Saturday, November 9, 2019

The Sixth People of Man

Helena Markos

Takal Nûn, who was lord of swords, came to Baba Tubalkhan in his forge and said: "Brother Tubalkhan, I ask that you make for me the greatest of weapons. Make for me a sword, so that I may cleave my enemies in twain."

Baba Tubalkhan nodded and said: "Come back tomorrow, and I shall give it to you." 

The next day came, and Takal Nûn returned to the forge. Before his feet, Baba Tubalkhan had laid a plowshare.

"This will do you much better," spoke Baba. "Swords are ugly things and not terribly practical for most of the year. Besides, if you wish to make ghosts of men, a sharp rock and a strong arm will do just as well and you have both already. I did not want to give you a gift you already possessed."
Takal Nûn was greatly angered by this, but knew that Tubalkhan had taken on some of his wife's trickery, and so restrained his rage. 

"Make me a spear, then, so that I may smite my enemies from my chariot. Make me a mighty helm, to proclaim my glory to all who see."

Baba Tubalkhan nodded and said: "Come back tomorrow, and I shall give it to you." 

The next day came, and Takal Nûn returned to the forge. Before his feet, Baba Tubalkhan had laid a broom of reeds and a cookpot. 
Now Takal Nûn erupted in great fury and bit at his cursing finger until it bled, and lay a curse upon the forge of Baba Tubalkhan: "You have wronged me three times, Tubalkhan, for you have given me a plowshare when I asked for a sword, a broom when I asked for a spear, and a cookpot when I asked for a helm. Thus I lay a curse upon your beloved sons the altai, that they will desire with all their hearts the gifts you have denied me and the arts of their bloody usage."
***

The Altai


Among the human peoples the altai are closest in relation to the néandr, being similarly solid of build but a head and a half taller. Most of them hail from the plains of Kara Koren, north of the Blackwine Sea and the lands of the amazons. They keep a semi-nomadic life there, migrating with the bison herds between the cities on the rivers and the holy mountain of the Hollowhorn.

They are also cursed.

Upon reaching adolescence, men of the altai enter an intense and lengthy cycle of musth that will keep them in its clutches for decades, urging them on to great violence and uncontrolled anger. This is the root of the roving warbands that have haunted the imaginations and livelihoods of the other peoples for millennia.

The curse of Takal Nûn necessitates a civilization split by sex (factoring in deaths, the ratio is about three women to each man). Women serve as the backbone of society, maintaining the farms, herds, homesteads, lodges, trades, government, and the other major functions of day-to-day life. Men go out campaigning during the spring and summer, returning home for the autumn and winter months when the curse is at its lowest intensity.

(Aside: It is worth pointing out that some altai who are born female recant all inheritance and responsibilities in order to go out campaigning and live as a man. The opposite, those born male who live as women, are significantly rarer and tend to be limited to the occasional hermit oracle-berserker.)

Altai households are large, multi-generational, and complex. The short form for outsiders is thus: a household consists of a group of women bound by a household vow, their surviving elderly parents, their children, and a rotating roster of men in various states of monogamy who come round during the off-season.

Time and necessary tradition have turned the wars among the altai into formal affairs organized by the elders, carried out for personal glory and the driving force of musth than for accumulating land or booty. This mostly curtails, but has not entirely stopped, the raiding bands that have intruded upon the lands of the other peoples over the ages. A sort of equilibrium has been reached in modern days, with more overlap of populations and greater understanding of cultures, but old wounds can still run deep on the borderlands of their territory. Altai housholds can be found in many major cities outside Kara Koren.

The curse fades fully when reaching 40-60 years of age - those men that survive until this time are welcomed back home as Greyhair'd elders and are permitted to sit with the old women in the council lodge. They may also lead moots during the yearly springtime gatherings at the base of the Hollowhorn.

The altai have nothing to do at all with Orca or her servants.

***

As best as scholars can tell, Takal Nûn was a prehistoric warlord who enslaved the altai and whose sorcerous works are the source of the. The lack of any altai men who do not demonstrate the curse leads to the hypothesis that he was successful in killing off those segments of the population that he was not able to enslave. Some oral histories contain reference to the "old altai" who were transformed even more by the curse, until they "had arms and chests like that of trolls, and minds heavy and thick as winter mud. If a woman gave birth, the child would be cut from her womb for its head was too misshapen to emerge on its own."

If any of the old altai still exist, they do so far beyond even the shadow of the Hollowhorn.

7 comments:

  1. These men, who are grasped by the curse, can they still create art (poetry for example) while they still desire for violence?

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    1. Yep! Quite a bit of it, actually - poetry and song are really easy to make and pass on when out on campaign. Most of it's war poetry, but there's a very popular genre of romantic tragedy where a man ends up killing a lover, friend, or family member in a rage because of some act of hubris.

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    2. This is nice. Do their campaign go along the same routes each year? I was thinking if yes, there could be 'iterated statues/sculptures' art, where one individual is unable to finish the piece at once but either he is able to return to it next year, or other people finish for him (sort of like exquisite corpse (sp) from Surrealist movement).

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    3. The wordplay is too good to not use, but yeah,they tend to go on "official" circuits. It's war-as-sport for certain.

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    4. I meant this:
      https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Exquisite_corpse
      Although it might have more literal meaning in this case.

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  2. Huh. I had never thought of using the elephants' social structure as the basis for fantasy orc culture. But in retrospect, it makes a ton of sense.

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