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Alandar: A Timeline of Events

The history of Alandar is a difficult thing to record with any degree of precision, as few save the magi have kept anything close to reliable historical records, and the magi of Saldor are not known to share information willingly. Adding to this difficulty is the complexity and (some would say) foolishness of the various dating systems used by the common populations. In the west, years are denoted by Keeper of the Balance (as in the 23rd year of Polimeux II), which while useful within the average lifespan of a person, are basically useless as metrics of historical account. The calendar of the North is dated from the birth of the most recent High Saint (e.g. 150th year of Saint Udent), making them somewhat more useful in this regard while the Kalsaaris are by far the most useful, dating their calendar from the birth of their Empire (placing the Imperial Calendar in its 31st century). Many of the following dates should be understood as approximate. As much as can be reliably determined, however, is dated as follows, using the private notation of Arcanostrum scholars:

35109-bigthumbnailBefore the Age of Kings (BK)

~6,000 BK (Before Kings): The Great Trek from the Hearth begins. Humanity abandons its ancestral homeland (its identity now lost to time), led by their god, Hann. The journey purportedly takes millennia to complete.

~2,000 BK: Hann fights with Ulor on the Taqar; Hann abandons the human race. Humanity is now on its own.

~2,000 BK—1 BK: “The Age of Chaos”—humanity begins to establish settlements around the Sea of Syrin. Tribal warfare common, very primitive social structures.

~500 BK: The First Sorcerers rise to power in tribal areas. Beings of mythical power, they are worshipped as gods. Sorcery is a crude practice at this time, and limited mostly to striking  invocations and basic auguries.

The Age of Kings (AK)

1 AK (Age of Kings): The first Warlock King, Syrin the Mighty, establishes a kingdom stretching from modern day Akral along the southern coast to the Dragonspine. First strong government in human history. Ancient city of Burza founded.

250 AK: Syrin’s kingdom collapses into civil war. Three powerful Warlocks—Askar, Nurohn, and Shendrezail—conquer three largest pieces of the kingdom.

300 AK: City of Hurn founded by the request of Hann himself, who temporarily appears from exile; The Kings of Shendrezail fight the Dawn War against the God of Humanity and his crusaders. Hann’s armies surrender rather than see their god destroyed, Shendrezail claims victory. Church of Hann grows, but is forbidden by Warlock Kings.

~600 AK: The Arahk arrive in Alandar from the frigid polar regions north of the continent, settle in the unoccupied Fields of Oscillain in the northeast.

700 AK: Askar XII murders his wife, heir to the throne of the Nurohnar, and merges the two kingdoms. Jassaria V, Warlock Queen of Shendrezail, expands her kingdom to encompass modern day Kalsaar.

sorcerer-297059855 AK: Beginning of the First Mage War between Askaria and Shendrezail. The fires of Askar XIX create the Gods’ Divide. In retribution, and with the supposed aid of the god Ulor, Jassaria XI creates the Needle, causing the Sea of Syrin to flood, doubling its size. Burza destroyed, millions perish, war ends in stalemate.

~900 AK: Arahkan War of Fathers—the Great Torach drives the lesser arahk into the Eastern Sea. Lesser arahk migrate south to become what are now known as hobs.

990 AK: Askar XXVI’s sons murder him and fight over spoils. Askarian civil war leads to Second Mage War as Shendrezail pounces. Demons and fiends summoned to aid combatants, cataclysmic slaughter occurs. War lasts 115 years, ends with the kingdoms of Askaria and Shendrezail in complete ruins. During fighting, Kroth the Devourer reputably stirs in His bonds.

~1000 AK: Gnolls arrive in western Alandar. Remain outside of human affairs.

1120 AK: Warlock King Rahdnost rises to power. Most powerful Warlock King since Syrin. Kingdom spreads from modern day Saldor to Eddon. Many other Kings rule in the south, but all swear fealty to Rahdnost.

1125 AK: Rahdnost’s forces defeated at Daer Mahk by the arahk tribes. Expansion of his empire is never able to cross the Dragonspine, despite the creation of Trell’s Pass.

1190 AK: Rahdnost finds way to extend lifespan indefinitely. Becomes Rahdnost the Undying. Kingdom expands to encompass southern coast of the Sea of Syrin.

~1300 AK: Settlers fleeing Rahdnost’s tyranny migrate across the Dragonspine to live in the western reaches of Oscillain. Border disputes between arahk tribes and humans begin.

~1500 AK: Rebels exiled to deserts of south found Kalsaar and manage to live in relative peace with hob population. (Beginning of Kalsaari calendar)

1648 AK: Rahdnost invades the Great Forest and attacks the Vale. Known as the Fey War, the free and wild peoples known as the Vel’jahai war with Rahdnost across the northwest. Ends with the last recorded invocation of a Cataclysm, as Rahdnost’s Eternal Tower is struck down and the city of Ghola is swallowed by the ocean. Ruins rest on an island supposedly near Ihyn.

1661 AK: Lesser Warlock Kings rise up to claim the Undying’s Kingdom. Third Mage Wars begin, lasts fifty years.

1750 AK:  Warlock Kings Vorn the Terrible and Spidrahk rise to power, controlling the southern and northern shores of the Sea of Syrin, respectively. Spidrahk’s palace rests on the location of present-day Saldor. With access to Rahdnost’s Elixir of Immortality, the two kings are able to war periodically over three centuries, neither gaining the upper hand.

2063 AK: Vorn calls down unholy plague upon world in an effort to kill ailing King Spidrahk. Spidrahk releases ‘the Seeking Dark’ to destroy Vorn. Both weakened, the Vel’jahai, aided by friendly human sorcerers, rise up to topple both kingdoms and destroy every vestige of the Warlock King epoch. Afterwards, the Vel’jahai retire to their Forest, declaring it their own, and forbid any foreigners from entering it.

The Age of Balance (AB)

1 AB (Age of Balance): First Keeper of the Balance, Ethorim, takes the Seat in Saldor. Political chaos reigns in wake of the Warlock Kings’ fall.

136003055261925 AB: Eretheria founded by Perwyn, establishes tense diplomatic relations with Saldor, essentially treating it as a protectorate.

32 AB: Akral established as stable kingdom by Tolion the Uniter, begins to expand borders.

112 AB: Church of Hann gains home in fledgling city of Rhond, establishes it as headquarters.

125 AB: Arcanostrum declares Church of Hann as ‘official’ religion of humanity. Hordes develop in Oscillain under Warlord Khazakain.

130 AB: First Arahkan War begins. Arahk sweep through unprepared kingdoms of the north

and attack Trell’s Pass and secure it. Arahk attack Galaspin, Eretheria, and

Saldor—nearly conquer all. Hill tribesmen cut off Arahkan supplies and the Vel’jahai

come to the Arcanostrum’s aid, though nothing is enough to completely win.

144 AB: Veris, Ihyn founded.

177 AB: Ezeliar defeats Khazakain at Battle of Sh’goth, First Arahkan War Ends.

180 AB: Kingdom of Benethor/Knights of Benethor founded by Ezeliar’s lieutenants.

183 AB: Galaspin founded, swears itself as Saldor’s protector.

200 AB: Freegate founded by hill tribesmen and Galaspiner dissidents.

220 AB: Kalsaari Empire established, expands to include Emirates of Tharce, Azgar.

224 AB: Wars of Retribution begun—arahk pushed back to the borders of Roon. Ramisett annexed into Kingdom.

354 AB: Wars of Retribution end.

368 AB: King of Benethor’s feuding sons split the massive kingdom into two entities. Kingdom of Ridderhof founded, treaties for mutual defense against the arahk are immediately signed, but relations remain cool between two nations for several centuries.

400 AB: Eddon breaks away from Akral in peaceful accord, Eddon becomes Kingdom. Maintains close relationship with Akral.

434 AB: Kalsaar makes forays beyond the Century Desert, captures Tasis, Illini peninsula.

438—464 AB: Kalsaari Wars of Expansion: Kalsaar makes war on fledgling western nations. Captures Rhond, lays siege to Veris, Ihyn, Akral, and Hurn. Kalsaari Armies finally defeated after a grueling campaign in Eddon, known afterwards as the Cold March. Arcanostrum brokers peace accord; Kalsaar retains Rhond, Hurn. General outrage at treaty.

~530 AB: First caravans from the Far West appear in Ju’el, Eddon.

562 AB: The Hannite Wars begin. Akral, Eddon, Veris declare war on Kalsaar. Attempt to liberate Rhond, Hurn. King Hymrek V of Veris betrays coalition after offered riches by Kalsaari Emperor. War lasts five years, Eddon defeats Kalsaar at Battle of Illin Bridge. Akral lays siege to and destroys Veris, occupies territory. Hurn and Rhond rescinded to Hannite clergy.

578 AB: Illin founded as buffer state between West and Kalsaari. Partitions of Illin formed by Arcanostrum magi.

620 AB: Veris, with tacit help of Ihyn, rises up against Akral, gaining independence. Akral attempts to regain lost territory. Wars and border disputes last throughout 7th century.

681 AB: Knights of Benethor detect the formation of Hordes in Roon, request aid from kingdoms of the West. No help is sent.

687 AB: Nurlings surge out of the Dragonspine, drawn out by increased mining activity. Nurlings declare a Oodnar their King, overwhelm and capture Galaspin, Freegate, and attack Saldor. Eretherian forces exterminate the Nurling menace.  War lasts seven years, known as the War of the Goblin King.

699 AB: The Second Arahkan War begins. The arahk, under warlord Ushkazail, eventually crush the Knights of Benethor and sweep through Ridderhof, raping, pillaging, and destroying everything. Long and bloody campaign against Benethoran partisans begins. War lasts 185 years.

713 AB: The Nine Queens of Kalsaar reveal their magical power, declaring the Empire the realm of the new Warlock Queens. Emperor is little more than a political figurehead. Defenders of the Balance are ejected from the Empire.

717 AB: War begins, as Kalsaar attempts once again to invade the West. War is brief, as the Kalsaari armies cannot take Illin before the siege is broken by Verisi reinforcements.

730 AB: The Builder’s Method of the Arcane Arts is founded in Eretheria.

750 AB: Akral fights a number of territorial wars with Eddon, Eretheria, and Veris that flare up and wane over the next thirty years. Ends with massive naval engagement in the Gulf of Eddon that sees the King of Akral, Tolion XI, sunk to the bottom by Verisi pirates.

884 AB: Handras kills Ushkazail in mighty duel, arahk thrown into chaos. Benethoran remnants push arahk back into Roon. Second Arahkan War ends.

1115 AB: Hordes develop in Roon. Benethor/Ridderhof begin unprecedented military expansion. Reinforcements sent from as far away as Eddon.

1117 AB: Third Arahkan War begins—unparalleled in brutality. Arahk under Ashkazain smash into fortified Benethor and Ridderhof. War grinds on for fifty years—bloodiest war since Second Mage Wars. Ridderhof falters, Benethor is surrounded.

1122 AB: Hadrigal Varner leads Knights of Benethor in cunning attack on Ashkazain’s main force, routing the army. Enraged by the defeat, Ashkazain’s lieutenants kill him while he sleeps. Resulting chaos allows Benethor to drive arahk back into Roon. Sorcerous Order of Medicine founded by Caddavain Ustair to attempt to relieve suffering of people and soldiers.

1156 AB: Galaspin colony of Dellor founded. Settlers attracted to the mineral rich hills.

1224 AB: Second Queens War begins. Kalsaar invades utilizing new floating ‘war bastions’. Manage to lay waste to much of Illin, Rhond before defeat. All War Bastions toppled from sky; flying vessels declared ‘impractical’ by sorcerous scholars. War ends after three years.

1300 AB: Revolt in Dellor. Galaspiner troops driven out. Region declares independence.

1377 AB: War College of Ramisett founded, first Battlemagi trained. Benethor and Ridderhof experiment with airships as troop transports.

1382 AB: After centuries of cold aggression, Akral attacks Veris. Ihyn declares its support for Akral, event touches off the Akrallian Wars. Ihyn and Akral join forces against Veris, Eretheria, and Eddon. Akral seeks to expand its borders to encompass Eretheria and Veris. Eventually, Galaspin and Illin are encompassed in the war. Only Saldor and Rhond remain neutral. War lasts for six years.

1388 AB: After years of stalemate, warring nations meet in Eretheria and sign the Treaty of Syrin, establishing the Syrinian Alliance. First centralized governmental structure in West since fall of the Warlock Kings.

1403 AB: Hobgoblin Gurgbossaht Thark raises massive army to conquer the ‘soft’ lands of the west. Called “The Arahkann War that Wasn’t,” fighting lasts for ten years before finally the hobs are defeated at the Battle of Whistler Bridge. Battle is won by the Arcanostrum Archmage Estrina, early disciple of the Vetan’nir school. She later becomes Keeper of the Balance.

1509 AB: Hordes begin to form in Roon. Benethor, grown complacent behind its new defenses, fails to act. Udent of Semhoth begins training militias and is accused of starting an uprising.

1512 AB: Arahk under Ogramair start the Fourth Arahkan War. Caught off guard, the Twin Kingdoms panic. Knights of Benethor are slaughtered, Benethor is sacked, Ramisett is besieged. Udent’s militas hold the southern shores of the Harvendy from attack, defend Ridderhof and Obrinport, gradually drive disorganized hordes back. Ogramair dies due to freak accident, war ends in under eight years with comparatively minimal destruction.

1520-1575 AB: The Arcanostrum relaxes certain key prohibitions upon sorcerous practice, leading to tentative spread of sorcerous artifacts to the common people. Defenders of the Balance deployed more widely to combat misuse of sorcery. Saldor gains economic power.

1582 AB: Perwynnon, self-proclaimed Heir to the Falcon Throne, begins to consolidate power in Eretheria, becoming that nation’s first King in 1500 years.

1583 AB: Kalsaar invades Illin in bloodiest West/South conflict yet. Conrad Varner, High General of the West (and Prince of Benethor), turns the tide at the Charge of Atrisia and leads the Glorious March, ending with the Sack of Tasis. Kalsaaris surrender, but with key provisions. War lasts 3 years.

1584 AB: Banric Sahand, Mad Prince of Dellor, invades Galaspin while the Galaspin Army is fighting in Illin and Rhond. Conquers most of the Trell Valley. His invasion of Saldor is stopped at Calassa by the combined efforts of Conrad Varner’s armies and those of Perwynnon. Sahand is routed and driven back to Dellor.

