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The Metals of Acos, or What Bertalor Knew


scott-martin

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Our canonical source for Gloranthan metallurgy is a perplexing document. I'm not the first person to recognize this. Let's return to it for a laugh and read it close.

Who in Glorantha? We now know that as "later duke of Fromalwal" the author is almost certainly the same Bertalor who also ruled as king of Seshnela from 73 to 89 -- while the nominally out-of-setting introduction to the text doesn't mention the grander title, we can attribute it to Greg and Sandy hedging how closely to integrate the Serpent Kings material with their evolving setting. The joint saga of King Bertalor and the Vadeli Trader is of course preserved in detail elsewhere. Either way, since our author has yet to receive the ducal title he may be extremely young here (maybe mid teens), which explains the "like a lover I suppose / poor lonely bastard" reference in the life of someone we know eventually fathers at least three children. This may even be a child's tutorial assignment, in which case its somewhat remedial nature makes sense. (Think of the papers Merlin assigns Wart and Kay in T.H. White.) His "loneliness" may also relate to isolation from courtly intrigue around Thamor, who it is said took an "aldryama" for a wife. 

When in Glorantha? Since these are the days of Sacred Lords it's possible that a legitimate heir was conceived before Thamor (r. 39-73) attained his majority and dissolved the regency, but we also know the future King Bertalor's mother returns to the forest in 42. By 57 he's already duke of Fromalwal, so we don't have decades of him hanging out doing sorcerous research before being invested as heir apparent. Once again, this suggests the "juvenile authorship" scenario. The important thing is that this is not just a "first age document" but dateable to well before the Broken Council, God Project, Sunstop, etc. Dorastor is empty. Vuranostum Leaps-Over-Walls is consolidating horse power in Peloria, inviting Lodril to Raibanth, opening the Temple of Dayzatar, etc. Hrelar Amali is still a thriving cult center in the forest that separates the western colonies from Central Genertela. 

What Bertalor believes: the world is called "Acos," not "Glorantha." There are nine greater deities . . . not five for the elements, not 13 for a celestial court, not at first glance the same nine great gods venerated at Hrelar Amali. Their names map fairly easily onto the canonical names of Gloranthan metals, suggesting a link between the people who recognize these gods under these names and the people who developed the nine-element system. The Galanini are the people of Ehilm, the god of gold; no imperial religion of Dara Happa is known or noteworthy. Lodril rules fire and, perhaps bizarrely to those who know him as the peasant god, is characterized by his "purity." Maker (Urtiam) and Grower (Uleria) are brother and sister. The author (along with his God Learner editor) is familiar with the concept of "scissors," perhaps as a figment of pre-Darkness Danmalastan now extinct except in rare medicine bundles and other heirloom magic. He also appreciates lo-metal weaponry, which again seems to have died out by the Third Age.  

What Bertalor doesn't know:  Mapping the Nine onto modern Gloranthan mythology reveals discontinuities and gaps. Urtiam and Zrethus have dropped out of common scholarly use by the early God Learner era, forcing his editor to translate the terms. This may simply be part of Bertalor's attempt to demonstrate his thesis (we've all been there) or reveal his relative ignorance of the more familiar Dayzatar (isolated in Yuthuppa half a continent away) and Mostal under that god's modern name. Who or what is the "urtiam" that gives its name to iron? Along these lines, an author familiar with Zaramaka would recognize that entity as an easier fit for [s/z]a-metal instead of shoehorning in Sramak and confusing my own arguments elsewhere. Likewise, Lorion is not one of the Nine he knows, so even if the original metal name stems from Lorion and not Lodril, he can't help us there. No reference to the dual-phase nature of sa/lo metal, even though he appreciates lo-metal and would be eager to convert sa-metal if he knew it was possible.

Who worships the Nine? I don't think this is the Hrelar Amali pantheon because the names are "wrong" -- Nakala and not Xentha, Zrethus and not some more characteristic Ralian star deity (unless the Yelornans are keeping secrets), Sramak, the mysterious Urtiam, arguably Gata and not Ernalda. The absence of a Flamal is also troubling; we might also expect an Eurmal who isn't here. Testing all these relationships suggests new insights about archaic Ralian religion and the ultimate origins of the Elemental Rulers system, but it doesn't help us address where Bertalor gets his ennead. Luckily the fragmentary Snodal Saga suggests that these particular entities are still acknowledged as "the gods of the primary elements" and progenitors of the Altinelan civilization. In their recollection, by the way, the primal storm god's name was still Humakt and Ehilm was a concoction of Lodril seeking to balance the world . . . Ehilm, in turn, becomes grandfather of Eurmal. But we digress into arcana. Either way, talk of "Acos" and nine elements probably comes to mortal theology via such primeval channels. Whether it came to places like Hrelar Amali in a pure form, I don't know.

How many elements? Western elemental magic is far from unified on this question. Zzabur's sigil bears the familiar five-element system. Bertalor does not single out Nakala, Sramak, Gata and (H)umat(h) as qualitatively different from Uleria or Urtiam. He also does not identify a ruling god of what we would call the modern solar element that unifies fire, sun and sky. In this he steers closer to Xeotam, who also recognized Cold as well as Sky (Zrethus) and Fire (Lodik) but no independent Sun. Bertalor's uleric principle may be what we would now call "lunar" in its feminine quality and rulership of terrestrial silver. Urtiam remains enigmatic. Note also that Xeotam knows "Tolat" but not "Lorion" and tries to resolve an apparent question over whether the real name of "Dame Darkness" is Nakala or Xentha. Saramaka and Aether do not appear as "Sir Sea" or "Lord Light." Aether still figures under that name as a primeval Dara Happan figure. Saramaka may have been introduced to land cosmology in some later mer-contact.

