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Wednesday, 12 February 2014

The History of the Elves

The History of the Elves

Elven History – Part 1
“Before the ages were named or numbered, our people were glorious and eternal and never-changing. Like the great oak tree, they were constant in their traditions, strong in their roots, and ever-reaching for the sky.

They felt no need to rush when life was endless. They worshipped their gods for months at a time. Decisions were made after decades of debate, and an introduction could last for years. From time to time, our ancestors would drift into centuries-long slumber, but this was not death, for we know they wandered the Fade in dreams.

In those ages, our people called all the land Elvhenan, which in the old language means ”Place of our People.” And at the center of the world stood the great city of Arlathan, a place of knowledge and debate, where the best of the ancient elves would go to trade knowledge, greet old friends, and settle disputes that had gone on for millennia. But while our ancestors were caught up in the forever cycle of ages, drifting through life at what we today would consider an intolerable pace, the world outside was changing. The humans first arrived from the north. I know it is not something that the humans today will accept, but all the ancient accounts of our people that can be found agree it is so: one day the humans came from elsewhere, into a land where they had never been before. Called shemlen, or "quicklings", by the ancients, the humans were pitiful creatures whose lives blinked by in an instant. When they first met with the elves, the humans were brash and warlike, quick to anger, quicker to fight, and they had no patience for the unhurried pace of elven diplomacy.

But the humans brought worse things than war with them. Our ancestors proved susceptible to human diseases, and for the first time in millennia, elves were dying of natural causes. What's more, those elves that spent time bartering and negotiating with humans found themselves aging, quickened by the humans' brash and impatient lives. Many believed that our gods had judged us unworthy of eternal life and were casting us down. Our ancestors came to look upon the humans as parasites, which I understand is the way the humans see our people in their cities today… punishment, perhaps, for our hubris of long ago? Horrified at the prospect of losing their way of life forever, the ancient elves immediately moved to close Elvhenan off from the humans for fear that this "quickening" effect would crumble their civilization.

Perhaps they believed that ignoring the shemlen would make them go away. Perhaps they assumed that two peoples could simply live in peace, remaining ignorant of each others’ ways. Perhaps they meant no insult, or perhaps they meant to start a war. We know very little of the time that followed, only that the time of ancient Elvhenan was gone forever.”

--The tale of “The Fall of Arlathan,” as told by Gisharel, keeper of the Ralaferin Tribe of the Dalish elves.

Elven History – Part 2
“Now you ask, “What happened to Arlathan?” Sadly, we do not know. Even the Dalish, we who keep the ancient lore, have no record of what truly happened. All we have are accounts of the days before the fall and a fable of the whims of the gods.

The human world was changing, even as the elves slept. Clans and tribes gave way to a powerful empire called Tevinter, which came upon Elvhenan to conquer it. When they breached the great city of Arlathan, our people, fearing disease and the loss of immortality the humans would bring, chose to flee rather than to fight. With magic, demons, and even dragons at their behest, the Tevinter Imperium marched easily through Arlathan, destroying homes, galleries, and amphitheaters that had existed for ages. Our people were rounded up as slaves and taken from their ancestral home, the quickening driving itself through their veins and making them mortal. The elves called to their ancient gods, but there was no answer.

As to why the gods didn't answer, our people had only a legend. They say that Fen'Harel, the Dread Wolf and Lord of Tricksters, approached the gods of good and evil and proposed a truce. The gods of good would remove themselves to heaven, and the lords of evil would exile themselves to the abyss, and neither group would ever again enter the others’ lands. By the time they realized the Dread Wolf's treachery, they had been sealed away in their respective realms, never again to interact with the mortal world. It is a fable, to be sure, but those elves who travel the Beyond claim that Fen'Harel still roams the world of dreams, feasting upon the unwary as a glutton at his lunch, all the while keeping watch over the gods lest they escape from their prisons.

Whatever the case, Arlathan had fallen at the hands of the very humans our people had once considered naught but pests. It is said that the Tevinter magisters used their great and destructive power to force the very ground to swallow Arlathan whole, removing it from the world just as it was soon to be removed from the minds and hearts of its people. All records and artifacts lost to them forever, the whole of elven lore was trapped in the fading minds of a people who would soon forget what it meant to be an elf.”
--The tale of “The Fall of Arlathan,” as told by Gisharel, keeper of the Ralaferin Tribe of the Dalish elves.

Elven History – Part 3
“The humans tell tales of Andraste, and to them, she was a prophet. To our people, however, she was an inspiration. Her rebellion against Tevinter gave our people a window through which to see the sun, and our people reached toward it with all their strength. The rebellion was brief but successful; the death of the prophetess did not end our fight, and we fought on for independence even as the human Imperium began to crumble. In the end, we had won freedom and the southern reaches of land known as the Dales.
It was a home, a new chance to gather and rebuild all that we had lost. In our centuries of slavery we had lost our immortality, our language, our culture, our crafts… but never our sense of belonging to each other. From across Thedas we came to the Dales. We walked on foot, sometimes crossing thousands of miles with naught but our will to sustain us. Many of us perished on the Long Walk, but those of us that arrived at our new home were all the more determined.

There, in the Dales, our people revived the lost lore as best they could, and even turned to worship the old gods in their ancient prison. They called their first city Halamshiral, “the end of the journey,” and founded a new nation, isolated as elves were meant to be. They created an order called The Emerald Knights and charged them with watching the borders for trouble with the humans.

But you already know that something went wrong. Our ancestors' worship of the old elven gods angered the human Chantry, which constantly sent missionaries to our land. The Chantry wanted to convert our people to their worship of the Maker, but the Dalish would not submit. In protest, a small elven raiding party attacked the nearby human village of Red Crossing, an act that prompted the Chantry to attack and, with their superior numbers, conquer the Dales. We were not enslaved as we had been before, but our worship of the ancient gods was now forbidden. We were allowed to live among the humans as second class citizens and worship their Maker, slowly forgetting once more the scraps of lore we had maintained through the centuries. Those that refused were forced to wander, landless and friendless in their wagons, across a world that told them they were unwelcome.

Two homes we elves have lost, but it is the loss of the Dales that hurt us most. When I see the vhenadahl, the “tree of our people”, that is planted in the middle of our poor alienage here in the human city… I weep. It is a strong and mighty tree with many branches, but it bears only bitter fruit.”
--The tale of “The Rise and Fall of the Dales,” as told by Sarethia, elder of the Highever Alienage.

Elven History – Part 4
“Now we wander, we last clans that refused to set aside our pride and live in the alienages set aside for elves in human cities. We wander the lands in our aravels – the “landships” as the shemlen call them – and proudly tattoo the symbols of our gods on our faces to pronounce to all who see us that our beliefs are sacred, and we shall never surrender them.

We keep to ourselves. If we stay in any one place for too long, the shemlen will come and attempt to make us leave. Some of the clans resist, but most will simply pick up the aravels and move on once again. Our way is not to do battle with the shemlen unless we must.

Our way is to gather what bits of our culture and our language we can find, to guard them carefully and preserve them – for the day will come when we have a homeland once again. And when that day comes, we shall be ready. Our brethren in the shemlen cities who have forgotten, they will come to us on that day and we shall teach them. They will learn the ancient magic of the Keepers, the crafts of our masters and the language of our ancestors. And we shall not make the same mistakes again.

We are the Dalish: keepers of the lost lore, walkers of the lonely path. We are the last of the Elvhenan, and never again shall we submit.”

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