“It seems to me the universe gave us three things to make life bearable: hope, jokes, and dogs. But the greatest of these gifts was dogs.” – Robyn Davidson
Friends, Romans, countrymen: lend me your ears. I want to talk about dogs.
Well, more specifically, warhounds. I was walking my dog today, you see, and I got to thinking that Grim is probably one of the most fascinating characters in Fire Heart. I know that a lot of you agree with me. I did a little Favorite Character poll back when I was writing on Shur’tugal FanFiction, and Grim won by a landslide. You know why? People like dogs. They’re our best friends, after all. They’re loyal, loving, and utterly devoted. My dog Beowulf, a silver lab (I know – I’d never heard of such a breed until I got him either) holds the grand distinction of being one of the few members of a very small, very elite, and very exclusive club: Beings Who Have Never Screwed Dan Over. And all over the world it’s the same. Unless you get some raving psychopath for a pet, your dog is going to be your truest, most perfect friend until it dies – and that’s why so many people love Grim.
But where does he come from? How was he made? Why is he so intelligent? I thought it might be fun to answer these questions in a little blurb about all things Grim, so here we go. To start with, there’s…
Or rather, there was Dahoto. Some of you may recall that, in Fire Heart, it’s mentioned that warhounds are unique to the Westlands. In fact, this isn’t true – not precisely. They are unique to the city of Dahoto, and Dahoto (before it was annihilated by yaru) loaned warhounds and their handlers – a group collectively known as the Dahotan First Rank – to those Lower Kingdom cities that could afford them. This was a lucrative practice, I assure you, and one based partially around the Southland custom of farming out the majority of a city’s military work to mercenary bands. I’m sure everybody remembers just how effective Clare and Grim are as a team; imagine how effective an entire company of such duos might be.
But how is it that such an effective breed of animal only exists in one city? Well, it just so happens that I’ve recently stumbled across an ancient document predating the Soréllian Empire’s expansion into Dahoto. The document appears to be a travelogue from one of the first meetings between a Soréllian government official and the enigmatic Haito. Please excuse any errors in translation – High Soréllian has been a dead language in the Southlands for nearly five hundred years, and I had to go to rather ridiculous lengths to find someone who could read even a little of it.
Agostos says we are only three more days from the edge of Haito territory. For this I am thankful, and when I heard the news I gave praise to the Fire Father/Mother [it appears that this word was used to denote an ancient deity of some kind, and its meaning is interchangeable] in the form of a burnt offering – a magnificent boar brought down by Agostos’ men for tonight’s supper. They grumbled when I commanded the ritual, but even this far from the Empire no Soréllian would dare disobey a Legatus.
Day One Hundred:
Our first meeting with the Haito. They are a strange, quiet people, and I do not like the way they look at our caravan. Their eyes are a disquieting shade of emerald, and such a thing I have never seen before. They wear strange armor more intimidating than that of any legionary, and their faces are covered but for their eyes in hideous, demonic masks. Of those we met, several – I cannot be sure exactly how many, for their numbers seemed to shift like shadows/darkness/evil [apparently, as above, all three of these words were interchangeable in High Soréllian] with every glance – were accompanied by monstrously huge canines of some sort. They resembled wolves, but their eyes bespoke an intelligence that I have never seen in an animal. Their jaws hang perpetually open, and are studded with far more teeth than I can recall ever seeing in a dog or wolf. Their fur is very coarse – or so my translator tells me – and can even deflect a wayward blade or poorly aimed arrow. I write this at the onset of mid-night, for I find it difficult to sleep while my thoughts dwell on those beasts.
Day One Hundred and Three:
Another sleepless night. Soft but audible footfalls – I suspect of a deliberate nature – wakened me each time my mind began to drift. When I finally crept out of my tent to discern my tormentor, I saw nothing. I made to leave the tent and look around, but the instant my foot left its boundary a piercing, nightmarish din erupted from everywhere at once; it sounded like the laughter of the mad, or the shrieks of the damned, or both. Fire Father/Mother deliver me from this nightmare.
Day One Hundred and Four:
One of Agostos’ men attempted to toss a scrap of meat to one of the beasts. It gave the food what I can only describe as a disconsolate look and then leaped upon the man, savaging him with its jaws. It was over in a matter of moments, and I am ashamed to admit that I voided the contents of my stomach at the sight. The creature’s master said something short and sharp in his language, and it obediently went to his side. After inspecting the body – without my assistance, for I had not the constitution for such a thing – Agostos mused about the nature of the offspring between one of the Haito beasts and one of our own wolfhounds. I found this idea to be quite mad and told him so.
The rest is pretty boring – a lot of political talk, a lot of trade treaties, a lot of whining about the Haito “beasts.” Typical politician mumbo jumbo. Anyway, there you have it: the progenitors of the Dahotan warhounds. Will we hear more about them in Shadow Heart? Well, duh.
But enough about history – I want to talk about…
Yes, I know I recycled the Clare and Grim lineart. Just play along, you party poopers.
