Khasikarana is in the great Archipelago, but off the main trade routes, and over seventy miles from any other island. Without much in the way of natural resources beyond fish, fresh fruit and the native coarse fiber, trading vessels have little reason to come here. Still, some do, and with the frequent storms that rake the Archipelago, ships sometimes are blown off course to weather them in the isle's well-protected lagoon.
The island is heavily forested, although dominated by olivewood trees of little use beyond the fiber painstakingly woven from its broad leaves. Game is scarce, other than migratory birds and a small and wary population of feral pigs from a forgotten ship. Its limestone-and-coral base would make fresh water more of an ongoing problem were it not for the frequent rainfall with which the Archipelago is blessed.
The village is small: not more than a hundred or so people, most of whom fish all the day through. Its dwellings are of limestone-block bases, olivewood walls and thickly thatched with broadleaf, and each cottage has a painstakingly wrought limestone tank for catching rainwater. Decorations and art largely consist of wall and lintel carvings, which are varied and skillfully wrought. The locals wear broadleaf fiber clothing, except for cloth traded to them by merchant vessels, which is largely saved for special occasions and ceremonials. They speak a heavily variant dialect of the Archipeligan creole, and it's downright difficult to communicate.
The village has little in the way of hierarchy. The most skillful fisher is the 'machimara,' who seems to have authority over the fishers while they are on the water. There is always a 'rakhato,' the hereditary village healer, and the 'bhakhanara,' an aged elder who appears to be a combination diviner/shaman/counselor. None of these three seem to have significantly more pull than any other villager, and decisions seem to be made by consensus among the adults.
A trading vessel is always welcomed. The villagers are happy to trade fresh or dried fish, broadleaf fiber (which makes strong rope), small quantities of quarried limestone, fresh fruit, native liquor (made from fermented fruit) and rare medicinals found in the forest. They're eager to receive in return cloth, metal tools, hardwood logs, pottery or stoneware jugs, and other such useful trade items. They're not savages, however, and are unimpressed by mirrors, glass beads, geegaws or anything not recognizably practical to their way of life. After years of intermittent trading, they're also shrewd enough to gauge relative worth.
Any visit by a vessel is grounds for a feast. The crew will be plied with food and drink, comely natives will invite them to their sleeping mats, and there will be dancing and song.
Contrary to paranoid genre expectations, nothing bad actually happens. No crewman is murdered in his sleep, no one is robbed, no one is informed that sleeping with a native means they're married, none of that. The next morning dawns without a hitch. Indeed, the sailors are encouraged to stay as long as they please Â– within reason, as spare food is finite Â– and are welcome to explore the island to their heart's content.
... until the ship attempts to leave the lagoon.
An extremely strong wind will rise, preventing the ship from doing so. Nothing the sailors can try Â– kedging, tacking, trying to shave the headland Â– will work, and the wind will shift to suit.
Sooner or later, one can expect the sailors to ask the villagers what goes on. The bhakhanara will tell them, regretfully, that the unnamed God of Khasikarana demands a sacrifice upon Its altar: the severed genitals of at least one male sailor. Once that sacrifice is made, the ship will be allowed to leave. The mariners are under no coercion to oblige, but even if they try to build a craft on the outer rim of the island (the natives won't stop them from trying), the incoming surf is perilous, and the winds will set against them as well. The wind doesn't impede a fisher's skiff, unless a mariner is on board.
The altar is deep within the forest, by ways only the islanders know. It is a misshapen lump of meteoric iron, not more than 4' high, and unadorned. The villagers must sacrifice the genitals of one not born on the island three times a year, at the change of seasons -- if not, storms gradually get stronger, the fish gradually become scarce, fruit and food rots more quickly, pregnant women begin to miscarry. They will speak of the terrible time seventy years gone when there were no ships for three years, during which many villagers died.
The severing must be done with a live victim (willing or no) Â– the rakhato will magically heal the wound to a stump, and dispense native elixirs to help with blood loss. If, however, a ship hasn't traded in some time, and deadlines have been missed, more grisly sacrifices must be made to make up for the shortfall.
The villagers won't try to extract the sacrifice by force: it is up to the crew to decide who gets the chop, and the villagers will only sigh and furrow their brows if the sailors do so forcibly. The villagers will resist any violence turned their way. The rakhato and the bhakhanara have genuine magic, the fishers are strong, agile, fit and skilled with spear and harpoon, and they're quite prepared to melt into the forest to engage in guerrilla warfare.
In any event, the ship will vanish in a fortnight's time, overnight, along with all aboard, stranding any sailors still on shore -- the villagers have no notion as to where it goes, and it never does return. If the crew decides never to leave, they will all perish before the end of the next rainy season, of various unknown diseases. (In cases where this happens, the village's ironclad rule is to hurl their bodies and personal possessions out to sea.)
If the sailors make the hard choice, they will find another element to the affair Â– they cannot speak of it. Even surviving emasculated sailors cannot: they cannot warn people of the island in any way, spoken or written, by omission or commission, even so far as a 'Don't sail there, I can't tell you why!'
An unscrupulous captain familiar with the curse might well take advantage of this, deliberately planning to sacrifice one of his crewmen to make the trade ... although no part of the curse prevents the sailor from gaining vengeance against the captain.
