The work contained on this page is the property and copyright of Jay Johnson and is used with permission.
The People of the Ride
By Jay Johnson (a.k.a Halidan)
Located north of Moonsea and south of the Tortured Land lies the broad green swale known as the Ride, which is home to numerous roaming barbarian tribes. These folk have been raised in a culture that relies upon riding and shooting and they know how to make the most of a charge. They are known for their love of battle, and they rarely waste time in meeting a foe in blade-to-blade combat.
These Moonsea barbarians are thought of mainly as drunken, berserk brawlers who destroy or plunder anything within reach. The truth of this popular image is best summed up by the long-dead mage Mhzentul, who said: "If ye hunt a man like a beast, and torment him like a beast, in the end he will lose patience and turn upon thee as a beast. Who then, is the greater beast?”
The Barbarians of the Ride consist of many small clans, all with differing customs and war-chiefs. Sometimes these clans are busy feuding with other clans, but at other times they unite to form a solid wall, opposed to those who would invade their lands or hunt them down. It was thus that these clans of barbarians prevented the mighty Zhentilar armies from sweeping across the Moonsea North unopposed after the fall of the Citadel of Raven.
The clans last gathered together to fight a common foe in the Year of the Dragon (DR 1352). In that year at Stoneshoulder Creek, which is roughly midway along the northern flank of the Dragonspine Mountains, the nomads overwhelmed and slaughtered a large Zhentilar-led army that had set out from The Citadel of Raven to march to Glister. The mages of Zhentil Keep (know to the barbarians as “the black cloaks”) won free from the slaughter by means of their Art. But neither horse nor soldier of the Zhent army came back from that bloody field.
After the battle, the nomads set up a stone near the creek that declared simply "We wait." And wait they still do. But who are these barbarians who wait on the plains known as The Ride? And what is it that they wait for? These and many other questions remain unanswered until now.
The people who are known to most of Faerun as the Barbarians of the Ride are descended from the Rengarth Barbarians of ancient Netheril. In their own tongue, the Barbarians of the Ride call themselves the “Eraka.”
The Eraka migrated to their present territory from the Rengarth Tundra, which included most of the lands north of the Narrow Sea (now swallowed by the Anaroach Desert and the High Ice of Anaroach.) sometime between -461 DR (when the phaerimm begin casting the spells that eventually lead to the creation of the Anauroch Desert) and -339 DR (by which time the High Ice has grown to cover most of their former range).
In all likelihood, the migration of the Tundra Rengarth peoples to the lands north of the Dragonspine Mountains did not occur in a single instance. Most probably, the migrations occurred in a series of waves as the expanding glaciers of the High Ice made daily life in parts of their original ranges impossible.
There is no surviving evidence that the Tundra Rengarth made extensive use of horses. The Netherese records that have survived indicate that the people of the Rengarth Tundra migrated seasonally on foot between their various hunting grounds and lodges. The terrain of the Rengarth Tundra would make it difficult for its inhabitants to make extensive use of horses. One surviving Netherese record describes the tundra as follows:
“This frigid land (referring to the Rengarth Tundra) was completely ice covered in winter and early spring. During late spring, summer and most of the fall, the ground was a soupy mess that sucked the boots off travelers. “
Thus, while the Tundra Rengarth probably knew about the existence of horses from Rengarth and Angarth tribes living south of the Narrow Sea, we must assume that the introduction of the horse into these people’s daily lives occurred either during or after their migration to the territory today know as “the Ride.”
The Eraka speak Erakic which is a dialect of Ulou. This language has been handed down among their clans since the days of ancient Netheril. The language is related to the modern languages of Halrua, with heavy influence from the Damaran of the neighboring lands of the Moonsea and Vaasa.
Eraka Hunting - Range
The Eraka are nomadic hunters. While they can (and do) hunt most of the animals in the Ride and the Tortured Lands, the two main sources of food for their tribes are surface Roth’e and the various species of deer that inhabit the woodlands bordering on their ranges (especially the Border and Frozen Forests).
The current lands inhabited by the Eraka probably contained more game and in greater variety of species than any other part of the Moonsea North. The land is one of sharp contrasts. The Ride is a far-stretching grassy prairie, affording rich pasturage for the roth’e and antelope. To the south are the Dragonspine Mountains, which contain numerous rough breaks and foothills for mountain sheep. To the east and north are deep forests – both the Border Forest and the Frozen Forest, where the white-tailed deer and elk can browse and hide.
