Races of Astrom: Wood-elves

This is the latest post in a new series on the Races of Astrom. I began with an introductory post on the Free Peoples and am now looking at each of the elven kindreds in turn. After the High-elves last week, this time I’m looking at the Wood-elves.

The second elven kindred are the Firnai, the Wood-elves. They were less numerous and more secretive than their High-elven kin, but just as widely distributed. The first Wood-elves to awake were Firnar and Firána, who went on to become king and queen of their kindred. They emerged from their Star-capsule in Therenatar, the Star-Tree, a mighty tree deep in the forest. Therenmar was the name given to that forest, the first and greatest domain of the Wood-elves. It dominated a great part of central Kalimar between the River Varell and the Golden Finger, and soon became home to all the Wood-elves who landed there in the Second StarFall.

Other Wood-elven star-capsules landed in other forests, particularly in the north of Kalimar, and so from the beginning there were different Wood-elven tribes, closely related but living separately under different chieftains. Yet they all recognised Firnar and Firána as the rulers of their kindred, and Avatar and Mírianna as High King and High Queen. Outside Therenmar the greatest Wood-elven dwellings were at opposite ends of Kalimar, in Faurelimar in the north, between the Rivers Orileigh and Danill, and in Tol Ankil, a great forest on the southern border of Kalimar, beneath the feet of the Black Mountains.

Although the Avatar and Marintors were more famous as explorers, it was actually Wood-elves who first made settlements outside of Kalimar. Before the Great Wars, when the elves still lived in bliss, they established small colonies in Tol Cardelyn in southern Ciricen, in Tol Doramar beyond the Black Mountains and in Tol Lalator in northern Aranar. After the Great Wars they joined in the mass migrations that left Kalimar for Ithrill in the west and Alanmar in the south, creating woodland settlements throughout Astrom, from the resinous cedar forests of the south to the pinewoods of the north. En route to Ithrill many of them left Lancearon’s migration and settled the endless forests of southern Aranar, and in that realm alone they outnumbered the Avatar who dwelt in smaller settlements on the downs further west.

Wherever they dwelt, the Firnai settlements were ruled by chieftains known as Elmairee, or Guardians. All were nominally under the authority of King Firnar and Queen Firána, but in reality, those dwelling outside Kalimar quickly lost any meaningful contact with the Wood-elven heartlands, for there was little journeying between the different settlements. After their great journeys of migration, the Wood-elves did not travel much, loving best and foremost those woods they took for their home. Within those bounds they would travel frequently, tending to the trees and establishing a profound bond with nature.

Although trees were their first love and greatest delight, they cherished all wild plants, animals and waterways. Of all the elves, they had the closest connection to nature, the deepest knowledge of its lore and the greatest appreciation of its beauty and intrinsic value. They did not exploit the land, as did the Avatar, but trod lightly upon it and stewarded it with a very light touch. They loved trees of every shape and size and the wildflowers that grew in each season. Alone of all the elves, they understood the languages of beasts and birds and could converse with them. The greatest among them could even take the form of different animals. They were known as morphers, a mysterious but revered group who could take the form of high-soaring eagles or furtive squirrels, and everything in-between. Some Wood-elves also discerned and befriended the spirits whom Prélan had caused to live in woodland streams and glades, the naiads, nymphs and dryads who were but legends to the other elven kindreds.

The Wood-elves lived a lifestyle that was in great harmony with the world around them. They hunted no animals nor ate their meat, but birds and deer and other woodland creatures dwelt happily alongside them. Instead, they lived a subsistence lifestyle, foraging the woodlands for all they needed, nuts, berries, tubers, fruits, herbs and wild vegetables. Only in later centuries, when their population had grown significantly and the influence of neighbouring Avatar had rubbed off on them, did they begin to till fields of wheat around the eaves of their forests and cultivate vines on open hillsides amid the woods. They did not brew beer and only later acquired a taste for wine, but no other elves could make such sweet ciders or such aromatic cordial.

They did not cut the wood of living trees but acquired the art of being able to shape the growth of branches in such a way as to create dwellings and wondrous forms of living architecture. The only wood their carpenters used was that which they found upon the forest floor, and they had great skill in shaping it. The woodwrights of the Firnai were some of the greatest craftsmen among the elves, though they rarely sold their services to outsiders. They could create homes, furniture and utensils of rustic charm and simple beauty.

The Wood-elves lived in a range of different types of dwelling. Some lived in houses constructed around the boles of trees, while others fashioned homes amid the high branches. Still others lived in caves or on warm nights slept in hammocks suspended from branches. Their homes were rudimentary by Avatar standards, but were beautified in simple ways with carvings, woven decorations and painted murals, all of which depicted the plants and flowers that they loved so much. The weavers of the Firnai were almost as skilled as their woodwrights, knowing how to use every fibre and stalk for practical purposes. In the lamplit caves, which few other elves ever visited, were wondrous paintings made using natural dyes and pigments that only the Firnai knew of. Their art filled whole walls and caverns beneath the earth.

