Claws of the Dragon
On the Nature of Windlings
A great number of the writings we have collected concerning windlings, including the following text that begins Volume VIII of this work on the denizens of Barsaive, were written by members of other races. Many windlings view the written word as merely a means for keeping trade records and other dry but necessary documents, and therefore not a fit medium for the story of a race. For such a lofty subject as what it means to be a windling, our small, winged brethren would prefer to compose an epic song or create a wondrously complex dance rather than reduce the tale to a written history. To begin this volume on windlings, we have instead chosen the writings of a troll Troubadour, Chag Skat, who has given us a surprisingly complete and perceptive portrait of the windling race.
–Thom Edrull, Archivist and Scribe
In my travels, I’ve met folk of every Namegiver race. Of us all, windlings are the smallest: tiny, winged, humanlike creatures with small, nimble fingers and sweet voices. The beauty of sunlight shining through their wings is truly a wonder to behold. Of course, being so small in a world made for larger folk (though not made quite large enough, if you ask me) turns everyday life into a challenge for these little ones in a way most other folk couldn’t begin to understand. I understand a bit, from the opposite side of the coin, because trolls like me have to cope with beds and chairs too flimsy to hold us up, doorways so small that we bruise our shoulders and crack our heads, and so on. But even I find life easier than a windling might.
Go on, friend, imagine it just for a moment. See yourself reading my words in the Great Library of Throal, and wanting to read the next page. Imagine having to get up, fly over to the edge of the book (which is almost as big as you are), grab the edge of the parchment, and heave it up and over. Or imagine walking into a tavern at the end of a long, hard day on the road, desperate for a drink, and finding out that the tavern-keeper’s smallest cup is so big that you can only heft it using both hands, and even then you’re likely to bathe in your ale while trying to get some down your parched throat, eh, friend? That’s the kind of challenge a windling faces every day, unless he stays home where things are his size. And that’s why a windling likes nothing so much as a challenge. Some people might sulk and whine that the world wasn’t made exactly to suit them. Not windlings. A windling takes it in his stride, and even prides himself on coming up with the cleverest or most amusing way to get around his difficulties.
To give you a bit of an idea of who windlings are and how they think, I give you the words of Woohrt, a windling Thief who stood me to several rounds of good, stout ale in a Kratas tavern. (Drank me under the table, as it happens. Never judge a windling by his size…)
“You amaze me, friend Chag. A grounder like you, taking such an interest in the ways of my people? Such curiosity— you might almost be a windling yourself! With wings as big as riverboat sails, of course … there now, don’t scowl. I meant no harm. You know how my windling tongue likes to run away with me. If you will permit me, I shall salve your wounded feelings with another mug of ale. Wench! Another for my oversized friend … and a small glass of keesris for me.”
“So you wish to know of windlings, eh? I will tell you the most important difference between a windling and any other Namegiver. We, my grounder friend, can fly. I know perfectly well that I have stated the obvious. I said it because most people never think what it means. A windling can fly—four little words that mean so infinitely much to our ways, our joys, our very existence as a people. Do you know why I call you grounder? In the windling tongue, the word is ‘kooweesh,’ and it means a prisoner of the earth—a slave to the kiss of the ground. You grounders cannot soar above the ground, as we can. We windlings can escape the bonds of earth. We can become a part of the air, seeing the world in a way that no one else can. Because we can fly, we have a kind of freedom that wingless folk can only dream of.
“When you fly, the earth beneath you and the sky above you change from moment to moment. Imagine the glory of flight, friend Chag—feel the wind rushing past your ears, playing gently with your hair like a lover’s fingers, caressing every inch of your skin like a cool bath on a warm morning. Imagine the sky turning above you like a vast, blue wheel shot through with white clouds, as you spin and dip and soar and even turn somersaults to express your joy at the sheer beauty of the day. Imagine the land of Barsaive, stretched out below you like a tapestry—the emerald forests giving way to the tawny gold of the plains; the folds of the hills like patterns woven into rich, padded silk; the mountains rising like beads of jet or smoky topaz from out of the fabric of the whole. Imagine all that beauty, each picture changing by the moment into something even more beautiful and wonderful. Such is the life of a winding, my curious friend. Every moment brings its own beauty, and everything new is a wonder.
