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The freebooters clapped him in irons immediately and dragged him to their boats. But Kizzu had made friends with the Selkies of the island and some of them observed the unfriendly rescue. These summoned others nearby and made an attack on the boats, overturning them and casting all the pirates into the water. But they were not able to rescue Kizzu before the castaways reached the sand. Suddenly a large seal climbed onto an off-shore rock and the pirates saw it change like soft wax being molded into a frightening human-seal "centaur," the sight of which filled them with dread. "The man Kizzu shall not go with you unless it pleases him," the Selkie informed them. Captain Windward put a knife to the Mivioran's throat and said, "He'll be willing to leave with us once he understands the alternative."
The Tribes of the South -The Nonhumans
For centuries most Minarians did not believe in Selkies, considering them a part of sea lore. Most sailors claimed to believe in them, but few seemed to hold this belief with great conviction. The reality of the Selkies as a tribe of nonhumans broke upon the world in the Twelfth Century when a mighty tribe of the creatures took possession of the islands off northwestern Girion, which ever since has been called the Silkien Coast. By this act they immediately put themselves in a position to control trade between Minaria and the South. Although met with suspicion by the maritime powers, the newcomers did not use their new power in a predatory fashion, probably because they were not interested the goods that money could buy. Nonetheless, they did insist that any who coasted near their isles must show respect and good will to their inhabitants. Early on there were some ugly incidents, as when Afgaaran sailors harpooned passing Selkies to show off at home, but harsh reprisals soon forced erring seamen to be more courteous. The story of the Selkies is mainly part of the history of Girion; in Minaria Rombune had much dealing with the beings. As early as the reign of Janup Goodcargo, in the latter Twelfth Century, the Rombunese made treaties with the Selkie monarch, who called himself "the Great Brom." Over the years the pres ence of the Selkies in the intervening waters reduced the chance of war between Rombune and Afgaar, since lords of the Silkien Coast did not want angry battles waged within their sphere of influence. Rombune has made efforts to be congenial with the nonhumans in order to facilitate its Southern trade. Afgaar is even more determined to make concord with the Great Brom a priority, for the Selkies could easily cut off her sea links to the outside world. But for the most part, the Selkies were not of immediate concern to Minarians. In the early 1300's frequent sightings of the species began to occur in the vicinity of the Isle of Fright, that strange focus of dangerous spiral currents. As pirates had up until then most frequently cruised the waters, early reports tended to be ignored on the grounds that the buccaneers were trying to scare others away from the island beaches, rich in flotsam and jetsam from wrecked shipping. But other and more credible witnesses made similar reports as the decades advanced, until most people were convinced that the beings, already wellknown in the South, had spread to Minarian waters also. Yet nearly all contacts consisted of distant sightings; the Selkies avoided direct contact with mariners. The Isle of Fright, already considered dangerous waters, was given a wider berth than ever and even the pirates supposedly stopped calling there for their drunken treasure hunts. Then a message in a bottle came to a Mivioran beach, giving word that a noble countryman named Kizzu was stranded on the island and awaiting rescue. The news reached the pirates before it got to his kin and a crew of would-be ransomers under Captain Windward made landing on the island in small boats, since larger vessels dared not come in due to the strong, shifting currents and
Seeing that further negotiation was useless, the Selkie said, "You will not be allowed to leave the island unless our guest is freed. You will not leave at all if he is harmed!" With that the Selkie leaped into the sea and vanished. The pirates were alarmed but Windward was a steady old salt. "Don't be sceered, ye swabs! T'ain't no devil! They got thousands of the kind down Girion way. They're as mortal as you are and they can be killed jes' as easily." But there was little to eat on the island and most of the crew wanted to trade the hostage for the return of their boats, which they could see being salvaged by the Selkies intact. "Nay, lads," Windward said. "If we give up this here grandee, we have no bargaining chip left and they might leave us here to rot. We have to insist that we've got to regain the ship before we let him go. Also, if they like the landlubber so much, they'd might as well fork over some treasure for him. Plenty of the stuff washes ashore in these parts, I hear tell!" The sailors agreed this was a reasonable caution and so consented to Windward's holding the prisoner until the Selkies came back to parley again and made better terms. They thereafter made lean-tos a good distance up from the beach, then settled in for the night with half the crew on watch. Windward's mistake was supposing that the Selkies would dicker like humans. That night there was a rush from the darkness by strong, muscular, two-legged