Races of Astrom: Sea-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 and Wood-elves, this week it’s the turn of the Sea-elves.

The third main kindred of elves are the Sea-elves, named Marintors after their first king. At the same time as Avatar and Mírianna awoke in Avarianmar, and Firnar and Firána in the forest of Therenmar, Marintor and Ithíriel emerged from their star-capsule on the coast of Kalimar. They were enamoured of the sea as soon as they beheld it, and never left the sight of it thereafter. In the Second StarFall they gathered together all those elves whose capsules fell on the coast, for a great people had emerged on the bright strand of Nimrell Bay and in the waters and cliffs all around.

This land was later known as Marinia, and it occupied the Kalimari shore on both sides of the mouth of the Nimrell River. Here the Sea-elves built their first cities, the five great ports of Marindel, Seperoith, Luvorin, Tarinnon and Castarell. This was where the majority of the Sea-elves were congregated, though another smaller population had fallen at the mouth of the River Varell, along the northern coast of Kalimar. Both groups shared a common love of the sea, and both recognised Marintor as king and Ithíriel as queen. They ruled over the Sea-elves, but honoured the overlordship of High King Avatar and High Queen Mírianna.

In the formative era known as the Great Bliss the Marintors indulged both their love of the sea and a thirst for exploration by sailing all along the coasts of Kalimar until they had visited and mapped every last curve and cove. From Beachbone Bay in the north to Nimrell Bay in the south, the Marintors were lords of all the coasts. They never dwelt inland, and strayed but seldom from the sea, whereas the Avatar for the most part dwelt inland, and though a few Firnai dwelt in small colonies in coastal woodlands, there was little intermingling of the kindreds.

It was not long before the Marintors were no longer satisfied with their own coasts, and turned their prows eastward across the ocean. Led by the adventurous princes Torlas and Lorthondir, they crossed the seas and discovered the Inner Isles, a great collection of many groups of islands. These they settled with relish, and carried thither such of the Avatar and Firnai who wished to go as well. Nor did they stop there. Torlas made his base the Isle of Camelar, whence he ventured northward, discovering island after island in a great sweeping curve north of the Inner Isles. These new lands became known as the Outer Isles, strung far out across the Troizon Ocean.

These discoveries brought the Sea-elves much joy, but they also led to great woe, for in the latest and furthest of his voyages, Torlas stumbled across evil beings of tremendous power in icy northern latitudes. Barely escaping with his life, he alone of all his crew survived to bear the tale south, warning the elves of a dire enemy who dwelt far beyond the northern horizon. When this enemy later came south in great strength, the valour and seamanship of the Marintors could not prevent the conquest of all their island homes. Only the Triumblen Isles were never conquered, and there was fought an epic battle, by land and by sea. While Avatar eventually achieved a hard-won victory on land, King Marintor and the entire Sea-elven navy were engaged on the waves against black-sailed ships. In this titanic struggle the flower of the Sea-elven warriors was slain and virtually all of their beautiful ships destroyed. Only a sad remnant of their civilisation survived to enjoy the sorrowful peace that followed.

Yet the unquenchable Sea-elven appetite for exploration could not long be held in check, and in the centuries after the end of the Great Wars it flared back to life, spurring voyages up and down the coasts of Astrom, and far out to sea. Many tales and legends of the Sea-elves tell of great voyages that went hunting for the gates of the dawn or discovering strange new lands far beyond the horizon.

Other journeys were made closer to home, shorter, but more consequential. Sea-elves sailed to Alanmar while Prince Arvarion marched overland into the southlands, and so the Marintors went on to establish colonies throughout the long, winding coasts of what would become Maristonia. Others accompanied Lancearon overland, sailing westward down the Vanri to Silver Bay. Thus, the first Sea-elves reached a new ocean, the Sapheil Ocean, and established homes in the fair new land of Ithrill. Still others befriended the Avatar who had settled in exile in Endomar and Ciricen. In this way, Sea-elven settlements grew up right around the coasts of Astrom. Only to Urunmar in the north did they not go, repelled by its forbidding climate, and it wasn’t until much later that they ventured to the sun-drenched beaches of Lurallan in the far south.

So, wherever elven princes built great kingdoms, Sea-elves were there to live on their coasts. They enjoyed a continent-wide fraternity with other Sea-elven colonists, but gradually they came to identify with the nations where they dwelt, and over time they began to merge very slowly and gradually with some of the Avatar and Firnai who lived nearby. Wherever they went, they built beautiful white-walled ports and new longships of great speed and beauty.

The Marintors were tall, like all the elves, but noticeably longer in the torso and with powerful arms and shoulders, for they loved to swim and row. They could do both with great endurance, and some of them developed the ability to hold their breath underwater for a long time and dive deep enough to retrieve beautiful shells and pearls from the seafloor. The Marintors were silver-haired with eyes of blue or grey, and their skin was somewhat darker than that of the other kindreds, burnished to a light bronze by the sun glancing off the waves. They loved blue and silver colours, and always built their homes with white stone, towers, palaces, quays and wharves.

