Saturday, February 18, 2017

The Aedeion, a history of Kholos

Long ago, the reign of Moros Aklaustros, the Unmourned, inaugurated the use of necromancy in Arunia. His kingdom, located in the region we now call the Dragonback Range, was a strange and occulted one. It is said that Moros the Giant-King crafted the first necromantic magics, and that much of modern necromancy stems from his ancient and occulted court. In truth, it was the nearness to this awful place that helped foster the Twin Empires, as well as the Art studied by none other than Tharos the Necromancer, who rumor says spent time in Moros' court.

But there is another figure of import here, one who entered the broken ruins of Moros' kingdom some in the 6th Age and only emerged in the 7th; that is, Lakryss of Essadurea, a powerful magician who sought enlightenment through dark and unwholesome channels. Rumors persisted that he was a sorcerous general of Rho'anir, or that he had served Galos in the War of the Chains; whether they are true, we cannot say. He left the regions recently conquered by Haxrim the Conqueror, and fled west, away from the conquests of his Essadi kin. Lakryss emerged from the realm of Moros Aklaustros, ruined though it was, with the gift of vampirism—he had transformed into a vampiric spirit of the north.

Thus did Lakryss set about building his kingdom in the Aedeion. In this time, the cult of Tharos the Necromancer was first gaining strength. The seeds of that cult which would later sprout in Teral, in the 10th Age, were planted when Lakryss invited a quarter of Poison-Tongues to the shores of the Red Lake and made them his servants. Shortly after arriving at the Red Lake, Lakryss proclaimed himself king of the misty forest in that region of the world. He slaughtered the skin-changer hideaways and the peaceable giants of the region, collecting men from the wild regions of Vithania and the Dragonbacks, his ranks swelling with those fleeing Haxrim the Conqueror and his successor Tarkus the Indomitable.

This new kingdom grew up around a city bearing Lakryss' name: Lakra, on the Red Lake. Lakryss himself, having undergone a vile transformation in the hidden halls of Moros Aklaustros, grew to be known as the Weeping King; his eyes ran with thick phlegmy tears, streak with blood, which he never bothered to wipe away. This fearsome visage buckled the warring men and three nations of wood elves together under one banner—his. They resisted the onslaught of Soloth and later Caruel, remaining independent under the Weeping King's sign. This new kingdom was called Kholos.

To help him rule it, the Weeping King ennobled a number of men. He further drafted some into his service as vampiric children, heirs of his vile curse, making a brood of some fifty powerful vampires. He fought off others from the north, and was known as the mightiest king in west of the Twin Empires. But Soloth and Caruel fell, and Kholos did not.

Not until the coming of Roland of Sunhome, who's story is best told in other places. Suffice to say, this paladin who founded the Order of the Forge Divine slew Lakryss the Weeping King, and he slew many members of his vampiric children. In the aftermath of that violent conflict of the 8th Age, the kingdom of Kholos fell into five duchies, each ruled by one of the strongest of Lakryss' children. Lakra herself remained a free city, governed by a council of Poison-Tongues in the service of the Necromancer.

Wars and the advent of the Bleeding Plague reduced the rulership of these lands, and their people. The vampires fought one another until most of Lakryss' line was extinguished and only lesser beasts roamed the land. Amongst the remaining Heirs of Lakryss was the Duke of Dakrya, a region west of the river Dakesis. This vampire, Glev Redcloak, also called Glev Lakryos, was hunted for many years by mendicant members of the Order of the Forge Divine, dispatched by their Grandmaster to finish the work that Roland had begun.

Eventually, the Duke of Dakrya went into hiding, leaving the governance of his province to men. The Cult of Tharos spread, and after the fall of Teral, it found its seat in the ancient and now-abandoned city of Lakra. With great aplomb, they drove out the Forge Divine and re-established order through the eastern portions of Kholos, calling their newly forged land the Duchy of Aklaustria. In the west, beyond the River Dakesis, the Stewards of Dakrya continued to resist them. It was only with the emergence of Duke Glev and the foundation of the Order of the Black Hand that the power of the necromancers was checked.

Now, Duke Glev and the Poisontongues stand at each other's throats, neither side willing to commit to war, but neither willing to back down. The lands of Aklaustria lie blasted and ruined by necromantic magic. Towns have vanished back into the wild, and cities have been drained of their people. For two generations, Aklaustria has suffered under its necromantic masters. As the necromancers have no need of living subjects, they callously kill those who break even the most minor of laws. Their corpses are used to farm the meager lands required to sustain the cult at Lakra.

Holy Books: The Life of Orlandus -- Part 3

See Part 1 and Part 2.

Our Lord Orlandus sought for a blade with which to slay the Weeping King. He knew there was one place where he could find such a sword for certain: Hârnholme. The ancient kingdom of the dwarves was the one place where a man could earn himself a mighty blade, laid with magics that might slay an immortal tyrant like the King of Tears. For three years he worked and lived as a gestr to the dwarves. He abandoned his goodly works and there our lord of Sunhome shoveled coke and pumped the bellows of a forge. He worked as a drover, a carter, and a woodsman. All these things he did without the comfort of a place in the dwarven halls, a worker without a home.

In the deep winter of the third year, the Mountain Smith Magnr Smokebeard came to the rick wherein our lord slept and said, "For three years you have lived on scraps, as less than an apprentice amongst a people who have no love for you. For three years you have toiled in the workshops of my forge, smelting ore and moving fuel. Something must have brought you here. Why have you come?"