men armed with forked tridents and bucklers. The fight was wild and bloody, the casualties high. The pirates held their own until they saw additional attackers - ghastly half-seals lurching along toward them with torches and tridents. Terrified by these monsters, the pirate broke. Kizzu was left behind unharmed, since the captain feared that they would lose the last chance for mercy if he were killed. Kizzu remained on the island for several more weeks, until an honest rescue mission arrived. The surviving pirates were rounded up after the fight and put on their boats. Not many months later, the Selkies cast off their secret ways, declaring their presence by means of messages sent to the governors of port towns. Their proclamations claimed the Isle of Fright, warning that all who approached it without permission did so at their own risk. Furthermore, the Selkies said that in the future all castaways would automatically be under the protection of the Selkie tribe and they would only negotiate with ships that moored peacefully in the proper place and with the proper markings. In the following years this system worked quite well for the rescue of captives, the Selkies charging a reasonable fee for shelter, protection, and feeding. When a castaway lingered on the island too long, perhaps because he had no one who cared to fetch him, the Selkies would help him build a small boat and escort him at least part way to the mainland. As this story suggests, the Selkies are a secretive, aloof race, but neither here nor in Girion have behaved with great hostility or aggressiveness. As Captain Windward discovered, they have three forms. Is their shape-shifting capability governed by the laws of Nature or of magic? No one knows for sure, and the Selkies have not told. The beings are able to change shape with fair rapidity, but how often they are able do this without exhausting themselves remains an open question. Are these strange newcomers seals or men? Are they neither?
One story Perdix of Afgaar has reputedly visited and learned much from the Selkie of the Silkien Coast. According to partial translations of his study, some Selkies are malcontents who do not wish to live under a monarch's sway and these swim away individually or in small groups to find free-living Selkies elsewhere. It may be that the colony on the Island of Fright is composed of Selkies who have come to live the more simple life of their ancestors. Selkies have been spoken of in folklore long before they appeared openly in Minaria. Folklorists say that their natural form is manlike and that they live in an underwater world or on lonely skerries. They supposedly have magical sealskins that give them the appearance of seals and enable them to pass though the waters from one subsurface region of air to another. Some say they are a tribe of Faery. But no one has proven the existence of fairies to natural scholars, and until someone does we may not assume that spiritual creatures are real. What information we do possess suggests that Selkies have always lived in the natural world, not in fairy regions too subtle to be touched or seen. Others say that the beings were one a race of ordinary men, cursed to live in the sea for some great sin of their ancestors. Some claim that they once dwelled on an island that began to sink and accepted a great magic to be placed on their race that made their survival possible. Still others claim that their apparent shape-shifting is only a glamour and their natural appearance is neither seal-like or man-like. Whatever the truth, by all accounts the Selkies are sturdy and handsome people when in human shape. Sailors often imagine they see lovely women on rocks in the open sea and tell stories of being rescued both by seals or by swimming people. The Selkie males are more amorous than the women, often disguising themselves as common men ashore and seducing girls. But these seducers never seem to stay with their lovers for long. They can breed with humans, but those offspring born of human women have webbed hands and toes -- an odd feature, since their fathers do not show webbing in human shape. Some say that should the webs be clipped away their cut edges flow with a horny excrescence that makes the half-Selkie's hands ugly and gets in the way of delicate finger work. It is not thought that half-blood Selkies are ever able to join their sires in the sea. That may be one reason that she-Selkies tend to avoid love affairs with human males. In the 1360's the mostly-silent Selkies sent an interesting offer to their neighbors by way of human intermediaries or by Selkies posing as true humans. The news said that the island people had organized a war band for hire and that their governing council would listen to reasonable offers for its employment. For the most part, the Minarian monarchs shared their subjects' suspicion of new breeds of non-humans, but a year later the Rombunese engaged the Selkie war band during its war with Shucassam and they served very effectively, both at sea and on land. The terror they invoked among superstitious enemy sailors proved to be an added bonus. The Selkie war band has been observed to march up to fifty miles inland to engage enemy soldiers, but seem unwilling to go farther from the sea than that. Minarians are still eager to learn more about these strange nonhumans, but the day may soon come when they shall evoke no more wonder to a landsman than does a Troll or sea serpent.
