History of the Truefolk

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History of the Truefolk is an Official GemStone IV Document, and it is protected from editing.

Introduction

Descended from ancestors who dwelt in the harsh northern territories of Eastern Elanthia, the halflings are a tough, colorful people with a rich heritage of myth and a deep-seated reverence for the land and all good things in it. While the varieties of small pony they once bred are now extinct, the equine influences from their past still figure largely in the present-day halflings' customs and colloquialisms.

Among the eastern halfling population, the importance of family, community and the race as a whole (referred to as Truefolk among themselves) is celebrated in an ancient ceremony each year, called the Trine. The word Trine, as well as being the major halfling holiday, is also used to refer to the three original branches of the halfling nation, the Mhoragian, Brughan and Malghavan.

Centuries later, the calamitous events of the Despana War resulted in the formation of a fourth branch, the Paradis halflings, who migrated to the western side of the continent and settled there. While halflings are small in stature, rarely reaching more than 3'4" in height, they are, nonetheless, hardy and have a great capacity for courage, a quick intelligence and, unless seriously provoked, a congenial nature.

Chapter 1 - Creation Myth: Origins

In the beginning, the Land was everything, a Mother rich and bountiful. She was and still is both the Land and one of the Old Ones. She called to the fierce denizens of the EverForest, the old place of time and mystery. Answering her call, there came from the forest a grey wolf whose destiny was The Mother's will. She gave him a wife, a puma both sleek and fast. They traveled across the plains and when they were camped near the source of the Tghigha River in sight of a tall mountain, their first son was born. They named him Mhoraga.

Time passed and to them was given two more sons. These they named Brugha and Malghava, and together the three Brothers ran across the plains and became fast as the wind. The Old Brother of the Wood taught them to fashion bows, and they became skillful archers. The Sister of the Plains showed the Brothers where the wild pony ran in herds that covered the Land for miles. They were crafty, managing to catch three of the horses, steeds with speed and cunning. Taming the beasts, the Brothers rode the plains astride the ponies, bonding together as comrades and allies.

Seeing the Brothers and their accomplishments, Father Sky was wise. Drawing them together, he appeared to them as the Wind and told them they must each go away in a different direction, to establish households and homes. The Father bade them be strong and fierce in protecting these households. The Mother bade them be always true to each other, and once a year to come together in the Trine to find agreement on all things through compromise and shared bonds of origin.

This the Brothers did. The first, Mhoraga, went north into the harsh territory of the steppes. He founded a household of fierce horse warriors, with a nature both unrelenting and fair. Members of Tribe Mhoraga were reared on snow and mare's milk, and the hunt was everything. The Mhoraga kept few herds, merely those necessary to supplement hunting and to make the felt for their tents. They roamed the steppes, finding joy and strength in its beauty and its savage nature. They traded beautifully cured skins and the spoils of the hunt with the Malghava and Brugha for other household necessities.

Brugha traveled north and east, following the frost line on the north with the edge of what the halflings called the EverForest on the south. He settled in a country rich with game and with rivers teeming with the salmon and the trout. His descendants became both hunters and fishermen, also keeping herds of goats and sheep for their wool. From this, the Brugha made soft, warm garments and thick felt for use in covering their round tents or "gers".

The last brother, Malghava, traveled south until he reached the rich, cool lands his descendants call the Shirelands. Much of the territory was a vast pastureland, where horses, sheep and goats thrived. The Malghava Tribe became the least nomadic of the Trinity of the Truefolk, preferring instead to spin an unsurpassed quality of wool, which they wove into all types of garments. They made pottery, known for its beautiful tribal decoration. They gathered rich harvests of grains and berries that grew in the short, northern summer season. And they made homes by burrowing into the hillsides, and carving warm dwellings within.

Chapter 2 - Distant Days: Halfling Development Prior to the Third Age

Primitive bands of nomadic halflings living in tribes migrated from the vast northern forests, spreading out across the steppes. They followed herds of wild antelope living on the rich plains and numbering in the millions. Some of the tribes began to domesticate the wooly goats and sheep native to the region, using the wool to make the felt covering their distinctive round tents as well as utilizing the milk to make a variety of dietary staples.

The tribes were peaceful in nature, each group governed in most cases by a matriarchal elder. However, the leaders were elected by group consensus, enabling the tribe's chosen leader to be male if that candidate was the one best suited for the task.

Surrounded by a bounty of game, and finding few adversaries able to withstand the halflings' well-coordinated hunting techniques, the people prospered and multiplied. They were loosely formed into three extended familial groups, defined by their style of making a living.

The Great Northern Steppes

In the most northerly region of the steppes, the Mhoragian tribes principally led a hunter/gatherer lifestyle, living in beautifully decorated round tents.

Very early in Mhoragian history, the horse migrated north and appeared on the steppes, quickly burgeoning into large herds. Over time, the harsh climate had its effect on the animals, giving them a smaller stature and a pelt that was much heavier than their southern cousins. The Mhoragian halflings lost no time in capturing and taming these animals, an event that transformed their existence.

Utilizing the horses to carry them as well as pull their wagons, the Mhoragian halflings' nomadic range was drastically expanded. They spread across the steppes, crossing hundreds of miles every year but always returning to the Shirelands in late summer for the annual Trine.

