Folkhamlár Research Challenge

The micelwritu of the meeting of læreowas of the Folkhamlár of Greatvale, 28th day of Sunnemath, Gaderung-at-large for Learning Asser presiding, Vera Ælfredsdohtor writing.

As you all know, the recent journeys to the Hidden Lands by Meharanganar Toreanastrarax of Denestiriux and Daegal Swordsmith of Greatvale have forced us to reexamine our former theories about the Elder Folk. In particular, several of the artifacts they brought back, including efforts to copy the cave drawings and carvings they saw, may shed light on the form and function of the houses that floated above the earth. The artifacts and drawings are presently in the special exhibits hall of the Folkhamlár’s museum, and I would like to encourage each member of this community to examine them through the lens of his or her own discipline. In two months time, at the end of Hærfastmath, the artifacts will travel on to their next location. In five months time, on the 28th day of Deorcmath, the Folkhamlár will sponsor a lárthing for the presentation of research projects related to the examination of the Hidden Lands artifacts.
This is an unprecedented opportunity to engage with our own mythology, all the more significant coming to us as it does in a moon year. Thank you for your presence here today, and I look forward to the discussions that will fill these halls over the next months.

The Folkhamlár of Greatvale

When Folkhame was rebuilt after the great fire in 50AC, the Rædgivers Leofwine of Brandwyk, Osgar of Middlebury, and Witeger Leafday Ælefdyr created a space in their newly expanded city for advanced learning in all areas of arts and sciences. Although one of the main purposes of the Folkhamlár was to prepare Boroughsetters to take up the full responsibilities of Boroughræden, it also fostered creative discussion among læreowas (teachers) and their leornoras (students) who were encouraged to question established patterns of thought even as they explored new areas of inquiry.

Earth and Sky

These brief paragraphs were found among some artifacts of the Elder Folk. They appear to have been written by a woman and may be a fragment from a journal or a letter. 

SONY DSCWe didn’t always live in houses that float above the earth. My grandmother says that her grandmother lived on the ground as a child and she used to tell stories, but they have been lost. I have tried to imagine what it would be like to live on the earth, and it’s hard.

There is a large boulder I can see from my window, and I imagine that it is a house sitting on the ground. It seems so vulnerable. In the springtime, the river expands to cover it. In the dry times of year, animals can walk right up to it. They climb up and sleep in the sun. Would they climb on houses? That would be strange indeed.

When the storms come, our houses in the sky sway and drift, but the boulder and the trees on the ground don’t move. How did houses on the ground stay still? I suppose they would have to have been flat on the bottom, but what made them stay put? Did earth houses have roots like the trees?

Animals and weather notwithstanding, the earth may be a safer place to live in some ways. Falling is certainly less dangerous when you start out closer to the ground. I sometimes think that taking care of children must have been so much easier. No child from our village has Fallen in living memory, but it is still every mother’s and aunt’s and older sister’s greatest worry. Greater than fire, greater than bathwater, greater than illness. We are haunted by the Fall. Sometimes when the straps of the sling dig into my shoulders or the toddler is restless on my hip, I envy the women who lived on the earth, who could set their babies down safely, without fear of the Fall.

Kadunghu Ka—The Writings of Illavallanism

The following are excerpts from the Kadunghu, the writings of the religion of Illavallanism.

From the BOOK OF THE CREATION

The opening line of the Kadunghu Ka written in the Elder Tongue script
The opening line of the Kadunghu Ka written in the Elder Tongue script

U ava-a he eth-a tha obo-avath kitik-va-uthu
mi 
kuduma ka obo-avak vohu,
Illa la bo-kodangal a-Takat-va-Maga ka…

1 When the sky was a blank canvas and the world a formless mass, the Mother began to create the Great Art. 2She stretched out the canvas of sky and brushed onto it the hues of deepest blue. 3She beheld the canvas of sky and declared it beautiful. 4When the canvas had dried, she placed it within the frame of heaven and placed a great light before it so that all might behold its beauty.

Codex_Sinaiticus_open_full

5Then the Mother took the formless mass and began to shape it. 6She pressed and kneaded and sculpted the mass. 7When she looked at the mass she saw that it had become a perfect sphere and she declared it beautiful. 8She placed it before the canvas of sky and delighted to see the way the light of the lamp shone upon it.  9But the shadow of the world blocked out some of the canvas, so she hung tiny lights to illuminate the canvas wherever the shadow of the world should touch it. 10When she beheld the canvas of sky, the lamp, the world, and the lesser lights, she declared it beautiful.

