Asor is a small fishing village located along the banks of a massive lake that lies within the southernmost province of the empire of Neath. For generations, this large body of water has provided the inhabitants with a steady supply of eels, perch, trout and numerous other species of freshwater fish. So varied are the different kinds of fish to be found within the lake that the people of Asor have profited greatly from a bourgeoning trade with neighbouring towns that appreciate the diversity of fish that the little village has to offer.
Indeed, many regional chefs and gourmet diners have commented that fish from Asor, have no parallel elsewhere when it comes to the sheer range of them that are available for sale. Even certain species like the grey pike which notoriously hard to catch, can be easily obtained from the village. As such Asor enjoys some renown and prosperity due to its exports of fish to more cosmopolitan neighbouring towns.
Like most small villages, Asor has its own peculiar local legend that serves to distinguish it in some way from the numerous other villages to be found in the sprawling countryside of Neaths numerous provinces. The story of old Kigamu is such a legend. Told to every male child in the village once he is old enough to accompany to venture into the lake for the first time with his father, it reaches back into the misty past of Asor.
Ages ago, in a past that has long since retreated into obscurity, the village of Asor was a small settlement known as Hagati. Ruled by the people of the Vili tribe, its inhabitants lived under the dominion of their priest kings. These lords were proud and ferocious characters, quick to lead their warriors in raids against neighbouring tribes that dared question their honour. And none of their subjects would gainsay them whenever such an expedition was launched, for the priest kings were believed to be the incarnations of the revered deity known as Kigamu.
Master of the fish that swam in the lake, he alone could command the denizens of that watery expanse to allow the nets of the fishermen to ensnare them and thus feed his people. Reflecting this fact. the name ‘‘Kigamu’’ itself meant ‘‘Master of the fish’’ in the Villi language. To commemorate the vital role he played in feeding the Villi, every year, during a day widely regarded as the beginning of the season during which the fish would spawn, a powerful ceremony was enacted to ensure the continued wellbeing of the tribe.
The priest king, who was no less than the mortal vessel of Kugamu, would venture onto the surface of the lake on a raft. Chanting the scared hymns that praised his own divinity, he would then hurl pots of baked clay containing savoury dishes into the lake for the fish to feast upon. This ceremony symbolised his powerful connection to the fish dwelling in the lake as Kugamu.
This link was powerfully expressed by the royal insignia that adorned his clothes, a highly stylised symbol of a catfish. Able to thrive in the murkiest and most mud choked parts of the lake where other fish would quickly perish, these hardy fish symbolised the resilience and fortitude that the king himself was believed to posses as the embodiment of a deity that enabled his devotees to thrive even when other neighbouring tribes might starving to death after terrible crop failures. Indeed, they were regarded as the king’s personal possessions and no commoner could catch and eat them, on pain of death.
But as the ages passed, a pattern that had sustained the social and political fabric of Villi society for centuries would rapidly unravel. Increasingly, the priest kings of Villi became too absorbed in the ceremonial aspects of their rule and begun to neglect their more earthly duties as kings, influenced as they were by ambitious chiefs who persuaded their royal masters that as the shells of Kugamu, their true duty was to honour their own divinity rather than attend to the more mundane tasks that could be attended to by their vassals.
Meanwhile, the emerging kingdom of Neath in the far north was becoming a powerful force to be reckoned with. As the Villi kings retreated further within the confines of ceremonial pomp, the armies of Neath were becoming ever more powerful. At last when the entire north had been subjugated by the tenth king of Neath, that ambitious ruler ordered his armies to subdue the pagan south in the name of Neaths supreme deity, Neathia, omnipotent lord of the universe. Everyone that tried to resist was crushed the advance of this immense hoard was swiftly crushed. Hundreds of kings and princes were crucified by the victors as an example to others that would seek to oppose the authority of Neath.
Finally, when all their neighbours had been subjugated one by one, the Villi found themselves facing an invasion by a massive army led by ruthless and fanatical generals.
Terrified by the prospect of mass slaughter, the craven advisors of the Villi king betrayed their own lord and delivered him into the hands of the enemy. Following this shameful act of treachery, they offered their submission to the throne of Neath.
What followed next was the end of an era that had endured for as long as the Villi could remember. The most powerful man among the traitors who had surrendered the kingdom to the enemy, was summarily named mayor of their ceremonial capital located along the great lake while the domain traditionally held by the Villi royal line passed to the crown of Neath.
What was the most painful act of subjugation for these once proud people however, was the gruesome execution of their imprisoned king by his ruthless captors. On the orders of the leading Neathian general, the king was chopped slowly into bloody shreds even as he continued to scream in vain for the mercy that was never displayed. Once this grisly act had been accomplished, his remains were tossed into the lake for the fish to devour, in a savage mockery of the sacred ceremony that the slain monarch’s predecessors has traditionally enacted in better times.
