The Alq’abaj, A Mysterious People of the Far West
Date: Sat, November 04, 2006
Topic: Peoples & Culture
An anecdote as related by Thiven the Elder, scribe to the last Prince and Viceroy of Nyrond.
In the year 338, early in the month of Readying, the Paynim horsemen of the Relentless Horde, led by their Great Khan Ogobanuk made a treaty with the petty bandit lords who rule the inhospitable plains to the north of the Nyr Dyv. Combining their forces they crossed the Artonsamay below the bandit-town of Stoink and swept southwest in hopes of catching Radigast City unawares. Only a quickly mounted attack on the invader’s column by the Count’s guard held them off long enough to see all the city’s gates closed and a siege begun. Within the week Zagia of the House of Rax-Nyrond – Prince and Viceroy of Nyrond, and cousin to our beloved Overking, long may Pelor shine upon his reign (1)--had gathered a large number of the knights and squires of that realm, followed by a larger force of mercenaries and levy footmen, to relieve the besieged city. Gathering men of Urnst as he went he arrived to find the besiegers camp in a poor state. They had raised no earthworks and only the Oeridian bandit lords had bothered to picket their camps.
No matter their prodigious skill on horseback the Baklunish have no stomach for siege warfare nor regard for the civilized ways of warfare, having failed to send heralds to the city to offer terms of surrender. Despite the barbarians’ lack of defensive measures, little good did it do us as they had received warning of our arrival, doubtless from one of the numerous bands of raiders our host interrupted in committing acts of rapine throughout the countryside upon whatever poor Urnsti peasants they could find.
At the time I was a lowly scribe in the retinue of the Prince Zagia and was witness to all that occurred, though it was from the vantage point of the baggage train. The initial meeting of our hosts on the plain below the city was sudden and brutal. From the hilltop where our pages and followers had begun setting up camp was my first view of real combat. My only previous experience with warfare having been watching the competitions in the lists, which though they may sometimes be bloody are not to be compared to the shadow of what I saw that day.
Our vanguard, led by Olzur DePhiven, Baron of Trigol (2), a most valiant and skilled knight, drove deep into the camp of the Great Khan, coming with in sight of the very tent of that barbarian overlord before being repulsed. In the end the superior numbers of the enemy told the tale and the Nyrondal and Urnsti cavalry were forced to withdraw to the camp where our few archers, made up mainly of stout Urnsti yeoman who had been gathered along the way, kept the nomads at bay. With the coming of dusk the enemy retreated to their camps and our sappers were left in relative peace to set up proper defenses. They tested our perimeters constantly over the next few days, harassing our pickets with flights of arrows from their powerful bows of horn and wood. Whatever advantage they hoped to gain by their numbers was dashed on the third day as the main host of our infantry, which had been following behind, arrived. It was at that point that the Great Khan sent an envoy to negotiate their withdrawal and an end to the siege. I was fortunate to be assigned to the party sent to his camp to negotiate the terms.
As a young man, little experienced at the time in the wonders of the wider world, I was taken by the barbaric splendor of the heathen monarch and his court and spent as much time making notes of my observations as in my official duties of transcribing the proceedings. Many strange and unusual things did I see, but the memory that has lodged foremost in my brain was of the entertainment arranged for our pleasure during the feast that opened the negotiations. It was a dance performed by a number of the concubines of the Great Khan's prolific harem. Each dancer was stunningly beautiful, drawn as they were from the northlands of the Flanaess as well as unknown lands of the West. Dusky maidens of the Flan tribes of Blackmoor, bronze-skinned beauties from the Barrens and Tenh, fair-refined flowers from the courts of Ekbir, and Zeif. Even a daughter of the Suel barbarians of Thillonria with skin like snow and curly hair the color of ivory. Then there were the women of the far west whose homelands even the knowledgeable amongst us had only heard of as legend and rumor. By far the most exotic though, and the focus of the dance was a maiden who appeared to not be of the race of men. At first, by her ebon-skin and Olve-like features I took her to be one of the fabled Drow, but those assumptions were put aside by a member of my profession on the opposing side whom I had struck up a conversation with. When asked about the girl's origins he replied --
“She is one of the Alq’abaj people who live in a land far to the west of the Khan of Khan's land of birth, beyond the Gulf of Bakhoury. It is said to be a paradise, surrounded on three sides by steep mountains, and on it’s fourth side guarded by a river of molten rock flowing eternally from three great volcanic peaks. Salamanders dwell in that river and kill any who try to cross into the land without the word of its King. He himself is said to be a powerful sorcerer descended from men who were enslaved by the elemental race of efreet back in ages of the past. Over time the slaves bred with their efreet lords and their blood became mixed until you see the fruit of that vine standing before you this very day (3). The men of the Alq’abaj are strong, stout and fierce of visage, skilled in warfare and arcane magic. But the women of that race are possessed of a hypnotic beauty seen nowhere else upon the Oerth.”
