The Rite of the Stag Lass was a yearly celebration in the village of Amphail held on the 1st of Summertide. It commemorated the death of a local priestess of Mielikki by hunters who mistook her for a stag. Young women who completed the Rite gained the favor of the church of Mielikki, a piece of expensive jewelry, and were released of any obligations placed upon her by parents, family, guilds, or circumstances of noble birth.
Amphail was located in the lower Dessarin Valley, a three-day ride north and east of Waterdeep on the Long Road. The Rite took place in the village and ended at the Stag-Horned Flagon, a tavern in the middle of the settlement.
The Rite was composed of a series of actions that had to be completed by the Stag Lass in order for it to be judged a success. The details of implementation were often left to the discretion of the honoree.
The Rite began with the Stag Lass—dressed at least in dark green breeches and tunic and wearing a head-covering mask made of a stag's head with a full rack of antlers—riding bareback through the village on a horse, as if arriving from Waterdeep, and exiting the far side via the Long Road. The Stag Lass chose her own pace and route through the village, from a walk to a gallop, and was greeted by villagers who called, jeered, or joked with her as she passed by.
Once outside the village, the Stag Lass dismounted and left the horse with a waiting priest of Mielikki. She had the option of also leaving any articles of clothing or adornment that she didn't want soiled during the rest of the Rite—a family heirloom or crest, for example—the only requirement was that she return on foot by the main road (avoiding the townsfolk by cutting through fields, orchards, and backyards was not allowed) wearing the stag's-head mask. Traditionally, the Lass ran back into town, dodging villagers who chased her and threw cups of water, sour milk, or spoiled wine on her, but some Lasses walked leisurely, taking detours down side streets and giving children and even the elderly a chance to douse her. This dash or stroll back into town with its accompanying bombardment ended when the Stag Lass entered the Stag-Horned Flagon in the heart of the village.
Inside the Stag'n'Flag, the Lass was presented with the namesake of the tavern—an ancient helmet turned into a drinking cup and decorated with antlers for handles—filled with an extremely thick, strong, bitter, but otherwise untainted draught of beer. She had to consume all of this unpalatable brew but could do so at her own pace, cheered on by the crowd of onlookers. At the bottom of the cup was a piece of fine jewelry that was one of the rewards for completing the Rite. After finishing her bitter drink, a vat was brought out and set in the middle of the taproom, usually on a sturdy table, for her to bathe. She at last got to remove the mask and was also required to remove at least her footwear—any further disrobing was her choice. Once she stepped into the bath, all beer served in the tavern was free until dawn the next day. The revelers drank to her health as she bathed and the bathwater was later used on newly planted trees and gardens, blessed by priests of Mielikki for abundant growth.
Tradition dictated that the Stag Lass be a human "noble maiden" from Waterdeep (residency, but not citizenship, required), which was usually interpreted to be "young and unmarried". Since the early 1350s DR, and perhaps even earlier, the Rite was openly sponsored by the church of Mielikki in the North, and by the early 1370s, the cleric Ilkin Ermbroar was an experienced guiding hand in preparing for the Rite each year. Organizers considered it an honor to be involved with the Rite and were often led to assist by visions sent from their goddess in dreams. Laeral Arunsun and other important personages in Waterdeep also supported the search.
The search for the next Stag Lass began shortly after the Rite was completed and continued until late Kythorn of the next year (after the Summer Solstice) if necessary. Bards with an affinity for the aims of the church attended various social gatherings and revels in Waterdeep throughout the year and regaled potential candidates with the history and tales of the Rite, emphasizing that the Lady of the Forest smiled upon those that completed the Rite, and if they wished to draw her gaze then they should carry her token. The storyteller then left one or more silver stag-head pins on the table and moved on to other subjects or continued to mingle, leaving more pins on windowsills, mantles, or other surfaces where the more timid lasses might acquire one without drawing attention. Any pins not taken were gathered up to be used next time.
The pins were enchanted as an exercise by low-ranking members of the Watchful Order of Magists and Protectors to be traceable, and any maiden that kept one was eventually approached by previous Stag Lasses and/or priests of Mielikki who engaged her in friendly conversation and, over time, assessed her personality, her goals, and her situation. If these agents did not find her too selfish, too arrogant, or too materialistic, she was asked if she wanted to be a Stag Lass. Many young women declined after learning more about the Rite, or changed their mind for various reasons, like peer pressure, fear of embarrassment, damage to their reputation, or parental direction. Over the course of the year, the candidate pool was winnowed down to two or three and one was chosen by Mirtul, with the others told "Mielikki desires them to wait."
The piece of jewelry that became the "Rite gift" at the bottom of the drinking vessel was commissioned in Waterdeep or Neverwinter. It was stylized with curves and swirls reminiscent of nature, wrought from silver or gold, and studded with gems. Green, blue, and brown gems were selected over those of other colors. By the 1370s, this prize was also given at least an everbright enchantment, and some were able to glow as if touched by faerie fire upon command. At least one Rite gift carried the Quaal's feather token dweomer. The monetary value of a Rite gift was at least 25,000 gold pieces.
