fortunate bard given the rare opportunity to travel south towards the Great Sand
Dunes compared the endless hills of sand flowing up and down to the waves of a
big golden coloured sea. Indeed, when he saw the Sand Lily, or "Ráhaz La'Alja",
as the Shendar call it, blossoming at
night, he wouldn’t be far wrong to compare the sand to the
Shendar even told the bard that when
you listen very carefully, these lovely Lilies sing a song to the moon, every
Appearance. Because the Sand Lilies only blossom at night, the descriptions made of the flower aren't numerous. A few Shendar herbalists have written a word or two about the flower, but value the sight of it in nature above all words that would try and describe it. Despite this very fine argument, the researcher wanted to verify some facts himself and in 1644 finally found the opportunity to travel into the desert at night fall, after one of the rare occasions that it had rained in the Ráhaz-Dáth Desert. The following account is taking from his diary.
Injérà slowly disappeared
behind the dunes. I held my breath. I knew that a field of Sand Lilies
should be located somewhere on my left side, but I had no clue what should
happen now. The Shendar woman
had only smiled at me when I asked her what would happen at
sunset and when I urged her to tell
me, she merely said 'you will see'.
So I found myself staring at the endless sands, wondering.
Sunlight disappears slowly in the
desert, as it is reflected by the sand myriads of time, but when I saw the
first stars appearing, nothing had happened at all. Then the moon came.
For a moment the silver globe in the twilight sky fascinated me. When I
turned my gaze back at the sand again, I saw them.
The beauty of the Sand
Lily lies mainly in its snow-white petals, which contrast perfectly with the
deep evergreen colour of the outer rim of leaves and the dark golden brown
colour of the desert in the twilight. Four crowns of elegant almond shaped
leaves form an intricate network of arms reaching up at their star sisters in
the sky. The first ring reaches to the ground, because of the heaviness of the
leaves with their thick outside structure, the second one extends horizontally,
while the third and inner ring reach out diagonally. Each ring consists of six
to ten leaves; this number is not fixed. They are all coloured white, but the
two inner rings have hints of a light blue colour over them. A field of Sand
Lilies blossoming in the night is definitely a magnificent sight, especially
when the sky is clear and the moon is clearly visible. The flowers almost seem
to reflect the moon's rays, as their colours match
those of the moon, especially the two inner rings of petals with their hints of
light blue. Within the fourth, inner ring, we find very fine stalks that are the
anthers of the flowers. Pollens are at the tips of the anthers, which are
usually brought from flower to flower by desert
moths, a moth species active in the nightly
Ráhaz-Dáth Desert. Among the
Shendar, the story is told of Lady
Moon and her favourite Lilies, more on this in the Myth/Lore
At dawn, when the Injèrá is barely visible, the Lily will quickly hide inside its shell again, but it won’t be sheltered as good as before. It is truly a pity that this model of purity is only to be seen for about a week or two, because the constant warmth of the sun turns the petals from white to a light yellow to a sour cream kind of colour, the shell of green leaves getting brown spots until they are completely turned into a clay coloured shell. At this point, the hairy green stem that held up the flower will die off and the flower falls to the ground, rotting away within days. It is at this point that the seeds, if formed by the flower, will be dispersed by the wind.
Special Features. The Sand Lily is a typical desert plant, meaning that it has found a way to survive the extreme climate of the desert grounds by some of its characteristic features. It’s a perennial flower, meaning that it will live through several years and seasons of drought and rain, going dormant in periods when there’s nothing to gain from the weather, and growing active again when rain falls.
This particular flower survives through a highly protected flower bud and water reservoirs in its leaves. Let’s first take a look at the part of the Lily below the desert surface. The plant features roots, which can grow down to three palmspans deep and about twice the same radius wide. This results in a half global network of fine thin dark brown roots, growing from a few grains breadth to less than half a grain at the deep tips. The roots all originate from the central bulb, about the size of half an al'syrr egg, which is usually located four or five nailsbreadth below the desert surface. The extensive root networks causes the flowers to remain apart a little, otherwise they would take each others water and die of lack of moisture.
