Regarding the Way (essay)
Title: Regarding the Way: A Treatise
Author: Mnar Akurion
It is the privilege of the author to present to you this document, which contains the fruits of over a year of studying the Way and its implementation across all strata of the Dhe'nari society. It is the hope of the author that you will find this humble document affirming of the faith, while at the same time enlightening in several regards, most notably in that it attempts to break the ambiguous concept of the 'Way' into several smaller facets that can be more easily understood. It is not, the author hopes, too presumptuous to attempt to put into mere words what dozens of millennia of Dhe'nar have lived and perfected; rather the author intends this work as a stepping point in the teaching of those unfamiliar with the Way, so that they might better understand that which they are undertaking. However, it must be cautioned that even the most exacting reader who is able to understand everything in this humble document will still be considered an uninformed outsider to a true Dhe'nar, one who has actually lived by the Way and learned what it means to be loyal to himself and to the Family. It is often said that only true Dhe'nar can understand the Way; however, the author thinks that it is more correct to say that only those taught by one who has lived the Way can hope to one day live it themselves. With these cautionary statements given, then, it is the honor of the author to submit this humble document to the scrutiny of his betters.
- -Mnar Akurion
Terms, Definitions, and People
Before we can undertake a serious study of the Way, it is necessary to define certain terms for the exacting reader. Certain phrases, by necessity, have been rendered in Dhe'nar-si, the language of the Dhe'nar, and also require translation at this point. In order, then, of relative importance:
The Way, most simply, is a code of conduct which all true Dhe'nar follow in the attempt to perfect themselves. It allows the skilled thinker to analyze all of the choices presented to him, and then discern the end results of each, permitting him to choose the path that will lead to his goals: literally, the Way to follow to power. In a wider scope, the Way also dictates that for the Elven race to once again achieve its place with the Gods, they must unite, rather than remain divided. The Way, then, teaches coming to power by perfecting one's self, as well as using this power to unify the Elven race. (Author's note: Exact meanings of the 'Way' vary as much as individuals do. What is correct to one Dhe'nar might be incorrect to another; these differences are often readily visible across Caste boundaries. For the purposes of this document, an attempt to define the Way objectively has been undertaken. However, the astute reader should remember that perfect objectivity is impossible, and that this document may contain the biases of the Warrior's caste, from which the author is honored to have gleaned much of his knowledge.)
Historians throughout the ages have attempted to define power in terms that can be understood by all, yet at the same time encompassing all possible connotations of the word. For the purposes of this document, the author chooses to define Power somewhat lengthily, in the hope that increased detail excuses lack of brevity.
Power, to an engineer or alchemist, is the ability to do work. Power is present in rivers that turn water wheels, in logs that burn for fire and even in rocks suspended above the ground waiting to fall. This is inanimate power, waiting to occur of its own volition for no purpose other than to lower its energy state, contributing to the slow degradation of the Universe by the powers of Chaos (see Unlife; Entropy).
Power, to monarchs or generals, is the ability to give an order and have it carried out. By this we mean not so much that the order will be successfully fulfilled, rather that there are people who will accept the order and attempt to execute it. This is power over others, and is always unstable in that it derives from the willingness of these 'others' to be ruled. The many revolutions that have occurred throughout history are testament to this instability.
The power of philosophers and thinkers comes from their minds, and their understanding of the world around them. In this sense it is quite literal that knowledge is power, for brute strength without a keen mind to direct it will eventually waste away. It is said by many that information is the truest form of power (the author, though he sympathizes with these people believes them to be not entirely correct), and that one who devotes himself to knowing everything that may be known can wield more power than the strongest monarch.
Finally, and most important to us, is power that comes through one's abilities and strengths. In many ways this includes the aforementioned power of the philosopher, but it is broader in the sense that it also includes the warrior who is strong of arm and skilled with a sword, as well as a Warlock who can tear down a mountain if it pleases him. As disparate as these examples seem, they are all alike in that they represent the power of a single man, without the involvement of others. This is the purest form of power to any who study the Way, and the ideal to which all Dhe'nar aspire.
