The Ironwood is a slow-growing, medium-sized, deciduous hardwood tree. It has a very unusual appearance in that its wide, tapering trunk grows absolutely vertically, with no bends or twists whatsoever, and its branches, arranged spirally and equally spaced around the trunk, grow perfectly straight away from the tree. This peculiar arrangement of branches and twigs gives the tree the appearance of a stairway.

Appearance. This remarkable tree is as rare in its appearance as it is in its numbers. As a young sapling, it has smooth bark of an elken brown, almost cream colour, with the heartwood being of a similar hue. The trunk grows rigidly upright without twist or deviation, and the branches follow suit, shooting out perfectly level with the ground, and all equally spaced around and up the trunk in a spiral pattern. All the twigs which grow from the branches also grow in this horizontal manner, and again, not a single bend or twist is seen. At this stage, and for the next few years, the wood can be bent quite easily into any shape, but will snap back into its original position as soon as you let go.

The leaves are similar in appearance to the oak, being of a somewhat oval shape, rather broader at the tip than at the base, and have an irregular edge with rounded lobes, each one measuring around one palmspan, two nailsbreadths long by perhaps four nailsbreadths broad. Their colour changes throughout the year, and throughout the life of the tree, as does that of the heartwood. In Awakening Earth, when they are newly emerged from the bud, they have a shiny, dark green colouring, and in young trees they are leathery to the touch. As the tree ages, they become increasingly thicker until, when fully mature, they can be up to one grain thick at the stalk end. Through Changing Winds and Singing Bird, the colour begins to lighten, until Rising Sun, when gnastheen becomes their predominant hue.

This is also the time when the Ironwood's blossom opens, in trees of over twenty-five years growth, and also when the heartwood becomes almost impossible to bend, and to try and cut it at this time onwards is hopeless. At the tip of every branch and twig, a single, five petalled flower of the brightest Aeruillin red appears, and in the center of each stands a group of five smaller, upright petals of the brightest yellow which form a loose tunnel leading into the heart of the flower, and the sweet nectar contained within. Each flower measures up to two palmspans across, and the effect of seeing an entire tree covered in these beautiful blooms, coupled with the sweet scent, is quite breathtaking. As the weather begins to grow colder, so the leaves' colour begins to change again, gradually fading along with the days length, until in Fallen Leaf, a dense carpet of every shade of brown from adlemirene to cinnabrown covers the ground. By this time, the Ironwood blossom has also withered, and in place of each is left a small, black, nut-like growth of great hardness which contains a single seed.

As the tree matures, its bark begins to change in colour and form. The pale elken hue of the young sapling is gradually replaced by degrees, going through various shades of brown and charcoal, as is the smooth texture. By the time the tree is fully mature, at around hundred years, the bark will be of the darkest nor'sidian and deeply cut with cracks and splits running up the length of the trunk, some of which are deep enough to expose the wood underneath, which by now has deepened in colour to a rich red/brown.

These changes in the tree are matched by equally dramatic changes to the leaves. Gone are the bright greens and soft, leathery feel of the saplings, replaced instead by deep reds and browns in early season, and dark browns and black in late season, both accompanied by a hard, unyielding feel. At about this stage in the tree's life, another significant, and very obvious, change occurs in the leaves, they become extremely heavy. As the tree begins to shed its leaves in readiness for winter, instead of floating down gently on the breeze, they have a tendency to plummet, oftentimes burying themselves up to a fore deep into the earth below. As one can imagine, this is a very dangerous time for anyone foraging for the Ironwood nuts scattered about! For many years researchers and herbologists pondered over the question of why this amazing change occurred. After many experiments and tests on the leaves, the bark and the heartwood itself, they decided to examine the soil the trees grow in. They found that it contained huge amounts of iron, and postulated that the tree must somehow take up this ore and use it to gain the extreme strength, weight, and hardness it is famous for. This solved the problem of why the leaves fall as they do, but did little to help the poor unfortunates who have to brave the barrage of injurious foliage.

At this age, the Ironwood will stand at around twenty to twenty-five peds in height, with a branch spread of roughly five peds at the lowest branches, gradually tapering to almost nothing at the tip of the tree, giving the appearance of a giant spearhead thrust up by demons from the Netherworlds.

In the harsh winters of the Prominent Mountain region, with deep snows covering almost everything, the sight of a stand of Ironwood skeletons silhouetted against the bleak, grey skies is an eerie vision to behold. With all its leaves gone, and just its spiky, black frame left, one could easily imagine it as some fiendish torture device of demonic creation.