The Mhoragians principally subsisted on the spoils of the hunt, supplemented with various types of cheese made from goat and mare's milk, and berries the children gathered while their elders were away from camp seeking game. Other than the elaborate designs painted on their tents and dyed on their leather clothing, they employed few handcrafts. Beading was an exception. Used as a pastime to while away the long, wintry days when snow made hunting impossible, men, women and children became masterful at the art. The designs woven from the vividly hued beads had a variety of applications, ranging from their use as a primitive calendar system, to a rich symbolic language for depicting heroic events and legends.

Pottery and other household items were obtained by the Mhoragians from the other tribes via trade, as were cured fish (considered a rare delicacy among the nomads) and seasoned wood with which to make arrows and bows. As well as being renowned for their skill in crafting the weapons, they were consummate archers.

Northeast/Lake Khesta 'Dahl

The Brughan tribes crossed the steppes and settled around the shores of a large, freshwater lake they called Khesta 'Dahl (the name meaning Sister of the Mists). Situated at the edge of a vast, old growth forest, the lake and its environs teemed with all manner of game, fowl and fish.

On the temperate plains bordering the harsher climate of the steppes, the Brughans learned to supplement their diets with rudimentary farming. These crops tended to be loosely plotted and consisted mainly of wheat and maize, which they ground into flour. From this flour, the halflings made a paper-thin variety of bread cooked in domed ovens called 'ackras', which they constructed from rocks found around the lake.

Given the bountiful resources of fish in the lake, the Brughans learned to construct canoe-type boats, each hollowed from the trunk of a tree. Often reaching a length of 40 to 50 feet, the 'ranga' was, in some cases, manned by a synchronized team of rowers coordinated by a drummer seated at the craft's bow. These large crafts were usually used for ceremonial purposes, and were richly decorated with vividly colored designs. More commonly, a smaller version of the boat was sailed with either one or two rowers and an additional crewman along to do the fishing. According to pictographs showing this activity, favorite catches included trout, salmon and perch. There is reason to deduce from certain of the designs that scavenger fish were never consumed, and were considered 'unpalatable' by these halflings.

Just as their brethren possessed expert equestrian abilities, so too did the Brughans. However, their principal stock was a larger variety of pony, carrying a shorter coat than the shaggy steppe horses the Mhoragians tended to favor. The 'Brughan shire horse' was also a taller animal, though still small in comparison to the Vaalorian thoroughbred.

The Shirelands

Settling along the northern border of the forests, in an area of rolling hills and plains alternating with thick, deciduous forests, the Malghava halflings lived a predominately settled lifestyle, giving up their nomadic tendencies as time passed. By the time the elves took notice of the northern people and begin to document occasional encounters, the Malghavans were known for constructing their peculiar dwellings built into the Shirelands' rolling hillsides. And notably, they utilized fences to enclose herds and crops, an immense change in philosophy from their wide-ranging relations living to the north and northeast.

The Malghavans became well known for breeding a variety of Brughan Shire horse notable for its distinctive coloration. Often called the Malghavan saddle horse, the breed's coat ranged from pale ivory to a rich palomino color, with white mane, tail and foot 'feathers.'

In a typical Malghavan shire, a group of picturesque round doors was scattered around a larger 'Trine Hall', which was usually built of stone. The Trine Hall buildings were often open-sided and sometimes octagonal in shape as well, and all generally had a large hearth at their center with an open smoke-hole in the roof above.

The fences surrounding a Malghavan shire were widely known for their beautiful construction. The heavy-veined granite and fieldstone, mottled with lichens, provided a lovely contrast to the rich brown and emerald tones of the fields and pastures they outlined.

On cursory observation, a typical shire looked the model of domestication; in actuality, however, the Malghavan halflings could be considered somewhat of a hybrid. Inside the dwellings, the furnishings were, for the most part, rudimentary and sparse. For although the Malghavans were superb craftsmen when it came to their wagons, weapons and personal belongings, they tended to put little effort into anything that got left behind during a yearly period of travel they call the 'taheaga.'

Literally, the term meant 'to walk about,' though these ventures tended to last at least a couple of months, during which time the shires were closed up and forgotten. It was not uncommon for a tribe of Malghavans to return to a completely different shire at the end of their yearly migration. If they found the shire they left occupied upon their return, they simply traveled to another one and settled in.

A notable exception to the custom of taheaga was the largest of the fifes, a town known as Fraelshire. It was here that the yearly Trine was held, and the community of halflings residing in Fraelshire spent the usual time of 'taheaga' preparing to host the gathering.

By tradition, the Malghavians hosted the Trine. A six-week-long celebration of family bonds, this gathering of all the halfling tribes featured trading, and the sharing of stories, as well as athletic matches and a much-anticipated meeting arena for tribal members looking for a wife or husband. By ancient law, attendance of the Trine is compulsory and all families traveled to it regardless of circumstances.

The Trine (sidebar)

A time of festivals, of competitions and of reunions, as well as a time for discussions of a philosophical as well as a political nature, the Trine was the fundamental groundwork upon which the governing of the widespread halfling people was based.

Held roughly during a moon's cycle in the month of Lumnea, each Trine had its 'Mother' and 'Father' figures, nominated in recognition of their accomplishments exhibited via equestrian events and oral performances of wit and wisdom. Valorous acts performed during the previous year that were reported by the candidate's family or companions also weighed into the equation. Finally, a Father and Mother were elected, and it is they who had the final word in any controversy needing mediation.

