Sunday, 8 May 2016

Commander Ludwig Nicstaed’s ‘The Creatures and Monsters of Esdaria: A Bestiary Written in Blood’, Part Four of Six

In part four of his bestiary, Commander Ludwig makes note of some of the more Man-like creatures that walk upon Esdaria. Here, the reader begins to see a great deal of detail emerging in Ludwig's words. His account of the trolls is particularly vivid - and emotive. Ludwig clearly does not like trolls, and his entry that concerns them stands in great contrast to the rest of his work which, for the most part, is quite contained and focuses more on facts. Perhaps the proximity in appearance of these 'Man-like' monsters disgusted Ludwig, and the very thought of being comparable to one of these creatures was a repulsive thought for him.

Humanoids – Those that are Man-Like in Appearance

The Cyclops
A one-eyed behemoth, cyclops are the children of ogres and giants [note: this has never actually been proven] and stand at twice the height of a Man. They are notoriously stupid and ill-tempered, but what they lack in intellectual capacity, they make up for in raw strength. They have three fingers on each hand, all of which are the length of half a Man’s forearm. Where a Man, Dwarf or Elf would have a fingernail, the cyclops has a great ivory talon, heavy and hard, which he uses to pry apart the bones of his victims. His teeth are tusked, and he can sometimes grow thick hair on his legs and back. He has a heavy brow which he is able to lower over his single eye – which itself is the size of a man’s head. The ears on each side of his boulder-like head are wide and blunt, and they sometimes grow scales on their elbows and shoulders.

Cyclopean communities are a rare occurrence, but it is not unheard of for a number of cyclopses to form a rough, tribal unit. Once, I even encountered a female cyclops with a basic ability with the Heathen Art [note: ‘Heathen Art’ is what Ludwig calls ‘magic’], but by the grace of Vidoria, the incantations she tried to weave were of no use to her. The best way to kill a cyclops is to blind it. When it enrages, retreat until it has exhausted itself. Then move it and cut its throat, where its leathery skin is at its weakest.

Ludwig definitely fought at least a number of cyclops in his life. His account is personal, and for the first time uses the pronoun ‘I’ in reference to a noted event. Kept in the Imperial Archive is a ‘Letter to Archmother Lysette from Priestess Daina’, which tells the story of how Commander Ludwig and his men saved Stonesport from at least one attack from some ogres living in the Syladras Mountains. In her letter, the priestess praises how Commander Ludwig acted with speed and haste when facing the oncoming foes, the number of which she says were ‘thirty-strong, if not more’.

The Song of Ludwig – a little-known drinking song sung in a few of the poorer alehouses in Westernaea – concerns a warrior named Ludwig who slew a number of cyclopses one day when they attacked a small village he was defending. Though that Ludwig was one of the first Men, and the song concerns the time before the rise of the Vidorian Empire at the start of the Second Age, it seems as if Commander Ludwig Nicstaed may well be the inspiration behind it.

The Giant
There three different types of different types of giant in Esdaria: those that dwell in caves, those that dwell in mountains, and those that dwell in forests. Mountain giants are the largest, and share some similarities with cave giants. Man-like in appearance, both the mountain and the cave giant have flesh that looks like stone. The cave giant is more squat and Dwarf-like in proportion, with wide legs, a broad back and far-apart shoulders. The mountain giant, however, is far more fearsome. Standing some twenty times the height of a man, he is enormous and has a Man’s proportions – long arms and legs, and an in-scale torso. Some which inhabit the highest regions of the mountains become so encrusted in snow and ice that it begins to form a carapace about them. Unlike the cave giant, which is often peaceful and shy, the mountain giant is known to be quick-witted and cruel, and often travels with a group of trolls. Sometimes, their stone bodies come to support the local flora, and cave giants are often covered in dark green moss, whilst mountain giants have been seen supporting whole trees upon their shoulders.

Forest giants are much smaller than the others, and are thought to be more peaceful. Heretical in their ways, they revere the natural world around them, and often have a good grasp of the Heathen Art, similar to that of the Elves. They are also more varied in shape, with some being no larger than fat trolls, and others being taller than cave giants. Often, their bodies are wider and are covered in bark. They are, like the cave giant, very shy. Their bark-like skin and great leaf-like clusters of hair and beard also enables them to take on the appearance of a tree at a moment’s notice and disappear into the landscape.

Again, Odr’s letters play a key role here, though not as much as one may think. There are a few throwaway details that are taken from Odr’s letters, such as the mountain giant’s size and the accompaniment of trolls Ludwig claimed they travel with. Odr, however, never saw a cave giant. They are, as Ludwig says, notoriously shy and can be very good at hiding. In this case, it seems as if he has encountered at least one cave giant once. Forest giants are also said to inhabit some of the wooded areas of Westernaea but, like the cave giant, are surprisingly good at hiding.

