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Journey of the Dead

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Scott Bennie wrote and posted this article to the FR mailing list April 23, 2003:

JOURNEY OF A DEAD MULHORANDI
Written by Belaeos Turanin, A Traveler of Saerloon, DR 1244

In the late spring of the Year of the Defiant Keep, my host's uncle, an old but very pleasant fellow named Rehep, inadvertently stumbled from a tower window and died. Now I had a chance to observe the grieving habits of the Mulhoarandi (sic). I was asked by my host to accompany him and his family as they embarked on a funeral procession and made the long journey of tears from Skuld to the southern town of Mishtan. When I asked him why the Mulhoarandi (sic) found it so necessary to make such a long and difficult voyage when there were good burial sites so much closer to the City of Shadows, I was told that the sem-priests (the funeral artisans) of Mishtan performed their rituals with such skill that it made the dead far more attractive to the strange nethergod of the Mulani (sic), and they had a much greater chance for a happy afterlife.

Such a voyage was, of course, reserved for only the wealthiest people in the kingdom, but I held my tongue, though my host had become accustomed to my habit of making remarks that they called "half-insults".

The Bier

Uncle Rehep's body was wrapped in a great shroud of black cloth. Spices and semi-precious stones were mixed with the covering, tokens meant to comfort his spirit during its long wait for burial, and the wrappings were enchanted so they would preserve the corpse on its journey. Most impressive was a painted copper body-sheathe, like half-armor, that was laid over the shroud when it was mounted on the bier; it covered the man from crown to foot in a human shaped cocoon, and its face was shaped and painted so it would be a perfect likeness of the dead. Then he was placed on a bier of cedarwood, which my host called the aurke (sic) of the dead.

The body was taken on a procession, along with seven other corpses, through the streets of the city of Skuld. This began with the sounding of horns at the Catacombs of Skuld, where their bodies were prepared for the journey. Each bier was carried by four porter-slaves of the Falcon-god [1] extremely strong men who looked more like half-ogri than men (though they were not uncomely), with huge sloping shoulders and a thick chest and arms. They were clad in the meagerest of garments (as is the habit of the land during this season). They were well acquainted with their burden, and rarely stumbled (even in noon-heat) and although they bore an oppressive load they happily informed me that theirs was a pleasant task. Imagine, this uneasy mix of brutish slavery and death seeming pleasant to any man!

The biers were carried from the Catacombs up the Avenue of Osiris, a wide street where falcon figures adorned the towers, until we crossed into the northwest ward and came to the Dead Man's Inn, the tavern in Skuld most favored by travelers. There we turned south until we came to the sea gate. The mourners wept, but their grief was drowned out by the funeral song of the porter-slaves, whose low voices possessed a most pleasing harmony.

The biers were loaded into two funeral barges, long ships with many oars. This was the moment when most of those friends who had known Reshep during his life said good-bye to him, and many brought offerings and laid them on the ship. Reshep's bier, its bronze sheathe harshly reflecting the early afternoon sun, was now placed below deck with much ceremony and when all eight bodies were aboard, we then rowed for three days down the River of Shadow -  a rough ride in places - to the city of Jalhoriand.[2]

Jhalhoran

Jalhoriand is a large, sprawling, dream-like city; its buildings are not tall towers as in Skuld, but it is greener than the capital, especially near the river banks, which is crowded by small green pyramids, cluttered by green vines and oasis-ivy. This is known to the locals as the City of Ten Thousand Roads, for here all trade in Mulhoarand (sic) eventually comes. The center of the city is the great step pyramid of the Judge of the Dead, nearly three hundred feet high. This pyramid is a magnificent if somewhat ominous sight, covered in black capstones speckled in jade, and at its zenith is a golden pyramid stone, nearly as tall as a man, and inlaid with turquoise. Hundreds of falcons roost on the upper steps of the pyramid, falcons roost, so it is a veritable city of hawks. By all accounts, the birds are quite intelligent, and the falcon-keepers of Horus-Re band their talons in silver and use them as an airborne army in time of war or dragon.

The corpses row via a canal into the heart of the city, and the bodies are unloaded and placed in quarters in the pyramid, awaiting the next step of their journey. We have come to the city during the feast of Nephthys, and in which I am invited to take part. First we hold a parade along the streets, which are lined with tall wooden poles on which ostrich and gryphon plumage is placed. All that is unclean has been removed from the streets, and beggars have been brought into the bathing houses (which adjoin the river) and have been bathed and dressed in clean wrappings and cloaks, for the priests will tolerate nothing in the city that offends the goddess (though the goddess, it seems, takes no offense at nudity, as long as the people are clean). The procession is a colorful affair; hundreds of people march in a solemn line down the avenues, the wealthiest adorned in gold and robes lined with ostrich feathers. At the head of the procession are teams of dancing priestesses who shake great racks of bells as they whirl, a rite of purification. At the end of the procession, eight heavily burdened slaves hoisted an exquisitely carved and painted wooden statue of the goddess, which was as tall as four men. At times the procession stopped, and the poor provided offerings of copper coins, in the hopes that the goddess will reward them at some future time with gold.[3]

When the parade came to its end, I was invited to dine with officials and the families of the grieving in the House of Life that adjoined the temple of the Green Man , for the city has a tradition of charity in such times. The meal was punctuated by more ceremony than I can describe - even something as simple as opening of a window to allow the rays of the setting sun to shine on us was a major event of great religious importance. Most curious, however, was the ceremony of the plate. We dined from ceremonial platters of blue dragon bone china, and at the meal's end, one of the platters was passed around the table and each of us was asked to inscribe the name of some person who had done us a great wrong on it. I inscribed the name of the man who defaulted on his wages to me many years ago. Once all who intended to inscribe a name had done so, the priestess broke the plate and shouted a curse on everyone whose names were written there.

