A Device Infernal or Vangeline and Her Suitors
"The story I’m goin’ tell ya’ll is that of Vangeline and her Suitors. Not too long ago, in the year the Emperor freed all the serfs here in Muetar, there was, in a little ville called Solteon, a gal by the name of Vangeline Barouse. Well then, Vangeline was the sweetest thing that the Yando Delta seen in a hundert years, maybe two hundert. It was that Elf blood in her, they say; you could see it, from the points of her delicate ears to the sparkle on her lavender hair. Just about everyone who knew her was sweet on her at one time or ‘nurther. And that’s what caused all that trouble up on Bayou Crimson. Some says it all started when she caught the eye of Sabeen Flochette, the Queen o’ the Crawfishers. Most folks say it all was ‘cause them two fellahs, Servan Darioz and Fiddlesticks Viltote, didn’t stay dead like they was supposed to. But it really began when Placeed Rivette won the blue ribbon prize at the Cacaton Midsummer Faire for his ogreberry pie… "
"First, there is The Water, for without that, none of this would be possible. And it all starts with the mighty River Deep. Rising in the far north in the troubled depths of Lake Carth, it rolls for a thousand miles through the Western Empire, watering the rich lands of the Plains of Plibba until, mile-wide, it roars in the great Sea of Drowning Men. Along its course it is fed by a hundred great rivers, and a thousand lesser streams. "
"And the foremost of these is the Yando. "
"Some call the Yando a river but it is more than that. A great net, a web, a whole corpus of arteries, stretching along the banks of the Deep for 200 leagues and more, from the Wind-Swept Downs to the Banished Lands. It’s waters encompass marsh and fen and swamp, forest and jungle, hummock and meadows. And all of it teeming with life And all the riches and dangers that such life may bring. There are those who say that all the life on this world started along the Yando, and may be found there still."
"And within it dwell the Yando folk. They too are said to have lived along the river for a very long time, since before the Cataclysm, before even the Lloroi built their great civilization. And always they welcomed any who would come to the river, whether through fear or desire. So we Yando are all mixed up, like a good jumbalaya, human, elf, halflin, goblin, and some things less common, all together. For the Yando is a refuge where Life is lived to the fullest because Death comes all too soon. And so we Yando sing too much and dance too much and eat and drink far too much for we are holding onto Life like a loved one. For there are dangers in the Yando and Death lurks at every bend.
(GM Note: The Yando is in the great Empire of the Meutar. Over the centuries, free commoners have been reduced to serfdom so that there are only three classes of people under the law, the nobles, the the dwellers in the major cities and towns, and everyone else who are serfs, effectively owned by the nobility. Serfdom usually doesn't weigh too heavy on the Yando; it was too easy to run away to the swamp when the boot was too heavy on one's neck. However, there is a class system among the Yando: the Cargoson (Cargomen), the owners and operators of large river and occasionally ocean going ships that carry the plentiful raw materials of the Yando Delta to ports throughout the Empire and beyond; Crevetteer/Crevettiere (Fishers), small time fisherman, crabbers, and shrimpers; Artiseen (Artisans), magic users, entertainers, as well as more mundane occupations, cooks boatbuilders, blacksmiths, etc.; the Trappeuse (Hunters & Trappers), backwoodsmen who hunt larger game and trap fur-bearing creatures; and the Mullay Trebusheer (Wet Stompers), scavengers who scrounge in the shallows of the Swamp for whatever they can find to sell. )
"And sometimes, the line between Life and Death ain’t so clear. For in the Yando there are also the loas, spirits of rock and tree, bird and critter, And sometimes, dead folk too. All led by the Grand Trois, the Great Three: Grand Bois, the Great Wood, the rich earth that you spring from and the dark woods you stumble through, Patre Carrefour, Papa Crossroads, who sees to the paths you choose to travel on, and Baron Cimitère, Lord Death, who greets you at the end of the trip. Whether these three are gods or devils, who knows. Whether there is a difference, again who knows. But they give us all a touch of the magic when they want, and some times that makes all the difference."
"Now I say all this so that you understand: Vangeline was a true Child of the Yando. For without knowing the Yando, you may see Vangeline as flighty and inconstant. But know that her love for each the suitors was true and as rich as the jungle and as deep as the mighty river. The truth of this you must understand. For otherwise, everything that come after, to the suitors and those who stood by them and those who pursued them, would have meant nothing."
"Now, let me introduce the folks that are most important in the story, the cast of characters, if you will."
"Now, let me introduce the folks that are most important in the story, the cast of characters, if you will."