“We love anything new or interesting, even if it is also dangerous. Indeed, a little danger adds spice to life. Many windlings wander the world in search of the new and different, much as you are doing. (By the Universe, friend Chag, you could almost be a windling!) I have known windling wanderers who happened upon some other race’s quaint custom, which so impressed their kin in the telling that the entire clan adopted the custom. Until, of course, a new and more interesting one came along to replace it!
“A windling will try absolutely anything at least once, and count it worth the doing even if it hurts him. Many of our fellow Namegivers think us addle-brained for behaving so, but we are the ones that gain by it. You see, a windling learns more of the world by seeking new experiences and meeting new people—and the more we know of the world, the easier it is for us to survive its challenges. This world of ours, alas, was not made with the needs of small beings in mind. But you are a troll, and so you know whereof I speak. This world was not made for your folk, either.
“Friend Chag, you and I really do have an extraordinary amount in common.”
On Windling Appearance and Anatomy
Anybody who’s seen a windling knows what they look like, of course. Little folk they are, about the size of my forearm, with wings as delicate and fine as gossamer. Ever seen a leaf after a beetle’s chewed through it and left only the veins of the leaf behind? Windling wings look a little like that. Like the veins of a leaf, but shimmering as if overlaid with spun glass. With their slender bodies and pointed ears, windlings look a little like elves. In fact, I’ve heard tell that some sages and scholars think windlings and elves are distant kin. I even heard some poor ork in a village marketplace sneer at a flock of departing windlings as “bitty elves with wings,” at which point the windlings swarmed around the ork’s head and thumped him soundly with small cudgels. Not that windlings have anything against elves, mind—they’re just proud to be windlings and take offense at being called anything else.
Windlings can fly, of course, and they also have a keen sense of smell. I’ve seen windlings who could tell you what’s in someone’s pocket just from getting a good snoutful of the air nearby. I watched them for a full year, and I think they use that sense of smell to navigate through the air. Almost as if they smell what’s in the way before they see it. (I’d like to see what happens if a windling with a head cold tries to fly!)
On the Unique Nature of Windling Sight
They can see perfectly well, of course. No trouble at all with a windling’s vision. Matter of fact, they can see one thing that other folk can’t: magic. Most Namegivers who want to see magic have to be Wizards or follow some Discipline much like Wizardry to do it. They’ve got to work hard, learning the right spells and all. But windlings are born seeing magic. They can see it as easily as I can see in the dark, or a human can see the nose on his face in a mirror. They see magic so easily because they’re closer to it, more a part of it than any other folk. Of course, the magic of the world is in all of us; no one knows that better than me, who’s been so many places and seen so many different sights. But the magic seems stronger in windlings, somehow. Maybe it’s because they alone can touch the sky as well as the earth, and so they have two elements belonging to them, instead of just the one that most of us have.
Of Birth and Growth
A baby windling’s a rare and wondrous thing, small enough to fit in the palm of my hand, wings and all. Windlings learn to fly at about ten days old, and by the time they’ve lived a year they’re as clever as a three-year-old troll child or a five-year-old human. And can they get into mischief! Take the normal curiosity of the adult windling, then imagine it as three or four times as much. That’s how curious windling children are. They can’t keep their little hands out of anything, and the only thing that slows them down is the sheer fatigue of flying. Their parents don’t say a word against them, no matter what they do. To their way of thinking, a curious and mischievous child is more likely to meet the world’s challenges well, so windling parents encourage such behavior. Windlings also love children all the more because they have so few.
