Ghraewaj and the Harpies

Author: Tidasus
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On the twelfth of Hearth Fire every year, the people of the Hammerfell township and barony of Lainlyn celebrate Riglametha. Riglametha in the Banthan dialect of the ancient Redguard tongue means “grateful-offering” and is a festival of the graces the gods have granted the people of Lainlyn over the centuries. Tradition dictates the performance of a number of plays about the great moments from Lainlyn’s past, and one of the most popular is Ghraewaj, which may be translated as “The Crows Who Were Punished” or “The Crows Who Punish.” Old Redguard is somewhat vague with its objective case.

The story of Ghraewaj, as any Lainlyn child will tell you, is of the wicked sisterhood of daedra worshippers who craft lies, curses, murders, and suicides to hurt the people of Lainlyn. Most of all, they use their beauty as a weapon to drive men to mayhem. Their leader, the temptress Noctyr-a, seduces the unnamed baron of Lainlyn and is about to force him to commit suicide to prove his love, when the baroness arrives. The baroness tricks Noctyr-a into wearing a beautiful white robe from the baroness’ closet: “See how the robe glows with the lumniscience of pearl, but the inside is soft, feathered with down.” Noctyr-a puts on the robe and the trap is sprung: the robe is magical and transforms Noctyr-a into an giant black bird. The baron, no longer enchanted, slays the great bird and calls in his cook.

The sisterhood has, by this time, taken over Lainlyn castle and turned it into a orgy-filled den of decadence. At the height of their frenzied debauch, the cook arrives with an enormous roast to keep their energy high. They dig into the deliciously prepared meal, and at the crescendo of their gorging, the baron and baroness appear to tell them all that they have just devoured their leader, Noctyr-a. The women scream and caw and suddenly they too are transformed by the magic of the robe, into harpies, vicious half-bird creatures.

The interesting thing about Ghraewaj from a scholarly perspective is how much the story has changed and continues to change over the years. In some versions of the story, Noctyr-a is an innocent peasant seamstress and it is the baroness who is the cruel and wicked leader of the harpies. Noctyr-a prays to Dibella and is given the charm to make the magical robe, and she and the baron live happily ever after once the harpies have feasted on the tranformed baroness. During the long reign of the virgin baroness of Lainlyn, Viana the Pure (2E 120 – 2E 148), the baron was portrayed as a willing conspirator of Noctyr-a. The harpies thus have two birds to dine on.

It is unlikely that trying to find the truthin the story is profitable research. Harpies are indeed a common nuisance in the Iliac Bay, particularly around Lainlyn. They do have their own tongue, and the few who have mastered it and not been devoured by their interviewees suggest that the harpies have no more idea about their origins than we do. In a different vein, one of the best known of the Daedra Princes is named Nocturnal, who is often portrayed as a beautiful dark woman holding two black crows. It is not a difficult etymologic trick to derive the name Noctyr-a from Nocturnal, or vice-versa.

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