In between the forests and the mountain chains are numerous wooded buttes, loved by the mule deer. While there are no major rivers in these lands, there are numerous smaller streams and rivers. There are also many small, swampy valleys which are home to numerous moose. Throughout these lands, fur-bearing animals abounded. Noisy hordes of wild fowl passed north and south during their migrations.
Eraka Hunting - Methods
While the Eraka are nomadic and uneducated in the formal sense, they have developed a number of ingenious methods to insure the taking of game in large quantities. This is especially true of their hunting methods for surface roth’e. One of these hunting methods is called “deep kettle of blood.” This is a large corral, or enclosure, built out from the foot of a steep hill – typically against a cliff or bluff.
The barricade is formed out of rocks, and logs or brush - anything in fact to make a close, high barrier. From the top of the bluff, directly over the kettle, the Eraka build two long lines of additional rock and/or brush piles. These piles extended far out on the prairie, diverging from each other like the arms of the letter V.
Once this elaborate set up is completed, the Eraka lure the roth’e into the trap. This is accomplished by several of the most skilled hunters dressing themselves in head-dresses made of the head and horns of a roth’e and robes made from other parts of their hide.
Properly disguised, these hunters approach a herd of roth’e while other members of their clan concealed themselves behind the rocks and bushes which formed the V, or chute. The disguised hunters move about until they attract the attention of some of the roth’e and when they began to look at them, the hunters slowly walk toward the entrance of the chute. Usually the roth’e follow.
Once the herd has began to move, the hunters gradually increase their pace. The roth’e speed up as well, until both hunters and animals are moving at a fats lope. Finally, when the roth’e are well into the chute, the people began to rise up from behind the rock piles which the herd had passed, and to shout, bang on drums and wave their robes. This frightens the roth’e at the back of the herd and before long the whole herd was running at headlong speed toward the edge of the cliff.
When they reached the edge, most of the animals are pushed or carried over by their own momentum. Often, even the rear-most of the roth’e herd plunge down into the kettle. Many animals are killed outright by the fall; others have broken legs or broken backs. The barricade prevents even an uninjured roth’e from escaping, and all are soon killed by the Eraka arrows and spears.
Methods like this enable the Eraka to kill large numbers of roth’e, especially in the autumn. Such kills allow the Eraka to prepare great stores of dried meat for the winters, which can be fierce on the Ride.
The Eraka use no special means to capturing deer in any numbers. They are usually killed singly. The hunters creep up on elk and deer in the brush, and when they had come close to them, they can be killed either with spear or bow & arrow.
Deadfalls and snares are used to catch wolves, foxes, rabbits and other fur-bearing animals. These furs are either used for winter clothing or traded to the cities on the southeastern edges of the Ride.
The Eraka are very talented hunters on the open prairie. They have no superiors in the art of stalking and killing wary animals like the antelope. Surprisingly, they are also quite skilled in climbing mountains and hunting sheep and goats in the Dragonspine Mountains.
Being nomadic hunters, the barbarians of the Ride typically wear clothing (and armor) made from the dressed skins of the animals they hunt. Plant-based cloth and metal armors can only be acquired by raiding or trading, making their use by the Eraka uncommon at best.
The non-hunters of the Eraka seldom wear head covering. Hunter in the field will often make use of a cap made from the skin of an animal, such as the antelope, wolf, badger, or coyote. As the skin from the head of these animals often forms part of the cap and the ears are left on, it makes a very odd-looking head-dress. Sometimes this cap can even be made out of a large bird, such as the sage-hen, duck, owl, or swan.
When not out riding, the women of the Eraka usually wear a dress or smock made out of the tanned skins of elk, deer, sheep, or antelope. The typical dress has long sleeves tied at the wrist, a skirt which reaches half-way from knees to ankles, and is usually worn with leggings that tie above the knees. If a smock is worn, it reaches from the neck to below the knees. There are no sleeves on the smock and the armholes have a top covering - sort of a cape or flap, which reached to the elbows. Footwear depends on duty – for camp wear, women often go barefoot or wear soft leather slippers (called moccasins). If they are away from camp, sturdy leather boots are typical.
