Body Art in Paksworld

Posted: July 18th, 2014 under Background, Craft, the writing life.
Tags: , , ,

Many people in various cultures have used permanent markings on the body as means of identification–individual, familial, tribal, broadly cultural.    Any of these can be ornamental, and thus fall into the “art” category, but they are often more than ornamental–they have specific meanings.  Temporary markings applied to the skin with colors, mud, ash are even commoner, but ephemeral; the point of this post is the permanent ones in use in Paksworld, and their meanings to the Paksworld cultures that use them (or who abhor them.)    Tattoos, scarification, and piercings all occur in Paksworld, with very specific meanings both inside and outside the groups that use them.

The existing Paks books have mentioned only two uses:  the Liartians (followers of Liart, also known as the Bloodlord)  carry at least one tattoo of the “horned chain” or “horned circle,” a circle or circle made to look like a chain, with barbs on it.  The location of the tattoo denotes the rank of the follower.   It is placed on the shoulder (front or back) of those first marked as follower, with additional tattoos as the person rises in importance.    Servants marked by their masters may have other tattoos in a code (readable to Liartians) that defines their relationship.  Aside from servant tattoos marking someone as a sexual target, to carry the horned chain below the waist means that someone is of higher rank in the organization, and the original tattoo (more visible in company) has been obliterated.   The equivalent to “enforcers” in the Liartian organization have their faces heavily tattooed (as was mentioned in the first Paks book, of Siniava and some of his followers.)

The legend surrounding the use of full-face tattoos  is that it began with humans who had been corrupted by iynisin and who wanted to blot out their humanity and become dark like them.   The problem with that is that the iynisin are not dark-skinned; in “normal” clothes they are indistinguishable from elves, whose skin colors range from pale to yellowish to a light brown.   Some are pinker and some are yellower and some are browner, but never as dark as dark-skinned humans.   So why did some humans, early on, start using full-face tattoos?  Unsure.   (Range of human skin colors in Paksworld is from very dark brown to tannable “white.”  No albinos.  Nobody as pale as the Finnvardians in the Familias universe.  The mix of hair and eye color with skin color is somewhat different than it is here. )

However, most horse nomad tribes use facial tattooing, but not full-face: half-face is the most; some tribes tattoo only the forehead and a smaller mark on one cheek. as a tribal recognition and (in the case of notable persons) a record of their achievements.   They also have spiritual significance in most tribes.  In Divided Allegiance, when on the trek to Kolobia,  the expedition meets the Stormwind tribe and Paks sees tattooed faces not allied with Liart for the first time.

In Fintha and Tsaia, facial tattoo are very much disapproved of, but less so if the person is obviously a horse nomad.   The horse nomads look different anyway–generally shorter,  barrel-chested, bow-legged,  straight black hair worn long, in braids (and men may braid their beards, which are usually scant and confined to the chin) ,  darker skinned than most Tsaians, Finthans, and Pargunese.  Horse nomads are disapproved of for other reasons as well, but nobody thinks they’re Liartians.   Some people even copy the designs of horse nomad tattoos and draw them on themselves with dyes as temporary marks.  The Horse nomads are disgusted by that practice because the user doesn’t know what the meaning is, and thus it’s inappropriate.

Piercings, except for ear piercings (which both men and women may have)  are again associated in the average person’s mind with Liart–with torture.   Multiple ear piercings no longer exist in Fintha, but were common among magelords, and are associated with wealth in Tsaia.   Males in Pargun may have one pierced ear, but not two;  for women, ear piercings are a sumptuary matter, defining rank:   the maximum for any woman is three in each ear (a king’s wife, if he agrees);  two in each ear is for royalty other than ruling, and only after marriage;  and so on down the scale, though any wife may have one piercing in one ear.

In Aarenis, both men and women may have pierced ears, though some realms limit the number (Andressat, for instance, as you might expect.)  Most children have one ear pierced early on and may wear a simple disc with a family or guild mark on it.   Jewelers sometimes sport multiple piercings of ears and eyebrows to show off their work.

