Friday, January 24, 2020

Talislanta: The Iron of Arim

"...a suspicious folk, who flourish their knives at a harsh word. At night they strike without provocation."
- The Dirdir, Jack Vance
Arim in the West of Talislanta is described in The Chronicles as "a grey and windy realm" of "rough and irregular hills." The Handbook (1987) tells us it's people are: "a dour and moody folk who find no joy in song, dance or revelry. They drink heavily, favoring chakos, a bitter and metallic tasting liquor." They're neither lookers nor snappy dressers, as Tamerlin observes:
They are swarthy of complexion, with long black hair and dark, deep-set eyes. The men tend to be gaunt and wiry, with glaring countenances and hatchet-like features; the women, heavy-set and lacking in charm. The customary mode of dress in this region defies all concept of fashion, and consists primarily of sackcloth garments, animal hide boots, bulky fur vests, and wristbands, knives, and ear-rings made of dull, black iron.
This description is largely ignored in later editions where they tend to present Arimites as well-muscled, relatively attractive folk.

Arimites are mostly miners, but this is usually only mentioned in passing to get to the more interesting stuff: Arimites' fame as skilled knife-fighters and their secret Revenant cult. The Chronicle describes the Revenants  as "members of a secret society who specialize in carrying out acts of vengeance for their clients." Tamerlin reports that they have subspecialties in various "forms of revenge from delivering insults and threats to arson, coercion, muggings and murder-for-hire." Later editions tend to emphasize their roll as assassins, implying that that's all they do.

The deuterocanonical Cyclopedia Talislanta vol. IV gives information on the structure of Revenant Cult's cells and mentions a mysterious High Revenant that rules them all. Third edition says this leader is an assassin-mage who lives in a mountain top sanctum, which seems unlikely given the preponderance of evidence indicating the Arimites are poor mages. All editions agree that the Revenants are the de facto rulers of Arim, in that the nominal ruler, the Exarch, refuses to leave the Forbidden City of Ahrazahd out of fear of them. The Exarch, for what it's worth, is not very popular among his people.

The Cyclopedia holds that Arimites worship or perhaps revere Destiny, or have a few of cults that do. Fourth edition says they are agnostics.

The Arimites have the gloomy environment of Robert E. Howard's Cimmerians and elements of a number of hill or mountain folk. They've got a thing for knives like the Afghans of pulp tradition with their Khyber knives, though the Arimites mostly use throwing knives. They're miners, and prone to feuding and substance abuse, traits often associated with Appalachian folk. I say play up that stuff and add a bit from the Khors of Vance's Tshcai--see the quote at the start, and here's another: "they consider garrulity a crime against nature."

The Revenants at times seem to be trying to draw on the Persian Order of Assassins and maybe even the ninja. I'm okay with that, as long as a hillbilly element is played up. I also like the Vancian absurdity of them doing acts of vengeance besides murdering people.

Exarch as the title of Arim's ruler is interesting. Since it's a Byzantine title for a governor of a territory, it suggests to me that the earliest exarchs were perhaps barbarian stoogies of the Phaedran Empire. A "Forbidden City" is an odd detail for hillfolk, but I assume it's more a fortified town and the Exarch is more a chieftain or tribal leader with delusions of grandeur.


Anne said...

I know that Talislantia famously "doesn't have elves", but clearly these guys are dwarves, right?

It kind of feels like, over the course of the revisions, successive editors tried to make these guys "cooler" and instead made them more boring.

I like your suggestions to lean into the idea of them as hillbillys, and to make give their revenge-ninjas the authority to mete out strange vengeance for difficult-to-understand slights of the public honor.

I might suggest leaning into it even further and giving them two (or more) warring clans that are difficult for outsiders to tell apart, and set them to constantly feuding because each clan's honor-code is incompatible with the others.

"No, dang it, I'm PIG-Hill Arim and he's HOG-Hill Arim. Our mustaches look nothing alike, and his noserings are in the LEFT nostril like he's mocking us! Him and his kin had a big ol' hootenanny last Friday, which was a sacred dry-day of Pig-Hill obligation. My folks and I can't afford a Revenant right now, which is why this here adventuring party needs to go spike his liquor with hiccup syrup, to defend the Pig-Hill honor."

Trey said...

For some values of "dwarf," you're right, they certainly do share some traits. I guess the lack of the sine ne qua non of dwarvishness was enough to not make me think in that direction.

Picador said...

I never made the "dwarf" connection either. I always took them to be a straightforward Afghanistan stand-in: ornery, murderous knife-fighting hill people who look and dress like Pashtun tribesmen. These are the guys who chase Michael Douglas and Sean Connery out of town in The Man Who Would Be King.

Anne said...

For some reason, all I can see are the Yosemite Sam stand-ins who're only able to interrupt their feud long enough to go square dancing with Bugs Bunny.

Trey said...

@anne - I like it!
@picador - The mining aspect is the thing that doesn't quite fit the Afghan hillmen, though I certainly think that's there.