The inspiration behind Wings of Renewal

Today’s post is a guest post by Claudie Arsenault, editor of the upcoming anthology Wings Of Renewal. It’s a collection of solarpunk dragon stories — and hey, any interesting spin on dragons has my full attention! But what was the inspiration to combine eco-positive science fiction and dragons? Take it away, Claudie!

 

2015-08-12 solarpunk anthology front titles

 

The Inspiration Behind Wings of Renewal

Ever seen an image so stunning you just had to write something about it? Read about a new technology that sent your mind spinning with possibilities? I think most writers have felt the thrill of sudden inspiration at one point or another, the solid desire to produce fiction, right there and then, based on something heard or seen.

solarpunkimages

Solarpunk does this to me all the time. Might be why I love it so much! There’s something about the Art Nouveau aesthetics, the incredible sustainable techs, and the marvelous gardens attached to it I just can’t get enough of.

So today I wanted to present three of the inspirations that went into Wings of Renewal, a solarpunk dragon anthology I curated with my friend and co-editor, Brenda J. Pierson.

 

China's Great Green Wall

  1. The Great Green Wall

Let’s start with a cool, currently-occurring African initiative, shall we? The Great Green Wall is a project to plant a long and wide line of trees all along the Sahara’s southern edge. Its goal is to prevent further desertification, and to help communities in the area. The initiative goes well beyond planting trees and includes programs on ecosystem management and the protection of local heritage. As a whole, it seeks to mitigate climate change and improve food security for the local communities. The picture is of China’s very similar initiative, called the Great Green Wall of China.

And I mean, when you look at it, the Great Green Wall is huge undertaking by eleven African countries (Burkina Faso, Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, Sudan, and Chad), aiming to create a more sustainable and stable world for the communities involved. You hardly get more solarpunk than that! It’s no surprise, then, that defending the Wall against a terrible forest fire is at the center of Fighting Fire with Fire.

 

Fog Basking Beetle or Darkling Beetle (Onymacris unguicularis) drinking, Namib Desert, Namibia

  1. Darkling Beetles and water condensation

Did you know some beetles can condense dew onto their body and get their daily hydration from it? That’s how the darkling beetles manage to live in the desert! Now give this to a creative writer, and suddenly it’s not a tiny beetle with this ability, but a huge dragon! How much water could one create? Seven? A dozen? Enough for sparkling oasis with a thriving ecosystem? Why yes! That’s the setting in Lost and Found.

 

natasha-long-prosthetic-leg-by-melissa-ng

  1. 3D-printing

Solarpunk isn’t all about adding greenery to the desert. A lot of it revolves around making cities sustainable and accessible living places. 3D printing is a huge part of ‘accessible’ as it allows prosthetics to be created at low costs and high speed. And nothing says these can’t be beautiful and badass! So as a personal fan of everything 3D-printing can bring to a solarpunk universe, I was thrilled when the protagonist from Summer Project not only had prosthetics, but worked in a shop building some.

If you haven’t heard of E-Nable, watch this video! It explains how the organization uses volunteers with 3D printers all over the world to bring cheap (as in, low-cost) prosthetics to people who couldn’t afford it otherwise.

 

dragonsight-by_Donato_Giancola

  1. Dragonsight, by Donato Giancola

The last is not so much solarpunk inspiration as a painting at the center of Wanderer’s Dream, one of the last short stories featured in Wings of Renewal. But it’s a perfect example of what I mentioned at the beginning: sometime an image has a story, or a setting is too charming to refuse. And that’s what happened with Dragonsight and Maura Lydon.

 

So those are some of the inspirations that went into Wings of Renewal, but there are way too many for me to fit all today! I mean, what about vertical gardens? Beekeeping? Tree-shaped solar panels? Everything else I’m forgetting? Between, stunning aesthetics, world-changing goals, and sweeping technologies, solarpunk has all the inspiration you need.