Scarification is practiced in present time only by the various small tribal communities.  It’s less important to horse nomads than tattoos, but some tribes do use (small amounts of) it as additional signals of the person’s status in the tribe.   Most of the marks are straight, and not particularly “designed” looking, but there is  horse nomad tribe that produces elaborate designs which are earned by the deeds of those who bear them.    Otherwise, it’s a signfier of punishment recognized throughout the Eight Kingdoms and Aarenis: branding, cutting, or whipping leaves scars (sometimes specially marked with dye, as in Sheepfarmer’s Daughter) to mark the person as a dangerous criminal and certainly doesn’t qualify as body art.


There’s more, but that’s a start.   [edited–forgot to add categories & tags]


  • Comment by Annabel — July 18, 2014 @ 1:04 pm


    Am I remembering that the Thieves’ Guild tattooed the web between the thumb and the first finger?

  • Comment by elizabeth — July 18, 2014 @ 2:26 pm


    You’re right, but I believe that started after they took up with the Liartians. I’ll have to prod Arvid to tell me. (He’s busy being an eye-opener for his new grange. He’s not like any Marshal they ever had, let alone the last one.)

  • Comment by Tuppenny — July 18, 2014 @ 7:01 pm


    I keep picturing him training Girdish swat teams!
    I’m glad he is still ‘talking’ to you.

  • Comment by Iphinome — July 18, 2014 @ 7:49 pm


    @Tuppenny don’t you think pseudo-millitarized police squads would be a bit too far on the fascist side for Gird’s tastes? Now Girdish commandos on the other hand….

  • Comment by elizabeth — July 18, 2014 @ 9:08 pm


    Arvid is not the SWAT team type. Nor would Gird like them.

  • Comment by elizabeth — July 18, 2014 @ 10:29 pm


    I had to go have my eyedrops put in…sorry for short answer that sounded too abrupt. Arvid startles his grange because they’re south hills rural, and he’s obviously urban…and yet he’s not condescending to them. He is incredibly *quick* in their sense of things…problem, deal with it, BANG, done. They’re used to more discussion. Now the gnomes he’s having to deal with…that’s a whole other aspect. The gnomes know a lot more about him than he’s really aware of–once Dattur switched to Arcolin, Arvid felt he’d handed off that burden and it was all over. Dattur of course reported on Arvid (a debt owed), and word went forth, in all the gnome princedoms. But since then he’s discovered the entanglements of Girdish law, and the gnomes are enjoying explaining to him where Gird went wrong.

  • Comment by elizabeth — July 18, 2014 @ 10:30 pm


    The gnomes do not of course tell me…I’m just the chronicler. No, they tell Arvid because they detect in him the kind of human mind that can really understand Law. So they will see to it that he does.

  • Comment by Daniel Glover — July 19, 2014 @ 4:46 am


    Of course Arvid is all about Law, he was a thief-not-a-thief after all.

  • Comment by LarryP — July 19, 2014 @ 7:34 am


    sorry if this is the wrong space to ask, but I got a question or 3 if ye don’t mind.

    1. What is a red root? at times I thought tater like red potatoes or times carrot like plant?

    2. Sometimes the magic used feels like magic being cast as a mage would other times it feels like mental power that comes form with in the user other divine intervention. so did you see it this way or have I read to much Arndra Norton growing up.
    I am Speaking of human magic use the Elder races have there own magic and powers and are by necessity diffent in feel and use.

  • Comment by elizabeth — July 19, 2014 @ 8:23 am


    Larry P: Redroots are a root vegetable that look kind of like a sweet potato but are instead bitter and slightly astringent until cooked. You can eat them raw, but you won’t like them much and you may get a stomach-ache.

    There are different kinds of magic in the world. They overlap very little, and someone (human or Elder) who has one will not have access to the powers of another. (You can think of it as expertise here: the most expert plumber in town is not likely to be also the most expert dentist: each has a range of skills that do not translate to the other’s work.) In humans there are four basic types, one of which requires the help of trees. The Kuakkgani acquire their powers from their ritual exchange of limbs with a tree; this gives them the ability to contact plants and animals directly, and access to unusual methods of healing. Old Humans had a type of magic that arose from their connection to nature, and was often “community” rather than “individual.” Mages (who all came from Aarenis originally) have innate magical powers, but these are different from the Old Humans’ powers and (being infused, as it were, from the less nice elves) are aimed at controlling things and people. Wizards (a modern form of magic-user, after the fall of the magelords) have developed a technology that is sort of like magic, but largely illusion, though the potions usually work (pharmacology is more advanced than physics.)

