Races of Astrom: High-elves

This is the third post in a new series on the Races of Astrom, following introductory posts on the Free Peoples and the elves. Having now told a concise history of Elvendom in general, I shall now give portraits of each individual elven kindred. There were three main kindreds: the Avatar, the Firnai and the Marintors, but also several lesser kindreds, each of which will be introduced in turn. The physiological differences between the kindreds were so subtle as to be almost indiscernible to outsiders, but they were more clearly distinguished by their different temperaments, interests, diets and styles of dress.

First are the Avatar, the eldest, most numerous, and most influential of all the elven kindreds. Their king and queen, Avatar and Mírianna, were the first elves to draw breath upon Astrom, and also went on to become High King and High Queen over all the elves. Of those elves who followed later in the Second StarFall, more than half were Avatar, that is, elves who took Avatar and Mírianna to be their rulers. They were not all alike, of course, but they shared certain characteristics, and their sense of collective identity put down deep roots in the long millennia that followed.

Their star-capsules were those that landed in the open countryside, not by the coasts or in the forests. They emerged onto open hillsides, wide plains and fair valleys. At first, they were concentrated in the central heartland of Kalimar, in the upper Beurell and Aravell valleys, but they soon spread to fill all the land between the Black Mountains and the coasts. Their territory spread beyond Therenmar to the northern parts of Kalimar, and though there were provinces ruled by Wood-elven or Sea-elven lords, the Avatar could be found virtually everywhere throughout Kalimar. Some groups formed close friendships with the Marintors of the coast, and in collaboration with them they established many colonies across the seas throughout the Inner Isles and Outer Isles.

In later history, when Elvendom spread beyond the frontiers of Kalimar, the Avatar established dwellings throughout Astrom. The exiled princes, Faranor and Eretholin, were of the Avatar kindred, and so were the majority of their followers in the new northern realms of Ciricen and Endomar. Great companies of High-elves followed others of Avatar’s descendants to found new kingdoms, going either with Lancearon to Ithrill in the west or with Arvarion to Alanmar in the south. Though many Wood-elves and Sea-elves also joined these expeditions, all of these new kingdoms were largely peopled and ruled by the Avatar. Only in Aranar, where there arose a patchwork of small principalities and self-governing communities, did the Avatar not dominate, instead living alongside numerous Firnai settlements.

The Avatar were distinguished by their love of learning and their mastery of a wide range of crafts. They were builders, farmers, artists and skilled workers. They were responsible for many of the elves’ most important inventions, pioneering agriculture, pottery, writing, horse-riding, wheeled transport, metallurgy, mining and weapon-making. Long before other elves adopted the practice, the Avatar loved to write things down and create beautiful manuscripts filled with the knowledge of many subjects and disciplines. They were the most industrious of the elves, the most curious, the most energetic of mind and the most innovative. From jewel-smithing and smelting to masonry and administration, they were the most skilled and productive of all the elven kindreds.

More than the other kindreds, they chose to dwell in large communities, living in close proximity to each other. The majority of the Avatar population worked the land and lived in agrarian villages or market towns. Even the poorest among them dwelt in well-made wooden houses with modest plots of land to farm, and the wealthier Avatar had homes of stone and larger tracts of land. The Avatar nobility loved to build graceful, slender towers that evoked the tapering shape of the star-capsules in which they had arrived on Astrom, and which they had since erected as monuments throughout the land. The great High-elven cities were places of wonder, filled with magnificent stone structures, beautiful palaces and fair gardens. Later, when the shadow of war fell upon them, these cities were fortified with circuit walls and strong towers, but even then they were beautiful to behold.

Most of the Avatar lived a subsistence lifestyle, farming the land or husbanding livestock and cattle. In the fertile valleys and lowlands they tilled fields of wheat and barley and planted vegetable gardens and orchards. They pastured sheep and cows on the downs and hills, and on the Golden Finger, a warm peninsula with a fine climate, they mastered the art of viticulture. While ordinary freeholders drank beer, cider or spring water, the Avatar nobility delighted in fine wines and marvellous cordials made from fruit juices and herbs. Bread, cheese, fruit and vegetables were staples for most Avatar, but the nobility enjoyed a varied diet of meat, fish and elaborate confections.

Physically, the Avatar were tall, usually between six and seven feet, though the tallest among them reached towering heights of eight and nine feet. Such giants were rarely seen among Mortals in later days, but when they were they towered above them, and even more so over armists and dwarves, who were shorter still. They were strong, clean-limbed and swift of foot. Male and female alike, they were natural athletes, capable of both great speed and long endurance. Golden hair predominated among them, though it ranged from white gold like platinum through ash-blonde, honey, true gold and cornflower yellow to fair light browns. As a rule, most Avatar wore their hair pragmatically short, but the nobility grew it longer and shaped it elaborately. They had tall, thin faces, keen eyesight and long, nimble fingers.

