Written By: Morigan O'Sidhe of Chesapeake
The origins of most peoples are shrouded in the mists of time. Who can say when humans came to Britannia, or how, & who knows when, & from whence, the orcs arrived on these shattered shores. Such is not the case with our subject people, that curious, maddening, frightening & yet amusing tribe who have come to be known as the Bagaroons.
The story begins in a place that is not even shown on most maps. The tiny island of Cieran lies south east of Jhelom, just far enough away not to be depicted on any maps of Britannia. For this reason, some, even some of the most erudite scholars, do not even believe the place exists. However, in researching the history of this curious group, we have seen maps & sea charts which clearly show the miniscule dot of land where their culture evolved.
Seven hundred years ago, give or take a few, a mighty storm blew across the southern sea, taking off the roofs in the small village Jehlom, & covering the future site of the Shrine of Valor with fallen trees & debris. That same storm took a small boat, reported to be a fishing vessel, but much more likely to have been a pirate ship, & drove it with shattered masts & staved hull, aground on the rocky shore of the island of Cieran.
A black, volcanic cone, fringed with narrow, ebon beaches, Cieran seems at first an inhospitable place. It is tropical, of course, & so mild in climate, & being in the middle of the sea is subject to frequent rains, the results of which collect in basins & sinkholes in the rocks & provide fresh & potable water. But for the rest, food, shelter & transportation off the little island, it seemed there was none.
The leader of the "fishermen", a man known in the verbal history of the Bagaroons themselves as Hammerhand, seeking to make the best of a bad situation, ordered half his men to strip the boat of any useful items, & finally to disassemble it entire, to salvage the nails, planking & beams for a possible future escape. The others he sent inland to scout out the lay of the land & to ascertain what food sources might be found. He was a man of the sea, & he knew that remaining on the beach was a poor plan. A beach is a desert bound by water, with naught to drink & little to eat & no shelter to be found. & moreover, a beach is a trap, where water can come up with no warning & take what it finds, & for these reasons the wise Hammerhand knew he must get his small band inland.
The group Hammerhand sent inland, led by his first officer, a man known as Hawkfish, wasn't gone long. In less than two hand spans of time they were back, trussed up like pigs, stumbling through the volcanic sand before the spear points of the residents of Cieran. Hammerhand, who claimed to be from the Isle of Ice, had never seen anything like these folk.
To begin, their skin was black, so black as to make them seem made of the same dark stone as the island itself, & their hair & eyes were black also. They were dressed not in clothing, but in leaves & feathers, bound about their bodies with fibrous twine, & they rattled & jingled as they moved with the clattering of thousands of small shells strung on more of the twine, but more importantly to Hammerhand, with the ringing of thousands of little bells beaten from the reddest gold the (Let's be honest!) pirate captain had ever seen. & moreover & much to his amazement, the spear carriers were women, & behind them came the men, clustered about the knees with small children, & with babes in arms, & all of them holding back in what seemed a combination of fear & shyness.
A practical man, as all pirate captains must be, Hammerhand immediately began the parlay to save his men & to get his hands on the gold. The leader of the black women was easily identified, a tall, powerful warrior, past girlhood but still handsome & strong, who spoke in a patois that carried the accents of Haven and, curiously, Skara Brae. Her name was Nialla, which means "champion", & before long, she & Hammerhand were seated, & partaking of refreshment of hardtack & sour wine from the ship's stores, & a kind of mushy paste mixed with bits of smoked fish & onion-like vegetables the black people carried wrapped in broad leaves in the string bags that served them as pockets. While their followers looked on, some in great anxiety, some with deep suspicion, the two leaders struck a bargain that was the genesis of the people we now know as the Bagaroons.
Hammerhand's men were divided among the spear carrying women of the tribe. Hammerhand himself was sent to live with Setanta, the shaman of the tribe, & her two husbands, while Nialla herself chose Hawkfish, whose slim build & long, curling blond hair seemed an endless fascination to her.
As historians, we must admit that in all likelihood the melding of these two groups was fraught with the typical stresses & conflicts any joining of disparate peoples might entail. Unfortunately, details of such are lost in time, & are unreported in the oral traditions of the Bagaroons. What we do know is that approximately 150 years later, ships sailing the southern sea were plagued by attacks of a strange kind. In the dark of the night, seamen would disappear, gone without a trace. This is not an uncommon event at sea; drunken men, or even sleepy men, can stumble overboard in the dark & be gone before the watch even knows they've fallen. But in this case, every man taken was replaced by a man from another ship. & these men told tales of a strange island, threaded through the center by a vast vein of pure gold, where blond haired people with dark skin, ruled by powerful female warriors & erudite male shamans, kidnapped & wooed & seduced them & gleaned every bit of knowledge from them, & some other contributions also, but that as soon as it was clear they had gotten one of the mighty women warriors with child they were drugged, shipped unceremoniously back to the sea lanes, & put aboard a ship they'd never seen before.