    So if you need to kill someone 40 feet away without using a conventional weapon, or control an element like water or fire, you’d better be a magelord. If you need to heal someone of an iynisin wound that’s left poison in the body, or knit cut tendons together, you’d better be a Kuakgan. If you need to keep your community fields fertile and the weeds down, or cure a bad headache, it’s best to be an Old Human. And if you want to impress everyone with a spout of fireballs, you’d better be a wizard.

    Hope that helps.

  • Comment by Tuppenny — July 19, 2014 @ 12:25 pm


    Maybe not swat team – but the training that enabled Arvid to rescue the kidnapped children is new to the Girdish, and may be perhaps needed in the world that is evolving.
    I am also glad that the gnomes are continuing to challenge him. Arvid for Supreme Court Chief Justice! I may have to get a bumper sticker made up…

  • Comment by Richard (Simpkin) — July 19, 2014 @ 4:40 pm


    Talking of Arvid, time to finish my set (and after what’s already been said, I obviously don’t need to hide this in Spoiler Space):

    A Thief from Vérella did choose
    To step into Marshalate shoes.
    Doubters were mastered
    When Gird (“You bastard!”)
    With true light made quite clear his views.

  • Comment by Nadine Barter Bowlus — July 19, 2014 @ 6:27 pm


    Thanks Richard for completing your set, and for including my favorite line from “Crown”.

  • Comment by GinnyW — July 19, 2014 @ 8:47 pm


    Yes, Richard, thank you for completing the set with such an apt reference.

    Elizabeth, thank you for the concise summary of facial/body “art”. I hope it finds a home eventually in the cultures section of the webpage. I hope even more that it means that Cracolnya’s story is towing your imagination in productive directions.

    And as always, good wishes for the eye drop/new glasses/etc. recovery process.

    Although Arvid’s experience with gnomes and their culture, most recently, but not exclusively through Dattur, made him an obvious choice for Marshall in that corner of Fintha. But the news passed through the gnome kingdoms raises some interesting questions about gnome communication. Is it all by travel, or are there other means? Dattur does not seem to be the most talkative individual, although I suppose that Arcolin would bring news of Arvid’s new status to him, and that might change his perspective. The North seems awfully isolated in some ways, though. How much traveling back and forth would there be?

  • Comment by AThornton — July 19, 2014 @ 8:53 pm


    Since we’re down the rabbit hole …


    Based on several things in the previous books, I thought the disappearance of Mage powers was the iynisin “stealing powers from higher powers” to create and energize Achrya. The return was due to Dragon killing off Achrya releasing the flow of power back to its natural channels.

  • Comment by elizabeth — July 19, 2014 @ 9:06 pm


    Tuppenny: I love the thought of an “Arvid for Supreme Court” bumper sticker!

    Richard: Bravo!

    Ginny W: Dattur is interested in Arvid’s progress because although he trusts his prince, Arcolin, he still feels a personal obligation to Arvid might remain…though his duties as Arcolin’s legal adviser dominate their relationship. It is very likely that he communicated with gnomes in both Verella (initially) about Arvid’s conversion, and then with whatever gnomes he met in Ifall or on the road, and met the Aldonfulk prince when on the way back north. He would have been debriefed, as we say, by Aldonfulk gnomes about his history, which would include Arvid, at that time, and he has had that one interaction with the Aldonfulk courier and almost certainly included any recent information Arcolin had mentioned (if any) as part of his report to the Aldonfulk prince. In the way gnomes think of things, Dattur’s interest in Arvid us under a separate legal rule from his relationship to Arcolin as his prince, so he does not have to tell Arcolin, or get his permission, to spread news about Arvid. Arvid is a “human of interest” to all gnomes, because of his saving one gnome. So the Gnarrinfulk gnomes are delighted to have him as the new Marshal nearby because he’s already known to be “gnome-friendly.”

    AThornton: What an interesting idea! I’m not at all sure it’s right, or–if partly right–the whole story….

