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Lines of Blood: A History of the Gnomes
Bloodline Basingstoke

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“Like the shadow of the oak,
And the balm of clover blossom:
Go gently o’er the land.”
--Doneagil Basingstoke

Doneagil Basingstoke is remembered as something of a ne’er-do-well. He spent his childhood avoiding work, sneaking off to sit with elders and listen to their tales. He walked the woods, observing nature and recording his feelings in finely crafted lyric poems. While the gnomes recognized his talent, they did not believe that it excused him from useful employment. “That Doneagil could make a fine wool gatherer,” his father used to joke, “if we could persuade him to gather anything but dust!”

During the period of debate leading up to the Great Schism, however, Basingstoke’s verse gave voice to the gnomes’ relationship to the forest. He described the gnomes not as stewards of the forest, like the sylvan elves in their lofty arboreal homes, but as interrelated parts of a food chain, engaged in a heroic struggle for survival against tremendous odds. The forest was no idyllic home, but an environment that brought out the best in the gnomes, challenging their communal and competitive spirits, their determination and ingenuity, their stealth, speed, and wit. When Basingstoke rose to speak in the debate, he reinforced the overarching theme of his verse: The forest is the only proper home for a gnome.

He became a leader by speaking, but he became great by listening. When the gnomes he led back into the forest expressed nostalgia for the caves, he suggested they dig homes in the earth. Sunk four feet into the soil and lined with logs, these buildings offered warmth in the winter and cool in the summer. Low roofs, rising perhaps one foot above ground level, were easily camouflaged by shrubbery or tree fall. Their homes were placed in close proximity to one another, alongside smokehouses and storage bins for grains and other foodstuffs, and the entire area was surrounded by natural barriers of thorny briars. The few entries into each compound were densely trapped with pitfalls, deadfalls, snares, and other traps. In these havens, the forest gnomes felt at least as safe as they did in their ancestral caves. When his people worried about a return to cultural stagnation, Doneagil Basingstoke decided that the forest gnomes would become a semi-nomadic people. Every three years, by decree, each compound would relocate beyond its hunting range. This forced the Basingstoke gnomes continually to adapt to the challenges of a new environment and offered the benefit of regular physical exercise from the travel and labor associated with the move.

Basingstoke also knew that his people had to reform the structures of alliance that were lost with the bloodline system. Like all gnomes, his people were more competitive than cooperative by nature, but under Basingstoke’s rule they began to compete with one another to see who could do more for the community. That spirit appeared in the very first remove (as their triennial migrations are known). Upon arriving at their new home space (chosen in advance by a scouting party), the entire community set to work digging holes and hewing lumber until every family had a home. Fields were cleared and crops planted and the smoke houses filled with meat before the first gnome thought to work for his own comfort or pleasure. The gnomes who worked most assiduously during this period were honored by popular acclaim, and at the time of the next vote they were named Captain of the Remove and Captain of the Larder and inducted into the new Council of Leaders.

This spirit of competitive cooperation still appears in every aspect of Bloodline Basingstoke culture. In their economy, for instance, these gnomes live off the land. Because of their disadvantageous height and strength, Basingstoke gnomes rely largely on foods they can gather from their environment: nuts, berries, mushrooms, and other fruits of the forest. They also practice limited cultivation of wheat and maize in small clearings created by slash and burn agriculture. Gathering parties are organized by the Captain of the Larder, who rewards the best producers with an extra measure from the communal stores. Forest gnomes are accomplished hunters, but they rely on skill and wit rather than strength to bring down their prey. While most forest gnomes have skill in archery, they also practice a form of landscaping that multiplies their advantages in relation to the environment. For instance, the gnomes plant bearberry bushes in the center of clearings, luring bears into deadfall traps where they can be safely dispatched by archers. They also clear deer runs so that fleet footed prey run into snares. Gnomes also imitate voices and calls with uncanny accuracy, a skill that aids in luring prey and evading predators. The Basingstoke gnomes are expert food managers, preserving cabbage as sauerkraut, berries as jellies and jam, and smoking meats—and making sure that plenty is left for the cold winters when they stay safe and warm within their compounds.

In late fall and throughout the winter, the Basingstoke gnomes turn their attention to fine arts and practical crafts. They weave baskets from willow and other soft woods, as well as linen for clothing and other household needs. The linen is dyed in a variety of natural colors using dyes developed from natural products. When their clothing has served its original purpose, they tear it down and use the scraps in elaborately patterned quilts. They also use dye to make colored ink, with which they decorate animal hides to create wondrous miniature paintings. They dig clay, from which they form any number of practical items such as plates and bowls as well as fine artistic sculptures from tiny figurines to full-size statuary. The Basingstoke Arts Fair, held every year on the Day of Kuon’s Blessing, is one of the most important events in their annual calendar. The Basingstoke gnomes gather from far and wide for a Bloodline-wide competition in all of their major arts and crafts. The Basingstoke gnomes have an odd relationship to art, however: While they have great respect for talent, they have very little interest in artifacts, perhaps because a nomadic people cannot accumulate too much in the way of material things. Prizewinning poems are memorized, and prizewinning foods are consumed at the fair, but prizewinning quilts are given to young couples to warm their marriage beds. Prizewinning statuary and painting are hidden throughout the festival glade (and sometimes found and sometimes not). The losing entries (with the exception of foods, which are returned to communal larders) are always destroyed.

