Centaurs in the Shine Cycle

Like unicorns, fairies, elves, and so on, centaurs are a somewhat “standard” element of fantasy. And like these, and many others (see the Culture page of this blog for an incomplete list), I include them in the Shine Cycle—but turn the trope on its head.

Centaurs, “horse-men”, are strong and fiercely independent people. They prize liberty above all else, and honor and strength above everything else. Their society is nomadic and tribal—though unlike many similar societies, this is by choice, rather than by ignorance or misunderstanding of the customs and assumptions of “the settled peoples.”

Physically, a centaur appears to be a horse from about the shoulders down, and a human being from about the waist up. There is nearly as much variance in size and appearance among centaurs as there is among horses and human beings (though the equine and human parts are proportional to each other in size, and color and markings change between them somewhat gradually). As I said, strength is prized, so the largest and strongest individuals are seen as attractive.

Centaurs are, physiologically speaking, interesting. Sir Emeth has a fascinating take on the problem, which I find quite compelling, but for the Shine Cycle I’m going a different route on most of the issues.

First of all, digestion. A centaur has several stomachs, and in fact two parallel tracks through most of his digestive tract, one for “horse food” and one for “people food”—or, as he would think of it, one for endurance and one for sprinting. A subconscious instinct that’s learned early on causes each meal to “go down the right hatch.” (Because the apparatus for tasting food is shared between the two “natures,” but some spices could be somewhat harmful to the equine stomachs, most centaurs tend to prefer their food to be somewhat bland.)

For breathing, a centaur has at least two sets of lungs, each of which can act at its own rate to some extent. There’s only one full-fledged heart, but it’s much larger than an equine or human heart, and even so its force is supplemented by additional pumps in the “vascular extremities.”

All of this complexity comes at something of a price—a centaur’s “internal armor,” muscles protecting the organs, is somewhat weaker and thinner than one might expect. Because of this, centaurs prefer to wear as heavy a suit of armor (including barding on their “horse parts”) as they can stand—one school of thought even favors wearing particularly heavy armor in normal day-to-day life as strength training, and then a using somewhat lighter suit in any actual battles.

Like the medieval knights they resemble, centaurs prefer two kinds of weapons: long pole-arms—often lances (as the easiest to produce)—to multiply the effect of a charge, and heavy impact weapons like broadswords or maces for close-quarters combat. Some groups also favor longbows, as the plains that are their most common habitat can allow archers to begin when the enemy is a long way off, and a few others have managed to convince the dwarves to part with their fearsome (repeating) crossbows in trade.

I mentioned that the plains are their most common habitat. But it’s not uncommon to find an occasional herd of centaurs in nearly any climate, with a style of warfare adapted to it. Forest centaurs, for example, are more likely to stand fast than use the charge their plains cousins prefer, but wear somewhat lighter armor to give them agility. Those in colder climes adapt heavy, many-layered clothing into armor as much for warmth as for protection, and many have hooves (and other traits) more like a caribou or musk-ox than a horse. A herd in a swamp would favor thick but light-weight armor, which is sealed water-tight to help give them an advantage in water. And mountain centaurs are the only herds to routinely use large weapons (what we tend to think of as “siege weapons”).

Any questions or comments?


8 thoughts on “Centaurs in the Shine Cycle

  1. This was fun to read!

    Okay, questions: Do they marry? Do couples raise their own children? What are the female centaurs like? Do they participate in warfare?
    What is the artistic life of the centaurs? the intellectual life?

    • Good questions.

      Yes, they marry, though that’s not quite as common as in similar societies in our world’s history—liberty is so highly prized that some are unwilling to take on the responsibilities that marriage and parenthood bring. Couples raise their own children, but children are taught with the aim of becoming independent—or at least taking as much responsibility for themselves as they can—as soon as possible, and some parents “push” that somewhat sooner than is wise.

      Female centaurs look as one might expect—a mare from the shoulders down, and a woman from the waist up. Other things being equal, they are weaker than their male counterparts (in terms of “active” strength, i.e. how hard they’re able to hit, and so on), but have a stronger and sterner constitution and can bear somewhat heavier weight. Like all centaurs they are trained in fighting, and (because of the cultural emphasis on liberty) may participate in warfare, but only a few do.

      Their art centers around “decorating the functional”; objects that are purely or even mainly decorative are highly rare, but things that are beautiful without compromising their usefulness are prized. Styles are similar to those favored by the peoples that formerly were the sole inhabitants of the Great Plains.

