Bonus Story: Perspectives On Elves And Dwarves – Three More Tales

on October 6, 2008 in Other Tales

It’s another folk sampler this week… this time there’s a bit of a theme to it, as the title above suggests. Since the Bill Springstep story was by far and away the most popular of the last ones, I’ve lead off with a somewhat longer one featuring none other.

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Bill and the Brothers
A Tale of Bill Springstep

Once upon a time when the world was much younger and Bill Springstep was not quite so old as he is now, he went walking through a wooded hillside in the foothills of the mountain, and there he met a pair of brothers who were squabbling. He could see that they were brothers, for they were as indistinguishable from each other as were two drops of rain.

They were each taller than a gnome, and yet shorter than a man, of a medium sort of build, with stubbly chins and plain features that were neither uncommonly rough nor exceptionally fair.

They were fighting, as it happened, over a chicken that one of the brothers held, while the other held an axe. The substance of their dispute, as Bill came to understand from listening, was whether it would be better to divide the fowl’s head from its body, or its body from its head.

“Good morning!” Bill said, interrupting their quarrel.

“I don’t see what’s so good about it,” the brother with the axe said.

“Well, I say it is quite a good morning, and the only thing wrong with it is that you are delaying our lunch with your pointless argument, dear brother,” the other one said..

“You both sound equally persuasive to me,” Bill said. “Perhaps what you need is an outside mediator?”

“Would you actually assay to judge the matter for us?” the brother holding the chicken asked, making it clear from his tone that he thought little of Bill’s qualifications.

“Not I,” said Bill, who made a point of never being offended when it did not suit him. “I was merely going to suggest that you leave the matter up to the gods to decide.”

“Do you happen to know any gods?” the brother with the axe asked.

In point of fact, Bill had made the acquaintance of several gods by this point, but he did not like to brag. So, he stuck his thumbs inside his waistcoat pockets and said, “I simply meant that you could strike the chicken’s neck, and see which way it falls out… whether the head comes off the body, or the other way around. After all, what must happen must happen, so whichever way it happens, that must have been the best way.”

The two brothers looked at each other, and then gave Bill Springstep a doubting look. He saw that they were not persuaded.

“Of course, if either of you fears the gods’ judgment might not favor you…” he said.

“I have no objection!” the two brothers both said at the same time.

“Very well, then, let’s see to the matter,” Bill said.

Very quickly, the one brother had the chicken placed on a stump that served as a block, and the other quickly knocked its head off with the axe… or its body off, however the case may have been. For no sooner had the blow been struck than both brothers proclaimed victory in the matter. The dispute started up once more, twice as heated as before. Not wishing to see family come to blows over so trivial a matter as a little chicken, Bill Springstep wisely swept it up into his sack and removed it from the vicinity.

Now, this might very well have been the last he saw of the quarrelsome brothers, for their bickering had so pained his head that Old Springstep resolved to never again walk in that part of the world. The next day when he set out for his constitutional, then, he therefore walked in the forest at the bottom of the hills. Imagine his surprise when he ran into one of those selfsame brothers, attempting to build a home in a tree.

“Good morning!” Bill said in greeting, for a Springstep was never rude except when it suited him. “I am surprised to see you without your brother.”

“Well, I have quit his company for good,” the brother said. “Let him wander the hillsides and argue with the stumps and rocks he finds there.”

“I’m sorry to hear that,” Bill said. “Surely, it’s a shame that two so alike should fall out.”

“Alike? Alike?” the brother said. “Surely you jest, friend. I am not the least bit like that runt. Did you not note that I am the taller of both of us?”

“I looked most carefully, and I can’t say I noticed any such thing,” Bill said.

“Well, you must have been deceived because I stood slightly further down the slope than he did, or else you would surely have noticed it,” the brother said.

Bill was not one for empty flattery when it did not suit him, but neither did he wish to provoke the brother’s temper, so he agreed with him in a most magnanimous fashion, praising the young man on his most excellent and exceptional height, calling him a veritable pillar of the world. So sincere and effuse was Bill Springstep’s praise, and so powerful his abilities of persuasion, that by the time he was finished he himself doubted little that the figure towered ever so slightly over his brother.

