Section I: Sapient Races
Section II: Beastly Races
“One day, about three years ago, I came back to my hometown in Kraznyczar, a small place called Redmush. Don’t worry if you’ve never heard of the town – or think that the name is the oddest you’ve ever read. Most of the people there agree wholeheartedly with you, and not many of those who leave would care to mention their home. Life in Kraznyczar is hard at the best of times, given the best kind of soil to till, rich hunting, wood to build your homes. Then you’d still have to suffer the rain, the storms that destroy the harvest more times than not, the flooding rivers that drown the lifestock. Not to mention the tax collectors with their large retinue of soldiers to squeeze the last bit of wealth from you.
“Redmush is built on muddy ground that runs red with clay, and the rains keep most of it moist all year round. So plowing and planting is a difficult chore, to say the least, and the people living in the town are the hardened sort who have grown accustomed to hardship over generations. Growing up it was perfectly ordinary for me to go hungry, to endure the suffering and rarely see a smile on any of the people around me. Looking back it seems as if the raindrops washed any happiness clear out of town.
“So when I returned from my journeys abroad, I had no intention of staying longer than a week at best. All I wanted was to reassure my family that I was indeed doing fine, as I had written in my letters. (Of course I had also worried about whether my letters had reached Redmush at all. The royal couriers have never been the most reliable.) More than a week of seeing the dour faces, I had reasoned, would only drive a stake of pain into my heart.
“But when I rode into the valley leading to Redmush, my eyes suddenly glazed over when I saw the fields around the town. Golden wheat blowing in a soft wind on a ground that was dry and brown, more so than I had ever seen at home. Flowers grew aside the path, and children were playing, singing songs – songs so soothing and beautiful that I instantly felt happiness sprout in my heart. A little girl ran up to me, handed me a few flowers, smiled silently and bounded back to her friends.
“Redmush itself I hardly recognized. The buildings were the same that I had grown up around, but all bore fresh coats of paint, the roofs were repaired, and the streets were clean without the slightest trace of garbage in sight. Everyone I saw walking had a spring in their steps, a smile on their faces.
“What had happened? Had I somehow ridden to the wrong town? Yet how could I recognize most of the people, how could they greet me by name?
“When I came to the small house my parents own, my heart was torn between joy at the happiness and fear at what might have been the cause. And fear what I might find at home. But the door flew open before I ever had a chance to dismount, and my mother came storming out to practically drag me off the horse in a happy embrace, crying tears of joy over my return. Father was slower, as were the rest of my family, but all of them gathered around me, taking turns in hugging me – whenever Mother gave them a chance, that is. They were speaking constantly, chattering bits and pieces about what had been going on in Redmush ever since I had left, asking me how I was, what I had done, and so on.
“It took hours before I got a chance to rest – talking, eating the best meal I ever had at home, drinking the same old terribly hard liquor, listening to my family; all of that exhausted me terribly. After riding nearly all day, I almost fell asleep at the table, and finally Mother chased everyone away. ‘Son,’ she told me, ‘it’s good to see you back home. But if you’re not too tired, I know something that will cheer you up and show you how good life can be.’
“There was something in her voice that told me I should force myself to keep my eyes open a bit longer. Some hint that I might learn what had changed my home into this beautiful place. ‘I would love to,’ I lied. Mother smiled, and then she took me by the hand and led me out of the house, down the street to the travellers’ inn.
“It had never been much of an inn, I must tell you. Few travellers ever set their errant steps into Redmush, and most of the locals prefer Rodoyf’s tavern. The drinks are the same, but it’s the place where the men have gathered all their lives. The travellers’ inn is a two-storeyed building, but it’s squeezed in so tight between the houses around it that two men could hardly lie down head to toes in-between. There are two small cubicles on the top floor, barely large enough to fit a grown man. (I should know. One of the worst kept secrets in Redmush is to what the travellers’ inn owes its continued existence, since its official business couldn’t even pay for the food Liahkim – the owner – eats: Young lovers often sneak into one of the cubicles, surreptitiously paying Liahkim who could be trusted to keep silent, without fear of running into their parents in the small commons room below. Having participated in this practice more than once, I can assure you that those cubicles are tiny indeed. I still have the bumps on my head to prove it.)
