When will I feel it
“When will I feel it, mother ?
“All of these times and none, my child;
Sympathetic translation of a traditional Sindalië nursery rhyme.
A Pernostir View
At first, it does not even look like a settlement. Manhk Adfel Nhi sees only a tranquil forest dale, coursed by a meandering stream. He hears the rustle of the wind through birch, chestnut and hoary oak. He hears the piping of songbirds and the idle of noises of his horse as he bends his head to graze. Then his eye, knowing what he is looking for, catches a movement. He sees a graceful figure, as slim as the birch trees she walks amongst, carrying a woven basket heaped with gossamer and moonsilk, heading towards the stream.
Manhk hails her, for he known to the Galadhrim of the Southern Vesve and can count on a welcome. She turns and waves. Manhk kicks his horse into a walk, and with the wordless acquiescence of the elf-woman, turns a corner that he knows that only the invited could find.
The view he turns into momentarily looks the same as the one he has just passed through. Then more Galadhrim being to emerge from concealed dwellings and communal shelters in root, bole and bough. Laughing elven children run towards him and soon he is surrounded by elves both young and old. He feels bathed in their acceptance and love. Yet he keeps a portion of his heart hard to them. Understanding all too well, as he does, that these beautiful creatures could carelessly steal his affections and abandon him on a moment’s whim.
Through both nature and nurture he knows as much of elves and their ways as any non-nostir could. Thus he is constantly on guard to remind himself of the potential disaster if he should become enmeshed in their webs of love. Their every moment, from joyous birth to melancholy decline, marks them apart from the other free peoples of Oerick.
The You and the We
All of the elven kindreds revel in their dual nature. Their love of paradox can make them seem mysterious to other races, but they do not see themselves as mysterious or exotic. To an elf of any kin, someone who wanted any part of the world to be one thing or another would be strange (so, that’s most people then).
One of the main concepts which can make elves seem paradoxical to others is an idea they refer to as “the You and the We”. Anyone who wishes to interact with elves on any meaningful level needs to understand this in order to make head or tail of their though processes and conversations. Elves learn this from the cradle; it tells them, in basic terms, that they must balance their duty to themselves with their obligations to their wider community. An elf’s duties to herself are self evidently the pursuit of Freedom, Beauty, Truth and Love. But this manifests itself in always striving to explore their own identity, to do so by pursuing experiences and to delve into the depths of her own spirit. An elf’s obligation to the community is to live in partnership with others and this includes supporting their own personal quests to get to know themselves.
These duties are never seen as conflicting. On the purely prosaic level, the community provides security, sustenance and shelter. Without these, one would be too busy subsisting to fulfil one’s need for self-exploration. Conversely, without a little actual self-knowledge, the individual might be able to provide on a prosaic level, but is offering no real contribution to the life of the community.
To master this principal of “the You and the We”, an elf must make herself truly individualistic, but without a trace of selfishness. Understanding this, perhaps it is a little easier to see why they’d need to live for so long.
The twin principals of individuality and unselfishness ring through every significant event in an elf’s life, start with birth. Elves always strive to be in harmony with the patterns of nature, celebrate all births as the beginning of a new cycle of life. For them, no event is holier than the birth of a child.
The advent of fertility amongst elven women is the cause of their ‘coming of age’. They remain fertile for between four and half and five centuries from then, depending on their kinship.
An elven fetus gestates for fourteen lunar cycles. During pregnancy, the mother develops a lasting bond with the child. As is well known, elves do not sleep unless absolutely exhausted, healing or in the first stages of pregnancy. Before the middle of the pregnancy, her body adjusts and the elf once again is able to slip into the spirit and body-renewing trance once more. At some point between the seventh and eight cycles the budding consciousness within reveals itself to its mother. Over the coming cycles the mother gradually forms an idea of what her child will be like as a young person – She selects a name for the soon to be born babe. This will in some measure be appropriate to her expectations. Also, the babe will recognise and accept this name and thus the whole birthing name phenomena becomes somewhat of a self fulfilling prophesy. This is kept secret until the moment of birth.