Wings of Renewal launches on October 25th, 2015. You can preorder through Nook, Kobo, and iBooks right now, or add it on Goodreads. Amazon ebooks and paperbacks will be available on launch day.


Aligare’s Mandragora, the Legend Creature of stories

On the Aligare Lore page, I’ve outlined the twelve Legend Creatures thought to inhabit the land. One of them is the Mandragora, a plant creature.

The Mandragora is loosely based on Earth lore about the mandrake/mandragora plant.

Mandragora_Tacuinum_Sanitatis

This plant’s roots contain hallucinogenic compounds, and they often resemble human figures. Our Earth cultures have attributed all sorts of meanings to this plant: fertility, love, death. One bit of folklore says that the mandrake plant screams when uprooted, and this scream will kill any living thing that hears it. Mandrakes must be uprooted by tying a dog to them and abandoning the area. When the dog tries to follow its master, it will uproot the mandrake and die in its human’s stead.

Aligare’s mandrake plants are friendlier. They don’t scream: they’re silent like any other plant. But they’re thought to soak up negativity and sadness in the area, like absorbing and neutralizing a poison. Mandrakes are treated as good omens and luck charms. If a peoplekind settlement encroaches on a mandrake, the plant might be relocated to a meaningful place near the Middling circle or the town’s chromepiece. Or the mandrake might be allowed to grow undisturbed, even if that means leaving an untouched patch of plant growth in the middle of a busy town street.

Mandrakes are the children of the Legend Creature Mandragora, and Mandragora is friendlier still. Despite being a plant, it has enough animal qualities to be considered a Legend Creature. It’s sort of a self-appointed liason between plants and animals.

mandragoraandferrin2

The Mandragora is a bipedal plant-creature that walks on two rootstalks, and flies on the wind (with wing-like leaves or fluffy seed-pod sails, depending on who is telling the legend). Its head is a flower blossom with rainbow-coloured petals. But although the Mandragora has a toothy mouth at the center of its flower head, it can’t speak. Instead, it loves to meet other travellers and listen to their stories. It smiles a lot, especially while listening to a tale. The Mandragora travels on the wind because it’s curious — a lover of life and a seeker of new stories.

Rue had often thought that Father was like the Legend Creature Mandragora. He kindly smiled; he didn’t speak overmuch; he left whenever a travelling wind caught his leaves or tempted his whims.

Render (A story of Aligare), Chapter 13

Like any Legend Creature, there are very few reported sightings and those … aren’t from the most reliable sources. But Aligare folk still like the thought that somewhere in their mysterious land, the Mandragora is out there listening to everything worth listening to.

Related articles:

    ◦ Aligare’s Barghest, the Legend Creature of judgement (heidicvlach.com)

    ◦ Writing gods I don’t believe in: how atheism gets along with fantasy (heidicvlach.com)

    ◦ The Unfinished Song (Book 1): Initiate by Tara Maya (heidicvlach.com)


Aligare hairbrushes

In the land of Aligare, aemet folk have strict rules about cutting trees — trees being the plants closest to goddess Verdana. But other types of plants are fine to cut branches off of, as long as the cutting is done respectfully and for a good reason. There are aemet artisans who use their plantcasting to coax shrubs into specific shapes. Why carve wood — and end up with waste pieces — when you can cooperate with the plant and get the exact shape you need?

 

When aemets need to comb their hair (which is thicker and waxier-textured than a mammal’s hair would be), they often use combs made from branches. Bramble vines and rose branches can be used as is, but their thorns make more effective brush bristles when they’re cultivated all on one side of the branch.

aligarebrushespic

 

The craftsperson encourages the plant into shape, often making the end of that branch into a decorative flourish. Then the branch is cut off (with apologies and thanks given to the plant, and plantcasting used to heal the wound). The thorns are secured with a bit of glue or sealant, and their points are filed slightly blunter. Any additional decoration is simple: some twine, wire or beads. No paints that would cover up the plant’s gift.

