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Lines of Blood: A History of the Gnomes
Origins and the Great Schism

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“From cringing grotto to sun-dappled weald
We bloomed like morning’s glory.
Cottonweed seeds borne by the four winds,
We measured the breadth of the world.”

--Opening verse of “Vit’gno Loed,” an early gnomish epic

Origins

It is fitting that a reclusive race should have origins shrouded in mystery. Humans long discounted the existence of gnomes, often mistaking them for halfling children on the rare occasions when they spotted one. Noting the gnomes’ long beards, their love for gems, and their tendency to live underground, the halflings long maintained that gnomes were slender and dexterous dwarves. The dwarves, for their part, fixed their attention on the gnomes’ pointed ears and concluded they were pygmy elves. The elves, as might be expected, have long known more. A fragment of hide in the Library Aies, identified by loresong as a draft illustration from the Imperial Chronicles, contains the earliest reference to the gnomes. One of the illustrations, a catalogue of cave-dwelling creatures, depicts a tiny humanoid figure covered with long, silvery-white hair. A note written below the humanoid says “igno skaellim,” a phrase that translates to “identity unknown.” In their explorations, the elves found only trace evidence of these beings--an abandoned campsite, perhaps, or a dessicated corpse--but they never made extended contact with a living specimen. Out of sheer frustration, or perhaps in a rare moment of humor, the chroniclers of Ta’Illistim decided to enter the evasive race into the royal bestiary under a name derived from its original identification: gnome.

The gnomes remained a mystery even to the elves until the beginning of the Fourth Age. In the year -4500, elven rangers recorded the first extended contact with a living gnome in the forest outside Ta’Illistim:

Gyldemar Forest, SW. Lead scout halted on approach to a narrow, shallow stream. At the bank stood a creature of perhaps two and one half feet tall, clothed in a rough linen tunic. Eyes: brown. Hair: blond. Beard: long and white. Ears: overlarge and pointed. Squad took cover to observe its behavior. The creature used a wooden spear to fish the stream, collecting its catch in a wicker creel. It sang a song in an uncouth tongue. Voice: high pitched and reedy. Tracked subject with maximum stealth to nearby cave, where we overheard a greeting to others of its kind. Laughter billowed out of the cave, and the creature emerged with a broad smile on its face. It pointed to each spot where our rangers hid, then pantomimed walking with a heavy, clumsy tread. In its own language, but in a remarkably accurate imitation of our leader, the gnome barked out what might have been commands. More laughter ensued, then with a quick wink the creature disappeared into the cave. Lessons learned: subject was a gnome; gnomes have developed the rudiments of civilization, including technology, language, and a sense of humor. Recommendations: additional observation and analysis.

This initial report was quickly confirmed by additional--but still uncommon--encounters with civilizing gnomes throughout the elven lands. At the very same time, scouts began to report contact with a very different sort of gnomish beast: hunch-backed, gangly, purple-eyed, nearly hairless, and anything but civilized. Keeping strictly to their caves and shunning any light, these creatures were inevitably hostile to the elves, attacking with crude and generally ineffective weapons.

There was--and still is--no satisfying explanation for the difference between civilized and savage gnomes. Most gnomes vehemently repudiate any connection with the creatures that have come to be called "cave gnomes," despite what others consider obvious similarities of size and features (hair and eye color, for example). Only the gnomes of Bloodline Rosengift recognize any relationship, and that only in one of their folktales:

And it came to pass that the gnomes, growing more accomplished with every year, left the lesser races far behind. Among the bloodlines, however, the struggle for dominion was fierce. One bloodline in particular so hungered for power that they communed with Fash’lo’nae. “Grant us, lord, some small part of your knowledge,” they prayed. In a voice impatient and curt, the god replied: “To what end?” “That we might outstrip our kin, of course, and rule the forest far and wide.” A wry chuckle blew down on the wind, and the god’s voice replied, “It’s Imaera you want, not me.”

And so the gnomes communed with the goddess of nature, who appeared to them in sylvan form. “How can I help you, children of the forest,” she asked. “We seek knowledge, great lady, that we might better serve your ends.” But Imaera had observed their exchange with Fash’lo’nae, and she saw the will to power in their hearts. “Very well,” she replied. “From this time forward, you will know nature to its very core.” For a short while the gnomes rejoiced in the idea that their wish had been granted; but foul Imaera, that perfidious wretch, had a crueler fate in mind. Within minutes, the entire bloodline devolved into children of nature, crude savages incapable of higher thought or organized behavior.

Rosengift distrust of nature notwithstanding, most historians believe that the truth lies in the opposite direction: that the civilized race evolved from the savage. This raises questions, however, about why time left the cave gnomes behind. In the end, there is no evidence sufficient to close the debate. Civilized and cave gnomes alike differ radically from the creatures depicted in the ancient elvish record, and thus is also possible to conclude that a single event, shrouded in the darkness of the end of the Third Age, sent the groups off on two divergent paths.