Besides this network of roots, which is thought to exist to make sure not a drop of water disappears unused after rainfall, the bulb grows a number of round leaves, which stay below surface level, growing horizontally. Whether these features are actually leaves or simply a different kind of roots is a matter of discussion among Shendar herbalists, but their form is very similar to water lily leaves, that’s why we’ll call them leaves here. The leaves are highly subject to the recent weather of the desert and their appearance changes as the weather changes. When the rain has just fallen, the leaves will expand as the roots fill them with water and half an hour after rainfall they can become as large as roughly two human hands held together. At this point the leaves are almost circular in form, with a very flat and deep green surface, not more than a grain in height at most but a handspan in radius. As soon as the sun starts to beat down on the sands again, they will slowly start to lose their moisture as the water is fed to the rest of the plant to keep it alive in the warm desert climate. The leaves will start to shrink, growing a dark brown colour much like the roots and losing radius over the weeks as they pass. The leaves will become all wrinkly and fragile and become dust between your fingers when you dig them from the ground. However, at the same time there grows a new set of leaves from the bulb together with a new flower bud. In the new leaves the ‘emergency rations’ of water are stored to get through the really hot times of year. These small leaves, deep green and most of the time not larger than a Silverbard coin, will grow into the hand wide leaves as soon as the rain falls again.
The rainfall also effects the growth of the actual Lily, the flower that is visible above the desert surface. When the plant grows its new leaves, it will also grow its stem, so that it finally appears at the desert surface, already bearing a fully-grown flower bud, the shape and size of a small onion. The fact that the bud is already full-sized is as well because of the climate: if the bud would have to grow above the surface, it would never survive the searing heat of the desert. Although the warmth above ground is extended to the sands below, the central bulb is located just far enough below the surface, so that the flower bud can grow on top of it without being scorched in daytime or frozen at night. When the rain falls, a stem springs forth from the bulb quickly and carries the flower to the surface, until the bud is raised four to six nailsbreadths above the surface. This stem growth takes less than a day, so that the flower will blossom the night after the rain has fallen. The blossoming flower is not affected by the cold at night, which may reach well below freezing, for it has two unique ways to protect itself from the frost. First it is covered with a waxlike substance which prohibits too much evaporation by day and night, additional an icelayer is forming on the leaves which protects it from chilling winds. Like many other desert plants or even the hrugchuck of Northern Sarvonia, which have to endure icy nights, its sap is sweet and therefore doesn‘t freeze, even if the temperature drops quite low.
A side effect of the process of growing the new set of leaves and blossoming flower is that the plant produces a distinct odour to protect itself from eager herbivores, seeing the Lily as simple food instead of a wonder of the desert. This smell, vaguely resembling the particular smell of k’laaf, will cause approaching animals to become nauseated when they have weak stomachs, but on top of this has a very light hallucinating effect which keeps away stronger animals like for example the aj’nuvic and aka’pi. It must be noted that the smell is not unpleasant, though a tad strange, but if you are attracted to the smell, you will quickly find yourself vomiting, not wishing to approach anymore. It is this particular effect that made the Shendar harvest the rootleaves and mix it with their vhin weed to produce Desert Dream, but on this will be elaborated in the Usages section.
Territory. The Sand Lily is part of the flora of the Ráhaz-Dáth. The supplies of water in the leaves make sure that the flower survives in the more arid regions of the desert and even dies when faced with too much moisture: the plant will kill itself because it can’t keep up with growing new sets of leaves and constantly receives signals to start growing because of the constant addition of water. The Great Sand Dunes hold most of the flowers, especially the region east and southeast of the Open Woodlands down till Firefeet's Rest, though it is not found in the direct vicinity of the lakes in the Seven Jewels area. The area between the Makadi Gadi Saltplains and the Yar’Dangs is also known to produce the Lily, but they aren’t as regular here as up north.
It should be noted here that the Lilies are often swept away on the tides of the desert. Simply put, this means that because the dunes have a tendency to move because of the desert winds, the place where flowers reside can change within weeks. This has resulted in the fact that the flowers don’t grow at a particular distance of the dunes at all, but prosper on the off-wind side as well as on the on-wind side. It does happen that a bulb gets buried too deep because of the new layers of sand covering it, that the water doesn’t reach the flower anymore. This will ultimately result in the demise of the flower, as its supplies of water will last for years, but not for eternity.
The Lily is also found in the desert of the Aeruillin continent, but the Shendar claim that the flower really originates from Ráhaz-Dáth. At any rate, the story of the "Lady of the Lilies" is only told among Shendar and not known among the Aeruillin population, which is odd, because the Aeruillin tribes originate from the same Lost People as the Shendar do. Still, the vast amount of desert there ensures that it is common there as in the South of the Southern Sarvonian Continent.
Usages. Being a desert plant, the Sand Lily is rarely found in a cultivated environment, not even the Shendar have tried to grow them on a large scale. Aside of this fact, the plant is visible for only a few nights a year, depending on the number of rainfalls in the Ráhaz-Dáth. It is because of these two reasons that the common use of its leaves starts at a far later date than the actual discovery of the plant. It was not until the Shendar started to cultivate vhin weed, whose usages were developed right after the second settlement of Uderza was built, that the Sand Lily became part of the smoking tradition of the Shendar. A tradition of depicting the Lily inside Shendar Domes would point in this direction, as some of the older Mothers remember their great-grandmothers ordering the flowers to be painted inside the Shendar domes.