 

Since plantcast brushes are made with such care and reverence, they’re often given as gifts on special occasions, or as thanks for a particularly meaningful favour. They’re simple but valued items you might find lying around an aemet’s home.

 


The Greatbloom: Aligare’s creation legend

greatbloom

 

Every culture has a creation story, some folklore attempt to explain why we have earth and sky and life. Aligare folk have the legend of the Greatbloom. You might have seen it already in the Aligare lore section of this site but here it is again:

Before all things, there was no land and no sky, not enough light to see by and no waft of air to sense with. All things churned together. It was silent, like a held breath. And then, life came to that place. It crashed through all things, more brilliant than lightning and more fluid than water, to strike one mote of soil and one mote of air. From that burned spot, the Greatbloom crept out. It was a tiny vine, pale white but as alive as any person. Without so much as a seed hull to protect it, the Greatbloom rooted itself on the life-struck earth and breathed in the life-struck air — and it grew and grew.

After forty-eight years had passed, the Greatbloom was soon a towering plant casting an endless shadow over the land. And then, it opened a magnificent flower, so it had a face to turn toward everything around it. The earth was bare and dusty. The air was devoid, stirred by no wind. Sensing how badly the land wanted for life, the Greatbloom gathered its strength into seeds of every type and element. Once its seeds were scattered, the Greatbloom wilted and died. Over the forty-eight years its stalk took to break down, its elemental seeds blossomed and filled the land richly with life.

The gods arrived to watch those seeds send out first roots. They saw what that lone Greatbloom plant had done, and they gathered around its dry, brown stem. They had never seen such potential in all the empty tracts they had crossed. Great Bright and Dark, with Verdana, Fyrian, Ambri and Okeos beside them, agreed to tend to these things the Greatbloom brought to life. And with all life adopted by god guardians, it was nurtured, and it has been thriving ever since.

The details change a bit depending on who’s telling the story. Korvi folk sometimes say the Greatbloom produced both seeds and eggs, because they don’t think fire-elemental creatures would come from a seed. Some folk feel that the Greatbloom’s seed wasn’t created by a lightning-like bolt of life energy: they think the seed itself was there from the beginning, as a dense packet of all the mortal life energy there is. But whatever the story’s specifics, the Greatbloom is broadly known and considered to be the origin of everything in Aligare.

 

I didn’t actually develop this creation legend until Remedy was nearly complete. I wanted to make sure that the people’s legends are a reflection of their everyday lives and beliefs. That’s why the Greatbloom sacrifices itself to fill a greater need. That’s why the gods are outsiders who are impressed by the Greatbloom’s efforts, and willing to adopt the land and protect it. Aligare society values cooperation and kindness, and it feels that the families we choose are just as valid as families tied by blood. For aemets, korvi and ferrin, these values are a constant truth.

 

 


The legend of Juniper

In my last post, I talked about Aligare dogs and how they fit into a non-human society. Dogs are useful to aemets — for many of the same reasons early humans found dogs worthwhile to have around. And dogs have been present in Aligare long enough to be talked about in legends.

Aligare legends are a teaching tool as well as a form of entertainment. Since there’s no written language, people tell each other the information and moral values that need to be passed on. Some legends morph into multiple forms, adapted to different storytellers’ tastes. Other legends are so well-loved, they endure with very little change. There are factual legends about how dogs descended from wolves — but the story of Juniper is more popular. It tells of the dog’s enduring loyalty, the gift these creatures give to peoplekind.