These noble couples were elected roughly halfway through the Trine, and occupied the honorary station from then until the next year's election. It was not uncommon for a popular Father or Mother to carry the mantle for a number of Trines, until he or she was bested by a new, popular personality, or grew tired and voluntarily relinquished the position. No man or woman could be forced to accept the responsibility if they felt they had not the time or where-with-all to do an honorable job of it. Although the year's Father and Mother were usually a hand-fasted couple, it was not unknown for this not to be the case. In practice, however, if they were not united, they were almost always from the same extended family since it was usually necessary for them to facilitate any number of issues during the year, dealing with tribal law, trade, controversy or issues dealing with the 'Others'.

The Trine was first and foremost a showcase for contests of combat skills, however merchanting ran a close second in popularity. Long avenues of gaily decorated felt gers offered a wide variety of trade goods, as well as all manner of food and drink. The athletic competitions mainly took the form of tourneys featuring equestrian skills combined with archery. However, a number of opportunities were offered to test the skills of sword and hammer.

A popular event during the six weeks of the Trine was the "Yesui Moon", a night of mystery and frolic. Held on the "high" full moon, the rite is attended by unmarried men and women of at least a marriageable age. Their bodies were cleansed with three days of meditation, sweat baths and fasting, during which time those intending to participate in the ritual -- called the Yesui -- took in nothing but water and a steeped tea of herbs and certain ground roots that were held to have cleansing properties. The term "Yesui" was used to designate both the ritual and those who participated in it. Roughly translated, it meant either the "search" or "searching", or a "seeker" in reference to an individual.

The Yesui Moon culminated on the evening of the third day with a feast and a revel of drums and dancing. Although the purified Seekers were not allowed to eat, during the meal they were given a type of fermented mead that was said to have magical properties, heightening awareness as well as libido. They were required to participate in the dancing, which grew in tempo and momentum as the drummers escalated the pace into a dizzy whirl. During the final rounds of drumming, they were blindfolded and led away to the edge of the forest surrounding the vale. Once there, the Yesui entered the forest with the purpose of "following Mother Moonlight's impetus."

Tradition dictated that the blindfolds remain in place during the whole night. The following dawn found the Yesui returning, bedraggled and exhausted from the night's events. The blindfolds were removed during a short ceremony, and the halflings were taken to a specially designated ger to fall into exhausted slumber, many of them entwined in a new lover's arms.

During the final two weeks of the Trine, marriages -- or hand-fasts as the halflings call the institution -- were planned and celebrated. Many of these unions had been initiated during the Yesui, or else during the Yesui of the previous year, or two in the case of those who wished a more lengthy "Trial of Affections."

For those who became pledged to one another during the Yesui and decided to wait for a time before they were hand-fasted, it was customary for the man to travel and reside with the woman's family during the ensuing time. Also during that time, the woman had a choice of sharing a pallet with her intended, or remaining in a separate ger with any unmarried sisters, aunts or cousins. Should a child result from cohabitation, its parents were expected to hand-fast without delay at the next Trine.

The Yesui was not strictly limited to those hoping for a life-partner. Any halfling who was not hand-fasted had the prerogative to participate. In those cases, the intention was viewed as an effort to reaffirm the young (or inexhaustible) heart in every member of the Truefolk, an assertion of strength and vitality for all the Tribes. Women who found themselves with child following the Yesui were viewed as being especially blessed, and their children were honored as being favored by the Night's mystery.

On rare occasions, a Yesui failed to return from the forest. Those individuals were considered by all to have received a unique honor: having been chosen by one of the Moons as a lover. A quiet remembrance ceremony for the immediate family was held shortly thereafter. Then, during the hand-fasting week, a ceremony for the absent one was conducted, wherein he or she was officially hand-fasted with the Goddess of the Night Sky, bringing much honor to the missing halfling as well as to their extended family.

Many halfling songs concerned the Yesui, sagas filled with strange and glorious happenings during the moonlit night. All of these were represented as being the absolute truth and no member of the Truefolk was ever willing to dispute the veracity of these tales. For to do so was viewed as tantamount to declaring the mystery of the Yesui itself invalid, a mystery believed to be inextricably interwoven with the concept of love and the union of a halfling with his or her mate. The Trine symbol.

Chapter 3 - The Third Age: Halflings and the Undead War

After the disastrous Battle of ShadowGuard, emissaries from Ta'Faendryl were sent to seek out and recruit the fierce tribes of mounted halflings inhabiting the Northern Steppes. Although the halflings were suspicious of the tall visitors, ancient custom demanded that they receive guests with a hospitable, though also wary and standoffish, welcome. They listened to the Faendryl, and after much discussion, the three tribes (the Trinity of Truefolk as they called themselves) finally agreed to ride south as allies to House Faendryl.

The halflings arrived in the aftermath of ShadowGuard, and were put to the test against the heinous hordes following Despana. For years they stood with the Elven forces, their own numbers dwindling as the battles took their toll.

As the united forces of the Elven Nations regrouped for the final onslaught at Maelshyve, the remnants of the Trinity of Tribes gathered themselves. By this time some were afoot, having lost their mounts to the hordes of orcs and ghouls swarming around the horse warriors. The formation of mounted halflings advanced into the fray, their flanks guarded by a company of their brethren on foot. Losses were heavy as the day passed. Then the unexpected occurred. The Faendryl unleashed their hidden power, leaving the exhausted forces to watch the carnage as demons ravaged their foes.

