You walk into the gathering room, where students meet to discuss recent lessons, plan upcoming tasks, or just have a beer. Master Arasemis often lets the students gather here without him, probably to encourage comradery. From here, you can continue downstairs, upstairs, or down the hallway to the student rooms and Arasemis’s quarters beyond.
There are four paintings on the wall here in the gathering room, all of them depicting the Naren-Dra culture in the high mountains in what is now southwestern Calbria. You are familiar with the culture because of its central role in the history of Candlestone alchemy. You cringe slightly as you think of Arasemis’s many lessons on Nari glyphs that are required to learn shroud alchemy. You cringe fully when you think of the extensive glyph dictionaries up in the library, with their limitless and confusing forms. Still, they have taught you much.
You see four paintings in this gallery.
You recognize the first painting as an iconic view of Naren-Dra culture: a large mountain goat pulling a sled made from giant tortoise shells. These goats were the critical travel, communication, and trade links among a tribe that was dispersed and isolated across the snowy mountains.
Each clan of the Naren-Dra was ruled independently by a seneschal who was elected by his or her people, typically for life. Master Arasemis called this arrangement a confederation, which he said was among the best examples of the tribal governance that Candlestone hopes to revive.
Unlike most modern kings, the seneschals could be removed by their people if they lost confidence in them. Arasemis acknowledged that specific families usually dominated Naren-Dra politics, but he said that detail could be managed.
Since there is no title on the frame, you imagine that this painting depicts the travel of a seneschal to Sipadshur, the ancient capital of the Naren-Dra. The seneschals made this journey twice each year, once during the Sun-stepping festival in midsummer, when they walked or rode the goats in some places where the snow has melted. And once during the Snow-shelling in midwinter, when they enclosed themselves in the double shell sled for travel. Once at the capital, they discussed issues of mutual interest and resolved clan disputes.
You see a beautiful painting of a giant tortoise meandering the halls of the capital palace at Sipadshur, which translates from the Nari to “mountain mast”. Master Arasemis said the tortoises were revered by the Naren-Dra and thus permitted to wander at will. Their shells were painted with colorful designs by the Naren-Dra. Only when the tortoises died after very long lives were their shells harvested for new sleds. As a result, sleds were very valuable and handed down through the generations.
You wish you could travel to the Narendra Mountains to visit the old palace, but Arasemis said tribal descendants called the Narendramen still live there and ambush any outsiders who attempt to climb into the mountains. Arasemis said it is impossible to enter, and yet, he has claimed to have visited at some unspecified time in his past.
Arasemis described the Narendramen as essentially identical to how they were described in books centuries ago. They wear heavy snow robes made from a thick patchwork of pelts and scavenged fabrics. They wear wooden masks with fur linings and crystal-windowed eye slits to protect from the frigid wind, and these are the inspiration for the masks worn by Candlestone members today. He said the Naren-Dra miners, who gather rare ingredients for the shroud alchemists, use iron-tipped gloves to aid quick digging and handling of materials. And nearly all of the Naren-Dra have gray eyes. Arasemis says it helps them avoid the glare of the sun on the snow, though you don’t understand how that would be.
You see a second painting of the tortoises, clearly by the same artist.
You remember Master Arasemis teaching that the Naren-Dra people descended from ancient Agnesci clans who had built ships to journey to the Old World. After the Cataclysm, when nearly all of those Agnesci aboard the ships were killed, their shipyards back home were purposefully destroyed and the builder clans ostracized to prevent another Cataclysm. Later these shunned clans evolved into scattered subclans, primarily the Naren-Dra in the mountains and the Rahlampians on the wide plains. You recall there is a painting of the Rahlampians’ landships upstairs somewhere.
This painting has no title on the frame, but you think it probably depicts the palace at Sipadshur during the height of the snow-shelling season. You recall from Master Arasemis’s teachings that the palace was originally built by clans of the Agnesci people who were banished from their homes after the Cataclysm. They had been the shipbuilders that enabled the voyage to the Old World of Cedelabos, what is now called Almeria, and were blamed for the great loss of life among their kinsmen.
There followed an era of infighting as the banished builder clans fought each other in the eastern wilderness. Those who settled in the mountains and became the Naren-Dra wished to be as far as possible from their old lands, forsaking anything that was similar to shipbuilding or machinery. The only exception, Master Arasemis said, was their beloved telescopes, or far-seeing eyes as they called them. They cared for these machines as if they were holy extensions of their sky god’s eyes, gifted to them to look down upon the distant and dangerous world from afar.
As they monitored the world from on high, the Naren-Dra gave up large weapons like swords and even armor, preferring to hone their shroud alchemy and aerina arcana for defense. The mountains became a sacred refuge for them, a pedestal to the heavens.
Isolated and aloof, the Naren-Dra came to view themselves as a purified and holy people, the people physically and spiritually closest to their sky god. This belief was preserved in a Naren-Dra poem that Master Arasemis made the students memorize, but that you’ve since forgotten. It is the training in shroud alchemy and glyph writing that you have valued most.
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