Winter wear for women is similar, with the addition of a warm roth’e robe and weather resistance overshoes (called mukluks) which like almost all Eraka outerwear is made from roth’e hide. These mukluks are often made with multiple layer soles, which greatly increased their durability. Women’s footwear is often ornamented over the instep or toes with designs worked in porcupine quills or beads.
Summer wear for Eraka men is typically a light, sleeveless leather vest with a breech-cloth and leggings which reached to the thighs. As the weather cools, the men add shirts with full sleeves and soft leather pants to their outfits. Like the women, in winter the Eraka men don robes of tanned roth’e skin. Both sexes wear belts, which support and confine the clothing, and hold knife-sheaths and other useful tools.
Necklaces and earrings are worn by both Eraka men and women. Typically, they are made from shells, bone, wood, and the teeth and claws of animals. Bird feathers are used to decorate hair and clothing as well as being used to ornament shields and also weapons. Each clan has it own restrictions and traditions about which members can wear certain types of feathers (typically raptor feathers like eagle and hawk). Non-raptor feathers, especially bunches of owl or grouse feathers are sometimes woven directly into the braids.
Being a nomadic people, the Eraka need shelter that is light weight and easily portable for most of the year. Only during the winter months will clans be staying in the same area for more than a couple of weeks at a time. The rest of the year, they follow the herds.
The Eraka tent is called a lodge. It is a tall structure made of tanned roth’e skin, nicely cut and sewn together so as to form an almost perfect cone. At the top are two large flaps, called ears, which were kept extended or closed, according to the direction and strength of the wind, to create a draft and keep the lodge free from smoke. The hide covering was supported by light, straight pine or spruce poles, about eighteen of which were required. These lodges are typically about fourteen feet in diameter at the base, and ten feet high. Larger lodges are possible, extending up to thirty+ feet in diameter. These larger lodges usually have multiple sections of hides which button or tie together.
The lower edge of the lodge is fastened, by wooden pegs, to within an inch or two of the ground. Inside, a lining, made of additional brightly painted skins reaches from the ground to a height of five or six feet. Thus, an air space the thickness of the lodge poles (usually about two or three inches) is created between the lining and the lodge covering. The door to the lodge is three or four feet high and was covered by another flap of skin, which hangs down on the outside. A properly constructed lodge, furnished with plenty of roth’e robes for the seats and bedding, and a good stock of firewood, is very comfortable, even in the coldest weather.
Inside a lodge, the space is partitioned off into couches, or seats - each about six feet in length. At the foot and head of every couch is a mat, made of straight, peeled willow twigs, fastened side by side. This mat is suspended on a wooden tripod, making convenient places to store household items which are not in use.
The owner of the lodge always occupies the seat or couch at the back of the lodge, directly opposite the door-way. Seats to the right of the owner are occupied by spouses (women can and do own lodges in some clans) and other family members living in the lodge. In large Eraka families, the family often occupies all of the seats in the lodge. The places on owner’s his left were reserved for visitors. When a visitor enters a lodge, they are assigned a seat according to their rank - the nearer to the host, the greater the honor.
Weapons of the Eraka
The Eraka prefer to use broadswords and short bows. In addition to these weapons, they also favor those weapons that can be used as both missile and melee weapons, like short spears. Since the Eraka typically lack the facilities for mining ore and forging steel, most of their broadswords are obtained through trade or captured as booty during raids.
The warriors of the Ride also made use of war clubs and mauls. The handles of spears, mauls and war clubs are usually made of green wood, fitted as closely as possible into a groove made in the head of the weapon. The weapon is then bound together with strips of fresh hide and sinew. Because this material shrinks while drying, it binds the weapon head tightly to the haft.
The short bows of the Eraka are crafted by skilled hunters and warriors in each clan. These short bows are generally made of ash wood, which grows in abundance in the foothills of the Dragonspine Mountains. If, for any reason the Eraka cannot not obtain ash for their bows, they tend to substitute choke-cherry or hazel wood.
Eraka arrows are made from the shoots of the servis bush, a scrub plant that flourishes on the plains of the Ride. These shoots are straight, very heavy, and not brittle. The shoots are smoothed and straightened by knives or finely sharpened stones. Each Eraka hunter marks their arrows by painting them, or by some special combination of colored feathers. There are two kinds of arrow heads - barbed points for battle & war, and barb less heads for hunting.