Other skills the Firnai had that set them apart. They had the best herbalists and apothecaries of any of the elves, and though elves seldom grew sick, when they did it was the Firnai who knew the medicinal properties of each plant and who were best able to supply the right remedies. They were adept at tracking and path-finding, both able to hide themselves perfectly from strangers and to find those who had strayed or trespassed. They were stealthy by nature, masters of camouflage and concealment. They had the sharpest ears of any elves and could easily distinguish the calls of different birds and become aware of intruders from afar.

The Wood-elves were also great storytellers, delighting in times of story and song around fires in woodland glades. Where the Avatar wrote things down, the Firnai stored them in prodigious memories and could recite long verses with no aid. The greatest singers and storytellers among them were the Dreamweavers, elves who had a natural magical ability to conjure living visions of the things they sang off before the eyes of their listeners. This art was so esteemed among them that they would gather often for festivals of storytelling, and many of them became itinerant entertainers, travelling the length and breadth of Astrom to perform in different communities and in the halls of great lords.

Physically, the Wood-elves were not so tall as the High-elves, but still tall and extremely graceful in movement. Their hair was brown or red and their eyes were most often green, hazel and brown, though it was not unheard of for rarer eye colours to be seen, such as yellow and blossom-pink. They were incredible climbers and possessed of superb hearing. They eschewed audacious decoration, preferring simple pendants of wood and stone to the gleaming gems of the Avatar. Similarly, their apparel was simple and unadorned, usually shades of green, grey and brown, and made from plant fibres, woven grasses and natural materials. Those Wood-elves in far-flung colonies who later began to dress in wool, fur and even leather were disparaged as savages by the Wood-elves of Kalimar, who were able to make wonderful garments without killing animals.

Theirs was a less hierarchical and structured society than that of the Avatar, with fewer gradations and disparities of wealth among them. They lived in extended family groups, sharing many of their possessions and virtually self-sufficient. Very few of them sought riches and they were slow and reluctant to engage in formal trade, though in time they did so, for the demand for their products was so great.

The Firnai worshipped Prélan in their own way, praying corporately in family and tribal gatherings or communing with Him through nature. They did not build places of worship, but sang and prayed to Prélan in groves of sacred and beautiful trees. Though other elves rebuked them for worshipping other spirits, in fact this was only true of the most eccentric and wayward Wood-elves, and most of them revered the woodland spirits without considering them divine. Their religion was less formal and structured than that of the Avatar, and mainly consisted of oral teachings and songs of praise. They also had a special reverence for Aurean, the first and greatest Centaur, which was the form that Prélan used when he appeared to the Firnai, just as Ardir was form He revealed to the Avatar.

When war came, the Firnai were the most reluctant fighters, but no less deadly elf for elf when they finally joined the fight. Only slowly did they develop coherent military organisation, after great losses in their early encounters. They learnt much of warfare from the Avatar, and would fight under their command at times, but generally preferred to fight in their own way. They fought best in ambushes and skirmishing and proved adept at finding and waylaying the enemy with hit-and-run tactics. They were the best scouts and trackers in the elven forces, but they could also be deadly when their archers were assembled in mass ranks. Avatar smiths helped them by giving them lightweight armour tailored to their tastes, and it was the Avatar who taught the Firnai enough metalwork to make their own arrowheads and spearblades. The Firnai also produced mighty mages, male and female alike. These were often morphers, but sometimes they rode to battle on the wings of giant eagles. Firnai mages specialised in missile weapons, concealment and the healing of wounds. They could also summon the power of nature to move trees and bind enemies with plant tendrils and whip-like branches.

When they returned home from the wars, the Firnai were the longest and deepest in grief, and the least likely to ever return to the battlefield again. Wounded in body, mind and soul, their warriors spent long centuries by pools of healing in Therenmar. Their dead they would bury in the forest loam and plant the most beautiful trees to grow over their graves. Whole burial groves sprang up after the Great Wars, including many long aisles of mighty trees arrayed like a living cathedral where the bereaved could mourn for their fallen loved ones. Some Wood-elves fell so deeply into sorrow that they left society behind and fossilised as living trees in remote spots. Most were never heard from again, although in some legends there were Wood-elves able to communicate with them, and used them as sentinels to help guard their forests from attackers.

This is the latest in a new blog-series that will be exploring the different people groups of Astrom. Come back in two week’s time for the Sea-elves. 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.

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