So warhounds are big. As in, really big. As in, bigger than that. So we’ll just pretend that the above picture is of a runt warhound. Or maybe one that’s still growing. In reality, a full-grown warhound’s shoulder would reach above hip-height on Clare. For reference, Clare is a leggy 6’2″. (About 188 cm for everybody in the world who is not stuck on America’s ridiculous measurement system.) That makes the average warhound’s shoulder roughly four feet tall – about 122 cm. Their heads, naturally, reach even higher. This is taller than a Great Dane, and a warhound is even more massive.
“But hip dysplasia!” you cry. Pshaw. This is fantasy. And in fantasy, dogs either die gloriously in battle or they live until they get too old to breathe. None of this bogus genetic anomaly garbage.
So we’ve established that warhounds are big. If you remember, we’ve also established – according to Clare – that a warhound is trained from the moment it is born by only one person, and that is the person it will spend the rest of its life with. How long does one live? I haven’t the foggiest. None of them have ever survived for long enough to find out. Such is the life of a shock trooper. How exactly is one trained? Well, it just so happens that I’ve stumbled across another relic – or rather, a series of them – from Pallamar! This one is a little more recent, though – in fact, it comes from Clare’s things. (No, I didn’t stalk her and steal her stuff. Jeez, guys.)
You will never believe what’s happened. I know that such matters are to be kept secret, but I am positively bursting with pride and joy: you have been selected to undergo training for the First Rank! I know that this is what you have always dreamed of, and Marya and I simply cannot contain our happiness for you. The news only just came in today, and when I saw your name cross my desk my curiosity was piqued. It seems Maeren sponsored you, and as you know he has tremendous influence within the upper echelons of the Dahotan military. Take care – I am sure he still has feelings for you. You will undoubtedly be informed tomorrow or the day after, and as I said such matters are generally kept secret. Look surprised! And go forth with Gefan’s grace and the knowledge that Marya and I know that you will succeed.
All My Love,
Dear Mother and Father,
I am writing to you from Kyohan, thought I cannot tell you where I will be going nor what I am doing, as it is a matter of some secrecy. Suffice to say I am in good health and good spirit, for I have some exciting news: I was just last week promoted to the First Rank! Training and selection are over, and I am one of only five proud and lucky women and men to have been accepted. My first mission will be as liaison to the regulars during a ranging, but when I return I will be granted a warhound pup to train for my own. Maeren tells me that several bitches are nearly ready to birth, and should be in the act or close to it when my mission is over. I shall bring the pup by the smithy so you can see it. Take care, and say hello to the twins for me.
Dear Jaeme and Marya,
I hope all is well, and that the Consul is not working you too hard. As you undoubtedly know, I am now a proud member of the First Rank. I have my own warhound pup, who I have named Grim for his demeanor – not to me, for he has taken to me like I am his birth-mother, but to anyone who comes within five paces of us. I took him by to Mother and Father the other day and he nearly leaped out of my arms to get at them. I have never heard such noises come from a pup, and to be honest I was momentarily frightened. I had to chain him to an anvil just so I could speak with my parents, for he chewed through three lengths of leather in as many tocks just to get to my side. Once chained he emitted the most terrible wails, and now as I write this he acts as though he has been beaten. I suspect that this is a ruse. Just yesterday he feigned injury in order to obtain more food and a good belly scratch. He is an animal of singular intellect, even as young as he is. Also, Maeren has made another advance. I have tried to explain my feelings – or lack thereof – to him in as gentle a way as possible, but I do not think he understands. I would greatly appreciate your help in this matter.
Wishing You the Best,
Warhound Training Manual, Section One
A warhound is not a pet, and should never be treated as such. It is an animal of great intelligence and cunning, and care should be taken to make sure yours never has reason to challenge your authority. Many are those who have lost digits, limbs, and even lives to their warhounds. Warhounds respond best to strong, self-sure authority. When commanding your warhound you must neither feel nor show any hesitation or compassion, for they will seize upon such as a weakness and act accordingly. Below is a list of vocal and hand-signalled commands universal to the First Rank, which you and your warhound will be expected to learn before it reaches six months of age.
Warhound Training Manual, Section Three
Never use physical violence to train your warhound. This is the most important lesson you will ever learn. A warhound, raised properly, will obey your every command. It will do as you say, when you say, without hesitation. In time, you and your warhound will learn to communicate without even the voice- and hand-signals that you have learned. But the day you raise a hand against your warhound, it will defend itself without thinking twice. Remember this, lest you become another statistic of the First Rank.
[Beneath this, in a hastily scrawled hand]: Swatted Grim on the nose today for trying to steal a rib at dinner. Didn’t attack me. Didn’t even try to run away. Just cowered and looked at me with those sad puppy eyes. Did I get the only cowardly warhound in history?
The short answer is: no, she didn’t. The long answer?…Well, you’ll have to wait for Shadow Heart (but not much longer!) to find out.