He then made up an excuse to leave before he could be drawn into further conversation, and resolved to walk a different path the next day.

The next morning found Bill Springstep taking a hike up a rugged mountain path. If it was not as relaxing a stroll as he was accustomed to, he could at least be assured of his solitude… or so he thought. Imagine his surprise when he turned a bend in the path and found himself face to face with the other of the two brothers, who had been attempting to scratch a home out of the side of a rock. He could tell it was not the same one he had met the day before, for he noted that this one was not as tall.

“Good morning!” he said, as much as an exclamation of surprise as anything else. “You know, I met your brother yesterday.”

“Did you now?” the shorter brother said. “Isn’t that interesting. Well, if you see him again, tell him I’m done with him. That runt can have the hills to himself. I shan’t be coming down again.”

“That’s interesting,” Bill said. He did not like to repeat gossip except when it suited him, but sometimes he could not resist. “He told me you were the runty one, and he was the taller one.”

“Well, who cares about being tall?” the shorter brother said. “I’m talking about physique. Did you not notice that I am the burlier and stronger brother?”

“In truth, I did not,” Bill said. “You two appeared, to my eye, to be identical in profile.”

“Well, friend, I think you were deceived because I stood much further back, and he much nearer to you,” the shorter brother said. “Now that you see me up close, surely you must see the truth of the matter.”

Once again, not wanting to be drawn into an interminable argument, Bill lavished praise upon the shorter brother’s immense bulging muscle until even he himself was quite convinced.

Bill made no effort to seek out either brother after that, but time and again when his business would lead him into the woods or the mountains he’d find himself stumbling across one of the brothers. Always, in an attempt to be polite, he’d find himself agreeing with the forest brother that his features were fairer, or his cheeks were smoother, or his eyes and ears sharper, or with the mountain brother that his whiskers were fuller, or his complexion was rosier, or his valor greater.

The brothers did everything they could to accentuate the differences between themselves, with the forest brother taking up woodcraft and poetry and flashy magic and the mountain brother mastering metalwork and stone carving and learning the mysteries of runes. The forest brother grew boastful and decadent while the mountain brother became secretive and miserly. They remained exactly like one another in two regards: they were each as stubborn as ever, and each continued to believe the other to be wrong about everything he could be.

The two brothers found wives from some place or another, and in the fullness of time they had many, many descendants, who proceeded to spread across the world, though they stuck to the forests or the mountains in order to avoid the children of their father’s rival. If the people who became known as elves and dwarves still recall today that they are cousins, they do not admit to it.

And as for the chicken?

It was delicious.

Of Dwarves
Taken From A Lecture By Professor Hall

There are stories that dwarves tell each other, and there are stories that they tell to others. Despite the effort of the dwarves, some parts of their private lore have been found out. It is known that they tell a story of the early days which involves the gods of other races, but which does not match with the myths of any of those races. They acknowledge the creation of humanity by Khersis Dei, and attribute the invention of gnomes to the gnomish “god” Owen, and so on.

But in the dwarven story, the various gods plan out the world among themselves as a sort of committee, distributing the men in the plains, the ogres on the tops of mountains, the dwarves underneath them, the elves in the forests, the gnomes in the quiet places between the other races’ dominions, and other creatures according to their natures.

In the version of this tale which is known to the wider world, the dwarves name no god as being responsible for their own genesis. Instead, the story says that they hewed themselves from the rock of the living earth, and the various gods made their own peoples in imitation of this original feat. This, according to the story, is why the dwarves choose by and large to live apart from others, in strongholds both concealed and heavily fortified. While not inimical to other life, they see themselves as belonging to a separate order of creation entirely.

We can infer that this story is not an entirely accurate representation of dwarven beliefs primarily because it makes no mention of the goblinoid races, with whom the dwarves share an ancient enmity. The kobolds have always clashed with dwarves over territory, and due to their extensive mining operations are more likely to discover and breach the dwarven domains. With goblin raids being one of the more common threats against dwarf fortresses, it seems incredible to believe that these peoples would be absented entirely from the dwarven lore regarding the origins of races.

