by Matt Appleby
A most useful guidebook for anyone looking to visit the Holy Realm of Freiberg.
|Author's Note: the prompts for this month centre around races and cultures. Rituals, etiquette, languages, that sort of thing. With luck, I remembered to cover it all.
Johan III, the Halfling King
Politics on our continent is simple. There are only three countries on Palios: ourselves, the ancient and venerable elven republic of Petralona; our elven cousins in Chalandar, reclusive and charitably described as 'eccentric'; and the human kingdom of Almagor, the youngest of the three by far but catching up fast. We three consider ourselves allies, or at the very least we are not enemies. We know where we stand with each other. Our relationships are not complicated.
The continent of Mesis is very different. Epernay and Freiberg are both powers of long-standing, and their enmity is well-known, but nothing else is that simple. To the north, in the plains of Sarbogard and the forests and tundra of Valldalen, there is an endless patchwork of tribes, city-states and duchies, whose borders and allegiances shift more often than the tides. The relationships between these many and varied cultures are more complicated than you can possibly imagine.
(Though there were rumours of their existence even back then, Neos and Agnostos had not been charted at the time Spyridon was writing. It is interesting to ponder what he would have had to say about the races in our part of the world.)
The two most prominent nations in the northern regions are those of the dwarves and the halflings. Contrary to popular assumptions, these are in fact the same species, seperated by culture rather than blood. The dwarves stay underground, and focus on mining; the halflings live on the surface, and have a love for hunting and farming. Otherwise, they have far more in common than you might think.
I bring all this up not for the sake of a geography lesson, but so that, when I tell you I once saw the king of the halflings, you know exactly who and what I mean.
(I am a curator rather than a critic, so I have restricted myself thus far to commenting on factual errors and historical context, as opposed to Spyridon's merits or demerits as a writer. However, even I must express my annoyance at the above paragraph. He has found himself an endlessly fascinating subject, about which he obviously cares very deeply, and yet he so often chooses to waste it on this kind of rambling incoherence. Even after taking 3e printing methods into account, it is still obvious why there were only ever six copies of the Guide.)
Truthfully, the story perhaps isn't as interesting as all that. But I shall tell it regardless. I was staying in the city of Kronach, in Freiberg's Walsrode region, when Johan III arrived for a formal tour. It is rare for other Mesis leaders to even acknowledge Freiberg's existence, so this was considered a grand occasion. Indeed, the docking of his ship was greeted with much pomp and circumstance: a parade, multiple balls, the full royal ceremony. It was perhaps the most lavish celebration that I had seen in Freiberg for some time.
Johan III himself lived up the effort. He was a very short gentleman, even by the standards of a halfling, but he had already been king for several decades, and he had the regal bearing down to a fine art. He certainly the entourage you would expect of a king: guards, servants, entertainers, even his own travelling menagerie. And all had the very finest in clothing and equipment.
I cannot say what the king was like in person. We did not ever meet. Being an elf opened many doors for me in Freiberg over the years, but not so many as to be granted an audience with a foreign ruler. But from what I did see, I was impressed.
(There are few surviving records about Johan III, so it is hard to judge the accuracy of Spyridon's assessment. It is certainly known that he was a lavish spender, but that was true of all the kings in his dynasty, and their subjects were not known to disapprove. On balance, Spyridon is most likely correct in viewing him favourably.)
The Dinner Party
(The majority of this section is missing. Different fragments have been found amongst the surviving copies of the Visitor's Guide, and enough of them have survived to give a rough overview of the larger contents. However, we still only have very limited material, and what follows must be read with some care.)
Most people cannot hear the phrase 'Orc dinner party' without laughing. But if you've read this far into my book, then
only been in Freiberg for a few years.
met the Holtzer's one afternoon
were one of the wealthiest couples in Hohenst
Freiberg does not have an aristocracy as other countries do. As children are raised directly by the priesthood, with no connection to their birth parents, the concept of inheritance has no meaning. Being both rich and powerful does not guarantee that your offspring will be either. Each generation, therefore, must earn its wealth anew, rather than riding on those who came before. The orcs are secretly rather proud of this.
not a full banquet. Only twenty guests and
ain course included stalks of the Kabelsalat plant, which when dried become something very like spaghetti. They're very nice, in a bland sort of way. However, mine were cold when the waiter delivered them, and I requested that they be warmed up. Little did I know that they were supposed to be served that
My hosts allowed this faux pas to sli
A Game of Kreisball
In the centre of the Walsrode region is a giant forest of Pilz mushrooms.