“That evening though the commons was full, and whoever did not fit into the house squatted outside on blankets spread on the ground, while Liahkim and newly hired barmaids hurried about with full glasses of beer. A stage had been set up next to the inn. Three of our local musicians – none worth listening to – were playing the screeching sounds they insisted were melodies, yet no stones were flying their way. A few couples were trying to dance, and I am quite sure one or two actually succeeded in finding a rhythm.
“Mother saw me gaping, and her smile deepened. ‘You just wait and see, son,’ she told me, ‘you will understand soon.’
“And that I did, for Liahkim darted into the house when he saw my mother and me, and the crowd suddenly fell silent – fortunately including the self-styled musicians who quickly vacated the stage. ‘Edagio is coming now,’ Mother said and pointed toward the door of the inn. It swung open slowly, and a stranger stepped out who was greeted with cheering applause.
“I felt little like cheering, more like staring incredulously at the creature that was walking towards the stage. It was obviously a dwarf, the same heavyboned figure with the large, rocklike head – but that was where the similarities ended. Edagio’s facial features weren’t hewn out of his face with a heavy axe, rather they looked like finely chiseled designs, almost soft. His eyes twinkled under surprisingly thin and slanted eyebrows, as faircolored as the well manicured beard that split into two long braids that were curled around his shoulders, carefully arranged with brooches pinned to the red vest he wore. Instead of an axe or a hammer, his hands held a lyra fashioned from rocks and another instrument that was nothing but a set of stones held together by a sturdy wire.
“’A songdwarf?’ I wondered, and Mother shook her head. ‘He prefers to be called by their true name. Amhran acharadh. Doesn’t that already sound like a song?’
“It did, but I soon learned that I had no idea what a song could be. The acharadh climbed onto the stage, graced his audience with a smile and a bow, then he slowly began to sing, in a voice so deep and rich it came straight from the bowels of the earth. The lyra added soft, moaning tones, while the other instrument – carefully jingled – added basso counterpoints.
“Please don’t ask what Edagio’s songs were about. I have a few ideas, from speaking with the acharadh in later days, but he sang in the tongue of his folk. At first I tried to understand him, knowing a little bit of the dwarven language. Yet his dialect was so ancient and strange, it was useless. And then I plain forgot about it, swept away by the torrent of the beautiful sounds. Images blossomed in my mind, pictures of landscape as pretty and lush as you can only dream. I saw the valley around Redmush – first as I remembered it from childhood, then the way it should be, the way that would turn our lives into wonderful dreams. I saw the wheatstalks growing to their full size, no rainclouds on the horizon. I saw my family and friends, the sadness on their faces replaced by glee and the desire to help each other.
“I saw a dream, and when the music ended I realized that the dream had come true around us. Edagio bowed again, left the stage and slowly walked back into the inn. I thought that he would have gone straight up to one of the small cubicles – which were sufficiently roomy for a dwarf, after all. A bit later I learned that he was not quite so remote from mundane pleasures such as drinking a few ales and singing boisterous songs along with the crowd.
“Back then, though, Mother turned to me and asked with a twinkle in her eyes, ‘Do you understand now?’
“I smiled and knew it was the same dreamily happy smile everyone else smiled. ‘Yes, mother, I do.’
“I had thought I would leave Redmush after only a week. But I have lived there since that day, and I have never had any regrets. Even though Edagio left us a while later, the dream stayed with us. And whenever a traveller passes through, wondering how much our town differs from the surrounding villages, we just smile and tell him that we lead a charmed life, indeed.”
“A week before King Maeb’s anniversary on the throne, the lordlets and princes of the realm began to arrive at Tenth Mountain, to pay homage to their great liege. Each was given a cave according to his rank, and none disputed the choices made by the great king’s majordomus. No prince at odds with another was placed close to the foe, each was treated with the respect they deserved.
