I’ve got so much campaign prep to get done that if I don’t do it here, I’ll never get it done in time…
The panoramic picture used as a backdrop to illustrate this week’s post was so incredibly stunning that I had to make the full-sized picture available for those who might want it for their own use (without the “Orcs & Elves” graphic overlay). Just click on the picture above.
Chapter 29 was almost completely unfinished when I started this series, while chapters 30 & 31 were increasingly more complete to a first-draft stage. None are presented in the fully polished form of the early chapters.
In comparing this post with earlier parts of the series, one point stands out and is worth noting: First draft tells, finished drafts show. It’s the difference between the experiences of one or more individuals being retold by another group of individuals, and a third-person omniescant narrative. One is more engaging and novelized in form, the other is more compressed. Heck, you should be able to get a novel of reasonable size from the events of Chapter 28 alone!
The situation began innocuously, as is so often the case. Elvish Craftsman negotiated strongly for their services to the Human Kingdoms, and one of the contractual terms insisted apon time and again was that while travelling to the place where the work was to be done, while completing the task, and while returning home, the protection of the Craftsman was the Human Noble’s responsibility; failure to ensure such protection being subject to sufficiently harsh compensation that the Noble had a very strong incentive to keep the Craftsman as utterly safe as was possible. If that alone was not enough, the de-facto honorary Guild Memberships bestowed apon all Elvish Craftsman provided a means of enforcing these contractual terms; any Noble abusing the trust implicit in the contract would find themselves not only blacklisted by the Elvish Craftsmen, but by the majority of the Human Craftsmen they needed to maintain economic prosperity. A few tried to get clever in the early days, and soon found that their holdings became unprofitable wastelands as one Guild after another refused their services. For a while, the Noble might be able to get by with former members expelled from the Guilds for unprofessional behavior, but their workmanship was universally poor and their reliability notoriously suspect. Since demand for the products of their lands would not lessen, those who would have purchased such products went elsewhere, fattening the ledgers of the miscreant’s neighbors and rivals. By the time the Noble realized his error in judgment, and that there was no solution other than to pay the wergild demanded, their coffers were so distressed by the embargo on professional services that in order to raise the necessary funds, they had to sell part of their lands to another Noble, permanently reducing their Noble Houses in stature and wealth. It took only a few such object lessons for the Human Nobles commissioning an Elvish Craftsman to realize that it was (in the long run) far cheaper to budget for the comfort and security of the Craftsman.\
Once they had adjusted to the situation to the point where such commissions and protections became second-nature, the Elves began to feel utterly secure in these protections – well, as secure as the Noble commissioning them could make them. It was still a time when risks and dangers were commonplace, after all; but they felt as secure and protected while undertaking such a contract as they did at their homes.
This sense of security, combined with the length of a contract – usually months and often a year or more – and combined in its turn with the appeal of tales they carried back home from such contracts, all led many of the Elvish Craftsmen to take their families with them when travelling to a contract. For the youngsters involved, there was a definite “holiday atmosphere” to the whole undertaking; depending on their age, it often assumed the significance of a “Grand Adventure”.
That meant wives, sons, and daughters.
The latter were the problem. To human eyes, they were exotically beautiful, the fairest of the fair. They, on the other hand, saw most humans as being less than attractive – but there were exceptions, especially amongst the younger adult humans, who had not yet been ravaged by disease or hard living. Equally, eligible noble daughters viewed the unmarried Elven men with covetous eyes. The young are always shallow, attracted to superficialities!
The parents were usually disapproving of course, but that is a tale as old as the ages. The love-struck couples simply eloped if pushed too far, or were tolerated if the parents were persuaded that there was no alternative.
These relationships were doomed to fail eventually, of course. The differences in culture, outlook, and aging rate saw to that. To the human partners, the Elves seemed to become sillier and more immature – in reality, they did not change that much, but the humans did. And of course, to the Elves, the physical attractiveness faded in lockstep with the failing human tolerance for their personal behavior. But in the meantime, there were children – the Half-breeds.