(The rest of this page is missing. Given the context, it most likely establishes the various settlements found amongst the Pilz forest. At the time Spyridon was writing, there were five villages of note, which between them hosted the annual Kreisball match he goes on to document.)
Kreisball is a simple game, at least in theory. It takes place in a large circle, about a hundred yards across, and uses a leather ball big enough to be carried in both hands. There are a minimum of two teams, and often more, each with usually around a dozen members. The ball is placed in the centre of the circle, and then the teams fight to get it across the perimeter, either by carrying or throwing. A team scores a ‘point’ each time it does this, and the first team to score five ‘points’ wins the match. Beyond this, there are no other rules. Rough play is accepted, even encouraged, orcs being big and tough enough to handle it.
The match I watched lasted a few hours, and ended with the defending champions winning. The final score, if I remember correctly, was 5-4-2-2-1.
As to the game itself, I must admit that I was unimpressed. Despite its very simple rules, Kreisball features a large number of players with a wide variety of tactics, and becomes very confusing very quickly. More to the point, most of the tactics used were violent to a degree I found distasteful.
(Much like other aspects of orc culture, Spyridon’s account of Kreisball is one of the earliest by a foreign author. It is still recognisable as the modern, professional sport, though of course the KLF has a much thicker rulebook. It remains just as violent and none of its fans in Freiberg, Komoro or elsewhere would have it any other way.)
There are a few small, very remote villages near from the Oberstetten rock formations. Near the end of my travels, I helped the inhabitants of one with some problems they were having, for which they repaid me by inviting me to a wedding. As anyone who has ever attended an orc wedding can tell you, this was a fair exchange.
(Like his comments about a ‘misadventure’ around the same period, what Spyridon did to earn such gratitude remains infuriatingly unclear.)
Unlike the more serene elven nuptials, orcs invariably put on an extravagant and energetic show. In this came, everyone physically able to contribute helped plan the celebrations, spending months assembling bunting and banquets that would be fit for a coronation. The entire village, normally grey with ash and dirt, became a spectacle of colour and plenty. That they could achieve such a thing despite their obvious poverty says much about orc resourcefulness.
Considering all this hoopla, the ceremony itself was actually very simple. It was held, as should be expected, at the village’s Foundation Stone, and was led by a priest of low standing. The exchange of vows took only a few minutes, signing the legal documents even less. Then it was over.
(‘Foundation Stones’ was covered in an earlier section, of which only one copy survives, in the private collection of the Valldalen industrialist Gerhard Svendsen. Legal issues prevent us from reproducing the material here, so I shall simply note that Foundation Stones, large granite replicas of the World Mountain, were important religious objects in 3e Freiberg. They could be found in every village and urban district, and were central to many different ceremonies, most notable weddings and funerals.)
And afterwards, of course, was the long-expected party. It expanded to every corner of the village, and lasted until sundown of the following day. Even after all these years, there are still large portions that I cannot remember. I presume that I had a good time.
Once the festivities were over, the newlyweds chose to stay in the village. Orcs do not divide the sexes in the way that other cultures do, so both husband and wife already owned their own homes. In the end, the wife chose to sell hers and move in with her husband. Such an arrangement is typical, but by no means mandatory.
I mentioned much earlier in this guide that I briefly spent time as a lecturer at the Grand Academy. A big part of my work there involved trying to teach the Elvish language, which proved to be much, much tougher than I could have assumed. I myself still barely understood Orcic at this point, but even if I was perfectly fluent, the gulf between the two tongues would have still been substantial.
The biggest problem proved to be tenses. Elvish, along with most other languages, modifies certain words to indicate when in time they occurred. ‘Play’, for example, becomes ‘played’, ‘playing’ or ‘will play’. Orcic, on the other hand, does not do this. Determining when an action occurred depends entirely on context, which is seldom as clear as ‘play yesterday/today/tomorrow’.
This is mostly down to the orcs’ view of time. Believing as they do in the continual rebirth of souls, their universe is essentially circular, everything finishing and starting again all at once. ‘The End is the Beginning is the End’, as they often put it. With such a mind-set, yesterday, today and tomorrow are all much the same.
It took me many years to grasp these subtleties, to learn the myriad ways the orcs describe the passage of time. I also struggled to make my students understand the elves’ more linear, ordered perspective. I’m not sure that I ever really got there.