One might think the battered halflings would have welcomed the sight of their enemies' demise. However, witnessing the flight of demons summoned by their supposed Faendryl friends and allies, the halflings were horrified. As the day ended, effectively concluding the years-long conflict, the disheartened halflings called a Trine to resolve their difference of opinion in the aftermath of the bloody day.

The Trine met. A faction of the group was stricken at the very concept of having been allied with 'demon summoners'. They felt they could never return to the Shirelands to face their families. They argued that they would forever carry the guilt of fighting for the army that loosed such a travesty on the land and all her bounty. Others were weary and wished only to return to die in the Shirelands, hence allowing their souls to find and be reunited with family and loved ones who had gone before them. It it was Tribal belief that should one of the Truefolk die in lands far away, they were doomed after death to wander endlessly, searching for those they had loved during their lifetime. It was this belief that made the act of not returning to their families -- advocated by the halflings who wrestled with the horror conceived at the birth of the demons -- the supreme sacrifice.

For the first time the Trine was irrevocably split. A third of the surviving halfling army finally decided to journey north and west. They were a mixture of all three tribes. The remainder began the preparations prior to returning home to the Shirelands. The parting was a tragic one, all believing that they would never be reunited in either life or death. The choice of who went where fell not only between Tribes, but between families as well. Those who didn't return were given the name of Paradis, translated as 'the Homeless' or 'the Lost' and were never forgotten by the halflings who finally made it back to their homes in the Shirelands and on the steppes.

Finally, the Paradis took their leave, and the homeward-bound party mourned their departure with a weeklong wake, as though they had just died. During this time, they fasted and sang both the old historical tales as well as new compositions written for those who had just left their tents. Some of these songs become timeless examples of the halfling folk compositions.

Short people got...no reason....Warriors returning from ShadowGuard brought with them the stories of the Undead War, and the heart-wrenching loss of kin. Halflings of all three tribes were dazed with sorrow. It seemed that every hearth had an absent loved-one to remember. This was a loss that was nigh inconceivable, not to mention the problematic fact that so many extended families were now remnants of what they had once been. There were more widows and widowers among the Truefolk than had ever been. Gravestones raised their lonely faces across the Steppes, however few of the graves below the stones contained a body. It took years for the tribal elders to convince the Truefolk to move past the time of mourning for their loved ones. Knowing that the future of the halfling race depended upon a recovery, the shamans entreated the tribes to once again embrace the joy of living, a term--almost forgotten-- that they called 'resch'lative.'

The earliest signs of the halfling recovery were seen in the Malghavan Territories. There, halfling towns gradually regained their populations, and in time, took possession of the rich fields surrounding the township. These halflings were a changed group. They no longer felt the need to wander the lands in search of distant dreams. Instead, they began to spend more and more effort on the quaint dwellings that characterized the Shirelands. Round doors eventually dotted the countryside and verdant gardens made the panorama a thing of beauty. The halflings migrated less and less and years went by, however the Trine remained an inalienable institution.

Sidebar: The Roots of the "Halfling Folk Sagas"

Since the halflings had, at the time of the Great War of Undead, no written language, they sang their hereditary tales to assuage their remorse at the necessity of being away from their families and ancestral lands for long, harsh years. Members of other races, hearing the beautiful songs performed in neighboring camps, listened avidly to the skillful tribal singers. Thus, Others (as the halflings called all who were not of the Truefolk) began to remember and learn the songs. Finally, years later a collected body of music known as the 'Halfling Folk Sagas' were scribed to parchment by the elf Norl Farar, a work that has enjoyed widespread appreciation and popularity through the years since the Great War.

Chapter 4 - Age of Chaos and Beyond: The Trinity of Truefolk

The Birth of Tribal Magic

The halfling tribes gradually recovered from the ravages of the Undead War, both in terms of population as well as pessimism. Tales of Truefolk becoming silent and withdrawn, and finally riding off never to be seen again, finally ended. This irrecoverable depression was seen by some to be a scourge born of their Gods' disapproval with the Truefolk, a punishment for having been associated with the demon summoning. They called the malady the Maelaish, and likewise used the term to refer to those claimed by its darkness.

For many years the halflings vehemently avoided contact or interaction with outlanders, or 'Others.' If any, especially elves, approached their encampment, they acted as if the intruders did not exist. They carried on with their normal activities, simply walking around any outsider as though he or she did not exist. However, at dawn of the next day, the visitors awoke and found the whole community had vanished.

At a historically significant Trine some fifty years after Maelshyve, the Truefolk arrived at a monumental decision guided by a Trine Father named Finryst Carlsonne. Carlsonne was a visionary leader in terms of historical far-sightedness, and urged his people to embrace magic and develop it, for purposes of not only advancing their population's success in making a living, but in their ability to protect themselves from others' magical workings.

His proposal met with great resistance at first, fueled by the memory of magic gone awry at Maelshyve and its punishments on the halfling tribes. However, Finryst, an admirable orator with great charisma, was finally able to convert his opposition to his opinions and gain the unanimous ruling necessary for passing the Trine. Magic was embraced and a search was initiated to find those Truefolk youth who exhibit a talent for the art. Guiding this endeavor was an expatriate Illistim elf by the name of Memailly Rachidesic.