This may seem like an overly obvious thing to be stating in a document so specific, but the author includes it for the benefit of those unfamiliar with the Family. The Dhe'nar are those elves and their descendants (to present) who did not join the other elves in abandoning the Elven Nation and fragmenting into what would later become the seven Elven Houses. Rather, the Dhe'nar chose to continue practicing the beliefs taught to them by the Gods (foremost among these being the Way), and because of this were exiled by the then new Elven Houses (primarily House Faendryl) to the ruins of Rhoska-tor. (Author's note: although the popular histories of the Dhe'nar state that the original Dhe'nar left the fragmenting Nation willingly, the written records of the Elven Houses-again, primarily those of House Faendryl-state that the Dhe'nar were exiled to Rhoska-tor. Further, knowing what we do of the temperaments of Dhe'nar and Elf alike, it seems reasonable to conclude that the exile to Rhoska-tor was not voluntary and was forced upon them.)
A term used among Dhe'nar to refer to the local population of Dhe'nar, related not through blood but rather through their duty to the Dhe'nari Empire, which they often go decades without contact from. Aside from the Self, the Family is the next group to which a Dhe'nar feels loyalty and duty.
Literally, 'First Brother,' the elf who was closest to the Gods and provided inspiration for Tahlad and the courage the Dhe'nar would need during their first fearful years. It was he who spoke against the fragmenting of the Elven Nation, and later prophesied the coming of Despana as punishment for the elves who failed to follow the Way. The astute reader will note that although Noi'sho'rah translates as 'First Brother,' by themselves the runes forming Sho'rah translate as 'Sister'. This seeming incongruity is explained by the fact that Dhe'nar-si, unlike the Common in which we are now communicating, uses the female pronoun when referring to situations of mixed or unknown gender. Therefore, while Noi'sho'rah or Sho'rah-noi both translate as 'First sister,' the term Noi'sho'rah has come to be accepted as referring to our 'First Brother.' (Author's note: again, the astute reader will notice that although the term Noi'sho'rah refers to the man who essentially founded the Dhe'nar, it is not his name. In truth, his name has been lost to the millennia, leaving many modern historians to question whether or not he even existed. Such speculation is, of course, outside the scope of this document and not within our abilities to discuss.)
Disciple of Noi'sho'rah, it was Tahlad who led the Dhe'nar during their exile in Rhoska-tor. Tahlad's birthday, the second Restday of Lormesta (Fourth day of Froest, ancient Elven calendar), is celebrated by many Dhe'nar as a feast day and day of reflection.
Korthyr Faendryl, House of Faendryl, and nephew of Tahlad, was the elf who instigated the collapse of the Elven Nation and its fragmentation into the seven Elven Houses. Korthyr is considered among the Dhe'nar to be the epitome of arrogance and hubris, and is widely reviled (as are his descendants) for his part in the destruction of the Elven Nation. Many unpopular criminals in Dhe'nari society are held until the day of Korthyr's birth (Third Volnes, Koarotos), and then publicly executed.
The term used as a ritual greeting and farewell among nearly every Dhe'nari society, even those separated from Sharath for several thousands of years. Kris har'esh translates literally as "May you walk with power as your constant companion," but is most commonly understood to mean "Walk with power."
The ancestral home of the Dhe'nar, located atop, upon, and surrounding a mountain peak in the depths of the Southron Jungles. For a complete history of Sharath, please refer to the appropriate tomes in the Dhe'nari library.
The three Castes (Warrior, Priest, and Warlock) which comprise the nobility of the Dhe'nari society, as opposed to the peasants and villagers which make up the vast majority of the population. Each of the three Castes is charged with specific tasks and duties which they carry out in accordance with Tradition and Law. For a more thorough look at the roles of the Castes, please refer to the appropriate tomes in the Library.
For one who has had little or no experience in the study of the Way, it is often helpful to visualize a road with many forks, branches, turnoffs, and dead-ends. This road symbolizes life, while each of the turns along this road are the choices we make. At the end of each of these many branches lies the same thing-death. What matters is not so much the ending, then, but what occurs along the way. Some of these branches are preferable to others; making one choice might lead to riches, while making a different (and wrong) choice could lead to impoverishment and an early end. The Way, then, provides us with something of a map, allowing us to see which paths are wrong, and which paths are right. It is, quite literally, the Way down this road.
The theory underlying the effectiveness of the Way is that by living one's life according to certain pre-determined standards, one is more likely to make a correct choice as opposed to an incorrect choice. The majority of the rest of this document deals with these standards, and attempts to ascertain why they are so effective.