"Now Vangeline mourned again but life does go on. And three months later, everyone was getting ready for the big Midsummer Faire at Cacaton, which was the biggest town in that part of Yando. Of course, everyone knew that Vangeline was going to be made Queen of the Faire, part of whose duties was to help chose the winner of the cooking contest, which was the highest honor any artiseen could hope to win. Now one of the chef hoped to win something more. This was Placeed Rivette, a half-halfling, who grew up with Vangeline, and like so many others, had fallen in love her. He hoped that if he won, she might see him in a new light, for she loved good food, even more than music. Placeed had a fairy friend, Dewy Plumtwinkle. Now the fairies were fairly new to the Yando, coming here because all of them iron railroads that was starting to cross-cross the Empire set them on edge. Now Dwy helped Placeed find the recipe for ogreberry pie, a food served on the Emperors's tables, and then helped him find the magic ogreberries, way out in the fen marshes. Placeed was sure his skill and the ogreberries were like to win Vangeline's heart."
There is another person who also figured in this story, a non-Yando, Dry Foots as we call them. This was Brother Maksen, he was a priest of the god Huisinga, the chaotic god of positive change as they say. He came as a missionary to the Yando, being a Grandee by birth, a knight who got tired of the killing. Now he figures into this here story because the Emperor himself was a follower of Huisinga, which is why he ended serfdom and made everybody equal. Brother Maksen believed in this too, and was here to spread that word. Now the local Grandees, those that claim ownership of the Yando, didn't like this one bit and so, I suppose, Brother Maksen was about to cause all sorts of trouble."
"Thus. It is Midsummer Day,"
"Picture this, daybreak, the sun just peaking over the Western horizon, the night mist still hanging low over the river, beginning to color with the pink promise of the new day. A fine little fishing boat is out on the water, the only one working on this festive day. A young woman struggles with the net, heavy because of her sorrow. Finally, she drops it into the well of the boat, and stifles a sob. "
"The older man leaves the tiller and comes to her, his thin dark face still unseen in the early morning half-light. He says, 'Sabeen, twenty years I fished with your Pater, and we never missed the Midsummer Faire. Three years with you and we never go and always the day end in tears. Well then, you need to figure how it ends with that girl, one way or other. You’ll not be knowing peace until you do.'”
"The young woman is silent for a while. Coming to a decision, she say, 'Leon, this year we go to the Faire, turn this here boat to Cacaton.'”
"Picture this, a dry rocky plain, far in the East. A small knot of soldiers, dust covered bluecoats, shuffling towards the safety of the far-off hills, beset on every side by the deadly horse and riders. Arrows and spears making the sky dark overhead. Then the big armored centaurs crash against the bayonets, careless in their fury. "
"Finally, the soldiers break and run, each one’s terror giving them speed. A bandy-legged little warrior cannot keep up, his ancient armor studded with the caught arrows. The centaur charging him with an axe is brought down by an impossible shot from the young soldier’s rifle. The soldier grabs the little warrior and both run together, last to flee. Then thunder rumbles and, they see the Centaur giant, ponderous doom, hooves the size of wagons pounding the earth, towards them, readying its great spear to hurl at them. The creature throws; they see the sharp iron blade, larger than a man, hurtling death toward them. The young soldier aims his rifle, the last shot, hoping to deflect the blade. The hammer comes down with a dull click."
"The young soldier wakes with a start, the risen sun hugging the horizon, giving everything a light yellow glow. He was on a smugglers’ boat on the River Deep, heading home. It had been the Dream again, this same dream, every night since they ran off from the army, so many nights."
"The dwarf peers at him, great mustachios quiver like a water bug’s whiskers. The Dwarf says, 'Again dream, Servon? Good, bout time you wake, boatman says we are near. Maybe this woman you seek will cure dream. Good woman let you forget much bad. But I don’t know, you say she not even have mustache, let alone beard. Huh!'”
The young soldier could see the boat was heading into the wide bend that led to Cacaton.
Picture this, the sun full up now, the rising morning heat causing the mist to lift in thin tendrils over the endless marsh. A sandy causeway cuts through it, intersecting with another, a dry crossroads above the grass-thick waters. This is settled country where the folk have changed the land, with the Yando’s forbearance.
Along the causeway, a single figure strides, the tails of his gator skin coat flapping against legs. A high hat of fish skin tops his head and on his shoulder he bears a killing stick. And a shovel. He is late, the mambo had told him to dig before sunrise. She will be angry and he hopes she won’t turn him into something inconvenient.
He reaches the crossroad and begins to dig. He is quick for he is late. Although he had buried the body deep three months ago, he finds it easily, the fiddle still laid across the chest. His friend’s body don’t look the worse for the three month brying. The mambo had told him that was how it would be.
He said the words the mambo had told him to say ending with, “Fiddlesticks, ya’ll come forth!’
eyes fluttered and shot open. The fiddler leapt out of the hole, unaided, his
head darted back and forth, reckoning where he is. Seeing his friend, the fiddler says one word,
And then, his friend fidgeting after him, the fiddler sets off down the road to Cacaton.