The Horse War

For many years, the halflings had lived on the steppes and along the borders of the Houses Ardenai and Illistims' lands. For the most part, the elves, as they did with most other races, completely ignored the halflings, beyond asking their help in the final push against Despana's minions. The elves had no use for others.

In about the year -14823, during the dark times after the defeat of Despana and the exile of House Faendryl, a ravaging blight began to reduce the crops surrounding the city of Ta'Ardenai. For five years running, the blight persisted, to the point that the city was on the verge of starvation. Given the schism that had developed between the Houses since the exile of the Faendryl, none of the other Houses had offered assistance to the Ardenai.

The Ardenai hunters ranged further and further north in an attempt to feed the city's populace, which eventually brought them into direct conflict with the Brughan halflings living in the forests surrounding the lake Khesta 'Dahl. Isolated incidences of conflict became a growing threat among the Brughan tribes.

As racial bigotry prohibited cooperation in feeding the starving populace of Ta'Ardenai, skirmishes between Elven hunting parties and halfling settlements became increasingly more common. The halflings began to conceal their settlements. The elves often underestimated their small adversaries. The small elven hunting parties, formed less of soldiers than true game hunters, found themselves at the mercy of lightning-fast strikes by halflings mounted on the agile Brughan shire ponies. The halflings were not only consummate riders, but also exceptional archers, a fact that took the Ardenai marksmen off-guard.

The ruling king of House Ardenai began to take notice of the difficulties the hunting parties were reporting in their attempts to gather game for the city's consumption. With typical elven arrogance, the king decided to send a small legion of soldiers northward to deal with the diminutive harassers.

As Brughan settlements were found and burned, Ardenai hunting parties attacked and Truefolk killed in retaliation, the conflict escalated in the eyes of the Ardenai from a minor annoyance to a major issue. The proud Elves of Ta'Ardenai would not countenance such aggression and insult from a people they viewed as itinerate poachers, in fact little better than vermin.

The populace of Ta'Ardenai grew more and more unruly as famine and disease claimed their victims. The Ardenai ruling family saw the halfling insurgence as an expedient culprit on which to blame all the woes of the city. The blight, while a devastating punishment to the population of Ta'Ardenai, was a natural one. However, it was easy to spread rumors that halflings had infiltrated the Ta'Ardenai countryside, bringing the scourge with them and leaving it in the fields to multiply, spreading death and suffering in its wake. It was an insidious blight, leaving the crops rotting in the fields, and herd animals -- dependent on the fields' bounty - dying a painful death of mouth and brain disease. Gradually, the city's ire was redirected from the ruling family to the 'halfling menace.'

Seeing an advantage, the Ardenai king discussed attacking the halflings and claiming all the lands of the northern forests as Ardenai provinces. This encompassed the entirety of the Brughan homelands, a region rich in timber, water and game, to which the king intended to promote migration and settlement by the populace they were unable to feed. Thus, the Ardenai claimed it as their eminent domain and sent several legions of seasoned warriors northward to safeguard the area for Elven migration. Meanwhile, distant Elven settlers, acquainted with the Brughan tribes and -- after years of trade -- friendly to them, warned the halflings of the threat. The halflings found it difficult to believe that the Ardenai would initiate something so radical, and expected to meet only an enhanced version of the raiding parties they had previously experienced.

While the Ardenai military leaders are adept strategists, they believed the halfling population would be easily subdued, and expected the initiative to last only a few weeks. With this in mind, they formed a small preliminary strike force to move into the Brughan lands, wipe out any resistance, and then occupy the land until a larger group of warriors could arrive and relieve them. The first strike force was only a few hundred troops; however they had the added advantage of having been on numerous campaigns before that and were fairly seasoned fighters.

In the meantime, the halflings contacted the other families. A large number of seasoned Malghavan warriors, as well as a good number of fearsome Mhoragian horse warriors joined the Brughan army and prepared to meet the approaching Ardenai strike force.

The Ardenai legions reached the Brughan territories and set up camp in a beautiful valley bordered by tall, wooded hills on three sides. Although ringed by thick forest, the valley, called Saens Valaire, was wide enough that the Elven commanders considered it safe, plus it had the advantage of a running river to the north. The troops made camp while reconnaissance parties began to explore and map the surrounding countryside.

Despite the survey sorties, the Elves did not discover the main Brughan outpost. Instead, they found another town, inhabited for the most part by old men, women and children. The Elven scouts, viewing the settlement from a distance, saw a large number of the curious, round halfling tents, as well as a bustling population and a large herd of Shire ponies. It was this settlement, known as Ragalatan, which the Ardenai strike force chose as its first initiative.

As the Ardenai army surged across the river bordering the town of Ragalatan and swept down upon the settlement's population, halflings ran desperately for shelter. Screams echoed across the valley as they died, and Truefolk fled while clouds of Ardenai arrows rained death upon them. At the conclusion of the Ragalatan massacre, few halflings who had dwelt there were left alive.

The halfling army, massing at another settlement on the other side of the hills, heard of the attack on Ragalatan and the general reaction was one of stunned dismay followed by rage. All doubt that the Ardenai Elves were bent on all-out war in order to push the halfings from the surrounding land was gone. The halfings prepared for attack.