A windling comes of age at about his thirtieth year and usually chooses a mate before turning forty. Most windling couples have only one child during their entire lives, which can last as long as 170 years. Some have two children, but it’s the rare windling pair lucky enough to have three. No one knows why. More males are born than females, and that, too, is still a mystery. Of course, most windlings don’t bother their heads with the whys and wherefores of such things. They simply see these facts of windling life, like everything else: as a challenge to be met. They cope with their small numbers of offspring by caring for each one as though it belonged to them. As for all the extra windling males, the little folk have come up with an interesting mating custom that keeps down the number of mateless males. I’ll tell more of that custom later on.
Female windlings can only conceive children for 20 days during the fall of the year, and they carry the babe for six months. All windlings are therefore born in the spring, within 20 days of each other. A carrying mother can fly as easily as any other windling until her fifth month or so. For the final month she stays home, lying in bed and reveling in being waited on hand and foot until the babe is born. Not just her mate waits on her, either. The whole clan plays along, as excited and happy about the coming birth as a t’skrang merchant who’s just made his first profitable trade.
On the Ideals Dearest to Windlings
Those who know little of windlings often think them foolish, or even get angry because they do not understand them. “Why can’t windlings take life calmly and let things be?” they ask. Why can’t they act one way all the time, like other decent folk? Why can’t they understand that life is a serious business? Why can’t they ever keep still?
Well, friend, they have their reasons for being as they are, just as any other Namegiver does. A windling loves change, freedom, and feeling above all else. What’s more, he sees these three ideals as different parts of the same thing.
Change is freedom made real, and freedom makes change possible. And feeling—love and joy and anger and pride as deep and rich as the blue of the sky—makes a windling’s freedom sweet and gives each change meaning.
Of the Value of Change
The windlings of clan Lisvara have a saying that any windling anywhere would agree with: “Any day without a new experience is a day not lived.” In a windling’s view, just as nature grows and changes, so must he. Windlings show their love of change by borrowing customs from other Namegivers, the more often the better. When I told clan Lisvara that my people build snug homes by digging them out of the hillsides, the whole clan spent the next month lining the insides of all their hollow-tree dwellings with earth (grass side up, of course). Another time, my friend Keerht came back from a day at a nearby village fair, and told his clan he’d seen a human male bowing to a human female. For weeks after that, all the clan males went around bowing elaborately every time they met a windling female. (Then Keerht spent an evening in the village tavern, and saw a human male grab a tavern wench by the waist and sit her on his lap. The male windlings tried to adopt that little custom, but the females were having none of it. They got the males back to bowing right quick.)
Scholars talk of change meaning freedom to windlings, and of course that’s true. For myself, I think windlings love change so much because they love nature. So many different sights and smells and sounds, so many different beauties and dangers and wonders, exist in nature for any wishing to seek them out. The windlings see themselves as nature’s most beloved children and want to be as much a part of their mother as they can.
Of the Windling Love of Freedom
Love of nature also explains why windlings love freedom. For a race born and raised in the woods and wild lands, to be held captive is worse than dying. Many windlings so dislike any feeling of captivity that they avoid living in Barsaive’s cities and towns. To them, walls and ceilings made by any hand but nature’s feel like a prison. Even the ones who do live in so-called “civilized” towns alongside other Namegivers try to keep their sense of freedom by moving from place to place, rarely staying in one town or village for very long. Most windlings live like clan Lisvara: in settlements deep within Barsaive’s forests and jungles.
On Living a Life of Feeling
Along with the love of change and freedom, windlings teach their children to love life and live it fully. Why live free, they say, unless you use that freedom to experience and revel in everything? A life without feeling is unknown to windlings. Everything they do, they do with a fervor that might make a Passion dizzy. If a clansman dies, they mourn his loss as if the world had ended. Where other races make merry for one day at a fair or festival, a windling celebration lasts for many days, over something as ordinary (at least to other folk) as a good pressing of wine or a successful hunt. A windling becomes enraged over a slight that would make another Namegiver feel only a moment’s anger. Despite their miniature size, these folk do nothing in small measure. Other folk seek change, but windlings embrace it. Other folk enjoy freedom, but windlings revel in it.
