by Matt Bennett
The lizardfolk are reclusive and fierce about their territory. Of course, having helped in the Great Rebellion, their alliance with the Kindred runs deep. The Kindred pass freely through the Geato marshes, treated like cousins or honored guests. Only the Temples of Geato Kariba (Ishari) have been barred to the Kindred, as they are barred to everyone without the second sight. A full fifth of the Geato Abira reside outside the marshes—many in the metropolis of Hub—but they are largely the young and curious. At age seventeen, the elders encourage the Geato Abira to leave home and see what life is like without the guidance of a chieftain or the Talos Bak Sal (the Circle of Eyes). Most of the Geato younglings come back in a year or two, and those who don’t are viewed almost as lost—though the offer to come home is very seldom revoked.
Only younglings, wood merchants and emissaries ever travel extensively beyond the Geato marshes—and the likeliest wayfarers are female seers assisting the Kindred in trials and diplomatic disputes. Among the Geato Abira, females grow largest while their males tend to be slight and quick. Geato government is matriarchal and oligarchical, with power invested in the Talos Bak Sal, a body which tends to be female-dominant and overprotective of “the weaker sex.” Female lizardfolk are all naturally born with an extra set of crystalline blue pupils (their irises are long and ovoid inside upwardly tilted eye sockets). The extra pupils grant them low-light vision and—in a few of them—the talent of seership. Rarely, a male lizardfolk is born with the gift of sight, but a male chieftain or councilman is rarer still. Legend holds that the Geato Abira sprang from the tears of a goddess mixed with the blood of the Nameless One—which is why the lizardfolk women are so strong and gifted.
Geato Abira have always had open borders, but to defend themselves from the overreach of Elven Empire they became withdrawn and six hundred years has yet to soften them. Passwords, or signs, are given to non-Geato merchants who wish to enter and trade within their cities. A merchant train may be held up by a whole week waiting for permission at a border gate village. And yet, the Geato Abira are rarely overtly aggressive toward outsiders, unless challenged; if anything, they are merely a people of custom. Before a merchant, or visitor, can be allowed inside, a chieftain—known as a Sal Abira (literally, “Eye Child”)—must look upon him and decide whether the Children of the Marsh can extend their trust. At times this is perfunctory, but many Sal Abira feel the custom is deadly serious and will turn away unsavory elements. Certainly, though, the isolation of the Geato is geographical as well as cultural. The marsh is nigh impossible to siege, besides being home to a skin-crawling army of giant insects, ravenous camouflaged reptiles, lethally psychotropic plants and magical beasts understood by none but the Geato Abira.The sexes are five-fold in Geato culture. Females without the gift of seership are known as Sala, from “sal,” meaning eye. Again, they are born with extra blue pupils which grant them low-light vision. Female seers are known as Sala-ma and, despite being physically like non-seer females, are regarded as separate since seership is so important to the Geato. In a way, they are less feminine because they cannot become warriors, and in another way, they are divinely feminine because their seership links them to the goddess. Males are Taro, from “tar,” which means horn, as males have a row of tiny horns across the median line of their skulls. She-males are known as Taresal. Occasionally, males are born with the extra crystalline pupils normally only conferred to females. Although they’re anatomically like males, aside from their eyes, they are treated as hermaphroditic; expected to know the spear, like any female, and mercilessly bullied. They aren’t considered aberrations per se, but gender roles are rigid in Geato society, and the Taresal belong nowhere—especially if they show little talent with the sight. Only a hardened few she-males survive into adulthood. Physical prowess is penultimate to the Geato, with seership its only uneasy superior. The last sex type among the Geato Abira is the Sal-talon. Outsiders might view a Sal-talon as simply a freak, but because of the emphasis on physicality in the Geato society, a Sal-talon is honored. Truthfully, they are females born with a rare form of gigantism. Due to their condition, they’re sterile and usually do not mate at all. However, they’re twice the size of normal females, with incredible muscle mass.
Anywhere in the marshes, whether one is Geato or not, a challenge to one’s status as the alpha, is legally answerable with a bare-handed duel to the death once a person has passed puberty. The Taresal are frequently the victims of these duels. To back down from these challenges, among the Geato, is a terrible and unthinkable humiliation. By law, if a Geato backs down from a sal duel, their left eye can be gouged out by their chieftain. Once a person’s eye is lost by the shame of backing out of a sal duel, they cannot be challenged again, but they become indentured to the Sal Abira and can be legally traded to any other Sal Abira. Geato custom, of course, doesn’t extend to outsiders, but backing down from a sal duel will lose you whatever face you had among the Geato present. And an angry alpha might duel you anyway and leave you eyeless as a lesson to you.
The Kindred, ever since the Great Rebellion, have been considered exempt from the custom of sal duels. Even though it may be a bitter pill, Geato alphas will swallow the insults of the Kindred. A Kindred challenger would have to be hugely insulting to force any Geato into a duel; if anything is stressed in the schooling of a Geato, it’s the blood oath with the Kindred. Most Geato refuse to fight the Kindred unless the evidence is overwhelming that the Kindred has done wrong.
Although isolated, the Geato Abira are a a people of prophecy and visions, and cannot fully hold themselves apart from the rest of Desylinn. Above any other people, perhaps, the lizardfolk understand and accept their role in the cosmic soup of fate. Centuries ago, before the Great Rebellion in the dawn of all peoples, the great seer Virin saw that Daras, the goddess of death, would one day “lower the spear” for the Geato. In the Geato mythology, Daras is a dragon-like figure who appears at one’s last moment and drives the spear of her already red claw through the heart, bringing a sweet long sleep. The seer foresaw a grievous world-wide battle in which the Geato Abira served as the vanguard, and in which, due to Daras, they would be wounded but would not die. For centuries they have awaited this calling and for centuries it hasn’t come, but every Geato believes the prophecy without reservation. Too many of Virin’s other prophecies have turned out to be true—for instance, that the Geato and the Kindred would become blood-sisters and that the elves would fall. The Geato seers may debate the details of the immortality that awaits them, but none doubt, and bravery in a warrior is to fight like death cannot happen. Knowing that the future depends, in part, on the Geato Abira, they are ever vigilant. To be weak means to be unworthy of Daras. When a warrior cuts herself with a claw above the falls of Kaza Dar, she swears to be worthy of Daras’ call as she serves the Great Protector, Geato Kariba.