The astute reader will note that in the above definition of the Way (see "Terms, Definitions, and People"); two main facets make themselves immediately known. Summarized, they are Unity (among Elves, Dhe'nar, and Family), and self-perfection. The Unity this refers to is easily understood; Noi'sho'rah, spiritual father of the Dhe'nar, believed that the only way for the Elven Nation to once again achieve its rightful place was through Unity, not divisiveness. This divisiveness is personified contemporarily by the seven Elven Houses, which vie with each other for power and even make war amongst each other. Thus, it is the duty of the Dhe'nar to work towards Unity among the elves.
The other and far more complex facet of the Way is the self-perfection it requires. Even one who understands the Way perfectly must still spends decades laboring towards this goal, knowing as he does that self-perfection is impossible; no matter how hard one tries, there is always another level to which one can aspire.
To begin our discussion on the self-perfection the Way stresses, we must first realize that this entails self-reliance. In fact, one can go further and say that the Way also requires self-respect, self-determination, self-responsibility, and no small degree of self-worth. The astute reader will notice what all of these requirements have in common-the Self. In many ways the Way is a testament to the stress Dhe'nar put on the individual. To the Dhe'nar, a person sinks or swims according to his own merits, no unearned help is allotted to those who need it even for survival's sake. By the same token, respect is earned among the Dhe'nar, not automatically granted through relations or station. Thus a simple foot soldier who proves himself on the field of battle to be both brave and cunning will earn far more respect and admiration than even a General who proves himself to be a lack-wit and drudge. (It should be noted that because Dhe'nar place such importance on respect, it is likely that the foot soldier and general would soon be exchanging positions.)
In regards to this self-reliance, there are several main attributes that can be directly related to the Self. That is to say, each of these attributes comes from within, and for true self-perfection to be achieved, each must exist in an unadulterated form, without the support or influence of others. Although any given Dhe'nar might list dozens of different attributes, there are three that the author has found to be Universal, and as such they are presented here in order of relative importance.
It is said by some that honor and 5 silvers will buy you wine at any local tavern-wine costing 5 silvers at most local taverns. Other people say that without honor one has nothing, or that material possessions (which, to be sure, nearly everyone has) are simply without value in the absence of honor. Still more people, mostly of a cynical and perhaps sadly realistic outlook, hold that honor is nothing more than a type of armor which the high of station accrue over time, using it to defend against the moral decay that their actions invariable cause. Most people, however, have an entirely different opinion of honor; that is, they consider it an outdated virtue best left abandoned or in the storybooks.
With these out of the way, then, we can move on to what Dhe'nar tend to think about honor. As the experienced reader might imagine, there is quite a wide range of opinion among Dhe'nar regarding such an important value, yet for the most part it can be understood that all Dhe'nar place a much higher regard upon the honor of others and of themselves than would, say, a mere commoner. This is not to say that all Dhe'nar are honorable, or even consider themselves honorable, yet by and large they are and do.
Why, the reader might ask, is this trait considered so important by the author as to include it in a discussion of the Way? The answer to this question lies in two parts; first, by its very nature honor dictates and regulates the actions of an individual, and secondly honor is something that comes entirely from within, rather than from outside influences. Regarding the first of these, the very fact that a person has honor or considers himself to be honorable imparts a certain amount of trust and reliability, traits that are useful in any society. In fact, in Dhe'nari society, honor has become akin to a survival trait, in that individuals who are widely acknowledge having it are accorded a higher station in life. Although this might seem counter-intuitive at first-after all, one who is dishonest and self-centered should stand a much greater chance at succeeding in life-any benefits that might occur due to dishonesty and disputability are easily offset by the fact that individuals who display those traits are often killed out of hand. Thus, in the Dhe'nar we have a society that not only prizes honor, but one in which honorable individuals are the norm rather than the exception.
The second facet of honor that qualifies it for such discussion is the fact that in Dhe'nari society honor is something that comes entirely from the individual, without exception. To clarify this, honor is an attribute that any given individual must decide he wants to possess (or does not want to), and then go about acquiring it through faithfully discharging his duty, performing acts of courage or conspicuous bravery, etc. By the same token, honor is not something that can be bestowed upon a person simply due to rank or lineage-once again the Dhe'nar show themselves to be egalitarian with respect to the individual.
