Campaign of the Month: September 2013
“The honor of doing something well”
This holiday occurs during the vernal equinox and celebrates the passions Thystonius and Floranuus.
This competition, held on the first day of spring, is a grand time for all involved. It invigorates the raiders and prepares them physically and mentally for the coming seasons. Participation is widely regarded as a good way to keep basic skills honed and provides an important opportunity to refine them.
Races of all kinds are held during this event, which takes place over the course of several days. Foot races are the norm, and many clans also have mounted races. One of the most entertaining sights I have ever seen is the annual Rockhorn thundra beast race. Such a combination of ponderous grace and deadly strength is rarely seen in Barsaive. Obviously, there are also airship races, wonderful ones, with the crews rushing to get the best rigging, and the captains trying to take the best advantage of terrain and winds to get to the finish line first.
There are also many kinds of tests. There is jousting (on granlains), quite the event for the moot’s horseman and Cavalrymen. Blunt lances are used and healers are always on hand to help out with broken ribs and other injuries. Strength tests are also the norm, like lifting increasingly heavier and heavier rocks (the largest larger than your average human!) There are also mock fighting trials, using cloth-covered wooden swords and soft maces and axes. Still, many warriors are hurt by the bare-handed blows that accompany the typical raider fighting style; so again, healers are on hand.
One particular contest, one that has a bit of history to it, is the endurance trial, called Gal’ar’and (“The Water Carrier”). This particular event is started by one of the storytellers in the clan telling the story of The Great Fire (called Shal’bor’anal) which in the pre-Scourge days of the great Skytoucher moot, nearly wiped out the great alheim. The tale starts with a simple misunderstanding. A fire elemental wandered into the area during a bonfire and, when the clan reacted in shock to the resulting conflagration, the elemental went berserk and set most of the area ablaze. The water supplies were inadequate (as the clan did not expect a raging fire elemental to destroy their homes) and water had to be carried in barrels from the local river to put the fire out.
The event itself is simple: contestants carry barrels from one place to another. However, these barrels are as large as small humans and filled with water. The challengers keep carrying water from one area to the other (about 100 yards apart) until only one is left standing.
For all that these events tell us about the trollish culture, I would venture that none compare to the surprising revelations to be found in the holiday’s mental trials. I know most of you think trolls are large, violent barbarians with barely enough learning to count the notches on their axe hafts. I am here to change that notion. Not only will this next segment help you understand us better, but it will also augment the honor of all tro’o’astia in the process.
These particular events vary from clan to clan. They often feature strategy games that simulate basic airship combats, boasting contests, joke contests, and whatever else the clan can conceive. Most common, however, is the riddle contest.
In this contest, throughout the year anyone who wants to participate comes up with as many riddles as they can devise or find in texts. They then write them down on uniform pieces of vellum made ready at the beginning of the festival. All of these riddles are then put into a large barrel. The participants then line up (order is not important) and the clan chieftain (unless he is participating, in which case some other clan dignitary is chosen) pulls riddles from the barrel and begins to read them. The riddle is passed down the line. If you get it wrong, you are eliminated. Obviously, one is barred from answering one’s own riddles. The contest, depending on the luck and skill of the riddlers, can last some minutes, or, in the case of a terrific story that I heard from Talks-With-His-Hands, a skald in my clan, days.
Enclosed is the tale of the Great Riddle Contest of Dor’gal Sharpwit and Po’grang Earthskin of Clan Swiftwind. I have included it as an example of trollish storytelling and to illustrate the importance of the riddle contest
Now Dor’gal Sharpwit was the local master of the riddles. He was an old troll, scarred and wise, and had heard more tales and riddles than any other in his clan. He had won the riddle contest every year since his coming of age. Although many tried to usurp his throne, his quick thinking and vast experience saved him every year. It was often thought in those days that only Dor’gal’s passing would bring a new champion riddler.
