Claws of the Dragon
On the Nature of Trolls
My Name is Vrayma Dawnharrow of clan Burntclaw; by profession, I am a storyteller and scholar. Many a long year ago, I left my family home atop Mount Mar’ak in the Twilight Peaks and followed my Troubadour Discipline in search of tales and stories about all the Namegiver races of Barsaive. In my travels I have met many whose ways I found both strange and wonderful, and yet no other Namegiver race seems quite so strange and wonderful to me as my own too-often-misunderstood people.
I personally experienced the consequences of this misunderstanding almost everywhere I went. For every stranger who treated me kindly and shared what he had with me, I met another who shrank from me in fear or mocked me to his companions when he believed I could not understand him. I discovered, to my sorrow, that many of our fellow Namegivers mistakenly believe trolls uncivilized, arrogant, quick to anger, ignorant, and utterly lacking in intellect or spiritual virtue. Even those who came to know me, or knew other trolls as friends too often merely believed us somehow “different” from the rest of our race. To correct these misperceptions of the troll people on the part of friends, enemies, and those yet strangers to me, I have chosen to write this text for all to read, so that my fellow Namegivers may come to better understand the ways of trolls.
Many of the ignorant assumptions made about trolls are both accurate and wildly inaccurate, a notion that may confuse many of my readers. But if you are to understand us at all, you must first understand that almost nothing can be said truly of trolls that does not contain a seed of falsehood, and almost no lie can be told about us that does not contain a kernel of truth. The troll race embodies many contradictions, a truth that we recognize. We call ourselves trua’a’ul, a troll word that defies accurate translation into the tongues of other races. The closest I can come to it is “the People of Two,” or “the Dual People.” Our recognition and celebration of the duality at the core of our being is what makes us trolls, and also what makes us among the most fascinating Namegiver races in Barsaive.
On the Dual Nature of Trolls
To be a troll in Barsaive is to live a dual life, as our self-given Name suggests. Outsiders often see in trolls both violence and contemplation, white-hot fury and quiet joy, these different extremes seeming to occur from one moment to the next. Our violence and stillness, rage and joy come to us from the two ideals by which all trolls strive to live. The common, Throalic tongue Names these ideals honor and spirituality. In the dwarf language, our ideals become simple words, easy to say and easy to grasp. In truth, however, troll honor and spirituality are far more complex than such simple Names imply. As is true of so many of the ways of trolls, our honor and spirituality contain many facets that defy accurate description in the languages of other Namegivers. I shall endeavor to explain these ideals more fully, so that others may come to understand our ways.
On the Many Meanings of Honor
Most other races recognize that trolls are governed by honor, but they do not understand the many things that honor means to us. In some ways, for a troll to explain the distinctions between the various meanings of troll honor is like a bird trying to explain what it is to be a bird. Paradoxically, only a troll can even attempt to explain honor, because only a troll understands it.
What a troll calls “honor” actually encompasses two ideas: honor and pride. Troll honor combines recognition of abilities with a sense of dignity and personal worth. Our honor tells us who we are and what we can accomplish. Without it, we have nothing by which to know ourselves and nothing to give to the world; we are Nameless and useless, and might as well die. The troll language has no single word for this concept of honor. Instead, we use three words: katorr, kat’ral, and katera, the meanings of all of which are simultaneously related and separate.
Katorr translates most closely as personal honor, the pride an individual troll feels in herself. Kat’ral refers to the honor of a troll clan, and katera might best be translated as racial honor. These three kinds of honor are intertwined like the strands of a rope, woven so closely together that they blend into a single thing … and yet, all the strands remain separate. The exquisite intricacies of the links between katorr, kat’ral, and katera are central to the life of a troll.
Because of the connections between the different kinds of honor, a slight or an enhancement to one kind of honor can affect the other kinds. Depending on the circumstances, for example, an insult to an individual troll might slight that troll’s katorr, kat’ral, katera, or all three. A troll insulted by another troll suffers a slight to her katorr, her personal honor. If the giver of the insult is of another clan, the insulted troll’s clan honor suffers as well. Only if the offender is of another race, however, does an insult to katorr or kat’ral also besmirch the honor of the troll race as a whole. If an insulted troll clears herself of the dishonor done her by the insult, she increases her personal and her clan honor. If one troll insults another who then wipes away the stain on her katorr or kat’ral in a particularly admirable way, the once-dishonored troll increases not only katorr, kat’ral, but katera as well.
