For me, the Defender of Life (t'DoL) has always been the avarii. He was and remains the first and central character in the world of my stories. In fact, it was not until writing 'One Shining Day' in 2005, and about Heruvael's youth in 2006, that any avarii save him entered my writing, save for secondhand references to the Changer in my Geren books, and t'DoL's own testimony of loss near the end of Hope's Passage, also in 2006. That meant twelve years in which I wrote about no other avarii, while avarii culture didn't even start getting described until I wrote 'A Song in the Twilight' in 2004.
This put me in the position of learning about avarii through a single representative. Years of trying to figure out or discover which traits of the Defender's could be considered fairly common, and which were unique to him, or at least more rare. What kept me off-balance in understanding these nuances for years was the Changer. Even though I did not write about him much, he is one of my oldest characters. I often tended to think of the Changer and the Defender as two ends of a spectrum, with the Changer embodying, in many ways, the avarii stereotype. That may be the case (certainly it is among many humans and hyarmi), but what I have found is that many/most avarii are quite different from the Changer as well. In fact, most avarii fall between the two in various traits, where the Changer and the Defender are taken as opposite extremes.
The below are listed in no particular order save how swiftly I thought them up!
I know I've had some readers startled that not all avarii follow the hyarmi Law when it comes to diet. Particularly among avarii who are not shapechangers, many do eat meat, though they generally do not do so frequently and are more likely to hunt in autumn, to lay up stores against winter and not have to worry about decay. t'DoL's own progress was impacted by the hyarmi. He was raised to forage without hunting, but was driven by starvation after the destruction of his race to sometimes kill for food. When he encountered the other races, he at first ate what they fed him, but as he grew he abandoned eating meat entirely. He is not an outlier among the avarii, but within a large minority when it comes to dietary choices.
Clothing & Adornment
I just posted a short essay on t'DoL's choice of clothing that explores this in more detail. Here I long considered him quite an outlier, but have found through my writing for Triune that there are some avarii who think in terms of expedience/efficiency in regard to clothing much more than in terms of beauty. But it is rare, and most avarii will happily wear jewelry so long as it is lightweight, attractive, or meaningful (received as a gift or commemorating an accomplishment). However, most avarii quite love to choose or make clothing that complements their plumage, their needs, the season. The thought of being seen in rags would give them nightmares...and would be viewed as far worse than the prospect of being seen naked.
As a rule, avarii enjoy their own beauty, and tend to both enjoy or feel challenged by the beauty of other avarii (depending upon gender). I wrote a little bit about this in an essay at my Triune LJ. Most avarii, however, are not as extreme as the Changer in flaunting their own personal beauty. Older avarii and those who are less attractive by avarii standards are less likely to make much effort.
Avarii are highly visual and extremely attracted to beauty of both sight and sound. (And this applies to nearly everything--clothing, pottery, architecture, weapons, utensils, writing, storytelling.) t'DoL falls in with his race here, though because he is a long-lived mage-seer, his appreciation of beauty when he encounters it is quieter. He also finds beauty among humans, while many avarii are repulsed by humans and do not make the slightest effort to overcome that. But due to the next entry below, he will almost never express it.
Avarii glamour is the impact avarii have mildly on each other and moderately to strongly on humans (it does not affect hyarmi). This glamour can prove a more perilous matter. In Oversea, where there are no humans around, avarii enjoy it as a part of life; it is a part of their own beauty and they give it little thought. This is not the case in Triune and Avarome. Many avarii resent that they have to feel at all accountable for how their glamour affects humans, while others use it to try to manipulate humans, even if just for something as trivial as haggling over a purchase.
Here again t'DoL stands outside the mainstream, and is an opposite to the Changer, who loved to flaunt his glamour. But that is because t'DoL is the only avarii the humans of his day will ever see. Most other avarii have humans comparing them with each other, and the benefit of avarii glamour being understood in the human culture. For them there's always another avarii out there (even if it is only the Changer) who is more glamorous than they, and that usually serves as a sort of shield.
t'DoL has no such recourse, and while he dresses and carries himself in a way as to try to weaken his glamour, his fame and power tends to enhance its impact. This leads him to raise barriers, particularly in his interactions with humans. He can never know how strongly, or in which way, his glamour is impacting people unless he is familiar with them. So he restrains himself with speech, with touch, and with any sort of nudity (even partial) lest his actions be greatly misconstrued, or appear as an invitation he does not intend to make.
