Haloed Bane

Reading Seven: Dolentian Primitive


The Primitive Script of Dolentis

A word of caution: Dolentian Primitive (dolesshusha glitar in Horgothic) is the only script the Dolens had which they judged simple enough to teach to their vassals and allies. In fact, the most paranoid among us believe the script is a hoax, only made to throw aliens off the scent of the real riches of Dolentian learning. The story the Dolens themselves told seems plausible enough. They first began writing with one of their eyestalks. They would dab this stalk in ink and smear it on the stem of the nakbertis flower, well-known for its hexagonal tiles. The writing then consisted of horizontal strokes one way and another, going from bottom to top of a bark scroll, as the writer hovered above. The greatest scholars in Dolentis would keep their eye open as they wrote, and this is the reason why many sages were blind (at least on the one eye) and why they were dubbed the shulins gediri, i.e. the inky ones.

Primitive is written on a hexagonal grid. Writing a letter involves filling some of the hexagons in a so-called hexaline of six. Here is an empty hexaline:

empty hexamine

Below is the letter f in Primitive. As it covers hexagons one to three, we can describe the f as obeying the pattern 13, meaning 1 to 3.

r hexamine

Pattern 56 shown below stands for the letter m:

m hexamine

There can be no gaps in the filled tiles, so the number of possible patterns is rather restricted. Pattern 16, a completely filled out hexaline, is a vowel precursor: it tells the reader that the next hexaline will be a vowel. For example, the pattern for the vowel u is 56, which is the same as that for m, but u will always be preceded by a precursor line, so there is no confusion. Since Dolentian Primitive is written bottom up, the word fum ("to smear") looks something like this:

rum hexapath

As before, white is used for the filled tiles (the patterns you'd actually see on a scroll). However, to make things easier we've added colored dots to distinguish between each of the four hexalines composing this word: yellow, red, purple and blue for each succeeding line. As you can see, the hexaline patterns for the last 2 lines are identical, the (red-dotted) precursor makes it clear which is the f and which the u.

Here are the patterns for all the letters in Dolentian Primitive.

Consonant k s r rr j n h d z p
Pattern 1 2 3 4 5 6 12 23 34 45

Consonant m f v b t ch sh g l ny
Pattern 56 13 24 35 46 14 25 36 15 26

Vowel a i e o u ai ei oi ui ia io au
Pattern 12 23 34 45 56 13 24 35 46 15 26 16

Notice that all of the hexalines we have presented so far have are facing the same way. We mean that the left-end hexagon is lower than the right-end hexagon. This type of hexaline is said to face northeast, and therefore is called a foinion or northeast hexaline. Northwest hexalines (raigian) like the one below are also possible.

northwest hexaline

The lower-end hexagon is called the hexaline's tail, and the higher-end is called the head. Therefore a northeast hexaline has its head on the right and a northwest one has it on the left. (The head "faces" one way or the other.) The letter patterns remain the same regardless of which way the underlying hexaline is facing. Here is the m letter on a northwest hexaline.

northwest m hexaline

Below is the word Dolentis smeared on northwest hexalines. We've marked the tiles corresponding to the first and last letter in the name to help the reader get started. It shouldn't be too difficult to read the whole word.

Dolentis in Primitive script

One could make all the hexalines face northeast instead and come up with a corresponding swath. But the above image should suffice.

So far Primitive seems to be a simple, if clunky and expansive, script, and not worthy of Dolentis, not even in primitive times, but the - ehem - fun is just about to get started. Although we have seen two types of hexalines, the swath they cut across the hexagonal grid is the same in its steadiness, with each hexaline sitting atop each other and the whole text neither veering left nor right (remember we're speaking of the entire hexalines and not just the tiles we choose to smear in order to mark the letters). This sort of steady stacking is called munte. Looking back at the word fum, a Dolens would say that the second hexaline is munte to the first, and the third is munte to the second. Munte stacking does not change the direction the hexalines face. A hexaline that is munte to its predecessor will face the same way. So as long as we are stacking munte, we'll either be stuck with northwest or northeast hexalines all the way. And the stack will not veer right or left. In fact, the majority of Dolentian scrolls begin with a northeast hexaline, and yet we've seen that northwest hexalines are possible. The reason is that munte is only one of 10 (!) ways to stack a hexaline on top of another.

We'll use arrows to show where the tail of a new hexaline can be placed in relation to the preceding (black) hexaline. Munte is defined as placing the tail of a hexaline right above the tail of its predecessor. It's indicated in the image by the purple arrow leading up from the tail of the base hexaline. The six white arrows represent a family of possible placements that shift the stack in the direction faced by the original hexaline (munte makes the next hexaline face the same way as the previous one, but it doesn't shift the swath in that direction). These are collectively called the fe paths, where fe is Horgothic for the direction of a current. The farthest white arrow places the new hexaline's tail beyond (to the right, if the preceding hexaline faces northeast as in this case) its predecessor's head. The red arrows, on the other hand, represent placements in the opposite direction, and are called dofe, against the current.

possible placements

Here is a table with the ten different placements and their names. In terms of the image (remember that if the base hexaline in black line were facing the opposite way then everything would be reversed) we start with the purple arrow on the far left, then proceed to the white ones (counted left to right), and finally the red arrows (counted right to left).