11In her satisfaction, the Mother breathed out a sigh and her breath went into all the world. 12Where her breath went it brought with it life and the grasses, flowers, and trees sprang forth into being. 13The Mother beheld the grasses, flowers, and trees, and shouted for joy, “Beautiful!” 14As the words hit the world, they melted portions of the sphere and waters began to burst forth.  15The Mother peered closer to the world and saw the deep waters and as the breath of her nostrils hit the waters, they began to teem with life. 16She turned her gaze upon a barren plain, where earth and water had come together to make clay.  17As she looked closely at the earth, her breath reached into the clay and it yielded human beings. 18The human beings sat up and when they saw the goddess before them they cried out with one voice: “Mother!” 19The Mother said, “I shall answer to no other name, for my children have claimed me.”

20She began to laugh out of joy and with each laugh, a new creature came forth out of the earth: the elf, the halfling, the giant.  21Each saw her and shouted praise to her, calling her “Queen,” “Lady,” and “Goddess,” but only the human beings called her Mother. 22She brought forth the creatures of the field and forest: the dog, the cat, the bear, the lion, the horse, and all the creatures of the field.  23Her shouts of joy over the sea brought forth the porpoise and shark, the whale, the kraken, and the leviathan.  And with every new creature, she shouted all the louder and more joyfully. 24And when it was at long last over, she cried out, “It is very beautiful.”

SONY DSC
The Mother speaks the word “yarulu,” declaring the creation beautiful.

25The Mother saw that the world had become a crowded place and that the elves, giants, and halflings were jealous of the human beings and made to harm them.  26And so she took the human beings and placed them on a land apart. The Mother said to them, “Here you will be hidden until the time is right.” 17She brought many of the animals to share the hidden land with them and even caused the land to bring forth even more and more wondrous creatures for the use and amazement of humanity. 28And lest her children be frightened by the terrors of the dark, she hung another lamp in the shadow sky, that the night might not be a cause for fear.

29When all things were accomplished, the Mother beheld the entirety of what she had fashioned and pronounced it very, very beautiful.

The Book of THE SUITORS

1 And so it was: in the days when the Mother settled her children in the hidden lands, she saw that they struggled for want of food. 2 She said, “I shall fashion a tiller of the soil to teach my children how to bring forth fruit from the earth, so that they may be satisfied and worry no more.” 3 Taking some clay and mixing it with the finest soil, she fashioned a guide for the people.

4 She named him Duga, saying, “I give you a spade [dugu] to till the soil for my people. 5 Duga was dark of complexion and handsome, with a strong back and arms as thick as tree trunks. 6 He beheld the Mother and was enthralled by her beauty. 7 “I will do as you ask,” he said. “Only permit me your hand when I have returned from my labors.” 8 The Mother said, “I have no need of a consort or husband. But go: feed my people.”

9 And Duga went to the country of humanity, and there instructed them in tilling the soil, harvesting crops, nourishing the soil, and giving the land rest one year in seven. 10 And the people had food and were exceedingly grateful to Duga and the Mother. 11 They offered gifts to Duga and, moved by his love for the Mother, petitioned her that she might grant him favor.

[MORE EXCERPTS TO COME]

Illavallanism

Illavallanism is one of the five great religions of the Sunrise Lands and may be one of the oldest, perhaps even dating back to the civilizations of the Hidden Lands.

Beliefs

Illavallanism maintains belief in one central goddess known as Illa he Kuduma “Mother of the World” or Illa va Alla “Good Mother”, among other names. In many lands, she is known by the name Illavalla, a contraction of Illa va Alla. Illa is the creator of the universe and mother of all living things.

The icon of the religion of Illavallanism: four circles orbit a star, representing the four suitors orbit the sun of Illa he Kuduma
The four suitors orbit the sun of Illa he Kuduma

In the beginning, Illa engaged in the Takat va Maga, the Great Art in which she painted the canvas of the sky and molded as sculpture the world itself.  Beholding the magnificence of what she had wrought, she exhaled a sigh of satisfaction and her breath entered the world, bringing life to the creation.

