Lescelina is striking, almost ethereal in appearance. She is tall and oddly thin, with a long mane of auburn hair done in dreadlocks. Her features are elven, high cheek-bones and a narrow face, but with the slightly swarthy shade of the Kanaarite elves. Her eyes are a queer bright blue, like shining aquamarines, and express a distant curiosity and mild amusement like a cat watching an insect.
She dresses in the garb of her people, fine linen dresses in shades of green, blue, and lavender, but they're clearly worn out, patched in places. While they look like they might have once been noble wear, they've been modified for practicality, the long flowing sleeves hemmed and wrapped around the wrists and the skirts reinforced with leather.
To those first meeting her, Lescelina's voice is shocking: rather than the lofty-yet-guttural Kanaarite tongue, she speaks a form of the Swynnish patois, folksy and rapid.
The Splinter, the Break
From the very start of her existence Lescelina has been an outcast. Some hundred years past she was born the daughter of a peasant Kanaarite huntswoman named Tochtli and a priest of Dreaming Piper, one of the greater courts of Kanaarite religion. Their relationship was a dangerous lark, members of separate castes whose union was forbidden under penalty of death. The priest, who had access to a harem of noble-born concubines, was enamored by the novelty of the huntress and enjoyed the conquest of her, talking late into the night on divine secrets privy to the religious caste. When Tochtli's belly was visible, the priest dismissed her with orders to strangle the child on its birth, lest shame be brought to him and his priestly court. The defiant huntress never looked on his face again, and in time a daughter was born.
Soon after birth her anomaly was recognized: her auburn hair. The lower castes have almost exclusively light shades of red, and the nobility sable black. The village immediately caste suspicions on Tochtli, married to a blacksmith of common birth. Tochtli rebuffed the accusations of promiscuity, saying that if her child had a touch of raven hair it must be a blessing from the gods. The village was placated if not satisfied by her answer, though her husband became cold and never truly accepted the child. On the day of naming, Tochtli called the girl Ichtalca, "Secret," which gave no particular help to the rumors.
Tochtli taught her daughter her craft, hunting alligators and marsh deer in the Kanaar. She also taught Ichtalca that she was no ordinary child but the daughter of the Dreaming Piper, blessed with not just dark hair but mystical foresight and perception.
"You are rejected, daughter, because of envy. The Sounding One laid hands on you inside me, and his song echoes now in your blood. They are jealous, daughter, that they lack your gift. That is why the Court of the Dreaming Piper refuses to consecrate you, and the village will not let you play with their children, and why even your father refuses you. Do not forget what the god has done for you, nor squander it, else your suffering wasted."
The Water, the Smoke
Tochtli died when Ichtalca was a young woman, killed by Taalkatsin while hunting. The devastated Ichtalca had no family left, her never claimed by her biological father and Tochtli's husband having left them both. She eked out an existence on the edge of the village, hunting for survival.
Until one day early in the morning there came a knock at the door of her hut. Outside was an older woman, someone she recognized from the village whom everyone called Nanni, "grandmother." A beloved figure, she was one of the few that gave Ichtalca kindness. She gave a sad smile to the young woman, now sixteen.
"Ah, Secret One! I am so sorry. I am sorry I did not know, that I could not see it. But the Dreaming Piper has given me a vision. I know your past, dear child, and now even your future. The path of the Dreamer is dim with fog and smoke, but he cleared it and gave me a glimpse. How wondrous, daughter! Now, let me bless you before it is too late."
With that Nanni produced a knife and quickly drew it across her wrist. Ichtalca was shocked and reached to stop the blood, but Nanni slowly shook her head with a weak smile. Chanting, she drew her wrist across Ichtalca, her head, her breast, her arms, the copious blood coating the huntress. Her voice became a whisper and her arm shook, but she kept chanting and anointing until there was nothing left. Nanni fell to her knees, her lips moving soundlessly in a tongue Ichtalca could not perceive, until she gave one last shudder and died.
Ichtalca, stunned, wept for the woman, and immediately made an offering of her body to the gods as was tradition. Still, she did not understand what had happened. Nanni was just a kind old woman, what drove her to such a strange ritual and death, and of what vision did she speak? When she finished the ceremony and burnt up Nanni's body as incense to the Dreaming Piper, the exhausted huntress slept.