1585 AB: Called “The Fall of Kings” – Perwynnon is assassinated and Prince Landar the Holy of Illin vanishes. Regions plunged into political turmoil.

1587 AB: Delkatar ascends the Seat in Saldor, becoming Keeper Polimeux II. Seriously relaxes controls on magecraft. West enjoys economic and technological boom.

1590 AB: First Spirit Engine tracks laid from Saldor to Galaspin. Network eventually expands to link Akral to Freegate and back.

1612 AB: Present Day.

 

 

 

Alandar: A Brief History of Sorcery, Part 1 (The Energies)

The Art – known as ‘magic’ or ‘sorcery’ – is of utmost importance to life in Alandar. Indeed, one cannot separate the very stuff of sorcery from the very substance of the world itself – they are one in the same, and one who has power over the former has, by default, power over the latter.

Basic Principles

dark_wizard_revis_by_capprottiSorcery, it should be noted, describes the substance more than it does the act. If something is of a sorcerous nature, that means it is behaving in a particular way or made up of a particular substance. The practice of sorcery is known as the Art, and is divided into two parts: the High Arts and the Low Arts. The term ‘magic’ is a superstitious word, applied by those who do not understand the powers that shape their own world to explain what they witness as being miraculous or unknowable. Nothing could be further from the truth, however. The most important fact about the Art (and the most violently guarded secret in history) is that anyone can master it. Anyone. So long as an individual possesses the proper discipline, work-ethic, intelligence, and wisdom, they can learn to become a wizard at the least and a full mage at the best. This is because sorcery is not some kind of moral reward or genetically transmitted power – it is simply another word for discussing the substance of the universe itself.

The Five Energies

The stuff of sorcery is understood by separating it into five different energies which, by their combination, comprise the physical and spiritual world that surrounds us. They are very broad, very complex concepts and should not be understood simplistically, nor should they be judged by moral concerns. The Ether is no more ‘evil’ than the Lumen can be, nor is the Fey more destructive than the Dweomer, per se. The world, as you should know by now, is a complicated and contradictory place. The energies are as follows:

The Lumen is the power of growth, life, and light. It has affinity with the number seven, the color white, and is commonly associated with ‘positive’ feelings and emotions, though this is a simplistic view. It is perhaps best understood as the power of connectivity and community – of how multiple parts work together to benefit a whole. This explains how it echoes with growth (the life force of our body growing by incorporating materials into itself to benefit the whole), kindness (being kind to one another enhances cooperation and benefits society), and so on. It is most strongly found in healthy soil or among plants and trees, and so has become associated with the Earth, even though it is hardly limited to that arena.

The Ether is the Lumen’s opposing force – the power of death, decay, and darkness. Its affinities are the number thirteen, the color black, and is commonly associated with ‘negative’ feelings and emotions like falsehood, deception, and cruelty. Like the Lumen, its true nature is rather more nuanced. The Ether is the power of solitude or self-interest – how individual members cease to operate in conjunction for the benefit of said individuals. In this way, it has connections with the Fey just as the Lumen has connections with the Dweomer, but it should be noted that other aspects of the Ether (lies, plots, binding) have much in common with the Dweomer, and so we must not simplify the world into a dualistic paradigm. The Ether is all about caring for the self, and hence decay and death (where things cease to operate in concert and, rather, dissociate themselves and break down into their constituent units). It is solitary, and therefore has affinity with lies and treachery and stealth – acts that benefit individuals who act outside social order. Due to its mysterious and oft-mercurial nature, the Ether has become associated with water – rivers, oceans, lakes, etc. – and is very powerful in those arenas.

The Dweomer is the power of order, stability, and reason. It has affinity with the number three, the color blue, and is considered the ‘rational’ power, though both the Ether and Lumen have their rational aspects. The Dweomer, however, is more pure – it is completely lacking in emotional content. At its most basic level, the Dweomer exists as the lack of motion – rigid, unchanging, sensible, and controlling. It is, for this reason, most easily channeled in cold environments – a lack of motion among most aspects of nature is common at lower temperatures, thanks to the increased dweomeric presence there. Though often considered a ‘good’ force when compared with its opposite, the Fey, this is easily found to be false by simply considering the behavior of tyrants and slavers – chains are dweomeric in nature more than they are anything else. The Dweomer is associated with the open sky and the wind, which seems contradictory at first blush, but must be understood in context: the sky, though in motion, is an orderly thing, as the passage of the stars and moon can attest, as can the rigid nature of the seasons. Even the winds are predictable, as sailors can attest, and often any variation is due to unusual spikes in temperature, which leads us to a discussion of the fourth energy.

The Fey is the power of chaos, madness, and complete freedom. It has affinity with the number one, the color red, and is considered to be the power of destruction, though that isn’t strictly fair. The Fey is pure emotion and chaos – absolute freedom of motion. This has the side effect of often being destructive – the Fey knocks down what the Deweomer builds – but it is worth noting that the Fey’s behavior often leads to growth and needed change (in other words, its destruction leads to the Lumen’s growth or the Ether’s decay, and often both), and in this sense is both essential and very positive. The Fey, unsurprisingly, is associated with fire – the destroyer, but also the giver of warmth and life.

The Astral is the fifth energy and requires special mention. For long ages, the existence of the Astral was unknown or misunderstood, because it does not, in and of itself, do much of anything. The Astral provides the medium through which all of the rest of the powers move and operate. The Astral is present everywhere, and is rarely more or less present in any one location (the ley lines excepted, but in those places there is more of everything, so that stands to reason). Were it not for the Astral, the world would cease to exist as the four opposing powers would cancel one another out in a colossal explosion. In practical terms, the Astral seems to be the chief governor of Time and Space and (arguably) fate and causality. Though technically colorless, gray has become its associated color and it has a demonstrated affinity with the number five. The Astral, though probably the most important energy, is the least visible and hardest to manipulate. Only the great magi of the Arcanostrum have had much luck with it and, indeed, this is probably why they are the current rulers of the sorcerous world.

The High Arts Vs the Low Arts

As already alluded to, the work of the magician (put crudely, but for the sake of clarity), is separated into practitioners of the High Arts and Low Arts. The High Arts are the great works of sorcery itself. It is the direct manipulation of the five energies through incantation, focus, and ritual. It is very powerful and very flexible and is the source of everything we commonly understand as sorcery. Indeed, it is these acts that only a ‘sorcerer’ (in the technical sense) can perform.

The Low Arts, conversely, are those arts that manipulate the five energies indirectly, through materials and mediums that shape the ley of the universe. The ley, by the by, is a generic term referring to the general disposition of sorcerous energy in an area. So, for instance, if someone were to say a place has a ‘dweomeric’ ley, it would mean there is a preponderance of dweomeric energy present and, therefore, proportionally less Fey energy. In any event, practicioners of the Low Arts include alchemists (who work together chemicals and materials to create sorcerous concoctions), thaumaturges (who distill purer sorcerous energies from the universe through careful scientific processes), warlocks (who construct items that channel sorcerous energy into machine-work), and so on. Though they may go by a variety of professional titles (witch, talismancer, etc.), the vast majority of Low Arts practitioners fall broadly into the preceeding three categories. While certainly important and powerful in their own way, there is little that the Low Arts can accomplish that the High Arts cannot do also, but more powerfully and more quickly (though at much greater risk to the sorcerer). The Low Arts, however, require somewhat less schooling and are far less risky. Accordingly, practitioners of the Low Arts are much more common in society, especially here in the West.

To Be Continued…

Alandar: The Theocracy of Rhond

The heart of the Hannite religion, Rhond is a strong nation with passionate and spiritual people. In many ways the most important place in the world to the common peoples of the West, Rhond and its holy sites have been the point of contention between nations, peoples, and religions for millennia. Though traditionally neutral to all others, Rhondian internal politics is as chaotic and potentially dangerous as those of Eretheria, with new sects of the Hannite faith coming into being every few decades only to be followed by bloody civil wars of religious ideology. This is not a place for the indifferent, apathetic, or uncertain – in Rhond, your beliefs and your life are closely linked and, without one, the other will doubtlessly be lost.

Political Structure

Rhond is a theocracy, which is to say that its religious and political leadership are one and the same. The Church of Hann, with all its structural and bureaucratic complexities, is in control of both the physical and spiritual bodies of every man, woman, and child within Rhond’s borders. Unlike some of the more totalitarian governments of the Alliance, however, Rhond’s political system is more democratic than one might at first assume. The Church of Hann is an organization that is disinclined to deal with worldly matters, and therefore the day-to-day decisions on things like taxes, education, defense, and infrastructure are handed off from dignitary to dignitary in a bewildering and seemingly endless game of pass-the-buck.

Ostensibly, the Steward of Hann, who kneels before the White Throne in Rhond and is Hann’s representative until his return, is in complete control of Rhond as a political entity as well as the Hannite Church as a spiritual one. In practice, only the latter is true. Beneath the Steward, the Church separates into two distinct organizational bodies. The first, known collectively as the Hann’ari (Speakers for Hann), are made up of the priests and Lesser Stewards who comprise the Church of Hann on an international level. The second organization, known as the Hann’aras or, more commonly, the Templars, are in charge of Rhond as a nation. Though not technically priests, the Templars hold no less devotion to the Steward than any of their brothers in the Hann’ari, and are invested with a variety of spiritual as well as secular powers.

The Templars are organized in a similar fashion to a feudal kingdom, with the Grand Templar advising the Steward directly at the top of the organizational pyramid. Directly

A good representation of a Paladin of Rhond, I think.

A good representation of a Paladin of Rhond, I think.

below him are the Templars themselves, who act as regional governors or dukes over the seven different provinces of Rhond. Beneath each Templar is an array of Holy Paladins – knights in the sworn service of the Church who police their realm, collect tithes and taxes, and handle the majority of the secular matters in Rhondian life. Thanks to the reticence on the part of the higher-level officials to handle secular matters, the central authority in Rhond is comparatively weak to other feudal kingdoms like Eddon or Akral. Paladins are largely autonomous, and each parish is subject to wildly varying laws and regulations depending on the paladin’s preferences. The Templars themselves only intercede to contradict rulings considered blasphemous or heretical to the Hannite tradition, but other than that content themselves with the limited secular duties of tallying taxes and keeping the peace. It is important to remember that, in the Hannite faith, the physical world is dirty, sinful, and corrupt. Therefore, in order to maintain an aura of holiness to one’s followers, one must appear to be ‘above’ earthly matters. This holds true for the Templars as much as for the priests themselves, and those paladins who become Templars usually do so by ruling effectively without being unduly sullied by the blight of politics, warfare, or scandal – getting more by doing less, as it were.

On the other side of the political structure, the Hann’ari is no less pervasive in Rhondian civic life, however its role is far less ‘hands-on’. Beneath the Steward are two Lesser Stewards who hold dominion over the northern and southern regions of Rhond, respectively. Though only two among dozens of Lesser Stewards scattered throughout the world, the Lesser Stewards of Rhond are afforded a special place at the right and left hand of the Steward himself as those closest to Hann’s holy sites. Beneath these two is a network of priests and abbots who are in charge of organizing and guiding the spiritual lives of the common people and the monks, respectively. In practice, the priests have very little political power at this level – they cannot pass laws, they cannot dispute the secular authority of the paladin, they cannot collect taxes or tithes – but their control over the spiritual and theological teachings of the region is absolute. Therefore, while a priest may not take direct action against and unpopular paladin or templar, he may preach against the evils of the paladin’s laws to the people who, being good Hannites, may take up arms to depose him. The possibility of uprisings is very real in Rhond, and every paladin is sure to have a close working relationship with the priests who control the hearts and minds of the people. No matter how glorious a paladin’s castle may be or how righteous he appears, the people will always say that the priests are the ones who know best. Their will is the will of Hann, which is perfect and incorruptible. The priests do not, after all, sully themselves with the sinful practices of taxation and politics and war, preferring to approach enlightenment through peaceful and sympathetic means. Certainly they are all part of the same system, but the templars and their paladins are and always will be lesser engines in that system in the eyes of the faithful. Fortunately for the priesthood, this has beneficial effects for their chain of command. The central authority of the Lesser Stewards in religious matters is swift and absolute and, while the taxes and tithes may be choked with disorganization, new copies of the Book of Kroth and the Annals of Hann are efficiently distributed to every parish on a regular basis.

Advancement through the Rhondian political structure is done via a voting process known as ‘the Calling.’ Any time an official retires or dies, be it a priest, templar, paladin, or whatever, the former official’s peers get together and select by unanimous vote a new candidate into office. This can be any male Rhondian citizen who doesn’t currently hold an office higher than the one up for grabs, and numerous times through history humble farmers or woodsmen have been called into service as no less than templars or even Steward. The important thing for the Calling is for the most holy, righteous, and capable man to get the job, no matter what they do now. Though it is technically possible to turn down a position, it is rarely done, as the Calling is seen as the will of Hann as much as the will of his servants. Being a patriarchal organization, women are not allowed to hold office within the Hannite Church, though they are employed by paladins as civic authorities, tax collectors, constables, and other positions.

The Rhondian military, such as it is, is maintained by the Templars. Compared with its neighbors, Illin and Veris, the Rhondian Holy Army is tiny, maintaining a force of less than 8,000 trained soldiers to protect the entire country. These armies are made up of those men in the service of the various paladins throughout the land as well as a small group of militant monastic sects. Despite the heroics of certain Verisi and Galaspiner mercenary companied during the Illini wars, there are absolutely no mercenaries employed by Rhond or the Hannite church, as the business of taking money to make war on others is considered an evil of the highest caliber. The Holy Army is solely defensive in nature, and Rhond has rarely expressed any wish to expand its territory or attack another nation at all, not even during the Hannite Wars (where most of the armies in the field were from other nations sent to defend Rhond). It took a foreigner – Conrad Varner – to get them to adopt a more belligerent strategy during the Illini Wars, and it took him so long to do so the war was nearly lost. Still, the small size and non-belligerent nature of Rhond’s standing military belies both the nation’s defensive capabilities. In times of trouble, the Holy Army exists more as a stumbling block than the force that will actually win the war. While the Holy Army delays the invaders, the templars open their armories and proceed to levy troops from the peasant population itself. Unlike other countries, where levying troops can be a tiresome and awkward business as the peasants seek to evade the draft, in Rhond it is not unusual for every single man of fighting age (and many women) to volunteer and line up outside the templar or paladin’s fortress to be given a spear, helmet, and shield and sent off to fight. Though untrained and under-equipped, this unparalleled levying ability means that Rhond can field a force of 100,000 or more in a matter of weeks or even days, which is enough to give even the most brazen invaders pause. Varner himself has always cited the courage of the Rhondian citizens as the one and only reason the Kalsaaris failed to win the war (and has said so over Galaspiner howls of protest in the process). Despite this power, Rhond seeks to avoid conflict as much as possible, and has remained historically neutral through most regional conflicts.