Delighted with what she saw, Illa peered closer to the creation and as she did so, the breath from her nostrils continued to give life to the objects she beheld.  At one point, she looked over an empty place of nothing but earth (kadam) and her life giving breath brought forth human beings (kadmawehu).  The first humans gazed upon the Goddess and cried out “Mother!”  It is said that Illa forsook her name and claimed only the title of mother as that was the name given to her by her beloved children.  The Lost Name of Illa is said to possess the highest sacredness and were anyone to learn it and utter it, they would be able to wield tremendous power.

Illa is pursued at all times by Four Suitors, who vie for her attention and seek her hand in marriage. Illa is said not to be interested in marrying any of them, but from time to time shows one or the other of them favor, an act which has consequences for the world.

  • Duga. This suitor is a farmer and tiller of the soil.  When Illa shows favor to Duga, crops flourish, flocks increase, and business is plentiful.
  • Thura. This suitor is a sailor on the cosmic sea. When Illa shows favor to Thura, winds and weather are favorable, as well as winds of fortune and chance.
  • Suzha. This suitor is a knight. When Illa shows favor to Suzha, justice is performed and nations are strong against their rivals.
  • Rala. This suitor is a healer. When Illa shows favor to Rala, people are healed of their afflictions and conflicts are settled.

Illavallans believe that if they are faithful during this life, when Illavalla remakes the world into a new masterpiece, she will recreate them to live forever with her and the suitor she has chosen.

The primary source for Illavallan beliefs is Kadunghu Ka “The Writings,” the sacred scripture of Illavallanism.

Practice

Illavallans observe a five-day calendar, in which four days are assigned to the suitors to make their case and one day for Illa to make her judgments. Every fifth day is a holy day upon which the faithful will make petitions to Illa in favor of one of the suitors, depending on particular need.  The fifth day is not necessarily a day of rest as this often depends on whether the surrounding culture embraces the five day week.

Throughout the week, Illavallans may make offerings to each suitor to try to strengthen his cause with Illa so that individual concerns may be addressed.  For example, an Illavallan may make offerings to Duga during the week in order to make Duga more appealing to Illa and then on the fifth day make prayers to Illa to hear Duga’s case and incline her heart toward him so that the Illavallan’s crops might flourish.

Values

Illavallans see the world as a work of art and as human beings as works of art brought to life. Therefore they tend to value human dignity and stewardship of natural resources.

The sole deity of Illavallanism, Illavalla, orbited by the four suitors. This is a traditional depiction of the goddess as an artist, with the paint of creation on her fingers and the Earth she formed in her hands.
Illavalla, orbited by the four suitors. This is a traditional depiction of the goddess as an artist, with the paint of creation on her fingers and the world she formed in her hands.

Folkhame

The capital city of the Folkdeed of Greatvale and the center of Greatvalish civilization and culture.

Founding

In 5449 P.C., Wulfred selected the spot near the fall line of the Great Tidewater as a suitable spot for encampment as it was a natural spot for the construction of a mill.  The city is located right at the end of the tidal estuary and thus still has a deep channel allowing for larger, seagoing vessels to navigate up to the city.  Wulfred always intended that the new city function as a trading port in addition to providing a defensible home for his people.

The city of Folkhame and surrounding countryside.

The city of Folkhame and surrounding countryside.

The initial settlement centered around a fortification atop Cynric’s Hill known as the Burhfast, which became the main citadel of the new settlement.  It would be in that citadel that the king and his council of advisors (eventually known as the Ealdormoot) would come to be located.

With the growth of the Kingdom of Greatvale in the first millenium P.C., King Godwine I decided that the king was in need of a larger, and more defensible fortress than the old Burhfast citadel.  In 922 P.C., Godwine constructed the Cynestol or the Royal Keep, a far more massive structure just to the east of the old Burhfast. Eventually, the Ealdormoot also took up residence in the Cynestol, not so much out of need as out of the king’s desire to keep an eye on the council.

After the Long Campaign and the abolition of the monarchy, the buildings of the Old Kingdom were repurposed.  The Ealdormoot once again took up residence in the Burhfast (now known as the Boroughfast) and the Cynestol was rechristened the Folk Keep.  In addition, the house of the king’s first chancellor was given as the residence for those who would hold the newly established office of witeger.

