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(#31, Version 5.0)
Situated in the vast morass of the Vosk Delta is the Caste of Rencers, a Caste apparently limited to this specific geographical area. Their lives are difficult and survival is a constant battle. The Rencers do not seem to be based on any specific Earth culture. They are a caste and culture based upon the rence plant, a plant indigenous to Gor. This scroll shall examine the Rencer Caste including their evolution during the series, an evolution that Tarl Cabot may have inadvertently set into motion.
The mighty Vosk River empties out into the Vosk Delta, a vast marsh area that is over five hundred pasangs long, over 350 Earth miles. The area is teeming with wildlife, including many predators, but only the eastern portion, near the Vosk River, has areas of fresh water. The Delta is a treacherous area, filled with numerous perils. Its waters are extremely difficult to navigate due to several different factors. The depth of its waters varies from a few inches to many feet and it can change quite frequently so you cannot depend on any specific path. The average depth of the water, after the spring thaws, is generally only three to five feet. This is insufficient for most large ships to navigate. There are also numerous sand bars in the Delta and they too come and go, posing an obstacle to any vessel trying to pass through the waters. Visibility is often limited due to the tall rence plants and quicksand is an additional peril.
Due to these conditions, it is almost impossible to sail or row a large ship from the Vosk River to Thassa through the Delta. There are no dependable waterways through marshes as the waters change so frequently. The bargemen of the Vosk River will not take their vessels into the Delta. Thus, trade cannot pass from the Vosk River to Thassa. Warships also cannot pass that way. Thus, the Delta is both a burden and a defense to the towns of the Vosk River. Possession of the territory of the Delta is officially claimed by Port Kar. Port Kar, on the Tamber Gulf, lies some hundred pasangs from the northwest edge of the Delta. The only people who truly contest Port Kar's ownership of the Delta are the Rencers who live within the marshes. For many years, the Rencers lived in fear of Port Kar. But recently, the Rencers have begun to take back true control of the Delta from the predators of Port Kar.
The Caste of Rencers, also known as the Growers of Rence, is a Low Caste though it is a higher Caste than that of the Peasants. They live on small, man-made islands within the marshes of the Delta. Their primary business is the growth, cultivation and use of the rence plant. The rence plant is a tall, leafy plant indigenous to the Delta region though it can be found in a few other marsh areas on Gor. Rence plants have a long root, about four inches thick, that rests underwater and extends out horizontally from the stalk. A number of smaller roots descend from this main root into the muddy soil of the Delta. Above the water, a number of long stems raise up into the air. There may be as many as a dozen stems and they may extend up to sixteen feet into the air. It will also commonly have a lone floral spike extending amidst the stems. When cutting rence, you hold one of the stems in your left hand and then use the right hand to cut it with a diagonal upward stroke.
The rence plant has a myriad of uses and the Rencers take full advantage of it. They will use essentially every part of the plant and each part has multiple uses. The thick root is almost like a heavy wood and it can be carved like it was so. It may be carved into certain tools and utensils. The root can also be dried out and used as a fuel source. The stems can be used to create reed boats, sails, mats, cords and even a fibrous cloth. The hollow stem can even be used as a breathing tube, like an Earth snorkel. The pith, the white, soft tissue within the center of the stems, is edible and can be eaten either raw or cooked. Pith and fish are the primary elements of the diet of the Rencers. Pith can be made into a paste, rence paste, and this can be fried into a rence cake. Rence cakes are commonly sprinkled with rence seeds before being served. Crushed rence seeds and pith can also be steeped, boiled and fermented to create rence beer. Rence beer is the primary alcoholic drink of the Rencers and they commonly drink it from gourd flagons. The pith may also be used as caulking on boats though it is not too common. Tow and pitch, covered with tar or grease, are used more often. Tow is flax or hemp fiber.
The most important use of the rence plant though is to make paper. Paper is the essential trade good of the Rencers and they sell their wares on both the eastern and western edges of the Delta. There are even rence merchants, men from the cities, who travel into the Delta on barges to purchase large supplies of paper from the Rencers. Making rence paper is a laborious process. First, stems of the rence are sliced into thin, narrow strips. The preferred strips, that make the best paper, are taken from the inner section of the stem, closest to the pith. Second, a layer of strips is placed down and another layer is then placed above it, perpendicular to the first layer. Third, the two layers are soaked underwater for a time. The water releases a gluelike substance from the fibers of the stem strips and this melds the strips into a single rectangular sheet. These sheets are then hammered down to flatten them out. After that, they are set to dry in the sun though it is not stated how long that takes. The paper will have a rough texture at that point and thus it must be smoothed, using either a shell, kailiauk horn or a tharlarion tooth. Finally, the separate sheets are attached and made into rolls, about twenty sheets to each roll. The best paper, the most durable, is kept on the outside of the roll as it will have to weather the most use and movement. The paper is usually ranked in eight grades of quality though specifics on the grades is not given.