This neutrality is also misleading, for the Rhondians, for all their Hannite faith, are not necessarily peaceful people. Frequent civil struggles and small religious wars are a theme in Rhondian history. There are always those who would interpret the teachings of the Church and the will of Hann in ways not amenable to the established dogma of the Church. Many times it is frustrated templars seeking to expose the hypocrisy or ineffectuality of the Church, or perhaps disillusioned or otherwise dissenting priests within the Hann’ari hierarchy. Greatest, and most destructive, of these religious disputes are those who appear claiming to be Hann Returned—a claim that, if true, would drastically upset not only Rhondian but Alliance politics as a whole. These uprisings and heresies are brutally crushed by the templars and paladins still faithful to the Steward, and the fighting is typically brief, if bloody. The punishment for starting such a religious uprising or preaching heretical beliefs is burning at the stake and, no matter who wins the struggle, the public squares and courtyards of Rhondian villages and castles are filled with blackened stakes, the smell of cooked flesh, and dark smoke for days or even months to come.

 

Lands and Points of Interest

The Theocracy extends from the Hannor River in the West to the edge of the Western Wastes in the east, and from the outskirts of the Swamps of Vair in the south to the Sea of Syrin in the north. This particular area of land is both fertile and mild in temperature, with an extended growing season and plentiful water for irrigation. The western portions of Rhond are heavily wooded, being in outer regions of the great Ahrn Forest that sweeps northwest into Veris. In addition to the lumber the forest provides, citrus orchards are numerous and prosperous here, and the Rhondian orange and lemon crops are the nation’s chief export. The further east one goes, the more arid the climate becomes until, finally, the eastern border of Rhond is a dusty and rocky area whose only economic worth lies in its quarries and livestock such as sheep, horses, and camels. Central to northern Rhond is heavily cultivated, growing rice in the south near the swamps and gradually shifting to corn, wheat, and barley to the north. The Artavi Mountains, roughly separating eastern from western Rhond, have a number of prosperous mines and even support some hardier crops in their foothills.

The Hannor River acts as the commercial lifeline of the Theocracy, and it is here that the majority of large cities and towns can be found. Running alongside the river is the Pilgrim’s Road, that journeys south along the swamps to Hurn and the Pool of Dawn. While still within Rhond’s borders, the road is a well-maintained highway that is covered by inns, taverns, and marketplaces seeking to make a few honest marks off the many pilgrims making their way through the holy lands. This is also where most of Rhond’s farmers bring their crops to ship north to the capital, and prudent merchants will frequently make a pilgrimage of their own to purchase the citrus fruits and plentiful grains at discount prices before shipping it overseas themselves.

Rhond is a densely populated, fairly wealthy, and civilized area of land for a country south of the Syrin, and it is, by far, the most visited of the three southern Alliance nations. For those who are devotees of the Hannite faith, the shrines, cathedrals, temples, and monasteries of Rhond are popular pilgrimage destinations. It was here, during the dark age of the Warlock Kings, that Hann first re-appeared to the human race and sought to establish a just Church in his name. The Stewards, in secret and later in the open, have sought to glorify their savior’s name ever since. Artifacts supposedly touched or belonging to Hann are at the center of dozens of holy sites throughout the Theocracy, and the historic places where some of the Annals of Hann were said to take place are, today, accompanied by the grandest places of worship ever constructed. Of course, one can hardly go a mile in Rhond without coming across a shrine or monument, but, then, it is well known that Hann’s very blood was spilled across the soil of this land and, in a very real sense, his spirit everywhere. This is a land built to the glory of humanity and its god, and it very much looks the part.

Still, for all that is holy in this land, the bones of what once was very evil still smolder in its darkest corners. The Warlock Kings of ancient times ruled here for ages, and many destructive wars were fought on this very soil. Even today, the crumbling spires of long-forgotten strongholds can be seen poking above the tree line in the deep forests, and farmers routinely discover ancient artifacts when tilling their fields. The Church is very serious about keeping these sites and these wicked items out of the hands of the imprudent, greedy, and ambitious, and treasure hunters heading here are likely to find a very rude welcome from the local authorities. Paradoxically, thanks to the templars’ vigilance against looters, this means that Rhond is home to some of the best preserved Warlock-age sites in the world, and it is becoming increasingly difficult to keep the fortune seekers out. Fortunately, the hazards afforded by the sites themselves have rendered the success rate of such adventurers pretty near to zero.

The City of Rhond: Reputedly the most ancient city in existence, Rhond is certainly among the most beautiful. Situated on a broad peninsula jutting into the turquoise waters Gulf of Hann and along side the mouth of the mighty Hannor River, Rhond is a paradise of palm trees, white beaches, and gorgeous, lime-stone paved streets. In the bright sunlight of a summer’s day, the entire city gleams like a diamond along the coast and the thousands of canopies and awnings mounted along the waterfront buildings seem like flocks of rainbow colored birds pruning on the pristine shore.

Rhond is home to approximately 450,000 people, but every spring that population surges to near double that number as hordes of pilgrims descend upon the city for the Festival of Arrival, where the entire city breaks into an unparalleled number of parties, parades, fairs, and religious ceremonies. No stranger to visitors from all over the world, Rhond is filled with inns, boarding houses, hostels, and special ‘pilgrim camps’ where travelers are welcome to stay (for a price, of course). Furthermore, Rhond’s restaurants and taverns are without parallel in the West for the quality of their cuisine. On the downside, those looking for a more racy brand of fun will find Rhond to be an inhospitable port. The crackdown on ‘immoral behavior’ by the Church has virtually eliminated the brothels, fighting arenas, and gambling houses in the city, and the local city watch is ruthless and effective at keeping criminals under control. The public stocks are continually full of minor offenders and the prison of Rhond – the feared Stone of Perdition – lurks like a desiccated skull on the northern horizon, a mute warning to those who would cross the law one too many times. Sentences there are seldom for any period less than twenty years and reputably no one has lived longer than five.

Unlike most cities in the West, Rhond is not divided into discernible sections. The Great Temple of Hann and its attached administrative buildings occupy most of the central city and the enormous domes and steeples of the temple are among the largest structures ever built by man. Circling the Great Temple and running down the center of the entire peninsula are the public gardens. Filled with quiet fountains and serene flora, the gardens are a place for the faithful to find refuge from the bustle of city life and meditate in their free time. They are open all day but, like the rest of the city, they close for curfew shortly after sundown.

Poverty is a serious issue in Rhond and the poor are evident all over the city. Though the Church maintains numerous poor houses and orphanages to accommodate the disenfranchised, the city’s lack of segmentation means that the ‘rabble’ can be found almost anywhere in town. Though this can be disconcerting to dignified guests from places like Akral or Eretheria, where the poor are kept in their place, it is calmly accepted by the locals, who see them as a chance to do good to their brother men in the form of alms. Indeed, Rhond can be a beggar’s paradise, and it is rumored that some unscrupulous caitiffs have even gone so far as to feign homelessness while the alms they receive have gone so far as to purchase them a house, clothes, and more.

Despite the Arcanostrum’s steadily cooling relationship with Rhond, spacious and beautiful grounds were deeded to Saldor in more cordial times. Known as ‘Wizard’s Point,’ the very tip of the Rhondian peninsula is home to a four-hundred foot tower of pure mageglass and enchanted violet stone which, in addition to serving as a beacon for ships at night, is rumored to be part of the city’s maritime defenses. Locals, echoing their Church’s attitude towards the proliferation of sorcery among the common population, have a variety of cruel rumors of what the magi within do to those poor unfortunates who wind up there. If there is any truth to these rumors, it is not evident from without.

Besides Wizard’s Point, Rhond has only one defensive fortification of note, that being a modest twenty foot stone wall with attached barracks that blocks off the base of the peninsula. Though structurally sound and adequately manned, its defenses are far inferior to those of most capital cities, and popular myth among the Alliance nations states that this is intentional. Rhond, they say, would sooner surrender to an invader than risk having their precious city damaged. If the wall is easy for an invader to breach, so too is it easy to re-breach when retaking the city.

 

Culture and People

Rhondians are lusty, colorful, and passionate people who both work hard and play hard. Known for fiery tempers, strong opinions, and undying loyalty, they are a people that are both exciting and difficult to get along with, but in either case a visitor is sure to get a good story out of it. They are popular among the other nations of the West, as Rhondian good cheer and exuberance are welcomed by the well-to-do and downtrodden alike.

The key word in Rhondian life is passion, as Rhondians are a culture of true believers. They throw their heart and soul into every enterprise, be it prayer, war, romance, or even just taking a nap. Rhondian parties are loud, raucous affairs, their funerals are unbelievably sad, and their dances are scandalously sensual. They live for the moment, stick closely to their honor and their families, and never give less than 110%. All this, of course, makes Rhond sound like an exhausting place, but nothing could be further from the truth. Rhondians believe in living a good life, not living life to be good. Unlike Galaspiners or Saldorians, Rhondians see idleness, relaxation, and meditation as important to life as running around building things, learning things, or selling things. So, while a Rhondian may be dragging you by the arm to a party one night, they will be sleeping late and refusing to go out the following day – remember, they give everything 110%, even laziness.

The two centers of Rhondian life are the family and the Church, though not necessarily in that order. Rhondian families are more than just one’s parents and siblings, but everyone who is even remotely related to you, from your great, great uncles to your third cousins and their wives and children. Every Ozdai’s Feast and every Hearth Festival in Rhond finds thousands of Rhondians returning to their ancestral homes to attend what amounts to a bi-annual family reunion. There, news is exchanged, gifts are given, immense quantities of food is consumed, and business is conducted between distant relatives. There is a saying in Rhond that goes “A business in the family is a family business.” Just about everybody in Rhond works, plays, and lives their lives in the context of their extended family. There is almost no such thing as an entrepreneur here, since to start one’s own enterprise is to say to your family that what they’re doing isn’t good enough for you – a grave insult. Just about the only exception to the ‘staying in the family’ rule is the Church. The Church of Hann is revered by all Rhondians, and joining its ranks, whether to be come a templar, monk, or priest, is an honor to the family. By the same token, leaving or being expelled from the Church is a grave dishonor, and many Rhondians who have faced such a fate have found them not only disavowed by the Church but also disowned by their own kin.

It is important to note that, though all Rhondians believe in the guidance of Hann and expect his return, and all Rhondians treat the Church with the utmost reverence, their faith is not a blind one. More than one Illini visitor has been scandalized to hear open criticism of the Church’s policies in Rhondian taverns and town squares – and not the kind of criticism whispered in doorways or behind backs, mind you, but open, yell-in-your-face criticism, full of insults, tirades, arguments, and even the occasional fistfight. Every Rhondian adult has very definite opinions about various Church policies, including everything from a priest’s attire to various interpretations of the Book of Kroth and the Annals of Hann themselves. Of course, this critical opinion of the Church does have limits beyond which are considered heresy (which all Rhondians fear and oppose), but the exact nature of those limits are difficult for a foreigner to comprehend. Calling the Steward himself a witless fool or a illiterate bastard can be just fine, but claiming a single phrase in the Book of Kroth is ‘exaggerated’ can be enough to put the speaker and his entire family in the flames. On the whole, foreigners try very hard not to get into religious discussions with Rhondians, as one can never tell when one has crossed the line from debate into grave insult.

For the uncertain, the best way to gauge a Rhondian is still through his family reputation. Ancestry is almost as important here as it is in Akral or even Eretheria, but for different reasons. Whereas those others see family as a platform for political and social influence, for the Rhondian it is an indication of their character. The patriarch of any given family is the moral compass of the whole, and what he declares as acceptable to him is acceptable to all. These traditions are passed down from generation to generation, and it is rare for anyone – even following patriarchs – to go against the tradition. Every Rhondian carries the reputation of their family with them wherever they go, and their actions are a direct reflection on the quality of their parentage. It is for this reason that many Rhondians will fail to let even the tiniest social transgressions or personal insults slide, for to accept them is to accept an insult to all of that person’s relatives, as well. In general, if one is respectful of a Rhondian, the Rhondian will reciprocate in kind by showing respect to you and your family. That is, of course, unless you cross the line. Though honor and decorum are valued among the natives of Rhond, honesty and integrity are valued much more. If someone is acting in a shameful manner, the Rhondian will be certain to let them know about it and, most likely, attempt to cure them of their evil ways with Galaspiner-like tenacity. There is nothing worse (or better, depending on your point of view) and a Rhondian friend who thinks you are making a mistake and is trying to help you. They will argue until the sun stops shining and they will pester you until your hair falls out before they will allow you to sully your name and the names of your fathers before you – tooka-addicts beware.

Beyond their passion for moral rectitude, however, is also the Rhondians’ love for food. Having the advantage of being in an area of immense fertility coupled by its proximity to the crops of its Western neighbors and access to Kalsaari trade routes, the diet of an average Rhondian is varied and plentiful. Kalsaari spices are mixed with Eddon beef and local rice and fruit to make delicacies touted by all the most discriminating palates in the West. Dishes prepared here are spicy and exotic when compared to much of the diet of the West, and to a visiting Northon the sheer variety of flavors is enough to overload their senses. Food is of great importance to any self-respecting Rhondian, and every one of them has particular recipes that are their family secret or personal specialties. Meals are enormous affairs, even among the peasantry, and frequently involve three to five courses, and the arrival of guests or local holidays can give rise to feasting that can last up to three days. Fortunately for the Rhondians, food is both plentiful and cheaply available to all but the most poor, and the Church is very willing to feed those who are in need.