The Goblin
Small and foul, the goblins are the common enemy of the Dwarfs. Like the Halflings who dwell under the mountains, goblins are small in stature, and are closer to Gnomes in appearance than they are Dwarfs. They have no hair on their heads other than that which comes in faint, white wisps about their long, sharp ears. Their lips are drawn back away from their sharp, gnashing teeth – things which many goblins decide to file to vicious points. They have no noses, and instead have two skull-like slits between their eyes – which are completely black – through which they breathe. They are truly disgusting creatures to behold, and have spent so long underground and shaded from the light of the Divine Empress that they have become horribly warped and twisted.

Though they are not as skilled at craft as the Dwarf-folk or the Gnomes, goblins are capable of producing middling-quality weapons and armour, which they stud with small bones and the teeth of wild animals which they slay. They are truly uncivilised, and speak no language which the ears of Men would be able to ever discern.

Just how Ludwig provided such a detailed account of Dwarf and Gnome society here is a complete mystery. By nature, the Halfling-folk are unwilling to share any tales of home with Men, and rarely ever speak of what goes on under the vast mountain ranges that cover Esdaria. Here, though, Ludwig provides an account that has more detail in it than most official Vidorian documentation from the time. It is possible he met one particularly glib-tongued Dwarf or Gnome, or maybe even spoke to a goblin, though his comment about their language makes this unlikely. Either way, the authenticity and reliability of this part of the Bestiary are completely impossible to judge, as no Man in living memory has ever seen a goblin.

The Ogre
Three paces taller than a man and twice the girth of the fattest, the ogre is a grey-skinned, bald creature with miniscule eyes set into its face. As a rule, they have short, squashed noses and man-like teeth, but their ears are slightly pointed at the tip. They often wear crude iron or brass rings in their ears, noses, brows and lips, and cover themselves in either simple body-paint or jagged tattoos. They are more intelligent than cyclopses, and most have a good grasp of the common tongue, as spoken amongst Men.

They often dwell underground and sometimes form tribal units or clans with goblins. Halfling war-tales often tell of ogres standing like giants amongst great grey hordes of goblins. Disturbingly, ogres are also more apt with ritual practice and the Heathen Art than cyclopses, and thus pursue a terrible, twisted, heretical worship of demons.

This blends with the previous account when considered. The note about the Halfling-folk stands out, and the authenticity of the account becomes difficult to judge.

The Troll
There is nothing as vile to look upon, nor as foul on the nose, as the troll. Though they are varied in their origins – either sliding out of the dark places in mountains, dragging themselves out of the most rancid bogs, or rolling in the most fetid plants in a forest – they all share certain features. Their faces are foul. Their mouths are full of sharp, uneven teeth, and their lips are often split and cracked. Their eyes often do not line up on their faces, and sit awkwardly either side of two wide slits where a nose should be. Those that have ears – ears are the first things to be torn off when two trolls brawl – often pick and scratch at them so much that they are permanently swollen and scabbed.

Like giants, a troll’s appearance is dictated by his surroundings. Those who crawl over mountain crags become hard-skinned and stone-liked (though this may simply be a reflection of how thick-headed and obnoxious they are), whilst those who live in forests often become thick with moss and dry grasses. But nothing in existence comes even remotely close to the sheer repulsiveness of a bog troll. These hideously ugly creatures permanently sweat foul-smelling bog water, and their skin is so slick and wet that it looks as if they are constantly covered in the foetid natural offal that floats upon the surface of the deepest, darkest, and thickest of bogs.

Their bellies hang low and project, thankfully covering their groins. Their chests are great lattices of fleshy wrinkles and thick, unsightly hair in which nests of flies and maggots grow, feeding off the vile dead skin that a troll constantly sheds [note: in his hatred of trolls, Ludwig neglects to mention that this is not the case for mountain trolls, whose stone-like bodies do not grow any hair]. Though their legs are short, like those of a Dwarf, their knees and elbows are knobbly, and as it grows, a troll develops horrid bone-like lumps and spikes on its shoulders, knees, and elbows [note: again, this is not completely true of mountain trolls, whose natural spikes are rock-like]. They love to use these when they brawl, and take great pleasure in  hitting their disgusting kin with their barbs.

Their arms are long and gangly, but are full of strength. Trolls, though they may look vile, are far stronger than Men and the Halfling-folk. What they lack, however, is the subtlety and thought that we civilised peoples possess, which sets us at an advantage over them in combat. They lash and flail wildly, hurling whatever they can get their hands on, and desperately trying to rip at flesh with their fangs – for they love to devour meat. One merely needs to employ a degree of thought and be relatively light on one’s feet, and the destruction of a troll should not be difficult.

They are petrified of fire, and as such dark and disgusting creatures they are, burn in the beautiful light of Vidoria. If one should ever encounter a troll, if one is armed, he should do Esdaria a service and remove the disgusting thing from existence.

There is no record of a troll attack on Commander Ludwig at any point in his life. Nor is there any record of trolls being near Stonesport, though it seems highly probable that they existed in the Syladras Mountains when he was nearby. The account Ludwig gives of trolls, however, is so detailed and emotive that it is frank testimony to the fact he has quite clearly encountered not one, but many trolls. Recent imperial efforts have revealed that everything he describes in this account is completely accurate – aside from the details which have now been added.

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