N.B. WiP

Both the most ubiquitous and misunderstood of races, the Surenashi, or halflings, may be found underfoot throughout the world. Although originally a subterranean race inhabiting the upper cavernous regions now inhabited by dwarves, they have had at least some contact with the surface races since at least the age of the Old Sun if not the First Suns. Their own story of their origins tells that the first of their people were the children of Surnest and Tarisht’ah (whose full name, Tarish-T’ahma, originally meant “Dark-night Mother”). They equate her with the darkness of the night sky and the origin of all, the darkness of the caverns being her womb in which their people took shape before venturing forth into the world. She had become enamored of Surnest, pursuing him in his wanderings so that wherever he went, he found her there. It is said that they still travel together and the legends of their exploits of cunning and trickery are as countless as the stars (described as jewels they stole from the other gods at the dawn of time). The Surenashi further regard her as being one and the same as ?, but, as appropriate to a goddess of secrecy, say nothing of this. Given that stealth and secrecy have always been critical survival traits of the race, this is hardly surprising. Some scholars even propose that the apparent evident dwindling of her direct worship by halflings in general is actually a misperception by others. Instead, the race as a whole has mastered the principal of “hiding in plain sight” to such a superlative degree of virtuosity that they in fact have integrated and woven her worship into all facets of their lives, obviating the need for outward signs of worship.

The Surenashi wander the length and breadth of Panisadore and its waters, seeing and noting everything around them. Frequently peddling a variety of hand-crafted goods, they engage in commerce with easily as much frequency as their gnomoii cousins, although for the most part on a much smaller scale. To say that a halfling peddler (or any halfling really,) is a Gentlemen Freetrader is generally considered redundant. In fact the name itself comes from the typical halfling response when challenged by authorities as to their occupation, “I’m a free-trading gentleman.” However, rather than smuggling, their primary clandestine merchandise and business is dealing in information, the value of which they had come to understand while still living below ground. Their constant and widespread traveling coupled with their skills at observing and assessing their environment present them with a vast and comprehensive wealth of information of all sorts, both open and secret, all of which they find ways of capitalizing upon. The Cartographers and Honest Rumourmongers Guilds were both founded by halflings, who remain the most numerous race among these guilds. They do not, however, often affiliate themselves with the Librarians, viewing the latter as recent upstarts in the game no better than rank amateurs. “Any information they have, they bought from us,” is the common response to any mention of the cartel. Having little care for the politics of the nations they pass through, few caravans ever accept state patronage unless there is some conflict with an opposing state which interferes with their free passage or livelihood. In such cases however, the offending state will have most likely prohibited their travel already, fearing the potential of their intelligence gathering capabilities. Among many governments, halflings and espionage are considered virtually synonymous, a reputation far more in keeping with their talents than their actions. Nevertheless, it’s commonly accepted that a determined halfling consort is capable of finding out anything they set their minds to, the greater fear being the question of whom they may be willing to tell.