As a simple example, t'DoL finds Geren's eyes quite beautiful, and wishes Geren were able to see and enjoy them himself. (Mirrors not really being available to any but the most wealthy.) But he would never say as much to him, because Geren would just be embarrassed, uncomfortable, or disconcerted. He knows Geren would not understand the sentiment the way he means it. So he does not try.
This is an area where my familiarity with t'DoL and the Changer led to a significant oversight in understanding avarii and flight. To remain healthy, both physically and mentally, avarii must fly. I knew that t'DoL flies less than many avarii, because once he discovered Traveling, and due to the large distances he needs to cover, he does not engage in as much long-distance flying. What I did not understand until I started writing about Triune was that he was not alone at the far end of the spectrum as I had assumed. There is a huge spread between avarii wanderers, who have no permanent home and rove across the land, fly a lot and are in amazing physical condition, and the avarii residents, particularly those who have a vocation that does not require much flight. They will fly around their territory to gather food, and may perhaps leave it to engage in trade or visit the nearest archive, but otherwise they do not fly. My impression from twenty or so years ago was that avarii were almost constantly flying, except for t'DoL, but that proved far from the case. Wanderers are a minority of the population, while avarii that never leave their territory are also a minority, but a larger one. Most fall in the middle.
Here the same applies. For years I expected all regular avarii to be obsessed with singing and almost constantly at it, with t'DoL, again, as an outlier. Unless he is at his home, he seldom sings. But that is the case for many avarii too. Only a small portion of the populace has music as a vocation; a larger portion quite enjoys it and sing daily, but a significant portion also seldom sing. Because they are wanderers and have no territory; because they find their voices or skill inferior to others; or because they would simply rather listen.
Trade, Craft, Vocation
When I embarked upon writing The Chronicles of Delarun in 2009, that was when I first encountered the strong avarii regard for vocation. I had not very much pondered it, because t'DoL gets saddled with the job of guarding the world (as Hu-Harek's Heir) and specifically the hyarmi (through his defiance against her secrets) but it is certainly not a "career" he would have chosen. But t'DoL's determination to find exactly what First Orphan Alrek was suited for--that revealed something critical about the avarii. Humans often define themselves by social group or status and also by relationships. Avarii, however, don't even have words for cousin, aunt/uncle, niece/nephew, grandfather/grandmother. They do not keep genealogies, they do not care who they are related to, or what famous composer or artisan might be in their past. Their identity is founded around what they choose to do with their interests, skills, and learning. (Hyarmi tend to fall in between avarii and humans in this regard.) Nearly all avarii pursue skills that either create beauty or discover it. Finding and aiding their offspring in discovering their own passion is something at which most avarii parents invest much thought and energy. The concept of somebody having to take up a certain trade because their parents/ancestors/clan do as much is incomprehensible to them. Here t'DoL is fairly representative of his race, though he has come to understand that most humans need to find both a suitable vocation and possess a nourishing social circle (something avarii almost entirely disregard).
I'm so used to the plethora of forms the Changer and t'DoL have mastered, and the ways in which they push the boundaries of the craft of shapechanging, that it proved quite a shock to me to write about 'regular' avarii shapechangers. Learning a new form is difficult. Changing form is draining. Multiple changes of form in a short time is exhausting and dangerous; remembering forms for a longer period often does not occur because the practice is not worth the expense of energy. Modifying a chosen form is very limited. That proved quite a revelation for me when I started writing about Triune!
Empathy, Sociability, Speech
Empathy is strongest among avarii seers, but overall stronger among shapechangers in general, simply because learning other forms teaches shapechangers to think outside their own perspective. For this trait, the Defender ranges very much on the high side for avarii (in significant part due to his own bereavement and the lies the Subverted fed him afterward); the Changer not as much, despite having a seer's perception. This is not because he cannot discern or understand the moods of others, but because he is convinced of his own superiority and not much given to compassion.
