Umla & Tamra

Umla & Tamra
(As told by a Storyman in Illi)

Umla once lay in darkness.
Umla was alone.
Umla slept in his loneliness and darkness.
And there was no life.

Tamra soared above Umla.
Darkness was dispelled.
Umla awoke and looked above him.
Above Umla was Tamra.

The Light of Tamra shone upon Umla.
Umla reached up to Tamra.
With Umla reached the reeds.
With Umla reached the waters.
With Umla reached the earths and soils.
Tamra smiled down on Umla,
At dawn and dusk, Tamra blushed at Umla’s yearning,
But Umla could not touch Tamra.
In her sorrow, Tamra wept,
And the waters fell upon Umla.

The Light of Tamra shone upon Umla.
Umla reached up to Tamra.
With Umla reached the trees.
With Umla reached the fishes.
With Umla reached the waters.
Tamra smiled down on Umla,
And Tamra wove a cloth of bright stones for Umla to wear,
And Umla wore Tamra’s gems in his waters.

Umla reached forth to Tamra,
And with him reached all things that crawl,
And all things that walk,
And all things that swim,
And these things leapt and danced with Umla,
Bathed in her smiles,
Bathed in her blushes,
Bathed in her jewels,
Bathed in her tears,
But Umla could not touch Tamra.

Tamra sighed and whispered her love for Umla,
And her sighs and whispers carried forth,
And moved the reeds,
And moved the waters,
And moved the trees,
And moved Umla,
And Umla reached forth to Tamra,
And with Umla reached the creatures that fly,
And they danced upon Tamra’s sighs,
And they soared upon her whispered love,

Umla felt Tamra in all things,
And Umla sent forth all things to be embraced by Tamra,
And as we come from Umla, we look to Tamra for light.
We are bathed in her tears when she weeps for Umla.
We are caressed by her sighs and whispered love.

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Onna

Onna is located east of Illi, deep in the Eastern Marshes and far from the influence of Empire, her laws and ministers.  Most imperial maps show Onna connected to Illi by road; when it was announced that the imperial road would be built, even to this far-flung village, mapmakers were quick to include it in official imperial maps.  However, the road was never completed.  There are rare occasions on which Illi and Onna are connected by floating wooden causeways across the Eastern Marshes, but these are always temporary, as leaving them in place would hamper travel by boat and barge.  For this same reason, combined with the difficulty in building roads through the marshlands, the road was abandoned.

Whereas the native Ungozan Marshfolk of Illi are known for their welcoming nature and willingness to share their culture with outsiders of an open mind, the people of Onna are perhaps as reticent as their cousins are open. Despite these differences, due to the semi-nomadic nature of the Ungozan Marshfolk, many families may lash their barges at Illi one month and at Onna the next.

The people of Onna are ambivalent to Imperial rule when the topic is broached, but generally they are more apathetic than anything else.  Why shouldn’t they be?  The Cirsovan armies chose to leave the Native Ungozans be those hundreds of years ago when they claimed the Crater, Marshes and coast as imperial demesne, there is nothing they want from the marshland in terms of resources, and, so long as the Marshfolk do nothing aggressive to provoke their overlords, they have no cause for reprisal.  Thus, Onna’s vassalage is not a particularly onerous one.  The people of Illi are so generous with their tribute of Cowrie shells and canoes to Agalla that the fact that Onna has paid no tribute to the empire in generations has gone almost completely unnoticed.

Unlike Illi, there is no central platform at Onna, rather “Onna” is a small island in the marshes with a mound no taller than a man.  This “Onna” is surrounded by a series of temporary wooden causeways which barges may lash to.  None may set foot on the Onna itself, however, except for the Storyman, of which Onna has only one.

It is forbidden to bring Ungoza crystal, raw or finished, within sight of the Onna.  Anyone displaying finished crystal from Polaris in the presence of the Marshfolk here risks death.  It is spoken by the people of Illi that those who bring the stones to Onna are cast into the marshes, never to be heard from again.  Other stories say that the Onna itself is where people who possessed the crystals were once killed and buried, the marsh grasses growing over them.  Of course Onna is still subject to imperial laws, and murder is a crime, however disappearances of travelers in the Eastern Marshes, so far away from any offices of imperial authority, are rarely investigated, even if word does make it back to Agalla.  Therefore, it cannot be stressed enough that anyone wanting to visit Onna leave any Ungozan crystal they may possess at home or in the care of someone in Agalla.