And when Orlandus our Lord told Magnr Smokebeard his quest to slay the Weeping King, Magnr brought him into his most intimate workshops, beyond the secret vaulted doors which only the Master Smiths could open; lo, our Lord was was shown the very heart of the Mountain Smiths' forges, where the ancient and mighty keys that are the patrimony of the dwarves must undo the mightiest locks ever devised. And in this place, Magnr Smokebeard told Orlandus, "You will learn to work steel and gold, balglamr and aedr. Only when this is done will we forge your sword."

For ten years, Orlandus studied under Magnr Smokebeard, and he learned only the most meager of the dwarf's secrets, for the Mountain Smiths rarely share their powerful art, and even in the aid of such a worthy cause this Smokebeard would not reveal to Orlandus the most mighty of arts. Yet even so, when the ten years were complete he spent one final year under Smokebeard's tutelage to forge the blade he would carry for the rest of his life; the holy sword, blessed by Haeron the Hammerer, which is called Angurvidal.

So, too, did Magnr Smokebeard forge for Orlandus our Lord a suit of armor in the old Milean fashion which is called Peaceward; a misericord called Heartpiercer; a hammer named Thalmung; and a spear called Atgir. With these weapons and harness, Roland of Sunhome ventured forth to confront the Weeping King.

North, he went, and northward, until at last he came into the Kingdom of Aedeion, within the mist-girdled forests. With him, too, was his sacral destrier, Lightning. As he went, the Weeping King's people flocked to his banner, eager to, at last, overthrow their awful lord. A great battle was joined before the gates of Lakra, the eternal city. The lieutenants of the Weeping King could not give battle or ride forth beneath the blazing sun. Thus, the armies of the vampire-lord were defeated without their leaders, and the city of Lakra was stormed. Hundreds of vile servants were woken from their enchanted slumber, and hundreds more who served willingly driven to the edge of the Red Lake and executed there until the waves ran with blood.

At last, as the sun set, the Weeping King came forth from his palace, flanked by his vampiric children. But our Lord Roland was a knight pure of heart and mighty of arm; seven of the eldest vampiric princes died by his hand in that bloody sunset, and then, at last, with lance, shield, and blade, he brought low the Weeping King.

Friday, February 10, 2017

Eldarion's Passage

It takes a lot of liquor to get an elf drunk. Eldarainen never let that get in her way. She lurched down the Lantern Path, her familiar twining between her legs. Weasel the weasel was worried for her master, and she occasionally emitted a faint squeak. "Not now," mumbled the sorceress, trying her best not to trip over sodden robes or the weaving, bobbing head of Weasel. She glanced at her companion, the swordswoman Asinaryn, trying to gauge the shorter elf's state. "He kicked me out of the tower yesterday," she said.

Asinaryn came to a halt. Her fingers balled into fists, the cords of muscles in her back tensing. "He did what?"

"Kicked me out of the tower," Eldarainen replied. A bubbling froth of laughter escaped her lips. "After all, he was just another sorcerer."

Weasel pranced nervously around the path. The two elvish women were out on the farthest loop of the meandering reveler's trail. The shadow of the Shuttered Palace was near at hand, its ruined bulk sitting squat along the river. Weasel didn't like the feel of that place, its empty eyeless windows and statues worn to smooth facelessness by the wind and rain. She chirped her anxiety to Eldarainen, but her master was too far gone to do more than feel the sudden sharp wave of fear in her familiar. Eldarainen reached down, scooped Weasel up, and gave her a stroke along the back. Although weasels cannot pout, Weasel tried her best.

"Talifer's wounds, we'll see how he fares in a duel, then." Asinaryn was hotheaded, even for an elf. Perhaps it was because she was so small.

Eldarainen smirked. "Right. A duel. You. Him." She reached out to shove her friend, staggered, and instead slammed into her. They both went down, Weasel shrieking angrily as they toppled. The three of them lay together in the tall grass for a while. A party of revelers passed them, laughing and drinking, lanterns slung low on their poles. It wasn't until they faded into the distance that Eldarainen spoke again.

"The city is a hard place for a newly made wizard," she said.

Asinaryn shoved her off. "No," said the little swordself. As in all elvish conversation, she was replying to something unsaid—the city is a hard place for a newly made wizard, so I am leaving it.

Eldarainen rose unsteadily to her feet. She was a wind elf, like all the folk of Aita Valmindene, and stood nearly six feet tall. Asinaryn, perhaps due to some admixture with wood elvish blood in her ancestry, barely came up to her shoulder. Now, at the darkest hour of the night, Eldarainen's long pale blond hair fell unbound to her waist. Asinaryn was still clad in her training  clothes: a quilted tunic, parted at the waist, and heavy chausses of thick wool. Together they made an odd pair—the wizard and her swordswoman.

"There are places other than Aita Valmindene," Eldarainen said.

Asinaryn sulked. "Bad places."

"Come on, Weasel doesn't like it here. She can smell the ghost of the Mad Hierophant." Asinaryn struggled to cross the road and peer in the direction of the Shuttered Palace. Eldarainen left her standing there, staring into the semi-darkness, and followed the bobbing lights of the other revelers.

The next day, they both awoke in the Historian's Quarter, achey from having spent the late hours laying in the Field of the Songwrights. They were not far from the little shrine devoted to Talifer, the God of Fools, and of Love. Eldarainen had pledged herself to him in her youth, and never had cause to regret the choice. Asinaryn thought it childish, and in the way of elves she derided her friend by speaking not of Talifer, but of the great strength, wisdom, and fury of her own god—Anunia, the Wind Lord, chief of the elvish gods, and patron of fury.