Who named the metals? If you believe that lo-metal is associated with Lorion then Bertalor is wrong and his list of nine gods acknowledged in Dawn Age Seshnela -- the same list they recite in 15th century Altinela after mortals have forgotten -- contains a different "Lo." Lodril and Lorion may be the same person. Lo-metal is red and Lodril has fallen a long way. These might be dwarf words but no lo-mostali appear in the sources. Were there lo-mostali once? Is this a mystery of the sa-mostali? Or does the list come from an outside metal-working tradition? We may be looking at a rare hint into inner Third Eye Blue religion here.

Why is this "sorcerer prince" obsessed with fighting? At this point strict brithinite caste rules evidently do not apply in the forest of Hrestolism, Seshna paganism and outright Vadeli influence. While Bertalor may have never been more than an dilettante "sorcerer" of courtesy, he's unquestionably a hereditary aristocrat. It's feasible that he's only interested in weaponry (horal business) as an economic problem but I would be surprised if he didn't at least try to put this theoretical material into practice. Trivia: he is depicted in the sagas as a full snake-legged serpent king.

Edited by scott-martin
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If Bertalor has Vadeli contacts, then his metal lore may be dwarfen in origin.

Lodril is called "Laddy" or Ladaral in other western documents (older in Gloranthan terms, younger in real world ones), so there is no westerner reason to call the volcano deity Lodril - the name doesn't appear to be used in Caladraland (which has Veskarthan), but mainly in central Peloria. No significant contact has been made, yet.

Nine metals are the Mostali orthodoxy. I have no idea where Bertalor's rump Celestial Court is worshiped in that combination..

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Telling how it is excessive verbis

 

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50 minutes ago, Joerg said:

Lodril is called "Laddy" or Ladaral

I considered the dangers of Laddy & Lammy as well but Bertalor needed a "Lo" to fit lo-metal. I tend to think of the slur as a Carmanian catch-all for all the local pagan wise guys (some stormy, some fiery) in their part of the world -- "Ladaral" in general may be a matter of condescending northern vowel shift. (!)

How "Lodril" appears by that name in Dawn Age Seshnela and then in Peloria in time to make it into Plentonius is a darn good question. My best guess is that Lodril's people predate the rockwoods and so could move a lot more freely before their range was punctuated . . . those in the west were completely absorbed, those in the northeast eventually became part of the Dara Happan complex. 

Somebody told Bertalor it was "lo-"metal. If all his other gods line up, there's something going on here. 

I should have also asked the question How many metals? because by the God Learner era the editor feels compelled to answer decamonist questions of where Stone (brother of Mostal) fits in. It's nice that he assigns it to Gata because it explains why dwarves are sometimes classed as earth creatures, but the reference to it being her "bones" instead of ga-metal effectively wrecks the entire "bones of the gods" theory. Are there mineral bones for the other elemental courts? Or is earth special? The text does not say.

In terms of the pernicious Vadeli, the entity we now call Mostal has all those odd tentative relationships with Law, whether it's called "Stone" or "Acos" or "Urtiam" or even (if I recall the source) "Malkion." Vadeli contacts may be a source of this garbled myth. I'm also open to liberated dwarf slave cultures -- human or otherwise -- carrying fragments in the shadow of the Rockwoods. Those genderless dwarf-haters who received Nelat's cauldron, for example. Maybe one of them shared the metal names and the Nine Gods pantheon names are just a coincidence.

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1 hour ago, scott-martin said:

What Bertalor doesn't know:  Mapping the Nine onto modern Gloranthan mythology reveals discontinuities and gaps. Urtiam and Zrethus have dropped out of common scholarly use by the early God Learner era, forcing his editor to translate the terms. This may simply be part of Bertalor's attempt to demonstrate his thesis (we've all been there) or reveal his relative ignorance of the more familiar Dayzatar (isolated in Yuthuppa half a continent away) and Mostal under that god's modern name. Who or what is the "urtiam" that gives its name to iron?

The Guide has a list of the Nine Great Gods on p373.  They are:

Quote

 

Tilnta is the Goddess of Life;
Utriam is the Lord of the Spike;
Nakala is the Goddess of Darkness
and the Underworld;
Sramak is the Lord of Waters;
Lodik is Master of Fire;
Gata is Goddess of Earth;
Zrenthus is the God of Sky;
Ehilm the Sun God, the son of Lodik;
Humat the Storm God, son of Gata and Zrenthus.

 

Matches up well with Bertalor's names.  The same names appear in the Glorantha Sourcebook in the Xeotam Dialogue.

1 hour ago, scott-martin said:

The absence of a Flamal is also troubling; we might also expect an Eurmal who isn't here.

Flamal is a minor God according to the Guide and Eurmal may be known as Yomat, the Friend of Men.

 

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12 minutes ago, Richard S. said:

What document is all this referring to?

The Metals of Acos, an essay in Elder Secrets Book of the Elder Secrets Boxed Set.  Were it to be reprinted again, I daresay many of the extraneous details about Bertalor would be changed to fit in what is now know about him (for instance, he would be referred to as a King rather than a sorceror-prince etc)

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