This is the latest post in a new series on the Races of Astrom. As well as the three major kindreds (Avatar, Firnai & Marintors), there were several lesser elven kindreds, though in truth they all stemmed in origin from unions between Avatar and Marintor communities. Here shall be told of three of these lesser kindreds: the Sangenai (Grey-elves), the Cuherai (Snow-elves) and the Irynthai (Deep-elves).
The Sangenai were a mingled race of elves with both Avatar and Marintor blood. When Torlas, prince of the Marintors, wed Avahil, princess of the Avatar, each brought with them a small following of their own people. For a time, this people dwelt on the shores of Marinia and the court of Torlas and Avahil was a place where the both Avatar and Marintor customs were cherished and upheld. When Torlas discovered the isle of Camelar the Sangenai removed thence, following Torlas and Avahil across the waves to found the first elven colony in the Inner Isles. Settling on that island, the Avatar and Marintors inter-married, creating a new race. Marriages between these two kindreds were very rare elsewhere, so the Grey-elven kindred became synonymous with the island of Camelar.
They took their name initially from the blending of blue and silver, the colours of the royal couple. Yet in later years they earned their name in other ways. They wove a fabric of a singular grey colour that could be found nowhere else. It blended with the trees on the island and the shingle shores, so that a Grey-elf would be very difficult to discern by others, where he or she moved through the forests or along the beaches. The Grey-elves would wear cloaks of this subtle colour when making sea voyages too, where they would shift to match the colour of sunlight glittering on the waves, and since they were adept at keeping out both wind and rain, they were prized by those who were exposed to the elements for long periods. The Grey-elves also built their ships with grey-coloured wood, making use of the sannaphas (‘grey-sheen’) trees that grew on Camelar, which were fine-grained, tall and straight limbed. The ships of the Grey-elves became almost invisible when riding the long ocean swells, blending in perfectly with sea and sky.
In their early days the Sangenai were avid mariners, following the example of Torlas their lord. In Torlas’ ships it was Grey-elven crews that discovered first the Inner and later the Outer Isles. Thus they became famous as intrepid explorers, but the most famous story associated with their voyages was a sorrowful one, for it was the Grey-elves who were ambushed by demons on the far northern island of Narbaddon, with Torlas alone surviving to bring the dread tale south. After this tragedy the Sangenai made no more voyages into the far north but instead shifted their energies to creating colonies on the Outer Isles. Sadly, most of these colonies were destroyed during the Great Wars, so that, apart from a few isolated families, the Grey-elves could only be found on Camelar after the wars ended. In later days the Grey-elves resumed their voyages of exploration, but this time they went east or south, not north, and many legends sprang from their discoveries across the wide oceans.
The Sangenai possessed not only a Marintor love of the sea, but also an Avatar thirst for knowledge, which led them to become among the greatest stargazers of the elves. In Thónor, the Tower of Knowledge, perched high on the westernmost cliffs of Camelar, could be found the most accurate star-charts anywhere in Elvendom, and many works of astronomical and navigational lore besides. The Sangenai also loved to tell stories around driftwood fires on their beaches and to ride sleek grey horses along their grassy, windswept clifftops. For the most part they dwelt in small ports on their eastern coast, though their capital, Del Sanmir, was situated inland, a city of many spires standing on the feet of mountains at the head of the River Torir. Those who died in the Great Wars were buried in cliff-side tombs facing the northern seas. These cliff-tombs, known as Phirmaes i Mourai Gerendare, the Cliffs of the Watchful Dead, were a sacred place and far from the houses of the living.
The Snow-elves were another result of the blending of the Avatar and Marintor races, this time coming from the marriage of Cuherl and Lithalan. Cuherl was a great-grandson of King Marintor and Queen Ithíriel, but Lithalan was the daughter of an Avatar noble from the Nimrell vale. For the love of her, Cuherl left the coast and went upstream to dwell in the upper Nimrell vale, where he learned to love the beautiful alpine scenery as much as his wife. Those who followed them became known as the Cuherai, named for their lord, and they included both High-elves and Sea-elves, who would go on to inter-marry in the years that followed, just as the Grey-elves did on Camelar.
Long before he married Lithalan, Cuherl came by his name (which signifies ‘snow-chosen’) because of his white hair, and also because his parents, Elthros and Seréla, felt that a unique destiny was in store for him. It was only later that the aptness of this name was fully realised, for the name of his followers, Cuherai, could mean both the folk of Cuherl and the Snow Folk, or Snow-elves. Cuherl and Lithalan contented themselves with living in the high alpine meadows by the sources of Nimrell, but their children were born with a desire to explore higher and further. Their daughters, Isoriel, Cureiel and Anthariel, and their son, Faulconor, all went into the Black Mountains, each with a small following. They founded Snow-elven settlements throughout the mountains and came to rule the upland provinces of Kalimar as fiefs held in trust from the High King, Isoriel in the Endovard range, Cureiel on Oron Ustanzor, Faulconor in Centolaria and his son Celban in Hundemar.