“On the eve of the anniversary, there was no room left in Tenth Mountain for a mouse to sneak about. All were gladsomely preparing for the feast: The shafts were closed down as workers dressed the great halls; cooks butchered the animals and maids cleansed the pots for the morrow’s needs; smiths took to their workshops for the last touches on their gifts to their king; nobles tried on their finest clothes to see if any last repairs were in order.
“As night fell, a storm drew up. The king’s bard, the honorable ambrán Maultauvivaché, sent his prayer and song to the heavens to relent lest the rain continue until the morrow and its continued noise and the seepage mar the festivities. While his songs were raised, another visitor appeared at Tenth Mountain’s entrance, bedraggled by the storm.
“’Turn away,’ the guard called. ‘The mountain has no more space.’
“’But t’is a storm!’ the visitor cried, ‘by the Dweorgh Laws, I have a right to shelter! Honored guard, pray send for the great king to grant me an audience!’
“The guard shrugged, then allowed the visitor to stay in the entrance shaft, while he sent a messenger to King Maeb. The storm’s force grew ever stronger, despite Maultauvivaché’s pleading magic, and the stone doors of the entrance were shut. No word of the king’s had reached the guards before midnight, as winds of ferocious might pounded the vault doors. The visitor, in his simple cloak, huddled in a corner, while the guards considered moving to a more secured position.
“Finally the messenger returned, bearing word that King Maeb was asleep and would not grant an audience. ‘Is that the hospitality of thine great king?’ the visitor cried. ‘No bed for a humble visitor while nobles are given all kinds of comforts? No meal, not even a bread drenched with the juice of the nobles’ meats?’
“The guard shrugged once more. ‘Be glad you are out of the rain, t’is better than nothing.’
“Then the visitor’s eyes grew cold, and as he rose his cloak fell off and revealed the finely crafted clothes beneath, the amulet of an amhran acharadh gleaming on his chest. ‘T’is less than nothing, honored guard. T’is an insult, and thine king shall learn wrath. Open the doors, honored guards, for this is no place of honorable dwarves. T’is a place that shall fall in a day!’
“The guards obeyed the irrefutable demand of the acharadh, shivering in his cold glare as the amhran acharadh walked into the storm, unharmed by its tearing might.
“Upon the morrow, the skies cleared, and Maultauvivaché received the king’s praise on his magical prowess. Yet that magic was not to succeed once the guards climbed to their lookout positions. A mile away, a wave of armor poured into the valley, an elven army of wooden swords and shields, their shouts carried with bloodlusting fervor to the guards’ frightened ears.
“Quickly the forces of Tenth Mountain were alarmed, and the Machyarian warriors hastened to the defense of their royal caves. They raised their shouts, raised their axes, their hammers, their shields, glistening in the sunlight, a frightful sight, a terrible clamor.
“But then a song was heard, soft and distant, its words of ancient origin whose beauty pierced the dwarves’ soul, as they saw the amhran acharadh on a nearby hill, telling of the shame of their king, of his refusal to grant a right of the Dweorgh Law. And the Machyarian warriors lowered their axes, their hammers, their shields. They heard the words, learned of the shame, burning into their bones.
“They felt the shame in themselves, and they climbed away, while elven fury clashed into those remaining with King Maeb. Blood flowed as King Maeb and his dwarves tore away at the elves, yet all their fight was for nought as the swords of elfwood cut through them.
“Thus, Tenth Mountain fell and was declared unfit for settlement. Too deeply had the refused right of the Dweorgh Law poisoned the ground.”
“I dunno what to say about the songdwarves. Amhran acharadh, they call themselves. Me, personally, I don’t give a damn about their opinions. Ain’t gonna twist my tongue by using that name. Songdwarf’s good enough in my book.
“So the other dwarves put great stock in the songdwarves. Fine with me, and I’ll say that the sword one of their magesmiths manufactured for me’s pretty much the best I’ve seen. Also happened to be th’most expensive, in more than one way. Soon as the caidwarves around got word, they tried their best to take it from me. Some with money, some with weapons of their own. Afterwards I had to leave the area quickly, since there’ve been quite a number o’ blood feuds started then.
“An’ here you get my opinion of the songdwarves: You always pay more than the price you’re quoted.