To conclude this necessarily short discussion of honor with respect to the Way; honor, being a trait that affects the actions of an individual, has become prevalent throughout Dhe'nari society and affects the course of their entire culture. On the other hand, however, honor is a trait that is acquired or spurned at the wish of the individual, not society as a whole. This combination-directing the actions and morals of an entire society, while at the same time being a choice based entirely upon the individual-is one of the hallmarks of the Way.
Power, as described so thoroughly above, means many things to many people. For some, knowledge suffices for power, as knowledge often imparts a special perspective or ability upon those who hold it. For others, power is only present in the ability to manipulate their surroundings, or to force their will upon others. Power among the Dhe'nar is a mix of these three, with emphasis on the first two, rather than the third.
At first it may puzzle the reader that such a martial race as the Dhe'nar place store in knowledge, even to the point of considering Loremasters some of the most powerful individuals in a society. Usually among such people it is a General or Blade-master who assumes positions of power and prestige; not so among the Dhe'nar, who recognize that often the best ruler is the one who is best informed. This belief is seen in one of the most revered of Dhe'nari sayings, "Su'dhaa na-gnosa. Gnosa na kris-a. Kris na su'ta." ("Everything is knowledge. Knowledge is power. Power is everything.").
The Dhe'nar also appreciate power of a more physical persuasion, such as the ability to defeat one's foe in battle, or to summon forth energies and craft a spell with them. This type of power requires years of practice and honing of skills to perfect, and as such is the most respected form of power among the Dhe'nar. However, it is widely acknowledged that brute force and strength are useless without intelligence to guide it. While many Dhe'nar content themselves to live out their lives following the orders of others, it is those who are able to think as well as act who rise to the highest positions among the Dhe'nar.
The final major form of power-power over others-is accepted among the Dhe'nar, but only as a necessity. While the Dhe'nar have leaders like any society, these individuals take no special pride or respect from their ability to order others around. Rather, they are judged for their other attributes, so while strength and intelligence might land a warrior a position as a general it would be those attributes and not the position from which the warrior would draw respect.
By its very nature the Way deals with coming to power through individual perfection; thus it behooves us to look not so much at power itself, but at why the Way dictates that it must come from within. To this end we have shown that power over others-which Dhe'nar are so indifferent to-exists only at the behest of others, those who are being governed. To that end, this form of power is untenable and ephemeral, subject to change with less than a moment's notice and never truly under control. In contrast, the power of knowledge and of skill/strength can never be taken away, and rests entirely upon the individual, who can choose to exercise it as needed. When we say, therefore, that a person who studies the Way must learn power, we mean that this power must come from within and exist with no other requisites. A king who is stripped of his crown may well be useless if he came to power only through his lineage; a Dhe'nari warrior stripped of his caste markings is every bit as powerful as a recognized warrior.
Opinion is a facet of life that is essential to the Way not so much because an adherent to the Way need form opinions, but rather because opinions are one of the few things (Honor and Power being high among the others) that must come entirely from within to be valid. When one has honor there is never-or, at least, rarely-any need to agonize over fulfilling one's obligations to the Family and to the Unity of the Elven peoples that the Way stresses; instead, it comes naturally. When one has power-the pure, unadulterated power that comes from within-there is never any need to fail at one's assigned duty. However, what separates the true Dhe'nar from a mindless automaton is the ability to think rationally, objectively, and individually; in other words, the ability to form an opinion.
Rarely does one ponder high-minded ideals when one hears the word 'opinion.' In fact, one is more likely to consider such insults as 'opinionated' and 'conceited.' However, we must put aside these prejudices for the moment and realize that the ability to form, hold, and act upon an opinion is what separates the slave from the warrior. Always, in the heat of battle or the midst of spell-weaving, one must be free to deviate from the prescribed doctrine of others and make a judgment based on the situation at hand. It is this situational flexibility that has made Dhe'nari warriors some of the most feared and respected in the world, with the ability to adapt to changing conditions at the individual level.
As in all things, the Way emphasizes purity and individuality. With regard to opinion, this is taken to meant that an individual must make a decision or render a judgment based upon what he thinks is best, either for himself, the Family, and for the Way. This emphasis on individual formation can only reach fruition in the upper echelons of Dhe'nari society, with the lower castes and strata given less freedom to interpret their duties. It should be added, however, that anyone-even the lowest servant-is free to form an opinion and discharge his duties as best as possible under the conditions; however, it should also be added that the price for failure is very high when one takes a situation into one's own hands. A foot soldier who follows poor orders to the letter might do his best but still fail (yet escape punishment), while one who disregards those orders and succeeds would be praised for his insight and quick-thinking. Woes betide the soldier who disregards orders and still fails, for then the burden of failure comes down upon him alone.