As the small group of Ardenai troops returned to their camp, they brought the few survivors of Ragalatan with them, a group that included a few women and children. While the command staff of the Ardenai troops knew that the initiative was just beginning, the general mood of the troops was one of victory, despite the questionable fact that the victims of the Ragalatan Massacre had been essentially harmless.

Three days later, the halfling army attacked an hour before dawn, taking the advantage of surprise. Arrows rained out of the sky and sorties of armed horsemen rode into the disorganized mass of half-awake Elves, cutting some of them down as they crawled from their tents. The small force of Elves was effectually routed, and surviving hostages were recovered. By noon of that day, only the commanders of the Elven troops were left alive. They were sent home carrying a message that the Brughan homelands are not open to transgression.

The Ardenai king, incensed at the defeat of his legion, lost no time in sending several more legions of troops northward. These well-trained troops were familiar with battle tactics and ready for a fight, having heard of the loss of the first legion. Still, in the coming years spent in the wild Brughan lands, there were no large-scale confrontations. Instead, the Elves and halflings engaged in covert attacks on each others' scouting parties.

For the first time, the Ardenai Elves began to find themselves the targets of magical attacks from unseen halflings hidden in the trees and vales. This was an immense surprise, since the halflings had previously been considered a race unskilled in magic, hence primitive and unworthy of notice. Over time, the troops were lowered in number and eventually recalled, their numbers so reduced that they were no longer considered to have any tactical advantage. It was at this point that the Ardenai King, already suspect among his Councilors in terms of reliable judgment, began to consider another option. Despite the fact that the blight had finally ended, and prosperity returned to the Elven city of Ta'Ardenai, the Ardenai King could not accept defeat at the hands of a people he respected so little.

In secrecy, at the bequest of the Ardenai King, sorcerers were consulted, and after much conjecture, a plan was put forward. It was considered harsh, but the general consensus among the King's advisors was that victory must be achieved. The King, still angered over the abuses visited on his legions, agreed. They would repay the halflings' magical attacks with sorcery. Under a strict vow of secrecy, the sorcerers began their convocations.

The spells took ten years to perfect. During that time, the conflict between the Elves and the halflings decreased and finally stopped, as the legions had been recalled and few Ardenai remained near the halfling lands. The halflings returned to living, and the city of Ta'Ardenai returned to prosperity. At length, the Ardenai Sorcery Master arranged a meeting with the King and his advisors and there, declared the magic ready to use. The result was immediate conflict within the small group of advisors. Some individuals voiced their opinion that the situation was now healthy and saw no reason to proceed. However, when it was pointed out that the dreaded pacifist element had infiltrated even the highest court, the King pushed his advisors to agree with the plan. The Ardenai Sorcerers, vastly powerful and eminently knowledgeable in the dark arts, initiated the spells.

Within weeks, the halflings discovered their prized herds of ponies were ill. Despite anything they knew to do, the animals began to die. In two months time, every pony across the Empire of the Truefolk was dead. In the first weeks, the halflings tried to bury them, but soon the sheer numbers of the herds necessitated that the halflings burn the carcasses. In time, the great Northern Steppes were strewn with the bones of the wild herds, numbering in the thousands, which had once roamed the land.

Unfortunately, the Ardenai failed to take into account the breadth of their sorcery; their buffering spells, cast to protect their own herds, proved ineffective. Soon, the Ardenai horses began to die as well. Within six months, all the halfling ponies and the Ardenai herds were dead. The advisors were aghast at the ineffectuality of the buffering spells, and quickly insured that the shroud of death silenced every sorcerer associated with the project. While the horse owners and Ardenai horse breeders were in an uproar at the demise of their prized equines, the Ta'Ardenai King's advisors prayed that the truth would never be discovered.

Among the halfling tribes, the Mhoragians were the hardest hit by the annihilation. They burned the carcasses of their valuable herds, and then tried to follow the antelope by foot. Many died of starvation. And some died of despair at the death of their ancestral heritage.

While all ponies were gone from the halfling way of life after the sorcery, the hardy people managed to evolve and in time, proliferate. The Ardenai Elves, preoccupied with their own troubles and concerns, paid the small people little attention afterward. The Ardenai herds were rebuilt with bloodlines purchased from the other Houses. It was likely the Ardenai were grateful that no further scrutiny was cast upon the ill-fated venture. And in a few years, with the death of the Ardenai King (who was considered most certainly mad in his later years), the Elves had forgotten the whole incident.

The halflings would always mourn the passing of the great herds. They would always continue the rituals they practiced while the ponies were living, in hopes that someday, the horse tribes would return.

Sidebar: Memailly Rachidesic, the Avatar & The Coming of Magic

Having been expelled from her home in the city of Ta'Illistim in her early adulthood, purportedly for breaking certain rules regarding the casting of dark magic, Memailly traveled north and eventually happened upon a settlement of Mhoragian halflings. Although weak from the hardships of her journey, she was fascinated by the small, hardy folk and smitten by the ritual-rich existence she observed in them. As they worked at their normal activities all around her without apparently noticing her, she carefully watched all that they did. At the end of the day, she knew that she had found what she set out to discover months before. She had found the Malghava tribe. She was home.

