Monday, October 5, 2009

Pre-History of Noffel pt. I of V

by Sawith, Chief Scribe of Kaladar

How It Began
To tell the story of the human settlement of Ara, one must begin in the region we call Noffel, more than three millennia ago.
Noffel is a land of rolling hills and warm sun, nestled between the steep Frey Mountains on the northeast, the Great Swamp on the north and west, and the Bay of Noffel to the south.  The first people to settle here may have originated from the southern peninsula of Rakar, though that is uncertain.  What is certain is that by the time these people began recording their own history, in the first year of what we call the Old Noffellian calendar, they had already lived here for at least fourteen generations.
From their earliest beginnings, these people fished.  The Bay of Noffel (called narna in their language) yielded a bounty of sunfish and saltwater flatfish, and the early people of this area carved small wooden boats (called yaks) which they paddled out into the bay and fished from.  They were foragers as well, gathering huckleberries, wild grapes, and various roots. 
Their tools, which included woodcarving implements, fish knives, and fishing spears, were made from sharpened stone and wood.  Bark fibers from yaro trees were used to make rope and blankets.
They were tribal people, made up of numerous clans loyal to certain gods, and these clans together made up the larger tribe or al-darma.
The largest clan of the al-darma worshipped Zapar, a swift god of the waters who was believed to have taught the people how to carve yaks. The Zapar clan was peaceful and wise, and was responsible for starting the Old Calendar.  The Zapars were the most numerous tribal group; the clay tablet that bore the original written calendar noted that the Zapar tribe numbered six hundred individuals in year 83.  The next most numerous group, the Kala, numbered only half that many.
In late 124 or early 125, another tribe, the Minars, discovered a new substance in the northern foothills, a substance they called kapar (copper).  Believing this to be sacred wood given to them by their god, the Minar elders decided to dig for more kapar, and were soon making decorative items from the shiny metal.  This impressed many of the lesser tribes, and some began to worship Minar.
The Zapars were skeptical.  Their own tablets refer to a “trap” or “trick” engineered by a mischievous god (Minar) to distract the people of the al-darma from fishing. 
However, the Minars were already moving away from sea fishing, preferring to fish the waters of the Frey River as it sped down from the mountains.  They had also begun to trap and hunt small game in the foothills.  Indeed, as Minar had sent them a gift that could only be found in the highlands, were not the hills more sacred than the sea?
For two generations, the Minars and the Zapars drifted apart, the former venturing further into the mountains in search of kapar, the latter remaining on the coast. 
In or around the year 171, the Minars (and other lesser tribes who followed them) broke completely away from the al-darma led by the Zapars and vanished into the northeastern mountains.  Over the next several generations, the Minars would continue their wanderings in search of kapar, on their way populating areas of present-day Blint, and eventually settling in the great mountains of present-day Minoch.  There, amongst the glacial streams and rivers they had come to love, with a plentiful supply of the ore that was sacred to their god, the Minars made their permanent home.