Basingstoke family life begins in childhood, which is spent in a communal setting known as the dva’lorten. Gnomes with a particular gift for nurturing are given responsibility for raising the children of the compound from infancy through adolescence. At the age of two, Basingstoke children begin a program of education that includes everything from practical lessons in forest survival to the memorization of epic poems that convey the bloodline’s history and values. Games are very important to Basingstoke education, and their games are highly competitive. As a means of testing survival skills, they are harshly realistic: anyone caught by “the forest troll” during a game of hide-and-seek, for example, has their head shaved to signify a gruesome death.

At the end of their childhood, the gnomes of Bloodline Basingstoke endure a rite of passage known as Zhadu’gno, or the Blood-marking. The rite begins with the identification of the gnome’s nemesis. Every adolescent gnome is given an herbal compound that induces a deep sleep, and in their dreams an animal appears. While some clerics preach that the nemesis is chosen by Imaera, other gnomes admit privately that they fell asleep with the image of a particular animal in mind. In either case, it often comes to pass that the nemesis predicts the profession of the gnome: a great hunter might see a grizzly bear, while a gnome destined to oversee the granary is likely to see a mouse. It then becomes the task of the gnome to track down and kill the nemesis. The adolescent chooses an adult, someone whose character they admire, as their mentor for the Zhadu’gno. Some gnomes choose a close relative or friend merely to witness their achievement, but most gnomes choose a mentor who will contribute materially to their kill: a proven tracker, archer, or trapper. When the animal is brought down by main force or stratagem, the mentor bleeds the animal, the adolescent, and himself. After mingling the bloods, the mentor uses the mixture to mark the young gnome. One side of the neck bears the sign of Bloodline Basingstoke, a single straight line with an oak leaf and berry cluster at each side, while the other bears some mark from the slain foe: a paw print, a claw mark, or a pattern of teeth.

The Zhadu’gno initiates the young gnome into adulthood and provides them with a mark of identity. Some gnomes take the ceremony so seriously that they tattoo their marks into the skin before the blood washes away, and they bear these bloodmark tattoos proudly for all of their days. It should be noted that not every young gnome survives the Zhadu’gno. Such cases are considered a very great blessing: It is said that Imaera spares the gnome a long life of struggle and pain by coalescing those forces into the nemesis. The corpse is marked not with the sign of the bloodline, but with the symbol of Imaera, and buried with great ceremony in a marked grave. The discovery of these grave markers by later generations serves to remind Basingstoke gnomes of the stern demands and gentle graces of their mistress.

Another important ceremony in the life of a Basingstoke gnome is marriage. Marriage ceremonies are closeted affairs, with only a cleric present. The ceremony consists of simple vows, always unique to the couple, forming a private covenant between Imaera and the gnomes. The covenant can be put aside by mutual consent when it becomes clear that the union does not have nature’s blessing. After the ceremony, the family organizes an enormous feast for the entire compound. The central feature of a wedding feast is a ceremonial dance in which every married couple, young and old, engages in an elaborate, formal dance. It is said that the pattern of twists and turns, moving together and apart, in speeds from fast to slow, enacts the married life as a lesson to the new couple. Basingstoke couples typically have two children, in order to keep the bloodline population stable, though some couples choose to have more. Childless couples ask fertile friends to have extra children, a request that is typically considered a great honor (those whom Imaera has blessed are able to share the blessing). While the children are raised communally, most parents spend a great deal of time with their children, as much as the demands of their professions allow.

At the end of their lives, Basingstoke gnomes exit life with dignity and uncommon grace. Their lives, however pleasant, are defined by strife. Death is welcomed as both cessation and consummation of the struggle to survive. With a minimum of ceremony, the body of the gnome is marked with the same signs of identity used in the Zhadu’gno and buried in an unmarked grave deep in the forest. Friends and family gather to tell stories about the gnome, often set to verse, but no physical memorial is ever constructed (except, as mentioned before, in the case of those lost in the Zhadu’gno—and in that case it is Imaera who is honored, not the gnome).

Basingstoke religious life centers on Imaera. In their view, Imaera--like nature itself--is worthy of both love and fear. She is the source of nature’s bounty, and some Basingstoke folktales tell of Imaera teaching the gnomes to harvest the fruits of the forest. But she is also the source of nature’s power, and from the point of view of a gnome that power is not always kind, not always just. While rites to Imaera are a part of Basingstoke daily life, from the planting of crops to the start of a hunt, the forest gnomes have also made her worship the centerpiece of their annual celebration of Bloodline unity. On the first day of Imaeresta, the bloodline gathers in their various compounds for a huge feast celebrating the birthday of Doneagil Basingstoke.

The Founders Day celebration also recognizes the intervention of Phoen and Jaston in the containment of the lichenous plague. While the elders recite Doneagil Basingstoke’s poetry, drinking toasts to Imaera in berry-flavored cordials, the children send kites dancing through Jaston’s four winds. Unmarried adults, meanwhile, enjoy a day of rest, lying on quilts to catch the fading sun of summer, lightening their hair and darkening their skins as signs of Phoen’s blessing.

Basingstoke compounds can be found--by those perceptive enough to find them--in every forested region of the continent, but always at a comfortable distance from the settlements of other races.

 

 

 

 



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