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