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Lines of Blood: A History of the Gnomes
Bloodline Winedotter

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Candlelight dinner,
Knapkin folded like a swan:
Please don’t let me fail!

--Arvyad’gno prayer

For 850 years following the Great Schism, there were no bloodlines among the gnomes, but merely gnomes who lived in human cities and gnomes who remained in the forest. All of that changed in the year 725, when Lyosi Wyandotte led a group of Withycombe gnomes into Ta’Nalfein. This first fracture of the burghal gnome community led to the resuscitation of the bloodline denomination as a means of distinguishing the original Withycombe group from the upstart Wyandotte faction.

Lyosi Wyandotte was anything but an upstart. In fact, she was a gnome of such careful thought and deliberate behavior that her friends thought her a little slow. Her enemies might have put it differently, but Wyandotte was so kind and agreeable that few gnomes felt anything but a warm, parental consideration for her. She was raised in a small village surrounded by vineyards and olive groves in the countryside outside Tamzyrr. Her host family was made up of good, hardworking county people: the kind that never achieves greatness, but instead enjoys a lifetime of quiet satisfaction. Lyosi Wyandotte snuck into their cottage at night to iron the curtains, wash the odd dish, and sweep the floor, asking only a small biscuit and cup of milk in return. She took great satisfaction from knowing that her hosts, however humble, were more comfortable because of her efforts. No one ever suspected that Lyosi Wyandotte wanted more from life than this.

In her heart, however, Lyosi Wyandotte was a great romantic. She had a vision of what life should be, and when she looked around her she saw little that met her idealistic expectations. She felt with a deep passion that gnomish culture had gone astray since the time of Sjandor Withycombe. She felt her people were foolish for sweating away their time and energy in steamy workshops, when the true calling of burghal gnomes was service to their hosts, service for its own sake and not merely as a justification for pilferage. She longed for a time when gnomes would take more pride in such work and award more respect to those who performed it. Nevertheless, year after year the word came forth from Tamzyrr that the head gnome had been chosen for crafting some useless machine. Not incidentally, year after year the head gnome was a man. While women were not forbidden a place in the workshops, they were subtly pressured to adopt less prestigious positions within gnomish society, thus rendering themselves unfit for consideration as compound leaders, much less as the head burghal gnome. Lyosi Wyandotte secretly bristled at this perceived injustice. If her friends thought she was empty-headed, it was because she spent so much time dreaming dreams of how society would be different were it led by women in domestic service rather than grimy workshop masters.

She might have continued this life of silent dissatisfaction were it not for the visit of a group of Nalfein traders interested in buying grapes direct from the harvest. Wyandotte was instantly smitten with the elves’ courtly manners. On a whim, she granted herself leave of absence from her human hosts and stole aboard one of the Nalfein wagons. After a long and difficult journey, she finally spied the walls of the city in the distance. She felt a great joy rush into her heart at the grandeur of the sight. As she snuck about the city, everything that she saw confirmed her first impression: here was a people infinitely more worthy of fine service than humans. No gnome, she felt, could fail to respect those who served such lordly hosts.

She raced back to Selanthia with all deliberate speed, telling every gnome she met about the majesty of elves. Many of the gnomes she met thought she was exaggerating, or that she was a bit of a mad enthusiast, but others listened with interest. When she returned to her home, she found it difficult to serve her human hosts, whose lives seemed puny and mean in comparison to the grand families she visited in Ta’Nalfein. First among relatives and friends, and then throughout the county, Wyandotte began to circulate the idea of establishing a burghal colony among the elves. Most dismissed her notion without a second thought, but others gave her idea careful consideration. Many gnomes in service, and a disproportionate number of women, signed a scroll indicating their desire to join Wyandotte’s venture. Another group that joined the roll were journeymen winemakers, who saw relocation as a quicker route to mastery and ownership of wineries; the opportunity to glean secrets of the art from an ancient winemaking culture also played no insignificant part in their decision to join Wyandotte’s quest.