They made their way into the temple to stand before the cracked mosaics of the Wounded God, depicted with his left arm in a sling. When they were done muttering murmured words (Asinaryn more hesitantly, as her own lord was Anunia, not Talifer), they strolled north to the Old Market. Once amongst its sunken lanes and colored tents, Asinaryn returned to the topic that pricked and rankled her.

"I can't believe he cast you out. He promised he wouldn't."

Eldarainen sighed. She cast her eyes upward. "We both knew that was a lie." But the lie was her insistence that she had known all along. The wound was still too fresh to examine. She finally turned to look at Asinaryn. "He's a wizard, Aryn. That's how they are."

"So are you," the swordself said, resting her hand on the hilt of her curved blade. "It doesn't make him a wizard, it makes him a fool."

This was enough. They were now crossing Mero's Bridge, leaving the Old Market behind. The river rushed away beneath them, the current sweeping inexorably out of the kingdom, westward and ever westward, to empty in the distant Aelfwater. Eldarainen followed the rush of water with her eyes until it passed beneath the great girdling walls of Aita Valmindene and became a distant thread of mercury. With a great exhalation of breath, her mind followed the river west.

The statues of ancient elvish kings passed by on their left as they walked along the source of the Valmin. On the right, the peninsular-island of the Gwyderion's palace shone like a fallen star. For a time they spoke of nothing and merely walked in contemplative silence. But this was too much for Asinaryn, who, after several minutes, erupted. "Someone should show him his place!"

"Enough, Aryn!" Eldarainen snapped. "Enough! Yes, he lied. Yes, he promised he wouldn't treat me like all wizards have treated their apprentices since the time of the tower builders. But I'm not a child, and I refuse to stay hurt." But the hurt ran deep. It was a seeping wound in her breast, hidden, but barely. "I'll go out of the city and master the Art, and he can rot or go mad."

He. None other than Eviscoinisian of the Ruby Staff, the wizard who had taken her in and taught her the secrets of the Art. Eldarainen had been a mere child when Eviscoinisian extended his hand and brought her under his wing. With softly spoken promises, he swore he would never abandon her like other mages did with their apprentice-children. And yet, here she was, no less than eighty years later, and just three days before he had quietly, in his soft-spoken way, suggested that she might leave his tower. Eighty years! And why? Because she had finally mastered the mind-breaking discipline, the finger-smashing skill to summon up magic from nothing. She was a child in the Art, but even a child who could use magic was something for the mighty Eviscoinisian to fear.

"Besides, I'll return. When I'm rich and powerful, I'll come back. You'll be a sworn guard of the Gwyderion by then." Asinaryn wrinkled her nose in distaste. "Or some other high family," she was quick to add.

They walked for a little while longer, coming now to the Road of Rejoicing, which ran all the way to the Gate of Peace. Asinaryn balled her fist and punched Eldarainen in the shoulder. "Don't change among the mannish children out there," she said. "They're mayflies. And don't go getting killed."

Eldarainen sighed, but gave her bravest smile. "I won't," said she. Weasel chirruped. It would be good to get out of this hateful city.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Aita Valmindene, City of the Elves

Aita Valmindene (EYE-ta val-MIN-din-uh) is the oldest city in Atva-Arunia. Its first stones were laid before even those of Imperial Miles. The Southmen helped construct the Tower of Tursas themselves in a time before elves knew how to build towers of their own. Now, the City of White Walls stands like a glistening gem in the heart of the Greatwood, several rods west of the great mountain Aurisia, whose mighty slopes can be seen from within the city. As befits its age, Aita Valmindene is one of the most densely populated elvish cities in Arunia, with centuries upon centuries of construction abutting one another. Indeed, it is one of the few elvish cities ever to overspill its walls, with the fabled Garden Quarter and the Vineyards all occupying space beyond the ancient limit of the city.

Coming to Aita Valmindene is normally done by riverboat, up the River Valmin. It first appears when the river ship is still some eight rods distant: a glimmering shining mass of spires on the horizon, surrounded by dense forest. Eventually, the ships are forced to disembark their passengers at a great artificial pool, dug with the help of dwarven craft, outside the walls. Here, elvish customs agents pour over the craft and register them with the harbor authorities. Once the token fee is paid, visitors from the west are welcomed into the great city to wander to their heart's content.

The history of Valmindene is the history of the elvish people. It has been the capital of the elvish kingdoms since its foundation, only once occupied during the War of the Moon (also known as the Elvish Civil War), and rarely attacked by any outside armies. To go into the eons of detail would require a voluminous series of its own, so we will not even attempt to delve Valmindene's history here.

The city is dominated by the presence of the Gwyderion's palace, located in its exact center. Since the days of Tursas the Wise, the Ylvasmetsa, the Greatwood, has been ruled by a Hierophant rather than a king. Today, the Greatwood is under the rule of Caelatulia Elimia, Hierophant of the Daystar. His court is the heart of all political life for the elvish kingdom. Every decision must flow through the reigns of some court official, and all court life is carried out as a leisurely exercise in relaxation and contemplation, a fact that often stymies visitors of other races who arrive to secure some diplomatic concession. For the elves, there is time enough for all things, and no necessity for undue haste.