The intertwining of the three kinds of honor goes far to explain why trolls so often seem unpredictable and prone to violent explosions of temper. For one who cannot understand how even an unintentional slight to an individual troll dishonors the entire troll race, the fury provoked by such a slight seems extreme. Someone gives one of us minor offense, as he sees it, and we react as if he had done us a wrong so grave that all our generations must cry out against it. It is no wonder, then, that so many Namegivers believe trolls cannot control their anger. For trolls, however, the distinction between the different forms of honor is as clear as the distinction between the sky and the earth. We find it difficult to believe that our fellow Namegivers do not see honor as we do; indeed, some trolls suspect that other races’ inability or unwillingness to understand honor might be a thinly veiled insult to the troll race. I and others like me know otherwise, and we no longer see insults in other races’ simple ignorance. I caution my fellow Namegivers, however, not to discuss too deeply the matter of troll honor, lest a question innocently intended be taken as a severe slight to katera.
The many meanings of honor among trolls have shaped the ways by which we live with each other, as well as how we live with other Namegiver races. I shall discuss the effects of honor on everyday life more fully in The Society of Trolls, further on in this text.
On Spirituality Among Trolls
Like honor, the word “spirituality” is the least inaccurate rendering of a troll ideal that virtually defies translation into other tongues. Our word for spirituality is jar’arak, which combines elements of religion, art, and philosophy; it embodies all of them, and yet is more than any of them. Jar’arak is the way a troll sees the world—with his mind, heart, and soul.
Like the innermost essence of trolls, jar’arak is a paradox. It implies frenetic activity, ceaseless and active striving to become all that one can become. It also implies calm, contentment, and peace. Through jar’arak, trolls gain a sense of oneness with the world around them. Jar’arak is not, however, the contemplative state through which other races often find “oneness.” Jar’arak may manifest in stillness, but also in violent action. A troll who falls into sudden, rapt contemplation of a beautiful sunset and a troll who roars out his savage joy at the height of battle are both experiencing jar’arak. Through stillness and action, both are one with the Universe. A troll in the grip of jar’arak’s peace senses every connection between all the elements of nature, a deep and wondrous joy in existence that we call “hearing the rocks sing.” A troll experiencing jar’arak in the white heat of battle rage also feels a joyous oneness, but with his body, his weapon, and his opponent rather than with nature.
In pursuit of the peaceful aspect of jar’arak, many trolls observe and often befriend obsidimen. We find the serenity of the obsidimen calming and deeply moving, because we believe that our rockbrothers have learned to embody the peace of jar’arak. They live it in their every waking moment. If we learn from their example, we can increase our own experience of this peace. h4. The Society of Trolls
Troll society is a difficult thing to sum up. All trolls are fiercely loyal to family and clan, regarding the honor of family as part of their personal honor and the honor of the clan as its own kind of honor. Beyond this generality, however, the ways in which we live together have always varied from clan to clan and moot to moot, and the centuries of the Scourge broadened those differences. The highland troll strongholds in the Twilight Peaks, called ga’ar in the troll tongue, tended to be smaller than the kaers built by other races in Barsaive’s lowlands. The impending threat of the Horrors’ arrival made many clans see the wisdom of allying with other clans into a trollmoot (altrua’agoral); the deadliest of age-old rivals recognized that strength lay in numbers. Certain clans, however, could not set aside old enmities even to aid in their own survival. Alliances between trolls, therefore, rarely included more than three clans, and so the ga’ar housed only three clans at most. Indeed, many ga’ar sheltered only one clan.
Also, many trolls live only to the age of fifty or so, a shorter span of years than any other Namegiver race save for orks. Many trolls are parents by the age of fifteen and grandparents by the age of thirty. Thus, troll generations are shorter than those of most other Namegiver races. Therefore, the Scourge lasted more generations for the trolls than for all other Namegivers save orks. The comparatively brief years of troll life, added to the small numbers living in each ga’ar, intensified the isolation of clan from clan during the Scourge.
Over the centuries spent underground, many clans and trollmoots developed along lines quite different from those of their racial brethren. Since our emergence from the ga’ar and lowland kaers, those differences have remained, even among clans and settlements separated only by short distances. Contact between these different clans and moots might bring our different ways into closer harmony, though the re-emergence of old rivalries and hatreds between clans will slow down our learning from each other. Therefore, significant differences will continue to exist among troll clans for many years.