The birth itself is the culmination of a communal celebration of the new life cycle. This is attended, at the very least, by those who have been supporting the mother during confinement, whether they are male, female, young or old. The birth is beheld with wonder, rather than shame or revulsion. Elves generally would recoil at the suggestion that the process is somehow unclean or that it should be kept hidden from society. It is an event to be celebrated by the whole community. The newborn child is held up for all to see and greeted with song.
The birth itself is inevitably less painful than those of other races. The herbal preparations of the elven midwives are the main reason for this. For an elf to give birth to a half elven child difficult and dangerous. The gestation lasts ten or elven months.
An elf’s memories of childhood are rarely clear. It is a time of play and exploration, carried out under the watchful eyes of their community. For Sindalië, this is generally their immediate family, those live in the same longhouse. For the Galadhrim it is their mothers and uncles. For the Gwaithor, it extends to being all of the adults in their immediate community. In all cases, they are encouraged to socialise with others of their own age. In any of these environments, the adults are of course acutely aware of the hazards that may faced, even in the most tranquil or isolated of settings. Although elves value first hand experience over second hand learning, there are some things that can only be taught. Children learn to look for danger before exploring, to learn the teachings of the Seldarine before exposure to any wider ideas of spirituality and to imitate their elders in the crafts of making clothing and hunting implements . Although the child recognises and accompanies its parents (or Mother and Uncles for the Galadhrim), wider family bonds are allowed to take second place to any other bonds which might form. This might be to a teacher of a specific craft or discipline, or another whom the child encounters on a regular basis. This is part of their exploration of their individuality. Their aim is to avoid, as a community, raising an elf who is dulled to the world and uninterested by avoiding raising anyone who is dull and uninteresting themselves.
There is no great expectation of any child following in either parent’s footsteps regarding trade or profession. Or for that matter any artistic leanings, musical talents or indeed any ideology or tradition. Youngsters are encouraged to experiment and quickly develop the expectation that they will have the freedom to change, to re-invent themselves at will during their lives, as well as possibly undergoing experiences which other races might view as ‘life changing’.
Every member of the community swears, during the birthing ceremony, to lean the best of his of her knowledge, skill and spirituality to that child. If a child grows up to be selfish, dulled to wonder or ungrateful then it is the entire community that has failed. If a child succumbs to the forest’s dangers before it grows up then all the tragedy of a live taken before it’s allotted time.
Although there are some slight differences in outlook between elven male and female, these are tendencies, not socially enforced rules to which children are expected to adhere. A child is neither pressed in to following a specific path nor are they actively dissuaded from one. In elven cultures, lines are meant to be blurred and distinctions are there for convenience and orientation purposes, rather to provide formal structures.
As much as elves delight in testing boundaries and confounding definitions. Even they acknowledge that some generalisations can be made about the roles of males and females within their societies.
Both genders frequently take up the role of warrior or hunter. However, more male elves are seized by wanderlust and seek further insights in to their own nature by journeying out to explore the dangers of the wider world. Female elven warriors often feel the need to remain closer to their home range and guard the ones they love. The need to seek epiphany though, overrules all other things and they will all seem to want to throw away their lives achievements to follow where their hearts tell them.
Both genders are equally likely to play a musical instrument in their community. Amongst the Gwaithor males tend to prefer the vocal arts and wind instruments whilst females tend to pick up stringed and percussion instruments. A mixed quartet of Gwaithor bards is said to be able to bring a god to tears.
Both genders are equally represented amongst their priesthood and the ranks of arcane spell casters. All elves love magic and feel it in their bones perhaps like no other race.
In terms of less violent crafts, many elven men enjoy woodcarving, pottery, tanning and other crafts that require working with materials with their own hands. Elven women on the other hand tend to prefer crafts such as painting, weaving and other crafts that owe more to their requirement for a gentle creative touch. In general, each of the kindreds, in its own fashion, loves the feeling of bringing a new shape to something that nature has created.
They find great joy in turning the mundane into the magical and the normal into the brilliant. They perceive that any effort to work in harmony with nature as a noble one. It bears repeating though, that elves are much less likely to follow the unwritten rules of their societies than are members of any other race. Every elven community of any kindred has its share of wolfish female warriors and homebound, peaceful male weavers.