Fortification

In 28 P.C., Rædgiver Fralin Fisceresdohtor ordered the construction of a second wall around the city.  This wall was to protect vital crops in the event of war or siege.  At the time, tensions were high with Carmadh and Broadland and fear of war was high.  Fralin understood that it was one thing to keep the citizens safely behind the walls but if the crops outside burned, ultimately hope was lost.  The city at that time was two miles across and the new walls added at least another seven square miles to the fortified territories of Folkhame.  The main city remained behind the original fortifications.

Fire and Reconstruction

Around 50 A.C., with the Folkdeed still reeling from the results of the Catastrophe, another catastrophe befell the people of Greatvale.  A major fire erupted in the old quarter of the city and quickly spread to the entire city.  The people fled into the surrounding farmland and the inner walls prevented the fire from spreading to the surrounding countryside.  When the conflagration was finally over, the majority of the city lay in ruins.  The Ealdormoot seriously considered whether it should move to the nearby town of Eoford and establish that as the capital of the Folkdeed.  But it was Rædgivers Leofwine of Brandwyck, Osgar of Middlebury, and Witeger Leafday Æledfyr, in a rare moment of concord, who declared that the fire had presented the people with an opportunity to rebuild the city in a way that reflected the values of the Folkdeed rather than the long cast-off monarchy.

And so the inner walls of the city were torn down and the stone used to rebuild the city altogether.  The city plan was expanded to fill the space outlined by the outer walls. According to Leofwine, Osgar, and Leafday, this was an important statement that the people expected the city not to decline after the fire, but to flourish with an influx of new residents. The new plan was centered around the Boroughfast and the home of the Ealdormoot in the center.  The Boroughfast, which had long had a circular shape was placed at the center of a circle from which eight avenues radiated in a regular pattern.  The old Folk Keep, which had suffered extensive damage in the fire, was rebuilt but divided into two buildings along the main east-west avenue. The city was laid out in a regular (or mostly so) plan of grand avenues every mile, creating a grid with intersecting diagonals radiating from the Boroughfast. Diagonals were later added elsewhere in the city and circular parks placed at the intersections, which often feature statues of the heroes of the Folkdeed.

Notable Features

Among the notable buildings in the city center are:

The Boroughfast. The old citadel fortress of the King, Queens, and Ealdormoot from the earliest days of the city. The building today houses the Ealdormoot and the Conclave of the Gaderungs when it meets.

The downtown area of Folkhame, showing important buildings

The downtown area of Folkhame, showing important buildings

The Doomern. The high court of the Folkdeed.  Here the Ealdordemas (senior judges) of the Folkdeed review the decisions of local boroughdemas and make determinations on important matters of law.

The Godshall. The five-sided building houses representatives of the five great religions of the Sunrise Lands.  The Godshall serves as an important gathering place in times of national crisis or remembrance.  The funerals of rædgivers, witegers, and ealdormen and -women almost always take place in the Godshall.

The Folk Keep. The southern half of the old Folk Keep/Cynestol, this building houses the offices of the two rædgivers and their staffs.

The Ambrighthouse. The Ambrighthouse is the northern half of the old Folk Keep/Cynestol and houses the various ministries of the Folkdeed government.

Witeger’s House. Although the current building was constructed new after the fire it was built on the site of the former edifice which had been the home of the royal chancellor in the days of the Old Kingdom.  The Witeger’s house was infamously visited by the Ealdorweard during the time of Eadwin Lahwita when the rædgiver had given orders for her arrest.  Since that time, the military keeps a respectful distance from the Witeger’s House and parades along Water Avenue are prohibited by long-standing custom.

The Market. The market is the grand bazaar of the city and in the market place, a giant pavilion, one can find treasures from all over the world.

The Waterfront. The waterfront along the Great Tidewater is the city’s main port, fish market, and provides a series of defenses against those who might try to assault the city from the river.

The Trade Tongue

The Trade Tongue is the main lingua franca in the Lands Under the Sun and the language in which you are reading this article.

The Trade Tongue is the language of Broadland on the west coast of the Sunrise Lands and shares a common history with the language of Greatvale, though the Trade Tongue has been influenced by a number of languages of both close and distant relation and its vocabulary and grammar reflect this.  The people of Greatvale can understand the Trade Tongue with some effort, while the peoples of Broadland find Greavalish overly complex and archaic. The Trade Tongue is of a different stock altogether from the Elder Tongue, though it often incorporates words from that language.