That night, although near physical exhaustion, Memailly sat before the main campfire of the settlement and pondered the problem of convincing the tribe to accept her, to recognize her and communicate. The problem and its possible solutions denied her the comfort of sleep. She was heartily grateful for this when, in the last couple hours of darkness, the camp silently came alive. Gers were struck with amazing speed and nary a sound was heard other than a slight rustle of canvas bags and tack.

As the whole settlement set off into the darkness, Memailly followed them, leaving most of the small amount of provisions and gear she still retained. She was simply too exhausted to carry much more than herself.

The halflings walked all the coming day. In mid-afternoon, the group stopped for a rest. Thankful for the chance to sit, Memailly drew her water bag to her lips for a much needed drink. It was empty. The seemingly endless expanse of the steppes stretched into the distance, with no sign of water in any direction. None-the-less, she said nothing to the halflings sitting in groups around her, sharing water and tough, brown strips of jerky.

Hearing a small rustle, Memailly realized her eyes had fallen shut. She blinked in confusion for a moment, and saw the group was already on the move. Leaping up, she stepped forward to follow, and almost tripped over her water bag. It was now full. She drew a blessed mouthful of cold, sweet water, and set off once again, following the tough little people she hoped so desperately to join.

For three days and nights, the halflings marched. Memailly only allowed herself to doze fitfully during their rare rest stops, constantly afraid they would slip away if she truly slept. At the end of the third day, as the halflings stopped for their evening meal, Memailly sat down heavily and tried to focus her eyes. She knew she could not get up again once the halflings returned to the march. In resigned despair, she slumped over on her side and fell instantly into a deep sleep.

The following morning, Memailly awoke to find a bustling settlement of gers erected all around her. As she blearily glanced about her, an ancient little halfling grandmother knelt beside her and offered her a cup of warm tea. In surprise and gratitude, Memailly accepted the cup. As she drank, the woman chuckled and said something to her Memailly didn't understand. The thing she did understand however was that the ordeal was over, and, against all odds, she had passed the test. She lived the remainder of her life with the Mhoragian halflings and became the subject of many legends told among the Truefolk.

Memailly Traithmok had been with the halflings for many years, and though she was still young in terms of being an elf, she'd slowly gained the trust of the halfling tribe. Finryst Carlsonne had come to depend upon her as an advisor. Finryst had long since discovered that Memailly was a wizard trained in the venerable halls of Ta'Illistim's finest academies. She had given up any allegiance she might have once felt for her Elven ancestry with the commencement of her marriage to a halfling warrior named Einaz Traithmok, a union that lasted over 70 years. The marriage ended when Einaz was killed in a conflict with an Ardenai hunting party, leaving Memailly a widow. When Finryst told her of his plans for bringing magic to the tribes, she agreed and willingly took on the organization of the endeavor. Time proved that Memailly's enviable talent in magic was equaled by her skills at management.

Young halflings with magical promise were located during the coming years, and brought to Fraelshire. Here a structure was erected, a large building where the tenets of magic began to be taught, and it was called Grinstoff Roth.

The children who studied there turned out to be surprisingly adept, and Memailly was amazed, then delighted, with their promise. Who could have known that such a vast well of talent was lying undetected in the small, hardy people?

During her teaching, Memailly was at first puzzled why spells she cast at the halfings would be resisted as though they had not worked. With experimentation, she discovered they had an innate ability to withstand elemental magic to a degree she had never encountered before. While she was never able to fully explain this, she eventually deduced it derived from a combination of the halflings' close relationship with the land and their natural inclination to disdain hostility. Memailly gave it a name, calling it the 'reshchleiv' or as translated in halfling, 'Land's bounty.'

As Finryst passed from Trine Father, his successors continued to support the work, trusting Memailly's administration with unquestioning approval. With her Elven longevity, she schooled year after year of new initiatives, and watched their children, and their grandchildren follow in the magical arts. And as time passed, the initiatiates grew into their power as though they were growing in height. The other races, meanwhile, had no suspicion that the halflings possessed any knowledge of the arcane arts.

Chapter 5 - Age of Chaos and Beyond: The Journey of the Paradis

As the Paradis halflings left the blasted battlefields of Maelshyve and their mourning brethren, they proceeded west, beyond the great forests of the Elves, through a countryside that was bleak and burning hot. They endured great hardships, not the least of which was despair at the loss of their families and homeland. Centuries became millennia as the Paradis halflings slowly meandered westward, around the southern tip of the DragonSpine, continuing northward in their seemingly endless search for a home, while every season some would settle as they grew weary of their constant trekking. As the rovers continued, the land grew more temperate. Meadows were rich with crops and orchards gave the halflings their bounty. However, as the travelers ventured northward, the land became arid, and soon the halflings found themselves at the edge of a dune-swept desert.

The Paradis passed through a great desert. Therein, they met a tall people who lived in graceful tents and rode strange hump-backed beasts. These nomads reminded the halflings of their Mhoragian kin. The halflings felt at home with the generous nomads and stayed with the desert people in their expansive, gaily-striped tents for six years. They were taught to find water hidden by sand and the art of navigating the ever-shifting dunes of the desert. And in return, they shared their spicy tribal food dishes with the nomads, as well as their rich traditional songs.

Finally, the halflings bade their hosts farewell, and the nomads were sorry to lose the company of the kindly, short people from the lands of the rising sun. They accompanied the halflings to the far edge of the intractable wasteland, seeing to it that their little friends did not lose their way and perish.

