Friday, October 31, 2014

Daughter of the Zoars

Daughter of the Zoars
Bobby Derie

They were the ancient people known as the Zoars, who had seen the first Romans come to their lonely hills, and who had watched the last Romans depart with the same patient look. Men of other races called them shepherds, for such was the English term for what the men of that pastoral people called themselves, but a more literal translation would be "sheep pimp."

The Zoars were never alone in their pasturage, for they had neighbors from other tribes, whom they seldom fought with openly, but stole upon their flocks by night and made much mischief - feeding the females herbs to cause them to miscarry or foul the milk, gelding the males, or just hamstringing the animals and leaving poor lame things to cry in distant pastures. It was a long war against such neighbors, and in time the other tribes would tend to move on, leaving the Zoars be once again for a space, until the next invaders came.

Zoar sheep, too, were a breed apart, and some whispered they were more akin to goats, and all knew they were vile-tempered and prone to forms of hereditary madness. The Zoar knew no difference between their flock and their family, and the men called themselves rams and their wives were ewes, and they drew no distinction between their children and their flocks, but would buy and sell and trade them all to one another openly and evenly. In the days before the Romans it is even said they made no discernment of what meat was in the pot, and a taste for veal ran throughout the whole nation, but of such rumors not much has come since the shadow of the Cross fell across the land...nor would the Zoar have long survived if such legends had proliferated long.

The families of the Zoar, then, are harsh and domineering; the children learn their place quickly, and grow up sullen and mean and crafty, which traits the Zoar pride themselves in, within their own strange way. Cruelty is common among the elders, and they brook no disobedience while they have strength to enforce their will, so rare is the Zoar that does not achieve adulthood without the mark of the whip or the lash, and aye even of the sword and the burning brand. Yet none run away, for the Zoars live in a lonely country, and all their neighbors know better than to take in those tainted children - for the Zoars will come after them, in the night, as sure as a shepherd hunts for the lost and lonely lamb.

So it is that among the daughters of the Zoar it is not beauty that is most highly esteemed, nor even creulty and craftiness, but a sort of brutal will that can stop a charging ram with a glance. The mothers teach their daughters the way of the knife from as soon as their teeth come in, and mix blood with their milk. Their are girls of twelve who have cut a hundred throats of sheep and chickens, and will broaden the smile of any man that lets down their guard for a moment. No true Zoar girl, they say, is ever without the little curve-bladed knife in her belt, or a stone or strap to sharpen it; and they whisper too that no daughter of the Zoar carries but a single knife, though stories differ as to when and how they carry their secret blades, and what shapes and materials they consist of. Perhaps the Zoar women spread these tales themselves, to frighten their menfolk; if so, it does not always work, for the Zoar boys grow up ugly of temper and quick to split a lip or gouge an eye or aim a cruel kick, and the weaker the target, all the better.

Yet among themselves, the heroes of the Zoar are always the daughters, who carry the blood of the race, and in their boundless and bloody cruelty out-bastard a nation of bastards. The stories are told at night, when the dark and cold has forced man and sheep together around hearths in rare community; the tales of The Gelder of Kings, The Gruesome Necklace, The Bloody Mouth Below, and ever and again the stories of Azoar, mother of the race; her father was a god who seduced her mother in the shape of a ram, and she was born with the appetites of a god, and preferred the company of her four-legged half-brothers in the fields to human contact. Six marriages in turn were prepared for Azoar by her family, and each one she ended in bloody and brutal fashion, through knife and noose and poison and lies, destroying both suitor and the family member who had arranged the joining, until at last there was no-one of her family or clan to contain her, and she left with all their sheep and her six children - the parents of the present Zoar race.

So it is whispered, they say, among the campfires of the Zoars, and which they might tell to travelers if caught skulking around campfires, and badly outnumbered, but how much may be lies and how much may be truth, it is impossible to say.


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