On Language and Windling Humor
Windlings are famous—or infamous, depending on whom you speak to—for their sense of humor. These lighthearted folk love to tease, and the more serious the target of their joking, the better they like it. They mean no harm by it, but they see it as part of a windling’s place in life to show others the humor in it. If a windling can make you smile with his teasing, he’s happy—and if he provokes anger, that also makes him laugh because he finds the seriousness of other races so foolish.
I admit that sometimes my windling friends laughed at things that might well shock right-thinking folk. They shocked me, once or twice. Once, some of the windling lads and I went to a tavern in a nearby village, and saw a drunken ork die in a silly accident. A scorcher, he was, boasting about the gold and gems he’d stolen from a rich merchant. He bobbled around in his hobnailed boots, showing us all his brilliant swordsmanship (which was anything but, mind). A too-vigorous swing of his sword sent him pitching heels over head into an oak table. Knocked the table over, he did, and the pitcher of ale on it crashed down on top of his head. He lay there for several heartbeats, the ale dribbling into his slack mouth, and the windlings laughed until tears ran down their cheeks. Only after he’d lain there for several minutes without moving did anyone realize he’d broken his silly neck. At that, of course, my windling friends wept from sadness—and a little shame, I think, that they’d been laughing at a dead man.
Most of the misunderstanding about windling humor comes from the simple fact that windlings think differently about what to take seriously and when. Small-minded, easily angered folk call windling humor malicious, but they know nothing about it. Windlings find almost everything funny, and that simple fact has kept them a joyful, lively folk instead of a whining, poor, and miserable one. Windlings laugh at each other all the time, and most of them can’t quite believe that anyone might truly feel angry over “a bit of harmless joking.”
A windling sees teasing and joking not as hurtful things, but as signs of affection. He’ll laugh at his own foolishness as much as at any other’s and sees no harm in either.
On the Curious Custom of Insult Contests
Windlings often hold insult contests just so that they can poke fun at each other. In an insult contest, two windlings insult each other’s looks, manners, clothing, achievements, and anything else they can think of, dreaming up the funniest and most accurate insults under the watchful eye of a moderator. The moderator judges the appropriateness of each insult, and the windling who delivers the cleverest insults that are also on the mark wins the contest.
Though outsiders might find such teasing cruel, the windlings themselves think otherwise. No windling would dream of taking offense at an insult made during one of these contests. (One interesting thing I noticed: not a single windling ever called another one “short.” I guess they just might take offense at that!)
On the Pleasant Diversion of Joke Contests
Windlings also hold joke and pun contests, in which two windlings trade inventive turns of phrase or outrageous jokes about a single topic, chosen by a third windling who judges each pun. The first windling who can’t come up with a good joke or pun loses, and often must stand the winner to a round of drinks.
Windlings love any kind of play, especially wordplay, and the combination of clever words and quick thinking make joke contests one of the most popular windling customs. The average windling, by the by, makes twice the Troubadour that another Namegiver might hope to be. As a Troubadour myself, I know of what I speak.
On the Wonderful Amusements of Tall Tale Competitions
Even more beloved than joke contests is the telling of tall tales. A windling proverb says, “If your stature is small, let your words be big,” and every windling I’ve ever met believes in every word of that old saying. In the tall tale competitions, windling humor and love of storytelling reach their greatest heights.
Two windlings each have a set time in which to tell an outlandish tale, but one with a grain of truth just large enough to make the listeners wonder if it truly happened. If anyone doubts that windlings can lie with the skill of a master craftsman, come and hear one of these contests. They weave together truth and falsehood, reality and exaggeration as a master basketmaker weaves his reeds.
I tell you honestly, I envy this windling skill; would that I could spin such outrageous stories from only a seed of truth.