Broadland speech, which continues to be known in that country as Brallanish, became the speech of the mercantile fleets that traveled up and down the western coast of the Sunrise Lands as Broadland merchant fleets became the trade conduit for goods from surrounding nations.  Even after those fleets surrendered market dominance to the fleets of Greatvale, the Broadland tongue continued to be used among the ports of the west coast and even the Chain Islands.  The Trade Tongue over time became the dominant language of merchant fleets, due to the fact that most merchant fleets drew sailors from different lands and it became a convenient common tongue. As it became the dominant tongue of merchant fleets, soon it was the dominant tongue used by those engaged in trade among the ports of the world.  From there, it became the language of those who sought to benefit from trade, investments in trade, or other areas of commerce. It is a rare thing to travel to any port in the Lands Under the Sun and not to hear the Trade Tongue spoken.

Aelfwine Theodwita

On the 4th day of Windmath (4 Othalul) 1174 A.C., Hendryck and Æthelhilde of Fiscerehæfen welcomed their first born son, whom they named Aelfwine, after Æthelhilde’s grandfather, a renown sea captain in that same port city of Fiscerehæfen.

From a young age, Aelfwine demonstrated considerable intellectual acuity and his teachers in the city’s Leorninghus noted that he was an avid reader and consumer of stories. His parents, however, saw him entering the family business: a fleet of merchant ships engaged in trade along the west coast of the Sunrise Lands, from Carmadh down to Cape Verunnu in the south.  Fortunately for Aelfwine, the Boroughmoot of Fiscerehæfen mandated a minimum of eight years of schooling for the children of the city. And so, while his parents would have happily placed him aboard ship as a midshipman at the age of nine, Aelfwine was required by law to remain in school for another four years.

Aelfwine was seen as a serious child, rarely smiling but nevertheless demonstrating a biting wit.  It was said that his wit was so dry even as a child that his comments in response to his classmates’ taunts would send his teachers into fits of laughter and leave his fellow classmates dumbfounded.  Wyverun Larsmith, his teacher at the Leorninghus, told a story of a day when a larger boy, Brand, was picking on Aelfwine. After the older boy had finished his rather pedestrian insults, Aelfwine simply said, “Were the bliss your family must feel on account of your collective ignorance something we could bottle, we’d never have to trade with Carmadh for poppies again.”

Aelfwine struggled with mathematics and the practical sciences, but excelled in history and lore and was said to be able to recite the entire list of Kings and Queens of the Old Kingdom from memory.  Once, when challenged to do it by a fellow student who did not believe he could do it, he not only recited the complete list of monarchs, but followed with a complete list of all the rædgivers of the Folkdeed in chronological order.

After his eight years of compulsory education, Aelfwine’s parents removed him from school and put him to work in the family shipping trade.  Aelfwine worked well but not consistently; he was easily distracted, especially when working on something mundane.  Whenever he was missing from where he was supposed to be he could invariably be found on the docks, talking with the mariners who’d come in from all around the world, asking them to share stories of their lands.  He had a fantastic memory and voraciously consumed all the stories he heard, including the folklore and tall tales.  He also demonstrated an aptitude for languages, picking up some of the Carmadhi, Trade Tongue, and Vulgar Thuva-Tha that he heard being used.

At the age of fifteen, Aelfwine was sent on his first sea voyage on a trading mission along the northwest coast of the Sunrise Lands past Carmadh and the Vardani peninsula.  It there he first encountered mariners from the Chain Islands who told even more fantastic tales of the peoples of the Sunset Lands. By this time, Aelfwine had perfected a method that would serve him well the rest of his life: he could draw out tremendous amounts of information from people by engaging in what would otherwise seem to be casual conversation.  It would be on this trip that he would discover his calling: he wished to chronicle the history of the peoples of the world of Kadamu-nur-Shadju-a.

Returning to Fiscerehæfen, he made his wishes known to his parents who did not support his desire to return to school and insisted he remain with the fleet.  He approached Wyveryn Larsmith, his former teacher, and arranged to meet with her by night to continue his studies when possible.  At one point, his father became aware that he was sneaking out at night, but assuming that his son was finally behaving like a normal young man, he ignored it and even made an effort to look the other way.

When Aelfwine reached seventeen years of age, he was ritually disinherited by his parents, who expected him to continue with the merchant fleet in order to make a living.  But Larsmith had been more than tutor to Aelfwine, she had been his advocate and managed to procure a grant from the prestigious Stærwritere Academy in Folkhame to continue his studies there.  Aelfwine’s decision to enter the academy rather than continue in the merchant fleet was not taken well by his parents. As part concession to his parents and part need for funds for books, he continued to work the summers aboard ship, honing his skills at gathering lore while picking up new languages.