The Pursuit of Beauty
Elves believe that any object a person makes should be as beautiful as its owner can manage. The most used objects should be the most attractive as they are the ones that one spends the greatest amount of time looking at, holding and working with. Elves work to heighten all of their senses, so it is not good enough that an item simply look pretty. It should be pleasant and rewarding to simply touch, as well as use. When dropped, it should make a pleasant ringing or chiming sound, not a raucous clatter.
There is no item so humble or unworthy that it does not receive this amount of care and remain undecorated. Even disposable items receive this level of attention. In the Gwaithor epic “Arranyn’s Brothers”, an orc general, pierced by one of Arranyn’s arrows, pauses before expiring to reflect on the extreme perfection of their design. Though poetic license is obviously at work here, it does reveal a lot about the Nostir attitude to design.
Definitions of beauty and good design vary from Kindred to Kindred and place to place. Those in one place might delight in detailed ornamentation, never feeling satisfied until every least portion of even hidden surfaces has felt the touch of the craftsman as subtle but intricate patterns are laid down. Whereas their distant neighbours may value the mystical harmony of extreme simplicity.
The fifty year span between childhood and full adulthood is the most important in shaping the young elf’s character and determining their future path. Elves call this Beryn Finn (Gal: Time [of] Discovery). Beryn Fin, the onset of puberty, with its wrenching emotions and romantic urges is twinned with an even more significant mystical awakening.
Other races generally consider the sexual freedom of elves shocking, fickle and endlessly fascinating. The folk tales and rumours they repeat are much more colourful and more scandalous than anything which actually occurs.
To an elf, sexual expression is just one item on a long list of experiences anyone should have in the course of forging their own identity. Experimentation with a range of partners is no more odd than tasting the juices of a dozen different berries, following the paths of plume seeds as the wind carries them through the trees or learning the secret names of the small animals of the forest. A young elf’s exploration of both love and lust should be as complete as any other quest he or she embarks upon.
Elves hold no double standards in their games of coupling and uncoupling. Males and females are both fully encouraged to express their physical yearnings. Young females can blithely follow their desires because the low fertility rate of their long lived species makes pregnancy unlikely. The largest group of the Nostir do not even have marriage as a part of their social fabric; therefore there is no real concept of illegitimacy amongst the Kindreds.
Young elves seem fickle to other races as they appear to flit from love to love without suffering the pangs of separation or unrequited love that can bring down human empires. Casual liaison are a common and accepted part of social interaction in Gwaithor cities and at Galadhrim moots. An elf may have partnered in the past with many of his or her contemporaries in their home community. They are extremely unlikely to feel any shame or awkwardness in that person’s presence. They might fondly recall the joy of an old rendezvous, but give it no more weight than recollections of a delightful shared meal or a satisfying day’s rock climbing.
All of this does not mean that they feel nothing. Their emotions are every bit as deep and as real as their human contemporaries. But they enjoy young adulthood for almost a hundred years and so approach it with no expectations of permanency. Whilst they are still so young, a fearies heart beats wild and free.
Alongside their continuing pursuit of pleasure, adolescent elves are expected to slowly take on their share of the duties of mutual support and protection that keep their community together. Males and females alike must master the basics of the sword and bow (a religious duty). They must learn to keep themselves at constant attention during a long watch. Not an easy task for those with wandering young minds.
Adolescents take full part in the communities foraging, farming, hunting and manufacturing activities. This is part of their education.
Both pleasure and responsibility are less important to the development of young elves than spiritual awakening. For the Nostir, as close as they are to the flows, there is no line drawn between the fields we know and the realms of the supernatural or the gods. Although everyone knows that the Corellion Larethain and the rest of the Seldarine dwell in a lush and verdant quarter of the outer planes, their presence also permeates the Prime Material Plane.
The spiritual touch of the Seldarine can be felt in any place where there are elves living in harmony with nature. An elf does not simply listen when a priest tells him about his god; he goes into the wilderness and seeks out his presence, to feel his deities breath upon his skin, and to hear the words of wisdom in the wind.
Young elves are encouraged to spend hours in solitude in wild places until they encounter Larethain’s spirit. The moment of epiphany, when an elf’s inner senses open up and her entire being is flooded with an awareness of the devine, is the pivotal moment in any elf’s life. She does not describe it to anyone, even her closet love or own children, in any but the most vague of terms. It is hard then to reliably say much about this instant of supreme mastery.