The Gwyderion's palace is located on an outcrop of land that is surrounded by the many springs that make up the source of the Valmin river. This peninsula is protected by a mighty wall and gatehouse thrown across its neck. Only those with the express invitation of the Hierophant may proceed beyond this gatehouse into the complex of palace buildings that lie on the far side.

The structure of the court is draconic in its complexity and nearly impossible for outsiders to understand. Suffice to say that there are a bewildering array of positions, all held by knights of minor elvish houses, of which there are hundreds in the Greatwood.

At the very heart of the Gwyderion's palace is the Hall of the High Star, an enchanted chamber which mirrors the circuit of the Lamp of the Sun by the transit of a sun of its own, high above the floor, amongst a cannily made mosaic ceiling which fills with clouds when the weather outside is ill. Here, the Gwyderion receives all guests and supplicants while seated on a simple wooden stool with a single cushion.

Ever since the Southmen came into the Greatwood and introduced elves to magic, it has been an obsession of theirs. One would be remiss when speaking of Valmindene if we did not turn also to the powerful organizations of wizards that reside within her walls. These are, simply, the Tower of the Pearl, the Tower of the Bleeding Star, and the House of High Sorcery.

Tower of the Pearl.
The Tower of the Pearl, so named for the pearlescent white sheen upon its walls, was founded after the Second Elf-Dragon War. The elvish wizards who fought under the Wizard-Lord of Nostorin returned to the Greatwood much impressed with their cousins' prowess. A small clave banded together to found the Tower of the Pearl, which exists in more or less the same shape to this day, four Ages later.

To gain admittance to the Tower, mages must prove they have mastered High Sorcery. This being done, they must also do a great service for the Tower to achieve the acclaim of its prior members. Further, there are only ever 40 Wizards of the Tower at any given time, and they will not increase their number. Those who join the secretive order are granted access to the hidden libraries of the Tower, as well as admittance to the brotherhood of its members.

Tower of the Bleeding Star.
In stark contrast to the Tower of the Pearl, the Tower of the Bleeding Star was founded after the plague ravaged the Greatwood in the 9th Age. The star to which the tower's name refers is a falling, bleeding, or bearded star, and has the connotation of being a monumentous omen. The members of the Bleeding Star choose their apprentices to induct into the order; it has a much more structured membership and hierarchy than the Order of the Pearl Tower.

Members of the Bleeding Star wear its symbology on their robes, and are known for their alignment with astrological events and signs. They are a withdrawn and careful sect, who sometimes offer unsolicited advise to noble houses. They are also often seen as being politically neutral, something that they do their best to take advantage of by hiring themselves to the great houses indiscriminately. None are certain whether or not they actually do have an external agenda.

The House of High Sorcery.
The House of High Sorcery is the oldest order of wizards in any elvish kingdom, which likely makes it the oldest continuous order in the world. It is an invitation-only society, and only those wizards who have mastered the very highest tier of magic are ever invited into it. Non-elves are sometimes extended invitations as well.

The House of High Sorcery maintains a private compound within the city where its members can meet, live, and study in peace. It is rumored that there are never more than a handful of High Sorcerers at any given time, but they prize their identities, and so the membership of this order is not publicly known.

Road of the Old Kings. Every ruler of every elvish state, excluding only the Wizard-Lords of Nostorin, has a statue along this ancient road. Deep and rutted is the path, and overhung by massive oaks and plane trees. It is the most central circuit within the city, and therefore the most well-traveled. At any hour along the Road of the Old Kings, there can be found a range of chanteurs, lutists, musicians, theater troupes, minstrels, jugglers, acrobats, and adventurers.

The Old Market. This is said to be the oldest market in the north. It is located in a somewhat sunken square, with hundreds of tents and kiosks creating a sort of secondary city. The market is active for three days of the week: Avaunus, Galus, and Heirus. Many merchants are permitted to bring barges into the city the night prior to a market day to unload their wares at Mero's Bridge.

Mero's Bridge. This bridge, while not the original span built by Mero the Southman, still commemorates the ancient compact between elves and men. To that end, statues of the Zeshimite sorcerer adorn it on both sides. It is the only place where the Valmin can be forded without the use of a ferry within the circuit of the White Wall.

The House of Wind Lord. An enormous dome, supported by pillars carved from lapis, and hung with thousands of silver wind chimes, the House of the Wind Lord is the center of Anunia's worship in the north. This is the residence of the priest known as the North Wind. Conclaves and meetings of the Four Winds frequently occur here, in the House of the Wind Lord. Public worship takes place at the external altar, a fantasy of looped silver, and daily ceremonies of prayer are held before the temple for the populace.

Tursas' Mausoleum. So old as to be mostly formless, this ancient lumpen monument is said to house the incorruptible body of the first Hierophant. It is now overgrown with amarantha and purple orchids, lending it the appearance of something long forgotten. However, whenever a new Hierophant is crowned, they are crowned before the Mausoleum of Tursas.

Guildhall of the Silver Tree. The House of the Silver Tree, a renowned elvish trading guild, has its home here in Valmindene. The guildhall is smaller than any of the vast rambling palaces and courtyard-houses of the great elvish families, but still quite large. Members of the compact often stay here when visiting the city, and caravans from Valmindene frequently originate from this marble building, carved all over with birds and branches.

Market of the Sea Fountain. The fountain of Meri at the market's center pumps salt water and is filled with sea fish. This market is open only on Heimirus, and tends to be frequented by merchants from Valcaela and Vesimia.

