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. It also hosts a large number of mannish merchants and delegates to the court, making it second only to the Kingstaff for mannish customers.

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 FinlĂ­r the Sage. Rooms at the Kingstaff are finely appointed, but not prohibitively expensive.

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