To the Elves, these were abominations, inherent corruptions of Elvishness itself, flawed and barbaric, and were banned from entry into the Elven kingdom. Humans were more tolerant, more willing to accept an individual based on proven loyalty and ability, but even amongst humans they were considered by their peers to be ‘cheats’ if successful. And, of course, the half-breeds matured more slowly than the humans around them – they were often regarded as slow-witted and clumsy by their human peers.
Had the elves been more welcoming, the half-breeds might have been afforded greater opportunities for success; Elvish teachers would have been more patient, and would have given the young better education and training, and access to the resources needed to make the most of their heritage and its gifts. They might have formed a perfect bridge between the two societies, but the prejudices and narrow-mindedness of both conspired to ensure that this never happened. The circumstances left them misfits, resentful and angry.
In many cases, their Elven parents did what they could, at least at first, and so a corrupted (and highly abbreviated) version of elvish history, and society, and the abilities that had were the natural legacies of the race, was passed down through the generations from one to the next as a family secret – which only reinforced the Half-Elven perception that their births were shameful, and increased their resentment and anger.
Of course, even as the Elven Council decreed the ban on the Half-breeds, they forbade any further unions between the races, but the damage had been done.
This was a situation by which no-one profited. When the marriages grew fractious and collapsed, bitter decisions were often made in heat of anger, and with the welfare of their children far removed from the minds of the central players. The Elves were happy for their lost child to return home, the wiser for their extended “Holiday”, forcing the Elvish parent to choose between abandoning wife and child and their Elvish roots. Even if they did so, this was so far removed from the accepted Elvish standards of propriety that the returnee was marked as a second-class citizen for life. The human position was more difficult. It must be remembered that those in best position to catch the eye of a visiting Elf were the children of the nobility in question; sons were welcomed back, and the whole matter forgotten, especially if some arrangement was made on behalf of the children (no matter how far removed from satisfactory that arrangement might be). But these sons were often disinherited for the duration, and a new heir to the title groomed for the role; the return of the elder son swept these potential heirs aside, creating resentments even between brothers who had previously been close. The situation was even worse if the human noble were a daughter; no longer eligible for marriage to another noble, these were thinly tolerated at best and outcast more frequently. Soon, legends began to grow that the Elves’ similarities in appearance to Devils were not coincidence, and the spinsters – who were often forced to live alone in relative hovels – became objects of superstition. With the educations they had received, both from their noble parents and from their passing companions, they were often able to eke out a living on a modest stipend from the family estates, supplemented by the occasional curative herb salve, elixir, or remedy.
In the minds of many human commoners, this ability to survive with no visible source of income was proof that the spinsters were allied with something darker who saw to their needs. The association between the spinsters and the wave of disputed inheritances and internal troubles that followed in the Elvish wake added to the legend. A new term became accepted for these outcasts – Witch. It was said that the Elves had used dark sorcery to seduce the heirs of kingdoms and sew discord, indoctrinating the Witches into the service of Dark Powers, and that they were protected by the Nobles lest the Nobles be cursed. Over time, a sharp disparity grew between the common human’s perception of the Elves and those of the Nobles who ruled them, who – a little more cautiously – continued to offer commissions to Elvish Craftsmen. It became more and more common for the security provisions of the Elvish Contracts to be tested by bands of drunken brigands and superstitious peasants; the commons slowly accumulated a depth of anger and resentment towards both Elves and Nobles. So long as the Nobles were strong, the situation was stable; but the internal stability of the human Kingdoms became more explosive year after year. Eventually, these resentments would come to a head.
The Elves were at a loss to understand how or why the human commoners had come to resent them so deeply and so quickly. From their perspective, the transformation of attitude had been precipitous. As the obvious resentment grew, the Elvish Council began to discuss a general withdrawal of Elves from Human interactions. It would take another fifty years for this proposal to be accepted – Elves never make decisions in haste if they don’t have to – but 88 years after the first, tentative negotiations between the representatives of the Human Kingdom of Zae’y'lish, commerce with humans was forbidden by the council, effective at the conclusion of any agreements then in place. They hoped that this would calm and stabilize the situation within the Human Kingdoms; for if the immediate neighboring human kingdoms erupted into violence, it was entirely possible that much of that violence would be directed towards the Elvish population.