Speech/sociability is a tough one, and sometimes I think the Triune novels as well as my other stories can give a misleading impression. Avarii are not talkative (unless they're singing), and not very social. Yet stories hinge around interactions and conversations, which gives the impression they talk and interact more than they do. There is a range, since some territory dwelling avarii that do not have a mate or offspring may never speak much at all. However, an avarii like an archivist in particular has to put up with doing a great deal of it. Both the Changer, the Defender--and most any avarii--are happy to go for weeks without saying a word. The Defender seldom gets the option in latter years, but that is due to the mind-magic entry below--he brought it on himself!
Ethos & Spirituality, Possessives
I've known for a long time, due to avarii independence, that religious beliefs, spirituality, and philosophy run the gamut. The cornerstone of avarii ethos is an avoidance of coercion; so long as avarii do not start preying upon their neighbors or the other races, nearly any belief is allowed. Since any number of avarii are impacted by the hyarmi Law and honor it in whole or in part, t'DoL and the Changer are both quite "normal" in this area.
Pronouns and adjectives, however, are a different matter! The avarii language does not use possessive adjectives in relation to anything living except for plants (I doubt it even has possessive pronouns). t'DoL, however, has no one to speak with in the avarii language. He thinks in the hyarmi language and is fluent in all three. I expect using possessive adjectives and pronouns ("my friend," "his mother") made his skin crawl for quite some time, but he learned to understand the terms in the way native speakers use them. Other avarii would be appalled to hear him speak and use such expressions.
Here is where t'DoL again gets outside the boundaries of "proper" avarii behavior entirely. While I haven't written those stories yet, I have no doubt Hu-Harek is behind it. It takes him decades, but he alone overcomes the avarii reticence with magespeech and other forms of mind-magic. Very few avarii use magespeech, only sometimes with great reluctance in an emergency, or if they have a mate and are in an extremely close relationship with a high level of trust. But t'DoL turned that all on its head in coming up with the idea of people calling his true name as a way to seek his aid. The drawback for him is that since he is comfortable with magespeech, and known to so many, he can get drawn into conversations with Council mages, Council judges, hyarmi seers and others at any random moment. (Though this tends to happen the most during a crisis or when one is anticipated, such as the summer before the Great Wave.) But the rest of the avarii, including the Changer, would find that behavior appalling.
Body language, weapons, and touch
These are all lumped together because they are other traits where t'DoL diverges from his race, but don't get individual treatment because this essay is crazy long already! Due to being isolated from his race for so long, t'DoL has grown comfortable with human and hyarmi body language, and even employs it in his own form. Shapechangers trying to pass as human or hyarmi obviously have to use shrugs, nodding, head-shakes, growling and the like, but it is a conscious choice. t'DoL, however, has abandoned certain aspects of avarii body language since no one else would understand it anyway. Ingrained emotional responses, such as wing and feather movements, however, still remain. I found it fascinating trying to describe what shrugging in particular looks like to avarii when I wrote about Triune.
The avarii wield spears; t'DoL uses a sword. This is due to needing to adopt some mundane weapon to use when he is in the human form. I expect that Hu-Harek put him up to that too.
In rereading Hope's Passage and 'The Stalking' recently I was reminded of the issue of touch. Avarii are not very prone to use much touch. In part because they're not very social, in part because a comfortable speaking distance is far out of arm's reach, in part because heat is unhealthy for them, which means so is cuddling or anything more than brief embrace. And yes, avarii letting someone else touch their wings is essentially putting their life in that person's hands. Only parents with offspring or a close mated pair would do as much. But t'DoL goes beyond just tolerating touch (courteous avarii would do as much) or strictly finding it helpful (avarii seers more strongly discern emotion when touch is involved). Just like with empathy, he is delighted by the reminder of the lives of others, after losing his own race, after hearing the lies of the Subverted as a fledgling, and due to having to witness a dreadful future in his visions. He is far more open to both giving and receiving touch than the vast majority of avarii (but often restrained with humans in particular due to the glamour topic above).
And if anyone actually made it through this entire treatise without falling asleep, (or got smart and skipped to the bottom) here is a little treat. I made this animation back in April of 2006 using HeroMachine. It nicely illustrates the difference in personalities between the Defender and the Changer.
Disclaimer: Charts are approximations only. No real avarii were harassed in the making of these charts. Avarii hate census questionnaires; they will likely rip them up and eat them, then try to evict from office the idiot who came up with that idea.