After six years of study, Aelfwine was granted the status of Theodwita or “historian” by Stærwritere Academy and was selected by the Gaderung of Fiscerehæfen to serve as official historian for the city.  Aelfwine was somewhat unorthodox in his style in that he spent far less time over dusty old tomes than his colleagues and far more time gathering lore from ordinary workers.  He continued to make sea voyages a regular part of his work, traveling up and down the coast and even along the Chain Islands gathering lore as he traveled.  He would often remark, “One fishwife will spin a tale of fancy that is mocked by even a few words of scroll, but twenty fishwives from twenty different realms offer a shared insight that shames the most learned scribe.” He was of the belief that all the peoples of the world had preserved fragments of the Elder Lore and that only by listening to the stories passed down among the peoples of the Lands Under the Sun could one hope to reconstruct the shared history of humanity.

His theories were controversial and he was often mocked as one who was less historian than bard.  In 1204, at the age of thirty, he presented to the Grand Conclave of Historians a theory about the origins of the peoples of Carmadh based on his reconstructions based on folklore and oral history.  The speech generated two controversies.  First, traditionalists felt the integrity of the Conclave was being insulted by such unorthodox methodology that allowed for such fantastical theories.  Second, Wigmund, a scholar from the Folk College at Oxbridge accused Aelfwine of having stolen his research.  On a trip to Carmadh to previous year, Wigmund had come into possession a very rare long lost scroll that contained actual documentation of much of what Aelfwine had concluded through his methodology.  Once it became clear to the Conclave that Aelfwine could not possibly have had access to or known about the document, they realized that Aelfwine had truly forged something new.  Aelfwine’s casual manner and fondness for interviewing ordinary people had blinded many in the Conclave to his exceptional skill, and carefulness, as a scholar.

The following year, he was selected by the Gaderung of Education to serve as a Theodwita Folcdædes or “Historian of the Folkdeed,” a special honor for someone of his profession.  In the succeeding years, he published the first ever history of the early patronages of the east as well as an exceptionally popular, if not somewhat controversial, biography of Eadlin Lahwita. At the age of 33, by recommendation of the Gaderung and upon confirmation of the Ealdormoot, he was elevated to the rank of Ealdwita or “Senior Historian,” the youngest person ever to be named to that rank.

In recent years, Aelfwine had been formulating a theory about the links between the ancient houses of the Sunrise Lands with some of the realms of the Sunset Lands, but felt that his research was limited by the fact that he had never been to the Sunset Lands.  And so, with permission from the Gaderung of Education, in 1210 A.C., Aelfwine chartered a ship from his family’s company and sailed west along the Chain Islands toward the Sunset Lands.  He eventually arrived in Thumbport in the Bay of Fingers and, having hired a local guide, headed west toward Mithulan and the Kastan’ose.  Hearing that Aelfwine had at last arrived in the Sunset Lands, Aelfric the Wise, Convener of the Gaderung of Education only remarked, “We shall have to see what Aelfwine’s time overseas will yield.  I can only assure you this: our understanding of the world is very likely to change profoundly.”

The Mith’lani Records – Prologue

“I’m sorry, Thalvic, but if your demeanor was as bitter as this swill in front of me, I’d throw myself from the highest peak of the Mithulan Mountains within an hour of your company.”

Thalvic bellowed with laughter from deep within his rotund belly for what seemed like an eternity. Aelfwine Theodwita withdrew a handkerchief from a pocket in his sleeve and began to remove the spittle that had flown from Thalvic’s gaping maw onto the historian’s plain brown cloak. Both men wore similar weatherproof cloaks of heavy flax, lacquered to keep out the snow and hail, though the traditional Mith’lani feather, hide, and bone fetishes that adorned Thalvic’s cloak were notably absent from Aelfwine’s. Even with an ocean and half a continent between him and Greatvale, the historian retained a distaste for all things ostentatious shared by many in the Folkdeed.

Thalvic wiped his mouth with the back of his hand, obviously fighting back a few remaining laughs.

“So you dislike svanka?” Thalvic asked. “This is the lifeblood of the Mith’lani! You wish to know what it is to be a child of Mother Mithulan? Then drink deep the milk from her teats my brother!”