“Well, chances are you won’t meet many of ‘em, anyway. They like to keep to themselves, an’ as far as I’m concerned, good riddance.”
“Well, good Lestrovar, if you think I’m an expert on dwarves just because I happened to roam Gushémal with Grimshaw for thirty years, I’m very sorry to disappoint you. Grimshaw probably would laugh until his beard fell off if I made any such claim, and I would bet ten thousand ibrols – or Cayaborean ducats, if you will – that his beard has by now completely covered his boots. If I had another thirty years by that bloody dwarf’s side, I still would have hardly begun to understand him. (The only mollifying part in this is that Grimshaw has probably less of an idea of elves; after all, in his mind the fact that I could use a sword and had a higher point of view was most of the reason he stuck around me for so long. Or so he kept claiming.)
“I will do my best nonetheless to impart to you some of my knowledge.
“Your average caidwarf measures about four feet in height, with about the same proportions to his limbs as are found in a human or elf. Roughly said, of course, since their constant hard work has a propensity to adding thick sinews to their arms. Nonetheless it is easy to underestimate the strength of a dwarf – though I can recommend a very simple cure for any such mistake. Should one of the readers ever get into a conversation with a dwarf, please ask your interlocutor to lift a heavy rock and throw it.
“Ever since I saw Grimshaw crush three ratpeople with a single throw – and then calmly light his pipe, with little sign of exertion on his face -, my respect for a caidwarf’s strength can hardly be measured.
“Speaking of strength and fighting force, it would be silly not to mention weaponry and armor. Dwarves generally prefer axes and warhammers – not least to extend their range to an equal of larger-sized opponents -, yet some also wield swords, and a few clans have gone far enough to breed archers. (Dwarven archers always use crossbows; their size – even counting their immense strength – makes proper use of a long range weapon such as a long bow impossible.) In terms of armor, they rarely wear better than chain armor. Full plate armor a dwarf scoffs at (a fact that I can attest to, having been exposed to the constant taunts of a dwarf smith from whom I bought such a set of armor once). I suppose the reason for that is the agility a dwarf requires in a mine; after all, plate armor helps little if one is ensconced in a collapsed shaft that one might have escaped with lighter armor.
“The weapons count among the most treasured possessions of a dwarf. Each and everyone of their race bears arms (including mock weapons for the children), and the older exclusively have weapons they have forged themselves.
“(Please note that there is one particular misconception about dwarves. They are not born with the ability to excel in the forge. In fact, some among them are abysmally inept – just like good Grimshaw. Still, his axe is magnificent and of his own making. The truth is that Grimshaw swung the hammer on the anvil a single time – nearly missing the metal -, and that was sufficient to make the axe officially his. This practice is comparatively common, my friend told me, since warriors, wordsmiths, ambráns, and the like rarely find the time to properly train.)
“As for age, that is hard to tell with a dwarf. Their faces are so wrinkled (and often scarred) that a dwarf of one hundred and fifty years looks the same as he did at ninety. (Dwarves have no problems in this regard, Grimshaw claims. On the other hand, I remember one incident when he treated a venerable smith like a youngster on his first tour of the shafts; all just because said smith had lost his beard in a fire. Grimshaw spent days moping.)
“In general, caidwarves distinguish four ages that a person goes through. The first is childhood which covers roughly the first three decades of their lives. At thirty, they are given the ascension ceremony. From this day on, the young dwarves work in the mines or serve as soldiers. Overall they are considered old enough to work but not wise enough to take part in any superior activity. As a sign of their youth, no worker or warrior is permitted to grow a beard but has to shave it every day. (Which not only is a reminder of their low position but also quite arduous work since a dwarf’s beard seems more akin to stone than hair.)
“That changes on their ninetieth birthday when a caidwarf reaches the maturity ceremony. It is the first day of their lives that the dwarves are permitted to let their beards grow. Indeed a major part of the ceremony is the melting of their shaving knives.
“From this day on a dwarf bears the title of smith, though that does not necessarily reflect his kind of work. Most of them do choose the hammer and anvil, but some who have distinguished themselves in their beardless days will continue in the mines or in the army, now filling the governing positions.