A New Discovery
One hundred years after the Minars departed, in the summer season of 272, a young boy was exploring the hills along the Frey River, as he often did after the morning’s fishing was done.  He was the son of the chief of the Zapars.  In the custom of the tribe he would be the next chief, unless his younger brother Gorwin proved himself more deserving of the position.  The chief himself was concerned about his oldest boy, for he was inclined to dreaming and adventuring, instead of learning the responsibilities that came with being the chief of his people.
The young boy’s name was Noffel.
Noffel liked to venture deep into the foothills, delving into the caves that were left by the Lost Ones.  He sometimes found shards of old stone tools, or pieces of wood, and once he had even found a tiny disc of precious kapar, the shiny metal that only chiefs were permitted to wear.
What Noffel secretly hoped to discover was some raw kapar ore, the substance that the Lost Ones were supposedly looking for when they dug their tunnels.  Noffel did not know for himself if the Lost Ones were real or imaginary.  But if he found some of their sacred ore, he felt he would have proof that they were real people who had disappeared into the mountains as his grandmother told him.
This day, young Noffel climbed further into the hills than ever before, looking for a particularly promising cave that he had seen before at a distance.  He plodded onward in the afternoon sun, untroubled by the heat and the flies.  He could hear the roaring of the Frey River far away to his right.  Ahead and above him towered the massive peaks of the mighty Frey mountain range.  This range was named for a powerful god, the One Who Sent the Thunder, the same god who was said to have caused the disappearance of the Lost Ones.
Buried deeply in a corner of Noffel’s mind was an image of the huge, bipedal monsters called trolls who roamed the heights of these mountains and ate human beings; the trolls were said to be the servants of Frey.
Noffel emerged from a thicket of wild blackberry, scratched and scarred.  The large cave mouth was before him.  This was, indeed, the largest tunnel he had ever found.  His heart quickened, and he bounded up the slope to the entrance.
The tunnel mouth was more than twice his height, and though the sun shone brightly, ten paces into the cave was total darkness.  Noffel had no light source; candles made of beeswax were precious to the al-darma, there was no way for him to get one.  He explored the caves by feel and smell alone.
Today, before entering, he paused.  Something intangible gripped his heart, and for a moment he stood bewildered.  Why was he here?  Wasn’t this dangerous?  Hadn’t his father discouraged him from coming up here and “wasting time” in these tunnels? He felt fearful and unsure.
A breeze blew across the hills and washed over him, bringing the refreshing coolness and smell of the high mountains.  Noffel came back into the present and saw the cave in front of him.  He looked around him, closed his eyes, and stepped forward.
He counted his footsteps into the tunnel, and when he felt sure he was far enough
inside to be completely enshrouded in darkness, he opened his eyes.
As he expected, vision would be of little use to him here.  He sidestepped left until he felt the side of the tunnel with his outstretched hand.  Touch would be his guide.  He walked cautiously ahead.
Thirty steps into the tunnel, the dirt wall on his left gave way to a side passage, and he decided to take it.  Usually, the smaller side tunnels contained more treasure than the larger main ones.  He kept moving.
One of the reasons that children of his tribe were warned not to enter these caves was because the tribal elders believed that trolls sometimes lived in them.  Noffel knew this, but he had never seen a troll, and did not know if they were real or not.  Noffel felt that sometimes the elders said things that weren’t true in order to make things go their way.
The side tunnel ended in a vertical shaft that led downward into dank blackness.  Now Noffel was unsure.  He had never before encountered a shaft like this one.  How far down did it lead?  What was down there?
He heard his father’s voice inside his mind, warning him to turn back.  Then he heard the voice of his old grandmother, saying, “Know things for yourself, child.  That’s how you become a chief.”
He decided.  Turning around to face the way he had come, he squatted, inched his feet over the edge, and slid down into the darkness. 
Young Noffel did not come back to the village that night, or all the next day.  His mother, the chief’s wife, grew worried.  Noffel had been out all night before, but had always returned in time to help her husband with the yak in early morning.  Perhaps the boy was hurt or in danger.
Noffel’s father was concerned as well, and said, “If he does not come back tonight, we will go and search for him tomorrow, after the morning’s fishing.”
Noffel did not return that night.  The next afternoon, some of the men and women of the village, led by the chief, searched the hills and tunnels on both sides of the Frey River.  They found no sign of Noffel.  As the sun lowered in the west, the search party returned to the village.  The chief said, “We will search again tomorrow.  If we do not find him, then I will burn a candle for my oldest son.”  Burning a candle was the ritual marking the passage into the next world.
Noffel did not return the next day, so again the chief set out for the hills with a group of able-bodied men and women from the village. 
As they left, Noffel’s younger brother, Gorwin, emerged from the hut where they lived, saying to his father, “Let me go with you today.  I have seen the places where Noffel goes.  I have followed him before, without his knowing.”
Though he was tempted to be angry with his son for sneaking off to the same places he had warned Noffel against, the chief was wise enough to see that his youngest son meant to be helpful, so he replied, “Yes, come with us.  This will be our last day of searching.”
They ventured into the hills.  The afternoon sun glared down on them; there was no wind that day.  They spread apart, calling for Noffel occasionally, but mostly remaining silent so they could listen for signs of the lost boy.
None of the adults knew about the large cave further up in the hills, but Gorwin had seen it before, and knew that Noffel had seen it too.  He made his way toward its location.
Gorwin was nine years old, two years younger than Noffel, and he was a perceptive young boy.  As he approached the area of the large tunnel, he noticed disturbances in the brambles there that could have been made by his brother.  His heart quickened.  He crawled through the blackberries and beheld the cave.
There, in the dusky light just inside the entrance, lay Noffel.  Gorwin ran up the slope to him, and found his brother alive, but unconscious.  Gorwin shouted for his father, and in a short while, the chief came bolting up the slope, scratched and cut by brambles, eyes aflame.  He took in both his sons, saw that his oldest was alive, and he threw his arms heavenward, crying, “O mighty Frey!  From this moment on, I promise to honor you alongside Zapar, to thank you for sparing my son!”
The chief carried Noffel down the hill, returning him to the hut where his mother and grandmother waited.  The chief told them all with great pride of Gorwin’s deeds.  He was so overcome by mixed feelings of joy, anger, and relief that he did not notice the hard, gray, unusually heavy lump of ore clenched in Noffel’s sleeping hand.