And tickle my wives lovingly Until I need swim up for air -There to enjoy the starshine bright And moon-glow haloes in the height. The swells would make a splashy sound As mermaids knifed up through the waves And in a circle gather 'round To guide me to their bower caves. There'd be music, gay and light, Until sunrise dispelled the night! Would then the beast from 'neath the sea Stir his mane in the murky deep And clash his jaws to challenge me To take the fame I'd rather keep? Is this what the Selkie does by day, To win night's right to sing and play?
Where the Selkies tend to be secretive, the Ghouls are almost unknowable. Yet they seem to parallel the Selkies in several ways. We have heard tell for centuries of an underground kingdom in Southern Girion -- a poisonous desert called "the Yying-Go" and, incredible as it may seem, the Ghouls rule there under a king who holds court in chambers deep under the earth. Like the Selkies, they have existed in Minarian folklore since long before they have been proven to exist in reality. Thirdly, the Ghouls have emerged out of the shadows of their own free will and opened communications with foreigners, desirous of being accepted on the same basis as other tribes. But where the Selkies may easily impersonate humans and assimilate human ways, the Ghouls are frightening creatures whose habits -- particularly their culinary ones -- must cause their race to be shunned no matter how long they remain amongst us. One other great difference from the Selkies is that while many humans reportedly have tried Selkie lovers, this is never said of the hideous Ghouls. Are the Ghouls mortal or are they fairy? Like the Selkies, all evidence points to mortality. When did they come to Minaria? Rumor has held for centuries that strange demons haunted the Tomb of Olde, attacking travelers and devouring the dead. Strange stories were also told by members of Hulon's expedition to the Tomb in the late Thirteenth Century that suggest the presence of Ghouls. Yet the Shucassamite expedition returned without making official claims that any new race had been discovered. The Black Hand, the dreaded necromancer of the Northeast, has surely trafficked with Ghouls. Goblin legend describes such creatures in the famous story of the punishment of Gronek, which occurred in 1248 -- yet in that case the desert of Yying-Go is specifically mentioned. Some say that the Lloroi created the Ghouls to protect their revered dead, but only recent stories advance this theory. Moreover, the carrion-eating habits of the Ghouls are well attested to, and they would therefore be an unlikely choice for guards of royal corpses. Is there a link between Minaria's Ghouls and the Yying-Go, as there probably is between the Selkies of the Silkien Coast in Girion and those of the Isle of Fright? This scholar has insufficiently sampled the vast literature available in Girion, being untutored in its strange tongues and alphabets. But we are given to understand that the Yying-Go was not a poison desert some thousand years ago. Instead it was the fertile home of a mighty race of black warriors who held cruel sway over a wide empire and made war determined war against the Scarlet Witch King, the same vile entity which the Lloroi wrongly believed they had destroyed before the Cataclysm. Unable to prevail against these warlike people, who were called the Bel-beni, the Dark Lord placed a curse upon their land, destroying all in less than a day. Only in the years which followed this atrocity did the Ghouls become known in Girion. Some say that the beings were of fairy, perhaps a species of Ta-Botann. If so,
I Wonder How the Selkie Bides
I wonder how the Selkie bides. Does he fish and swim the livelong day? Or drive whales from his coral tower? Does he by dusk with mermaids play, Whiling 'way each wingèd hour With fair sea-maids 'mid the rocks And kissing those with flowing locks? I'd have a harem 'neath the sea If I were Selkie, strong and fair,
the Witch King's spell has made them coarse, deformed creatures who have been cast out of Faery, or have lost the magical ability to remain there. But these are only stories and Faery probably do not exist. While Minaria has many tales of evil corpse-eating creatures who prowl by night, convincing stories of the Ghouls prowling the Tomb of Olde only date back to the Twelfth Century. What is known is that in the year 1362 a party of treasure seekers returned to Rombune terrified. They claimed that they never had a chance to seek for treasure, that the Tomb of Olde teemed with dark, vulture-beaked monsters who captured them. These beings had given them the freedom of the ruin, but would not let them leave, telling them in the language of the Southern traders that soon their elders would have a message for them to take back to the world