This erected still another barrier between the Half-breeds and Elvish Society. In preceding years, even if the marriage had broken down and the Elf returned to Elvarheim, he or she would at least be able to occasionally visit their children, and often did so, either out of affection, or out of a sense of responsibility, by accompanying Craftsmen accepting commissions in a nearby location. Now, this option was forbidden to them.
The Elves of the era had no conception of the pivotal roles the Half-breeds and their descendants would eventually have on Elvish society, and did not recognize that the Half-breeds constituted their own cultural equivalent of the human succession problem. They considered the half-breeds to be the consequences of yielding to perverse impulses. History might have been radically reshaped if another Elvish trait, their curiosity, had been engaged by the question of how it was possible that Elves and Humans could interbreed at all and produce viable offspring. Superficial resemblances were not enough to explain it, and neither race would accept any theory that they were offshoots of the same parent race in the mists of time. Only a few human scholars attempted to answer this problem, without success. But the attentions of the most learned Elves were elsewhere, and not interested in the problem.
The Circle Of Harmony
During this period, the Elvish Spellweavers were distracted by what they considered a far more interesting endeavor – the continuing study of the strange gems that the Dwarves had been trading to the Drow during the leadup to the Dwarfwar, whose supply had long since run out. Where more might be found, no-one knew. The Spellweavers had already proven, as they had long suspected, that Lolth had barely scratched the surface of their true potential.
The gems were natural amplifiers of spellweaving ability, able to both speed the crafting of major works by decades or more, and naturally refining spells woven through them in detail and subtlety; they acted almost as a lens, permitting both a greater perception of the semi-woven spell as it would manifest over time, its flaws and shortcomings, and a closer examination of the finer details – telescope and microscope in one. So much Lolth had known, and this explained the origins of the monstrosities that had been unleashed apon the Dwarves at the end of the last great conflict, exactly as the Elves had suspected at the time.
But the Elvish Spellweavers were looking deeper. The initial assessment that each gem contained a blend of the raw elements of existence, which could bond with the extant manifestation of an objective reality and loosen the bonds that fixed it in form and nature, had proven to be less than a complete explanation on closer inspection. They had learned that deep within and beneath the smoothly polished surface of each gem lay a unique arrangement of strands of pure arcane power, arranged in a natural harmony unique to that gem, and that these strands resonated more strongly with one raw element or another – some were naturally attuned to water, some to fire, some to the positive energy of life, and so on.
When a spellweaving was directed through a gem, those strands would resonate, or not, and those resonations would in turn set their neighbors to vibrating in sympathy with the original ‘note’, forming natural harmonies that ‘filled in the gaps’ in the spellweaving. This permitted a spellweaving to progress from barest melody to full symphony in vastly less time.
They realized that by arranging Gems Of Spellweaving into matched sets, it was possible to craft a full ‘instrument’, in which the initial note was harmonized by a gem, which then triggered further harmonies in the next, and then the next, and so on, until the gap between thought and accomplishment was virtually non-existent.
The elves wrought a great circle of megaliths, each perfectly identical and appointed by a single great gem, from the largest such matched set that they could find; a circle of standing stones of exquisite workmanship which amplified and accelerated spellweaving to the point where even a human was capable of manifesting limited alterations in reality. In the hands of a true Spellweaver, of course, melodies and subtle undercurrents could manifest into works of far greater power and subtlety. It was at this point that the Elves began to suspect that the entirety of the second Great War with the Dwarves had been for the sole purpose, on Lolth’s part, to capture the entirety of supply of these gems, and that conquest of the Dwarves had been nothing more than a means to an end.
Unfortunately for their future safety, the Elvish Spellweavers of the time had no inkling that they were being manipulated from afar. Had they known, they might have speculated as to whether or not the same potency that was shaping their thoughts and investigations had been the source of Lolth’s inspiration; this in turn could well have changed the Elf-Drow relationship subtly but fundamentally, ultimately sparing much bloodshed.