Does this indicate that the entire story is a deliberate fabrication, planted to throw off inquisitive human scholars? Or merely that it is incomplete? Whether it is an example of real lore or not, though, it still teaches us much about the dwarven cultural mindset. They believe in an ordered and orderly world, where the gods of different races can come together at least once and act together. Like many of the races scattered across the world, they label themselves as the oldest intelligent race, not accepting the seniority of elves as humanity has. The image of dwarves carving themselves from stone speaks of their pride in self-sufficiency, in much the same manner as is indicated by the saying “to pull oneself up by the bootstraps.”

Of course, in any investigation of dwarven lore, it is advisable to bear in mind the story of Sir William, the famed “Sage of Caer Khuros”, who went to a great dwarven forgemaster and asked to be taught the secrets of dwarven steelcraft. The forgemaster promised Sir William one secret of his trade if he could pick up a glowing red hot iron poker from the forge without wearing gloves. Sir William, believing the price of pain to be worth the wisdom he believed he would receive did so. He passed out from the pain and had his burns treated by his attendant.

When he revived, he demanded his prize and was told by the forgemaster, simply enough, “Use tongs.”

For your homework, read one of the five stories about dwarves you find in chapter sixteen and write a short paper, examining the story as it might be told from a dwarven perspective.

The Birth of the Elves

Sing to me, oh Holy Inspiration, a song of Chaos, of the time before the void and the void before time. From this nothing came the All, divine mother which gave birth to Patros, the father of the Heavens, and to the Mother of the Earth, to the Titan of the Underlands, to the Darkness and the Light, and to the Great Drake which laid the stars in the sky.

Sing of the many small gods sired by Patros upon the All, and tell to me, oh Inspiration, a true story of the children of Light and the All, fair of face and lithe of limb, swift runners and sure hunters of all the winged and four-legged children of the Earth. These, sing the dancing goddesses, were the founders of Golden Athanasia, in the time when the world was empty of people and full of wonders.

Sing, Divine One, of the smaller children of the formless void, the wild spirits who took up wild places and taught the Athanasians their lore. The sprites of the woods taught the first elves the ways of magic, the making of clothes and bows, and of their use. The elves, knowing they came from the same Chaos which had birthed the sprites, accepted their tutelage gratefully and acknowledged them as their older cousins even while they piously worshipped Patros and his children. The elves grew in wisdom and cleverness, and spread their civilization to every tree in every forest, while the sprites looked on in pride and contentment.

But the gods and the elves and the sprites were not the only children of the primordial divinities. Sing, Goddess, of the awakening of the dwarves, children of Mother Earth and the Titan of the Underlands, and of the early stirrings of men, children of the Great Drake’s son and Earth. Whisper of the mating of Darkness to the Titan of the Underlands and of the shapeless, stunted children which they got upon each other, who seeded the space beneath the earth with monsters vile and foul as the Mother of the Earth had spread wild beasts upon its surface.

And thus it was that strife came into the world, and the children of the Titan did battle with all peoples, and so great was their corruption that even the fairest race was not immune to it. Sing, oh Muse, a dirge-like song for the honor of the drow, slain on the field of battle when eight war-like houses of golden Athanasia dared to turn against their kindred. Speak triumphantly of their smiting and repudiation by the Light which had fathered them, and of their exile into the realm of the dreaded Titan, in whose realm they would toil for the rest of eternity, forever wandering and ever on guard against the many terrors of that place.

Sing, Daughter of Patros, of the true golden-haired children of Athanasia, the wisest and gentlest and most courageous of all races, the first people to walk the lands. Blessed are they to praise the truest and oldest of the gods, and blessed shall they remain in their dominion over the world until the end of time, when they rejoin their mother the All.

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3 Responses to “Bonus Story: Perspectives On Elves And Dwarves – Three More Tales”

  1. pedestrian says:

    …use tongs…

    good advice for life

    Current score: 4
  2. Mugasofer says:

    “…goblin raids being one of the more common threats against dwarf fortresses…”

    Hah. I was hoping for a DF reference.

    Current score: 6
    • C says:

      Me too.
      Perhaps Urist will sneak into the story at some point.

      Current score: 2