 

Recent History

While Illin was nearly destroyed by the Kalsaari invasion of twenty-seven years ago and it’s name graces the historical accounts of the war, most of the biggest and most pivotal battles of the war were fought on Rhondian soil. The great southern city of Via Durano was conquered by the Kalsaari Legions quickly, and the desert outposts along the Rhondian border were easily toppled. The city of Otove, along the Hannor River, was besieged, and the Duke of Galaspin, fighting in Illin, had his supply routes along the Old South Road to Rhond itself. It was here, in a small mountain town called Atrisia, that Conrad Varner earned fame and glory by charging from the gates in a reckless sally against a legion of Kalsaari heavy infantry and, in that one move, changed the momentum of the war. Today, war monuments can be found in every Rhondian graveyard, and veterans of the war populate every town and village. The bitterness towards the Kalsaaris is almost undiminished here, which has had an adverse affect on Rhondian cooking. Anything imported from Kalsaar has a heavy tariff applied to it, and so locals have made due by substituting some ingredients with local herbs. The results are spotty, and many an older Rhondian laments the forgotten, heady flavors of saffron and curry.

On a more recent and significant level, the dramatic increase in sorcerous materials in the past decades has driven a wedge between Rhond and the richer northern countries of the West. By relaxing the controls on sorcerous materials and the practices of alchemists, thaumaturges, warlocks, and the like, the Church has seen its power shrink. Now, rather than going to a Hannite Church for sorcerous healing from the local priest (and the attendant donations and prayers needed to secure such a ritual), people can just buy illbane powder or bloodpatch elixirs from their local alchemist without the attendant ritualistic folderol. Attendance to Hannite churches in the northern nations of the West is down significantly, and Rhond feels threatened. It is a conservative power, clinging to its traditions as many of its neighbors move on. Though not in serious danger of isolating itself as of yet, the secularization of life in the West could potentially lead to a time where Rhond is left behind.

Feces and Fans

It's time to blow up the blue aliens' magic tree, everybody. Watch out for arrows, flying lizards, and the power of love.

It’s time to blow up the blue aliens’ magic tree, everybody. Watch out for arrows, flying lizards, and the power of love.

So, I’m getting towards the very last act of All That Glitters, my sequel to The Oldest Trick (which is due out next year from Harper Voyager). For those of you who haven’t written a novel (or perhaps those of you who haven’t written one all the way through yet), the end is an unusual and difficult time. See, you’ve spent all this time working in the exposition, introducing the conflict, raising the stakes, and suddenly there you are: the end. This is where all the birds come home to roost. This is where the whole thing is supposed to explode. We have to reach the climax, here – no more noodling around. Get it done.

This can be a surprisingly complicated affair.

The funny thing is that I spend most of my time daydreaming about the climax – about how awesome it will be, the cool pithy one-liners I’ll have Tyvian say, the things I’m going to have explode, and so on. When I finally get there, though, everything seems to be in the wrong place. I mean, sure, I’ve set the stage for all the right stuff to happen, but assembling it so it actually happens is tough. It’s like putting together a jigsaw puzzle, but the puzzle pieces are scattered throughout 200-some-odd pages of text and it’s up to your sketchy notes and foggy memory to track them all down. If you put it together wrong, well…remember when you and your dad spent an entire Sunday afternoon building that volcano that was supposed to explode lava and stuff? Remember how you felt when you got it to school and everybody crowded around in breathless anticipation and then nothing happened? Yeah, it’s kinda like that.

I think the most about the endings of my books. Beginnings are pretty easy, middles are my honeymoon period, and then comes the end. That’s where I sit, staring at the computer screen, trying to figure out how to manage the explosions in just such a way that they remain sensible and engaging rather than simply crass and boring. The problem doesn’t just apply to exterior conflicts, either – there are those emotional explosions to manage, too, which are probably more important. We’re getting to the point where the guy is going to have to kiss the girl, to where the young man is going to have to mature into adulthood, to where the hero is going to have to have his moment of epiphany – again, hard to manage. Go too far one way or another and you break the illusion; the reader sits back and sneers ‘that would never happen that way.’ Booo! Bummer!

So, back into the fray. The precise path to the end will become clear soon, I’m sure. For now, I’ve got to figure out how Character X is going to steal that kiss from Character Y without it being creepy. As you may imagine, I don’t exactly have a long history of being a masterful kiss-stealer (just ask my wife), so this is proving challenging. Anyway, be seeing you all on the other side.

Or when I can’t stand all the thinking and I come crawling back to blog-land for a breather. Whichever comes first.

 

Here It Is: The Big News!

Some of you may remember when I hinted something big is in the works for me way back in March. Well, I’ve finally been given clearance to talk about it:

I have been offered, and have accepted, a 3-book deal with HarperVoyager to publish The Oldest Trick, my novel set in my fantasy world of Alandar and featuring Tyvian Reldamar. A little blurb about the book:

Almost three decades ago, the Battle of Calassa ended the ambitions of the wizard-dictator Banric Sahand. The war changed the world; sorcery, once the exclusive province of the Arcanostrum of Saldor, began to filter its way out into the hands of the common people. Though tightly regulated, the harnessing of the High Arts brought about a renaissance of practical magecraft, enhancing everything from transportation to health to communication, not to mention crime.

Enter Tyvian Reldamar — Arcanostrum drop-out, smuggler, and impeccable dresser. He’s just been betrayed by his longtime partner (naturally) and left for dead in a freezing river (as is customary). The one hiccup is this: some fool has affixed a magical ring to his finger that won’t let him ‘do evil’, whatever that means. To get even, Tyvian will have to use every dirty trick in the book to combat this ridiculous magical albatross, all the while drawing himself deeper and deeper into a vast conspiracy at the center of which is none other than old Banric Sahand himself. Faced with enemies on all sides and only the grubbiest of allies beside him, Tyvian will discover (with the ring’s help) that maybe—just maybe—he isn’t quite the evil villain he’s always thought himself to be.

The first book – The Oldest Trick – is to be serialized into two volumes (parts 1 and 2) while the third book, tentatively titled All That Glitters, will track Tyvian’s continuing adventures. Release for part one will likely be in February, 2015. This is a digital-only release with only a limited print run associated with the books, but it is extremely exciting for me and the culmination of a life-long dream and ambition. My heartfelt thanks to the good folks over at Harper Voyager for giving me this opportunity.

Here is a copy of the press release:

Voyager Impulse Press release

(not to quibble, but I won second place in the Writers of the Future. I mean, I still won, but they make it sound like I won the whole enchilada, which isn’t strictly true. This makes for better marketing copy, though, so far be it from me to complain!)

Thanks to all of you out there who have encouraged me, listened to me, and been kind enough to read what I’ve written over the years. Now, if you’ll just follow me a bit further, I promise to take us on an adventure we won’t soon forget.

P.S.: I will be certain to make lots and LOTS of noise about this when it is released, so don’t worry about missing it. Watch this space!

Alandar: The Principality of Illin

Caught between the Alliance and the Kalsaari Empire, Illin is a place where cultures clash and history has marked the land in blood and ruins. Exotic and dangerous, the Principality of Illin is one of the poorer and weaker states in the Alliance, with most of its efforts placed in maintaining what little land it has from the encroachments of the hobs to the south or the ever-threatening Kalsaari Empire to the southeast. Relying heavily on the support of its neighbors, especially since the end of the war that bears its name three decades ago, Illin is as much of a crossroads in the south as Galaspin or Freegate is in the north. The difference, however, lies in tone. Whereas Galaspin is bright, loud, and straightforward in both policy and people, Illin is a city of dark mysteries, dangerous secrets, and long nights. Lock your doors and bar your windows, for in Illin your enemies never sleep.

 

Political Structure

 

Illin is ruled by its Prince, who controls all aspects of the government. As Illin has relatively little territory, the Prince is able to achieve a level of control here that exceeds its other autocratic neighbors, such as Veris or Ihyn. The eyes of the Prince are everywhere, and his Black Guard is never far away, and as such the common citizenry are careful to obey their ruler’s every whim, lest they be dragged off to the foul dungeons below the city, never to be seen again.

In Illin, the military and the government are one and the same. The Prince acts as leading general of Illin’s not-inconsiderable armed forces, known as the Black Guard. Beneath him are three Lord Commanders – of the City, Border, and Sea, respectively – and beneath them are a series of Knight Captains, each of whom command a company of soldiers. Though small when compared with the armies of Akral or Eddon, Illin has the largest army in the Alliance in proportion to the size of its population. It is estimated that one in every ten Illini is a soldier or agent of the Prince in some capacity. The Prince issues laws and his Black Guard enforces them with much dispatch. Unlike the more ‘civilized’ nations of the Alliance, Illin’s ‘legal system’ borrows a page from its Kalsaari neighbors in that there is no legal system. There are no trials, no appeals, no delays in the execution of a criminal’s sentence. Punishments are likewise harsh. Those accused of murder will be executed as soon as they are caught, while thieves or violent criminals will be relieved of their right arm in short order. The ‘lucky’ ones are taken to the Prince’s dungeons, a place from which very few prisoners ever emerge alive.

Constantly wary of political assassination, uprising, or invasion, Princes of Illin have had a reputation for being harsh and uncompromising rulers. However, this ruthlessness was tempered in recent centuries by the establishment of the Alliance, which led to the posting of a company of Defenders and a Magetower to the Principality. Though few in number, the Defenders represent a political and military power far greater than that of Illin – a power which, if angered, could very well withdraw its support and, therefore, endanger Illin’s very existence. Thanks to this, a constant game of cat-and-mouse is played between the Prince’s thugs and the noble Defenders as the one seeks to appear benevolent while still maintaining control over the people while the other is constantly seeking to bring justice to the region. During the brief (and unusual) reign of Prince Landar the Holy, the Defenders and the Black Guard worked seamlessly together to save the population from the Kalsaari occupation, but this is merely the exception that has proven the rule. Landar’s successors have been a return to the brutality of the pre-war age, arguably becoming even more corrupt and autocratic in the face of reconstruction. The result of this has been that fewer and fewer ‘good’ men and women are finding employment with the Prince and, instead, joining the Defenders. This has made the formerly imposing but incorruptible Black Guard into a nest of bullies, sadists, and thieves who will accept bribes, oppress the people, and overall hasten the decay of the system while the Defenders have ostensibly become the ‘good guys,’ fighting for the people and defending them, not from exterior threats, but from their own government. All this places the Princes (there have been six in the past thirty years) in a very awkward situation, as economic support from the Alliance is necessary to support the lifestyle they are used to, but any exercise of their power using their designated agents risks alienating their own patrons.

Also of concern for the Prince is the role of mages in his city-state. Traditionally, Illini magi were appointed to high-ranking positions in the military – the equivalent to the nobility in other nations, complete with hereditary titles. This was a practice that the Arcanostrum disapproved of strongly, as magi of any power were forbidden from holding political office according to the decree of the earliest Keepers. After the Treaty of Syrin, the Arcanostrum required Illin to rescind any titles granted to a staff-bearing magi. Unfortunately, thanks to the unique structure of the city of Illin itself (see below), magi were critical to maintain the city’s operation. As a result, Illin has become even more dependent on exterior aid, a fact which the princes of the last two centuries have regretted bitterly and even Landar the Holy himself was said to object to.

Of course, the entire structure of Illini politics is based around the military for one reason and one reason only: the Kalsaari Empire. The present Illini government was established some 1400 years ago after the conclusion of the Hannite Wars, where the Kalsaari Empire was driven out of Illin by Eddonish troops. Structured as a buffer state more than anything else, it was Illin’s purpose to keep the Kalsaaris from invading the west ever again. In this regard, it did its job well until it folded in the face of Kalsaari attack thirty years ago.  Illin wasn’t built to be a smoothly functioning governmental institution as much as it was built to be an efficient militocracy, with the end result being a crippled, paranoid, and oppressive regime poised on the edge of a warzone. This, once it had decayed to a certain point, was easy for the Kalsaari Legions to topple. It took Landar the Holy to put the country back together, but since his disappearance the country has slipped once more into its old habits.

 

Land and Points of Interest

 

I see this as an Illini outpost at dusk. Click to see original image.

I see this as an Illini outpost at dusk. Click to see original image.

Situated along the southeastern coast of the Sea of Syrin, the lands of Illin are rocky, dry, and heavily guarded. Only 100 miles deep at its widest point, it is difficult to be more than ten miles from an armed post, fortress, or castle of some sort. If there is one thing the arid land of Illin has in excess, it is quarries, and the white limestone facades of Illini guard towers are both numerous and imposing. Along the nation’s border with the trackless sands of the Western Wastes, such towers could once be seen for miles, occurring at regular intervals, welcoming visitors to Alliance territory and warning away would-be despoilers. Now, one is largely welcomed by the hollowed-out bones of their ruins – a reminder of the wrath of the Kalsaari Legions.

The sandy soil of most of Illin doesn’t sustain much more than patches of tough sand grass and the occasional bush or gaunt tree. The weather here is almost universally dry and hot, with the winters tending to be short and with very little precipitation of any kind. Winds blowing in off the Gulf of Hann keep the coast significantly cooler than the inland areas, and some 75% of the population makes its home there, with the next 20% living along the Tassad River and the last bit being scattered among the rocky wildernesses of the inland areas.

Apart from the quarries already mentioned, which are rich in both limestone, sandstone, and the quasi-magical lodestone, Illin has little in the way of viable products or industry. Along the coast, Illinians fish for their living and what few live inland make their living off of herding goats and sheep. Only in the floodwaters of the Tassad river is there any degree of agriculture, and that is largely focused on the production of tooka leaf—a plant whose leaves, when dried, make a potent narcotic. This, along with the stone, comprises the bulk of Illin’s exported goods and, while certainly found all over the world, it is frowned upon in most good society in the West as a disgusting, godless, and indulgent practice.

If there is one thing that makes the lands of Illin famous, it is the ruins. This region of the world has been the site of so many ancient wars, that ruined and half-ruined fortresses abound. Most of Illin’s current defensive fortifications are built on the remains of some ancient castle, and many villages are constructed in or around the remainder of a wall or keep. Some of these remnants date as far back as the Mage Wars, though almost none of them retain any riches or artifacts from ages past, having long since been looted by conquering armies, wandering bandits, and opportunistic travelers. Still, if one wanders beyond the borders of Illin itself and into the Wastes, it is still possible to find untold riches hidden in the secret vaults of long-toppled citadels. Of course, transporting those riches back into Illin may prove difficult – many Black Guard officers have been known to amass collections of such treasure for the purpose of ‘preserving history.’ It is no doubt due to their civic conscience and commitment to their cultural heritage that they seem to be paid much better than an average officer.

