Sunday, 28 August 2016

The Fire Beneath



The White Sun, the holy face of god, heats the world from above, but the Fire heats the world from beneath, and keeps the land from dying when snow smothers it. This is where the dwarves come from, the black tunnels beneath the world, where they mine coal and rubies, bitumen and opals, the fruits the world above desires. Their great settlements, subterranean cities strung out along precious seams, are in the barren, fireswept expanses northeast of Vyrhrad, but many of them live now under the sky, trading and labouring, foregoing the treasures below but also the dangers: the sudden fall of rock, the magma like a gaping wound, the choking, unseen gas. They have black eyes and copper skin, thin black hair and thin black blood, and they cough cinders and spit soot.

The mountains and mines of the dwarves are so far across the boreal forests and the tundra that their cities there are near-unknown to outsiders. The dwarves do not have visitors, but only the curious or the foolish travel across the empty places of the world for weeks to come to a place they can barely live – for the dwarves do not feel the extremities of heat under which others suffer. Their cities are long, linear chains of settlement strung beneath the earth along galleries and pits and natural caverns, like single huge entities digging deeper and deeper away from the world above. There are stories of city-caravans seeking deeper and deeper, unseen by others for centuries, lost perhaps to the hazards of the deeper Fire.

In the deep winter, where the sun barely rises above the spitting mountains, their warmer glow drowning its pale one, another kind of caravan makes ready, above the mines, awaiting the hardest freezing of the snow: the great sled-convoys, hundreds of vehicles, dragged by black ponies and by the dwarves themselves, piled high with mineral treasure. The journey to Vyrhrad and the other great cities of men takes until the first stirring of spring, and the return months more. Some of the convoys are imperial tribute, and some are trade, for the things the industrious, unindustrial dwarves do not make. They are
dangerous journeys, and where the dwarves die along the way, they raise memorials, to guard against the misfortune of being buried far from from and shallow in the earth.

I have been posting a fair bit lately about the para-Aral Sea and its elves and other inhabitants as a feature of a possible medieval Russian(ish) setting: but there's more to it than the Dry Sea (though there'll be more of it soon enough). Russia (or I suppose the former USSR if we're talking the Aral Sea too) is of course Quite Large and contains Quite a Lot of Interesting Things, like, say, the volcanic peninsula of Kamchatka, which is like if Alaska's landscape and Hawaii's volcanism met and had an extremely metal baby. It is where dwarves come from. It – beneath it - is where many of them still live, in deep, glittering volcanic seams, raw cracks in the earth weeping coal and diamond, rubies like beads of blood, opals like maggots in the wound.

It's like a grindingly dangerous Yenisean-flavoured version of Bism, the glimpsed world of fruit-jewels in The Silver Chair (one of these days I'mma post about Narnia and it's gonna be alarmingly obsessive. We are all dangerously undervaluing the D&Dability of Narnia), and of course it is one of those Suspiciously Adventuregenic Societies. Dwarvish PCs are more likely to come from the quite extensive communities of dwarves now living in mainly human cities, lots of them doing stuff related to the trade convoys. But they all have a cousin back home who could use a hand.