Each individual seems to experience it differently. Despite the imaginings of certain non-elven scholars, who picture the event as a grand vision of the glowing avatar of Corellion appearing to the questor, the moment is actually profoundly subtle. The elf might come to know god by seeing an especially sublime pattern traced in the veins of a crumbling leaf, or in the knowledge of the intransigent but unstoppable power in the disturbed air before a thunderstorm.
And elf spends his or her years in Beryn Fin in preparation for this moment, receiving tantalising hints and premonitions of its true significance. It usually occurs for the Galadhrim soon after their one hundred year has been reached, and at up to two hundred for Sindar. Some Nostir, whose births were accompanied by portents and omens, might receive theirs as young as seventy five. Such individuals often go on to become priests or priestesses or mighty heroes.
A few unlucky souls find that their epiphany eludes them, usually because they’re trying too hard to force the moment to occur. Most, after priestly counselling, experience the awakening within a few more decades.
A rare few never taste it. Growing bitter and frustrated with the loving pity shown by their friends, family and neighbours, the Malawain (Gal: “unawakened”) often choose self exile, leaving the world of elves to settle in foreign cities or to live as rootless wanderers. Malawain will rarely admit their status, even to those who couldn’t care less about elven spirituality.
When an elf experiences the awakening, she is transformed. She declares herself to be an adult marking her new individuality by selecting a new name for herself. She has become an equal of any other within her community.
The elf’s relatives and neighbours might be slow to adopt the individual’s new name. Elves, for whom decades pass with unseeming haste, take a while to adjust their perceptions of others whom they have known for a long time, to match their new circumstances. Elderly, doting relatives are especially prone to use an elf’s child or adolescent name as a term of endearment. Some accept this, others bristle.
About one in four hundred elves spends part of their lives as a wandering adventurer in search of exotic experiences. Almost none of them devote more than one or two centuries to such pursuits. They simply feel the need to move on. Those who created and ran the PE did so to enable their kin across the Nostir a period of peace during which they could reconsolidate. This they did as a duty and thus gained the respect of many of those they were (indirectly) serving.
Any elf who spends a century or two, beyond the comforts of an elven community, delving through muck encrusted dungeons with surly dwarves and impetuous humans is by their definition, an eccentric. Fortunately, elves celebrate such individuality and treat returned adventurers with excited curiosity, not contempt or fear.
Although a crusty dwarf or impatient human might not notice it, the newly matured elf has undergone a fundamental change. She has lost the innocent playfulness of Beryn Fin. Although she continues to seek out moments of beauty and pleasure, she does so now for a different reason and in an altered spirit (idiom). In achieving her moment of oneness with the Seldarine, she has also sensed the inescapable, lurking presence of their opposites; the powers of evil and their minions. She understands that her efforts to live lightly upon Ghia and protect her community from enemies are part of a much greater struggle. This is to protect existence itself (which to the Nostir means more the natural world than civilisations and so forth) from cruel and powerful entities that might destroy it, by design or negligence.
An elf fights evil not only by remaining vigilant against signs of its taint but by embracing the beauty of Ghia itself. Now, when she creates a work of art, she is not only making herself and those around her happy but also erecting a bulwark against hatred and unthinking destruction. She cannot allow herself to be consumed by fear or hatred of her enemies, because she understands now on both a conscious and sub conscious level that it is through these corrosive impulses that evil does its work. She must defy evil by bringing joy to the world and by continuing her quest to know her inner self.
Courtship (and, for the Gwaithor, marriage)
The post epiphany state of adulthood does not mean the end of sexual exploration. However, there comes a point where each discovers that his heart has developed the capacity for lasting love. Like most other important things in their lives, the Nostir tend to talk about this in mystical terms. They believe that an individual’s spiritual progress can be intertwined with those closest to their own.
This state is referred to as Thiramin. Upon meeting their Thiramin, an elf’s heart is filled with passion and certainty. Ninety nine times out of a hundred, the other party is also felled by the same feelings of immediate and eternal devotion.
Although rare, an unrequited feeling of Thiramin is always disastrous, bringing centuries of wrenching heartbreak. Suffers have been known to die as if of mundane natural causes, or to succumb to the temptations of evil.