The City of Illin: Once universally considered to be one of the great Wonders of the World, the city of Illin, also known as the Dreaming City, is still a sight that defies logic. Separated into two (once three) sections known as ‘partitions,’ Illin is the only city in the world where a third of the city’s area floats in the air a full thousand feet above the steeples and roofs of the buildings restricted to the ground. Engineered by the magi of the Arcanostrum shortly after its the Hannite Wars, the floating partitions of Illin represent only the most obvious effect of the terrific magical forces pulsing through the city streets that give this place its equally wondrous and horrifying reputation.

The two Partitions are known as the Undercity and the Crecent. The Undercity includes everything that actually rests on the ground, and makes up about 2/3 of Illin’s total area and is home to most of the city’s 600,000 inhabitants. It is a complete and functioning metropolis entirely on its own, with its own barracks, governmental institutions, infrastructure and so on. No walls encircle Illin, but the Tassad River empties into the Syrin along the city’s northeast and southwestern edges while the Syrin itself covers the Undercity’s northwestern border, leaving the southeast only approach to the city by land, and only then after crossing the fortified Illin Bridge to the south. Furthermore, the Crescent floats over the southeastern portions of the Undercity, allowing it to more easily bring its destructive magical defenses to bear. Thanks to the Crescent, half of the Undercity is bathed in shadow at all times as the floating partition blocks the sunlight. The narrow, winding streets of the Undercity, originally designed for defense, take on a more sinister appearance in the permanent gloom, especially when considering there are large portions of the city that remain in ruins after the occupation and liberation of the city during the Illini War. It is in these dark parts of the city that most of Illin’s extensive criminal underworld conducts its business alongside shadowing tooka dens and sinister, black market talismongers. It is said that there are more than five different criminal syndicates operating in Illin today, and their bloody turf wars are a constant trouble for the Black Guard. On the sunnier side of the Undercity are most of the more well-to-do homes of the merchant classes as well as the docks and warehousing facilities of Illin’s extensive port district. Here the Black Guard keep the peace with an uncompromising hand, and it is this part of Illin that most visitors see upon their visit and here that they are advised to remain.

Six hundred feet above the Undercity, on a quarter-moon shaped platform of stone and mageglass, rests the area of city known as ‘the Crescent.’ About three miles long and a two thirds of a mile wide at its widest point, the streets of the Crescent are wide, clean, and beautiful. Only the richest merchants and most respected of Illini society are privileged to own the spacious and airy mageglass palaces that line the Crescent’s streets, and it is here that Illin’s university, Hannite cathedral, library, and magetowers can be found, as well as the quarters for the majority of the city’s Defenders of the Balance. Bathing in the sunlight and the airy breezes blown in from the sea, the Crescent is a paradise floating above a dark, hellish pit. Magic enhances the gardens that form every intersection, and conjurers have created fountains that never run dry, despite the lack of any natural water source—the Crescent is the pinnacle of luxury in a land not known for its riches. Still, the Crescent serves a practical purpose for all this decoration – the edges of the Crescent are affixed with nine great War Orbs, created by Arcanostrum magi in ages past. Should they be called into action, each orb is capable of throwing incredible amounts of magical destruction in the form of massive etheric deathwaves. The only time these orbs have been battle tested, the entire Kalsaari army was decimated in a single day.

In addition to these two parts, there was once a third partition, floating five hundred feet above even the Crescent, known as the High Citadel. This was the seat of the Prince himself, and it could alter its orientation over the city – a drifting sentinel. It currently rests at the bottom of the ocean, just off the coast of the city, where it fell during the liberation of the city. It is now a bleak and abandoned ruin, its towers jutting at a shallow angle above the waves, crumbling as the tides dictate – just one more dead place of many thousands that dot the land.

Transportation between the partitions is difficult, and it is rare that a resident of the Undercity ever sets foot on the Crescent. It is known that magical portals exist in the Undercity to take people directly to the Crescent, and there are a series of lifts situated on the edges of the Crescent, but these are either expensive or very dangerous (and sometimes both). Furthermore, the original connection between the two sections – the ancient Tower of Spirits  (a 1000-foot tall column that was the only structure to reach from the ground and connect with the Crescent above) – was toppled when the Kalsaari’s sacked and occupied the city during the opening stages of the Illini Wars. Once engraved with immense runes of magical power and decorated with gargoyles of both gruesome and heroic shapes, the Tower’s grandeur is now reduced to massive piles of rubble that crushed entire neighborhoods of the Undercity. Only the very base of the tower remains intact, but it has long been sealed from entry. Only once a year, on the Hearth Festival, do the Prince and the High Priest of Hann along with an select group, journey into the Tower Base under close guard. Done in the dead of night, it is said that the Prince brings gifts to placate some mighty force within the Tower Base. These gifts are carried in a mighty strongbox, larger than a man, and engraved with gold and mageglass inlay. To the rest of the city, the ruins of the Tower and its base are places of unspeakable power and terrifying evil, and the source of much of the wickedness that afflicts the Undercity. It is said that, after night falls, dark things creep out of the ruins of the old Tower to steal away the souls of the living.

It is for this reason (and others) that, after dark, everyone in Illin with a head on their shoulders is inside with the door locked. It is a known fact that demonic spirits infest the city, though there has never been any definitive evidence linking their presence with whatever dwells in the Tower Base. Demonhunters are a sought-after and daring group of professionals that walk the streets at night (or even during the day in the Dark Quarter of the Undercity) and try to hunt down particularly troublesome ghosts, demons, or spirits. A fair living is to be made in this racket, so long as you live long enough to capitalize on your earnings. Successful demonhunters have even been granted positions in the Illini military and retired with style, though this is rare. Most demonhunters either quit after a year or vanish in the night, never to be seen again. The accepted opinion among the magi and the demonhunters is that these malevolent spirits are drawn to Illin thanks to the enormous magical energies at play there, and that their presence is simply the price that must be paid for having a city in the sky.

 

Culture and People 

The people of Illin are a strange mix of Kalsaari and Western blood, making them among the more enigmatic and mistrusted peoples of the Alliance. Though they do not suffer from the scandalous reputations of the Ihynish or Verisi, the Illini are thought of a mysterious, exotic, and downright foreign by many of their neighbors. For their part, the Illini are fatalistic and dour, accepting that there is more evil in the world than they themselves can defeat. In this sense they can be seen as defeatist or pessimistic, but, if taken in another light, the Illini ability to subvert the forces of evil in order to insure their survival is nothing short of miraculous.

Life in Illin is hard, but hard in a way that does not mirror the hard, frontier lives of an Eddoner or Benethoran, for instance. While Eddon and Benethor’s enemies are clear and notably foreign to their land, Illin is a land populated by one’s enemies. An Illini is as likely to be killed by his own town guard as he is by a hob; he is in just as much danger from the demons that lurk beneath the street as the Kalsaari armies across the river. Death, evil, and danger lurk in every nook and cranny of Illin, and for a native Illini to survive, they need wits, cunning, and, more than anything, faith. Nowhere is the common populace as devoutly Hannite as in Illin. Even Rhondite religious fervor is nothing to the white-knuckled, grasping need the Illini have for spiritual protection. Here every man, woman, and child wears a Hannite talisman around their neck, and every Hannite temple is packed back-to-front every evening to offer up their thanks and prayers to Hann the Great. The Hannite church is seen as the one place where the average Illini can be safe from the dangers that surround him. In times of darkness, Hann’s light fills them and, in times of great need, Hann will protect them from the spears of their enemies. Few are the Black Guardsmen who will violate the sanctuary of a Hannite temple, and even fewer are the families that do not dedicate one of their sons or daughters to the Hannite priesthood. Religion in Illin is not a matter of politics, it is a simple matter of survival.

Outside of the church, which acts as the social hub of every community, most Illini are reticent and gloomy in mood. Unlike most of the West, foreigners are not so much welcomed as they are tolerated. To the average Illini, foreigners represent trouble, and trouble is one thing they don’t need. In a land that has long been the pawn of international politics and is the victim of a harsh and, at times, arbitrary regime, the Illini motto is most certainly mind your own business. If a problem presents itself or if trouble is brewing, most Illini will prefer not to address it straight on, but sit back and watch how it unfolds. If they can reasonably avoid the problem without risking their well-being, they will do so, but if confrontation is inevitable, they are cunning and resourceful in their method of attack. The Illini play their emotions and opinions very close to their chest, which, while it makes them appear dour and unfriendly, is merely a reflection of their innate caution. To them, the element of surprise is the best hope for victory in any situation, and it ought not be wasted through hasty or ill-advised action. Nevertheless, though they are slow to warm up, Illini value friends as much if not more than any people under the sun. They take the bonds of companionship very seriously, knowing full well that the world is full of enough enemies that a true friend should be treasured above all things save Hann himself.

Though few Illini have the luxury of free time, they are well known for their affinity for tooka and their passion for a game known as t’suul, which is very similar to dominoes. Though smoking excessively is declared as a sin by the Hannite faith, every male Illini has a tooka pipe and will smoke when the occasion permits a few hours of lounging and relaxing with friends. Every Illini tavern or inn is filled with the sweet smoke of the dream-leaf and, while Illini booze is world renowned for its poor quality, its tooka weed has no equal, not even in Kalsaar. It is in these taverns that t’suul is played among men, women, and children. A game of wits and finesse, the clacking of ivory or bone tiles can be like rain on a shingle roof on busy nights. The Illini do not gamble on t’suul—it is a game of honor, machismo, and skill, not money—but the game is used to decide disputes between friends, family, and even rivals. Since dueling is forbidden in Illin without permission of a Black Guard officer, and few Illini are willing to risk speaking to the Guard (and, hence, draw attention), t’suul is played. In a particularly grisly form of the game, used when two rivals agree to play to the death, the loser of the game is forced to ingest poison by the winner’s second. Homes and estates have been lost to the tiles of t’suul, and lives have been broken beneath the weight of its 36 rectangular tiles—it is a serious game, and it is played by a serious people.

The so-called nobility of Illin, while outwardly much different than the solemn people they rule, are not as different from the masses as they might imagine. Those in Illin who might be considered ‘noble’ are very few—limited to the Prince, his three Lord Commanders, the Magi of Illini origin, and a select group of wealthy merchant families—and, while they are far more gregarious than the peasantry, are still a clannish and self-conscious group when forced to socialize with the elegant Eretherian and Akrallian upper classes. They are intensely aware of the poor state of their small nation, and seek to compensate as best they can. Noble visitors to Illin will find themselves lavishly treated, and most people of ‘quality’ who visit are never even permitted to see the seedier, more grungy aspects of this dusty, rocky land—the lower class in particular. A house on the Crescent and a few griffon rides later, it is hoped that foreign dignitaries will totally forget the dark and squalid conditions that the Illini people suffer so bravely and without complaint year after year.

 

Current Events

Illin, once thought to be invulnerable to siege, was seized by the Kalsaaris twenty-seven years ago with sorcerous rituals of such power, the world has not seen the like since. This conquest of the Illini peninsula was the notice to the peoples of the West that the world would be, henceforward, forever changed. The harsh occupation that followed and the bloody war that ended it saw sorcery used on an industrial and military scale for the first time in millennia. Illin paid the price in blood, violence, and destruction. Prince Landar the Holy, the mercenary turned hero who unified the routed Black Guard and organized a guerilla campaign that eventually broke Kalsaar’s hold on the region, did an incredible job in the years immediately following the war to clean up and rebuild, but his sudden disappearance (and presumed death) led to his lieutenants fighting over the spoils of his legacy. Illin became even weaker than it was before the war, and the rest of the nations of the West have been forced to step in to rebuild. The Illini people are intensely bitter at the interference of foreigners, often equating their ‘assistance’ as not that much different than the treatment they received beneath Kalsaari rule. While this isn’t precisely accurate, it does paint a picture of a people who remember better days and are forced to watch their country crumble around them as the Principality falls under the rule of corrupt bully after corrupt bully.

Now, almost thirty years after the Fall of Illin, aspects of the nation show sparks of life, but the rot that caused it to collapse the first time has only grown. Only time will tell how long the Kalsaaris will wait before trying their luck again.

 

 

Alandar: The County of Ihyn

This looks a little bit like Ihyn, I think.

This looks a little bit like Ihyn, I think.

The smallest of the nations of the Alliance, the County of Ihyn rests upon the Isle of Brasori at the center of the Sea of Syrin. A nation of sailors and merchants, Ihyn has a reputation for being a theif’s paradise, where respect for the law and moral behavior take a back seat to greed, lust, and gluttony. Universally mistrusted by the other nations of the Alliance, Ihyn has a reputation for switching sides with reckless abandon during any conflict, always sailing where the wind is fairest. Still, the mercantile skills and shrewd business dealings of the Ihynish have earned them grudging respect from their fellow Alliance members, rating them just one step above the Verisi in diplomatic esteem. Wealthy, decadent, and treacherous, Ihyn has been a haven for those who dislike playing by the rules and like to live by their wits. Proceed along its docks and canals with caution.

Political Structure

Officially, the political structure of Ihyn is among the simplest in the Alliance. Being a small nation with very little actual territory, the Count of Ihyn is supreme ruler of all lands, people, and waters surrounding the Isle of Brasori. There are no knights beneath him, no viscounts to dispute his edicts, no council of advisors to temper his moods—the Count is in complete control. Beneath him are a series of civic posts — constables, judges, tax collectors, etc. — and the military, which consists of a very small force of county guards and an enormous navy. The title of Count is hereditary, passing to the eldest child of the Count upon his death or premature retirement. Should no heir be apparent, one is named by the Count prior to his death. It is a simple, elegant, and efficient system for a small territory.

Unfortunately, Ihyn hasn’t functioned in this way ever since the Akrallian Wars led to the assassination of Count Otho Boorth — the last of the strong Counts of Ihyn. Since that time, the Counts have been little more than puppets for one faction or another within the city of Ihyn itself, being consistently bribed to look the other way or simply assassinated when they proved intractable. The most powerful of these factions (and the one that currently holds the Count’s leash) is the Thieves’ Guild, also known as the Smiling Barbers or simply ‘Barbs’ by those in the know. The Barbs, through the Count, control almost every aspect of city life in Ihyn, from the docks to the palace and back again. Their only competition comes from several wealthy merchant families that make their homes on the island. Controlling the balance of the nation’s merchant fleet, these families (also known as ‘cartels’) run both the countryside they live in and regulate the flow of money that moves into and out of the city itself. In an almost constant state of silent war with the Barbs, these families maintain fortified estates and private armies to keep themselves safe from the famed ‘Smiler’s Mark’ — a bloody smile in the form of an ear-to-ear throat slash that is a Barb assassin’s trademark.