  • Comment by Annabel — July 21, 2014 @ 9:28 am


    I am so glad we haven’t finally closed the door on Paksworld! There are so many stories that still need telling, especially when and whether Camwyn became King of Horngard, and if he did, whether he then sent ambassadors to his brother’s court, or whether his loss of memory means he doesn’t know who to trust…. I’d love to read his story. And Cracolnya’s (does he have facial tattoos?). And I’d love to see how Dorrin gets on as Paladin of Falk, and what happens to the Verrakai estates. I am assuming Lyonya has now settled peacefully down for the time being, so no real story possibilities there?

  • Comment by Daniel Glover — July 21, 2014 @ 6:35 pm



    “No real story possibilities there?” What of the first Dragon story that appeared? The comment to the effect of poverty and thievery everywhere but in Fin Panir earlier in the books–we now know how true that comment is. I am sure there is plenty of story material lurking throughout Paksworld. We just have to bide our time for Story Daemon to have her/his/its say.

  • Comment by elizabeth — July 22, 2014 @ 12:44 pm


    Story possibilities…they’re kind of like the mayfly hatch people are complaining about (and no wonder!) along the Mississippi. (If there were enough birds, frogs, toads, there wouldn’t be a problem. Just sayin’–those critters have predators.)

    Anyway–story possibilities come out of nowhere in waves. Are there stories left in Lyonya? Certainly–before and after (those twins are not going to be placid their whole lives, that’s for sure.) It’s not a matter of finding story ideas, but knowing where to start, which are the “live” ones and which ones will trail away to nothing.

  • Comment by Daniel Glover — July 22, 2014 @ 2:48 pm


    Yup. Lots of mayfiles (in July) up here in the north country.

  • Comment by Wickersham's Conscience — July 22, 2014 @ 3:17 pm


    I hope that some day you can assemble all of the wonderful tidbits about PaksWorld scattered in the blog, comments and threads, together with the details on your website, into a compendium of some kind. Mercedes Lackey did it; Terry Pratchett’s Turtle Recall is in its 4th Edition. I’d certainly pay for such a book.

    It might include a description of characters and places, one or more maps and genealogies of some of the characters.

    Those two examples were written by associates of the authors. Stephen Briggs in the case of Pratchett; John Helfers in the case of The Valdemar Companion. Not volunteering; just suggesting.

  • Comment by Genko — July 22, 2014 @ 3:24 pm


    Love the limerick about Arvid, and love the idea of the bumper sticker.

  • Comment by AThornton — July 24, 2014 @ 12:29 am


    Elizabeth: Rats. I thought I had it figured out.

  • Comment by Richard — July 24, 2014 @ 6:31 am


    AThornton, welcome to the club.

    Talking about Achrya and the iynisin, I’ve wondered (idly): if the iynisin were only going to kill all the elves left in the Ladysforest, kill Kieri (to destroy his new elvenhome) and turn all the Eight Kingdoms to dust and sand, would Dragon in his wisdom have meddled not? It is for – no it wasn’t them who interfered with Dragon’s eggs, it wasn’t even them who incited the ones who interfered with Dragon’s eggs, they were merely the ones who had sponsored and helped promote the one (Achrya) who incited the ones who took the eggs – it is for that guilt-by-association they are now charcoal or re-imprisoned.

    (I hadn’t realised that last summer.)

  • Comment by Nadine Barter Bowlus — July 24, 2014 @ 8:48 pm


    Richard, I think Dragon is the only one with the power to neutralize the threat the iynisin pose to ALL living things in Paksworld.

  • Comment by greycats — July 25, 2014 @ 1:30 am


    Things I’d really like to know about Paksworld:

    1. How did the Dragon come to recognize wisdom? Or, even more generally, how do dragons grow up?

  • Comment by GinnyW — July 25, 2014 @ 2:22 pm


    Greycats, Good question, but I am not sure the answer is on the horizon. I had some thoughts along those lines, but they need serious re-thinking after I re-read Crown a time or two more. Perhaps Dragon will communicate something to Elizabeth in the meantime.

  • Comment by AThornton — July 26, 2014 @ 7:10 pm


    Richard: it’s almost like someone is making it up as she goes along.

