Flora of Ratha, Volume I (book)
The Flora of Ratha Volume I
My thanks to all of my thousands of students, correspondents and wellwishers who refused to allow me the rest so dearly needed and well-deserved after a full but hectic academic life. Under their intense prodding I left wife, children and grandchildren, sacred hearth, personal shrine and orchard, all to go chasing in a very unhealthy, humid clime after bits of vegetation that were variously shy, sharp, noxious, poisonous, or deadly.
You owe me.
"Be like the aganylosh'a, and face both ways, that the wind may never blow you over a cliff."
-old Ratha S'Kra Mur saying
This slender tree has a yellow bark and broad, trifoliate leaves of silvery green. It acquired its nickname, "Tree of Peace," because heralds took the aganylosh'a as their official symbol for all matters of factional arrangement from major battles to minor tournaments, chivalric judgements to truces. Indeed, it is a fitting symbol, for the pliant aganylosh'a has been noted to bend in violent storms where other stronger, stiffer trunks simply break.
The first recorded use of the aganylosh'a was more than 2800 years ago in a ritualized border war involving two S'Kra Mur families with conflicting territorial claims. As the participants were required to wear only traditional battle grey, it was thought that heralds (who remain to this day true to their red and blue tabards) might be mistaken for combatants, and killed. Instead, the then-King of Heralds, Tashchei II, caused an aganylosh'a sapling to be uprooted, and carried it before him as a staff. Its purpose was unmistakable, and he was granted full honors.
Since then the tree has come to be recognized throughout known Elanthia as a sacred symbol of Tamsine; nor has Tamsine disdained the offering of such worship. (Indeed, when Tashchei laid that first aganylosh'a sapling on her altar, it is said to have suddenly developed a full canopy of leaves before bursting into flames-- or so at least the Somloi relate, whose quiet villages surround the altar in a countryside that seems a timeless carpet of patchquilt farms and rolling, woodland dells. What is more, the Somloi tell this to their children; and they never lie to their own, only outsiders, as any Somloi will tell you.)
For Tamsine protects civilization, and it is the heralds that maintain civilized behavior between nations, whether in times of battle or peace. Their word of blessing can make a knight of a man or woman; their word of condemnation can cause the most powerful of lords and ladies to be despised and destroyed. So it proved with Assti Madetoja, Aesry Baron Suorvato, who deliberately expressed his displeasure on the field of valor by hacking a live aganylosh'a grove to pieces. The heralds jointly cursed him, and all of Suorvato's allies deserted his cause. The Baron withdrew to his hereditary lands; but before a force formed of many nations could convene and attack, his son slew Assti. Moltes Madetoja was praised for this action by all, and acknowledged in rulership over the barony which his late father's actions had rendered forfeit. The heralds then unanimously granted him the surname of Heraldfriend-- a distinction that his subsequent career proved well-merited.
Its wood is grey, its leaves broad and spadelike, with a shade of deep green that (in the words of the poet Willesc) "lights upon a carpet of grass only when lovers awaken in the soft stillness of dusk and each other's arms to view it." Is it any wonder that the khor'vela has been called The Mercy of Albreda; and a bed of leaves and branches taken from the tree (as the Gor'Tog males of Surlaenis do, in marriage/love gift to their brides) is termed Albreda's Bower?
A few notes about the khor'vela, as drawn from other literary and spoken sources:
In many Halfling communities, to hang a sprig of the khor'vela over a house is to signal an approaching birth.
Among the Gor'Togs of Ratha, couples exchange a dried khor'vela leaf at their marriage ceremony. If either participant sends the leaf back to its owner, it signifies that the marriage is finished.
The great, anonymous epic of Marali'Tu comes to an abrupt and (to many people) unsatisfactory conclusion when King Uly'ta, on his 15-year long voyage home to his wife after the War of Wheeled Death, visits the lair of Serti, a notorious sorceress. She turns his sailors into peccaries and caracals, but drops all thoughts of vengeance when Uly'ta removes a twig of khor'vela from his breast and presents it to her. They settle down to a quiet life of magic, mutual affection and the herding of caracals, which is where the story curiously ends.