They favoured various shades of red for clothing, while the wealthy preferred yellow and purple hues, with silver and gold for decoration. Most of them dressed simply, suitable for agricultural work, though there were more sophisticated fashions for the urban elite and nobility. Across the social spectrum, however, close-fitting garments were the norm, elegantly cut and featuring rich embroidery, particularly at cuffs and collars. They were experts in making fine leather boots that were slim yet durable, and they also mastered the art of creating fine cloaks that were both lightweight and warm and resistant to the elements.

Like all elves, the Avatar worshipped Prélan especially on the sixth and final day of their week, when they set aside all work and came together for fellowship and merrymaking. In communal spaces they would listen to the teaching and prayers of priests, who at first were itinerant, travelling between different communities, but who later settled in particular places with designated spheres of spiritual responsibility. Known as Évánayen, or ‘shepherds of the soul’, these priests could be either male or female, but it was the Avatar who did most to formalise their role. They were governed by Overseers appointed by the king and queen, who delegated most authority in spiritual matters to a high priestly office known as the Elar (literally, Holy Lord). This office was always held by an Avatar, first by Northolin, younger son of Avatar and Mírianna, and later by others in the same kindred.

It was also the Avatar who first began to build beautiful houses of worship. Most settlements of any size had at least one such house of prayer, where sanctuary could be found, prayers offered and received and where tithes were gathered and dispersed to any who had need, but the great cities had large temples, where the Avatar expressed their worship for Prélan in imaginative architecture, wondrous stone-carving and the creation of vast pictorial tapestries that celebrated Prélan and His teachings. The Avatar were peculiar for encouraging personal devotion as well as corporate worship, and many of them had the habit of spending long hours in private meditation and prayer on the weekly Holy Day, as well as the congregational time. Some of the more skilled among them delighted to write poetry and praise Prélan in literary form, which again was less common in the other kindreds.

Each elven kindred had their own view of Prélan, according to the form in which He manifested Himself to them. After the Great Feast, just before the Second StarFall, Prélan never again appeared in person, but He did visit His people in a variety of lesser forms. To the Avatar He appeared as Ardir, a majestic prince of even greater stature and beauty than the Avatar themselves. His appearances were rare, but when they did occur, they often heralded a special word from Prélan to the Avatar. Ardir was adopted as a sort of patron saint or guardian angel of the Avatar. He was venerated as a messenger of Prélan but not at first worshipped as divine, though practice on this point sharply diverged amongst different Avatar nations later in history.

When the Great Wars came, all the elven kindreds were forced to become skilled in combat and to confront death, and each did so in different ways. The Avatar provided the vast majority of the soldiers in the standing legions, for the Firnai disliked the notion of a standing army and the Marintors focused on naval power. The Avatar became skilled in fighting as they did in all else that they turned their minds to. They were drilled to fight in malleable units with high levels of tactical dexterity, able to respond quickly with different formations and functions to signals given by horns, trumpets and flags.

Most of their foot soldiers fought primarily with spears and shields, but they also had short swords for close-quarters fighting. The metalsmiths of the Avatar proved to be highly skilled armourers, who outfitted the legions with strong, lightweight mailcoats, helmets with graceful, tapered points and weapons of the highest quality. The officers, champions and princes of the Avatar were swordsmen of outstanding ability, able to move with a speed that would dazzle human warriors. The Avatar also specialised in cavalry, of which they had two kinds: light cavalry on swift horses, well suited to scouting, screening movements and pursuing a broken enemy; and heavy cavalry who fought on huge warhorses with long lances and tear-shaped shields.

The Avatar were among the foremost of the elven mages trained by the High King, with many of them possessing Prélan’s latent gift of magic, which they controlled by words in a secret language and also with staves of power charged in the Pool of High Magic. Avatar mages specialised in fire, forcefields, manipulation of rock and metal, and siegecraft, both protecting besieged cities and reducing the strongholds of the enemy.

The experience of mass death in the Great Wars was a tremendous blow to the elven psyche, and this was true of the Avatar as of all the other kindreds. They were forced to ask unanswerable questions about what happened after death, as well as attending to more practical considerations. Among the greatest griefs of this time of sorrow was the fact that not all the bodies of the slain could be retrieved and properly mourned. Those that could be gathered were cremated, for the Avatar believed that the breath of Prélan would move among the sparks of these fires and waft the souls of their slain kin to Eluvatar. They also raised great mounds topped with a variety of monuments to serve as places of remembrance, and groves of particularly beautiful trees sprang up where the ashes of the slain were scattered.

This is the third in a new blog-series that will be exploring the different people groups of Astrom. The series opener was an introduction to the Free Peoples. If you’d like to read the whole series, please subscribe to the blog so you don’t miss any of the posts. Happy reading.

Photo by Denis Degioanni on Unsplash

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