Knives of all sorts are also used by the Eraka, both finely made stone knives made from the flint deposits in the Dragonspine Mountain as well as metal knives taken though war booty and trade.
Another tradition among Erakanian warriors is the medicine bundle. A medicine bundle is a small leather pouch that typically attaches to a belt or has a shoulder strap. The pouch is filled with various items and the sewed shut. The contents that needed to be gathered in an individuals bundle were revealed to the young warrior in a dream. A young warrior, often under the tutelage of the bands Shaman, would go out to some lonely place and fast until they had a vision. Individual bundles are treated with great respect, especially if the warriors who carried those bundles were successful in war. A warrior’s medicine bundle was always placed with his/her body when they died.
Household Goods of the Eraka
As hunters and nomadic people, the Eraka are often obliged to invent new and different ways to keep themselves supplied while on the move. Things that most settled people take for granted, like a warm fire at the end of the day, are sometime difficult for the Riders. While the Eraka typically flints and steels to produce their cooking and warming fires, they also have invented a unique way to carry fire from hunting camp to hunting camp – the fire horn.
A fire horn is a roth’e slung by a rawhide strap over the shoulder, but like a small quiver. The horn was lined with moist, rotten wood, and the open end had a wooden stopper fitted to it. On leaving camp in the morning, the Eraka who carried the horn (typically the youngest hunter) took from the fire a small live coal and put it in the horn, and on this coal placed a piece of punk (typically fungus or bundle of slightly moist, rotting wood) and then plugged up the horn with the stopper. The punk smolders in this almost air-tight chamber.
Typically the young Eraka hunter checks the horn every two to three hours to see the amount of fuel remaining. If the fuel was nearly consumed, they would put another piece of punk in the horn. Once the young hunter reaches the next nights camp, the young hunter would gather enough wood for the initial fire and use the coals in the horn to kindle the camps fire.
Life in an Eraka camp is hard, but it’s not without many of the comforts of village life anywhere in Faerun. The Eraka make buckets, cups, basins, and dishes from the lining of the roth’es paunch. This material is torn off in large pieces, and stretched over a flattened willow or cherry hoop at the bottom and top. The hoops are sewed into a double layer of muscle and the needle holes are patched with gum or tallow. The largest of these muscle buckets are shaped somewhat like our wooden ones, and usually hold four or five gallons.
The buckets are more or less flexible, and when carried in a pack, they can be flattened down like a crush hat. Since they are made of raw hide, the buckets don’t usually stand up when full. They are hung up by a leather thong handle on a little tripod. Cups are also made in the same manner as these buckets, but on a smaller scale and without a handle. The cups are simply kept in hand until the liquid is drained from them.
The Eraka make highly serviceable ladles and spoons out of wood, roth’e and mountain sheep horn. Basins or flat dishes are sometimes also made out of mountain sheep horn. The Eraka boil, split, and flatten the horn, which are then fitted and sewn together with sinew. The result is a flaring, saucer-shaped dish. These are used as eating dishes. If they are not well fitted, the dishes will leak a little, but since most of the Eraka meats are cooked over an open fire and are served with no sauce, this is rarely a problem.
In addition to animal horn, some clans of Eraka also make wooden bowls and dishes from the knots and protuberances of trees. These knots are dug out and smoothed by fire and the knife.
Foods of the Eraka
The diet of the Barbarians of the Ride is more varied than one would think. Large quantities of servis berries are gathered whenever there is a crop (each bush bears fruit only every other year). These berries are dried, and stored for future use. Choke-cherries are also gathered when ripe, and pounded into a paste, stones and all. This paste is sometimes eaten by itself, but more often is used to flavor soups and to mix with roth’e fat and bits or roasted meat to make a trail bar the Eraka call “pemmican.”
Bull berries are a favorite fruit and are gathered in large quantities, as are the white berry of the red willow. This last berry is an exceedingly bitter, acrid fruit, and most non Eraka will find it unpleasant or even repugnant. The Eraka, however, are very fond of it.