Corruption is rampant in every level of Ihynish politics, and anyone with a large purse will find it very easy to do whatever they want on the island, making it similar to Freegate, only more criminal (if that is possible). Crime has become so commonplace that the Count has had to assign parties to dredge the harbor for bodies every morning. Once, centuries ago, Ihyn attracted a large number of Eretherians, Saldorians, and Akrallians who would vacation on the scenic island, but the clientele has changed significantly since then, thanks in large part to the failure on the part of the Counts to do anything about the thieves, criminals, and plutocrats who run everything.

If one has money in Ihyn, one can find life here to be highly agreeable — a large bank account is equivalent to a knighthood here — but the poor are downtrodden and oppressed, forced to pay extortion money to keep their businesses open are terrified for their very lives should the Barbs take particular notice of them. It is interesting to note that Ihyn is the only place in the Alliance where slaves are sold openly at market and where slave ownership, though technically illegal, is commonplace.

 

Land and Points of Interest

 

The Isle of Brasori is eighty miles from north to south, and only about twenty miles wide at its widest point. The terrain is rocky and thickly wooded, with the only indigenous crops being grapes, pears, and oranges. Most of the population lives along the island’s long, rocky coastline, where there are plenty of deep inlets and harbors to allow sizable fishing fleets to come and go. Fish is the staple food of all Ihynish, with the only other meat readily available for consumption originating from the flocks of goats that are herded inland along the stony ridges of Brasori’s low, central mountain range.

The climate of Ihyn is mild and warm, with moderate rainfall occurring all year long. Every fall and winter the island is battered by a series of tropical storms that brew in the east near the Needle and rage westwards, with one or two hurricanes being among them. These storms, though rare, cause enormous damage to coastal settlements from which it sometimes takes years to fully recover. By and large, however, the weather on Ihyn is warm, peaceful, and nurturing — a paradise of palm trees and crystal-clear water.

Of particular interest in Ihyn, on both Brasori itself and the several smaller islands over which Ihyn practices eminent domain, are the rumors and legends of ancient ruins dating back to the time of Rahdnost the Undying, greatest of the Warlock Kings. It is a commonly held belief that Ghola — the unholy capital of that dark monarch — once stood upon an island or group of islands somewhere in the vicinity of Ihyn. This has been backed up somewhat by a degree of archaeological evidence. Goatherds often find the ruined pieces of pillars or the foundations of long-razed buildings in the steep hills of Brasori, while larger, more intact ruins stand on other islands. The Barbs and the merchant families, for their part, have very little interest in these ruins, knowing full well that they have long since been picked over by centuries of treasure hunters and thieves. That does not, however, stop them from selling ‘secret maps’ and having special ‘guides’ in their employ that will relieve the gullible treasure hunter of their gold by leading them on a merry gnome hunt through the scenic Ihynish isles.

 

The City of Ihyn: The city of Ihyn has been referred to as ‘the floating city’, and rightly so. Wedged up against the steep hillsides of inland Brasori, only about one third of the city’s population of 240,000 actually live on dry land. The city is constantly expanding as more and more people seek to feed off the river of wealth flowing through the heart of this thief’s paradise, and, as a result, it is among the most confusing and crowded places west of the Dragonspine.

The city is loosely divided into three sections. The first, known as the Old City, dates from the founding of the city, some 150 years after the fall of the Warlock Kings. Surrounded by a crumbling and mostly overgrown wall, the Old City is the only portion of Ihyn still located on land. Home to the Duke’s own fortress — known as the Crag — the Old City is primarily occupied by the wealthiest members of Ihynish society as well as the most upscale gaming houses, brothels, and hotels. Each home in the Old City is a fortress unto itself, complete with walls and private guards (this is, after all, a city of thieves), but none are so large as the Crag itself. A great, hulking, crumbling carcass of a castle, the Crag is five times larger than even the largest of the homes in the Old City. Built by the original founder of Ihyn — a pirate king called Rovanni — the Crag sits on the edge of what would be the harbor, were it not now filled in by the rest of the city. Added to and added to and added to over the centuries, it is unlikely anyone living knows all the ins and outs of the massive fortress, and most of it remains uninhabited to this day. It has never been attacked save once by the Akrallian fleet some 1200 years ago, and it seems unlikely it shall ever be attacked again. It shall succumb, instead, to the steady march of time and the lapping of the ocean — a fitting rotten center to a rotten city.

Beyond the Old City is the New City — a network of docks and wharfs that extend outwards from the Old City into the enormous Ihynish harbor. Magically reinforced to remain stable and sturdy enough to hold entire city blocks of buildings and people even in high seas, winds, and waves, the New City is where most of Ihyn lives, works, and plays. The waters in the many canals are deep enough to accommodate all but the largest of ships, who, therefore, have the unique privilege of pulling right up to the warehouse or shop into which their cargo is to be unloaded. Marketplaces can sell their goods directly to sailors on passing vessels, fishermen can walk out their front door to find their skiffs waiting, and thieves find it easy to leap from a rooftop to a passing mast and make their way into the hold for some prime looting. A crowded place, the ‘streets’ are constantly teeming with merchants, travelers, constables, pick-pockets, performers, and more. Beneath the baffling network of docks also exists a labyrinth of pilings and moorings known as the Underbelly — it is here that Barb agents can move silently and without notice to almost anywhere in the New City, and many a hapless victim has found his last trip to be in a small boat in the ever-present darkness of this foul, stinking place.

Finally, stretching out from the edges of the New City like a teeming swarm of parasites is Flotsam — a chain of small boats, barges, and rafts that comprise a makeshift neighborhood of poor workers, orphans, refugees, and black marketers. Constantly shifting with every ebb and flow of the tide, it is very difficult for the uninitiated to make their way through Flotsam without falling into the water, getting lost, or being stabbed in the back. Universally avoided by all but the bravest or most desperate, Flotsam is the seedy underbelly to an already seedy city, and it is unlikely visitors will see poverty this abject anywhere in Alandar save in the slums of Kalsaari cities. Flotsam is destroyed on average once a year, when the first major storm of the season rips through the shoddily constructed boats and tears apart the flimsy supports and lines holding them in place. Hundreds die in this kind of catastrophe and, though something ought to be done to prevent such things in the future, neither the Count nor his superiors show any interest in helping.

 

Culture and People

 

Say the word ‘Ihynish’ to the average Westerner and a few things come to mind: liar, cheater, thief, and merchant. While this assessment of the people of Ihyn is not entirely accurate, it is also by no means a baseless accusation. Many of the Ihynish are morally bankrupt individuals with poor reputations and less-than-pure intentions but certainly not all of the nation’s people deserve such a stigma. On the whole, the Ihynish people are both clever and adaptable, willing to roll with the punches in order to come out on top later on.

The population of Ihyn can be effectively separated into two cultural subgroups, the first being those who live in the city of Ihyn itself and the second being those who live without. City-dwellers are easily identified by their street savvy lingo, their quick wits, and their familiarity with the extensive Ihynish underworld. By contrast, those who live outside of Ihyn are provincial herders and fisherman, accustomed to the roll of the waves and a day of hard work, but not well acclimated to the dangers of city life. The Ihynishman of common myth is largely the Ihynishman of the city, whereas the rural Ihynish fail to resemble their urban cousins in almost every way.

Rural Ihynish consider the city the den of iniquity and unrighteousness that it is, and seek to avoid going there as much as possible. In the fishing villages and orchard towns of Brasori, the Hannite faith has a strong hold, and the excesses and sinful acts of the urbanites are viewed with unadulterated religious scorn and, in many cases, fear. The crops and catches of the rural Ihynish are brought to market in Ihyn, but are usually sold to peddlers and grocers that wait without the gates of the city proper or direct from the boat to the docks of the New City with nary a rural toe being placed within the confines of the wicked capital.

Urbanites, for their part, reciprocate their rural cousins’ prejudice with enthusiasm. To them, rurals are the worst kind of fools, suckers, and low-grade ignorami. Though Hannite temples exist in the Old City, very few urban Ihynish give the religion more than a second thought and almost none have anything polite to say about its superstitions and moral conscience. While the rurals will never be anything but fishermen, the urban Ihynish see themselves as constantly trying to ‘make it’ in the world. The draw of the city, despite its poverty, violence, and corruption, is that the only thing keeping an Ihynishman from the good life is a few years of hard work, quick thinking, and ruthless determination. Ihyn is a place of opportunity and wealth, whereas there will never be anything in the country but hard work, poverty, and boring routine.

For all their disdain for one another, however, the urban and rural communities are hardly exclusive peoples. Every year rurals come from the countryside to the city, seeking their fortune, and every year urbanites who have had it with the backstabbing world of the city seek to retire to a simple life in the country. As much as both groups hate to admit it, the populations are fairly fluid and all Ihynish, urban or otherwise, share the same cultural heritage. The Ihynish are a people who value their wits above all other things. Ihynish folklore is filled with tales of the small, intelligent man beating the powerful, dull man through tricks, cunning, and outright lies. To an Ihynishman, one is only as good as one’s mind, with stupidity being equated with evil as much as anything else. If you got yourself conned, tricked, or stumped by someone that means you probably deserved it and should take it as a lesson for being a dunce. Honesty is not valued by Ihynish society as much as it is in other places, and even the rural Ihynish, with their reputation as being simple, are sly and devious in their dealings with their neighbors. Practical in their way, the Ihynish see no reason to remain loyal to someone who isn’t doing them any good or to tell the truth to someone who means them harm and, while this trickery isn’t always for the purpose of harming others, it is universally designed to benefit oneself. Not all Ihynish are thieves and killers, but almost all of them are slippery and cunning, whether it is in the field of fishing or of swordplay.

The overriding motive behind all of this trickery and double-dealing is, in the end, survival. Ihyn is a very small place, and there are a lot of people who are trying to make a living here. If everybody went around telling the truth and playing fair, nobody would be living comfortably. As it stands, only the select and lucky few do live a life of luxury in Ihyn, but rather than be bitter, most Ihynish admire these sorts for their resourcefulness and agile minds (though it is doubtful they would hesitate for an instant if they could pull one of them down to allow themselves to rise up.). Ihynish cultural beliefs do not allow for one to blame another for one’s own lack of success—it’s their own damn fault for being a sucker, and that’s all. What is expected of the loser in these situations is to find a way to get back at the one who tore you down by tearing he or she down in turn, and showing to one and all just how clever you really are. For a person with intelligence, luck, and determination, the sky is the limit in Ihyn just so long as little things like ‘morals’ don’t get in the way.

In many ways, life on Ihyn is much more harsh than it is in many other Alliance nations. Though, as a nation, Ihyn is exceptionally wealthy, its people are comparatively poor. The average person in Ihyn lives in a one-room hut or in a small boat with their entire family, and the vast majority of their diet consists of fish and goat’s milk with the occasional piece of fruit. Work is hard, extortion is rampant, crime is almost legal, and one must live by their wits or end up starving, dead, imprisoned, or worse. To pass the time, the Ihynish will tell one another riddles and brain-teasers as well as play at cards and dice. Gambling is something of a national pastime here, and gaming houses are almost as common in the countryside as they are in the city itself. Religious holidays are regularly observed in the country as well as in the city, though the urbanites have made the holidays more into excuses to act even more raucous and depraved than usual rather than recognizing their grander, religious purpose.

Economically speaking, Ihyn is a middle man for almost every good or ware transported across the Syrin, though it produces and sells very little of its own. It is known for its fish oils, used both for lubrication and for lighting lamps, and its alcoholic liqueurs made from the various fruits that are indigenous to the island. Almost the entire population is connected somehow to fishing, and the sea is the lifeblood of the country. Though Hannite by day, many are the rural fishing communities who hold secret ceremonies sacrificing live animals to Azhar in the hopes that she will grant them large catches in the coming weeks. A immoral practice to some, but to the Ihynish it is just another means to an end.

Current Events

Ihyn provided logistical and economic support to the war effort during the Illini Wars, but only after the Kalsaaris refused to make a deal with them. This latter bit, while not public knowledge, is known by enough diplomats and statesmen in the West to guarantee that Ihyn enjoys very little esteem from its neighbors. The increase in access to sorcerous goods has been put to good use in Ihyn, as they have taken to revolutionizing their modest agriculture with a variety of sorcerous techniques. Now, Ihyn produces a fair amount of saleable goods – tabacco, hard liquors, wine, and so on. These goods, however, are basically copies of higher quality goods from other countries. Ihyn has flooded the market with, essentially, sorcerous clones and magical knock-offs of many, many things. This adds to the wealth of the Barbers and the cartels, but has done little to help the common citizen. For the average Ihynishman, their life thirty years ago and their life now remains basically the same – do what you have to in order to stay alive, and live by your wits.

 

The Sword and Laser Anthology is Out!

S&;L%20ANTHOLOGY%20coverart%20(1)So, I was just puttering around the various outlets that have work of mine about to be released and lookee here! The Sword and Laser Anthology has just hit Lulu! Extra bonus: it can be purchased in both electronic and good, old fashioned paper! Getting your name in print is one thing, folks, but finding that print upon an actual physical page has just that much more of a visceral kick.

Anywho, check out the anthology. It’s got an introduction from none other than Patrick Rothfuss (which, if you haven’t read the Kingkiller Chronicles yet, you’re missing out) and a vast array of stories from relatively new and fledgling authors just like me. There are twenty stories altogether – ten fantasy stories and ten science fiction stories. It’s lots of fun and I recommend it highly! Yeah, you won’t like every single story (tastes vary, of course) but there’s a huge variety in this book. Thanks ever so much to Veronica Belmont and Tom Merritt for putting it together!

Oh, and this is just by the way: my story in here, “Partly Petrified”, is a Tyvian Reldamar/Alandar adventure. So, if you’re at all curious about my fantasy world or my main protagonist, have a look.

Alandar: The Duchy of Galaspin

Ruling the better part of the fertile Trell River Valley, Galaspin is country of adventurers, entrepreneurs, explorers, and craftsmen who have forged for themselves and impressively stable, if somewhat corrupt, nation in an area coveted by everyone from nurlings to Dellorans to the distant arahk. While not as wealthy as Eretheria, powerful as Akral, large as Eddon, or influential as Saldor, Galaspin has established its reputation on its good relationship with the prickly Guilds of Freegate and its undying devotion to the Arcanostrum and the Alliance — two connections that have served it well over the centuries. Known as the “terriers of the West” Galaspin’s greatest export — heroes — has placed its name in the annals of every history book from Eddon to Obrinport.