Here is an except from the upcoming book, Render:

“I’m doing Juniper’s work, in a way,” came the [dog] breeder’s voice from across the stone hearth. Steam rose from his hands: he had finally gotten his cup of tea. “I’m sure she’d have wanted everyone to have a loyal beast the same way she did. You know the tale of Juniper and her dog, don’t you, sprout?”
A pause. Rue sensed a child’s small head moving, his antennae cutting air while he shook his head.
“You haven’t heard it? Goodness! You need to know about Juniper if your neighbours are going to have dogs.”
Anticipation thickened in the air, the combined attention of people ready to hear old truths. On a deep breath, the breeder began:
“Long ago, there was an aemet woman named Juniper. She liked the feel of earth under her feet and she drew strength from it, just as a plant draws from deep roots. Juniper walked the land and saw its sights, too detemined for any howling wind to stop her, and too brave for any portent air to unsettle her. She even walked through a hard-wind rainstorm for an entire day, not daunted in the least. Juniper’s dog followed her everywhere she went, raising his hackles at any unfitting motion in the land. That creature didn’t leave her side for a heartbeat.”
Rue’s hand fell to Feor — who lay so quietly in front of her that she had nearly forgot him. Dog fur passed smooth under her fingers. She got another flick of slimy tongue over her skin.
“They grew old together, walking and seeing each corner of the land. They knew every breath of air and every pebble resting on soil. Juniper was brown with age and the dog had a limp in his hind leg, but Juniper didn’t feel that they were finished. She wanted one more new sight, she told her dog while she stroked his ears. One more place they could see together.
The dog jumped to his feet and trotted away from Juniper, barking for her to follow. She called for him to slow down but the dog had a force in his heart. He kept trotting even as his limp grew worse and Juniper wished for a rest. They reached a place of blowing sand and smooth rock, and plants as tough as rope. It was a desert at the edge of the land, where the two of them had never been. Juniper and her dog looked at the desert stones and the wind-warped trees, and the shine of endless sand. Juniper sensed winds with a thousand years’ wisdom and not one mote of water. It was new, indeed. Thank you, Juniper told the dog. He licked her hand. And then he laid down and breathed no more.”
The breeder paused. Rue thought she sensed a twitch in his air-filled throat, a swallowed lump of emotion.
“The dog returned to the earth to nourish the soil. Juniper stayed there, kneeling over his resting place, and she cried. Cried until she had no more moisture to cry with, and soon she died herself. In that dry land, their remains gave life to a new plant sprout — one called a juniper bush. It had scaly leaves and tough wood, so it feared no drought. Even now, a juniper will still grow wherever sand gathers — as long as there’s a friend there to look upon that sand.”

To Rue’s knowledge, that was a legend many hundreds of years old. Folk said that the desert was long gone. Passed over by the shifting Great Barrier, swallowed by the outside wastelands full of terrible Cold. Rue knew that from stories told in the broodery — just one of the passed-down stories she still remembered the cadence of. Even without its desert home, the juniper plant must have lived on, protected and nurtured by its aemet sisters; juniper wood had to come from somewhere, after all. Looking at the guard ring on her wrist, Rue could imagine the hours of work that went into wood cultivation even before dyes and metal findings became involved. She wondered what sort of soil a juniper plant preferred. Something inhospitable to other plants, surely. Acidic. Soil that would starve the roots of anything less hardy. Rue ran fingertips over her guard ring, which was polished too smooth to feel like wood at all.
“I don’t think we’ll need to go to any deserts.” she told Feor, “Just this mountain.”
Feor opened his mouth like a smile.

This legend speaks of the bonds of love and trust that can cross species barriers, in the Aligare world or any other. Despite her moments of cynicism, Rue can appreciate that, and it’s one of the many themes at Render‘s core.


The history of lichen: how I build ideas

When I’m planning a story, I often begin by browsing Wikipedia for a few hours. I like to call it Wikiwalking — moving from link to link like I’m searching some intellectual forest, hunting and gathering resources. Trivia often sparks an idea for my world of Aligare (or, at the very least, I learn some stuff.)

