I have lots of final prep to do before Serpents of Sky launches next week! So I don’t have much in the way of bloggish thoughts today, but I did do a few rough sketches. Just some random Aligare folk.
I think it’s about time I update the diagram of the Aligare peoplekinds — the one that appears at the beginning of every Story of Aligare book. In the original image, I was trying for a clean, simplified look. But I’m thinking a more detailed, dynamic art style like these sketches might make it easier for readers to visualize the Aligare races in the story to come. Thoughts?
Aligare’s invented animals are often based on Earth mythology. And as I talked about in the post about the lucky rue plant, Aligare has basilisks.
The traditional Earth basilisk is a monstrous snake/lizard creature with poisonous breath. There’s some confusion and cross-over with the similar legendary creature, the cockatrice. Either way, basilisks are bad news.
Aligare basilisks still aren’t something you want to run into — but they’re not legendary, and not prone to destroying everything in their path. They’re just lizard creatures.
They’re sort of a mixture of Gila monsters and raptor dinosaurs. Aligare basilisks stand about 3 feet/1 meter tall, and have pebbly hide with hard, scale-like feathers. Their spotted colouring and grass-like feathers serve as camofluage in the basilisk’s grassland habitat. They’re active hunters, seeking out animals to ambush, sometimes working together in pairs or stealing kills from other carnivores. The basilisk’s teeth are grooved to let their venom flow into its prey (which is a sort of evolutionary precursor to snakes’ fangs). Basilisks also have innate electricasting magic, which is based in their mouth. It’s used on larger, struggling prey; it’s also used for mating displays and to scare off larger predators.
Opportunistic and aggressive, basilisks usually hunt small animals like birds, lizards, snakes, rodents, and rabbits — but they’ll attack larger animals that seem weak or ill. In an open grassland area, signs of weakness such as heavy breathing or limping might catch the attention of a nearby basilisk. Even peoplekinds need to be careful. Basilisks can be incredibly bold if they think they have a chance to take down a meal.
“Dear gods.” Eyes wide, Tijo hurried close and laid knuckles on the boy’s brow. “Where was he?”
“Two-thirds of the way between Opens and here. I came across the whole family but everything holy forgive me, I couldn’t carry all four of them! The mother was the only one who could cough two words and as if that weren’t enough, she said something about a basilisk hunting them. The miserable beast must’ve–”
“Here, pass him.”
Remedy, a story of Aligare, Chapter 13
Basilisk venom kills the small creatures the basilisk usually feeds on. It’s not usually fatal to larger creatures, but causes weakness, numbness, blurred vision and difficulty breathing (hence why the basilisk only attacks larger creatures if they seem weakened already). But animals in the mustelid (weasel) family resist basilisk venom. An adult ferrin is significantly smaller than a basilisk but will only experience mild symptoms if bitten. Ferrin also aren’t easily affected by other creatures’ electricasting, because of the way a ferrin’s own electricasting flows through their fur and basically envelops their entire body. So despite their small size, an adult ferrin has little to fear from a basilisk. Like in Earth mythology, weasels are well-suited to fending off a basilisk.
Although korvi are pretty good at it, too, being much larger and stronger.
Peregrine may have stumbled upon the occasional basilisk, but those beasts turned cowardly as soon as a fellow spat some smoke; a second tooth puncture scar on his leg wouldn’t be the end of him. The Skyfield plains held no trouble Peregrine couldn’t handle alone – oh, this was true and he knew it.
Remedy, a story of Aligare, Chapter 17
And like any Aligare animal, basilisks aren’t considered evil. They’re dangerous sometimes, and prone to attacking others’ weaknesses — but they’re only following their nature and only trying to kill so they can eat. They’re just a sharp-toothed part of the natural world.
- The structure of Aligare homes (heidicvlach.wordpress.com)
- Render, a story of Aligare, is available now! (heidicvlach.wordpress.com)
- Flashback post: Why I built a peaceful fantasy world (heidicvlach.wordpress.com)
With the explosive popularity of The Hunger Games, people have been talking about the character Rue. It caught me a little off-guard, because before I had ever heard of the Hunger Games, I was writing about Rue Tennel, an aemet. Another writer remembered that rue is a plant that would make a good female name? Cool, I guess! (Another thing I learned: Katniss’s name isn’t just a weird variation of Katherine or something. It’s another plant.)
But yes, rue is a plant easily grown in gardens. Also known as the Herb-of-Grace, it’s a flowering shrub in the genus Rutaceae, related to citrus trees. Rue can be used to season food, but it’s very bitter and can be toxic in large amounts. The sap can also make human skin hypersensitive to sunlight, causing blisters.
European history considers rue a symbol of loss, regret and bitter lessons. It was also used as a medicinal herb in earlier centuries. Along with being an insect repellant, antiseptic and abortificant, rue was thought to ward off witchcraft and cure all sorts of poisons. Rue is often mentioned as a counter to the mythical basilisk, since it’s the only plant able to withstand the basilisk’s deadly poison breath. Weasels — the only animals resistant enough to fight a basilisk — would wet their teeth with rue to poison the monster, or they would eat rue to speed their own healing after the battle.
In the Aligare world, aemets have a ready understanding of plants, so folk see rue quite differently. They see no regret or pain in this simple flowering shrub — just another one of the goddess Verdana’s children with its own virtues and dangers. Rue leaf is a minor ingredient in most medicinal tonics, thought to aid sleep, soothe minor pain and neutralize toxins. It has only mild effects on aemets and korvi, but it’s a potent treatment for ferrin. Wild ferrin will seek out some rue to eat whenever they’re feeling unwell — particularly if they’ve been fighting with a very real Aligare basilisk. (When building my fantasy world, I thought the basilisk-weasel-rue lore was cool and I specifically wanted to work it in.)
Although rue isn’t the most potent medicine for aemetkind, many aemets still regard it as a lucky plant. Wherever rue grows, a ferrin might show up to partake of it. Rue is a symbol of the way otherkind friends will arrive whenever there’s a need. If a person has rue leaf tonic on hand or keeps some rue growing nearby, they’ll be able to ensure the health of any new allies they meet.
That’s why rue is thought to be a fortuitous plant. And that’s why the character Rue is seen as a lucky young woman, although she doesn’t personally believe in luck.
“And let’s meet at this same time, next eightday. This shade of daylight.” [Felixi] turned a crooked smile to the sky. “It’s the colour of rue flowers, wouldn’t you say?”
It was — a late afternoon light, fully yellow without making itself obtrusive.
“Why, do you think it’s a lucky colour?”
“Of course not. Luck is fool’s magic.”
Rue couldn’t hold back her grin. “Right. It’s just a time, then.”
–Render, a story of Aligare, draft version
There’s an awful lot of history and symbolism in this one little plant. I think that’s why it’s so easy to add more symbolism through speculative fiction: because rue already has lots to work with.
- Food culture of Aligare (Part 1: History) (heidicvlach.wordpress.com)
- Are utopian and dystopian worlds even possible? (heidicvlach.wordpress.com)
- When we choose honesty (heidicvlach.wordpress.com)