The floating islands of the Rencers are formed from the interwoven stems of rence plants. They are rarely any larger than two hundred feet by two hundred fifty feet. Each island is from eight to nine feet thick and sits about three feet out of the water. In the murky waters of the marsh, the rence deteriorates over time so new layers must be placed down as the lower layers rot away. This is a never ending task. The islands are usually tethered by marsh vines to rence roots so they do not float away. These vines can be easily cut if the Rencers wish to later move the island. Each island will also have rectangular wells in the center to aid in poling when the island needs to be moved. These wells cut through the entire thickness of the island. The Rencers may wish to pole from the center of the island to avoid any perils on the edges of the island, such as enemies in pursuit.
Each island holds about fifty to sixty persons and the location of each island is kept secret. Each island will have a series of rence huts for their inhabitants. These huts are generally used only for sleeping. They are often small, only about eight feet long by five feet wide and four feet high. A small, circular hole is the only entrance into the hut and you must crawl through that hole. The islands are most often very separate from each other, creating an air of isolation. Many Rencers seldom see people other than those on their own island. Trade contacts, between different islands, are made only be certain Rencers and at agreed upon trading points within the Delta.
Rencers generally set warning marks around their territory, white and red rep cloths. The white cloths act as a general warning to stay away from the Rencers' territory. Red cloths though are the blood marks, the points where anyone who passes is subject to the most extreme penalties of the Rencers, slavery or death. Death is the more common of the penalties. Men of Port Kar who are captured by the Rencers are commonly bound and tossed to the tharlarion. Rencers can communicate with each other through different codes. During the daytime, they may mimic the sounds of marsh gants. During the nighttime, they will instead mimic the sounds of the Vosk gull. They may even strike rocks underwater to convey certain coded messages. The recipient must hold one ear underwater to hear the message. Sounds travels well through water.
Rencers fish, hunt and raise some domestic animals. Tarsks are a common domestic animal. Marsh gants, an aquatic fowl, are hunted with throwing sticks. A throwing stick is not a boomerang and it will not return to the thrower's hand. It will float though so it can be easily retrieved once thrown. The stick will stun the gants, not kill them. Gants can also be domesticated. Though wild gants cannot be tamed, if you hatch one from an egg and do not allow it to see an adult gant for its first week of life, the gant can be tamed. It will accept the rence island as its home. Only if the island is destroyed will it revert to the wild.
There are a couple of famous leaders of the Rencers, Ho-Hak and Tamrun. Ho-Hak is the Ubar of the tidal marsh area of the Delta, an area close to Port Kar. He was born an Exotic slave, bred to possess unusual ears. He has very large ears with extremely long lower lobes. Heavy metal pendants are set into these lower lobes. His first owner was a collector of Exotics but Ho-Hak eventually killed him and escaped. He was later caught and made a galley slave on a Port Kar ship. He escaped once again, his iron collar still on his neck, and fled into the Delta. He won the acceptance of the Rencers and eventually became their leader. He holds court on his throne, a huge shell of a Vosk sorp. Tamrun is another chieftain of the Rencers, a strategist and a statesman. He is able to call the aid of several villages if he desires. Both men have tried to bring some unity to the isolated Rencers.
Rencers do not live easy lives. The battle for survival is a constant task. They must face the deadly creatures of the marshes such as the marsh sharks, carnivorous eels, water tharlarion, and uls. They must also face the even deadlier adversary of the men of Port Kar. Port Kar sometimes sends "tax collectors" to obtain tribute from the Rencers. Port Kar will demand supplies of paper and Rencers. They want boys to work as galley slaves and girls to become Pleasure slaves. Rencers rarely attack each other and there have been no major hostilities among them in over fifty years. When attacked, the Rencers commonly retreat to the center of their island, hiding behind walls of rence, almost like wicker. They will destroy their own huts as they retreat so that their attackers cannot use the huts as cover. This defense is generally good only against other Rencers. It works much less effectively against the men of Port Kar. The men of Port Kar are trained Warriors and the Rencers are no match for that. The Rencers may even abandon an island, using marsh skiffs to escape if they fear losing the battle. They can always create a new island elsewhere. A rence skiff is commonly about seven feet long and two feet wide. It is fastened together with marsh vine and has a slightly curved stern and prow. It is not rowed but is moved through the use of a long pole to push off.
The primary weapon of the Rencers was once the marsh spear, a two or three-pronged spear similar to a trident. They would also wield small, rence shields for defense. The sword was largely unknown to them. After Tarl Cabot's visit to the Rencers in 10119 C.A., the Rencers saw the efficacy and power of the long bow. They had originally disdained the weapon as one fit only for Peasants, a Caste lower than their own. But, once they saw its effectiveness, they decided to use it. They began trading for the materials to make the bow and arrows. The use of the long bow spread eastward out from the tidal marshes. After the Rencers started using the longbow, they began to fear Port Kar much less. It was the perfect weapon for them to use. Some captains in Port Kar have now begun using Rencer bowmen as auxiliaries units. The long bow would prove to be liberating to the Rencer men in other ways as well.