Elves almost always feel Thiramin for people they meet for the first time. In other words, visitors from other communities. Intermarriage between communities strengthens the bonds of communication between settlements, allowing them to share resources over a wider area and enhancing the efficacy of their mutual protection measures. Perhaps five in a hundred who have known each other since childhood suddenly look at each other and suddenly feel the rush of Thiramin. When this happens, it is almost always individuals who have treated each other as bitter rivals in the past.
Nostir have always been subject to the whims and arrows of outrageous fortune. For the nostir of the ancient realm of the High King, it was an almost constant state of war with the children of Gramuash. For the Sindalië, the combination of the cold Drawmij Ocean and their Bathamîr lifestyle always kept male numbers lower. The Galadhrim have ever striven against the foes around them and occasionally against each other in order to maintain a territory large enough to support their tribe. Thus there are usually more females than males in most communities. Thus it is not unheard of for Thiramin to strike an individual more than once. ie to feel simultaneous Thiramin for more than one other partner at a time. This is Hannali’s way of keeping the population happier and viable in the face of losses.
Both the Gwaithor and the Sindalië will marry outside of Thiramin to seal alliances and for other political reasons. These marriages though, are kept open for the addition of Thiramin struck extra partners.
For the Gwaithor, the certainty of Thiramin is never allowed to interfere with the experience of a long and protracted courtship. Where adolescents might slake their lusts at the slightest provocation, a couple swayed by Thiramin might heighten their moment of ecstasy by delaying it for decades or even as much as a century. This courtship goes through stages referred to as interest, declaration and then marriage. Each stage has its own conventions within Gwaithor society.
Gwaithor marriage ceremonies are stately and beautiful, often lasting several weeks. Poetry recitations, musical performances and theatrical events all retell great Nostir love stories of the past. Non-nostir can find the protracted dignity of these events insufferably boring. The wild debauchery that begins after the husband and wife retire might surprise them.
Sindalië weddings are simpler, being plain and soon over. Unlike Gwaithor events, they centre around those being married and involve only a few close friends and family, not the entire wider community.
The Galadhrim do not practice marriage, indeed, those struck with Thiramin usually do not even leave their own tribe/extended family, simply meeting their mate at larger gatherings or keeping trysts in the forest.
Although those within the state of Thiramin prefer to remain close together, it is nether weakened nor diminished in way by separation. The feeling of Thiramin gives one party a feeling for the spiritual state (emotional wellbeing) of the other, even across vast distance.
The condition of Thiramin can sometimes vanish as swiftly as it came. Again, the feeling of sudden disconnection is invariably mutual. Then end of Thiramin can never be traced to a specific cause such as a domestic quarrel or infidelity. Instead, it is seen as an indication that the partner’s spiritual paths have diverged. And that Corellion Larethain’s divine plans for them call for their parting. The evaporation of love is accepted with mournful resignation. The couple quietly breaks up their household, relying on community leaders to spread the sad news. One partner usually then leaves the community in search of their new destiny. An elf doesn’t usually feel any hatred or bitterness towards former Thiramin-partners, but still suffers a sense or loss or pain when in their presence.
Thiramin can be broken by outside forces. A ritual unseen since the schism can sever the bond between Thiramin bonded individuals. It requires the capture of an item jointly owned by both of them. Adventurous friends of the sundered couple can break the spell and re-knit the bonds by recovering the item and destroying the evil priestess’ ritual implements. The unhappy mates don’t normally assist in this as they loose all desire to maintain the relationship and may be overcome with lassitude.
Living off the Land
Nostir communities support themselves within the constraints of their immediate environment. Regarding themselves as just another part of the natural world, they farm, hunt and forage in ways that maintain the naturally occurring cycles of renewal. (Possibly where Flanne religious doctrine originated.) Aided by their affinity with the flows (whatever kindred they are), they’re able to produce food and shelter for themselves, leaving the area around them almost entirely in its original state. They keep their settlements small and spread out so as not to overtax the land. Their low birth rate helps them achieve this.
The goal of an elven community is subsistence, not wealth or profit. As in the case of any community where subsistence is the desired outcome, specialised labour is uncommon. People divide their time according to what they do best. Every capable individual does at least a little of the farming, foraging, hunting and crafting required to sustain the community.