And so they continued their studies in blissful ignorance, discovering that the black gems were linked to Elvishness in an unexpected way: just as the gems had filaments of arcane energy resonating through them in patterns that could be harmonious or dissonant, so Elves themselves had similar strands of arcane energy within themselves, while Half-elves did not. This was the source of the Elvish ability to spellweave, and proved that no Human could ever do so; they required artificial and external constructs of voice, will, motion, and matter to generate and bind artificial strands in vague patterns that would shape the arcane field around them into a given effect. While Elves could learn the human techniques – finding them useful in the same fashion that a fine carpenter sometimes finds a simple wooden hammer to be an asset – humans lacked the essential capability for any more sophisticated spellcrafting.
This suggested that these strands of arcane energy had been infused into the Elvish being when the species was first created, and indeed, it was possible that this was the tool that bound the disparate elements of the Elvish prototypes together long enough for them to coalesce into a single coherant being.
But if that were true, then it must mean that The Other would have similar bindings, but so arranged that what created harmony in one race’s hands created dissonance in their opposite number. The Other would have a natural antipathy to spellweaving, the Ying to the Elvish Yang, strongly resistant to change from without. And, where the Elvish ability was focused outwards, manifesting as an ability to shape the world around them, in The Other, it would be manifest inward in some manner, enabling an instinctive or natural transformation of the Other themselves in some way. Perhaps their physiques would change with the seasons, or with the activities needed of the previous generation, or perhaps they would acquire immunity to more subtle forms of harm; who could know? But the topic was ripe for speculation and romanticization – and there is little that Elves like to do better than indulge in romanticized speculation. After all, itis truly said that the Trees learned to Gossip from the Elves – because sometimes there was no Elf nearby with whom to consummate this passion for rumor and innuendo.
The completion of the great Circle Of Harmony was exactly what the hidden Power who had been influencing the Elves had been pushing them to achieve; while the Elves spent endless days, weeks, and months engaged in this orgy of self-discovering speculation, that entity turned its attentions to somewhere else that had caught it’s interest…
The Cult Of Stone
For the next 50 years following the completion of the Circle Of Harmony, the Elves drifted from day to day, so caught up in earth-shattering mundania that they scarcely bothered to mark the passage of time. Every now and then, a fresh insight emerged from the Comesdhail Osfadara Litrithe (Congress Of Spellweavers), or word emerged of this or that human kingdom suffering from this or that calamity, but little of any great import arose to bother the Elves.
Over that span, a minor cult took root in Dwarven society, led by an evangelist named Kamen Rukozh. Usually, when the Dwarves spoke of ‘The earth speaking to them’ they meant it figuratively, an indication that their senses were attuned to their underground environment and made them aware of circumstances and conditions within it to an extent that others were incapable of. Slowly, it became common to believe that if one possessed of the senses of a Dwarf were to listen in the proper manner, he could hear the Voice Of Stone literally as well as metaphorically. And that voice sang songs of Conquest, and Glory, and Avarice.
Through their trading relations, the Elves noted the situation as a troubling development; they sensed a growing belligerence in the Dwarven attitude, and could only hope that the promises of the Dwarven King would continue to be observed. Still, there seemed to be no imminent threat, and the Elves drifted on through their endless autumn for another half-century, blithely unaware that the first storm of a long hard winter would soon engulf the race.
The Ongoing Elvish Glossary
- Alkaith: Curved 14-inch dagger favored as a weapon and general cutting tool by Elvish Spellcasters and some High Elves.
- Arnost: Simple Speech (Modern “Common”, a human tongue)
- Arrunquessor: Plains Elves
- Ayer: Nuthanori word meaning “Squat”. Mont Ayer is the name of one of the two peaks that define the traditional elvish lands.
- Calquissir: High Elves
- Comesdhail Osfadara Litrithe Congress Of Spellweavers
- Corellan: The First
- Drow: “Those Who Dwell Apart” (in Nuthanorl). Added to Ogre by the Drow with the meaning of “Smart”.
- Ellessarune: The “Shining City” of the Tarquessir, home of the Elvish King and capital of the Elven Lands to this day.
- Eltrhinast: “Guiding Spirit”
- Elvarheim: “Blessed Leafy Home”: The Elven Forest, homeland of the Tarquessir and the centre of Elven Power in modern times
- Gilandthor: “The Gathering”, the formal title of the Elvish Council.
