Following on from posts about the elves and armists, this post forms part of my Races of Astrom series, exploring the different people groups that inhabit the World of Astrom.
The dwarves are counted among the Oronámiri, the Children of the Mountains, a grouping of peoples that included the armists and the Rascai. They were the third race to awake in Astrom, after the elves and the armists. Their origins go back to the very beginning of the Second Chapter, though in truth elven loremasters do not know exactly when, for they only discovered them later, and the dwarves jealously guard the secrets of their race.
Other folk tell strange tales of the dwarves, but the dwarves have their own account of their beginning. The first dwarves were four in number. They awoke in the same mighty cavern under the Carthaki Mountains and found themselves surrounded by hundreds of stone statues. These proved to contain other sleeping dwarves, whom they roused. There were four clans, reckoned according to which of the four had awoken them, and those first four dwarves became chieftains.
Together they built the underground city of Carthak, situated in the northwestern part of the Carthaki range, far from the elven kingdom on the far side of the mountains. Yet the clans did not long dwell together in harmony, for they were of different temperament, and none wished to be ruled by the others. Two of the four chieftains led their clans forth in great migrations, and a third was thrust into exile after civil war in the mines.
Of the two clans that went south, one founded the rival city of Danthak in the southern Carthaki Mountains, and the other went much further south, establishing the fabled city of Sinordar in the Southerang Mountains of Lurallan. The exiled clan went north, establishing a string of colonies throughout the hills either side of the Vanri and into the mountains of Aranar. Thence they spread far and wide, eventually delving halls as far as Dorzand, Ciricen, the Goragath Mountains and even Urunmar.
The fourth clan remained in Carthak and built it into a mighty kingdom capable of vying with the elves of Alanmar. The elves were spreading south and west from their heartlands around the Ebinnon Valley and the dwarves of Carthak and Danthak grew as well, claiming much land above ground far from their subterranean capitals. As the two civilisations expanded, they came into conflict over territory and trade. The Second Chapter ended with the cataclysmic Carthaki Wars, which shattered the kingdom of Alanmar and broke dwarven power above ground forever. Danthak was sacked and the dwarves of Carthak retreated undergound, shutting their great doors on the outside world. Into the vacuum stepped the armist kingdom of Maristonia, which would eventually swallow all of the territory formerly possessed by both the elves and the dwarves.
In later centuries, the dwarves would come forth to take part in exceptional events, such as the overthrow of Kurundar, but for the most part they stayed underground. Theirs was a secret history, virtually unknown to elves, armists or the Mortals who arose in the Third Chapter. The great powers of Astrom had no idea what went on beneath their feet, the explorations made, the wonders built, the wars waged. Dozens of different dwarf civilisations rose and fell while above ground the Third Chapter passed into the Fourth. Contact between dwarves and the other races was rare, and seldom anything but acrimonious.
By the middle of the Fourth Chapter, most of the dwarven realms lay broken and deserted, devastated by war or plague, and those few that remained were but a shadow of their former glory, diminished by the struggles of time and declining birth rates. It may be that they have some part yet to play in the events that shall follow the Quest of Oron Amular, but what it is remains to be seen.
There were three different kinds of dwarves, the Nísüdûn, the Zînkhadûn and the Roguxûn. The Nísüdûn, or White Dwarves, chose to dwell on the high peaks in open-air fortresses and clifftop castles. They were mountain-climbers, ice-sculptors, intrepid explorers and keen-eyed scouts. They were the friends of giants and specially acclimatised to high-altitude dwellings, as the Snow-elves were amongst the elves. They hunted birds and high alpine mammals, which they used for food and thick fur clothing. Theirs was a heavily meat-based diet, but they also built terraces on the mountainside where they grew modest crops. They could be found throughout the Carthaki Mountains, and in origin belonged to all three of the clans that stayed south of the Vanri.
The Zînkhadûn, or Gold Dwarves, were cavern-dwellers, miners and craftsmen. They accounted for the vast majority of the population of Carthak, and are what other races typically imagine when they think of dwarves. Like the Nísüdûn, they belonged to all three of the clans that never crossed the Vanri, and rose to power in each of Carthak, Danthak and Sinordar. They were fearsome warriors, brilliant inventors, master-smiths and rune-carvers. In their glory days they tilled wide lands above ground, but later were forced to trade for foodstuffs, or else fend for themselves with terraced hill-side farms, upland animal husbandry and fish from subterranean streams and lakes.
The Roguxûn, or Black Dwarves, were the third kind, so-called because of their black armour and also because of their dabbling in dark arts. They came from the fourth clan that in ancient days warred with the Zînkhadûn in Carthak and were expelled from the father-city. They it was who crossed the Vanri and spread across all the mountains of the northern world. From them came many isolated orders of dwarven warrior-monks and the city-states in Dorzand where the races of dwarves and Rascai blended and where the Harracks also had their origin. Yet the most infamous of the Black Dwarves were those who followed their embittered chieftain beneath the Goragath Mountains. They became an evil race, who often troubled the elves of Ithrill and the Mortals of Hendar and Aranar, all of whom vied for control of the mineral resources of the Goragath.
All the dwarves were of similar statue and appearance, being on average four to five feet tall, stocky and thickly bearded. Yet they were all of different mood and beliefs and had different skills and strengths. Their languages, although related, diverged over time, so that what were at first merely similar dialects eventually became completely different tongues. They also favoured different colours and types of garments, different styles of armour and weapons, different architecture and even different ways of braiding their beards.
In their early days the dwarves believed in one God, just like the elves and armists, only they named Him Tharad, rather than Prélan, and worshipped Him in very different ways. Like their heavily stratified and hierarchical society, dwarven religion was much more structured and legalistic than that of the elves, heavily based on systems of offerings, communal rites and sacred texts carved on the walls of underground temples. The more enlightened members of these races realised that Tharad and Prélan were in fact one and the same, just manifested in different ways, but most elves denounced the deity of the dwarves, claiming he was a false god or demon. In later centuries, though, dwarven religion diversified, with some clans and cities worshipping different gods and myriad different sects and cults springing up with elaborate rituals and arcane mysteries.
The dwarves were fearsome fighters, especially underground where they were in their element. They produced some of the finest heavy infantry anywhere in Astrom, capable of fighting all day in thick armour and with heavy weapons. They favoured mattocks, axes and short, stabbing swords and tended to fight in impenetrable shield walls. They were adept at siegecraft and were able to produce explosive materials of many kinds. Spawning out of some of their religious cults were military brotherhoods devoted to rigorous training and a spartan lifestyle. These orders became renowned in legend, some specialising to fight demons, dragons and the great monsters that they found far beneath the earth. Other dwarves developed magical ability, quite independent of the Pool of High Magic, whence the elves derived most of their power. Dwarven magic was based on runes and artefacts of power, which could be used to lethal effect, and which became extremely influential in manipulating the caverns and mountains in which they lived.
The dwarves buried their dead underground in various styles of tomb, the grandeur of which varied according to the wealth of the grieving family. The great chieftains were laid to rest in elaborate stone sarcophagi that evoked the origins of their race, and which were sealed with runes of power. Deep beneath Carthak there is a sprawling necropolis that extends far underground and which living dwarves make a place of pilgrimage to go and honour their ancestors and seek their aid.
To read the Secret History of the Dwarves, which is much longer, and tells somewhat of the events underground, become a Patron of World of Astrom today at patreon.com/worldofastrom.
This is the latest in a new blog-series that will be exploring the different people groups of Astrom. Come back soon to learn about the Mortal kingdoms. 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 Immo Wegmann on Unsplash