Armed with her scroll filled with names, Lyosi Wyandotte traveled to Tamzyrr, traveling the same underground road that brought Sjandor Withycombe into the city. Sensible of the historic moment, she reached the compound of the head burghal gnome and requested an audience. The head burghal gnome does not have much to do on any given day, and she was immediately shown inside. Sitting behind an enormous steel desk covered with award-winning gadgets was Tymos Aluvy, an elderly jeweler with a silvery grey beard that reached to his knees. He smiled at her and asked her name.

“Lyosi Wyandotte, sir.”

“Only daughter of that vineyard gnome, who invented a machine for extracting oil from grape seeds a few years back?”

Sighing inwardly, she nodded.

“What can I do for you, then, little daughter?” Aluvy looked across at her with his best fatherly smile.

“I bear a petition, sir, of several hundred names. I plan to establish a colony in the elven city of Ta’Nalfein, and I have come to seek your blessing.”

Tymos Aluvy’s eyes opened in unmasked disbelief. “You don’t say? You couldn’t possibly have said. No, I simply don’t believe you!”

Little did Wyandotte know that she was subverting tradition, cutting through the decades of red tape normally required for such petitions, not to mention the fact that she was implicitly questioning the judgment of Sjandor Wityhycombe himself, who deliberately chose to live among humans instead of elves. Lyosi Wyandotte simply stared at the babbling Aluvy, and then walked over to his desk. With the air of someone explaining a simple concept to an addlepated listener, she unrolled her scroll. “I do say just that, sir. Look…here are the names!”

“I do not want to see the names, and I know just what you mean, you impudent thing,” he snarled. “Just what do you propose doing among the elves that you couldn’t do here at home?”

Slowly, hesitantly, she spun out her dream. She described a society where the home was more important than the workshop, where domestic service was the most respected form of employment. She described a matriarchal family structure, where power passed from mother to daughter but with no prejudice toward fathers and sons. She suggested that the head gnome might often (perhaps more often than not) be a woman. She also mentioned the winemakers who had joined her group, and she speculated on a trade that might someday benefit both colony and metropolis: fine elven wine in exchange for gnomish manufactured goods.

She spoke for almost twenty minutes, all the while ignoring the signs of mounting anger and exasperation in the expression of the head gnome. Finally the old man exploded into incoherent screams: “Wine?!” “Daughters?!” “Indeed!!” Recovering only a little of his composure, he continued to shout. “And I suppose you, a housemaid, will lead this foolish venture? It cannot be! It will not be!” In a sing-song voice, he called out, “Winedaughters! Winedaughters!” and then cackled with derision and scorn.

Lyosi Wyandotte sank deeper within herself at every word, her face stinging from the venom of his tone. She started to shrink back from the desk as her dream begin to fade, but then she suddenly found her resolve. She straightened her spine to full height and looked Aluvy straight in the eye. “We are leaving with or without your permission, old man,” she said. “I came here as a courtesy to the head of my race, but you have proven yourself unworthy of my respect. I disavow relationship to you, now and forever, for me and for all those who follow me.” She then turned on her heel and walked out. Within a month, all of her followers were on their way to Ta’Nalfein, leaving a stunned and disbelieving nation behind.

The burghal gnome culture that evolved in Ta’Nalfein, and later spread throughout the elven nations, came to be called “Bloodline Winedotter” from a conflation of Lyosi Wyandotte’s name with the appellation Tymos Aluvy bestowed upon them in his rage. (Some fastidious Winedotters still insist on being called Wyandotters, but they are considered humorless cranks, even by their friends and family.) The culture evolved along the lines of Lyosi Wyandotte’s dream, in no small part because she worked tirelessly to see it come to pass. She served as an informal leader of the group, guiding its development without ever holding formal office. In her later years, she found herself being called “Grandmother” by the entire bloodline, despite having had no husband or children of her own.

Initially, the burghal gnomes found it more difficult to infiltrate the cities of the elves than those of the lackadaisical humans. The elves were much more likely to observe the slightest movement of their things, or to hear controlled breathing in the dark. The Winedotter gnomes selected individual families of elves to adopt on the basis of wealth and power. They infiltrated the grand mansions of royalty and merchant princes, as well as the most successful vintners of the age. Instead of creating an elaborate network of underground tunnels, they built multi-layered sub-basements beneath the “big houses,” and it was not unusual for Winedotter gnomes to go months and even years without leaving the safety of their compounds.