When I was scrutinizing an earlier draft version of Render, I knew the main character Rue had a logical, straight-forward nature. She needed a family trade that would suit her — something different from the artisans and tradespeople seen so far in Remedy and Ravel. Rue needed a job that was … math-like. Or scientific in some way. Not the math and science academia we’re used to here on Earth, but someting more folksy and practical.

Personally, I’ve never cared for math, and I prefer science as means of talking about animals, plants, minerals or maybe cool explosions. I’m not the most knowledgeable about how to apply those maths and sciences to everyday stuff. So I began Wikiwalking for some suggestions of jobs based in math and science. After half an hour or so, I ended up on the page for pH, a form of chemistry often tested with litmus paper. And there I found the trivia I was looking for:

Litmus is a water-soluble mixture of different dyes extracted from lichens, especially Roccella tinctoria. It is often absorbed onto filter paper to produce one of the oldest forms of pH indicator, used to test materials for acidity.

Really, I rhetorically asked my computer screen? I had just vaguely assumed that litmus paper was a recent invention, made in some artificial laboratory. But nope, it comes from this plant:

BBBB2205.sized

Okay, technically lichens are composite organisms made up of fungi and algae. Close enough for my purposes.

Humans have used lichens to make dye for centuries. If Roccella tinctoria or something like it grew in the Aligare world, plant-savvy aemets would figure out its properties, too. They wouldn’t understand pH balance quite the way we do, but many plants do have a soil acidity preference, so pH testing would be relevant to Aligare farmers. Maybe even ambitious foragers who want to understand the land better. I could easily imagine Rue mixing soil and dye with some sort of small field kit, working precisely and mapping her surroundings. Perfect!

I didn’t even have to stretch very far to name this useful lichen. On Earth, Roccella tinctoria doesn’t seem to have a common name; people just call it lichen. But the second half of that Latin name works fine for my purposes. It’s a distinctive word without being hard to pronounce, and it vaguely resembles the word tint, so it hints at the colour-changing nature of pH testing. In Aligare, the lichen is called tinctoria and the people who use it are tinctors, who practice the trade of tinctoring. Fantasy nomenclature doesn’t get much easier than that! More evidence that I had found the perfect bit of trivia for the job!

Sometimes I remember that it’s weird to get genuinely excited over some biology information on Wikipedia. But hey, it’s part of being a writer. If I didn’t love searching for trivia and adapting it into a fictional world, I wouldn’t be writing fantasy. And sometimes, to make stuff up, you need an intellectual loan from the real world.


Aligare weather and its lack of cold

The Aligare land is one country-sized area protected by magic. It’s a self-contained biome, basically. The Great Gem in the sky provides heat and light like a localized sun. That heat and light is distributed evenly with the help of the Great Barrier, a field of casting energy that reflects most light and heat inward.

greatbarriersketch

Not entirely to scale, but you get the idea.

Inside the Barrier, weather behaves pretty much as we humans would expect it to. Rain comes and goes. There are occasional severe storms. Wind currents can pass through the Barrier, so they move clouds around, sometimes exchanging moisture between the outside wastelands and the habitable land. Okeos the water god might move rainclouds around if he doesn’t like the way they’ve distributed. Similarly, the high gods Bright and Dark might alter temperatures to keep the land running smoothly.

Other than the occasional thunderstorm or dry spell, weather in Aligare is fairly stable. It’s temperate all year round, averaging about 18 degrees Celcius (64 degrees Fahrenheit), and never coming anywhere near the freezing point.  There are three seasons: budding, reaping and waiting season. Budding season is prime growing season, warm and rainy. Reaping season is when harvests are gathered, as the weather becomes less favourable. Waiting season is cooler and dryer than the others. The seasons are subtle and they’re not a life-changing event to anyone other than farmers and foragers. Plants can still grow in waiting season: they’re just not as productive.