of men. While confined, the prisoners preferred to eat their own rations, since the provender provided by the Ghouls consisted of a few types of fungus which their hosts seemed to consider a delicacy, water of careless quality, and fresh meat which they were to cook themselves. The Ghouls seemed ignorant of human tastes and brought them any random creature which they could catch without great effort. They bred a kind of desert rat like men bred rabbits. They also caught scorpions, snakes, and lizards and presented these fresh to their guests. The captives eventually sampled all except the scorpions. While they dwelled amongst the Ghouls, the creatures -- or rather, beings -- paid them little heed, except to take care that they did not attempt to slip away before they were formally dismissed. The Ghouls were observed to be gaunt beings and, indeed, there seemed to be hunger in the necropolis which might account for this thinness. The prospect of famine added to the captives' fear that they were being kept for eventual slaughter. Whatever large game the Ghouls captured was killed and allowed to age in locked rooms, until it achieved an overwhelming odor, at which time it was carefully parcelled out to the necropolis' nonhuman inhabitants. The Ghoul torso is long, as are their lank, ape-like arms. Their legs are short and bowed, but they scuttle along swiftly enough when they need to. In fact, the Ghouls seem perfectly at ease moving on knuckles as an ape will do. Their bodies are covered with a kind of feather that, at a distance, looks like shaggy hair. Their heads are bare like a vulture's, and their beaks resemble a vulture's also. No other Minarian nonhuman rivaled them for sheer ugliness, not even the reptile-like leviathan races. And their carrion-loving habits make their smell offensive in the extreme. Their prisoners only wondered that it was not even more offensive. Yet all the while the treasure-seekers suffered imprisonment, no overt acts of cruelty or bestial ferocity was performed upon them, despite their continual fear that they would be rended into pieces at any moment. After two weeks the chiefs of this strange tribe summoned their guests before the few of them who could speak a language that they could understand. These told them to write, in the language of their own country, a letter to their king, who was Redgrave of Rombune. The dictated letter said, "We are the tribe of the Qutrubs. We have lived in the necropolis for many years but have taken care to keep our presence secret. But we are a large tribe now and cannot hide so many without great effort. We like this land and fain would stay, but our numbers have grown large and famine comes often. The warriors feel shame when the shes and little ones endure privation. We wish to buy food from any of the lands who do commerce with us. Our needs are simple. Cattle, camels, donkeys, and horses, and most other large beasts will please us well. All who come in peace shall be treated well. Our ancestors came from a great nation and we are civilized people. "Moreover, we have the means to pay for what we trade for. But we would also hope to earn more by means of friendly associations. Our hes are great warriors and our youths shall be pleased to see more of the vast land than the deserts around us. Come purchase our sharp sword for the currency of the land and no foe of thine shall mock the meddle of the Qutrub tribe." This message became the talk of Minaria for some while; people had already grown tired of the Selkies' appearance. Merchants heard the message with special interest, suspecting that the Ghouls, or Qutrubs as they called themselves, could indeed pay well for livestock, having had centuries to comb the
passages of their necropolis for tomb-treasure. Cautiously and fearfully at first, drovers brought herd animals to the Tombs of Olde and collected high prices for each head sold. This encouraged others to come with even greater confidence, so many in fact that the second comers bid down the first and the Ghouls ceased to be taken advantage of so outrageously. The Ghouls' offer of military service was accepted only with reluctance, for few soldiers desired to serve beside Ghouls, but Hothior at last engaged them when it was sorely beset in war and needed a military distraction on the South Plains. As promised they did well, moving surreptitiously by night and so unmanning their opponents by their sight and smell that hardly any fighting was needed when they attacked. So it was that shortly after the appearance of the Selkies, the Ghouls, too, joined the rouster of notable Minarian tribes. Other strange tribes might possibly appear in times to come, but can any of them possibly be so strange as the Ghouls of the Tomb of Olde?
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