Up to the time period of Raiders of Gor, Rencer women are very different from the free women of most cities. When they are in the marshes, they do not veil themselves. They are likely though to veil themselves if they are visiting a city. They wear brief, sleeveless garments of rence cloth, as often do the men. They may either go barefoot or wear rence sandals. They may wear their hair long or tied back with a rep cloth. The women do most of the same tasks as the men such as cutting rence, making paper, and hunting. They often can perform these activities as well as any Rencer man. They are very self sufficient and out spoken in their communities. The Rencer islands, due to their precarious existence, require the intelligence and hard work of their women.
This has tended to make Rencer women similar to panther girls in some ways. Rencer women are often foul-tempered, frustrated and jealous of men. Like panther girls, they prefer to pretend to be like men rather than embrace their womanhood. They feel it is demeaning to act as a woman. There are very few slaves in the marshes so men had to deal with only free women. Rencer men did not go on raiding expeditions to acquire slaves. They rarely attacked other Rencers and they were not powerful enough to attack cities like Port Kar. Rencer women were almost the equals of men.
Young Rencer women still possess some elements of their womanhood, elements that dissipate over time. These young women learn the dances of Rence girls, dances that are quite unique especially for free women. When a young girl first performs these dances publicly, it signals the start of her adulthood. The movements of the dances combine many elements, some savagery, some stately and some erotic. Some of their movements are reminiscent of the normal activities of the Rencers, casting nets, poling skiffs, weaving rence or hunting. But, the movements eventually transform into more sexual ones, the movements of a woman who desires a man. Shyness is not an obstacle to girls dancing these dances. The dances are generally performed only at the Rencer festivals and only by the single women. They are part of the mating rituals of the Rencers. The single men who are observing the dancers will choose one of the girls. They will then place a net over that girl and then take her to his hut or island.
There are two primary festival times for the Rencers. The first of Se'Kara is the largest festival time. During this festival, a few different Rencer islands will meet to celebrate together. It is rare though for more than maybe three islands to meet. All of the summer work will have been completed by this time and great supplies of rence paper will be ready for sale. The festival is a time of many games and contests, of rence girl dances and merriment. There will be races of rence watercraft and tests of skill with the net and throwing sticks. After this festival, the paper will be sold. Se'Var is the next festival but it is limited to each individual island.
Between the events of Raiders of Gor and Vagabonds of Gor, the Rencers of the Vosk Delta underwent a transformation similar in some respects to that of the city of Tharna in Outlaw of Gor. This transformation is not apparent unless you possess Vagabonds of Gor and this illustrates a major problem due to the unavailability of the later novels. As parts of Gor do evolve over time, it can be very useful to possess the later books that may indicate such changes. Though the reason for the changes is not spelled out directly, some logic can be used to understand the turning point that led to the evolution of the Rencer Caste.
So, what changed in the Rencer communities after the events of Raiders of Gor? First, more slaves are being brought into the Delta by Rencer men. Cord collars are used that have small disks on them bearing the name of the slave's owner. Slavery equipment, such as branding irons, are now being bought by the Rencers. Second, Rencer men are selling some of their women to outsiders seeking slaves. Like panther girls, Rencer women are said to make superb slaves, possibly due to their years of repressed womanhood. Once they allow themselves to embrace their true nature, they revel in their femininity and slavery. Commonly, Rencer men sell off their extra daughters. There are even some Rencer free women who volunteer to be sold as slaves. Third, on some islands, the Rencer men have chosen to enslave all of their women. Rencer men have begun to assert their manhood and seize control of their women, similar in some respects to the revolt in Tharna. They are starting to prevent their women from pretending to be men. They are trying to bring the Rencer communities back within the natural order.
What brought about these major changes in the Rencer community? The books do not specifically connect the changes to anything particular. But, there is one significant change that occurred in the Rencer community that seems the obvious catalyst for the other changes. In Raiders of Gor, Tarl Cabot's use of the long bow greatly impressed the Rencers of the tidal marshes. They then began to use the long bow and its use spread throughout the Delta. This weapon radically transformed the Rencer communities. The Rencers became a power in the marshes and no longer needed to fear attack from cities like Port Kar. The Rencers were able to properly defend themselves and they felt more like men. Survival became easier.
This feeling of empowerment served to change the Rencer men. They felt more powerful and wished to assert their new feelings of dominance. As worries about survival lessened, men had some time for relaxation. Women were unable to use the long bow. They were seen in a different light now. Men wanted the luxury of slaves. And change came to the Rencers.
The introduction of the long bow into the Rencer community is the only known factor that could have influenced the subsequent changes. Tharna required a catalyst for their revolt and the Rencers are no different. Something needed to trigger the evolution of the Rencers. The long bow helped to make Rencer men feel like men once again. It helped show them the differences between men and women. It gave them power over their enemies and put them in control of their own destinies. Tarl Cabot could not have predicted what he would indirectly bring about. But, he is responsible for the evolution of the Rencers