The greatest division within the society of trolls, and yet the one that other Namegivers know least about, is the vast difference between highland and lowland trolls. These two groups think and act differently in almost all facets of life, yet most other Namegivers still judge all trolls based on what they know (or think they know) about highland trolls. In the service of truth, I present my knowledge of both highland and lowland troll societies.
On the Ways of Highland Trolls
These troll clans live in the mountains, building their villages among the highest mountain slopes and peaks. The most famous highlanders are the crystal raiders, but the crystal raiders are not the only highland trolls in existence—far from it. Though the crystal raiders share many traits with their mountaintop brethren, they have also developed many traditions that have no part in the lives of other highland trolls.
But before speaking of the differences between the raiders and other highland clans, I shall discourse on the ways and customs that all highland trolls hold in common.
Most highland troll clans base their way of living on the ideals of Thystonius, Passion of Physical Conflict and Valor. As might be expected, fisticuffs, fights, and even duels to the death are common occurrences among these rough and brawling societies. Thystonius’ love of combat, particularly physical combat, permeates almost every aspect of a highland troll’s life. Trolls fight to defend honor, but also to emulate the Passion whose example they most revere. By throwing themselves wholeheartedly into conflict, the trolls of the highlands believe that they are living life to the fullest; they revel in challenge and risk as the truest, best way to become all that they truly are.
On Lowland Trolls
Lowland trolls dwell in the lowlands of Barsaive, often in villages with other Namegiver races. Although many lowland trolls revere the traditions and customs taught them by their highland ancestors, most have reinterpreted those traditions to better fit in with their non-troll neighbors. For this reason, the lives of lowland trolls resemble those of their nontroll neighbors much more closely than those of highland trolls.
For example, many lowland trolls have reinterpreted the concept of the troll “clan” to include the people of their villages. Those who live outside the village are not of the clan, including blood kin. Most trolls find this contradiction quite vexing and avoid it by staying close to their villages.
Lowland trolls have reinterpreted the meanings of katorr, kat’ral, and katera as well—often in ways that highland trolls would find bizarre. Katera and kat’ral, particularly, have undergone great changes. As members of villages with many races, lowland trolls have grown accustomed to the traditions of other Namegivers and are much more tolerant of behavior that would insult the honor of a highland troll. For example, if a dwarf asks a lowland troll craftsman what he is making, the lowland troll will not see such a question as insulting his skill. Instead, he will recognize it as the dwarf ’s attempt to show him the respect of one craftsman to another.
Lowland trolls tend to place greater emphasis on katorr than their highland brethren, but they have also devised ways of avenging slights that most highland trolls would find utterly inadequate. Where a highland troll might avenge a slight to katorr with a bellow and a furious assault, a lowland troll would likely avenge his honor by besting the offender in a public argument or in some other manner without injuring or killing him.
On Trolls’ Views of Other Races
Many highland trolls, and some lowlanders as well, have strong opinions about other Namegiver races. These opinions are not always complimentary, and a member of another race who wishes to befriend a troll will often have to overcome the troll’s view of him. I caution the reader, however, not to ascribe the opinions given below to all trolls. These views of other Namegivers are common but by no means universal among my people. For any who may be offended by the plain speaking that follows, I apologize in advance—and I ask those readers to consider the fierce prejudice against trolls that often has given rise to our prejudices against others.
Obsidimen are the only race that all trolls view unreservedly as friends and brothers. Indeed, our creation myth teaches that trolls and obsidimen were born of the same primal thunderstorm, and that the obsidimen alone share our ability to truly hear the voice of Creation. Indeed, many trolls treat obsidimen with something like reverence, offering them such great respect and honor that the obsidimen become embarrassed. Many troll clans build their villages near obsidiman Liferocks, so that they may partake of our rock brothers’ inner peace by living near them. To all trolls, an obsidiman deserves respect as the embodiment of the peaceful aspect of jar’arak.
With regard to other races, trolls’ opinions vary. Unfortunately, many regard other Namegivers as inferior because their bond with the earth is less strong (to a troll’s way of thinking). Sometimes this sense of troll superiority is benign, if irritating to the recipients of it. For example, some trolls view orks as “little brothers” and would never do anything to harm them. (Orks, of course, find trolls’ patronizing behavior toward them intensely annoying, and who can blame them?) Other manifestations of troll superiority are far less benign. For example, many trolls view windlings as hardly fit to be called Namegivers. It is a sad truth that windlings, simply by behaving in their natural manner, cannot help but offend trolls more deeply than can any other Namegiver race.