A similar fate was subsequently inflicted on all his living relatives, thus bringing an end to the royal line that had ruled the Villi for centuries. The gruesome message conveyed by this act of regicide was clear. The age of kings had finally come to a close. From henceforth, they would be the subjects of the emperor of Neath. Grief stricken, some of the erstwhile subjects of the slain king privately prayed to Kugamu to forgive them for their failure to protect his final mortal shell from an untimely death and begged the god to remain forever in the lake as a protective presence that would always be around whenever his people needed his assistance.
To reinforce the destruction of Villi independence, all symbols of the king’s worship were delibratley destroyed by the invaders. Moroever, missionaries charged with spreading the faith of the intolerant supreme deity Neathia, were despatched in huge numbers to harass and intimidate the Villi peasantry into abandoning their allegiance to Kigamu and accepting the alleged truth that Neathia alone was the only god in existence truly worthy of worship. All other entities that had been hitherto revered as gods were merely evil spirits sent to lead mortals astray from the path of virtue and righteousness.
In a final act of asserting the newly attained supremacy of Neath, the conquerors even went so far as to rename the lakeside settlement of Hagati as ‘‘Asor’’ which simply meant ‘‘place of the big lake’‘.
As the following centuries developed, old shrines dedicated to the former royal lineage were torn down and churches dedicated to the worship of Neathia were erected in tear place. Eventually, the descendents of the Villi wholeheartedly embraced this alien god as their saviour and Kugamu, the god revered by their ancestors, soon became a pale shadow of what he once was.
As a consequence of the mass conversion of the Villi to the Neathian faith, the story of Kugamu underwent a radical transformation in the ensuing ceremonies to the extent where the current legend bears only a slight resemblance to the original myths. The village storytellers now regal the young sons of Asors fishermen with dramatic accounts of the demon Kugamu who still dwells in the great lake.
In ages past, so the story goes, Kugamu was a diabolical lake dwelling demon that had always demanded that the people of Asor feed it their firstborn sons on a yearly basis.
Cowardly and weak as they were, the townsfolk lacked the courage to stand up to the abominable monstrosity that lurked in the murky depths of the lake and were thus forced to hurl weeping, helpless infants to their doom in the dark waters. But now, so the elders say, the people of Asor no longer need to fear the monster. Two centuries ago, a magnificent army arrived from Neath to liberate lands that were still under the oppressive sway of heathen beliefs that were an insult to the true god Neathia. As these holy paladins marched into lands bordering the great lake of Asor, they were immediately accosted and questioned by curious onlookers as to their purpose in arriving in this sleepy little fishing village.
The courageous warriors of Neath replied instantly that they had come to serve the will of their god by ridding the benighted pagan lands of the evil that plagued them. At this brave and steadfast answer, the people of Asor instantly went down on their knees and piteously begged the soldiers of Neath to save them from the foul abomination that dwelled in the lake, emerging from it only to demand the flesh of their precious children to gorge itself upon.
Touched by their appeal, a priest who had accompanied the army, swore that with the divine blessing of Neathia, the omnipotent and uncontested creator and lord of the entire universe, he would put an end to the tyranny of this vile fiend forever. Once he had made this declaration, he strode to the bank of the great lake and challenged the demon that called itself Kugamu to emerge from its lair and face him in battle. Immediately, enraged by the insolent challenge offered to him by a mere mortal, the vile monstrosity emerged from the surface and charged at the priest.
As the storytellers tell it, the demon resembled a hideous amalgamation of catfish and human features combined together in a blood curdling patchwork of utter terror. Possessing the limbs of a human, but resembling a hideous catfish in all other respects, the abomination moved swiftly to enclose the brave cleric with its jaws and devour him in one fell gulp of its mouth.
But even as its slimy jaws closed around the head and torso of the priest, seemingly tolling his death knell, the ebon scales of the monsters grotesque and misshapen mass begun to visibly shift and distort, seemingly melting. Horrified by the inexpiable transformation befalling it and wracked by agony, Kugamu abruptly released its death grip on the priest and unleashed a wail of agony as it rapidly retreated away from the man that had caused it such pain.
As it begun to cower in abject terror, utterly helpless to halt the waves of pain coursing unrelentingly through its body, the priest begun to stirringly invoke the power of divine Neathia, the one true god, to rid the world of the infernal horror that had dared to question His might. As the priest’s chanting reached a powerful climax, before the astonished and jubilant eyes of the crowd, something truly miraculous unfolded.