Because Aligare weather don’t have dramatic changes in temperature,  a warm season or a cool wind are relative. The difference between warm weather and cool weather is just a few of our degrees. So korvi often dislike the cool of shady forests, and aemets might put on more clothing for warmth — but a human would find their world pretty comfortable. Ferrin have fur to help conserve body heat — but it’s not the dense, layered fur of a creature that needs to survive cold climes.

And because the inclement weather never produces snow or ice, Aligare characters have a poor grasp of the idea that water freezes at a specific temperature. They don’t even use the word “cold” except in reference to the fabled Cold apocalypse where plants die and water turns to stone. Frozen water is perceived as very, very scary.

snowfield

But despite thinking of frozen water as some kind of terrifying supernatural rock, Aligare folk do know more or less how it behaves. They describe it as either crystal that burns when you touch it, or rounded piles of nothingness. How did they get this information? Maybe a watercaster once honed their technique enough to discover ice. Maybe someone worked up the nerve to step through the Great Barrier and peek at the snowy wasteland outside. Whoever saw the phenomenon of snow/ice would surely tell everyone they knew — and the urban legend would spread.

The author who developed this world? I’m Canadian. My surroundings go from 30 degrees C in the summer to -40 degrees C in the winter. I’m used to extremes of temperature, so I guess my idea of an exotic fantasy climate is unchanging mildness. And I hate being cold, so there’s wish fulfillment mixed in there, too.


The Middling circle, an aemet tradition

The Middling circle is mentioned fairly often in my stories of Aligare. This place and its customs are very present in the daily lives of aemets and their allies.

Actually, though, the Middling circle is many places: the name refers to a ceremonial space every Aligare town or village has. Each community’s Middling circle is a short walk away from the busy heart of the community, ideally in the forest or at least near some trees or thickets. At its most basic, the Middling circle is just an open space with a few stones marking a circle.

Kind of like this. (Photo © Jim Henderson)

Kind of like this. (Photo © Jim Henderson)

Established communities usually use nicer stones — like quartz crystals or metal-studded ore — interspersed with statues of the thirteen Legend Creatures.

On a daily basis, aemets save up their household plant trimmings in a big basket. Anything that won’t burn cleanly in the hearth fire needs to be returned to the plant goddess: starchy root peelings, moldy trimmings, tough green stalks, and leftover medicinal herbs. Plant pieces are never carelessly thrown away — not by aemets or in front of aemets, anyway. Then, on the 15th morning of each month, everyone takes their full baskets and walks to the Middling circle. This is a community event, a time of togetherness and light hearts. Folk sing in praise of the plant goddess Verdana and all that she provides. It’s an aemet tradition, but the town’s korvi and ferrin are welcome to participate if they want to (and they often do). All of the town’s plant scraps are added to piles within the stone circle, then everyone goes back to their homes and has a nice meal. Not a special fancy feast. Just a nice meal. Meanwhile, the piled plant scraps begin their return to the earth.

compost-heap-3-DHD

Yes, the whole Middling custom is just glorified composting. It’s a ritual of putting organic material in a specific place to rot. But it certainly seems like a miracle, the way people’s unwanted cuttings transform into a dark, rich soil that nourishes new plants. It surely must happen by the plant goddess’s will. Aged compost soil from the Middling circle is shared back to the community whenever gardens or farmland need fertilizer, and it’s treated with mild reverence. Middling soil isn’t a sacred artifact or anything, but it does have a lot of heart involved in its making.

Someone esteemed always tends the Middling circle, someone well-regarded in the community. It’s usually someone deeply spiritual who wants to be closer to Verdana, since the Middling circle is about as close to a church as aemets have. This groundskeeper turns the trimming piles to aerate them, adds the right amount of soil and water, and keeps living plants from overgrowing the space. Plants are dissuaded with non-violent methods, of course: either digging them up and relocating them, or using elemental casting to ward them away.

This Middling circle custom is a vital part of every Aligare community. Even korvi-majority towns have some local crop production, and the few aemets living there are usually more comfortable when they have a familiar Middling circle to visit. After a time of crisis, it can be soothing to do a familiar task like carrying potato peelings to a quiet forest clearing.