Some women disappeared from ships sailing in the southern waters also, but of these only a few were ever returned, & those told much the same tale, although their release was more unsure. Those returned described the situation for the female abductees. Women who gave birth on the island were given the choice of remaining, & most chose to do so. A few chose to leave behind their infants in the care of the huge, extended family to which they had been assigned. & those who did not produce an infant within two years were, similarly to the men, placed on a passing ship & sent away.
There was one notable exception to this rule, a woman named Aelderahne, past her childbearing years, who happened to be a teacher & healer from Britain. According to the returned captives, Aelderahne had never encountered a people so hungry for knowledge, & she proposed to the leader, at the time a man named West Wind, that she would establish a shrine of learning where all could become educated. West Wind had intended to put her on the next ship to pass, after roundly cursing his men for bringing back so inappropriate a captive, but this idea fascinated him, not least since he had a daughter who was showing signs of becoming a healer herself. From that time on, along with each disappearing sailor, a book or map want astray also.
As the years went by, Cieran was "discovered" over & over, usually by pirates, for who else would venture so far from the coasts? & because most visitors were pirates, seldom was Cieran mentioned in "civilized" parts. Why should a pirate spoil a boon he & his friends were granted? For Cieran had become a haven for seafarers of the enterprising kind, with families ready to welcome them into the airy, bamboo houses that perched cantilevered on the sides of the volcano, a ready supply of able seamen from among the Cieran young, who learned to sail before they could walk, & a tavern known as Hammerhand & Hawkfish, where good drink & good company could be found day or night. Visits by these "knights of the sea", as pirates were euphemistically known, soon eliminated the need for the midnight requisition of fresh blood, & the abductions ceased, although legend in Britannia still holds that there is a part of the southern sea where people & even whole ships disappear into the fog, never to be seen again.
And so, over the course of time, the residents of Cieran blended with people of every stripe, who left behind their seed, & their knowledge to enrich the culture of the tiny island. Cieran natives who signed aboard pirate ships brought back information, goods & sometimes new families to add to the melting pot. All in all, Cieran became the most well known & best kept secret in all of Sosaria.
And what were the people of Cieran like? The years of blending of many gene pools has resulted in a folk of slightly more than average height, & with very little dimorphism; the women are as large as the men. In coloring, although there is great range, the average native is of a warm, brown skin tone, with blond or red hair & eyes of brown or black, making altogether a striking appearance. Cieran natives, in addition to being great sailors, love fighting with blade, bow or bludgeon, drinking, writing poetry, music, gambling & fishing, & consider the arts of seduction & love to be spiritual studies that must be attended to with the greatest dedication. This last is striking. In comparing the stories of those abductees who chose to commit their memories to physical record, not a single one ever reported anyone on the island being forced into an intimate relationship.
To go beyond the physical, the average Cieran native is well-educated, although possibly a little behind in the most current details of politics & science, since they must depend on passing ships to bring news, which is often dated long before it reaches them. They are, as might be guessed in a people who owe their existence to the unconditional acceptance of others, extremely tolerant, & willing to assimilate any individual of good will, workable reproductive parts & the willingness to share a little knowledge. They are religious after their own ways, which include a great deal of communion with nature & each other & often result in even more mixing of the gene pool.
It is said, & it may be true, that among the individuals abducted in the early years of Cieran's growth, were folk not of the human sort. Yes, it is even said that orcs, vile, evil, & yet immensely strong, skilled in fighting & with their own simple knowledge, were brought to the island, & made a part of the community, or at lease part of the genetic stock. Truthfully, even today, some of the islanders have ears that seem a bit pointed, & occasionally a child is born with no singing voice whatsoever, but a low & growling tone that grates on the ear. Is this the result of ancient orcish lineage? It is a question with no possible answer.
Let us answer, however, a different & equally confusing question which we may be able to settle once & for all. That question is, "Why are these people called Bagaroons?" Among those who study etymology, the word "bagaroons" is a puzzle. Clearly, it bears no connection with the name of the island, Cieran, which of itself is strange & not known in any language of Britannia. There are those, & they are in the majority, who hold that the word is similar to "quadroon", the name for a person with a dark-skinned grandparent, & "octoroon", the name for a person who has a one-eighth genetic inheritance from a dark-skinned great-grandparent. If this is so, what fraction can "baga" describe? There is no known language, even orcish, in which "baga" has such a semantic usage.
Fortunately, there is another possible origin, & one which, while it may be apocryphal in part, has enough of truth about it to make it the most likely possible genesis of this interesting word.
History records that about a hundred & twenty years ago, a pirate ship was taken off the coast near Vesper. Upon arresting the crew, the guard discovered among them a young man who spoke in a curious patois that seemed a combination of the accents of Haven & Skara Brae, & whose long & curling red hair contrasted strangely but not unpleasantly with his dark brown skin. Throughout the trial of the pirate crew, the officers of the court sought to identify each sailor & to find his or her place of origin so that family members might be brought to testify, & in case of conviction, to carry away the remains. & they were able to do so for every man but the red-haired sailor, who called himself Niall.
In fact, according to legend, not one sailor of the crew would say where the young man came from. The most they would admit to was that they had picked him up in the middle of the southern sea & took him aboard because of his seaman's skills & his lovely poetry, which kept them amused when they were becalmed or confined below decks by inclement weather.