Windlings love to joke and tease and often show friendship by making fun of one another. To a troll, for whom even an innocent question from one ignorant of our ways may be a grave slight to our honor, almost everything a windling says is an insult to katorr, kat’ral, or katera. Honor is so dear to us that we must take extreme care in teasing each other, lest we offend against standards of honor that we know as intimately as we know our own souls. How much more perilous, then, is it for a windling to tease us! They need not even mock us intentionally; simple physical differences often serve to shame us. A windling can fit through a door that may not admit a troll, or perch easily on a stool that a troll can scarcely touch without breaking. The fact that a windling can do what we cannot is taken by far too many of my race as an unflattering comment on our size. Therefore, the one difficulty that trolls and windlings have in common—failure to fit in a world not designed for our comfort— too often becomes another reason to dislike each other rather than a cause for mutual sympathy.
Many trolls regard elves almost as poorly as they do windlings, but for a different reason. If we are honest with ourselves, we trolls realize that most windlings offend us without meaning to—at least at first. If we and they both took the time to try to understand each other, we might smooth out our differences and become friends. I hold little hope of reaching such accommodation with elves; unfortunately for both our races, many elves bear intense prejudice against trolls because of our appearance. An elf loves beauty above all things, even (perhaps) above his own life. In the eyes of most elves, trolls are ugly; they see us as an affront to the loveliness of nature, and therefore abhor us. Not surprisingly, we trolls respond in kind to such unthinking bigotry and often despise all elves because we assume that they despise us. If we tell ourselves that the elves as a race are worth nothing, we rob their disdain of its sting; for who can be dishonored by the scorn of a worthless Namegiver? This mutual prejudice sadly robs us of the chance to truly know one another. If the elves of Barsaive could bring themselves to look past what they call our monstrous aspect and learn more of what trolls are, they would find much in us that even an elf might call beautiful.
With regard to dwarfs, many trolls show at least a grudging respect for their artistry with metal and stone. Indeed, some troll clans view dwarfs with great friendliness, having taken in dwarf stonemasons as no’a’gral just before the Scourge. Other trolls, however, find the dwarfs’ curiosity fertile ground for slights to honor. This judgment is particularly prevalent among those trolls who have dealt with dwarfs in buying and selling. Most highland trolls view commerce differently than do dwarfs and that other great merchant race, the t’skrang. As with the windlings and their joking, these different viewpoints offer numberless opportunities for mutual misunderstanding. Dwarfs and t’skrang pride themselves on their ability to haggle over price, hoping to extract more than a good is worth from the purchaser or to whittle the seller’s price as low as possible. Trolls find haggling highly insulting; a troll with something to sell sets a price for his goods that he considers them worth. To offer less implies that the goods are of little value, or that the troll in question is a dishonorable blackguard who has set his price unreasonably high. Furthermore, to haggle implies the buyer’s belief that the troll does not have the firmness to hold out for the price he desires. Traders and adventurers used to sharp bargaining for goods and services should reconsider such practices when negotiating for passage aboard a crystal raider’s airship.
Many trolls view t’skrang with the same jaundiced eye as dwarfs if they have had to buy from or sell to the lizard-folk. Trolls who have met t’skrang under other circumstances may find their flamboyance amusing or insulting, depending on the individual troll’s interpretation of the ideals of Thystonius. Some trolls appreciate the t’skrang ideal of haropas, seeing their willingness to take any risk for any reason as doing honor to the Passion of Valor. Other trolls regard t’skrang flamboyance as a backhanded mockery of Thystonius; to these, conflict and bravery are serious matters that should be approached with a serious demeanor. To laugh in the face of danger, as many t’skrang do, makes light of combat and therefore becomes a slight to troll honor.
As for humans, many trolls find them confusing. Humans are less predictable than any other Namegiver race; in everything from height to hair color to the talents they possess, humans vary more than anything save the world itself. Some trolls see this variability as an embodiment of the world’s dazzling variety and therefore regard humans more positively than not. But most see the wide range of human differences as evidence of instability. Because we trolls prize in ourselves the strength and stability of the mountains among which we live, many of us see “unstable” humans as decidedly inferior. Some trolls, in fact, find humans so unstable and bewildering that they shun human society.