This is the eighth post in my worldbuilding series. If you’ve missed the earlier parts, you can find them here. If you’re already up to speed, then let’s get started!
Last time, we sketched some details about the human-dominated lands of our new fantasy world; this week, as the title of this post suggests, we’re turning our attention to the dwarves, the Bruthrúm Thul.
Dwarven culture, as we outlined it earlier in this series, consists of a number of sprawling clans, each of which lives in cavernous, venerable halls deep in uncharted forests. They mine, of course, but they also farm, hunt, fish and trade; the bulk of their lives are given over to the warmth of the hearth-hall, to stories and songs, to feasting, to family. A clan may as well be a kingdom unto itself; borders are generally unmarked but well understood, and for all the warmth between the members of a clan, there’s a ritual formality governing inter-clan diplomacy.
The center of dwarven life — geographically, culturally, spiritually — is the bruthrúm, or “warm hearth”. Proximity to the hearth, whether in terms of living quarters or seating position during communal meals, is a mark of respect. Competition in this matter is rare, since to seek proximity to the hearth is to devalue it. Dwarven politics, in general, are simple, direct and honest. Clan-chief is an inherited position, passed down to the eldest child — in the days before the Godswar, it was an exclusively male role, but since the dwarven diaspora, most clans have opened the role to the eldest child, regardless of gender.
Dwarves are traditionally long-lived, but the oldest last no more than two centuries. Dwarven women are fertile from around the age of twenty to well past their first century, which can make for some remarkably complicated family trees, since it is possible for any given dwarf’s grandchild to be the same age as one of their siblings. This, among other reasons, gives rise to a certain preoccupation with heritage and lineage. There are dwarves alive now whose grandparents witnessed the Godswar, when the earth rose and the fire fell, and nine of every ten dwarves died.
I rather like the idea of rooting the Dwarves in the cosmological landscape in a grounded, everyday way. Each clan, then, has their own take on each of the four elemental Gods. These clan-specific Faces are honored in appropriate shrines: the Face of Water, for example, may be honored on the shores of a clear lake, or a fast-running underground stream; the shrine to the Face of Air may be atop a blustery hill, or a cleft in the rock through which the howling wind blows. The clans do not have shrines to the Unknown God, nor do they honor Him as a part of their religious observances. This is a deliberate choice: the unknown has no place in the hearth-halls of the dwarven clans. The shrines of the four elemental Gods are cared for by venerable dwarves, each of whom can relate the entire history of the clan and tales from the years before the Godswar tore the world apart. The shrine-keepers act as repositories of wisdom and history, and sit in council with the clan-chief on those rare occasions when direct leadership is required.
The most populous dwarven lands are those to the north of Faramor. There are twenty-two clans living in this area, formed into four rough groups: the lowland clans to the south-east, the cosmopolitan trader clans closest to Edorath, the highland clans of the north, and the Far Coast clans to the northwest.
The lowland folk, or menthar thul in dwarven, are the six oldest remaining clans in the world. They were the first settled in the wake of the Godswar; the eldest, Clan Hogard, was built upon the only pre-Godswar clan-hall known to exist. The menthar thul are, as may be expected, traditionalists; moreso even than their kinfolk in other clans, they value stories and history, and the preservation of the dwarven traditions.
The trader folk, wethran thul, and quite different. Nine clans strong, they occupy the fertile valleys along the middle of the Faramor border. They trade freely with the human towns and villages, and have adopted human-style agriculture as a means of increasing their output. They are populous and progressive, though still thoroughly dwarven.
The highland folk, garda thul, occupy the steep-sided valleys carved into the rising foothills of the elven mountains to the north. The four clans who call these lands home are more geographically isolated than the other clans, and consider themselves hardier, stronger, and generally superior to their brethren. This is never expressed openly, but there is a certain secrecy and frigidity to their dealings with the other clans; in return, their is a brooding suspicion of the garda thul, and their relationship with the elves.
The three clans of the Far Coast, ged doreth, are generally thought to be wild and uncivilized by the other clans, though it is unlikely that any visitors form the other races would notice much of a difference. It is true that the ged doreth occupy larger regions than the older clans, and that members of the same clan might live as much as a day’s hike from their clan-hall, but there has been no active rejection of the traditional dwarven lifestyle. It is on the Far Coast that the youngest of the clans, Clan Egrid, formed by a splinter from Clan Bhordan, can be found.
Across the sea to the east, five tightly-allied clans occupy the humid southern forests of orc-dominated Goradha. These clans, the orthegad thul, thought for almost a century that they were the only dwarven survivors of the Godswar, until human ships crossed the storm-tossed expanse and told them of the clans to the west. Little contact has been made across the sea, though the orthegad thul maintain good relations with human sailors and the orc tribes.
Far to the west, the main exceptions to the standard model of dwarven culture can be found. Life on the Yreg Plains was difficult for the survivors of the Godswar, and the forests were not large enough to support traditional dwarven clan-halls; instead, inspired and aided by the humans of Istramere, the dwarves began to build human-style villages. Eight clans, none of them particularly large, now compose the yreg thul, and live peaceful lives within the bounds of their walled villages.
So, these are our dwarves. I haven’t included much detail with regard to the individual clans, but we have a framework that allows us to fill in the blanks as and when we need them. There are even a couple of interesting story hooks to which I’ll return in the final post of this series.
Next week, the orcs. See you then!
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