Of all celebrations, Rose never thought she would be so glad for a simple Middling. New morning gemlight spilled down on Fenwater’s main street; dozens of friends milled around the gathered baskets of plant trimmings; it was normal and beautiful. Even with four fellow aemets singing salvation hymns into the clear air. There was no telling how long folk would sing, but salvation songs, at least, spoke of relief and serenity as much as mourning.

Remedy, a story of Aligare, Chapter 24

But why the name “Middling”? For the same reason it’s honoured on the 15th of every 30-day month. Plants are as vital to life as air and water, so they’re ordinary, in a sense. Each month’s Middling reminds folk that ordinary things are important. Beginnings and endings might be showier and more memorable, but the middles must never be taken for granted.

Another fun fact? Between their insect traits, their forest homes, their agriculture, their female deity, and that Middling circle custom, the aemet race made me think of leafcutter ants. That’s where I got the name aemet (from the Old English ǣmete and later emmet, meaning “ant”.)

It’s just another piece of life in Aligare.


The lucky rue plant

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.


Aligare wildlife: the pandora

I used a lot of familiar Earth animals in the Aligare world. Since the stories already use a non-human society full of new vocabulary, I wanted to provide some familiar knowledge bases for my readers. Other than some inborn magical alignment, Aligare dogs and horses are essentially the same dogs and horses we know.

But alongside these well-known animals, there live some more unusual creatures. One of these is the pandora. It hasn’t shown up in a published story of Aligare yet, but Render might just change that.

The pandora is a lizard about 3 feet long, with green scales and a hunched posture similar to an armadillo or a pangolin. It’s a solitary, ill-tempered creature with an exclusive diet of wood, bark and tree sap. It climbs a tree, chooses a thick, unblemished branch and applies its powerful jaws full of chisel-sharp teeth.

Gnawing straight downward, the pandora bores a hole through the branch. When spotted in the forest, pandoras are usually only visible as a hunched, scaly back sticking out of a tree branch. This way, their thinner-scaled bellies are protected by the same wood they’re feeding on (not that most predators are stupid enough to attack an armoured creature that can bite through hardwood).

Once the branch is chewed clean through and falls off, the pandora loses interest in that spot and moves to a different tree. Every few days, another perfectly good branch is severed from its tree and left on the ground. Aemet people are loath to harm a living tree themselves, so they get a lot of their useable wood from pandoras’ leavings.

How does a tree-worshipping culture feel about the pandora’s feeding behaviour? Well, all creatures need food. Aemets accept pandoras’ eating habits the same way they accept the fact that meat comes from animals. But unlike carnivores, a pandora doesn’t typically kill its food source. It might do a messy job of cutting through a branch but it still uses minute amounts of plantcasting to heal over the tree’s bitten surfaces. Clotting the wound, basically. Typical behaviour for Aligare herbivores. If pandoras are children of the plant goddess, and they heal their food sources, and they help aemets make use of Verdana’s precious wood … Then they clearly have their place in the natural order.

As for the other peoplekinds? Ferrin mostly avoid pandoras, in the same way you avoid the grumpy neighbour who doesn’t want you on his lawn. And korvi mostly leave them alone, too, although an already dead pandora might be harvested for its scales. They make nice beads and bangles.

I’m sure you fellow humans are wondering about the pandora’s name. To the Aligare peoplekinds, it’s just an animal name with no particular significance. But the pandora is usually seen curled up tightly, or hunched defensively, or burrowed into a tree branch. Since it guards its belly so carefully, many folk believe that seeing a pandora’s belly is bad luck and they’ll avert their eyes from the entire creature just to be safe. You might say that if the pandora opens itself up, bad things will emerge. As though it were a … box of some kind.

This is just one of the beings wandering around the Aligare land, living an ordinary, magic-touched life.