Their seeming openness permits others the chance to show they are worth befriending, while their caution about revealing much depth protects them from being harmed by the unscrupulous before they’ve had a chance to see their “true colors.” As an originally subterranean race they already had problems with other races (many also diminutive) – hence they value the friendship of the gnomes and traditional alliance with dwarves highly. Since emerging upon the surface this has become a more pronounced view of the Burrowing Peoples vs the Tall Folk. Along those lines, the Surenashi have perfected the arts of creative euphemism, double-speak and coded communication. Doublespeak is a development of their inherent tendency toward stealth and secrecy in a newer environment where they move more freely among other races who may or may not treat them fairly. Most halflings can carry on a conversation regarding any matter they choose openly without anyone around them comprehending the actual nature of the discussion. This employs a combination of common euphemisms and improvisation once the participants have established that they understand each other – often employing other common euphemisms which are then understood in the context of the actual discussion rather than their usual meanings. A halfling who has recently scouted out a town marketplace might casually comment that, “You can’t see the orchard for the trees, so there should be plenty of fruit this season, so long as the weather stays clear” informing the other that the market is crowded and prosperous with no constabulary in sight. The other might reply, “But without rain the river will stay murky and full of leaches. Better the rapids than muddy water; best get travel papers and take the high road instead.” This would normally be understood as advice regarding a proposed travel route passing through a territory where the caravan would likely be harassed the whole way through and better avoided entirely. Instead he is saying that the local guards patrol the market out of uniform and the people cooperate to catch pick-pockets – there’s nowhere to run. It would be better to do honest business and seek information. “There’s a bear in the berry patch, keep a lookout from the treetops,” could mean that an established, and very territorial, thieves guild is already working a town but is vulnerable to espionage, or the region ahead is preparing for war and information could be very valuable, depending upon context. Generally, what is higher up refers to intelligence activities while what is on the ground refers to thievery and other illegal pastimes – except when the opposite holds true (e.g., “Picking up windfalls in the orchard,” or “Walking on clouds”).

Another halfling euphemism of importance to note is variations upon the theme of “more bramble than berry,” or “can’t reach the fruit for the thorns,” referring to one of their number who harbors some great anger, bitterness or hatred and has turned to the worship of Pahkreet as a result. Halflings show a noted preference for flexible, cord or chain type melee weapons and “thorns on the vine” refers specifically to the spiked chain of Pahkreet. The Surenashi say little of this to outsiders, but her worship is more common among them than other races and is viewed as a sort of acknowledged and tolerated personal issue that everyone sees but no one talks about – so long as it is directed outward without endangering the caravan. Given their vagabond lifestyle and their diminutive size, many have encountered over time a great deal of prejudice and persecution. They’ve also had more opportunity than most to see how many of the “tall people” treat each other – including some of the worst atrocities such as occur in war. For some, eventually this can simply be too much and the hurt and horror eats away at them until they begin to lash out in retaliation. While a few may choose to act to defend others from further harm, many instead seek retribution by hurting those who cause the hurt of others. They tend to be loners within their caravans, still accepted, but eventually with few friends left. As a result the worship of Pahkreet is an open secret among them and the only monks in her service will be found within the caravans of the Surenashi.

Since their communities understand the source of their pain and hatred, the Surenashi will rarely, if ever turn one of their own over to the “justice” of the Tall Folk. (N.B., “big people” actually {still} refers to dwarves.) They definitely prefer to handle their own problems and have little regard for the temporal authority of the races among whom they travel. In keeping with the general Neutral tendency of the race, they are pretty explicitly (and fiercely) minarchist – “that governs best which governs least” – but they are as determined in the maintenance and application of that minimum (self) government as they are in their refusal to bow authoritarian excess. Also in keeping with their Neutrality, evil is not simply condemned out of hand – it is perceived as having a place in the world and hence a role in their society – within reason. What is most distinctive here then is a conscious integration of their “shadow” – both personally and in the collective psyche of their communities and race as a whole. They have some degree of an inferiority complex with over-compensatory tendencies in their view of the foolishness and gullibility of the Tall Folk (“rubes”), but they’re also aware of this and integrate more consciously and fully than other races both their “light and dark sides” – creating a healthy balance which allows them to experience much more happiness and joy than otherwise in a world which (they harbor no illusions regarding the fact it) is often harsh and cruel. Hence there are few “truly evil” halflings, but there are certainly those who will readily, and without any remorse, swiftly and thoroughly fuck up your entire life if you mess with them – and they tend to be terrifyingly good at it. Given that the caravans settle internal conflicts and problems by themselves very quickly, it is extremely rare for such “avengers” to direct their attention to other halflings (although rare and horrifying stories do exist of their dealings with other caravans who have caused their own great harm in some manner) – hence their activities are almost always directed toward other races – usually much taller ones.

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Of Poets, Fools and Madmen. . . Snargash_Moonclaw