Some communities discourage trade with other races. Some Grauch sects even restrict trade with their Gwaithor kin. There are many Grauch folk-tales of Nostir communities engaging in trade with the wider world. These inevitably bring near ruination on all elvenkind. It seems likely that the origins of these tales are derived from contact between the Nostir and the Great Kingdom D’Aerdy in it’s expansionist years.
Gwaithor settlements are keen traders, as long as it does not drive them to deplete local resources. Even they refuse to trade for things that they can make or produce for themselves. to do so would not only be an admission that they community has failed to sustain itself but also indicates an acceptance that they are then dependant on unreliable outsiders. Nostir who love the beautiful and exotic, are much more likely to trade for luxury items. They like unfamiliar musical instruments, pretty stones, decorative jewellery and wondrous magic items. Their sense of value is quite different from that of a human or dwarf; They might offer a fist sized nugget of gold for the performance of a song or a jar of fireflies for an emerald encrusted sceptre.
Elves who live in or near human communities come to accept the necessity of trade and the standard values of items required to live amongst them. Elven adventurers swiftly learn the value of purchased equipment; when they retire to their communities, they often act as intermediaries between their fellows and bemused peddlers.
Leadership and Authority
As lovers of freedom, elves recoil from authority wielded for its own sake. Yet they also recognise that in times of crisis, it often becomes necessary to follow the directions of a decisive leader.
Within communities, leadership remains informal. Community leaders cannot force their people to do anything, they rely on their own reputations and the merit of their arguments to gain co-operation. Given their long lifespans, within their communities it is usual for everyone to know everyone else. Therefore people tend to know whom to approach for the best advice on any given subject. Normally this comes down to a small handful of revered elders, each of whom could claim centuries of experience and achievement in their particular area. Thus there will be an elder who knows most about the Seldarine and the fey of the locality, another who knows about what crops are best for the people and the local environment and a third who is experienced in foreign warfare, who might lead their villages response to a wider call to arms. A visitor who asks the name of the villages leader might therefore get one of several answers depending on the nature of his initial enquiry.
Each community recognises a King or Queen who maintains nominal authority over dozens, sometimes hundreds, of small communities. Their positions are hereditary; each can trace their line of descent back through the ancient realm of the High King of all the Elves and through those individuals back to (eventually) Corellion himself.
Monarchs do not tax their subjects, but are burdened with luxurious gifts from the communities as they pass through. These are displayed in their courts and in times of dire emergency, traded for weapons or food. When not touring, blessing crops and babies, kings and queens hold court in fabulous palaces. Some are ancient structures of gleaming marble (Celene and Taurost) and others are made of magically intertwined living trees (most Galadhrim). Invariably (Taurost being the exception), their locations remain a closely guarded secret, to prevent raiding.
Whilst holding court, Nostir royalty throw lavish feasts. They sponsor festivals and competitions to build relationships between their subjects. Disputes are mediated by these monarchs. The monarchs are also their kin’s mouthpiece to the outside world, they are often the front line in diplomacy, rather than its holy grail. This makes decision making for elven communities a swift and relatively painless process.
Human observers sometimes remark at the lack of flattery at an elven court. It does occur, however unlike the Aerdy, no elf would ever think to reward even heartfelt flattery with gold.
Journey into Twilight
As an elf ages, her blood begins to slow, her thoughts start to cloud and her bones begin to feel tired. Elves train themselves all their lives to accept death as a natural part of life’s cycle. Even so, they usually find it hard to adjust to the dimming of their senses (being less in connection with the flows), which makes it harder for them to experience pleasure. An elf’s declining years are often melancholy ones.
She spend hers composing her memoirs in epic verse, hoping that her descendants will recognise them and repeat them for generations to come. She might retreat to a cave or hermitage to contemplate Ghia’s wondrous beauty or the nature of existence itself. It is almost unknown for an individual to turn away from their natural end and extend their lives, becoming the blackest of Liches after the Aerdy fashion.
Most surround themselves with their fellows and their descendants, trying to impart what wisdom they have learned to the next generation and taking heart in the laughter of children.
Burial customs vary. Quite often where soil depth allows, individuals are buried to repay the land for a very long lifetime’s generosity. Some individuals far from their home range are cremated and their ashes allow to blow over land and sea in one final unpredictable journey.
In all cases, they are finally brought to the great forests of Arvandor, to dwell with Corellion.