Shrine of Meri. A small temple dedicated to the Sea Goddess oversees the market. It is made from blue-green seastone and sits on a rise at the northern end of the Market of the Sea Fountain. The Merianite priests collect the market tolls from all the goings-on here, and therefore are also charged with the market's upkeep.

Grove of Lights.
The Grove of Lights, which are two stands of alder trees, hide the temples to Aloran and Senia. Each of the trees here is hung with many silver lanterns, which are enchanted to light themselves every dusk. This creates a mystical, haunting quality on the shores of the Valmin and throughout the Market of the Sea Fountain.

Tower of the Pearl.
The home of the Order of the Pearl Tower, this building stands alone in the center of the Swordway. Its fabric is opalescent, and glimmers strangely in the sun. It's said that the wizards of the Pearl Tower have enchanted it to contain great halls and libraries within, though from without it appears to be a humble five-story tower.

Sun Square. This square also serves as a smith and metalworker's market on every Avaunus. It is a wide paved space that stands in the light of the Golden Temple. All tradesmen's tents on Sun Square are set up and broken down at the beginning and end of every market day, rather than remaining all week. The square is dotted with statuary describing mighty elvish knights and heroes.

Golden Temple of Noronia.
Much like the center of Avaunite worship in Haldera, the Golden Temple in the White City is a massive pyramid with many stepped levels. Every surface is plated in gilding; at midday, the entire temple shines like a second Lamp of the Sun. While this is technically the seat of the priesthood of Noronia, since the Gwyderion occupies the palace at the city center, the Temple of Noronia has been reduced in importance as a physical presence on Sun Square.

Tower of the Bleeding Star. Opposite the Merianite temple is the Tower of the Bleeding Star, a building marked by mystery and strangeness. The tower has no windows, and is made of a black stone flecked with gold. Banners hang from its upper reaches, proclaiming the might of the Bleeding Star. None who are not members of that order have ever been within.

Moonstar Costerhouse. This smaller costerhouse is home to the Moonstar Coster's operations in Valmindene. It is a converted townhouse, carved all about in lions and antelope, that was long ago purchased by the Coster and made into a staging area for meetings and caravans.

Mausoleum of Emperor Sylimus. Sylimus the Elf-Friend, Emperor of Miles, is buried here in Aita Valmindene. His mausoleum is a gathering place for men living within the borders of the White City. The field outside the mausoleum has, since his reign, served as a place for mannish expatriots to sit and discuss affairs of the day, and men are often to be found here in small clusters playing board games or smoking.

Poet's Way.
So named for the Poet's Market located between the Wyrmgate and the Mountain Gate, Poet's Way is frequented by elvish writers and dreamers. It is lined with willows, and a small stream trickles alongside its northern course, eventually diving below the earth by the foot of the Malidenorianen hill. The Poet's Market remains the easiest place to purchase parchment and writing supplies in the city.

Road of the Stars. The Road of the Stars is an ancient highway, paved with gemstones studding its surface. It was once the location of several royal palaces, all of which have been repurposed and granted to noble families in the centuries since its completion.

Tower of Ilisia the Sage. This tower belongs to the chief historian of the Gwyderion's court, Ilisia the Writer. Though she is rarely at home (the Gwyderion keeps her plenty busy in the palace), Ilisia is one of the most renowned historians of ancient Arunian history in the north.

The Skyknight Parade Ground. This open field belongs to the Skyknights. From time to time, the Gwyderion asks them to perform feats of martial prowess in and above the city, to remind the elves who commands the order. There are boxes for sitting here, and a well-manicured lawn for the presentment of the pegasi.

The Library of Sulcania. The great Library of Valmindene, a public institution since its earliest days, stands at the end of a colonnaded courtyard, framed by a large mirror-fountain along the Willow Walk. This is a place of repose and study. Many elves come here to be tutored or taught the paideia, the corpus of elvish learning.

The Shuttered Palace. The most ancient royal palace of all, the Shuttered Palace is all that survives of the reign of the mad Gwyderion, Pellarimen. This ancient ruin is sometimes said to be haunted, and most of the elves of the city stay away from it, unless they are there to drink in the melancholy madness of the Mad Lord. For this reason, the Lantern Path actually passes right by the Shuttered Palace.

Lantern Path. A walk often taken by revelers, particularly those who are drunk on rajarico, the Lantern Path is a meandering route through the oldest district of the city, past the Shuttered Palace, that ends in the Field of the Songwrights, by the Silver Gates.

Wayfarer's Palace. There are, perhaps, forty inns and hostelries scattered throughout the vast confines of the White City. The Wayfarer's Palace is one of the most expensive. Located on the Old Market, rooms at the Wayfarer are nearly always full, as travelers from all over the Greatwood come to attend court. This is a place of refined elvish tastes, and foreigners are generally not welcome here.

Veiled Hill. This is a place of wolfsdens, carnal delights, and the Night Market, which is open every night. The unseemly and unpleasant portion of the elvish temperament is expressed here.

Kingstaff Inn. The more friendly of the city's inns, the massive Kingstaff, is located on the confluence of the Road of Rejoicing and the Road of the Old Kings. This huge building is serviced by a complex of structures without (stables, kitchen, dovecote, hawkery) and stands on a bluff overlooking the Cavamistiran Palace and the Mausoleum of Finlír the Sage. Rooms at the Kingstaff are finely appointed, but not prohibitively expensive.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Holy Books: The Life of Orlandus -- Part 2

Also see Part 1.