On the Manner of Windlings Toward Other Namegiver Races
I have touched on this subject earlier in my tale, with regard to windling humor and the many ways in which folk who know little of windlings misinterpret it. Sad to say, too many folk in Barsaive misunderstand not only windling humor, but many windling ways of thinking and acting. I can only hope that my small work does its part to broaden narrow minds by explaining some of the reasons why windlings behave as they do. After all, haven’t they a right to their ways, just as any of us have to ours?
To give you an idea of just how small minded some folk are, I give you the following journal entry. I’m ashamed to say it was written by one of my own race, who hates windlings for the same silly reasons that too many of my folk do. (Which is to say, no reason at all—but I’ll say more of that soon enough.) You have to feel sorry for someone who thinks as this poor fool does, getting angry and hateful because not every Namegiver behaves as he thinks is proper. Not all trolls are like this one, believe me.
Windlings? You want to know what I think about windlings? By the Passions, I can’t stand the little gnats! ‘Tisn’t a matter of size; not at all. Not a bit of it. Live and let live, I always say. Trouble is, those little flying pests won’t let me alone. They’re the ones who judge others by size. I’m too big and clumsy for them, and the little insects never give me any peace because of it! Me, I think those little gnats secretly hate being so small. So they try to make up for it by playing the fool, laughing at everything, but especially at bigger folk. Guess who they like to pick on most? The biggest Namegivers, that’s who. ‘Course, they don’t tease obsidimen much, because it takes an earthquake, a fire, and a flood all at the same time to rouse the rock-men. No fun teasing a stone, is it? So which very tall, very large race is left to tease? That’s right, friend. Trolls. Like me. Before anyone calls me ignorant, let me say that I’ve traveled a bit. I’ve met so many windlings in so many places that I’ve lost count, and every single one of them has made jests about my size. Oh, we start off civil enough, but sooner or later some little winged rat makes a joke at my expense. Naturally, I get annoyed. Wouldn’t anyone? ‘Course, that really sets the little beasts off. They laugh and snigger and joke, each mean jest more hurtful than the last, until even a patient fellow like myself can’t stand it anymore. I tell you, I’d like nothing better than to grab the little beasts and squeeze them until their little heads pop off!
—From the journal of Targ Boneslicer
So now that you’ve read the words of friend Targ, you tell me. Who judges whom by size, eh?
Of course, there’s a grain of truth to some folks’ dislike of windlings. Their joking can get under the skin and they have other ways that to them are just ordinary, but that others may take offense at. Windlings place little value on privacy, to give one example, and often ask blunt questions about things that most others would call none of their affair. They also tell you exactly what they think, sometimes even if no one asks them. A windling sees no sense in hemming and hawing; if he has a thing to say, he says it. If he hurts someone’s feelings, no matter. A simple apology makes things right again, so why waste time sparing folk hard truths? Of course, in thinking this way, the windlings make the mistake of believing that other folk accept apologies as easily as they do. Not all races are as quick to forgive.
Windlings also have little of what other folk call manners. They adopt what customs amuse them and drop them if something new catches their fancy. Except for the ideals that shape a windling’s soul, little about them remains unchanging. What use do such changeable folk have for the kind of grand manners beloved by elves, say, or for the tangled web of trade manners common to dwarfs and t’skrang? A windling has those kinds of manners for as long as he enjoys having them, and no longer. This drives some folk wild, because they persist in believing that a windling who doesn’t respect their customs of politeness means to insult them. Of course, no such thing is true—windlings are just behaving like windlings, just as trolls behave like trolls and dwarfs behave like dwarfs and so on. If a windling really means to insult you, he won’t just act with what you’d call bad manners. He’ll call you “dirt-kicker” or “mud-clod” to your face, and more than once.
One good point about windlings that too many overly judgmental folk overlook is their interest in making friends with folk from all the Namegiver races. I’d rather be with friendly folk like that than with races like elves, who look at you as if you’re dirt underfoot unless you’ve got pointed ears!