Races of Astrom: Armists

This series has been exploring the Free Peoples of Astrom, and so far we’ve looked in turn at each of the elven kindreds. Now it’s time to leave Elvendom behind and meet some of the other races who form part of the Free Peoples. This next post will be all about the armists, the second race to awake, and the adopted children of the elves during the youth of the world.

At the beginning of the Second Chapter, the elves had lived alone on Astrom for three thousand years. They had battled with demons from across the sea and befriended animals of all kinds, but no other children of Prélan existed. That all changed in the first year of the Second Chapter, when the armists awoke in the high vales of the northern Carthaki Mountains. This great range of mountains curved around the elven realm of Alanmar that had been established some six centuries before by King Arvarion of the Avatar. Arvarion had established his capital at Alandel near the mouth of the River Ebinnon, and it was at the source of that same river, some 200 miles to the north, that the armists awoke.

At first the elves were not aware of this momentous event, for they had not yet explored this high up the valley of the Ebinnon, but later in the year it chanced that a ranging party of Avatar stumbled across the small colony, which numbered only a few hundred. Great was the amazement of the elves at this discovery, for they knew of no other children of Prélan apart from themselves, yet here surely were creations of the same God who had created the elves. These armists were shorter, darker and hairier than themselves, but the elves recognised them as kindred spirits. News spread far and wide through the elven realms until kings and great lords were travelling to the high vale of the Ebinnon on a kind of pilgrimage of wonder.

These new folk had no language of their own and communicated only in the most rudimentary manner, and rough too were their garments and tools. The elves came among them and taught them everything they needed to know. From the first, the armists spoke Kinyar, the elven tongue, and never developed a language of their own, unless their distinct dialect of Kinyar could be considered a language in its own right. They also learnt from the elves how to sew clothes, build stone houses, hunt animals efficiently, grow crops and fashion effective tools for countless tasks.

Likewise, the armists had no name for themselves, but adopted the name the elves gave to them, Faladhai, which was a kind of nickname, meaning ‘those who dwell among the pines’. In high elven lore the new race was more properly known as Oronámiri, that is, Children of the Mountains, though after the discovery of other mountain races, this name was used to encompass all of them, and the armists became known as Faladhai even to the loremasters. In the armist dialect this name became Falakai, the name they called themselves ever after.  

Within this the elves distinguished two groups of armists, the Falronai, who dwelt in the mountains, and the Falrothai, those who removed into the lowlands. For early in their history there was a split in the armist community, with some remaining close to the place of their awakening in the mountains, and others travelling far to the south to settle amongst the elves in the lowlands of central Alanmar. This was a fundamental fork in the path of their development, and for long centuries there was a real distinction between the two groups. The Falronai tended to be shorter, stockier and darker, more insular and friendlier with the dwarves who lived on the other side of the mountains. The Falrothai, by contrast, grew to be considerably taller and fairer, and were much more influenced in mindset and manners by the elves among whom they dwelt.

In truth, though, all the armists were notably different from the elves, being on average a full foot, and often two feet shorter than elves. They were more thick-set and were less agile, more given to growing facial hair and darker in complexion, owing to their origin further south in the continent than Kalimar. Their faces were squarer, their noses broader and their fingers were less nimble, yet they were still intelligent, tough, enduring of harsh conditions and possessed of great stamina and hardihood. They became known for their perseverance with difficult tasks and quests of all kinds, but this virtue also became a vice when it manifested as stubbornness in holding grudges and wrong beliefs.

Some of the outstanding individuals among the armists were even adopted formally as foster sons and daughters in great elven houses, where they grew up like little elven lordlings, learning their ways and the teachings of Prélan. The greatest of these was Carinen, eldest son of Armanor, the first chieftain (or Faladir) of the armists, who was so quick to learn and so voracious for knowledge that the elves named him Haretholin, or ‘quick spirit’. From him came the name of the Harolin dynasty, who in later millennia would rule Maristonia after the demise of elven Alanmar. Carinen it was who led the armists who removed to the south. While his father Armanor built the mountain-city of Artone near where their race had first awakened, Carinen received permission and much aid from the elves to build a much greater city in the south. That city was Mariston, and it would grow to become one of the greatest cities in all Astrom.

For millennia the armists lived peacefully among the elves, taking their religion as well as their language, worshipping Prélan faithfully for the most part. Whether in the high alpine vales or on the floodplains near the sea, they dwelt almost exclusively in the Ebinnon Valley, though they later settled in the neighbouring Tribune Valley also. King Arvarion granted most of the Ebinnon Valley to the armists as a fief to hold in his name, and the hereditary Faladier – the chieftains of the armists – paid homage to Arvarion as their king and overlord, just like the elven nobility. After the death of Armanor, the leadership of the armists passed to Carinen, his son, whose lowland folk were more numerous and assertive, and always the descendants of his brother, Noronar, who ruled in Artone, resented this state of affairs.

The armists grew numerous and prospered under elven protection and tutelage. Some of them passed over the mountains and made homes in the wilderland beyond the Carthaki peaks, and these armists had the closest friendship with the dwarves who dwelt further west on the northern side of the great mountain-range. The armists were not to blame for the disastrous Carthaki Wars that erupted between elves and dwarves later in the Second Chapter, but though the vast majority of the armists sided with the elves, a small minority from beyond the mountains fought for the dwarves.