At the end of his third year fighting for Metropolitan Timarus, the old man met his end; at last, age claimed what leprosy and the decaying dome of the Vectedréan temple could not. Orlandus went to his bedside dressed in the garb of a temple knight. Timarus spoke to him one last time, reminding our lord of his duty to the Hammerer, who had graced him with such wonders. But the last thing that Timarus said to Orlandus was not to bind him to Vectedréa and the Kingdom of Byrne. Timarus the Leper told our lord "You must spread your light to the places in the world which are the darkest. This is the destiny the Hammerer had in mind for you."

Now, in those days, there were many evils that still haunted the world. The Alchemist had yet to wake from his necromantic slumber, but our lord would fight against that villain in his later years. This was at the end of the Red Age, when Craftsman's Reach was unified under the Lords of Calantheas. No, the great evil of Arunia, when Roland of Wilderlund was a young man, was none other than the Weeping King of the Adeion.

The Weeping King was a figure out of nightmare legend. There were those who claimed he had served Rho'anir the Shapeless One in the Wars of High Sorcery, and those who said he had been a serjent in the armies of Tallëor Twice-Born during the War of Shadows. None, now, can say what the truth was. But amongst those barbaric peoples of the wide open spaces there rose a single power, fusing together the eight warring clan-folk of men and the three nations of wood elves beneath his borders. This man was called The Weeping King.

It was certain that he was long lived. He ruled his kingdom Adeira for five generations of men. The peoples of that land, who knew not how to build like the men of the south, and so tunneled, burrowed, and made their squat towers, were called upon to construct an elaborate castle for the Weeping King, made of stone quarried from the Dragonback range. He made treaty with the Old Soloth, and his nation was flooded with Solothen slaves to do his bidding.

Now, you must also know that our lord did not set out simply to depose a tyrant. There were countless tyrants in his time. No, for there were even greater ills perpetrated by the Weeping King. This monarch made it custom to slay who he would, and there are those accounts which whisper that he would then bathe in their blood. In his might, he challenged even the borders of mighty Tailimisiä, and the elves were forced to make treaty with him to keep his armies at bay. He gave places of high honor to Frost Giants, ogres, and other unclean children of Ulagos' wheel.

Suffice to say, the Weeping King was no mere mortal, but a demon in human form. Orlandus had been told of this monstrous ruler since he was a boy, and he set out now to end the creature's rule once and for all. Indeed, it is set down in his own hand that the Weeping King was a "vampiric spirit of evil humor, puffed up and gorged with blood, and stuffed into the body of an ill-tempered, squat, white-haired man, whose eyes perpetually oozed sickly tears."

To slay the Weeping King, Orlandus knew he would require something more than his native strength and cunning. It was said that an elvish emissary to the king's court had, after being rudely insulted again and again, challenged the foul creature to a duel. There, in the courtyard of the great castle, the king obliged, only to prove that each stroke of the elvish blade made cuts that closed as of their own accord, or else could not even pierce his pale gray flesh.

This, then, was Orlandus' task: our lord must needs seek out a weapon capable of destroying the Weeping King, and bring justice to the north. Though he still nursed a private grudge in his heart against Queen Mir, he could not trouble himself with her reign—though she had seized the throne with violence, she had, in his years abroad, ruled the Wilderlund well.

Holy Books: The Life of Orlandus -- Part 1

The following text is from the Life of Orlandus, a hagiography of the founder of the Order of the Forge Divine, which is revered as one of that sacred knighthood's most holy writings.

Orlandus, Lord of Sunhome, founder of our Most Beneficent and Mighty Order, was born to a humble country knight. It is from beginnings such as these that the Smith forges into the greatest of heroes. By alloy and tempering, the High God reaches out and remakes his chosen. Such are the blessed strictures of the Golden Bands of Law! Joyous are our hearts, as he gives us joy.

Orlandus was born near the end of the Eighth Age of men, in the Kingdom of Wilderlund. His father was a knight minor who served the house of Queen Evandyn the Just. They were an impoverished family, granted only a single estate near the ancient city of Toleiere. At court, Orlandus learned the measure of cruelty and barbarism when Queen Evandyn was murdered by her sister. The coup cost Orlandus' father his life, and Orlandus was expelled from the royal court after the accession of Queen Mir.

This is where the extraordinary Life of the blessed knight begins. Until that time, he was merely a boy, but after he escaped the Night of Tears and the Hall of the Drawn Knives, Orlandus would be a boy no longer. No, for he watched his father die defending Queen Evandyn, and saw the queen herself cut down by none other than Ghuron the Butcher. Friendless and hunted, Orlandus fled the palace into the city, seeking refuge.

Refuge, he found, in the form of a temple devoted to the Hammerer. Our lord fled westward, passing ever farther from the danger of Queen Mir and her faithful right hand, the Butcher. So it was that he came at last to the kingdom of Byrne upon the Rootwood. After many long months of travel, our young lord entered the service of Timarus the Leper in the city of Vectedréa, who was then the Metropolitan of that place.

Though he had been noble-born, Orlandus feared to speak his father's name, for the agents of Queen Mir roamed far and wide, and the Kingdom of Wilderlund was one of the mightiest of its day. So he called himself Roland and served as an acolyte in Timarus' temple. But there came three signs of his fated destiny.