The origin of the gnomes thus remains an open question, a matter of great speculation and rancorous debate.

The Great Schism

Historians agree that gnomes are indigenous to Elanthia and Elanith, and that like other civilized races they first saw light in the First Age, from which no tales survive. In that savage epoch, the gnomes eked out a short and brutish existence--flying from danger or hiding in the darkness of shallow, natural caves--as the prey of larger and more powerful creatures. There are few beasts of smaller size or more modest power than the gnome, of course, which perhaps explains why their savage period extended so far beyond the rest. Those gnomes who survived these barbarous conditions developed the attributes that still characterize the race: stealth, speed, ingenuity, and above all a wary distrust of others.

Little is known about gnomish culture in its infancy except that their religious sensibility began in ancestor worship. Individual families of gnomes kept elaborate records of births, deaths, and marriage alliances. The few surviving records, scratched on cavern walls, indicate that the gnomes practiced exogamy, seeking always to bind additional persons into an ever-more inclusive group. These early gnomes identified themselves by reference to their earliest known ancestors, who gave their names to the extended family groups known as bloodlines. To this day, when outsiders commonly identify members of the race according to their home in Forest or Burg, the gnomes insist that only bloodline matters--or, to quote one of their earliest epigrams, that “Character is drawn in lines of blood.”

By longstanding tradition and from a continuing need for security, gnomes kept close to their ancestral caves. When overcrowding became a problem, several families would leave as a group to settle another cave nearby their original home. Thus the extended bloodlines remained physically and spiritually close to one another. In the year -135, however, a strange pestilence began to strike at the children of the gnomes. The disease progressed in this manner: the eyes became sensitive to light, and then a terrible weakness set in as the muscles became slack and unresponsive; the skin became pasty grey and then began to develop colorful growths resembling the lichen that grows on cavern walls; the disease ended with a lingering, but mercifully painless, death. As more and more children succumbed, the gnomes began to worry for the survival of their race. While no cure was ever found, the gnomes soon discovered that children were less likely to develop the wasting disease in the fresh air of the forest, in the energizing light of the sun. Without pause for thought, the gnomes streamed out of their caves and established camps in sunlit forest glades, and sometimes even in the grassy plains. This was dangerous, as it exposed the gnomes to predators, but the spread of disease came to a swift halt.

After a few seasons of exposure to predators and to harsh seasonal elements, the gnomes began to contemplate a return to their homes. Though the evacuation of the caves was originally conceived as a temporary measure, whispers began to circulate that the plague was a sign from the gods directing the gnomes to leave the caves, to expand their territory, and to take a more visible role in Elanthian life. This idea struck a chord with many gnomes, who felt a competitive desire to measure themselves against the other civilized races. A conservative element argued that life above ground was too dangerous, but a majority felt that the race was becoming too soft, their culture stagnant and hidebound, and that they needed the challenge of living above ground to stimulate further development.

These ideas eventually found their way to the leaders of gnomish society, who called an unprecedented meeting of bloodline elders. Recognizing that this decision would impact the entire race, the elders abandoned the tradition of gerontocracy in favor of a more democratic system in which every adult gnome would be allowed a vote on the issue. The gnomes gathered and spent weeks debating the issue, while craftsmen created wooden tokens marked with the identifying pattern of each bloodline. When the lots were cast, the decision went overwhelmingly in favor of leaving the caves.

No sooner was this decision made that a new wrinkle arose. A young gnome named Sander Withycombe suggested that his people might secure their goals more quickly, and at less trouble, by abandoning the forests altogether and moving into the cities and towns of other races. Groups of adventurous gnomes had occasionally explored the cities of the elves, but were daunted by the advanced civilization they found there. The more rustic towns of the humans, however, were comfortable and inviting.

Withycombe’s cousin and childhood friend, Doneagil Basingstoke, rose to speak in opposition to this idea. A great argument ensued. Lasting the better part of a year, it alternated between formal debate and rancorous shouting match, until finally it was determined that no compromise was possible. It was resolved that the gnomes would take one final action as a unified people. Those resolved to attach themselves to the human cities would leave kith and kin forever, while the rest would keep to their forest home. A vote was taken, and its results surprised no one. Smaller, weaker gnomes--the curious, but also those lacking discipline--chose to leave for the cities. The strongest and wisest of the race chose to remain where nature had placed them.

It is impossible to overstate the disruption that this vote brought to gnomish society. The division cut across families as well as bloodlines, and the departure of random groups violated the most ancient traditions of bloodline continuity. It was therefore resolved to mark the moment—which came in time to be called the Great Schism—with a reorganization of cultural groups. The entire record of gnomish ancestry prior to the Great Schism was destroyed, and two new groups organized under their most vocal advocates. Sjandor Withycombe led the Burghal Gnomes into the cities and towns of the Kannalan Empire, while Doneagil Basingstoke led the Forest Gnomes back to their ancestral demesne.

 

 

 



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