I quote here from Dream Legends of the Ratha Gor'Togs--
Once, my children, the k'dira was not a bush, no! The k'dira began as a lover of the Sun, when the Source of Life and Light yet walked among mortals upon occasion. Now the Sun in flesh form was disguised as a well-to-do merchant and possessed many friends, and they all came to him all the time and said, We love you, we love you, there is nothing we would not do for you! They brought him costly necklaces made of pearled t'ekeipa shells and embroidered tunics handwoven from the finest blue silk. They offered him garlands of butterfly orchids and kelpbells, and brought him strawberries packed in snow for dessert. Yet they did not stop there; for these people told the Sun that they would do anything he asked, yes, anything at all, and give him all that they might have out of love for him. And when the Source of Life and Light asked them why they loved him so, they replied, Ay, d'epi, how could we not, how could we not? For you are so noble in bearing, so full of virtue, so wise and so kind! Take all that we have, our homes, our goods, our wives, husbands and children, it will still not be enough to show how much we love you! But the Sun suspected that they loved him not for himself, and only for the bounty that he gave to them; for it was well known that a gift to a merchant as magnanimous as the Sun appeared to be was returned sixfold to the giver. So the Source of Life and Light decided to test these good people, his friends, and the depth and breadth of their love. Then the Sun caused all his wealth to vanish without a trace. He put it about that his goods were lost at sea to pirates, and with them, his fortune, used to pay off his debts. His feastings ceased, and he went to his neighbors for moral support and financial assistance. His neighbors, however, met him at their doors, and would not let him in. It is too dusty in here, they claimed. It is too filthy. That I can understand, said the disguised Sun. But can you help me out, even if I stand on your porch? Alas, alas, they replied, our business has been bad, too, and we have nothing to share with those who have nothing! At least, the Source of Life and Light said, give me back a bit of the gifts I showered upon you when my house was full of bright gems and coins like those in your heavily weighted moneybelts. Alas, alas, they replied, our money is promised to others, and we have given away all you gave us, for love of charity. They wrung their hands and smiled very uneasy smiles, as if they did not want to be seen in his company, which, of course, was the case. And the answer was the same wherever he did go. So the Sun bowed and went away deeply mortified. It seemed to him that there was no truth left in the hearts of people everywhere in Ratha, and that he might as well enter a cave and learn to live on small blind fish and mushrooms, like the wise men of old. But then in his walking and his musings he came upon K'dira, a lesser daughter of the Gaunta tribe; and she was only six years old at the time. K'dira held out both hands to him. In the one she had a small smiling doll made of geshiloira flowers and leaves, and in the other she had three bronze kronars. Please, K'dira said, my parents say you have no more money or things. This is all I have, the doll you gave me a month ago and these coins my auntie gave me for fruits. The coins can buy you fruits, too, and my doll can keep you company now, like it kept me. The Source of Life and Light looked upon K'dira, wondering where he met her; and then he remembered a night some time ago when one of the feckless men who had sworn and foresworn his eternal love had introduced his family. This child, K'dira, was the man's third daughter, and the Sun had given a small present to each-- and a very large one to the father, who now ignored him. Then the Sun smiled, and thought a thought, and it was this: that children follow their impulses for good or ill, unlike adults who think very carefully before finding the right reasons to do the worst things that occur to them. And the Source of Life and Light was pleased and laughed, forgiving the fools who had deserted him in supposed time of need; but the child K'dira he took up with him, then and there, into the sky, up to his real home. It was there, in Anlusarabu, the fabled golden palace of arched and domed rooms, that the Sun feasted his one and only guest, K'dira Gaunta. He gave her toys, and clothes, and food which was totally unlike any she had ever eaten. He showed her the top of the clouds which were beautiful lakes filled with blue water and fish whose twinkling eyes formed the stars. And the Source of Life and Light taught her, too, in lessons that reached the understanding much more than the lessons of ordinary people. Though K'dira spent but one week in the Sun's company, yet she became wise and kind beyond measure. Mindful of his duties, the Sun did not detain the girl forever, but returned her to her kin-- after first turning all the gifts he'd given all the people in the past to sand. K'dira, though, was welcomed back with awe, for the mark of the Source of Life and Light was upon her, and she shown faintly ever after in the dark with a pale golden light. In time her wisdom was recognized by all the tribes of Ratha, and she became a leader whose opinions and kind strength were sought by all. And in time, being mortal, she died; but when she did, the Sun reappeared in flesh form among the Gor'Tog peoples for the first time since he had flung aside his merchant's disguise. A ray of light poured forth from his chest; and the dead body of K'dira lived once more, transformed into a bush. But the spirit of the gentle child who throughout life had always been K'dira left with the Source of Light and Life, and was never seen again. Now you know, my children, why the k'dira bush seems so small and ordinary at first. But when the Sun's warmth is felt upon its leaves, it gives forth a fragrance that reflects the love of one who acted on instinct in charity, to the Source of Light and Life himself.