Then she dreamed terrible things.
The Tooth, the Tail
Ichtalca was not herself - she was many. She was Nanni, the old woman, who practiced the magic and medicine forbidden even to the priests of the Courts. She was the High Priest of the Dreaming Piper, inhaling the herb-smoke and dancing the vision dance. She was Ran'Kanaar, the first Great Father, laying the foundation of Gal'etas. She was Taalkatsin, one of the alligator people, hunting and being hunted. A thousand lifetimes, and a thousand deaths, all in an evening.
She awoke deep in the swamp, the night dark. Her body was slick with blood - what or whose she did not know. As she looked out into the darkness to gain her bearings, she saw a dozen glowing eyes looking back: the Taalkatsin, the gatorfolk. Six of them stood in a circle around her. Strangely, she did not feel threatened. One of them spoke in their snarling and guttural tongue, and somehow she understood:
You are Mother. You must come. You must protect the Nest. You must come.
Without fear, Ichtalca stepped forward. The Taalkatsin hissed in approval and led her onward. Into the swamps they went.
After what seemed like hours, they stopped at an abandoned and broken structure. The architecture was in the ancient Kanaarite style, though much of it was wrapped in vines and crumbling. Ichtalca recognized it somehow, it was a place she knew. She entered the structure and found a large room - an old temple - with a stone throne on a dias. She sat in the dias - it was where she belonged. Then she ordered the Taalkatsin to build, to repair this, her Palace. She was their queen.
The Bow, the Net
In the months following Ichtalca's arrival in the Palace, hunting parties of Swynfolk began to make their way into the deepest south, past the Adûrak Delta. They were hunting Taalkatsin in revenge for the loss of a previous party hunting further north, one of many such conflicts that had been escalating in the Moor. One party found themselves beyond the Delta and deep in the jungles, where they found a curious ruin and a band of Taalkatsin. As they plotted an attack strategy, another group of gatorfolk ambushed them from behind. Several of the party were killed, but the rest were surprised to find themselves grabbed by the Taalkatsin, not by the jaws to be thrown into a death roll but instead by their claws. They were dragged into the ruined Kanaarite fane, terrified and screaming.
"Dat woman... She was terrible to behold. Terrible but beautiful. She sat on a great throne, surrounded by her gatorfolk servants. She stood and she looked mighty angry. She look down at me an' Tergryn an' de rest, and she yell in some strange tongue - de elf-folk, I tink. She had a fury in her soul, an' I could feel her evil eye on me. Doric - hui, poor Doric! - she had 'er gatorfolk slash his belly wit' his claws and tore out his entrails. De gobbled dem up... Poor Doric...
"She kep yellin', and we were weepin' mightily, sayin' we didn' understand her tongue. I tink she finally realized what we was, an' she came close an' looked us in de eyes. After a forever she growled someting to the gatorfolk - she was talkin' to 'em! - an' de dragged me away. I don' know what happen to Tergryn, only Ophro does, but gods have mercy on 'im!"
- Jorif Grisold, survivor
The Task, the Burden
Ichtalca kept the hunter Tergryn in her palace, half guest and half prisoner. He under the terrifying guard of the Taalkatsin, but the queen dined with him and spoke constantly, each in their own tongue and without understanding the other. She showed him mystical things, magic spells and conjurings. She healed his wounds with a blessing, and said words over him that made him feel stronger or smarter or faster. He couldn't fit her Kanaarite name on his Swynnish tongue, she he called her Lescelina after the queen in a fairy tale he'd heard. Slowly they learned each other's language, and the queen - Lescelina now - asked him about his people. Where they were, how they lived, what they believed, why they hunted, what they wanted. After months with her, Lescelina finally gave Tergryn her blessing to leave. But the hunter refused: he had become entranced with the Kanaarite woman and her exotic mysticism. He wanted to learn her magics, things that Swynfolk had long desired to learn from the marsh elves. Tergryn offered himself as her disciple. Lescelina saw an opportunity, a chance to protect her Taalkatsin perhaps from both the Swynfolk and her Kanaarite brethren.
