose against the royal army. A period of baronial revolt ensued, which cul - minated in the High Prince Etirun's invasion of Immer. The latter came on the excuse that some of the Conodras under attack were tributary to Neuth. Though Etirun espoused support for the thargals, he could not do so convinc - ingly. It was too obvious that the Elves loathed all things human. The war became a confused affair, with Conodras fighting for both sides, with dukes wanting to reclaim for their traditional rights, but being ashamed to do so if it aided the Elven enemy. Worse, most Immerites away from the frontier rallied behind their king, Pisiris, and engaged both the dukes and the Elves with unparalled fierceness.
The king's enemies ultimately failed to make any common cause and the Elven effort collapsed when a party of Conodras posing as tribesmen friendly to Neuth captured Etirun asleep in his tent. Without the Elven distraction, the dukes, hav - ing lost the hearts and minds of the Vidarnan people, made terms piecemeal, accepting the curtailment of their local power. Some stubborn dukes resisted as long as they had willing men to put into the field, but these were soon over- come. One of the main holdouts was Duke Gorpin, who abandoned his old holdings and took his people to the northern forests and built a new dukedom, only be absorbed into Immer in the next generation. The other resister was Shakkan, Duke of Ninlil.
So determined was the charismatic Shakkan to keep personal power that he persuaded thousands of soldiers and their families to shun the tyranny of Pisiris and follow him to a new land. Their migration was epic, passing though the foothills of what is now called the Disputed Lands until they found a mountain with rich, volcanic soils, and possessing valleys well-suited for livestock. It lay on the edge of Goblin territory, unfortunately, but undaunted the thargal settled in.
Goblin Land was not united in those days, but the local tribes resented the human incursion and attacked in force. The war-wise men of the thargal repelled the assault with great slaughter. Nonetheless, low-intensity warfare smoldered for years and many of the settlers lost loved ones.
Shakkan was politic man as well as a brilliant tactician. He learned from cap- tives as much as he could about the foe. Thus he came to know about the brotherhood of Nergil, Nergil being some sort of Goat God that the Goblins wor- shipped. The Goblin priests insisted that the followers of Nergil should not make war on one another. As these Vidarnans had no deep religious commit- ments, they agreed in counsel to start worshiping goats if it would bring them peace. Thus parleys were arranged and enough Ozerg Mountaineers convert- ed to placate the suspicious Goblins. Territories were defined and the unlikely peace held long enough for both sides to get more or less comfortable with one another.
Though long alpine winters encourage many household crafts, only few Mountaineers work at such things all year around. Most Ozergans are herders and farmers by choice, though the growing and grazing season in the uplands is short. When the Goblins discovered that they liked the cheese and butter pro- duced by the humans, a trade developed for these and other commodities. In time, the Mountaineers became a conduit for goods packed in from Muetar and sold profitably into Zorn. When Shakkan's dynasty ended with the mountain- climbing accident that slew his grandson, the Mountaineers created a democ - racy ruled by an elected council.
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