It is generally believed that the Shen-D’auras discovered the plant because of its particular smell when they were searching for ingredients for new perfumes. Though one would think that it is definitely not qualified for perfume because of the side effects, the Shen-D’auras seem to have found a secret way to use it nevertheless in one of their famous mixtures. Sharp tongues even say, all of the famous Shen-D’auras scents sold in whole Santharia are only so successful because they all have a faint hallucinative effect.
The hallucinating effect was noted with great interests, as humans seemed unaffected by the earlier mentioned nauseating effect. From this day on, some of the Shendar males have grown a habit of chewing on the leaves to encourage the hallucinating effects. However, only after they started mixing it with their vhin tobacco the use of the Lily leaves has become more common. Still this is done only at a small scale, as the leaves aren’t readily available throughout the year. The usage of the melange, called "Desert Dream", is in particular practiced by the discoverer’s subtribe. Some families even consider it part of their Shendar hospitality to have Desert Dream available for their guests.
Harvesting the leaves is done as soon as the flowers start to wither, usually a week or two after the rainfall. If there are enough users of the leaves in a family, some of the members will venture into the desert and collect a decent amount of leaves. This is done by carefully digging up the leaves while leaving the new grown leaves and flower but intact, putting the leaves in a bag as quickly as possible. The trick is not to crumble the leaves there on the spot, because this will effect the storage life of the leaves. Most gatherers wear shawls in front of their nose and mouth to stop the hallucinating effect, though it seems possible to collect the leaves without them: the withered flower is barely spreading the scent anymore.
After the leaves have been gathered, they're split in small portions and mixed with vhin weed in pouches. Only when Shendar want to smoke the leaves, they crumble a few and use them. Besides the use in families, there are tobacco shops in Uderza which sell Desert Dream, but the product rarely finds it way to the port towns and further up north of the Sarvonian Continent, simply because the demand is not high. It must also be noted that later on, cases were found where the plant did have the nauseating effect on humans, especially non-Shendar, thus it is likely that the Shendar either have excellent constitutions or have some racial trait that makes handling the leaves easier for their body.
Aside of the small hallucinatory effect, the flower is sometimes taken because of its beauty. It has to be cut at night, because the flowers won’t open naturally when they are cut in daylight. If cut at night, the flower will remain open and white for little more than 24 hours, but this is usually enough for its use. It is given at weddings and funerals, to give a little beauty of nature to the beloved ones. Especially at the Journeyon ritual, children give the beautiful flower to their deceased parents, picking the flower early in the morning before the ritual starts and saving it for the last journey at dusk. It is considered bad luck to keep the flower when it starts to lose its beauty, so its normally not kept longer than a day.
Reproduction. Among the animal population of the desert lives a moth, which is like most moths particularly active at night. This desert moth passes from plant to plant and flower to flower at night, making sure that the pollen of the Sand Lily are spread and the flowers are fertilized. This, of course, can only be done when the flower blossoms, but the two weeks time is usually enough to make sure that the Lily produces seeds. It is thought that the desert moth is unaffected or even attracted to the flower by the odour, but isn’t nauseated by it. This would explain their ability to help in fertilizing the flowers. Besides the smell, the inner lightly bluish colour of the Lilies may as well attract these nightly insects. The Shendar believe that the moths can see the blue hue of the inner leaves much better than any human. In fact, they think that to them they glow like lamps in the night.
When fertilized, the seeds are produced more quickly than usual with plants: this is because of the little time the Lily resides above the surface and the available water reserves shortly after rainfall. The seeds are held in a small 'cocoon'-like fruit in the middle of the calyx. When the flower withers because of the heat and drops to the ground, the cocoon breaks open and the seeds are dispersed by the wind. They will turn into new root bulbs if they are covered by enough sand.
Myth/Lore. The origin of the Sand Lily is described in the fairy tale called the "Lady of the Lilies", a Shendar folktale which tells about the Sand Lilies actually being water lilies of origin and their relation to the moon. The Shendar sometimes refer to them as Moon Lovers, because of this story. It also explains why the flowers only blossom at night.
Another, more practical story concerns the use of Desert Dream. According to some of the Desert Dream smoking Shendar, only a real man can dream the Desert Dream. When they want to test one of their non-smoking fellows, they will taunt him till he’ll joins in their smoking. If the challenger is able to smoke without coughing a single time, he has faced the challenge and will be accepted by the other men. When elves first heard that there was some plant that let you enter the Desert Dream, they simply shook their heads at this strange imitation of Avá’s Dream.
Information provided by Gean Firefeet