Tergryn finally returned to the Swynnish villages more than a year after his capture. His tales amazed the Swynfolk - an elf wizard-queen who commanded gatorfolk - but most found his story unbelievable, inconceivable. Why would the elves leave the Kanaar, and who could learn the tongue of the gatorfolk if such a thing even existed? But he went among them as a healer, providing magics and blessings the clerics of other faiths couldn't match. Those on the outskirts of society, the poor, the sick, the heretics, followed Tergryn and asked him to teach them his ways. He in turn brought them past the Adûrak Delta to Lescelina's palace, and the witch-queen taught them the ways of Kanaarite religion while she learned the heresies of the Decathran gods. From this band the Swynnish religion of Jampiri was born.
Encountering the Witch Queen
The Walls, the Nest
The palace of the witch-queen is a place of pilgrimage for followers of Jampiri, but because of its sanctity and location only the most dedicated or desperate seek her out. Her palace - the Nest, as it is sometimes called - is always under guard, typically by Taalkatsin but also Lescelina's court of followers, outcast men, elves, and even dwarves. The guards are not on orders to kill on sight, but they are fierce defenders and take offense quickly and violently. Anyone approaching the queen's palace must be appear nonthreatening, and convince the guards of their authentic purpose.
Once the guards are convinced, they will be firmly escorted through the gates and into the chamber of the witch-queen. Though ancient and ruined, her temple seems to enhance her mystical presence. Two large copper braziers are on either side of her, always burning. Her throne is elevated on a high stone dias, covered in ancient runes and still wrapped in moss and vines. The throne is much larger than the queen herself, framing her with an intricate turquoise inlay sunburst. A servant will present the devotees and their request. She judges her callers coolly with an attitude between indifference and mild curiosity.
"O Queen, do you accept dese callers?" the man asked in his high and nasally voice. "Will you grant dere request?"
The queen seemed to not be paying attention, her head propped up with a forearm as she gazed through a hole in the roof at the moon, her fingers strumming the beams of moonlight like strings. "Tell me," she said softly, a lilting Kanaarite edge to her Swynnish pidgin, "why should I give you dis blessing?"
Marien gulped, shaking slightly. "M- m- my queen, witout your blessing, I- I- I fear our harvest will fail. My people - dey will starve."
"Your people," Lescelina repeated, slowly lowering her hand. "Your people hunt my dear Taalkatsin. Do dey not eat enough of dere flesh?"
"I - Your... What?"
"My Taalkatsin," she repeated, a harder edge working into her voice. She gestured toward the guards. "The ones you call 'gatorfolk.' But you don' treat them as 'folk,' do you?"
A sob escaped Marien's throat. "I am not a hunter, y- your majesty!" she pleaded. "I do not eat dere flesh, nor do I let my sons hunt dem!"
"Your people do," she said coldly. "Your people."
"Dey must hunt when de harvest is poor, or - "
In an instant Lescelina was in the air, descending from her throne with a violent leap. She seemed to propel herself down in front of Marien, landing inches from the Swynwoman's face. Marien would have lept back if not held in place by the guards. The gatorfolk around her seemed to hiss in pleasure at her fright.
"Do not tempt me!" the wtich-queen roared, ice blue eyes flaring with light. "Do you dare threaten me? You will hunt my Taalkatsin if you do not get your way?!" Marien could only sob. The witch held her gaze for a long moment, a queer look on her lean face. As suddenly as her rage came, it subsided. "Do you have an altar to Cloudmaker?"
Marien nodded, and the witch-queen produced a satchel from seemingly out of nowhere. "Burn a pinch of this every night for de next month on it," she said, placing the bag in Marien's quivering hand. "De seasons will be cool an' wet this year, an' you don' want him around bringing too much rain. He will not like dis herb, and he will stay away." She raised a long index finger. "But you need de attention of Catehuachtli, de Lady of Sustenance. She will keep de earth warm for you."
Lescelina wagged her index finger. "But." She smiled. "She requires sacrifice." In Marien's other hand she placed a kormat dagger, long and deadly sharp. Marien's mouth opened to protest but Lescelina's suddenly tightened fist silenced her. "Sacrifice. You know de men who hunt here. Kill one of dem with dat blade. Mix de blood with vinegar and drink it. De Lady of Sustenance will know you from de dead blood, an' it will please her."