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? Responses (7)-7
I was enjoying the read right up until 'severed genitals'. Why that? Why not a hand or a still-beating heart? Is there some mythological precedent for some junk-loving aboriginal god?
Also, you say the ship will vanish in a fortnight - as in simply disappear suddenly or more like everyone's going to be dead?
What do the villagers gain from the sacrifice? What happens to them if there isn't a sacrifice 3x/year?
As far as bits 2 & 3 goes, thanks; I'll put those in.
As far as the first? How do you figure that cutting out someone's HEART is ever so much less naughty than sacrificing a sailor's genitals? Why NOT that? What makes THAT body part uniquely off-limits? And hell if I know whether there's a 'mythological precedent' for a junk-loving god. Does there need to be? That's the creating your own idea bit, I figure.
Oh, it's definitely not less naughty at all for the sacrifice to be a full-on sacrifice, not at all. I could see the idea behind it being that the sacrifice's life force feeds the island spirit somehow. I think it was the Aztecs that used to do the whole cut-out-your-heart-and-show-it-to-you sort of sacrifice.
Not that you need any real world or mythological basis. It just seemed unusual and a little arbitrary without an explanation or story reason behind the specific mutilation and I was curious if there was something you based that on. That's all.
A worthy addition to the substantial archepelago adorning the site. I like the clear presentation and the way the details paint a clear picture.
The genital sacrifice seems chosen primarily for its 'ick' factor, rather than any obvious reason established by the island's history or mythology. A stronger tie to the islanders' background would help the sacrificial ordeal fit together with the rest of the location. Perhaps some other sort of sacrifice would work, but the islanders' won't consider other options. Their legends might speak of an aged god who must renew his waning virility with mortals' sacrificed organs. Should his followers fail him, his unsatisfied concubine spirits would depart the island, taking the land's fertility with them.
I think that I would weaken the curse, moving away from 'They absolutely cannot escape, and then can't tell or warn of the island's curse'. There might be some way an ingenious sailor could outwit or overcome the island's defenses, eluding the natives and their cruel sacrifices. Similarly, there may be some way for a victim to share a warning, at risk of arousing the island spirits' anger.
And that's an interesting thought as well: that another manner of sacrifice might work, but the villagers won't consider another. They KNOW you need to sacrifice genitals, it's that way, it's always been that way, world without end, amen. The bhakhanara knows this to be true -- he or she says so. (But if the sailors want to slaughter each other en masse to see if it works, the villagers won't stop them from trying.)
'Ick factor?' This IS a horror sub, after all. I'm bemused at the premise that, uniquely, threatening male genitals is a line that shouldn't be crossed, but cutting out someone's HEART, that's OK.
Random thoughts as I read the sub. Some were prior to catching the end where it seems some loose ends were hastily tied. This isn't a sign of me not liking it, my mind spins as they read these and the more it spins, the more it has entranced me so it gets more attention.
Genitals. I assumed it was going to be on the ship to clear the ship to leave. Like the blood would have to fall on the wood in order for the curse to recognized a 'pardoned' ship and release it from the harbor. Doing it inland made me wonder if this eunuch could allow any ship in and out from now on. Or if they don't survive much longer after they leave. The eunuch always dies. Otherwise they may allow ships to have continuous safe passage to the island.
So the severing is for the island to alleviate the curse upon them. So why does the curse assist them in trapping the ship? Seems that the curse wouldn't care to help them, it is a curse. Does the bhakhanara cause the trapped ship and the bhakhanara releases the ship once they have the sacrifice? The islanders can't escape the curse but they can do things to assist them in fighting it. Perhaps the machimara can cause storms bringing in ships. The islanders can just say it is part of the curse makes sense of that.
The last is that they can't talk about it. If the entire crew knows about it, just can't speak...do they gag when they try and speak? do they die? do they stutter? Any number of clues would cause a concern to others.
Better would be that they lose all memory as soon as the sacrifice is given. Once the stump is healed then they all go into a fugue state where they can either safely sail their ship out without really comprehending (but also not questioning) or are brought to the village where they have been resting and wake up to another day...and the winds have died. The eunuch would be the only one with issues, but it would all be taken into account by a memory wipe to a point (or death as mentioned). All they remember is a pleasant visit to another island once back on the ocean.
The ship disappearing speaks of great magic to me which isn't justified by the limited curse. I would be looking for a great larger force of magic and/or evil to be in place to cause the vanishing of a ship due to the curse. Just seems out of place.
Don't get me wrong, really enjoyed it and it was a great write-up. Just seems like there were some things forced without proper explaining just to make it work. I can suspend disbelief, just has to make sense in context of the world....Plus, I like thinking about things. Some of this might have a better place in the idea section above if I fleshed out my thoughts a little more. Hmm.
A couple answers in return:
- I *really* like the bit about blood marking the ship to recognize that it's 'pardoned.' Some ritual the bhakhanara does, with a jar of the blood captured at the altar, a rune painted in the blood on the prow. That could also be a consequence of pissing the villagers off too much -- butcher some of them, and the bhakhanara is disinclined to do the ritual.
- Great magic? It's an evil god; that should be powerful enough. The villagers aren't part of that magic, and you can easily say that they're as much victims as the sailors.
- Here's why the curse of silence as it stands: without that, there's no notion, no real way of breaking it from the outside, and the horror aspect is greatly lessened. It's also another out for clever players to figure a way around it, and we all know they'll come up with SOMEthing.