And so, it came to pass that the crew were, to a man, convicted, & sentenced to hang, & among them was young Niall, cheerful to the last, writing poetry on his cell wall by scratching letters into the coating of algae that turned the grey stone into a verdant tablet, & singing songs about making love with golden girls & swimming in the azure water of "the little dark island."
The day of the executions dawned bright & clear, though a stiffening west wind come up about mid-morning & sent the high, white clouds scudding across the blue vault of the sky. The great crowds that had assembled to enjoy the festivities gathered early to drink & sing & to give the pirates a rousing sendoff to wherever pirates go once their necks are stretched. The scaffold had been set up on the beach, southwest of the city, so as to allow passing ships a good view of the rotting corpses, for it was custom to let pirates hang until they dropped of their own decaying weight, as a warning to others. (A most unpleasant practice, so said the merchants & residents who had built there in hopes of enjoying the fresh sea air!)
The prisoners were brought out of the city by the south bridge, riding in tumbrel-carts, & many of the townsfolk had brought rotten vegetables to pelt the unfortunate pirates. There were twelve in all, & Niall, the key to our tale, was riding in the second cart, along with the captain, a couple able seamen, & two officers. The captain, who noticed that he & the others were getting a much more thorough battering than the handsome poet, jestingly asked the young man to change places with him, as if this kept up he'd be in no fit state to be seen & would have to beg off this public display. Niall spat out a little spoiled cabbage that had splattered off the first mate's bald head, & grinned, & the driver of the cart later swore he answered, "I'll trade coats with you once we're on the ship."
There was much jostling & pushing as the pirates were hauled unceremoniously down from the carts & lined up on the massive gallows high above the heads of the crowd. Twelve nooses hung from the sturdy beam, & twelve stools stood ready beneath. Hanging then was not so scientifically advanced as it became in later years, when trapdoors dropped the condemned to a rather speedier & more merciful death with a suddenly broken neck. Instead, in those days, the condemned man was dropped a mere few inches, held by a simple slip knot just high enough to keep him from supporting his weight, & slow & miserable strangulation was the result.
The prospect was enough to quiet the crowd as the twelve were lined up behind the stools & then lifted one by one so the nooses could be fitted around their necks. Each man was given a chance to make a final statement, but most chose only to mumble some variation on "Gods curse you, let's get this over with." The captain, however, in all good cheer remarked, "This is certain to teach me a lesson!" to the great amusement of the crowd.
When it was Niall's turn, & the hangman boosted him up onto the stool, however, the Sheriff, feeling that closure had not been satisfactorily achieved, begged him a final time, "In the name of the King, tell us where you are from so that your people may have your remains. We have runes for every place known, & we will have one for your people."
And Niall laughed, threw back his head & laughed, & more than one young woman in the crowd felt her heart would break. "Nay," he called out in his resonant voice, "for to find my people would need a whole bag of runes!" But of course, with his strange patois, it sounded to the crowd as if he said "bag 'o runes". & the Sheriff turned away with a shrug & a gesture to the executioner to continue, & the man reached up to put the noose around the young pirate's neck & all Hell broke loose.
A hundred women & men within the crowd drew bows & swords, & more emerged from the trees east of the beach & one woman, a red-haired giantess with a cutlass of pure gold, seized the Sheriff & drew his head back, placing the blade against the tender skin of his throat, & she growled into his ear, "We want no necks harmed here today, do we, my friend?", a sentiment to which the Sheriff quickly agreed. He called off his men, who were, in fact, already much involved in proving to the armed invaders that they really had no personal interest in being here at all, & would much rather have been at home catching up on the gardening.
In mere moments the pirates were freed, & it is reported that some of the women of the town even leaped up to the gallows to free young Niall, who thanked them with a hearty kiss apiece, & an admonition that if they wanted a pleasant vacation they should sail in the southern sea.
Even as the last man jumped down from the scaffold, two ships hove into sight sailing close to the shore & long boats came from around the headland & rescuers & rescued backed slowly to the shore, keeping the villagers & the guard in their sights, & with the tall woman still dragging the sweating Sheriff along. They climbed into the boats with grace born of long experience, & when most were aboard the archers stood in the boats & kept the crowd at bay (although, truth to tell, not much resistance was being offered. The day's events were turning out to be even more interesting than a multiple hanging, & were therefore much appreciated by the populace.).
The last to get into the boats were Niall & the tall woman, who thrust the Sheriff from her with such force that he fell face down in the sand. She leaped aboard the last boat in one mighty step, followed by a slightly slower Niall, who nonetheless turned back even as the oarsmen made the boat fly, & called out, "Sheriff, my thanks for your kind offer to let my people know of my fate. This here's my mother & she thanks you too!" & the tall woman saluted with her glittering cutlass, & smiled a wolfish & equally glittering smile.
Of course, pursuit was mounted but abandoned quickly, when it was found every ship in the docks had been holed, & none of the pirates & none of the invaders were ever seen in Vesper again. Nor were the fifty books that went missing from The Magical Light the same day.