After the meal, we toasted the memory of the dead with a chalice of date-wine, and then the family descended into the resting place in the lower levels of the pyramid (there was a large catacomb complex below) and swore an oath that Reshep's earthly remains would always be taken care of. Now my host departed - only Reshep's son and daughter would proceed from this place, but I was quite curious about the rest of the rituals, and so I asked permission to see this journey to its end, which was granted to me.

We remained in the city for three days, until the temple was ready to proceed, then we and a small army of mourners and porter-slaves bore nearly twenty bodies on foot from Jalhoriand. The porters, provided by the temple of the Falcon-god, seemed in better spirits than one would expect - one later told me that one had been taken captive from the brutal slave-farms of Thay, which might explain why they were happier with their fate. Their step never faltered, and I marveled at their strength as much as I marveled at any wonder I encountered in my journey. We took the Great South Road, traveling through more desert than I had ever seen in my life. On the sixth day of our journey, an hour after we crossed the great stone bridge over the River of Spears at Ulzuhl[5], one of the porter-slaves felt a rumbling in the earth, and we were instructed to fall on our bellies and remain still, for in Mulhoarand (sic), the dragons below are deadlier than the dragons in the sky. We remained prone and unmoving for over an hour before we were allowed to proceed again, and the desert sun plagued us as we lay still. But there is a saying in these lands (though the priests of the falcon-god hate it) "it's better to endure the dragon of the sun than the belly of the dragon".

The Vale

It took nine days for the procession to move between Jalhoriand and Mishtan, but on the eighth day there were sandstorms, so we were forced to take shelter in the village of Perei, and our trek was extended an extra day. On the ninth day, we came to a hill sheltered land, nourished by the springs that fed the River of Spears, and by (or so its said) magicks that maintain the climate of a gentler time. We had come to Mishtan.

The procession came to an end at the great temple of Osiris, an upward spike like a pyramid that had been pulled upward and stretched by the gods; this small pearl-colored mountain was nearly eight hundred feet in height. Indeed, the slaves told me that no man had touched this tower during its construction, but it had been wrought and shaped by the gods. Here, the sem-priests joined the procession, and led the corpses into the houses of ritual.

I was not privy to the mysteries of the sem-priests, though I heard strange rumors that his corpse was drawn and quartered after death and its remains placed in four jars, that his brain was drawn out by a hook through the nostrils and eaten, and that his heart was ritually devoured by a fiendish hippopotamus.[6]  The body was reassembled, drowning in natron salt, and dried for four ten-days. I thought it curious that they didn't use magic to shorten the process, but when I mentioned this aloud, I was chastised by the sem-priest, for indeed (or so I was told) they did use magic in the process - the sun itself is magic of the highest order, and it shines most fiercely upon Mulhoarand (sic) as the blessing of Horus-Re to his people.

For those forty days, the children of Reshep served part of their compulsory annual service to the temple of Osiris, performing minor duties in the temple. As I needed to earn my keep, I assisted the slaves in the fields. I worried about being confused with the slaves and being treated like one, but I was assured this would not happen. They rank among the hardest days of my life; unfortunately, the greatest difference that I noticed between my treatment and that of the slaves was that (because they were the property of the gods) the slaves were fed first, and were given the greater share of water. Quarters were tight and uncomfortable, and I slept on the floor with ten slaves, all of who made me the butt of their jokes in the gibbering local tongue. But they were friendly, except during times of worship, for they became annoyed that someone who did not revere or serve the Falcon-god was intruding on their rites.

After five ten-days, Reshep's body was finally ready for entombment. The rest of the family made another journey from Skuld, and when we gathered, the final ceremony would take place. The body was placed in a great stone sarcophagus that was as heavy as five men, and required eight strong slaves to bear it. They took it out of the city gates and up a long stair that led into a long tunnel that had been carved into the hillside, and Death's Door, the great seal that covered the tomb of the dead in the cliff of Mishtan, was opened. Reshep was placed in a chamber that was 12' x18' by 12' in dimensions. The wall had already been painted by artisans with scenes of his life in the flat style favored by the artists of the Mulhoarandi (sic), and the treasures that had been gathered prior to the journey were placed here in piles. Alongside the sarcophagus, the family placed a small coffin that contained a mummified dog (a beloved pet); several warrior dolls were also placed here (which would come to life if the chamber seal was broken) and a table was set with a magical plate and cup that would produce food and wine upon command, to feed him in the afterlife.[7]

After all treasures were placed and all songs were sung, the chamber which contained the remains of Reshep were sealed. The door was marked with Reshep's name, and a curse was placed on anyone who broke the seal. We said our final good-byes, and then I returned with the family to Skuld.

[1] Horus-Re

[2] Actually Jhalhoran, Belaeos seemed to have a lot of trouble with Mulhorandi names.

[3] One of the magic items possessed by most Mulhorandi are Transfixation jars. Copper coins are placed in the jar, and when one has earned the blessings of Nephthys, they are miraculously changed into gold. Such transformations are both rare and unexpected; the offerings in the Procession of Nephthys are meant to prod the goddess into giving her blessing.

[4] Osiris

[5] Ulzel.

[6]  As in Egyptian funerary rituals, Mulhorandi also preserve the corpse, but place the vital organs in four canopic jars (representing sons of Horus-Re), which are placed in the tomb with the mummy. The other references (particularly feeding the heart to the fiendish hippopotamus) are erroneous.

[7] Such items are common in Mulhorandi tombs; on at least one occasion, a tomb robber who was trapped in a crypt was able to survive imprisonment for years by using these items (though when he was found, he was quite insane).

Written by Scott Bennie, April 2003

 


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This page was updated on Sunday, August 13, 2006