There is little to visit Onna that cannot be found in Illi, but with greater hospitality. However some anthropologists who have taken a particular interest in the ties of Native Ungozans to the lost Northern Culture prefer studying the Onna folk, valuing their isolation from Cirsovan influence which may have seeped into Illi culture over the last two hundred years. While the Illi Storymen often have a greater range of homily, there are certain tales which are only heard from the Storymen of Onna.  These stories, which are only told on the night before the new moon, are often grim apocalyses which make allusions to northern ices and the ghouls which stalk them.

North of Onna, the marsh turns cold and frozen. There is nothing beyond Onna to the east but more salt marshes and the sea.  It is unknown where the waters end and the ice begins; no ships, not even the pirates of Galbarrow, have cause to sail as far north as Onna.

Illi

While Illi is recognized as a single settlement by the Empire, there are many small drifting
communities that comprise Illi. The few hundred people of Illi live directly on the marsh
waters on pontoon barges connected with vine rope and wooden causeways. It is inhabited primarily by the native Ungozan Marshfolk who prefer their own ways to that of the Cirsovan heartlanders.

Some stories say that before the imperial road was built, Illi’s location was not fixed, the
Ungozans moving their village about the marshwaters as need demanded. In some ways, this is still true in that each structure and causeway may be unlashed and moved on the water.

Nowadays, where the imperial road arrives at “Illi”, a particularly large wooden octagon, some 200 feet across, serves as a fixed core to which other barges and causeways may be joined. The native Ungozans do not refer to the settlement as Illi, some going so far as to insist that there is no settlement, but rather refer to the central platform as “the Illi”. During the day, people may be found trading crafted goods (food is never traded for but always shared), trading stories and news of the Marshes, and doing carpentry work that would require a greater allotment of space than would be available on the smaller barges.

At the center of the Illi is a giant iron dish, the Gulloda, which is 8 feet across and one foot
at its deepest, suspended over a shallow stone cooking pit. All manner of things are added to the dish, including saltwater crabs, fish, waterfowl, turtles, snakes and occasionally voles or muskrats. The day’s finds are brought in by hunters and fishers in the early afternoon, where they are slow-cooked into a stew called Gullodana. In the evenings, braziers are lit at each of the eight corners of the Illi, with a series of additional smaller torches going in towards the Gulloda. Any native Ungozans and visitors who are present on the Illi are welcome to partake in the nightly feasting. The native marshfolk are said to have such a sophisticated palate that they can tell from a single taste of Gullodana the exact composition of that day’s stew, how many of what was added and its relation to what was left from the previous night’s Gullodana.  Most visitors to Illi are the adventurous sorts, who are particularly interested in sampling this unique cuisine of the northern Marshfolk. Natives may often extend a friendly challenge to visitors who would also attempt to guess the composition of that night’s Gullodana. Outsiders who guess most closely to the truth may be offered the privileges of an intimate cultural experience.

Illi has a very simple division of labor: hunter/fishers who gather food, those who work with wood to make homes and boats, and women who take care of most everything else. Illi also has 8 “Storymen”, who serve a priestly shamanic role for the community, offering homilies and maintaining their traditions orally. Each of the 8 Storymen have their barge perpetually docked to one of the 8 sides of the Illi. Anyone may go to them for wise counsel at any time, including outsiders (those who have guessed what is in the Gullodana are encouraged to do so for their reward, though it is not requisite). Over the course of 8 nights, beginning with the new moon, each Storyman will take a turn to tell a story to the people of Illi from the causeway of his barge. On the night of the full moon, a special story will be told, followed by ritual and song.

Based on some of the tales told by the Storymen, the Marshfolk of Ungoza were aware of the Northern Civilization, perhaps even as far back as a time prior to the abandonment of Elefloe.  A theory that the Native Ungozans are descended from or intermarried with refugees escaping the ice sheet was briefly in vogue among anthropologists in the decades following the discovery of Elefloe. Today, the northern parts of Ungoza, particularly the areas near the ice sheet, are considered taboo-land by the Natives, who rarely leave the northern boundaries of the EasternMarshes.

The Marshfolk of Illi maintain a relatively amicable relationship with the Empire. Occasionally, one of the Storymen will tell a tale of how they came to be part of the Gatian Empire, but their allegiance to Orrin Tormant and Cirsova likely do not often cross their minds. Indeed, the Empire did once send a mighty army to subdue and subjugate any northern threats, however outside of the old pirate colony of Galbarrow, the empire found little to subdue or subjugate in the way of the Illi. A testament to the magnanimous nature of the Cirsovan people, the Empire built roads through the marsh and allowed the native Ungozans to pay only token tribute to the emperor (generally paid in canoes loaded down with cowry shells) through the magistrate in Agalla. The Ungozans long ago yielded their greatest treasure when their Storymen revealed to the Cirsovans the location of the Ungoza Crater.