  • Comment by Richard — July 27, 2014 @ 2:14 am


    AThornton: She’s good at it though (at putting in plot “hooks” as she calls them to give herself scope). To take one instance, look at how the brief mention of the magelords sleepers, in the first chapter of Kings, gives room for how they turn out to be.

    Greycats: what is thing number 2 you’d like to know?

  • Comment by greycats — July 28, 2014 @ 12:17 pm


    Things I’d really like to know about Paksworld:

    2. The secret sins of the elves. The sins we know about are bad enough, but I’ll bet there’s more. Why else would a folk with such longevity display such (apparently) poor judgment? They certainly have time to think matters through.

  • Comment by Daniel Glover — July 28, 2014 @ 6:36 pm



    I don’t know that there are too many. If the resentment lasts the better part of eternity they turn to iynisin ways soon enough.

  • Comment by GinnyW — July 28, 2014 @ 7:58 pm


    Greycats (and Daniel),

    So far the ‘secret’ sins of the elves are not so different from the sins of humans – jealousy being one of the most prominent; lack of forgiveness and holding grudges being another. They seem to grow, or become more obvious, as the lifespan of the individual increases.

    But from the human point-of-view, which is what we generally get, the causes and the relationships that are involved are invisible because their history goes back for many, many, many lifetimes. The resentment of the bones being a case in point.

  • Comment by GinnyW — July 28, 2014 @ 8:00 pm


    Since we are considering body art, does the bone painting fit in this category? Even though the body is no longer living?

  • Comment by elizabeth — July 28, 2014 @ 11:07 pm


    greycats: Some things can be revealed only in the books, as they come to me, and some are reserved for future books. But my understanding of the effects of guaranteed longevity (or nearly guaranteed) was also shown in the first SF series, the Familias (Serrano/Suiza) books. It’s been a fascination for years, as I’ve watched how life expectancy affects societies (in history and now.) Longevity, like wealth, affects attitudes–it’s not so much “secret sins” as the natural result of being rich (you don’t have to know exactly to the penny how much money is in your wallet because there’s always enough to eat lunch wherever you wish) or expecting a long life (you don’t have to solve that problem/make that decision instantly, because you have time to do some research, consider what’s best in the long term.) Both wealth and long life afford leisure and opportunity…you can afford to take a year or two off to study something, you can try out different things to see which you like best (or which you’re best at.) You can take on long-term projects. Run that out to elven lifespans…if you or I were in a climate where they’d grow, we could plant a sequoia, but we would not live to see the mature tree. The oaks we’ve planted are still young, just now showing what they might be at full maturity. If however you knew you would live ten or twenty thousand years, a tree with a five or six hundred year life span would be a garden decoration. Designing a grove, a forest, a prairie…you could do that and bring it to perfection, tinkering with the mix of plants until you had it just right for your vision, over the hundreds and even thousands of years it took.

    So if that was your way of thinking…what would you then find it hard to think about? Probably things that happened and disappeared quickly. Beings whose lives were so short you were hardly aware of them except as a species, not individuals. We do not expect wildflowers to survive beyond a brief bloom-time; we are happy to see them each spring, but when they drop their petals and then later their seeds, we shrug it off. They’ll be back next year, we think. And so the elves see short-lived folk. There will always be more, and they will always be busy about something, but their somethings don’t last either. Empires rise and fall, while an elf tends one elvenhome.

  • Comment by elizabeth — July 28, 2014 @ 11:10 pm


    GinnyW: I haven’t thought of the Old Human bone-painting as body decoration…as I envision it, the body decoration is a not the same kind of identification–it’s not a story but a single statement. The bone-painting is the story of a life. But I see what you mean that they could arise from the same impulse. Hmmm. I need to keep working on the horse nomad story, because they have the tattoos but I don’t yet know what they do with their dead.

  • Comment by Joyce — July 29, 2014 @ 6:24 am


    Perhaps the. Horse nomads treat their dead in a way similar to the plains Indians in the American West: leaving them on a high platform exposed to the sun and open air (at least I have read that this was so). Makes sense that a people living their lives on horseback would not want to enclose their dead in a tomb.