To summarize, opinion is the facet of the Way which distinguishes the true Dhe'nar from one simply able to accept orders. Honor provides structure to the Way, while Power is the motive force behind its progress. Opinion merely serves to bring about individual perfection, which in turn benefits the Family and the Elven people as a whole.
So far in this document we have examined the premise of the Way, and how it relates to the individual who seeks power. However, the Way also dictates certain responsibilities and duties to those who live by it, designed to improve not the individual but the entire Elven race. This was the original intent of both Noi'sho'rah and Tahlad when they attempted to hold together the fragmenting Elven Nation, and later the guiding principle of the Dhe'nar as they sought to form a new society in the ruins of Rhoska-tor. (Author's note: The learned reader will note at this point that the Way, although very successful in guiding the Dhe'nar to power, has yet to make any appreciable progress towards the goal of Elven Unity. This has led many Dhe'nar to metaphorically abandon their cousins in the Elven Houses and seek only to preserve Unity among the Dhe'nar, trusting that at the current rate of progress; soon there won't be any elves but the Dhe'nar.)
If there are any facets of the Way that resemble organized religion, it is this belief that the Gods desire Unity on the part of the Elven peoples. Certainly there is no proof that a higher state-of-consciousness will be achieved when all of the Elven people come together in peace and harmony, or even that a perfect society absent all the ills of our current one will be constructed. However, what we can state with some degree of certitude that the world would be much better off without the internecine conflicts of the Elven Houses. Had the Elven Houses been capable of working together, Despana could never have wreaked the havoc she did, nor would the Faendryl have taken it upon themselves to raze the Ashrim isles into the sea. Certainly, without the Unity they are well known for, the Dhe'nar could not have made such an impact in the areas they have migrated into with so few numbers.
However, rather than argue the validity or success of the Unity that the Way preaches, it falls to us instead to study the effects of Unity upon the individual, and the duties and responsibilities it entails. It may help for the reader to visualize an individual Dhe'nar as being pulled upon by two forces, each a facet of the Way. The one force is the drive for self-perfection and individual power, drawing the Dhe'nar to greatness. The other-sometimes concurrent, sometimes diametrically opposed-force is the demand of the Way for Unity among the Elven People, usually felt as duty to the Family. A Dhe'nar, then, lives in a constant state of flux between these two forces, attempting to balance his sense of Honor, Power, and Opinion against his duty to the Family. In a perfect world there would be no conflict between duty and the individual; however, in reality it is much harder to find balance. Often it is required of a Dhe'nar to decide which is more important, the orders of his superiors, or the requirements of the situation. In these instances it is the Opinion that the Way teaches which becomes necessary, to determine the best course of action.
To surmise, Unity is most often felt by Dhe'nar as duty to the Family, which can take the form of orders from a superior, or simply spur-of-the-moment decisions based on the necessity of the situation. Often this duty comes into conflict with the duty to the Self which the Way also preaches, and thus the ability to discern relative importance is necessary. The ability to form a cognizant, rational opinion is necessary for this decision-making, and thus is also taught as part of the Way.
It is the sincere hope of the author that the reader of this humble document has found it enlightening of the admittedly obscure topic of the Way. Despite thousands of years of refinement by the Dhe'nar, the Way is still regarded in almost mystical terms by the vast majority of its adherents, thus rendering it difficult to explain to outsiders or those who seek to learn of their heritage. However, despite the seeming length of the pages above, the concept of the Way can be condensed into just a few words: a Way to live.
Does that seem too simple to the learned reader? If so then take assurance that the above pages do not come near defining the Way in all of its intricacies and complexities, and that one could spend a lifetime perusing the Dhe'nar and find far more elegant and pleasing meanings of the Way. However, necessity dictates that this Treatise be kept simple enough for the young Dhe'nar to use to learn about his history, and the requirements of the life he is about to embark upon.
If this still fails to assuage the demanding reader, the author refers him to a saying that has been mentioned earlier in this document, but deserves repeating nevertheless. If the reader takes nothing else from this humble document, then let it be this:
"Everything is knowledge. Knowledge is power. Power is everything."