Noffel was not destined to witness in the flesh the far-reaching effects of his discovery.  However, as the years passed, and his father grew into elderhood, Noffel himself became a strong chief, much loved by his people, firm and decisive but with an open heart.  The Zapars flourished, carving ceremonial yaks of great intricacy and beauty.  The sunfish were plentiful.  Many attributed the glory of these years to the benevolence of the god Frey, whom the tribe now held sacred alongside Zapar.
Chief Noffel kept the gray lump of metal wrapped in a rabbit skin on a pedestal next to the Place of Judgment.  When tribespeople came to him to intervene in their disputes, Noffel would finger the heavy object as he considered his decisions.  It made him feel grounded and strong.  It reminded him of the wisdom of his grandmother, who years before had passed to the other side.
In the year 294, Noffel’s fifth year as chief of the Zapars, unusual things began to happen in one of the outlying villages.  A young man named Salnod discovered that he was able to cause his own body to float high in the air when the full moon shone.  During the new moon, Salnod could lay his hands upon ailing persons and cure their pain.  And his sister, Aldora, had strange powers as well: she could fly between the high treetops, and create warm light to shine in the darkness.
When tales of these wonders reached the coastal villages of the Zapars, Chief Noffel felt called to journey into the hills to meet Salnod and Aldora.  Leaving his eldest son, Garnok, to tend to the family's fishing and settle disputes in his absence, Noffel set out toward the remote wooded village of Nurna.  After two days' laborious hiking, he reached Nurna, and was greeted warmly by the villagers.  They climbed trees and called out to him as he strode down the trail that led to the Clearing. 
The people of Nurna worshiped Aldor, the goddess of the wood, and they did not fish except in the nearby Frey river.  They had their own chief, Lumar, who happened to be Salnod and Aldora's uncle.  Lumar and Noffel knew each other well and greeted each other as friends.
“Lumar,” said Noffel, “I have come to see with my own eyes the new, wondrous things I hear about your people.  Am I so permitted?”
“Of course,” replied Lumar, “But first, we must share a meal together!”
With that, the two chiefs proceeded to the Clearing, the great meeting-place and feasting-place of the tribe.  And there was a great table already set out, with fruits, berries, nuts, river-fish, rabbit, and wooden pitchers brimming with ale and water.  They seated themselves on the soft grass at either end of the long table, and were joined by a great number of tribes-people, including young Salnod and his sister, Aldora.  They feasted and talked as the children played games around (and under) the huge feast table.
By the time the eating and merry-making had made way for quiet contemplation and subdued talk, the sun was low in the sky, and red-golden beams slanted down between the trunks of the great trees.  At this time, the chief Lumar raised his arms, and the table grew silent.  He said:
“Our friend, chief Noffel of the Zapar people, is here to bear witness to the new blessings which have descended upon my niece and nephew.  Let us share these wonders with our kinsman!”
He called the two youths forward, and they knelt beside their uncle.  Like most Aldors, Salnod and Aldora were fair-skinned and delicate of feature, with bright blue or green eyes and a tendency to be slightly taller than their Zapar cousins.  Even young Salnod stood nearly as tall as chief Noffel himself.  Lumar spoke:
“Aldora, let us begin with you.  Show us your blessing.”
The girl Aldora closed her eyes and seemed to slow her breathing.  Then, to the wonderment of the Zapar chief, she floated up off the ground, rising straight up until she was as high as the tallest treetops.  Once at that dizzying height, she began to glide from tree to tree, soaring as gracefully as any bird.  After a few moments of this, she stopped again in midair, then slowly descended to earth, in a straight line, and knelt beside her uncle once again.
At that moment, the sun set, and shortly, the light of the full moon gleamed down into the trees and the Clearing.  Lumar gestured to Salnod, and the young man nodded.  Up he sprang, and in seconds, he was high in the air, soaring up above even the tallest trees.  He flew so high that, to the onlookers below, he could have been nothing more than a lone bat in the twilit sky, or a distant bird of prey.
In time, he also returned to sit beside his uncle and chief.  Lumar then said to Noffel, “You have now seen these wonders that the Lady of the Wood has seen fit to bestow upon my people.  What are your thoughts, my kinsman and friend?”
Noffel replied, “I am amazed and pleased at what I have seen.  Your people are deserving of such godly gifts!
“However, my own people have received no such gifts as of yet, and I see the possibility that they will become envious of your people and their powers.  So my suggestion to you, wise Lumar, is to keep these powers to yourselves.  Use them, yes, to glorify beautiful Aldor and to serve your own people, but do not become boastful or over-proud of your newfound blessings.  And I, for my part, will work to make my own people understand that these abilities of yours are not to be feared or begrudged, but praised.”
And Lumar said, “Thank you, Noffel, for your compassion and wisdom.  We Aldors shall not abuse the blessings we have been given, and we thank you for your pledge to keep peace and friendship between our peoples.”  At this, the Aldors gave cries of assent, loudly praising the wisdom of both chiefs.
Noffel set off for his own village the next morning, and for all of his many remaining days, he kept his promise to the Aldors.  It is a testament to the strength of Noffel’s convictions, and the love the Zapars had for him, that the peace between these two tribes lasted for so many generations after his death.

[Continue to Part II]

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