I myself felt beguiled and befuddled at the sight of her. Her skin was black as coal but seemed almost lit from within as if by the glow of some inner fire. Her long tresses were all the shades of naked flame and seemed to dance and move with a will of their own. Her limbs were slender and graceful and her movements relayed delicacy and power at the same time. Her face was an ebon mask within which her eyes glowed like the fires of Sol upon which men may not look directly but be blinded. As her whirling dance took her near me I would swear the scent of smoke came to my nostrils and I could feel the glow of some inner fire radiating from her skin.
So stricken must my look have been it drew the attention of the Great Khan himself. A man of advanced years, who though he was surrounded by the splendor of rich plunder from many lands drank the heady (and foul-tasting) drink(4) of his people from a simple wooden bowl(5). He pointed at me and laughingly shouted something in his barbaric tongue.
My Paynim counterpart translated as his lord’s chieftains joined in mocking me--
“The Khan of Khans says ‘So is the moth drawn to its destruction in the campfires of the night.’”
“What does the Khan of Khans mean?” I replied.
“Beautiful the women of the Alq’abaj may be but their hearts pump the fiery blood of the their efreet ancestors through their veins and that blood is tainted with treachery and malevolence. They are all said to be possessed of unnatural powers of witchery that make mortal men go mad. Only the Khan of Khans, blessed of Al’Akbar, of the blood of the Wolf of Heaven(6) and reciter of the Great Yassa (7) can resist being befuddled in his enjoyment of her wiles.”
And then the dance was over and I never saw her like again. Whether this was all just the exaggeration of primitive imaginations or the truth or even just the wanderings of an old man's mind I cannot say, but the memory of that exotic creature haunts me to this day, warming the bones of this old man as no fire in the hearth can. Long have been my years and I have served my lords well and with dignity. I have loved--though never with the fire I felt toward the Alq’abaj dancer-- and buried two wives who bore me sons and daughters. My life has been as full of happiness as with sorrow, yet part of me wishes I could have been like that moth the Great Khan spoke of, burning out in the flame which draws him to destruction.
(1) The author was a loyalist of the Overking and Prince Zagia, who opposed the rebels led by Medven, afterward Medven I, King of Nyrond. The Prince was forced into exile in Rauxes after Nyrond declared its independence. In his retirement the author served in the household of Zagia and his heir. The Overking he speaks of in his narrative is not the holder of that office at the time of the events described but rather his son, Portillan, known to history as Portillan the Weak as well as a number of other well-deserved epithets.
(2) DePhiven declared himself for Medven during the rebellion and was granted (At the urging of King Medven) the title of Archbaron of Auberfranz by the Count of Urnst.
(3) For game purposes treat the Alq’abaj as Fire Genasi as described in Monsters of Faerun and the Forgotten Realms Campaign Setting.
(4) The drink described is doubtless an alcoholic beverage made of fermented mare’s milk that is peculiar to the Paynim nomads and their descendants.
Kumis is a traditional drink made from fermented mare’s milk that is native to the peoples of the Central Asian steppes. Mares milk is preferred because it contains more sugar than cow’s milk and thus produces a higher alcohol content. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kumiss
(5) “While sumptuous food had been prepared--served on silver plates--for the other barbarians and for us; for Attila there was nothing but meat on a wooden trencher. He (Attila) showed himself temperate in all other ways too, for gold and silver goblets were offered to the men at the feast, but his mug was of wood.”--The embassy of Theodosius II to the court of Attila in 449 AD, as described by Priscus of Panium. http://ccat.sas.upenn.edu/jod/texts/priscus.html
(6) The Tarkhans of the Wegwuir to this day are the descendants of Ogobanuk and claim the title “Commander of the Relentless Horde.” The Kha-Khan was of the Wolf tribe, who are said to be descent from a Heavenly Wolf in legends that they claim go back before the time of their people’s absorption by the Baklunish Empire.
In the mythology of the Mongols that people were descended from a male wolf and a doe. In the American Museum of Natural History in Manhattan a very cool (and kind of cheesy) display in the Halls of Asian Peoples shows the family tree of Genghis Khan with little doe and wolf figurines pasted to the board to illustrate the Great Khan’s most ancient ancestors. http://www.coldsiberia.org/ancestry.htm
(7) LGG p. 134 “The first ruling tarkhan (of the Wolf Nomads) chose for his camp a hill near the source of the Blackwater River... Eventually, the site became the city of Eru Tovar, with walls and buildings of brick, as well as wood. A copy of the Great Yasa of Ogobanuk was housed there, to be perused only by the tarkhan and his heirs, though it was rumored that the ilkhan of the Chakyik possessed a copy as well.”
The Yasa of Ogobanuk seems to be closely based on the Yasa (Decree) of Genghis Khan, the written form of which was also only to be seen by the Khan or his advisors. “The Yasa of Chingis Khan. A code of honor, dignity and excellence.” http://www.coldsiberia.org/webdoc9.htm