The Winedotter gnomes identify more closely with their hosts than any other burghal bloodline. They take pride in the accomplishments of “our people,” as the host family is called, and they derive their status within Winedotter society from the status of their elven hosts. In the first generation that the gnomes were present in Ta’Nalfein, the desire to please sometimes grew into a competition to do more for the hosts, and eventually some over-eager gnomes stepped over the line where the elves could no longer pretend not to notice their presence. A meeting was held in the private chambers of the Nalfein king, to which Lyosi Wyandotte was invited by subtle hints delivered in stage whispers at night in all the most important houses of Ta’Nalfein.

At the meeting, some elves argued that the gnomes should be made welcome and others that they should be expelled or even killed for their temerity. From a place of hiding behind rich velvet curtains, Wyandotte listened as the king closed the debate by declaring the gnomes welcome in his realm and in his household. Following his lead, the great families of the Nalfein came to regard their adoption by gnomes as a very great honor and a sign of social status. While some families of elves declined the honor, either from parsimony or a desire not to lose their privacy, most welcomed the kind attentions of the gnomes.

Despite the hosts’ knowledge of their presence, Winedotter gnomes maintain the burghal traditions of stealth, doing all of their work anonymously, unseen and unheard, in the night. Occasionally an elf will communicate subtly with the gnomes, leaving a note folded in the pocket of a shirt that needs mending, or tucked into the toe of some shoes that need polishing. Propriety demands that the elves not acknowledge the gnomes directly, instead expressing a vague and passive desire that such and such piece of work might be done. Most Winedotter gnomes actually take these notes as a grave affront, an implied criticism of their failure to anticipate the need, but they would never allow the elves to know as much. The notes are always found undisturbed exactly where they were left, though the work they request has always been completed.

Despite their focus on domestic service, Winedotter gnomes have not turned their backs entirely on their Withycombe origins. They do maintain small home workshops in which they tinker, purely as hobbyists, with mechanical designs. Winedotter gnomes focus exclusively on objects of beauty, however, believing that practical devices are an excuse not to take personal responsibility for careful work. A music-loving people, the Winedotter bloodline produces relatively few musicians, and as a result many of their finest products are mechanical music boxes. They have also refined the mechanical clocks of the Withycombes to include music, and their glockenspiels (large and small) are sources of wonder and delight.

The area in which the Winedotter gnomes focus most of their tinkering energy is winemaking. What began as the professional interest of a small group of gnomes has become, over time, a central component of the culture. Wine is omnipresent in the cultural life of the bloodline, and the Winedotter compounds resemble wine cellars because of the racks of bottles and aging casks that fill every available space. Winedotter gnomes do not make wines in large batches for everyday use, preferring to pilfer that from their elven hosts. The signature labels of the Winedotter vintners are likely to be unique blends or wines with unexpected infusions of flavor made in small batches for the connoisseur trade.

Winedotter families are closer-knit and more loving than those of the Withycombe bloodline. Nuclear families live in brick-lined apartments conjoined into extended family compounds that reach deep underground. Winedotter families observe a strict matriarchal organization. Husbands move into the compound of the wife’s family, and they take the wife’s family name. In addition, the ultimate authority in any dispute is the oldest living woman of the family. Winedotter children remain in the household of their parents, though babysitting duties are often shared by siblings and cousins when the parents are off at work. Children learn the discipline of housework and personal service from an early age. As young children, they are assigned responsibilities in the family apartment, and as they grow older they are tasked with looking after infirm or ill relatives in the extended family. On occasion, a Winedotter gnome will take a son or daughter to work with them in the big house in recognition of some special achievement. Otherwise, Winedotter gnomes are forbidden to leave the compound until they come of age.