 

Political Structure

 Galaspin is not a feudal kingdom in the manner of Eretheria or Akral. The Duke of Galaspin is the supreme ruler of the territory—he makes the laws, he levies the army, he collects the taxes. There are no ‘noble’ houses here, and the title of ‘knight’ or ‘baron’ is simply an indication of a level of service to the Duke, bestowed upon whomsoever His Grace sees as fit to fulfill the position at hand. Barons serve as executive overseers of certain areas of country, usually working from a home base in a castle or small town with a series of knights underneath them as deputies, and act with the Duke’s full authority, though they are not allowed to supercede that authority in any way. The Duke is advised by the Parliament of Guilds—an association of guild leaders (called ‘Guild Lords’) that keeps the Duke appraised of the economic and social needs of the people. Though they have no actual power in Galaspin political life, the Guild Lords represent a large, wealthy, and influential group of people who, if angered, could cause serious trouble for a headstrong Duke and possibly even have him overthrown. This, in theory, keeps the Duke somewhat in check and makes sure that he pays attention to his people…that is, in theory anyway.

In practice, Galaspiner politics is far less cut-and-dry. Though the Duke does hold sway in all matters of state, the Dukes of Galaspin have been, by and large, great admirers of a laissez-faire philosophy of government. Though the Duke’s barons will keep the peace and ensure that life runs smoothly, all it takes for an enterprising individual to get the law to look the other way is to put a little money in the local baron’s coffers. Known as paying ‘right tribute,’ such bribes are perfectly legal in Galaspin, so long as the Duke gets his cut. Of course, Galaspiner law is designed to require as many of these bribes as possible, meaning that there are de facto rules and regulations governing just about every possible aspect of society. Want to build a house larger than 10’ x 10’? Pay right tribute. Want to sink a well on your farm deeper than 12’ 6”? Pay right tribute. Want to get married without a local knight coming to ‘inspect’ the bride? Pay right tribute. The size of these tributes is largely dependent on what the briber can afford, though being unfriendly with the local baron can cause a Galaspiner incredible headaches as they find the cost to own so much as a single horse and saddle is exorbitant.

No Baron wants somebody like this challenging them to a duel.

No Baron wants somebody like this challenging them to a duel.

Despite the inherent corruption in the system, rare are the instances when a baron is able to abuse or exploit those beneath him without repercussions. Repercussions take the form of the guilds that blanket every facet of common life in Galaspin. Just about anybody a baron seeks tribute from is likely a member of one guild or another (or is relatives with someone who is), be it the Bakers’ Guild, the Smiths’ Guild, or even the Thieves’ Guild. If a guild finds that a local baron is abusing his power or being needlessly harsh to a guild member, the local Guild Lord will often loan the victim the money to pay off the baron, place sanctions on the baron’s household, or, in rare instances, hire private mercenaries to intimidate or even kill the troublesome lord. At least once every few years there is an instance where a headstrong or foolish knight crosses the wrong guild and winds up being challenged to a duel with a scarred old mercenary and *poof!* , no more knight. As if this set of checks and balances weren’t enough, the Duke himself keeps a corps of professional soldiers on retainer. Should any civil unrest get out of hand, the Ducal Guard are quickly on the scene to put a stop to it in a bloody confrontation. Usually Guild Lords and barons do everything in their power to avoid this kind of trouble, settling their differences as peaceably as possible to evade the Duke’s attention.

Much of how smoothly the Galaspiner government runs is dependent on the capabilities of the Duke (or Duchess) him/herself. Galaspin’s history is filled with tales of both wise and cruel Dukes who have brought the country both to the heights of prosperity or the depths of famine and war. Succession in Galaspin is hereditary, and the closest to a ‘noble’ class that Galaspin has is in how closely one’s family is related to the Duke’s. Should a Duke die with no heirs, the ducal historians will search the birth records until such time as they can find the next closest relative, who will then become Duke. Succession has proceeded in this manner without interruption since the nation’s founding some 1200 years ago, and, barring any unforeseen catastrophe, it will likely continue in this vein, as well. The current Duke, Umbar Greathand II, has four sons, all in great health, and Umbar’s direct line has been in power for better than three centuries. They have ruled wisely, and are respected, if not liked, by their people.

Diplomatically speaking, Galaspin is one of the most important nations in the Alliance. Through Galaspin, the Alliance has the ear of one of the most cantankerous governments in the world: the Free City of Freegate. The relationship between Freegate and the Galaspin predates the founding of the Duchy itself, during the First Arahkan War, where refugees from both Galaspin and the Dragonspine were fleeing the Arahk. Much is written about how the Galaspiners helped the mountain people survive outside of their beloved mountains and how the mountainfolk, in turn, sold their lives defending Galaspiner civilians that had given them shelter. Following the end of the war, where Galaspin soldiers and mountain chieftains had fought side by side, the Great Mountain King granted a rare audience with the Chieftain of the Valley, where the two rulers, it is reported, struck up a grand friendship that lasted the rest of their lives. Since that time, the mountain folk (and the Freegaters that descended from them) and the Galaspiners have gained a lot from one another. The guilds of Freegate sell the humans raw iron ore and worked metal goods while, in turn, the Galaspiners give Freegate access to such lowland fineries as steak, wine, grain, and a magical assistance (should they need it). Galaspin’s famed bodyguards have been known to work for traveling Freegate merchants just as a pair of veteran Freegate advisors always attend the Duke in matters of finance or diplomacy. Also, the close relationship between the two peoples through the years has led to the intermingling of cultures. It is not by chance that the Guild Lords hold such sway over Galaspin, nor is it an accident that native Freegaters model their military training and education after Galaspiner models.

Finally, though it is important to mention the Galaspiner relationship with Freegate, one must remember that it isn’t to the Guilds but to Saldor that Galaspin owes its allegiance. As the first nation to pledge its support the Arcanostrum, Galaspin has been its most stalwart defender since time immemorial. It was Galaspin’s ancestors that bled to defend Saldor from the arahk of the First Arahkan War, Galaspin that marched against the Nurlings when Oodnar the Goblin King ravaged the land, and Galaspin that guarded the Aranostrum from Ihynish occupation during the Akrallian Wars. Where Saldor goes, so too goes Galaspin. This, of course, has its benefits. Mage Towers (Arcanostrum-accredited magical institutions) can be found scattered across the Duchy, magical items tend to be cheaper there than elsewhere,  and Galaspiners are very popular in Saldor as a rule. Also, more Galaspin natives have ascended to the office of Keeper than any other single nationality—a fact that drives Akral crazy.

 

Land and Points of Interest

Galaspin is almost wholly located in the Trell River Valley, the city itself perched at the split of the Trell and Magis Rivers in the heart of this fertile area. Like Eretheria to its west, southern Galaspin’s climate is mild and its growing season long, and Galaspin farms grow a variety of crops—everything from wheat in the heartlands to cranberries in the south, apple orchards in the northwest to sheep and goats on the slopes of the Dragonspine in the east. Though less densely populated than Eretheria, Galaspin is a highly civilized nation, with good roads, frequent taverns and villages along the major highways. Its network of defensive towers and forts, however, were mostly destroyed when the Mad Prince Sahand invaded the country during the Illini/Delloran wars and have yet to be entirely rebuilt due to a variety of political reasons.

Due to this under-build defensive infrastructure Galaspin is nowhere near as safe and secure as its western neighbors. The Duchy is tied with Illin as the second most dangerous place in the Alliance (the first being Eddon, of course), as Galaspin’s borders are teeming with all manner of dangers. To the north lies the region of wilderness between the Dragonspine and the Great Forest that stretches north all the way to Dellor. This has long been a haven for bandits, raiders, trolls, nurlings, and others who strike south to attack the trade routes headed for Trell’s Pass and Freegate. Furthermore, the mountains are a constant source of nurling threat. Finally, thanks to its status as a sort of crossroads for everyone heading from West to North or vice versa, Galaspin is a haven for mercenary bands of all sizes and descriptions. While some of these bands are legitimate and behave themselves, many more cause as much civil unrest and pose as great a threat to the Duchy as they do bolster the Duchy’s defenses. The Ducal Guard, assisted by local knights, are constantly attempting to regulate and reign in these sometimes dangerous groups, but attacks on villages and towns occur nevertheless. Because of this, it is unusual to find a Galaspiner who does not go about armed with at least a quarterstaff, dagger, or poniard to aid in his or her defense should a nurling pop out of a hole or a mercenary challenge him to a duel.

Finally, though they share only a short border with Isara’Nyil, Galaspin has no more cordial a relationship with the woodkin than do the Eretherians. Unlike the Eretherians, however, Galaspin is always attempting to rectify this situation, hoping in their eternally optimistic and determined way, that they might be granted logging rights to portions of the forest. Their overtures have gone unanswered for at least the last 1000 years, but who knows? As they say here: By tomorrow, today will be yesterday, and that changes everything.

 

The City of Galaspin: Resting astride the great Trell River, the city of Galaspin is a bustling hub of trade and commerce that is populated by some 56,000 people. Split as it is by the river, the city is segmented into two regions—Eastbank and Westbank. The majority of the indigenous population makes its home in Eastbank, where the government offices, guild halls, and local Magetower can be found, as well as the Freegate Embassy (also known as the Freegate Exchange). Westbank is the haven for most people just passing through the territory, and is home to most of the inns, stables, marketplaces, and is also where the heaviest fortifications are to be found.

Though technically part of the same city, the two parts of Galaspin are entirely capable of existing independently of one another in the case of a siege. Each has its own walls and guardhouses as well as their own barracks, though the barracks of Westbank are the larger of the two. The four bridges that span the Trell River are constructed to be not only sturdy but also easily destroyed in case one half is taken by an invading army, as happened during the nurling wars (to this day Westbank is still referred to as ‘Goblintown’ by Eastbankers). The stonework of these bridges, as well as the walls themselves, have all been constructed by the best civil engineers the Guilds can produce, and are therefore considered among the most imposing battlements in the west. The streets are designed to wind and a turn, making it difficult for an attacking force to advance, and every ten houses in both halves of the city are made of fortified stone. These houses are built at strategic points throughout the city’s design and could be used as a guard post or small keep in times of trouble. These houses, known as ‘keystones,’ are quite large and are usually owned by wealthy merchants, guild members, or occasionally are used as official buildings like hospitals, libraries, courthouses, temples, or schools. Most impressive among Galaspin’s defenses, however, is the Duke’s keep, known as the Stonewatch. Built on a stone promontory jutting out from the center of the Trell itself, the Stonewatch is a relatively small but intensely vertical fortress of stone battlements and grim turrets. Perhaps only 100 yards across at its base, the keep reaches 650 feet into the sky, towering over the rest of the city. Connected by only a small dock to receive riverboats, the Stonewatch rests a full 300 yards from either bank of the river and is considered un-assailable by most military commanders—a fact the nurlings discovered to their intense dismay during the Wars of the Goblin King.

Beyond its defensible nature, Galaspin has much more to offer a casual visitor. Though many complain about how crowded the city can get within its imposing walls, the bright side of this is that there is always something happening in Galaspin. Westbank is a constant bustle of traffic either from the river or the two highways that meet here. Fighting halls hold exhibitions all night, the taverns never close, and it is said that the brothels of Galaspin have no equal. This is truly a traveler’s town, and most of the people here are only passing through. Across the river in Eastbank is one of the few places in the world where people can witness Thostering mercenaries patrolling the streets in force and the guild halls are among the best places in the world for a mercenary to find work. Every morning, scores of sellswords cross the river to peruse the posting boards outside of all the major guildhalls as well as a few permanent kiosks where wealthy members of Galaspin society seek to hire adventurous men and women for various purposes. Those who can’t read are advised to hire a scribe once over the river for the low cost of 1 Mark a day (or 3m for one who tells the truth).

All those who travel to Galaspin should plan to have money on-hand. Taxes and surcharges are everywhere for the foreign visitor—charges to enter the gates, charges to travel the river, charges to cross the bridges, charges to wear a weapon, and so on and so forth. The Ducal Guard is quite efficient at exacting these taxes, and those who refuse to pay are usually ejected from the city and not re-admitted. Of course, even if one does manage to pay all the official charges, the cost of things in Westbank like lodging and food is often exorbitant when compared to cities like Akral or even Saldor. Finally, there is the local Thieves’ Guild, the Whisperers, to deal with. Known for having some of the most skilled pick-pockets in the world, the Whisperers exact a tax of their own on most travelers coming to Galaspin and make sure to pay right tribute to the Duke for the privilege. In the end, many foreigners are content to leave Galaspin as soon as they can, thinking it a den of thieves and corruption, but to the natives it is a city of plenty and the safest place for thousands of miles. They are both right.

 

Culture and People

 

If there is one trait that has come to define Galaspiners over the years, it is tenacity. Attributed to their mountain folk heritage, Galaspiners are never ones to give up, even if something seems impossible. They are incurable optimists and plucky souls, constantly challenging the accepted limits of what ‘can’ and ‘should’ be done. To a Galaspiner, the only thing between you and an impossible task is the conception that it is impossible. In this way, Galaspiners can be both encouraging and annoying to others, who really don’t want to hear about how if they ‘put their heads together’ they can defeat that encroaching arahk band with a pair of shovels and a bedroll.

The people of Galaspin believe very strongly in the idea of the ‘team-player.’ Intensely competitive, Galaspiners recognize the need to stay on top of the competition and, in their view, the best way to do that is to get together with your friends and family and work together to overcome obstacles. In a way, the whole of Galaspin politics is a version of this tactic. The Duke runs the show by recruiting the best and brightest to levy his taxes and police his borders. The Guild Lords do much the same thing, only in competition with the Duke—looking out for their own, keeping the Duke out of their business, and so on. Each side works together to keep the upper hand over the other side, and in this way the whole thing stays fairly balanced. Galaspiners are game players and competitors, not conquerors. Though the Guilds might conspire to have a knight discredited or even killed, they rarely act towards the knight with rancor—he’s just doing his job, and they’re just doing theirs. While this may seem cold-blooded, Galaspiners just think of it as the way the world works. If he didn’t want to accept the risks of being a knight, then he shouldn’t have gotten into the whole knighthood racket in the first place.