Marien stared down at the blade. "It is de only ting that will work," the witch-queen answered her unasked question. Her gaze become suddenly warm, and she placed a hand gently on Marien's cheek. "Do no fear, daughter. You come for de blessings of de gods, for de medicine. You have only to do dese tasks an' de gods will answer you.
The Torch, the Light
In addition to blessings on Jampiri faithful, Lescelina can be a valuable source of rare arcane knowledge, particularly related to the Moors. She has extensive knowledge of Kanaarite culture, history, and ritual, valuable in the difficulty of acquiring such information from the reclusive marsh elves. The witch-queen is also closely tied to the land and knows many of the secret places and artifacts in Swynmoor. Whatever one seeks, come willing to negotiate: nothing is given without cost, and the queen's demands can be high.
We Shall Not Die, We Shall Not Perish
Lescelina's powers from from a mystic confluence of chance, supposedly foretold by the first high priest-king of the Kanaar. She is the inheritor of an ancient order or priestesses, a nameless order dedicated to the delicate balance of nature in the swamps. Since the Kanaarites first learned magic, some have tried to rule over the Moor as a conquerer without regard to the natural harmony. They have twisted the will of creatures to their own purposes - sometimes with disastrous consequences - and none more than the Taalkatsin who are unwilling guardians on the border of the Kanaar. But in those ancient days one woman, blessed with the gift of tongues, heard the cries of the gatorfolk and dedicated herself to become their guardian. For a time she was honored as a protectress of nature and given her own temple.
In her old age, she chose a successor and passed down her sacred blood through ritual. Her successor fulfilled her duties, and passed them on the same way, and so on down the line. Eventually the primitive marsh elves took to building an empire, and with the birth of the Kanaarite Empire the queen of the gatorfolk lost her prestige. But the order survived in secret, its most recent successor since Ichtalca being Nanni, the old woman of the village. In her old age a secret was revealed to her by the deity called Dreaming Piper. He told her of a secret prophecy:
Now at this very time the sun has shined, has dawned; the daughter has budded, has blossomed. The bastard, the castoff will succeed, she will take the task, the burden. Now behold, now feel, she will lead the people, she shall rule the subjects. The order will live: we shall not die, we shall not perish.
Nanni recognized the meaning of the words, and went immediately to Ichtalca's hut to pass on her position through the rite. By means of this sacrament Lescelina is counted by the Taalkatsin as their Mother-Queen. She has been granted not only their speech, but also their form, and she can become a Taalkatsin at will. Rumors abound of this nature of hers, the most sensational that she is literally the mother of the gatorfolk, mating with them and brooding eggs in the swamps. In fact she only takes the form as a disguise, and when she needs its physical strength.
Beyond her role as the Taalkatsin Mother, she also acts as the de facto high priestess of Jampiri. Her mother Tochtli taught her the secrets gleaned from the illicit relationship with Ichtalca's father, and though Lescelina lacks some of the finer points of Kanaarite theology, she can perform the rituals as well as any marsh elf priest. Her time with Tergryn and the Swynnish worshipers has taught her the faiths of Decathros, making her a nexus of syncretism.
In the Palace of the Witch-Queen
If the party must seek some ancient artifact of Swynmoor or elsewhere in Decathros, Lescelina may have knowledge of it. They must seek her in the Nest, talking their way past the guards to her chamber. She always seeks her own interest first, so she may send them on some task: keeping outsiders from invading the Moor, stopping hunters after her dear gatorfolk, etc. As a priestess of Dreaming Piper, she often speaks in riddles, frustrating those seeking a direct answer
The Rope, the Net
The party's quests find them in the villages of Swynmoor and in need of their cooperation. Swynfolk don't much like outsiders, so they must prove their worth by hunting gatorfolk in the swamps. While they may be initially successful, their presence does not go unnoticed and soon a pack of the hulking lizard-people track them down. Their leader appears to be a hulking female, acting far more intelligent than her followers. They surround the party, hissing and snarling, then the female suddenly changes forms and becomes an auburn-tressed elf woman. She berates the party for their transgression, and they must either plead their way out of being consumed or fight a pitched battle against the Taalkatsin.