A Kobold and A Dwarf Talk about Culture IV
Transcript Part IV, Interrogation of a Kobold Records of the City of Whitestone:
High-Investigator Krun: Hello again, Nalk. The new Dwarf is Hrog. He’s here to ask you some questions for a slightly different chain of command. You might even think of him as reporting to another mother.
Comparative Anthropologist Hrog: Hello Nalk. I’ve been reading over the words that the stenographer typed from your previous meetings. You understood that we could do that, right?
Nalk the Kobold: Yes, Hrog, I am aware of why literacy is important, and am not bothered to hear that you’ve conducted some rudimentary analysis. Can I ask what your focus will be?
Hrog: Certainly. My official job title is ‘Comparative Anthropologist’. I frequently travel to different groups of sentient who the University decide are worth a bit of study. I can’t give enough credit to you and High-Investigator Krun for the conversation you’ve already had. It’s been rather informative. My particular task today is to learn about the parts of your society you yourself may not be totally aware of. But having said that, let me be clear that I won’t be using any magic or anything. I’m just trained to study the way people live in groups. Your kind are…to put it calmly, rather different than any of the other groups I’ve studied.
Nalk: Even as the dragon is different from the eagle.
Hrog: It’s interesting that you should say that. The word for eagle is actually a really strange one. It pops up in all kinds of languages, but none of the creatures it used to describe are still around. Does your language have an equivalent word?
Nalk: Yes, our tongue has [low- flying- bird- of- prey], which is roughly equivalent.
Hrog: Okay, and why did you chose to invoke dragon and bird of prey there?
Nalk: I’m not sure I understand the question.
Hrog: Well, obviously, Dragons hold a special place for your kind, but why are others like or equivalent to low flying birds?
Nalk: Well, I mean a dragon is a scaly flyer. I don’t think avians have scales.
Krun: Certainly not any that we have talked to.
Hrog: So that’s one difference. Maybe I’m over thinking this.
Nalk: Well, a dragon might swoop much like a great bird, but how many birds breathe fire or have scales. So the difference is quite profound, although there are superficial similarities. I think that’s why I thought that way, although I must admit I am now thinking about what I was thinking about when I said what I said.
Hrog: Okay, I think I understand that. Do you mind if I jot down a few notes, Nalk?
Nalk: I do not object.
Krun: Okay, Nalk, can we talk about Hobgoblins?
Nalk: Is it now time to hunt them?
Krun: Unfortunately not. It’s a long journey that we are not undertaking just yet. But in the spirit of our conversation this morning, I’d like to ask you what you know about them.
Nalk: Uh, okay. I’m not one who studies them, except to know their tongue.
Hrog: I also speak goblin. Do you know where on a map of the… eh, what did you say the name was, Wyrmwood, we would find the more central positions of these goblins?
Nalk: I mean, I know that I crossed a winding part of their territory on the way here before we ran into Orcs. I’m not skilled at chart or “map” making.
Hrog: That’s alright. We’ll see if we have someone down in archives who can get us a chart. You’re familiar with the general shape of your region?
Nalk: Yes. I have been to several cavern exits. I have even stabbed a pair of the spider guardians who lurk there.
Krun: You snuck up on them? Or struck them from afar?
Nalk: Unfortunately, spiders hear better than I do. We got a jump on one though, and flanked the other. It was a nice little fight. Not even a scratch on m’ skin.
Hrog: So you know something about where goblin tribes are?
Nalk: Too much. But probably not where they keep their women. That information they would try to keep from us. But a mother of my tribe might well be in possession of that information. Unfortunately I have no reason to be in the know.
Krun: That’s okay, Nalk. We understand the limitations of your station.
Hrog: Can you remind me what your actual task in coming to see us here was?
Nalk: To see if indeed, as is written, the dwarf has found the light which is born out of stone.
Hrog: Were there other questions you were asked to investigate?
Nalk: Well, that was the primary one. My companion, who died in battle with an Orc—and may a mother’s lot be his for his struggle—did have a different task.
Hrog: Can I have you wait a moment. What did you just say on behalf of your companion?
Nalk: It’s a benediction. It’s not really appropriate to do it in this tongue, but if I were that traditional, I probably wouldn’t be here anyway.
Hrog: Why do you say a benediction? Is it always that one?
Nalk: No… he died in a battle that a mother would have won easily. I say the benediction with the hope that the next time he’s pressed against that particular type of adversity, he’s strong enough to overcome it.
Krun: Is there a similar benediction that others who wish your friend well would say in this moment?
Nalk: They might agree with my benediction. If they disagreed, they usually wouldn’t say anything at all, out of respect for my grief. But if it were a mother, she would probably say something derisive, as it’s unusual for a sure climber to be elevated in that way.
Hrog: Is it considered honorary for you to carry on in your companion’s task as well as your own?
Nalk: This is a thing that could be possible. But I do not know whether the words which were spoken to him were spoken truthfully. For he was told that there are Dwarves who tunnel upward and seek a different sort of light. Are there such dwarves?
Krun: There are such dwarves. Most of us don’t try to understand them and their motivation.
Hrog: Some of us don’t have that luxury. Nalk, they seek not sunlight but starlight. Do you know what those are?
Nalk: Not really. Sky-light?
Hrog: Right. Sun light is from the warm day light. Star light is from the dim star of night. At night, you can also see moons, big sky rocks.
Nalk: Why do you inflect as you do when you talk of dwarves who seek starlight?
Hrog: I fear why they seek after starlight. How much do you know of the theology of the sky, Nalk?
Nalk: Basically nothing.
Hrog: All I will say then is this: there are beings worshiped by watching the stars who are like the gods of mortals, but mad with power. They drive the mortals who give them praise into similar states of madness. I fear that our sky seeking brethren are chasing the ability to venerate such a creature.
Nalk: This is very strange. Why would they tunnel through the earth to give devotion to a being outside themselves?
Krun: Alas, Nalk, you’ve asked why a sky seeker will take any action. You are not likely to learn the answer in this lifetime.
Nalk: A lifetime is not so long.
Hrog: How long do your kind live, Nalk? How do you measure it?
Nalk: Usually in rough seasons, which follow the reproductive cycle of the great mushroom and also our own cycles. I have lived about one dozen and one of these, and I expect to live to four dozen. How does your kind measure these things?
Krun: The lightstone gives us our “year”. A stout dwarf will live to see four-hundred. I myself have seen four less than a gross.
Hrog: A gross and two I have seen.
Nalk: Behold, there is little wonder that you understand the things that you see.
Hrog: Age brings some wisdom. But as Krun has said, among our kind, we are not so old.
Nalk: And the length of the beard?
Krun: That truly is a sign of age.
Hrog: A word of caution: never trust a dwarf with no beard, Nalk, for you have then chanced upon a dwarf whose fellows have chosen the ultimate dishonor for him.
Nalk: Such elaborate customs. Are these what the old dwarves think on?
Krun: Truly! Out of the mouth of dragonkin—
Hrog High-Investigator Krun forgets himself.
Krun: So I do.
Nalk: I feel I have trespassed some social line.
Krun: It is nothing of concern. You have chanced upon an ancient quarrel. That’s another thing our race loves as we age: ancient quarrels.
Hrog: Nalk, if you’ll excuse us, apparently High Investigator Krun has forgotten the importance of the fact that our every word is recorded. Please enjoy the fresh hobgoblin I have ordered for you as a meal.