T9A: A Account of my Travels amongst the dwarves of Virentia
My studies of the many dwarf cultures documented in earlier chapters have emphasised the similarities in culture, religion and practice between widely geographically separated enclaves. You can therefore imagine my excitement, dear reader, at hearing of dwarven enclaves in Virentia.
These enclaves would appear to have been separated from the general dwarven culture since the time of the collapse of the Saurian empire. Therefore they provide an excellent opportunity to study how a dwarven society might develop under different ethnoenvironmental pressures. Thus with the help of a grant from the University I embarked on a joint venture of exploration with Mr Emman Peaseiro. Needless to say his interest had less to do with anthropological research than reports of fabulous riches. Fortunately my command of multiple dwarven dialects as well as rudimentary Saurian among other languages recommended me to his expedition.
The trials and tribulations of our expedition are recounted in my book “A Trek through Time. Travels in a Savage Continent”, available in most good bookshops. Suffice it to say, dear reader, that it was a much reduced a desperate company that staggered from the jungles onto the foothills of the Wrathfull Mountains.
These uplands rise rapidly towards the great peaks to the west. Grasslands dotted with deep cold lakes. The Flora was different to any I had seen before, although admittedly I am no expert. More striking were some of the animals. Small herds of what, at first, I took as sheep roamed these slopes. However when they raised their heads to observe us it was clear they were not what I had thought. Their heads, though like sheep were raised upon impossibly long necks, 2 or even 3 feet long. Some of these strange creatures (larmars and the smaller alpackers as I was later informed) were clearly used tho people for that regarded us with some degree of disinterest. Later again I was to learn that these are farmed much like sheep by the locals and the larmars, though not ridden, used as beasts of burden. We did find signs of habitation. Huts and shelters. These were deserted when we found them. I am not sure if that was to avoid us or whether they were only used at certain times of the year when those looking after the herds were up on slopes. That they had been used fairly recently was clear as was their clearly dwarven sizing.
As we moved deeper into the mountains it became clear that our approach had been noted. It was Heinmar who noticed the lights first. Flashes high up on the slopes above. Clearly some form of heliograph system was being used. Two days later we saw our first giant condor. The size of the thing was astounding. Condors are culture like birds that circle these great peaks with a wingspan greater than the height of a tall orc. The giant condors however are truly immense. At first we we confused as the height it was circling belief it’s size. Only when it passed in front of a peak were we able to get an idea of its size. I have thankfully never seen the great drakes of legend but this beast certainly matched them for reported size. The creature circled us for an hour or so then flew Southward. I was later to find that these great birds are used for scouting travel and war by the dwarves that call these Wrathful Mountains home.
It was some 3 days later that we were hailed as we struggled along a narrow track between two outcrops. The language was clearly archaic dwarven in origin but altered somewhat. I must admit I panicked at first. The rest of our small party were looking to me for a response and I froze. The same challenge was barked at us again from the rocks up ahead. Whilst I floundered our hailer switched to another tongue. I guess human in origin but unlike any I recognised. This too was repeated before they switched back to the dwarven dialect. My comrades were clearly agitated as the tone of our unseen ‘ ‘friend’ was getting distinctly less friendly. Fortunately by now I was thinking more clearly. The words were clearly archaic dwarven as I had recognised originally. However the sentence structure and syntax were classic Saurian. A bizarre mixture which had originally confused me. I was able to construct some rough replies to their questions of who we were and what our purpose was in visiting the Wrathful Mountains. There followed a rather stilted interrogation. The outcome of which was (the rather reluctant) relinquishing of our weapons in return for safe passage and escort to Faztu Kharak the local city/hold.
How, dear reader can I express my excitement and amazement at my first sight of these dwarves. They emerged from the rocks on either side of us in almost elven silence. Rather than the chain, plate or scale mail which is almost ubiquitous in other dwarven cultures they wore heavy quilted tunics. These were intricately patterned with stylised beasts and birds. I was later to discover that this apparently flimsy protective gear is far from it. Each quilted panel has runes woven into the pattern providing protection at least as good as our finest Sonnstahl mail. Their weapons too appeared at first sight crude. Some carried bronze tipped spears adorned with bright feathers (indeed feathers are a recurring feature with their ornamentation referencing the sky god they worship). Others of presumably higher rank bore highly engraved wooden war clubs. These were augmented with bronze blades and wicked looking obsidian shards. Again these apparently backward weapons bear multiple runes rendering them quite as devastating as their steel cousins that we are familiar with. However most striking was their ornamentation. Their heads bore bronze helms sprouting feather headdresses of bright colours. I was again later to learn that there is an intimate system of headdresses which age, rank and status. Their immaculately dressed beards also dropped with ornamentation. Gold ‘charms’, rings and runic symbols were cunningly woven into their impressive facial hair.