      Centaurs don’t go in much for “book learning”; the ability to intuitively leap from circumstances and past experience to the right conclusion is considered more valuable than logic (though right conclusions are held to be more important than how they are reached—methodically working toward the right answer by logic is better than jumping to the wrong conclusion). They also, like the ancient Egyptians and other ancient peoples in our world, have unusual and rather intuitive methods of solving the mathematical problems that they consider important (for the Egyptians I remember something about irrigation; I’m not sure what the centaurs would have).

      Any other questions?

  2. About mathematical problems they might encounter, perhaps these would have to do with building a bridge or something similar, a necessary more complex thing.

    How about centaur storytelling? What would they want to remember and tell?

    Do they worship?

    • Mmm, maybe. Most centaur subcultures don’t do much in the way of architecture, though, since they’re so thoroughly nomadic, and for the most part only use even temporary shelters to protect their possessions.

      Having storytelling—to which I’ll add, sung stories and community singing—be a focal point of their culture is a good thought. They would consider the history of the world as a whole, the history of their race, in each individual group the history of that group and off its leading members and their families, the history of their trading partners, and so on to be of greatest importance, but other stories that aren’t directly connected to them could still catch on and become “important.” Through their connections with the other peoples, they’re quite familiar with the idea of fictional and fictionalized stories, and those are quite popular in some circles, but a rigorous distinction between true and fictional stories is rigorously enforced, and great care is taken to make sure that an audience only ever understands a story to be true if the storyteller is certain that it is.

      In re your last question: Given the background of the series as a whole (much of which, I’ll admit, I haven’t posted here yet), that goes without saying. With some witnesses of the creation of the world still living (though they’ve for the most part retreated to Vaynaheim and don’t venture out much), and that world’s Fall having much less of an effect (and even that much more limited), the existence and nature of God are near-universally treated simply as facts, and among the human cultures Christianity is nearly universal (and more on that next Monday, if all goes according to plan); however, I don’t have any ideas yet of what form religion and worship among the non-human peoples (who are, after all, not Sons of Adam) takes.

  3. It’s intriguing to think of centaurs’ communal life, and all the matters that relate to culture which of necessity flow from this, including worship. As they didn’t fall, they do not need the Savior (this loads the story with more possibilities). What was their worship like. Primal, pure, energetic?

    All of this is very intriguing, and especially, with the time being so close to the Creation, the universal acknowledgement of the facts, that God is; and among humans, that Christ the Son is their Savior.

    Want to check out Sir Emeth’s additional take on centaur physiology, which you’ve already explored. I must get back to HW!!

    • I didn’t say that the centaurs are unfallen; that’s an idea (and my elves probably are), but I haven’t decided on what idea I’ll follow in that area. What I meant by saying that they’re “not Sons of Adam” is that if they are fallen or otherwise in need of salvation, their salvation almost certainly would take a different form than ours. (Just as The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe is Lewis’s “supposal” of how Narnia’s salvation might be accomplished.)

      The point about Christianity being near-universal (there are a few rebellious people here and there—not denying the facts, but unwilling to bow the knee) is (as I mentioned in the posts I linked to) because (first) the need for and means of salvation, and religious obligations, come through inherited human nature—the human beings in these stories are all descendants of our Adam and Eve, and so everything that is available to or binding on us as Sons o Adam and Daughters of Eve is the same for them, and (second) these continents were first colonized by Christians (from various times and places), who then found it even easier than in our world to pass their faith on to their children.

      The question of “what was [the centaurs’] worship like?” is what my last sentence in the previous comment was explicitly disclaiming any current idea of. :) But I’d imagine it to be rather like what Christianity looks like in some native tribes in our world: rough and unpolished, but unpretentious; involving few instruments beyond their voices (and the drumming of their hooves, and other improvised percussion); and most likely (given what I developed about storytelling) entered around retellings of the Great Story and o the lesser stories of what God has done.

  4. Jonathan,
    I apologize for not having read as much about your world as I should have before offering suggestions, and blundering around as a result. It would take some study to really get a handle on your carefully crafted world. Hope I’ve said something helpful! Am retiring my computer for tonight. Bless you!!
    I enjoyed this post.

    • (I apologize for this late reply; I’ve been fighting with WordPress for the past couple of weeks, as well as being somewhat more behind than usual.)
      No need to apologize; I’ve known for quite some time that much of the interesting or useful information on this blog is scattered across several years’ worth of posts (this is why I have the Archive pages), and from my stats I can tell that few visitors step past the last few days’ posts, so unfamiliarity with aspects of the worldbuilding that we haven’t already discussed is to be expected. That’s why I linked to earlier posts—to guide and inform discussion from its less-informed beginnings.
      And I wouldn’t call your questions “blundering”; you began by raising several insightful questions that I should have (and in one case did, but forgot before getting back to writing the post) thought of myself. So yes, you’ve been quite helpful here.

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