“As full adults, a dwarf may also opt to leave the mine for a while to explore the world. The reasons are manifold; some seek to find new lodes of ore, some wish to seek a bride from another clan, some seek fresh knowledge such as new techniques for forging, and some simply seek adventure. (The latter of course are the most troublesome. I leave it to the dear reader’s imagination to decide of which kind my companion Grimshaw was.) Most dwarves one meets on the face of Gushémal are smiths, which explains the general belief that dwarves are bearded from the day of their birth.
“By about their one hundred and sixtieth birthday, a caidwarf will feel his strength waning and may decide of his own free will when to celebrate the ceremony of coyrt seose - which means ‘surrender’ in meantongue. A retiring dwarf surrenders his tools and weapons during this ceremony to the clan’s chief bard – the ambrán -, never to lift a finger in work again. It is a sad ceremony, the dwarf’s acknowledgement that he no longer is able to fill his position. (Very few try to postpone their ceremony, even though their body tells them it is time. Caidwarves by their nature are honest and honorable, after all.)
“Which is not to say that a retired dwarf will just live out his or her days waiting longingly for death. Some do, it is true, but most find that there are other ways to spend their last years. After all, a dwarf has a life expectancy of more than one hundred and eighty years, and a bicentennial dwarf is not unheard of.
“In the case of Grimshaw, he chose his surrender ceremony two years ago. (Although I hear that he convinced the chief bard to return his axe to him right after the ceremony. I suspect it is right under his bed when he sleeps, just as it used to be in our days of travel.) Since then he has busied himself with tracing his ancestry and composing an epic song about his family. I must admit I was very much surprised with this, particularly when the first letters from Grimshaw arrived at my home. After we had parted ways some twenty years ago, I had expected only to hear from my dwarven friend in person, but since then he has been turning into a regular wordsmith.
“While we are on the topic of songs, I would be remiss not to mention the dwarven bards. Personally I find the musical work of the ambrán rather… difficult. They use instruments fashioned from rocks, and mostly it sounds like a landslide, rolling rocks. The poetry, though, freed from the dreadful noise, is oftentimes intriguing, and occasionally on par with the great elven writers of our times.
“To be perfectly honest, I have not quite understood the distinction between an ambrán and a wordsmith. Both are dwarves of letters, both create poetry or prose, and wordsmiths also occasionally perform their own works. On the other hand, both also serve as teachers to the young, and are scholars of all sorts of knowledge. To confuse matters more, sometimes I have heard the same person be called a wordsmith and an ambrán in the same conversation, yet Grimshaw has never been willing to explain this to me.
“So I do not know whether the other, perhaps more important, aspect of the ambrán also applies to the wordsmiths, this second aspect being the wielding of magic. Dear reader, please take note, that I know little in the way of magic. Although elves have a natural talent, there seems to be enough human blood in my veins to have diluted my comprehension to its most basic.
“And thus I find it hard to describe what abilities an ambrán calls his own in this. Certainly their abilities differ from those of both elves and humans, they are more closely related to the ground and nature. I am also not too certain if a lot of their powers are not of clerical origin; dwarven magic is able to change objects. One ability of theirs definitely is clerical: the power of healing which a goodly number of ambrán possess (though not all).
“Actually there is one possibility that has just occurred to me: Perhaps the title of ambrán or wordsmith refers to a wide range of actual professions, including priests, wizards, teachers, poets. That might explain the confusion – yet there are still some troubling questions remaining.
“Ahh, I have told you rightly that I barely know dwarves. Kindly forward a copy of your work, dear Lestrovar, to Grimshaw. I can hardly wait for a scathing, scoffing letter from that bearded troll.”
be the king who speaks before his ambrán,
land shall cry in pain,
mountain shall shiver,
the ambrán’s wisdom challeng’d by a king.”
“Say what ye want, t’me the knightdwarves’re just a short breed o’humans, with a wee bit more strength. Uttar – prais’d be th’ dweorgh – would hae t’be ashamed o’ his offspring. They don’t live in proper caves, nay, they’re buildin’ villages an’ cities, like humans or demented dwarves. Which I reckon they are.