As the Truefolk moved ever north, they began to see trees and in time, were journeying through a vast, old growth forest. Reminded of their Brughan kin and the beautiful forest surrounding Khesta 'Dahl, the halflings found themselves too sorrowful to go further. They made a camp and there, spent a number of months composing new songs and singing old ones in tribute to the Brughan families they missed so desperately. The forest yielded game and succulent berries and roots, and a cold stream was found not too distant. The gers were pitched between tree-trunks so immense that the round tents resembled mushrooms crouching at the foot of the leviathans.

As the days and weeks passed, halfling children among the Paradis spoke of seeing shadowy folk watching them from the dense foliage. The older Paradis regarded this as a pleasant game and encouraged the children in the imaginative fantasy. Finally, a delegation of tall, beautiful folk materialized out of the underbrush, and approached the Paradis, who were surprised and quite amused by such a turn of events. The strangers attempted to communicate using graceful hand-signals. Although making little headway with the hand-signals, the halflings finally managed to understand a few rudimentary gestures. Using those and a few more they invented on the spot, they invited the visitors to eat and drink and make music.

The celebration lasted for several days, and the situation became much more convenient when it was discovered that the Paradis children were able to pick up the speech of the forest dwellers with surprising alacrity. The svelte people called themselves Sylvans and they told the halflings many wonderful stories about the great forest in which they dwelled. In turn, the halflings told them of the Brughan forests and sang songs about the crystal waters of Khesta 'Dahl. The Sylvans were delighted with the travelers, and quietly decided among themselves to forego killing the halflings for the grievous sin of trespassing within the Silver Veil, their name for the forest surrounding and guarding the boundary of Yuriqen.

The beautiful people...the beautiful people....The Sylvans became regular guests among the settlement of gers, and much lore was traded as well as wares exchanged. The Paradis made the Sylvans honorary members of the Order of the Mare, a great honor indeed, although the Sylvans had little knowledge of horses. And in return, they were made honorary members of some sort of Sylvan order they could not pronounce, but one they dubbed the Order of the Wolf since that seemed to be its symbol.

Finally, the Paradis decided they were cured of their malaise of sadness and declared they would journey on to the north, since north to the halflings, was synonymous with home. They celebrated a last feast with their friends, and struck the gers the following morning.

Traveling with the halflings to the edge of the Silver Veil, the Sylvans served a double objective of spending a last few days with their enjoyable little acquaintances as well as insuring that they would not have to kill them after all for venturing too close to Yuriqen. One of the Sylvans, a woman called Kaithaire Si'Lariel surprised everyone by her declaration that the halflings were too interesting to leave, and determined to journey on with them to learn more of their history and culture. Among the Paradis, it was an amusing belief that the lovely Kaithaire was interested in learning culture most specifically pertaining to a certain handsome young halfling by the name of Rasance Delibbe.

The trail north was an easy journey, passing through pleasant rolling hills and gentle valleys. Here and there, the Paradis saw beasts in the distance that would have been hostile had the halflings been closer. However, the children were already fairly skillful at some interesting little magic spells the Sylvans had taught them, and any beasts that came closer than the Truefolk wished were frightened away by their conjurations. The adults were, at first, unsure about this magic, but once they perceived how useful it was, they encouraged the children to practice what they had been taught. Kaithaire volunteered to continue their instruction, since she happened to be a very gifted wizard and this suggestion was received with a great deal of encouragement.

Finally, after spending the winter camped near a misty lake, the Paradis halflings again returned to the northern road and at last, reached a lush pine forest. The air was cold and crisp and promised brilliant summer days and winters blessed with deep drifts of snow. Game was so bountiful, the halflings boasted they had merely to tip over the cook pots and allow dinner to hop in. They decided they had at last arrived at a proper place to make a home. The occasion was celebrated by a feast, which did double duty for a hand-fasting party to celebrate the union of Rasance and Kaithaire.

The halflings dwelt for a time in their gers, but as the years wore away the felt, they erected wooden cabins. Their numbers increased and the only sorrow they knew was that of missing the families they left behind on the other side of the great mountains. In time, the settlement was moved some leagues to the Southwest, and a town gradually rose out of the rag-tag collection of cabins and lean-tos. That village now lies, buried beneath the glacier, outside the North Gate of Icemule Trace.

Sidebar: Notes on the Halfling "Ger"

The halflings built their gers from saplings laced together with leather thongs. The rafters were usually painted or in some instances, were plain. Felt was used for the walls and roof.

The Parts of the Ger

The key parts of the ger are as follows:

The khana, or walls. The walls are criss-crossed lattices that open out or fold flat. Most of the halflings build two sections of khana and lace them together as part of setting the ger up.

The door frame. The ends of the khana are attached to the door frame in some fashion, usually tied.

The rafters. Rafters notch into the top of the khana at one end and into the roof ring at the other. (Two rafters are designed to sit on top of the door frame.) Any given rafter bears only a small part of the weight.

The roof ring or "Eye of the Father". This goes in the center and has slots for rafters to fit into. The fit is tight to prevent the ring from twisting. Once the ring is in place, no center supports are needed.

The belly bands. Two bands are wrapped around the outside of the khana to prevent the rafters, which are pushing down, from pressing the khana farther open. One band goes around at the top and one midway up the wall. There are additional pieces, notably the felt and the rope or leather thongs that hold the felt walls up, but they are not structural.