From around 100 years until about 250 years, little else changes about the Ironwood, save for its bark, which will begin to fall away until the bare trunk is completely exposed, marking the death of this majestic tree. One other minor variation will be the colour of the wood, which will darken slowly over the years, until it is of a deep red/brown shade. Anyone attacking the tree with a blade now will be rewarded with the sound of a hammer striking an anvil, accompanied by a severe jolt to the arms as the blade bounces off the wood with great force.
Return to the top

Territory. This is quite possibly one of the rarest trees in the whole of Caelereth, being found in only one location, on the lower slopes of Mount Emesz'gob (lit. "Fire Cave"), an extinct volcano in the Prominent range of Northern Sarvonia. However, evidence has been found around the base of Mount Colvin on the volcanic Isle of Killyshmagost in the Quios chain, of an ancient forest of these marvelous trees. Hundreds of cleanly cut stumps, no higher than a half ped, are scattered throughout the area, suggesting that the Ironwood was once a common sight on this island.
Return to the top

Usages. The Ironwood is one of the only significant natural resources available to the Ashz-oc, and as such they have found many uses for every part of the tree, some simple, and others quite ingenious, by orcish standards at least. Further than this, it is also a symbol of their heritage, and as such, has come to play a major role in their culture. As they regard it as an insult to their creator to waste his gift, they see it as their duty to find new ways of making the most of what it has to offer.

Timber from young trees (up to twenty-five seasons) is extremely strong and flexible, making it ideal material for the Ashz-oc longbows much favoured by the warriors of that tribe. A sapling of around two peds in length will be stripped of its branches and bark and a small notch is then cut into each end of the wood. The bow is then bent slightly and a length of finely braided warg hair approximately two palmspans shorter than the length of the bow is looped around and tied into each notch. Using one of these fine bows, a warrior can fire an arrow of Ironwood clean through an enemy's body at great distance.

The finest weapons made by the
Ashz-oc, however, are their broadswords, which are famous and much-envied throughout Caelereth for their strength and sharpness. The exact process for making one of these fine blades is impossible to tell, as the Ashz-oc believe they were given this knowledge by the Giant Haz'ha'akh, and refuse to reveal the secret. Using captured weapons, armourers across the continents have gained some meagre idea of the process. It is believed that inside each blade lies a long sliver of Ironwood, reaching almost the full length and width of the blade. This is thought to account for their strength, but the secret of their sharpness remains a mystery.

The timber is also used to make sturdy frames for the various types of dwelling used by the clans which make up the tribe.

The bark of the trees is used, in its many colour variations and along with the few other natural ingredients available, to make excellent dyes for the Ashz-oc clothes. As they are unable to make any material of their own, the tribe has to "acquire" them by theft, looting of dead bodies on the battlefield, or on rare occasions, by trading with the pirates who ply their craft along the northern coast of their territory. These dyes and the bark used to make them are one of the few items of Ironwood that the Ashz-oc are prepared to let into the outside world, and as such are much sought-after and usually very expensive.

These dyes are also used to make the tattoos seen on some Ashz-oc warriors. Tattooists across the land value the unique colours obtained from the lichens and plants of the Prominent Mountain region. In fact, the red pigment which comes from the Ironwood bark has become known throughout Santharia as "Ashz-oc red" or "Noble red".

The leaves of the tree are only of use in the later stages of the tree's life. When the tree reaches around hundred years, the leaves lose their soft texture and begin to thicken and become quite hard, but retain the lightness of their youth. For the next ten years or so, before they begin to get too heavy, they are used to make a light chain mail-llike armour. Each leaf is pierced at the stalk end, and threaded onto long, thin strips of warg hide. These strips are then sewn together in an overlapping pattern and the ends are tied together. These can then be worn by warriors as protection against light weapons, but offer no protection from arrows, swords, or axe strikes. Sometimes they are wrapped around a shield as a form of extra protection. This armour is seldom seen today due to its weight and restriction of movement.

Leaves at this stage of development are also used to make simple jewellery such as earrings, necklaces and head-dresses, although the orcs attempts are considered crude by most people. The leaves are another of the trees' products which the Ashz-oc are willing to trade, albeit grudgingly. Many jewellers specialize in using Ironwood leaves, and many truly beautiful (and expensive) designs can be seen adorning the necks and ears of some of Santharia's wealthiest women.

The nuts of the Ironwood are the last item the Ashz-oc are willing to trade, and then only if the nut has proven to not contain a living seed.