On the day of the Rite, sharp-eyed rangers were positioned around Amphail in order to ensure the safety of the Stag Lass and enforce the rule that she was not to be grabbed, tripped, or otherwise prevented from reaching the tavern. This was in response to the fate of some past Stag Lasses that were unable to complete the Rite because a rival or angry parents hired mercenaries to prevent the honoree from reaching her goal, using methods from public humiliation and flogging to outright kidnapping.
If a Stag Lass successfully completed the Rite, she was considered to be free of any unwanted obligations placed upon her by her family, a guild membership, or circumstance of birth (such as a family feud or onerous tradition), and even granted a pardon for minor offenses against the law. Waterdhavian society upheld this tradition by peer pressure, condemning those that would force her to do something against her will, like an arranged marriage, for example, or punish her for refusing. Trail-wise rangers sometimes offered to escort the Stag Lass to any destination of her choice rather than return to Waterdeep, allowing her to escape big-city life entirely, if she so desired.
A Stag Lass received one more thing that was seldom spoken of outside the church of Mielikki—the senior priest in charge of the festivities pledged that the Lass could call upon the church to assist her in one endeavor or situation anytime in the future. Past examples of this boon included safe passage through the High Forest, payment of debts to prevent arrest or possible sale into slavery, curing of a disease, rescue from captivity, escape from an abusive marriage, protection and disguise against relatives scheming to prevent an inheritance, and relief from an unwanted pregnancy that threatened the life of the Lass. This pledge was potentially the greatest Rite gift of all and bound the entire church to the promise of aid when the favor was requested. Therefore, the Mielikkians were cautious and thorough in their selection of the Stag Lass.
The Rite of the Stag Lass commemorated the death of Asaudrae Daerantree, a priestess of Mielikki that lived in Amphail in the 11th–century DR. She had the unique ability to transform into a stag and she spent many of her days in stag form, exploring the nearby forest and learning about its flora and fauna. One day, she was surprised by nobles from Waterdeep on a hunting trip and was shot and wounded by crossbow bolts and javelins. She fled back to the village with the hunters in pursuit. Local folklore maintained that the hunters continued to assail her even after she reverted to her human form, but the nobles denied any such knowledge of her true nature. Asaudrae stumbled into the Stag-Horned Flagon, bleeding from quarrels in her flesh and begging for help, but died on the bar just as the hunters arrived with knives drawn.
Ever since that day, according to the locals, the Rite of the Stag Lass was performed annually in some form or other, eventually evolving into the ritual described above. Some villagers and most Mielikkians believed that Asaudrae was the Lady of the Forest herself and that their settlement and the Stag-Horned Flagon were sacred to her. Volo reported and Elminster confirmed that true worshipers of Mielikki that kissed the bar where Asaudrae died could ask the goddess one question every year and would receive an answer via mind speech. The questioners had to venerate her above all other deities and perform some act supporting her church in the year prior to asking a question, otherwise the voice in their head told them why they did not deserve an answer.
Occasionally, the selected Stag Lass went missing or changed her mind at the last minute. In this case, a trusted substitute was found and magically disguised as the missing girl in order to complete the Rite on schedule. Likely candidates were female apprentices from Blackstaff Tower, and in one instance, the Masked Lord known as Kitten stood in, wrapped in spells by Laeral.
Notable Stag LassesEdit
- Cheslaera Fallowfern was a bored socialite from a "swirlcloak" family that had no desire to marry and wanted to get out from under her father's thumb. She walked unclad through the streets of Amphail, completed the Rite, and by the next day had formed the Flaming Sword Riders adventuring company and headed to Silverymoon.
- ↑ 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 1.6 1.7 Ed Greenwood (1993). Volo's Guide to the North. (TSR, Inc), p. 19. ISBN 1-5607-6678-6.
- ↑ 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 2.5 2.6 2.7 slade (April 1996). The North: Guide to the Savage Frontier (Cities and Civilization). (TSR, Inc), p. 6. ISBN 0-7869-0391-0.
- ↑ 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 3.5 3.6 3.7 Ed Greenwood (August 2000). “The New Adventures of Volo: The Stag Lass”. In Dave Gross ed. Dragon #274 (Wizards of the Coast), p. 105.
- ↑ 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 Ed Greenwood (August 2000). “The New Adventures of Volo: The Stag Lass”. In Dave Gross ed. Dragon #274 (Wizards of the Coast), p. 108.
- ↑ Ed Greenwood (1993). Volo's Guide to the North. (TSR, Inc), p. 13. ISBN 1-5607-6678-6.
- ↑ Eric L. Boyd (2006-05-03). Environs of Waterdeep (Zipped PDF). Wizards of the Coast. p. 7. Archived from the original on 2016-08-16. Retrieved on 2009-10-07.
- ↑ 7.0 7.1 7.2 7.3 7.4 7.5 7.6 7.7 7.8 Ed Greenwood (August 2000). “The New Adventures of Volo: The Stag Lass”. In Dave Gross ed. Dragon #274 (Wizards of the Coast), p. 106.
- ↑ 8.0 8.1 8.2 Ed Greenwood (August 2000). “The New Adventures of Volo: The Stag Lass”. In Dave Gross ed. Dragon #274 (Wizards of the Coast), p. 107.