“A knightdwarf’s a foot taller than an honest dwarf oughta be, an’ they use swords. Swords! No dweorgh ever stooped to wieldin’ a blade, so why should we, their descendants, sully their image? But the Albinavians, they do, an’ they claim it’s a better weapon than an axe. Oh, sure’t is… Told ye they’re sick. Swords, empire buildin’, where’s the diff’rence t’humans? What makes’em still dwarves?
“’fore ye ask, I know not th’answer. They live longer than the mayflies, that I know, an’ I’ve even heard of one o’their kings livin’ t’see more’n two hundred years. Now wouldn’t that be the cruelest? Their livin’ longer than us good caidwarves? Don’t let me get started on ‘em songdwarves, ‘em amhran acharadh, they’re almost as bad. Or maybe worse, I remember…
“Knightdwarves, knightdwarves ye wanted t’know ‘bout. I’m just glad they don’t leave their island often; bloody Albinavia’s swarmin’ with’em, an’ far as I’m concerned, they’d better stay there. Well, the best one c’n say ‘bout Albinavia’s that there ain’t no humans ‘bout, leastways lots less’n we have on the continent. Worst ye could say’s that the knightdwarves’re doin’ just fine takin’ the part o’the humans there. They got their kingdoms scattered all over the island – which isn’t even decently small. Accordin’ t’what I’ve heard, ye can fit Cayaboré into Albinavia.
“Which isn’t the worst comparison. Knightdwarves’re almost as dreadful as Cayaboreans, always goin’ on ‘bout honor an’ ‘knightly’ behavior. Oh, honor is a fine thing t’have, sure is. But it’s nae like it’s the only thing of value in th’world! Hearin’ a knightdwarf drone on ‘bout honor, ye gets t’thinkin’ it’s gotta be a dirty word somewhere in the world. Person’lly I’ve only heard tales ‘bout their courts an’ their castles – an’ I’ll grant’em they’re somethin’ o’builders -, but accordin’ t’the tales, it’s followin’ their precepts of ‘honor’ all day, from mornin’ to evenin’. Crashin’ mines, they’re holdin’ mass early in th’mornin’, an’ everybody’s expected t’attend!
“Yes, ye read rightly. Knightdwarves worship gods rather than the divine dweorgh that they should. Uttar t’them’s no more than an ancient king o’great renown. An’ let’s not speak o’the other dweorgh, f’r they’re treated even worse.
“An’ they’re holdin’ mass at mornin’, noon, an’ evenin’. Some even add another two in-between! No dweorgh requires ye t’hold mass or do any o’that silliness that humans and elves go in for. Oughta be good ‘nough that ye’re puttin’ in a good day’s work, just like the dweorgh did. Live by their example, not by the demands of some god or other.
“An’ look at those errant knightdwarves – or whatever they call themselves – crawlin’ about Gushémal, them that do leave Albinavia – an’ oughta get blasted for it. Always lookin’ for some way t’please their gods. Or was it a single god? Well, ye never know how silly they c’n get. Lookin’ for adventure, is what I call them. They keep actin’ like beardless youngsters, an’ incidentally, all o’them shave! Every day! By the dweorgh, those that should be wearin’ a beard t’their toes scrape off their stubble every mornin’!
“How can a good dwarf respect ‘em? Humans probably love ‘em, but that’s humans fer ye. Never cared much fer’em, an’ I don’t care much fer knightdwarves, either.”
“Praise the gods for knightdwarves! For once there is a race of dwarves who are polite and understand the true meaning of life! None of that gruff attitude, none of that banging rocks together and calling it music, none of that ‘Let me just split a few heads’ attitude of our local dwarves.
“No, the knightdwarves are much better than caidwarves, cúchulain, polar dwarves and songdwarves combined can claim to be. I have found every one I met to be worthy of serving in the army of our great nation, and that means a lot. There are honorable, hard working, godsfearing, and most of all willing to sacrifice themselves for the greater good of their nation. If we had a few of their nation living in Cayaboré, we would have ourselves a formidable addition to our troops. […]