The first was the touch which healed Timarus of his leprosy. The ancient priest had suffered from the wasting death since he was a young man, but one afternoon in the enclosure our lord placed his hands upon Timarus and they prayed together to the Hammerer in the way that Timarus had taught him. When they rose, the old man suddenly found that he could feel the fire in his joints, the pain in his fingers, the cold in his toes. Lo! They thanked the Hammerer for the display of a miracle, and Timarus turned his eye to watch our Orlandus, who was called Roland.

The second sign came when a storm collapsed the ancient dome of the Vectedréan temple. It had been built long ago by the Milean emperors, and a stroke of lightning sent from the vault of heaven smashed the stone and sent it tumbling to the earth within. Several acolytes were cleaning the temple hall during the storm, and one among their number was our lord Orlandus. He saw an acolyte struck by falling stone, felled like a cow hit with a pole-axe. He rushed to his companion's aid, and where his hands touched the bloodied head, they came away clean; the boy was healed, and he survived to become a smith in the city.

The final sign came in Roland's sixteenth year. Ghuron the Butcher had been dispatched by Queen Mir to find and murder all the exiles of Wilderlund that they might not form a league abroad and convince the king of Byrne to make war. Ghuron's assassins fanned through the city, seeking many who had come with our lord Orlandus. When the Butcher arrived at the temple, he came in the guise of a penitent, but he concealed a sword beneath his cloak.

Roland, he recognized amongst the acolytes at once. He drew his blade and lay into the boy, who was struck by the poisoned edge; the blow, which should have split his skull, merely ripped open his scalp and sent him plunging to the floor. Ghuron escaped before the temple guard could apprehend him, certain that Orlandus of Wilderlund had been slain. For three days and three nights, Roland lay in fevered dreams. No medici of the city could help him. Even Timarus did not have the power to put the poison out of the boy's body. But lo! On the third day, Roland awoke, saved by the grace of the Hammerer, a scar upon his brow.

Thus, after the third sign, did Timarus tell Orlandus that he had been chosen by the Hammerer for great things. The boy was given arms and armor from the vaults of the temple. Timarus told him: "Go forth, boy, and bring his light into dark places."

Sunday, February 5, 2017

The Great Houses of Tailmisiä

The ancient elvish kingdom of Tailimisiä, the eldest of the Wind Elf civilizations descended from the original kingdom of Ylvasmetsa, is ruled by a handful of powerful noble houses. As in other Wind Elf kingdoms, these houses were created by the elevation of their founders to the rank of nobility by the ruler—in this case the Gwyderion, High Priest of the Daystar—for some great service rendered to elvish civilization; that is, the development of some fine artwork, spellcraft, or service on the field. These houses are inevitably short-lived, dying out after a few generations thanks to the legendary infertility of elvish lines.

The great houses of today (late X.511) can be divided into two general camps: the War Party, and the Gwyderion's Party. Tensions between Caelatulia Elimya and the rest of the elves have been at an all-time high throughout the spring and summer of 511, having finally come to a head. One of the most contentious issues is that many elves have been swayed to the belief that the ruler of Tailimisya should be an elected king as it was in the days after the death of King Feanwe. The discussion over a return to elective kingship has stirred beneath the surface of the kingdom's political life for two generations.

It should be remembered that the ilmai (the free elves) form the bulk of all citizen-levies in the Greatwood. Unlike the mannish kingdoms, ilmai are not drafted as peasants, but rather are the citizen-army of the Greatwood. To that end, they may or may not be absolutely loyal to their own lords.

The War Party
House Sovarael
Heraldry: A pair of crossed staves above a sphere of glass on a blue field
One of the eldest surviving elvish houses in the kingdom, the Sovaraels are in their final decline. The Sovaraels have holdings in and around the ancient elvish capital. Their chief holding, of course, is Sovaraila, the great town-sized courtyard-manor which the house has been expanding since their original elevation. There are a number of well-decorated members of the house, knights of high stature, placed in powerful positions in elvish society. The Lord-Captain of the Southern March is none other than Brenauren Sovarael, Lady Toveri's grandson.

The House of Sovarael also has one of the most well-trained (though smallest) armies in the kingdom. They maintain a handful of swordsmasters and grandmasters of various weapons in their employ to serve as high guards and generals.

Important Members of House Sovarael
Tywynne Toveri -- The 478-year-old matriarch of House Sovarael. She spent her early life as a scribe in the grand city of Aita Valmindene. Lady Toveri never expected to become the Tywynne of her house, as in those days she was a junior member of a cadet branch. However, after the death of her uncle and brothers at the Battle of Sorrow's Pass, she was catapulted into power as a young elf.

She is a pale flaxen-haired elf who dresses in horrifically expensive garments dripping with gemstones. There is an undercurrent of fear that courses through the Sovarael family as Toveri approaches the age of elvish senility; there are wary watches placed on her for signs that she is beginning to lose touch with the world-as-it-is and beginning to be lost in the world-as-it-was.

Tywyn Brenauren -- The most important member of the family after its inestimable matriarch is Lord Brenauren, the Tyratalit Etelia (Lord-Captain of the South), is one of several powerful positions granted to elvish captains by the Gwydereon of Tailimisia. It grants the Sovaraels absolute control over the southern border of Tailimisia. Brenauren is the grandson of the Lady Toveri, and has won many battles against the ogres of the Gelethmiras hills east of the Silverlode Mountains (which the elves call the Idabrimara).