Po’grang, on the other hand, was an unruly youngster. He was an apprentice Elementalist, and rather smart in his own right. His true goal in life was to become a master of the Elements, but like many others in the clan, he enjoyed the riddle contest. He himself had never been allowed to participate before due to his age, but now that he was truly an adult, he would join his elders and friends on the battlefield of intellect.
Po’grang spent months finding the best and toughest riddles in the land. He searched old tomes, questioned many spirits, and even ventured into the ruins of Ustrect to search for pre-Scourge books of tales and riddles to help him. On one of these attempts, after being attacked by jehuthras, he barely made it back alive. But, in the ruins, he found that which he had long sought: an old book of riddles located in the ruined house of a Troubadour. Clutching his prize like a mother to her child, he flew home on a Throne of Air.
When he returned to the moot, all questioned him about his absence, but he hid the book in his robes, keeping his secret to himself. At night he would venture outside the alheim and read the book by moonlight, choosing his riddles as carefully as one might choose dueling weapons.
At last, the festival of Katorr’Ga’i had arrived. It started off with the usual footraces, ship races, and the like. The riddle contest was slated for the evening of the second day. At the end of the first day, the riddles were collected and locked away.
When the contest finally started, both Po’grang and Dor’gal were surprised by the lack of competitors this year. Usually a spirited event with several dozen participants, only eight entered this year. Most attributed this to Dor’gal.
Both the wise veteran and the young prodigy advanced quickly to the later rounds. After 4 hours, they were the only participants remaining, and Dor’gal, as the defending champion, was required to answer first. As it was read, Po’grang rejoiced, as Dor’gal had drawn what he felt his best riddle:
“I’m a strange contradiction; I’m new, and I’m old,
I’m often in tatters, and oft decked with gold.
Though I never could read, yet lettered I’m found;
Though blind, I enlighten; though loose, I am bound,
I’m always in black, and I’m always in white;
I’m grave and I’m gay, I am heavy and light –
In form too I differ – I’m thick and I’m thin,
I’ve no flesh and bones, yet I’m covered with skin;
I’ve more points than the compass, more stops than the flute;
I sing without voice, without speaking confute.
I’m Throalic, I’m T’skrang, I’m Elven, and I’m Obsidiman;
Some love me too fondly, some slight me too much;
I often die soon, though I sometimes live ages,
And no monarch alive has so many pages.”
After the reading, all in the crowd thought Po’grang was a sure winner. Complete silence filled the room for several minutes. Then, suddenly, Dor’gal clear, deep voice sang out.
“Ah! A clever one! A book! Very good, young one!”
And so the contest continued. Po’grang stepped up and drew the following:
“I heard of an invading, vanquishing army
sweeping across the land, liquid-quick;
conquering everything, quelling resistance.
With it came darkness, dimming the light.
Humans hid in their houses, while outside
spears pierced, shattering stone walls.
Uncountable soldiers smashed into the ground,
but each elicited life as he died;
when the army had vanished, advancing northward,
the land was green and growing, refreshed.”
At this, the crowd was silenced again, but somewhat resigned. It seemed clear the master would win again. But quickly, no less than the span of 5 breaths, young Po’grang answered, tentatively.
And the crowd cheered, for he was right.
And so the contest continued. Both participants agreed to an interregnum after the barrel was emptied of riddles. It was well past sunrise and all involved were exhausted. Both contestants rushed back to their longhouses and sought out new riddles to continue.
This cycle went on for another three days. The festival ground to a halt as the full clan was caught up in the drama. Both riddlers lost their voice after the second day, and alchemists were brought in to heal them. But at last, one riddle was given that was not answered.
“A serpent swam in a silver urn.
A golden bird in its mouth did abide.
The serpent drank the water, this in turn
Killed the serpent. Then the gold bird died.”
And thus the contest ended and Dor’gal’s reign as the riddlemaster of Clan Swiftwind was ended.
[Author’s note: In case you were wondering, the answer to the final riddle is a burning oil lamp floating in a silver bowl.]