With a slap on the back that nearly knocked Aelfwine to the floor, Thalvic refilled the historian’s iron tankard. The scent of the svanka, a liquor made from fermented lichen and flax, sent Aelfwine’s head spinning. It was his belief that to learn of a people’s history, one must understand the people as they exist today. Learning of the Mith’lani was proving to be as much a physical challenge as it was an academic one…

“I meant no offense, brother.” Aelfwine spoke the Mith’lani words slowly, but with an impressive level of fluency.

“Nonsense, is already forgotten!” Thalvic meandered back to his bench opposite the historian. As he lowered his significant girth, the wooden boards groaned – it was a testament to Mith’lani craftsmanship that they held at all.

“Brother, continue where you were. You were preparing to ask another question I believe?”

“Yes, I was.” Aelfwine paused momentarily, considering the consequences of his next question. While his host was showing himself to be a paragon of hospitality, he also knew that strapped to Thalvic’s right thigh was a traditional nuthlak hunting knife. In the Mithulan Mountains an insult was met in one of two ways; with a hearty laugh, or with tempered steel sliding across your throat…

Aelfwine withdrew a piece of parchment and dipped his quill slowly into his inkwell.

“Thalvic, why did the Mith’lani invade the Kastan’ose Valley, before the Vazj arrived?”

The large man stopped mid-movement, his tankard frozen just in from of his parted lips. Slowly, he set the drink down on the wide table in front of them, and met Aelfwine with a stony gaze. Aelfwine met the rock grey eyes across from him, knowing that to look away would be tantamount to suicide. Thalvic kept his gaze locked on Aelfwine for what seemed like an eternity.

Finally, the silence was broken.

“Let me refill your mug, historian. And you best fetch another piece of parchment.”

The Shna’mina

To the northeastern coast of The Sunset Lands, in the once fertile Kastan’ose Valley, lie the foothills of the Mithualan Mountains. This area, known now as the limping grounds of the endangered Djunna civilization, was once home to vast numbers of Shna’mina, which roughly translates to “flat-headed dog.”

Based on fossil evidence in conjunction with ancient scrolls and myth, the shna’mina were not anything like dogs, but more like large rodents. Short and stocky in nature with shaggy fur and short, fist-like tails, males grew to no more than 3 feet tall at the shoulder while the larger females reached as tall as 4.5′ at the shoulder. Males and females alike sported hard internal skeletons made of unique calcium and carbon structures found only in this phylum of terrestrial herbivorous rodents. Shna’mina were talented digging creatures and often built elaborate, albeit shallow, tunnel-like sleeping chambers which they only used after dusk.

Based on evidence from fossilized dental records and bone composition, it’s evident that the shna’mina diet consisted of everything from roots to young tree bark. Shna’mina were also blessed with a six-chambered stomach which allowed them to break down even the toughest tree bark in the valley while digesting nearly 90% of the nutritional value therein. Because of the highly efficient nature of their gut, shna’mina meat was extremely nourishing and highly coveted for its sweet and nutty flavor. On a good day, it could sell for five times the price of other meats. The milk and ground bones of the beast were also the main ingredients in many major remedies for the Djunna people and were considered the reasons for the Djunna people’s impressive longevity and low infant mortality rate. Shna’mina fur was also held in high regard not because of its warmth, but because of its elasticity and ability to retain heat. Oftentimes, a skilled Djunna contractor could insulate the roof of an entire home out of the hide of a single adult shna’mina female.

Ranging in color from snowy white to slate grey with silver or roan dappling on their stifles and hocks, shna’mina shed their fur coats each spring and grew back completely different patterns the following winter. For this reason, shepherds identified the hierarchy of  herd members through eye color. Seven females and seven males – the alphas – would always have white eyes. Second tier members – or betas – would have grey. Lower tier members, often burdened with dangerous tasks such as luring predators away from exposed young – mature with black eyes. Through this, members of the herd would be assigned rank at maturity and had no hope of moving up during their lifetime except temporarily through fatherhood.

Herd behavior of the shna’mina was considered so complex that the occupation of shna’minehu, or “shepherd” was held in extremely high cultural esteem by the Djunna people. Seen as the best and brightest of the village, shna’minehu were often sought out for advice or guidance by all members of Djunna society since it was believed that those who understood the  shna’mina could surely understand the complexities of other parts of life.