Placement/Path Name New hexaline faces
same/opposite way
as preceding hexaline
Veering (yes/no)
Munte same no
Fe Eslon same yes
Fe Selvun (fe sel6un) same yes
Fe Heimar same yes
Fe Ustar same yes
Fe Jen same yes
Danzikros same yes
Kasa opposite yes
Kaba opposite no (but a horizontal gap is left between the two hexalines)
El opposite yes

Let's examine a possible 7-hexaline stack. Each hexaline has been given a different color

seven hexalines

Let's describe this arrangement. We begin with a northeast hexaline (white). The blue hexaline that follows is fe selvun to the white. The purple hexaline changes direction, facing northwest. It is el to the blue line. The red hexaline is fe eslon to the purple (still facing northwest). The yellow line turns northeast and is kasa to red. Green is danzikros to yellow (note that for some reason or other this placement is not called fe danzikros, though it belongs to the Fe group). Finally, brown turns northwest once more and is el to the green line. Now let's actually smear some of the tiles and create a word using this particular arrangement:

justi written in Primitive

The word we've spelled is justi. The lone tile at the very bottom is the j and the other loner center left is the s. With enough time and patience I'm sure anyone can trace the other letters. Two questions naturally come to mind: 1) If the reader does not know how the hexalines are to be stacked, how can he figure out exactly what she is reading?; 2) What's the point (or the semantic meaning or the use) of the various arrangements? Why not stack all text munte and keep the text as tight as possible?

The answer to the first question is that the reader is supposed to read ahead multiple hexalines and figure out what the arrangement is. Reading for the Dolens, even in its most primitive expression, was always a game. Not only that, but a text (or portions of one) could have multiple meanings. Looking at the arrangement above, it is clear that the first hexaline has only one filled tile. But it doesn't necessarily have to the be the fifth tile (j). We could think of that first filled tile as the third in its line, in which case the letter is an r. The next line should then be a vocalic precursor munte to the first line. The upcoming hexaline, being el to the preceding, stands for the letter o. Under this speculative scheme, our former s tile becomes a k, the first and only filled tile in a hexaline that is kasa to its predecessor. The next hexaline is munte, and produces the letter v. The next hexaline is a precursor, fe ustar to the one before. We can see two possible vowels now: either an a (with its hexaline being munte), or i (with the hexaline being el instead). If we go with with the first choice, then we've obtained the arrangement below:

justi written in Primitive

The two arrangements are similar but by no means identical, and if you fill the tiles in according to the letter patterns we've noted, the end result looks exactly the same even though the readings are totally different. The question of which choice to go with, justi or rokva, can only be determined by further reading. The nakbertis stem yields extremely thin paper and Dolentian scrolls are massive, the Dolens being very fast readers. The reader might have to cycle through dozens of lines to make a decision, and it's possible for the writer to intend both meanings! Incidentally, Primitive does not separate words with spaces, and Rok was the name of a rather important species in Dolentian history, so rokva is definitely a possible interpretation as far as it goes: rok varchim (the Rok surrenders) sounds like the kind of thing a Dolens would love to record for the future. While words are not generally spaced out, the script does account for pauses by use of an unfilled hexaline. Generally speaking, an unfilled hexaline that is munte to the preceding one denotes a short pause like our comma. If the unfilled line is fe heimar, it denotes a parenthetical remark, or an introduction. When the unfilled line is placed kaba, it's a longer stop like your full stop or period.

The second question is more difficult to answer. There are many theories. Some think that the main purpose of having the various kinds of placements was to allow for multiple meanings. We all know that the Dolens were masters of deception, but what is easy to forget is that they developed, honed, and continued to practice their skills on each other. Equivocality, both in its neutral and in its negative connotations, was likely a feature, not an unfortunate side effect, of the writing system. There are those who emphasize the meaningfulness of the variations in stack arrangements as such. Dolentis never really taught Incudea any of this, but our students have proven beyond doubt that certain arrangements recur in certain types of texts. War scrolls, for example, see many more direction changes than business contracts, which are often almost wholly arranged munte. According to Alsion of Bentala, the same letter can have a different nuance depending on its placement, so that an rr that is he ustar expresses the idea "that the sky is bright but storms stumbles about within the heart," (karrimpraija maybe) like that piece by Robert Browning in your world. Another theory focuses on the malleability of the text. Dolentian Primitive was not only used in scrolls, but also on common objects, treasure buried underground, and as tattoos on the flesh of (other) living beings. At least in some cases, then, the shifts in the text could simply be a response to the writing medium, perhaps coupled with some obscure aesthetic principles.

A little more reading practice

I don't think it proper to place any actual Dolentian texts at your disposal, not even snippets of what they had their puppets pen for them and others. Instead, here is the Primitive version of a proverb commonly inscribed atop the main doors in Incudean military bases. Englished literally, it reads: "For lack of gryphons, blood." It expresses the perseverance that it takes to achieve difficult tasks, such as defeating the accursed Merciless Myriad of Dolentis. In Horgothic: bon sath belins, vanka. The hexaline stack is built on the following arrangement: base (northeast), mun, mun, fe h, mun, mun, el, fe s, mun, fe h, fe u, fe u, fe h, mun, fe s, el, mun, mun, fe h, mun, mun, dan. This hexaline arrangement in the old scrolls, and may mean that the words are to be particularly stressed and cherished.

Both sath belins, vanja

More elaborate forms of this script use hyperbolic scrolls, where punctuation involves shifting the text in 3D space. But that's too complicated a subject for this time.


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