- Hithainduil: High Elven Language
- Huyundaltha: “Masters Of The Ondaltha” (literal), “Bladedancers” (colloquial). Formerly Noletinechor, now Guardians Of Elvish Society.
- Illvayssor: “The Other”, a mythical race
- Isallithin: “The Sundered”, a name applied to Aquatic Elves
- King: A human title interpreted by Elves as “speaker to others” and defined as such within their language.
- Magi: A corruption of the Zamiel word “Machus”, which means “of the wise.”
- Mithryl: the Elvish name of an extremely fragile metal given in trade by the Dwarves to the Elves. The word is imported from Dwarven, who in turn obtained it from the Zamiel Tongue name of the metal, “Mithral”. “Mithryl” means “Moonsilver” in Elven. The word also enjoys popular usage as a metaphor for a treasure found which appeared initially worthless.
- Mithral: the Drow name for Mithryl. A literal translation from Zamiel is “Shadowsilver”.
- Mont: Nuthanori word meaning “High Place”. Used human-style in the naming of Mountains.
- Noletinechor: “Lore Shields”, an elvish historical vocation
- Nuthanorl: Low Elven Language, Common Elven
- Ondaltha: A two-weapon combat style based apon Elvish Dance, practiced exclusively by Huyundaltha.
- Osfadara Litrithe Spellweaver, literally ‘Weaver of Harmony’.
- Sarner: A human abbreviation of the Hithainduil word “Saranariuthenal” which means, literally, “Swift and Wide”. The River Sarner runs through the central valley of Elvarheim.
- Tarquessir: Forest Elves
- Thuyon: Nuthanori word meaning “Tall Spires”. Mont Thuyon is the name of the taller of the two peaks that define the traditional elvish lands; Modern Elvarheim lies between the foothills of Mont Thuyon and the River Sarner.
- Verdonne: “Quickbranch”, an artificial race created by Elves to be “The Guardians Of The Forest”.
- Zamiel: Drow Language
Next time: Acts of Genocide and war, as life takes a tragic turn in Chapters 32 to 36!
- Inventing and Reinventing Races in DnD: An Introduction to the Orcs and Elves series part 1
- Inventing and Reinventing Races in DnD: An Introduction to the Orcs and Elves series part 2
- Inventing and Reinventing Races in DnD: An Introduction to the Orcs and Elves series part 3
- Inventing and Reinventing Races in DnD: An Introduction to the Orcs and Elves series part 4
- Inventing and Reinventing Races in DnD: An Introduction to the Orcs and Elves series part 5
- On The Origins Of Orcs, Chapters 1-4
- On The Origins Of Orcs, Chapters 5-10
- On The Origins Of Orcs, Chapters 11-14
- On The Origins Of Orcs, Chapters 15-17
- On The Origins Of Orcs, Chapters 18-20
- On The Origins Of Orcs, Chapters 21-23
- On The Origins Of Orcs, Chapters 24-26
- On The Origins Of Orcs, Chapters 27-28
- On The Origins Of Orcs, Chapters 29-31
- On The Origins Of Orcs, Chapters 32-36
- On The Origins Of Orcs, Chapters 37-40
- On The Origins Of Orcs, Chapters 41-43
- On The Origins Of Orcs, Chapters 44-46
- On The Origins Of Orcs, Chapters 47-51
- Inventing and Reinventing Races in DnD: An Orcish Mythology
- On The Origins Of Orcs, Chapters 52-54
- On The Origins Of Orcs, Chapters 55-58
- On The Origins Of Orcs, Chapters 59-62
- On The Origins Of Orcs, Chapters 63-65
- On The Origins Of Orcs, Chapters 66-68
- On The Origins Of Orcs, Chapters 69-70
- On The Origins Of Orcs, Chapters 71-73
- Who Is “The Hidden Dragon”? – Behind the curtain of the Orcs and Elves Series
- On The Origins Of Orcs, Chapter 74
- On The Origins Of Orcs, Chapters 75-77
- On The Origins Of Orcs, Chapters 78-85