Shna’mina herd mentality, though only recorded by word of mouth from shepherd to shepherd, was believed to have worked in a hierarchical system which often changed daily in order to confuse predators. Though the herd operated with an alpha female and alpha male, it is believed that seven females rotated leadership as shna’menila (“herd mother”) while the alpha males (shna’medjazu, “herd fathers”) remained constant for as months at a time. There are no records of special roles held by the shna’medjazu, but it is clear that the shna’menila were the true herd leaders.

When not leading the herd, the remaining six shna’mina alpha females entered a heat cycle in which they would secrete oils from specialized glandular tissue on their neck, knees, and flanks. This oil, meant to alert the males of her availability, also served as a defensive mechanism. Through some unknown process, the oil attracted a specific male – alpha or other – from the herd to approach her for breeding while warning other males to stay away. Able to will her oil to be poisonous or nourishing, any rejected male would be seriously burned by her oils should they attempt to approach her against her will. If they continue to attempt mating in this way, shna’minehu reported males being castrated by the oils and therefore demoted to the lowest rank in the herd. The correct male, however, absorbed the oil and was rewarded with a 95% fertility success rate upon mating as well as essential biological changes to his body in preparation for the birth of the young. The oils were also known to seriously injure or even kill predators who attacked females during their fertility cycle. Often times, shna’minehu would find the shriveled remains of etholeri, or “sky lions” who failed to kill the alpha female in charge of the herd. If the alpha female in charge was ever killed while on duty, herd dynamics immediately collapsed and members laid down and offered themselves to the predator willingly.

Pregnant shna’mina alpha females enjoyed a relatively short gestation period of 47 days. Shna’mina young – born live and called “hui” (pl. huya) – resembled round, flat-headed otters. Huya were considered sexually mature at the age of 4 moons when their eyes permanently changed into the color of their hierarchical status. The young were nursed and raised by the shna’mina sire. During those 4 moons of the hui’s adolescence, the father’s eyes turned white and he was temporarily treated as an alpha male regardless of  previous herd status. Traditionally, the shna’minehu would bring sweet fruit to sires seven times during the rearing of their hui as a gesture of congratulations and good faith to the new member of the herd. The female had virtually no involvement in the upbringing of the hui.

Adult male shna'mina with hui, aged 17 days.

Adult male shna’mina with hui, aged 17 days.

Shna’minehu lore stated that if a shepherd could gain the trust of all seven alpha females in seven nights on their respective days of leadership, then the herd would reward him or her complete trust even in the face of certain death. It was said that shepherds, once accepted by herd leadership, would enter a wal’ogei or “blood pact” with the same herd for their entire lives, risking life and limb to protect and maintain herd dynamics and balance. Oftentimes, the shna’minehu was even entrusted with choosing the shna’minela whenever he or she saw fit.

The bond also granted the shna’minehu the ability to choose which member of the herd would be offered to the Djunna people as food. A secret process known only to the shna’minehu, there are no known records detailing the actual steps taken to choose, kill, and honor the body of the felled creature. However, myth suggests that it was completed in the highest form of respect and dignity offered to any known herd animal in The Sunset Lands.

This bond, though used in conjunction with the Djunna people to bring peace and prosperity to the valley, was eventually their downfall upon the arrival of the Mith’lani, or “men of stone” in the year 806 AC. Upon the fall of the civilization and the overnight enslavement of their people, the Mith’lani ordered the immediate slaughter of all shna’mina in the valley in order to feed their armies. Shepherds that refused were made an example by the gruesome murder of their families, their herds, and finally, themselves. While many other shna’minehu chose to fling themselves off of cliffs instead of betray the trust of their herds, most remaining shna’minehu complied with the unthinkable. In a sorrowful week known as Kadam Va Wal or loosely, “Bleeding earth,” 41 shna’minehu slaughtered their herds from the shna’menila all the way to the last black-eyed male. By the end of the week, only 6 Lower Tier shna’mina from varied herds remained. Within hours, they were claimed by predators.

The Djunna, though endangered, still live in the valley but have no more shna’mina to nourish them, even if they still were literate in the art of the Shna’minehu. An anemic and often sickly people because of the lack of shna’mina nourishment in their diet, the Djunna face high infant mortality rates due to hypocalcemia (usually prevented by shna’mina milk) and an average life span of 34 years (almost a third of what they enjoyed before the arrival of the Mith’lani).