The camas root, which grows abundantly in certain localities on the northern slopes of the foothills of the Dragonspine range are also dug up, cooked, and dried. The roots are usually gathered in early summer. Once a great quantity has been gathered, a large pit is dug and the bottom is lined with flat stones. Then a hot fire is built. After the fire has burned for several hours, the coals and ashes are removed. The pit is then lined with grass, and is filled almost to the top with camas bulbs. Over these, more grass is laid, then twigs, and then a layer of earth, about 4 inches thick. On top of the pit, another fire is built, which is kept going for between one to three days, depending on the amount of bulbs in the pit.
Once the slow roasting is finished and the pit is opened, the children will gather about the pit to get a taste of the syrup that has been boiled out of the roots and collects on the twigs and grass. This syrup is very sweet. The fresh-roasted camas tastes something like a roasted chestnut. After being cooked, the roots are spread out in the sun to dry, and are then put in sacks to be stored away.
Bitter-root is also gathered. The Eraka dry the bitter-root and boil it with a little honey or sugar. It is a slender root, an inch or two long and as thick as a goose quill and white in color – almost looking like a thin noodle. It is very starchy.
Surprisingly, the Eraka also make a type of sausage. They take the small intestines of the roth’e and stuffed them with long, thin strips of meat. During the stuffing process, the entrails are turned inside out, thus mixing the meat with the sweet white fat that covers the intestine. The next step is to roast the freshly stuffed sausage a little, after which the ends were tied to seal in the juice. Finally, it is thoroughly boiled in water.
Eraka Sacred Customs - The Hunting of Eagles
Eagles hold a particular place of honor in the lives of the Eraka, especially among the warriors and hunters of the different Ride clans. Eagle feathers are used to make ceremonial and war head-dresses. They are also woven into both men and women’s hair as decorations as well as used to ornament shields, lances, and other weapons.
Besides decorations, eagle wings are preserved and used for ceremonial fans, and many Eraka hunters and warriors use eagle body feathers for arrow-making. Eagle feathers are often given as gifts of friendship as well. It is considered a great honor for an outsider to be given even a single eagle feather by an Eraka hunter.
The Eraka view the hunting of these marvelous birds with any weapon to be profane. The clans of the Ride consider the capture and killing of eagles to be a cerimonial act, and the hunt is surrounded by many rituals and customs that cannot be circumvented.
Before setting out to capture eagles, the hunters will begin with a ritual of serious prayer. Any hunter who intends to catch eagles will move their tent (along with their immediate family if they are married) away from the main camp, to some place where the birds were abundant.
Once a likely hunting spot is chosen, the hunter will dig a pit in the ground about 6 feet long and perhaps 9-10 foot deep. The earth removed from the pit is carried a suitable distance away and scattered about so that there will not be any evidence of the dig.
When the pit is large enough, it is roofed over with small sticks, on top of which grass ahs been scattered. The goal is to disguise the pit and give the place a natural look, like the surrounding prairie or foothills.
The hunters will use a piece of bloody roth’e or deer neck as bait. Next to the bait, the hunters will place a stuffed wolf skin. The skin is placed so it looks like the wolf is standing next to the bait and eating. The bait is tied to a length of rope, which leads down into the pit, where the hunter waits for the birds to arrive.
The hunter prepares this ambush site in the evening and night. Once they are finished, the hunter will retire to a nearby camping site. During the night, the hunter sings the sacred songs to draw the eagles to the pit.
The hunter will also burn sweet grass and herbs for the eagles, rubbing the smoke over his/her own body to purify it, so that on the morrow there will be no telltale scent. After burning the grass, the hunter will sleep and then return to the pit in the early morning. They carefully crawl into the pit and wait.
After dawn comes and the eagles are flying, one of them will see the meat and descend to take it away from the wolf. Finding it anchored by the rope, the bird typically begins to feed on it. While the eagle is pecking at the bait, the hunter reaches out from the pit, seizes the bird by the legs, and draws it into the pit, where he kills it by twisting its neck. Only by killing the bird with his/her bare hands is the hunter able to ensure the passage of the bird’s soul into the spirit world, and thus keep the goodwill of the eagles spirit.
The hunter will typically keep a large stick in the pit with him. This stick is used to poke or drive away smaller birds, such as magpies, crows, and ravens, which might alight on the roof of the pit. It is used, also to drive away the condors and other carrion birds that will land to feed. The stick is burned after the kill, along with the carcase of the eagles. The flesh of the eagles is burned as a sacred offereing - never eaten or used for any other purpose.
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