Faladir Istilian, a distant descendant of Carinen, won great renown as a warrior in those wars, and in the aftermath, when elven and dwarven power alike was shattered, he rose to become the first armist King of Maristonia, succeeding Arvarion who perished in the conflict he helped to cause. He founded the Harolin dynasty and ruled the new realm which took its name from his capital by the sea. Armist Maristonia was much smaller than old elven Alanmar, just the rump of a once mighty kingdom, and it would take centuries before Istilian’s successors extended armist power to the old borders of King Arvarion.

In long centuries of war, diplomacy and exploration, the Harolin kings eventually pushed Maristonia to its furthest natural extremities: as far as the River Antium in the arid south, to the Sapheil Ocean in the west and the borders of Kalimar in the east, and eventually even to the River Vanri in the north. Thus was forged the mighty realm that would play a huge part in the great affairs of Astrom. Curillian, who was king at the time of the Quest of Oron Amular, inherited a mighty state from his predecessors, who had transformed it gradually from a small feudal backwater to a centralised colossus of enormous wealth and power. During this long process of expansion, the armists showed their versatility and talent for adaptability, mastering a huge range of different climates and terrain types: mountains, forests, plains, coasts and deserts. In its later centuries, armist Maristonia acquired a reputation for great bureaucratic efficiency, as well as excellence in its universities and military academies.

For the first half of the Third Chapter the elves of Maristonia had to share the region with a complex tapestry of elven successor realms, independent city-states and dwarven outposts, but by the end of the Third Chapter all the land within Maristonia’s furthest borders was exclusively armist, save for the dwarf realm of Carthak hidden beneath the mountains.

In the beginning, armists were like savages next to the elves, but their descendants who ruled this great kingdom were much more elf-like – taller, slimmer and more refined. Though still considerably shorter than elves, at an average height of five and a half feet they were taller than dwarves and comparable with many mortal men and women. They were still renowned for their endurance and physical strength, but they had also acquired great talent in many areas where they had been taught by the elves, as metalworkers, builders, sailors, farmers, tailors, wine-makers and storytellers.

In diet and dress they took after the fashion and habits of the elves they lived amongst. By the time they were an independent people they had developed their own styles, preferring knee-length tunics that were practical for work, and eschewing ostentatious colours and fashions except for their nobility on grand occasions. They liked the colour blue, but as their kingdom grew, their garments diversified to suit the different climates they lived in, from the heavy wools of the mountain-dwellers to the loose robes of the south. They were also influenced by neighbouring nations – elven style lingering much longer in the East-fold that was close to Kalimar, Aranese fashions taking hold in the north-west and Alanai in the south.

The armists likewise had a great range of different diets across their great kingdom, favouring fish on the coasts, sugary delicacies, citrus fruits and spices in the south, cereal crops in the East-fold, the breadbasket of Maristonia, and a heavily meat-based diet in the uplands where animal husbandry prevailed. All armists had a fondness for lamb, which they cooked to perfection in a variety of regional styles, and the fine red wines of Mastred and Carinen Peninsulas became famous throughout Astrom, rivalling those of Redmar in eastern Aranar and the cool whites of the Silver Finger in Ithrill.

The armists inherited their worldview and religious beliefs from the elves, whom they had to thank for their knowledge of Prélan. Yet the religious establishment in elven Alanmar was not zealous in enforcing specific beliefs or patterns of behaviours, so over the centuries the teachings of Prélan in Maristonia lost some of their sharp focus. The Maristonian church that grew up in the Third Chapter had some doctrines that differed somewhat from orthodox beliefs in Kalimar, but was nevertheless regarded as mostly sound by the authorities in Kalimar, in sharp contrast to the newly mortal heretics in Aranar, Hendar and Ciricen. From the start, the armist church was a key supporter of the Harolin monarchy, and became a great landowner and bastion of the state. Under its aegis, religion in Maristonia became more systematic and organised. While they might have lost much of the elven lore they once knew, the armists never lost their reverence for all things elven, and the height of armist education was the delving into ancient elven knowledge in universities across the land.

The tough, enduring armists made fine warriors, adept at fighting in a shield-wall and maintaining discipline in a variety of manoeuvres and formations. The elven generals taught them well, and bequeathed excellent weapons, tactics and military theory to the armists. The best armist soldiers were heavy infantry, though they were also skilled as mountain scouts and later developed effective cavalry, artillery and siegecraft. Bellicose kings like Firwan spurred the evolution of the armist army from feudal levies to a professional standing army of legions, who would eventually become feared and respected across the continent. It took a fine and well-disciplined army, organised into five regional armies, to maintain peace across so vast a kingdom and to protect its long borders. With barbarians in the east and south, and an ever-changing political situation in Aranar across the Vanri, armist kings made it their business to stay vigilant and keep strong fortifications on their frontiers.

The one area in which the armists were most different from the elves was in the treatment of their dead. For them, being mortal, this was an essential and routine part of life, whereas outside of great conflicts, death was a rare tragedy for the elves. In the mountains and on the southern borders, armists preferred cremation of their dead on elaborate pyres, but elsewhere they gradually took to burial in a variety of styles. Under elven guidance, they developed rituals and prayers dedicated to funerals so that bereaved families might bid their lost loved ones farewell and cherish the hope that they had fallen asleep again, to be with Prélan, as they had been before their race first awoke.

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 dwarves. 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 Mathew MacQuarrie on Unsplash

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