Tyra Raitiroyen -- A young knight, Raitiroyen is betrothed to the Tywyn of House Alaimya, Lord Covestia. While she cares very little for her husband-to-be and generally flaunts (in the elvish style) her dalliances with other elves in Aita Valmindene, the alliance is an important one for the war party.

Drysorahisse -- Drysorahisse is a smith who lives in the courtyard-manor of the Sovaraels. She is the granddaughter of Lady Toveri, and is generally considered to be the inheritor of the Sovarael line.

House Alaimya
Heraldry: A spinning wheel surmounting a hammer and tongs, flanked by spears, on a green field
The Alaimya are a family of artisans and craftsfolk who dwell primarily in the far south of the Greatwood, in the region known as Valtimya. They are firmly in the war camp, having supported the Sovaraels since the young Lady Toveri was elevated to the position of Tywynne. They are one of the most minor great houses to have access to the Gwyderion's court.

Important Members of House Alaimya
Tywyn Covestia -- the patriarch of the house, betrothed to Tyr Raitiroyen, Covestia is two hundred and fifty years old. He succeeded to the lordship of the house when his father, Tywyn Aristoroyen, went into the West. He is an extremely changeable elf, prone even more than other elves to bouts of great fury and great sorrow. To this end, Covestia is sometimes called "the Storm."

House Tornadallion
Heraldry: A willow wand flanked by three glass beakers on a blue field
The House of Tornadallion was created only two hundred years ago, when the young Tywynne Isimilia was elevated to the status of nobility in honor of her spellcraft, which she used to shape glass into strange and beautiful forms. As a new house, it has been granted rolls of honors and commands an extremely large citizen-army. The Tornadallions were in sharp ascendence at court until their alliance with the war party placed them at odds with the Gwyderion.

The house is deeply invested in the Temple of Anunia, and the North Wind (one of the four divine offices of the Temple of the Winds) is a Tornadallion scion. Many of the temples of Anunia in the Greatwood are allied with this house. It was none other than the Lady Isimilia and her house who encouraged the war party to submit an ultimatum to the Gwyderion and demand he step down.

Important Members of House Tornadallion
Tywynne Isimilia -- a sorceress of no little skill, Ismilia raised her family to greatness and intends to keep it there. Though she has no designs on the throne of the Greatwood, she also believes she has a moral obligation to return the elves to the rule of elective kingship.

Oronunepalarien -- The North Wind, high priest in the Greatwood. Oronunepalarian (also known as simply "Palarian," "he who listens"), is a virulently anti-Elimia elf who has taken every opportunity to enhance the power of the war party.

The Gwyderion's Party
House Elimia
Heraldry: A blazing sunburst over crossed scimitars flanked by three stars
The House of Elimya was created long ago, but has seen a resurgence of life with the election of its scion, Caelatulia, to the position of Hierophant of the Noronite faith. The Elimia dominate the Council of Lights, and Elimia loyalists from a handful of lesser houses occupy the most important positions in the realm.

The Elimia command the largest army in the kingdom through their network of temporal and religious clients. The Eldamyrin (the House of Fire), Clecaran (the House of Swords), and the Lumicarainen (the House of the Weasal) are all minor houses with strong ties to the Elimia. They also have the legendary skyknights at their beck and call, who are sworn to protect the throne of Valmmindene.

Important Members of House Elimia
Gwyderion Caelatulia -- The Hierophant of the Temple of the Daystar, Caelatulia Elimia is a no-nonsense elf with an administrators understanding of centralization and power. He commands the Council of Lights with something approaching an iron fist, and whenever demonstrations occur in Valmindene, particularly those involving servants of the Great Houses that want him removed, he deploys retinues of gold-clad knights from his household.

Tyr Simiralainen -- Simiralainen is the head of Caelatulia's household guard, and is a grandmaster swordsman. He is a quiet, scowling, creature with dark hair who snarls regularly at everyone who passes by. Like the rest of the household guard of house Elimia, he wears gold gilt armor.

House Cavamirastiran
Heraldry: Five hills, each topped with a tower
The House of Cavamirastiran is one anchored in the sorcerous traditions of the elves. Each of the descendants of Cavamireon the Enchanter are trained in the sorcerous arts in addition to the paidea. This means that even the most ill-trained and irresolute of the Cavamirastiran are minor magicians.

Important Members of House Cavamirastiran
Tywyn Safarielanyrn -- The powerful sorcerer Safariel is one of the pillars of the Gwyderion's command over the Greatwood; it is well known that he is a master of High Sorcery and has delved into the mysteries of Elder Magics. It is even whispered through the Greatwood that he knows the arcane languages of the Wyrms and the Giants.

House Murhestinal
Heraldry: A weeping elf's head with long flowing hair
The Murhestinai are a house of poets and warriors. They are also known as the Weeping Elves, and there are many of their number who are dedicated sworddancers. The Murhestinai command a vast swathe of land in the center of the Greatwood and their powerful liege-levy makes up the bulk of the Greatwood's army. Indeed, it was the Murhestinai that protected the Daleadau for so many years, and fought along the fringes of Sylvasil for generations.

Important Members of House Cavamirastiran
Tywyn Leofrysin -- A grandmaster of the glaive and the sword, Leofrysin has never been defeated in single combat. He is a grave, tall, dark-haired elf with the temperament of a lyric poet.

Neutral Houses
House Malidenorainen
Heraldry: A harbor teeming with ships and surmounted by a mountain

House Doraeses
Heraldry: Three dancing elves beneath a crescent moon