Wednesday, 19 December 2007

Grubs, Grubs, Glorious Grubs

Everyone knows the stories about ducks and their divers accoutrements in popular legendry. Swords. Crossbows. Peg-legs. Cigars. Each grows in the telling. But ask any who have actually travelled to the Durulz Valley to name one item that so defines this curious tribe, and not a few may reply -- with a smile, smirk, or look of some distaste -- "The grub."

Grubs. It's hard to explain the durulz's love for these little (and, at times, not so little) larvae that form but a part of their diet. From the common-a-garden varieties, to the fabled inhabitants of the Darklands sought by only the most intrepid of grub-capturing expeditions, the mere thought of such gets the typical durulz's bill watering. Many are eaten fresh, the temptation and taste too great; but recipes abound for those species that grow all the tastier in the pot: from grubs wrapped in water lily leaves and baked in earth ovens, to the (in)famous mixed-grub gumbo cooked along the wetshores of the Upland Marsh.

Grey sages and Lunar Inclusive cosmographers alike have puzzled over such import in durulz culture. Many an old duck crone, eyes rheumy and bill broken, has been reverently queried as she sat by the nestfire -- Do the durulz sing tales of a Grubmother or -father? Do grubs represent some element of cyclicity, transformation and transcendence in myth? -- only to ponder for what seems an age before cackling, "I like the juicy ones..."

Grubs are certainly tasty (to the durulz at any rate), but the love of them as a foodstuff appears buoyed by a nostalgia born in ducklinghood. Ask even the hardiest (admittedly a relative term) of Humakti deathdealers, all scars and runic tattoos, of the "grub-boat", and his or her face will soften in an instant... as a stream of drool dribbles from the corner of the bill.

Whilst grubs are a staple of any nest, those especially prized by ducklings are the delicacies provided by the durulz grub-peddlars, who in skiff, smack, punt or trow ply the waters of the Creek-Stream River, and -- for the daring -- the dank marsh-shore of the Upland Marsh. The pleasant rituals of these grub-boats vary little across the durulz lands. They are always heard before they are seen, for the boaters warble old tunes (albeit with a somewhat strident tempo, and an inconsistency of tone not entirely due to the doppler effect) that dance upon the wet air, and grow ever louder as the boat drifts closer.

The barest hint of the boater's song will send ducklings splashing through the water in giggling abandon, racing back to their steads and crying out to their nest-mothers, begging for a clack for the grub-boat. The mothers usually give in, and armed with a coin, or trinkets for barter, the ducklings repair back to the banks or marsh-shore where the grub-boat will have arrived. As they clamour and wave, the boater will peer at them in an almost disinterested manner, and offer two diffident quacks in query: why, perchance, did they want his wares?

At this the gathered ducklings reply in joyous chorus with three quacks, strong and cadenced. Yet for some reason the boater is still not 'sure' that he heard them, and will quack twice again, a little louder this time. Even in jest, this is more than many ducklings can bear, and they positively scream their reply of "QUACK! QUACK!QUACK!", stamping their flippers in the water in rhythmic accompaniment. Then the boater breaks into a new song, and with a mad, cheering rush the ducklings waddle into the water as the grubdrake opens his myriad boxes, bags and jars, some half-submerged, which his customers peruse in sing-song excitement.

The treasures of the grub-boat are greater than those of any myth! Grubs in all colours, shapes and sizes: harder grubs to suck before popping; big juicy ones to spatter the bill and feathers of naughty ducklings, who are scrubbed clean in feigned annoyance by their nest-mothers; or string ones that you can wind around one's finger or flick into a pondmate's feathers. There are pickled grubs soused in vinegar, larvae roasted to a crunchy husk, or morsels sprinkled with foreign spices.

With the Lunar invasion, and Fazzur the Fowler's duckhunts following Starbrow's Rebellion, the song of the grub-boat and happy merriment of ducklings alike have dwindled, all too faint to the ear. Still, the worst excesses of those horrors have passed, and grub-boats again ply the waters, albeit with fewer wares and customers.

The rites are the same, but the songs are sad, and all too often slurred by that bottle of Lunar gin a boater might keep stashed under his bench, next to his sword or crossbow. The grubdrake serves his customers quickly, and with a nervous eye, before he barks at the ducklings to waddle off and let him be about his business. The young depart, casting wary glances at those that linger in the shaded bows of the riverbank, burly pondfarmers, hobbled ducks of ill repute, and hooded drakes with scarred beaks and missing fingers.

They lope down as the ducklings depart, and the boater pulls from beneath his grubs his 'other' wares, over which he haggles with his customers in unbecoming language over a cup of gin. The duckling that peers at such transactions through the reeds sees the unhappy vices of adulthood, as drakes buy their Porthomekan coughing weed, and the boater surreptitiously passes into twitching hands little boxes and bags, which some whisper contains a very potent thing indeed: hazia.

Occasionally, when all is done, the grub-boat lingers for a while, until from the delves comes one of those bearded tall folk, blue-painted and bill-less, arms and necks ringed with bronze. The grub-drake communicates with him or her in hasty whispers, hand by beak, and may even sketch strange maps with a stick in the mud, ere he takes his pole and pushes off, his eyes ever on banks. Some ducklings even claim to have seen boaters talking in a similar fashion with the tall red folk at the fords and tolls, and seeing the glint of silver change hands as the wary grub-peddlars raise their arms in quick salute and mutter "Hail the Reaching Moon"...

(Originally posted on World of Glorantha, 20 April 2007.)