Faulconor and Anthariel went on to explore Dorzand, where they and their descendants founded the remote and fabled cities of Faulcaron and Anthalos. These cities would form part of the later history of Dorzand as outposts of civilisation in an otherwise savage wilderness, contesting the cold wastes with goblins, Rascai, dwarves and barbarian Mortals. Lesser scions of the Cuherai removed even further still, and established Snow-elven homes in most of the mountains of the world, in the high Goragath, in the White Mountains of Aranar, and even, according to some loremasters, in the frozen mountains of Urunmar, though little is known by other elves of any of these remote colonies.
The Snow-elves loved the mountains and through long association they gradually acclimatised to living in lofty places. Thus, they alone of all the elves were able to breathe and move easily at high altitudes. They were skilled climbers and hunters. They built beautiful homes in inaccessible places, like eagles in their eyries, and in delicate towers that clung to the side of mountaintops, shrouded in cloud for much of the year. Others dug homes beneath the snows in well-insulated burrows, or in gleaming blue-lit caves beneath glaciers. They learnt all the skills needed for survival in these places, knowing how to stay warm and how to find food. They subsisted on alpine animals that could be hunted, ibex, white deer, marmots and mountain goats, and on the berries and leaves foraged during the summer. They clothed themselves in deerskin and the furs of wolves, bears and lynxes, and had fur-lined hide shoes that could keep the feet warm and dry in snow.
The Snow-elves were a secretive, elusive people, second only to the Firnai in being able to commune with animals, and adept at hiding from other folk. They could travel unseen in the mountains, and none could approach or find their dwellings without their leave. Strange stories were told by other elves about the Snow-elves, about how they could ride eagles, build palaces of ice, walk on clouds and freeze things by touching them. Most of these tales are fictional, though some preserve echoes of truth about the strange abilities and powers of the Snow-elves.
Like the Sangenai and Cuherai, the Irynthai were also a combination of High-elven Avatar and Sea-elven Marintors. In both races there were those who loved caves and deep places, and it chanced that groups from both kindreds found a place that they loved equally in fabled Aramar, a hidden vale in the southern Black Mountains, a little to the north of Avarianmar and the Kalimari capital of Paeyeir. Established by Prince Avar, this city was located in a place of both startling beauty and immense mineral wealth. The city visible above ground was built in a green cleft between high cliffs and mountains, but below ground and in the rock all around the city extended in other directions. Beneath these mountains the Avatar and Marintors found what they both loved – wealth of precious metals and wondrous rivers, fountains and crystal groves beneath the earth.
Irynthai, or Folk of the Deeps, was the name given to those who laboured to make Aramar famous. The Irynthai dug its deep mansions and networks of tunnels, they mined its many ores and fashioned its famous subterranean art and architecture. They were miners, jewelsmiths and metal-workers. They created the finest metalware and jewels that could be found in Elvendom, the export of which made Aramar fabulously wealthy, and a byword for skill. When the Great Wars came, it was the Irynthai who made the best weapons and armour for the elves, with Aramar becoming Kalimar’s greatest armoury and arsenal. The finest of all the craftsmen of the Irynthai were the Rucaer i Irynteh, the Smiths of the Deeps, a company of master artisans led by Caranara, the greatest elven weaponsmith who ever lived. He it was who helped Avatar to forge the world’s first and mightiest sword, the Avarinde, a blade touched by the fire of Prélan.
The Irynthai, for all their skill, were thought of as strange by the other elves, for they preferred to be underground and cared little for the stars and growing things, which meant so much to most elves. Indeed, within Aramar’s population there were two distinct segments, those who dwelt above ground in the beautiful city of Avar, who were mostly Avatar, and those who dwelt below ground, who had both Avatar and Marintor blood. Some of them rarely left their workshops, and some came seldom back to civilisation, preferring to explore the deep ways below the earth where secret waters ran. These subterranean elves were exceedingly pale and keen-sighted in the dark, and had strange customs, relying on hand-made lamps for light and mechanical clocks to govern the difference between hours of sleep and times of wakefulness. They were industrious to a fault, perfectionists and prone to jealousy and quarrels about their work. They dressed in simple wool and leather of dull colours, though their leaders wore garments of finer material, deep blue in colour and adorned with gold thread.
Most Irynthai never left Aramar, though some went forth to help in the Great Wars, where they fortified cities and did much to thwart enemy sieges with ingenious devices and methods. Others were banished from Aramar for crimes of theft or overbearing pride, and they went out to other dark places beneath the world, lost to the knowledge of other elves. When later legends told of pale-faced smiths of great skill in the cities of Dorzand, some elves thought that these were the lost Irynthai or their descendants.
There is yet another race of elves, who were not related to any of the main kindreds, and the elves of Kalimar know little of them. They do come into the later events of Astrom, and one day their story will be told.
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 to learn more about the races of Astrom. 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 Alessio Soggetti on Unsplash