The trembling monster shrunk rapidly in size and soon transformed into a mere catfish that thrashed pitifully as it gasped desperately. With a triumphant smile on his face, the priest cried aloud a paean of praise to Neathia, the Lord of All creation and then grabbed the wriggling fish with his hands. Calmly, he tossed it into the lake.
From henceforth, he declared, the demon Kugamu would no longer trouble the people of this land with his incessant demands for the flesh of their infants to feast on. Instead, trapped eternally in his much humbler form as a common catfish, he would feed on whatever offal that they found it in their hearts to offer him. And in return for their generous offerings, he would ensure that the people of Asor would always have fish to eat. Should Kugamu ever fail in this duty whoever, he would be snatched from the lake and eaten. And thus was born the current legend of the monster dwelling in the lake bottom. Moving songs are still sung in the village’s tavern about the brave but sadly anonymous cleric who did battle with the demon Kugamu and successfully conquered him.
It is obvious that centuries of intense indoctrination by intolerant clerics of the faith of Neathia have radically distorted and twisted the truth surrounding the being that was once worshipped by the Villi as a god.
Once hailed as a powerful deity that periodically manifested as a mortal king to rule over the Villi, he is now nothing like the divinity that he was formerly revered as. In a throwback to the ceremonies once carried out by the extinguished royal line of the Villi, the village fishermen now hurl a fermented mash of pig dung, maggots and rotting beef into the lake for Kugamu to feast on. This is done prior to every fishing trip in order for them to get a good catch since Kugamu is regarded as the lord of the fish that dwell in the lake and hence can command his scaled subjects to cast themselves into the nets of the fishermen of Asor.
The local clergy for their part, have no objection to what they perceive as a quaint but interesting little custom. This indifference stems from the fact that the people of Asor firmly acknowledge that Kugamu is hardly a god in his own right, but is rather a humbled and humiliated former demon who continues to rule over the lake in his much reduced state only at the express will of Neathia, the supreme deity that rules over all. Indeed, the people of Asor feel pity more than anything else for this alleged fallen demon.
In recent years however, Kugamu has enjoyed a new lease of life as the village’s mascot. Two years ago, the mayor ordered that a large granite statue of a catfish be placed in the tiny village square to commemorate the momentous transformation of Asor’s old oppressor into a friendly ally.
To this day, fifty years after its initial construction, little boys about to venture onto the lake with their fathers for the very first time, often stop to gawk at the statue in awe. When they question their fathers about the its strange province, they are dutifully told about the legend of old Kugamu, the immortal catfish that lives in the lake. Moreover, small wooden carvings of catfish now decorate the interior of the village tavern, while young men who compete against players from other villages in the annual inter-village wrestling matches, always wear jerkins with an image of a gap mouthed catfish sporting a magnificent pair of barbells embroidered on them.
Even the local vicar, despite his silent disproval for such paganish superstition, readily hands out baked sweetmeats in the form of a catfish to the little children during every festival day. Hence, to a visitor who didn’t know better, it would appear that the village of Asor has a serious obsession with catfish.
Perhaps the most interesting manifestation of Asor’s fixation with the legend of Kugamu, is the taboo against the eating of catfish within the village. Although catfish thrive in the lake, the people of Asor refrain from eating them, for fear that any catfish they scoop out of the water might very well be none other than Kugamu himself.
Kugamu is actually a Totemos or a minor spirit. Though prevented forever from reincarnating in a mortal form by the accursed men of Neath who so viciously slew his last mortal vessel, he continues to watch benevolently over his people. In return for their meagre but heartfelt offerings, he continues to exert his remaining strength to inspire the local fisherman to sail out with the confidence that they will get a good catch.
So powerful are these feelings of confidence he engenders, that the fishermen inevitably find their expectations fulfilled. Additionally, he also bestows small blessings that provide the occasion stroke of good luck when a fisherman succeeds in netting more than his usual catch. As a result, the people of Asor regard him with genuine fondness for what they see as his steadfast agreement in upholding the bargain that was imposed on him so long ago.
Although he is aware that his legend has been distorted in the most vicious way imaginable, he remains loyal to the people of Asor, refusing to forsake them for a crime that was not theirs. Instead, he only blames himself for having listened to the treacherous counsel of false advisors, while he yet ruled as king of the Villi. Moreover, their heartfelt affection for him also prevents him leaving the confines of the lake since if he were to do just that, he would simply be another wondering spirit with no one to provide him with offerings and other gestures of supplication.
Hence, he has resigned himself to living in the lake in the guise of a mere catfish, the form he assumed after the murder of his last mortal shell. It is the only thing that reminds him of what he once was, all that remains of his former glory. Understandably, he is a rather melancholy creature, an extremely pale shadow of the proud deity that he once was.