  • Comment by elizabeth — July 29, 2014 @ 6:46 am


    I’ll have to let them show me. Horse nomads in Eurasia often built elaborate tomb structures and buried horses with some of their dead…and I don’t know which way to go. Yet. They may have come up with something else. Fire, exposure without fire, burial in constructed tombs/barrows, temporary burial followed by removal and preservation of skeletal remains…there are a lot of funerary possibilities.

  • Comment by GinnyW — July 29, 2014 @ 11:34 am


    Tatoos and other forms of body decoration, like piercings often reflect a significant occasion in a person’s life – like reaching adult status, or marraige, or sometimes family affiliation. But I also envisage the decorations accumulating over a lifetime, marking significant events in the person’s life. That was where the connection to the bone painting came to me.

    We do have a kind of historical disconnect. The horse nomads have a living vibrant culture in the here and now of the Paksworld characters we know and love. Or in the case of Cracolnya are coming to know better. The Old Humans we have only glimpsed in Gird’s time, and as their remains impacted Kieri’s time. We do not know whether the pre-elven Old Humans of Lyonya practiced any form of body art that was transferred to the bones. And we do not know any details about the funerary practices of any of the peoples of Paks’ own time, except for the mercenaries. – They have adapted to dying far from home and kin.

  • Comment by Richard — July 29, 2014 @ 1:23 pm


    Elizabeth, (#34) “bring it to perfection”: that’s the word, I see the elves as perfectionists. (And being changeless themselves, having got a grove, a forest, a prairie exactly as they want it, wouldn’t they expect – insist – that it stay so?) From which I get the beginnings of an intellectual handle on the iynisin: if the natural world proves it will never be made and stay perfectly beautiful – by an ideal of beauty that makes Kuakkgani obscene – then logically that leaves a perfectionist only two options, either make it perfectly ugly, or destroy it and start over.

    In explaining the types of magic earlier, I see you missed one out – if you want to send a boy’s pony safely back where it came from, you’d better be a horse nomad.

  • Comment by greycats — July 29, 2014 @ 7:47 pm


    Whoops, I see I should put a smiley face or something after “Secret Sins.” I meant the remark to be tongue-in-cheek.

    Let me begin again. Watching the process of making something perfect–or of becoming something perfect, like a perfect Zen Master for example, is very interesting if you want to make or be either of these. The finished product not so much, however, and as a reader I find perfection to be downright boring after a page or so.

    So,I don’t find the elves interesting because of their perfections. I like their faults which are fascinating. Despite the insulation afforded by longevity, the elves’ behavior, when they are stressed, is pretty close to human behavior. Catch one of them at the edge of elfish shady business and watch what s/he does: bluster, deny, lie and disappear. Pretty much what my adolescent son did when we discovered an Altoids tin of marijuana under the front seat of the car. And they produce fertile offspring from union with human folk which does make one wonder about ultimate origins. Not to mention ultimate endings.

    So, yes, I’d like to know more about what’s amiss with the elves. Like their population problem. And why the ying/yang split of elf and iynisin? Now that is different. Complete all or nothing splits are rare in human societies–outside of politics! Be there consequences attendant upon eliminating a whole sector of a people? I’ll stay tuned to find out.

  • Comment by GinnyW — July 30, 2014 @ 10:39 am


    The interesting thing for me about elven longevity is that the elves, and the iynisin, seem to become increasingly determined by their past. They have lived, and created, a certain pattern for their lives. The pattern, though, becomes increasingly rigid, so that they do not seem to imagine alternative patterns easily.

    This may, of course, be a side effect of the elvenhome creation. Most elves are subordinate to the one who creates the elvenhome, apparently through a kind of glamour. As the age of the creator increases, the flexibility of the elvenhome vision may decrease. This would be especially true if, as Flessinathlin did, the elvenhome gift was withheld from most of the younger generation.

    I am drawing this from my speculations about Amrothlin in particular. As a ‘spiritually wounded’ elf, he attracts my attention. Maybe someday he will clamor loudly for a story of his (and his siblings) own.

  • Comment by Richard — July 30, 2014 @ 4:07 pm


    Ginny, he’s dead, remember. That needn’t stop him from clamouring for a story set in the past, but, when he got himself bumped off right at the end, how many of us thought, “good riddance”? Which is a bit harsh considering he did save Paks after the banast taig.

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