At the age of 17, Winedotter gnomes become eligible for the arvyad’gno. In the Winedotter version of the burghal ceremony, invited guests from the extended family gather in their formal wear for an elaborate meal of seven courses; the adolescent undergoing the rite serves the guests with dignity and grace, observing all of the proprieties of Nalfein manners. The most difficult moment for the petitioner comes during the exquisitely formal interlude of wine tasting known as the Seven Sips, in which the challenge lies in circling the table with each vintage in a timely manner, so that the next round is poured before the last has been finished, while giving each guest an opportunity to accept or refuse each libation. The candidate’s success or failure is judged by the diners, who never let the wine dull their scrutiny. Upon successful completion of the arvyad’gno, the Winedotter gnome is admitted to the “Upstairs Staff”: they are provided formal wear (cut in the latest elven fashion and embroidered with the coat of arms of their host family) and assigned nightly duties in the elven mansion. Gnomes who fail the arvyad’gno are assigned tasks within the family compound, and they become eligible to re-take the challenge on their next birthday. (It is never difficult to find judges for the events.) Regardless of their success, the penitents receive the bloodmark of their clan: three vertical lines (signifying an arbor) topped with a leafy grapevine.

Winedotter marriages are always exogamous, and they serve as welcome opportunities for an entire family to leave their compound and visit another. The marriage vows consist of formal speeches of a length guaranteed to bore anyone but the partners themselves, though the assembled families maintain the strictest expressions of rapt attention. The key component of the vows is a promise to serve the partner with all the attention normally bestowed only on the elven hosts. The vows are followed by toasts, speeches, and yet more toasts. Weddings function as important showcases for specialty wines, and the key symbol of Winedotter marriage is the label printed specifically for the wedding. The best vintners from each family create a unique blend for the wedding, and this wine is served at the ceremony and at every anniversary the couple shares. On the death of either spouse, the remaining bottles are poured into the ground in recognition of the lost union.

Winedotter funerals are formal, stuffy affairs. Bodies are borne in great state to the deepest levels of the compound, where crypts are masked by tall racks of wine. Gnomes in formal livery and white gloves stand at attention as the loved one is laid to rest, music boxes playing funereal marches all the while. The next of kin makes a speech praising the virtues of the gnome and listing the highlights of their life: their dreams, their loves, their legacy.

Gnomes of Bloodline Winedotter have a religious life of deep devotion. They adopt the patron arkati of their hosts as patrons of their own, but their personal gods tend to fall into two categories: women and servants. Eorgina, strangely enough, has very few adherents among these gnomes; while the idea of a dark queen appeals to some of their cultural values, the type of service she demands is anathema to the Winedotter pride. Tilamaire also has many followers among these music-loving gnomes. The high holy day of the Winedotters coincides with Founder’s Day, which (following the Withycombe tradition) is held on Eoantos 1. Hosted by the family that serves the royal house of each city, the celebration is marked by toasts to the gods, to the Founder Lyosi Wyandotte, and to the elders of each compound. (By the end of the evening, toasts are made to the children who pour the wine, to the glassware, and to anything that stops spinning long enough to be recognized.) Instead of a head gnome (the Winedotters do without centralized bloodline government), a Chief Taster is selected as the gnome who brings the finest wine to the festival. The Chief Taster’s job is to visit each vintner in the city on a circuit, testing the products at each stop. The Chief Taster spends a rather dissolute year, with the result that rarely is a gnome chosen twice in a row. In fact, Chief Tasters are usually more than grateful to see their terms come to an end.

The Winedotter gnomes also have a unique tradition of mysticism tied to the stars. Studying the elven star maps, drawing the familiar constellations and others known only to initiates, these mystics believe that spiritual well-being and fate are powerfully influenced by the varicolored light of distant stars. By casting starstones of various size, color, and shape onto the ground, these gnomish mystics can read the past and the future of their subjects with uncanny accuracy.

Winedotter compounds exist in each of the great elven cities with the exception of New Ta’Faendryl, where their presence is banned by royal decree. No self-respecting Winedotter gnome would attach to a Dhe’nar, as the very concept of slavery is a heinous affront to the ethos of bloodline Winedotter.

 

 

 



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