Our escorts, or possibly guards, guided us for the next week through increasingly difficult terrain. That continued to regard my companions with barely concealed suspicion. I, however, was clearly an object of fascination to them. As much as I was interested in their culture and history they were fascinated by my knowledge of dwarven cultures they had never even considered existed. It was over this period that I learned much of their history and culture.
The dwarves of the Wrathful Mountains of Virentia refer to themselves as the Quezcuz. This is a reference to their chief god, Queznir. Although their lore does not stretch back that far I suspect they were brought here under the Saurian Empire to mine these mountains for the great deposits of silver, copper tin and gold . Their legends do recall an age of slavery under the Saurians and also the fall of the ‘Skyhammer’. However this event does not seem to have had the cataclysmic effect upon the Virentian Saurians that it did elsewhere. Possibly preparations dwarven revolt here were less well advanced when it hit. Certainly Saurian domination of the dwarves in Virentia continued far longer than on our own continent. This presumably explains the structure of the language being more heavily influenced by Saurian than elsewhere. Certainly their decorative style has drawn on a Saurian tropes. The history of their culture I have pieced together from their legends, myths, religion and the records I was given access to in Faztu Kharak. Sadly I was never allowed to visit the capital Khazkho let alone the fabled royal libraries there.
From my research it seems the initial attempts by the dwarves of the wrathful mountains were unsuccessful. The Saurians responded rapidly and ferociously (a grudge long remembered). Part of the Saurian response was to further ensure the isolation of the workforce’s of the dwarves in each mine to prevent the coordination that unseated their rule in the east. However the Skyhammer had had an effect. Saurian invincibility had been questioned. Over the many centuries that followed the dwarves developed secret societies dedicated to the overthrow of their hated masters. These societies often communicated with secret sigils. These seem to have been usually stylised or totemic animals ( presumably to avoid suspicion of the Saurians). The Quezcuz themselves have many lesser gods and quasi-deities. These are mostly seen as totemic animal spirits representing different aspects of dwarven personality. Each hold or city of the Quezcuz has a local deity representing that settlement though subservient to Quezcuz. My theory is that these religions arose from the original secret societies. The animal sigils growing in importance and assuming totemic then mystical significance, all enhanced by the necessary secrecy. The Quezcuz clearly have a mastery of runic magic (something I will document at length later on). However my studies indicate that this knowledge came slowly to the Virentian dwarves. How they came by it is unclear. Their myths tell of divine inspiration, however I suspect, given the clearly Saurian influenced nature of their runic script, that their magic was inspired, learnt or stolen from their Saurian masters. Whatever the origin of their runic magic it began to turn the tide of the war in their favour. One by one individual mines would break free from Saurian domination. These new holds would usually face years of war as the Saurians attempted and sometimes succeeded in regaining control. Thus it was that the newly independent holds usually developed in isolation from each other. This as much as anything, I believe, explains the huge number of deities and quasi-deities recognised by the Quezcuz.
Initially it seems that the worship of Quezcuz was restricted to the city/hold of Khazkho. However the worship of Queznir began to spread under the ruler ship of the priest king Dakhaztutek Hinkha. It was under his leadership that the dwarves of Khazkho first learned to capture and tame the giant birds of the Wrathful mountains. The presence of these great avians had long benefitted the dwarves as they would protect their territories fiercely. This had prevented the Saurians from using their flying reptiles against the nascent dwarf kingdoms. However it was the taming of the great condors by the dwarfs of Khazkho that proved decisive in their development. The condors provided control of the skies allowing them to project power. They could outmanoeuvre their enemies on the field of battle and when the other dwarves retreated to their cities they allowed the them to control the terraces that produced their food eventually Forcing them to come to terms. The condors also allowed the forces of Khazkho to control their vast empire once it was established. Only the great condors could travel easily between the isolated dwarven cities situated high on their mountain peaks. The spread of this Hinkhan empire (they refer to the ruling class as Hinkhans after the founder) was accompanied by the spread of the Quezcuz religion. Originally the local sky god of Khazkho he rose to dominate all other deities. Some becoming courtiers in his heavenly court others being absorbed into his worship. Thus he is worshipped as Queznir Akhtar in one hold Queznir Diztek in another and so on. The Hinkhans seemed to have used the state religion of Queznir to bind their empire together, thus even their description of themselves as Quezcuz. The official histories describe the spread of the Hinkhan empire as being generally welcomed and embraced by other holds. However certain holds and cities did resist fiercely, a subject I will return to.