The Marintors were voracious sailors and boat-builders, adept at constructing craft of all kinds from riverine coracles and pleasure vessels to proud ocean-going ships with swans and sea-eagles at their prows and on their sails. Learning from the Avatar, they became master-builders as well, and so were able to perfect what nature had started and built great harbours and cliff-side dwellings. For the most part they dwelt in houses beside the sea in great cities, but some preferred to live in coastal caves, both blue-lit grottoes by the waves and limestone caves higher on the cliffs. Their homes were filled with the music of pipes and flutes, and secret Sea-elven skills fashioned their caves in such a way as to capture and accentuate the music of the waves themselves, a constant laughter of water splashing and crashing through fissures and melodic apertures.

Beside being strong swimmers and bold mariners, the Sea-elves were adept in dying garments the most brilliant colours, using the shells of sea-creatures to extract bright hues that were the envy of the other kindreds. They used sea-coal for fuel and became expert in the art of making lamps, especially those that burned with a mysterious blue flame, the secret of which the other elves knew not. They were the first elves to create glass from sand, and soon the glass-blowers of the Sea-elves became famous, able to create a stunning variety of glassware of all colours, shapes and sizes. Better than any other elves, they knew the constellations of the heavens and how to navigate by them at night, or by day using the sun and mysterious glass-like stones. They were not great inventors, except where tools which might aid their voyaging were concerned, and in this area they created wondrous devices.

They delighted in singing beneath the stars and in holding athletic games where their strongest males and females would compete in swimming, diving and rowing. The most gifted among them learned to commune with sea-creatures, and even to ride the fins of dolphins. They were great gatherers and sharers of news, and they loved to travel, bearing their knowledge and infectious conversation and laughter far and wide. Yet they were industrious too, and became the greatest merchants of the elves, bearing Avatar and Firnai goods down the rivers and overseas to distant shores. In later ages, Sea-elven merchants founded great trading companies who amassed vast wealth in trans-continental trade.

Though they loved animals, revering dolphins and seabirds in particular, the Sea-elves were not averse to eating them. Only a few of them hunted for pleasure, but all of them ate great quantities of fish and shellfish. This they supplemented with modest crops harvested from their narrow coastal lands and gardens, but they imported a lot of their grain, meat and vegetables from the Avatar. They also ate seaweed, which they learned to cook in various ways. They could be extremely self-sufficient in long voyages, baking special long-lasting cakes for the purpose, as well as dried fruits and crystalised nuts. As well as fish, which the richer Avatar craved, salt was the main contribution of the Marintors to elven cuisine, for they learnt how to make it, supplying enough for their own needs and for the tables of the other kindreds.

Like the other elves, the Marintors worshipped Prélan in story and song, but the Sea-elves were peculiar in preferring to worship on beaches around great driftwood fires. Although they had great temples of dazzling white stone in their ports, their most sacred places were the beautiful grottoes whose walls flashed with gems and resounded with sea-music. This was where a Marintor would come for a special prayer or act of devotion, and once in a while once of them would meet the spirits from the sea, mermaids and mermen. The greatest of these was Eriiynteh, Queen of the Deeps, whose long flashing train was born by beautiful sweet-voiced mermaids. Other elves believed she was just a legend, or perhaps just a spirit of the seas, but the Marintors believed that she was the particular form in which Prélan chose to appear to them, being able to take both male and female shape.

Although the Sea-elves could undoubtedly be pious, their love of stories and their far voyages also made them susceptible to strange beliefs, and quicker than other elves they fell away from the true way of Prélan into diverse forms of heresy and polytheistic religion.

When war came, the Sea-elves served first and foremost as sailors, and their swift ships were the first to meet the enemy and the earliest to give warning of hostile approaches. They performed the role of ocean-going scouts and ferrymen, transporting the Avatar legions to the various island battlefields. Their tall beacon towers blazed with different colour smokes to send messages quickly from island to island, and they used their ships to evacuate the wounded and extract defeated armies from islands where otherwise they would have been annihilated. They suffered grievously in early seaborne battles against evil spirits and lesser demons, but they quickly learnt how to fight with deadly efficiency from shipboard.

Armed and equipped by Avatar smiths, they came to excel in the use of bows, pikes, javelins and harpoons, as well as cutlasses and rapiers for close-quarters fighting. Their shipwrights devised ever better and stronger ship designs with larger sails, more oars and fighting platforms, and their leaders created cunning tactics to give them the edge in sea-battles, using their superior seamanship to dance around enemy fleets. And, like the Avatar and Firnai, they had among them some gifted in magic who went to be trained in Oron Amular. They came back with great power over water, able to rescue drowning elves and destroy enemy ships from afar. It was Marintor mages who confronted the great sea-demons and beasts of the deep in the most dreadful battles, most of them dying in the process, but winning great renown.

The Sea-elves preferred to bury their dead at sea, or else in sacred chambers within their beloved caves. They mourned their ships almost as much as their warriors, honouring sunken vessels with night-time vigils or burning on the beach those that founded close to shore. They told strange tales of what became of the elves who slept in the sea, not all of which were to the liking of the Avatar priests and loremasters.

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.

Photo by Johannes Plenio on Unsplash

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