These extremely hard, black nuts are sought after not for their taste, as they are inedible, but for their value as jewellery, especially rings, brooches and pendants. When cut and polished by a craftsman, the dull, black shell takes on a brilliant shine, with the deepest of blacks surrounding the golden brown of the seed in the centre. Using expert methods, jewellers can make these simple nuts appear like the rarest of precious stones, glinting and reflecting light with each slight movement of the wearer's hand.

The children of the tribe, however, have a very different, and altogether more sensible use for them. As part of every young orc's education, weapons training is of great importance. By the time they reach adulthood, they must have mastered the techniques of fighting with many different weapons, including some favoured by other tribes and races. This training starts at a very early age, and only small, simple arms are used at this stage, including a crude form of catapult. Over the years, small pebbles have become very scarce in the Ashz-oc territories, most of them having been fired off into the distance at some imagined foe, and the Ironwood nut makes a suitable replacement, being small, round, smooth and fairly weighty. How many women wear expensive rings not knowing that they started life as a deadly missile in an orc-child's game?
Return to the top

Reproduction. One of the only major things the Ironwood has in common with other plant life is its reliance on insects to help it reproduce. In Rising Sun, trees of over twenty-five years growth begin to produce their spectacular, sweet-smelling blossom. At up to two palmspans in width, these bright Aeruillin red flowers with their yellow centres are irresistible to the malise who build their hives amongst the branches of nearby trees, having learned of the autumnal dangers of the Ironwood. As they land on one of the five central pollen covered petals, so the petal on the opposite side of the flower bends forward and deposits its pollen on the malise's back. This is then carried to the next flower where some of it is left behind, and more is collected, and so on.

Another important pollinator is the red diamond butterfly, which enters the flowers central tunnel in search of the sweet nectar within. As it pushes itself down the narrow passage, pollen coats its wings and body which the butterfly then carries to another flower.

When a flower has been pollinated, it ceases to produce nectar and pollen and puts all its energy into creating the small, hard nut which contains a single seed.

By Fallen Leaf, the tree will have shed all its leaves and flowers, and these nuts will be left alone, attached by a small stalk to the end of each branch and twig. So hard are the nuts that it appears to be only by chance that any of the seeds manage to break through the shell and develop into trees.

The first way the shell can be cracked is also the least likely to succeed. As the winter winds begin to blow through the trees, the nuts are dislodged from their precarious perches, and whilst falling to earth, some of them will strike a lower branch, and as the wood has now begun to assume the hardness of iron, occasionally one will hit in just the right place to crack open enough to allow the seed to send out a life-giving shoot.

Another, more reliable method is by allowing the harsh winter frosts of the region to split the shell, but this carries with it the danger of the frost killing the tender seed inside.

By far the most successful system, however, is the Ashz-oc themselves. In order to maintain a permanent colony of trees, they collect nuts and crack and germinate them themselves in specially made, and heavily guarded, nurseries. Each season, the women of the tribe will take the previous season's saplings and plant them in the forest, and tend them for the first year of life.

Each member of the tribe, male and female, must plant at least one new tree during their lifetime, as an offering to the Giant Haz'ha'akh (lit. "Tall Guardian"). Each warrior must also plant a new seedling for every life he has taken in battle.
Return to the top

Myth/Lore. The Ashz-oc tribe of Northern Sarvonia believe they were given the seeds of the Ironwood, and the knowledge of how to turn the wood into blades of the highest quality, by the Giant Haz'ha'akh in return for helping him to defeat his brother Ha'acho'Ha'k ("The Sword Maker") and for guarding the mountain hiding his brother's forge. They also believe that it was Haz'ha'akh who gave them the name "Noble Orcs" or "Noble Warriors".

One use for the leaves is peculiar to the Ashz-oc. They believe that the tinkling sound made by the leaves rubbing together will frighten away the spirits of slain enemies who try to enter the dwelling places of the tribe members to gain revenge, so a bunch of them tied together is usually hung near each entrance. The sound is quite delightful and soothing, and seems very much out of place in an orc settlement.

For the Ashz-oc, the most valuable part of the Ironwood is its seeds. Their value lies not in the vast amounts of gold they are offered for just a single seed, but in the knowledge that they were a gift from their creator, and as such are regarded as a sacred object. Each member of the tribe, from birth until death, carries with them a single seed, usually sewn into a garment, or inside a small, hidden compartment in their sword hilt or bow. Each member swears an oath to protect this seed with their lives if necessary, and in return, is granted the protection of Haz'ha'akh. By carrying this seed, they are ensuring the survival of the Ironwood, and even if their lands should fall, as long as one of them is left alive, then so to will the Ironwood survive.
Return to the top

 Date of last edit 31st Singing Bird 1668 a.S.

Information provided by Tharoc Wargrider View Profile