This competitive aspect to Galaspiner society works on every level. Every village is a web of inter-village rivalries—who is the best baker, who is the strongest man, who is the best mother, etc., etc.. Village and even regional competitions are common, and most people throw themselves into them with gusto. By competing to the best of their ability, Galaspiners see themselves as not only improving their skills but also showing respect for one’s opponents whom, again, the Galaspiner does not see as an enemy, but rather a fellow competitor in the great game of life. Everybody remember that, even though you may have lost the smithing competition today, tomorrow you may be asked to stand next to your rival and protect the village from marauders and the day after that you might need to work with the marauders to stave off a nurling invasion. Every Galaspiner has multiple levels of allegiance—first to the family, then to the village, then to the guild or Duke, and then to humanity in general. Competition is fine, but when trouble comes knocking, Galaspiners are the first to cast aside petty disputes and attack the new problem head on as a unified whole.

The end result of all this guild competition is that Galaspin produces some of the finest manufactured goods in all of the world. While Akrallian woodwork might be more fashionable or even more beautiful, a piece of Galaspin furniture will last you a lifetime and never break, warp, or rot. Galaspin blades are the finest in the West, Galaspin artists are the most acclaimed, and Galaspin stonemasons are sought after by all the noble houses of the Alliance. While the things they make may not be as flashy or expensive as those made in other places, anything bearing the stamp of a Galaspin guild is sure to be of the highest quality. By that same token, Galaspin mercenaries and bodyguards are regarded as some of the best to be had anywhere. Their intense natures and never-say-die attitude as well as their willingness to work in a team means that they are both effective and professional soldiers. Finally, Galaspiner diplomats and traders are known for their terrier-like fortitude when negotiating either treaties or prices and, while not necessarily as shrewd their Illinian or Ihynish counterparts, are well known and respected by their peers worldwide.

In their private lives, Galaspiners are usually jovial and outgoing, always trying to organize some kind of contest, wager, or game. Great lovers of tests of skill in all arenas, Galaspin is known for the popularity of its physical sporting events (like ring fighting or spirited contact sports like charger or baffle-ball) and games of intellect  (magestones, sel’narn, bastions, etc.). Honor in contest is stressed in all these situations, and most Galaspiners are both gracious in victory and dignified in defeat. “You can judge a loser by the color of his face” is a common saying in this nation, where it is considered bad form to hold grudges against someone who beat you fair-and-square. Cheating is the ultimate sin in Galaspin, and anyone who would think to accuse someone of this vile act had best be prepared to duel to the death. Also taboo is giving up—to forfeit a contest is the ultimate sign of weakness and cowardice here, and anyone who does so endangers losing the respect of everyone he or she knows. In the end, the only way to repair such damage is to cheer up, get your act together, and come out swinging next time even if there is no way you can win.

duel_by_remton-d3dvn10Finally, another prominent facet of Galaspin society, though hardly exclusive to this realm, is the duel. Though, in a perfect world, Galaspin would be a land or good-natured competition and rivalry without rancor, exceptions are not uncommon. Many a heated game of charger has ended with one team or the other feeling as though their honor was insulted or, worse, they were cheated out of victory. Though laws do exist to police such incidents, it is far more likely that the matter will be settled by dueling. Though cheating necessitates a duel to the death, most duels are simply fought until one party can no longer stand. Dueling may be done with any weapons (or even magic) that the two parties agree upon, and, should one of the parties die during the fight, the winner is expected to pay the loser’s funeral expenses. Furthermore, it is technically required that an officer of the Duke be on hand to officiate, though in practice this is just so the officer can demand right tribute on the Duke’s behalf. This is accepted as both an attempt to discourage the duel and an aspect of the great game the Duke and his citizens play every day.

 

Recent Events

Galaspin was hit hard by the Illini Wars. Arguably nowhere besides Illin suffered so much as a result of the war that rocked the west a little over a quarter century ago. When Illin and Rhond were attacked by the Kalsaari Empire, the Duke of Galaspin was the first to offer his support. No levy was issued – when news spread of their ally under attack, Galaspiners young and old flocked to their local barons, volunteering for service in the army. Galaspiner mercenary companies also set sail across the Syrin to fight for the Alliance (and earn some coin in the process). Galaspiner infantry was of crucial importance in every major engagement in Illin, from the defense of the Dreaming City itself, to the pivotal Charge of Atrisia. Conrad Varner, High General of the West, said of his Galaspiner regiments: I’ll take one Galaspin footman walking in worn boots over any five Eretherian gentlemen in pretty saddles on any day of the week. He meant it – when Varner went to battle, he went on foot among the Galaspiners who bled for him. No Galaspiner has ever forgotten this. To speak ill of “The General” (as Varner is known) in this land is to find oneself in a fight before you finish your sentence.

There is a reason for their reverence that goes beyond Illin and Rhond. Whilst the flower of Galaspin youth and the balance of its military might fought for the Alliance across the sea, the Mad Prince Banric Sahand of Dellor invaded Galaspin from the north. He sacked towns. He put men to the sword. He burned villages. The whole of the Duchy fell beneath his merciless bootheel; he managed to claim the Stonewatch by treachery, and held the old Duke’s children and grandchildren hostage. He threatened the Galaspin bannermen that, should any of them set foot in their home country again, he would strap Duke Umbar I’s infanty granddaughter, Maya, to a trebuchet and “see how far she sails.” For this reason, even after the end of the war in Illin, most of Galaspin’s soldiers could find no one willing to return to lead them in their fight against Sahand.

No one but Varner.

Varner’s reconquest of Galaspin was somehow bloodier than all his fighting in Rhond or Illin, though it was briefer. In a campaign that raged throughout an uncharacteristically harsh winter, Varner at last routed Sahand at the Siege of Calassa. After his victory, it is said that he offered his neck to old Duke Umbar I, on account that his granddaughter had been killed by Sahand just as he had promised. Umbar spared him, but asked that Varner leave his country, never to return. So he did – returning to the North to assist his brother, King of Benethor – but no one in Galaspin has forgotten what he did for them.

Today, Galaspin is the industrial engine behind Saldor’s sorcerous renaissance. Galaspiner artisans and sorcerers labor to invent and create the new sorcerous materials that drive much of the Western economy. The Spirit Engine network has one of it’s major hubs in Galaspin, and Galaspiner guild members travel across the continent, sharing knowledge and expanding the wealth and modernization of the West. It is still, however, a nation scarred by war, though those scars are fading. Few, however, will forget the courage and loyalty of its armies – the Terriers of the West, who very probably saved the Western world from destruction.

 

Alandar: The Counties of Eretheria

A common enough vista in Lake Country in Eretheria

A common enough vista in Lake Country in Eretheria

Stretching between the northern shores of the Sea of Syrin to the southern border of the Forest, Eretheria is among the most picturesque regions of Alandar. Rolling green hills, fields of golden grain, meadows filled with wildflowers, babbling brooks and slivery lakes—Eretheria looks like a page out of a storybook. Unfortunately, a less-than-stable political system keeps this beautiful land from reaching its full potential. Ruled by dozens of independent knights, viscounts, earls, and counts, Eretheria is plagued by limited territorial wars, political assassination, and all manner of other skullduggery makes life less than perfect, but certainly less than boring. Despite the lack of any central leadership, however, Eretheria is one of the wealthiest nations in all of the West, and it is also the seat of the High Council of the Syrinian Alliance itself, making this beautiful, green patch of earth one of the most politically influential places in the world.

Political Structure

It all began with the King. Twenty-five years after the death of the last of the Warlock Kings and very early in the days of the Arcanostrum, a man of legendary vision and unequalled skill rose up from the war-torn ashes to found a beautiful city on the edge of the shimmering Syrin. His name was King Perwyn, and he and his knights were among the first to bring justice and balance to a land so horribly scarred from centuries of warfare and torment. He rooted out evil wherever he found it, he cast down wicked warlords and cruel sorcerers—he was a hero in every respect. By the end, he was among the first rulers to openly support the then-experimental Arcanostrum, and he forged his kingdom of Eretheria under the light of justice and chivalry. Then, for reasons still unknown, he vanished.

Some theorize Perwyn fell in battle. Others believe he was spirited away by selkies. Still others claim that he was victim of a plot hatched by his unfaithful daughter and her warlock suitor. Whatever the truth, the disappearance and assumed death of King Perwyn the Noble, a mere forty years after the founding of his kingdom, sent the fledgling nation into chaos. After decades of war over whom was the rightful heir to Perwyn’s throne, it was finally agreed that no heir would be selected and that, instead, a ruling assembly of nobles would run the nation until, one day, someone could definitively prove to the satisfaction of all that they were Perwyn’s rightful heir. At the time, it was thought that this situation would only last for a few years. That time was fourteen-hundred years ago.

Eretheria today is a bewildering array of fiefdoms and small counties ruled by a variety of noblemen and women of varying title. In loose terms, there are four levels of noble in Eretherian politics. First is the Knight or Dame, who typically rules little more than a small castle and a village or two, including perhaps a few hundred acres and no more. Next up are the Viscount or Viscountess, who are typically in control of a large castle and a few villages or a single town. Above the Viscount is the Earl or Earless, who usually controls a town, small city, or important trading area like a crossroads, a port, or a frontier trading post. Finally, the Count or Countesses rule the largest tracts of land in Eretheria, encompassing thousands of acres and sometimes more than a dozen villages. At present there are only five Counts, about seven Earls, a thirty Viscounts, and close to one-hundred Knights and Dames who hold land in Eretheria.

Inter-fiefdom warfare is common enough here, as each noble tries to protect his lands from his enemies while trying to acquire additional lands of his own. Fortunately, centuries of this kind of thing have resulted in a fairly significant amount of tradition and actual law governing the appropriate and acceptable methods of depriving a neighbor of his title and lands. These laws are passed by the Congress of Peers that meets seasonally in Eretheria, and are only enforced insofar as the other nobles are willing to gang up on a noble who violates them. As this usually means that a group of neighbors can instantly claim a portion of the offending noble’s lands—a very tempting prospect—very few nobles are willing to put themselves in this kind of danger. Examples of the kind of laws passed (and most often enforced) by the Congress includes injunctions against surprise attacks, the sacking of captured towns or villages, and assaults upon the unarmed peasantry. At the other extreme include laws against making fun of Count Vorhemmel’s cats, forbidding the act fornication with the Dame Merrial, or outlawing the color green anywhere in sight of a minstrel. As the Congress is made up of however many members of the nobility care to attend, laws passed can often be petty, nonsensical, or simply intended as jokes at the expense of friends. Such laws are very seldom enforced, though they have, in the past, come in handy when attempting to evade the executioner’s axe or condemn a rival to prison.

The result of all the thousands of laws and scores of small territories of Eretheria is a land so politically chaotic that, oddly enough, nothing ever seems to change. The nobility is well aware of the precarious position they occupy in the political landscape—even the Counts are vastly outnumbered by smaller neighboring fiefdoms—and, accordingly, so many treaties have been signed between parties and the web of family relationships and obligations is so complex that outright war on a vast scale is virtually impossible. As it stands, it may take a particularly adept Viscount the better part of twenty years to maneuver himself into a position where he might absorb a neighboring knight’s territory, and the repercussions of his action stand to actually create another small fiefdom somewhere else in the land. As far as the peasantry are concerned, all this ridiculous plotting and counter-plotting is a lot of noble nonsense, and they largely ignore it. No matter who is in charge of their village, the taxes are always paid to the same place—the castle on the hill over there—and that is about as involved as they want to get.

Fortunately for the peasants, Eretherian nobles seldom involve them in their little wars and skirmishes, preferring to keep a troop of professional soldiers or even mercenaries at their beck and call. For all their military actions, Eretheria has a relatively small number of soldiers compared to large kingdoms like Akral or Eddon. Every knight will have anywhere from twenty to one-hundred men under him whereas even the most powerful Count has an army numbering no more than 4,000 men. It is only when threatened by foreign invasion or the like that the Congress will pass laws to levy troops from the peasantry. This most notably occurred during the Akrallian Wars, when the peerage rallied to repel Akrallian invasion from the west. Most recently, the Falcon King, Perwynnon – the first and only heir to Perwyn to be acknolweged in fourteen centuries – levied some peasant regiments to reinforce Saldorian positions against Sahand’s incursions during the last stages of the Delloran War. These peasant units never saw action and were disbanded as soon as the Treaty of Calassa was signed. The idea of an armed peasantry worries most of Eretheria’s nobles.

 

Lands and Points of Interest

Eretheria is a thoroughly tamed land, and it has been groomed to be both beautiful and comfortable for those who live there. Squeezed between the military powerhouse of Akral in the west, the impenetrable Isra’Nyil in the north, the magical defenses of Saldor and Galaspin in the east, and the Sea of Syrin in the south, Eretheria has been safe from marauding bands of nurlings, tolls, gnolls, and the like since the War of the Goblin King six centuries ago, and so it has been permitted to flourish unlike almost any other realm in the West.

About 75% of all of Eretheria’s territory is occupied by farms of one type or another, growing just about everything that can be grown. Though lacking in any major waterway, the area is filled with small lakes, ponds, and minor rivers and streams that keep the region well irrigated and very green. The rest of Eretheria is taken up by dozens of towns and villages that dot the countryside at regular intervals. Travelers are never very far from the next inn or the next town when in this area of the world, and it is a place almost entirely lacking in the trackless forests or wide open emptiness found in many other places. There is almost always a castle on the horizon or the glow of firelight through the trees to keep a traveler company and make him feel safe.

Of course, this feeling of safety does not extend much past Eretheria’s northern border. It is a well known fact that the woodkin and Eretherians do not see eye to eye, and the border between Isara’Nyiland the Counties is even more closed than usual. The enigmatic inhabitants of the forest claim they can remember a time when their forest home encompassed much of what is now Eretherian territory, and they do not forget easily. The manicured fields, the well-maintained roads, and the strategically located castles of Eretheria are all gruesome reminders to the woodkin of the way civilization has ravaged the natural world. From their forest outposts, hidden along the edges of the Forest, the keen-eyed forest people watch as the petty Eretherian nobility war and squabble for no discernible reason as their peasants subjugate the earth to their whim, and their distaste for their neighbors grows. Only a fool would attempt to enter the forest from Eretheria, and only a hero of the highest caliber could ever be expected to emerge again.

Eretheria’s infrastructure is far superior to that of most of her neighbors, as funding public works projects is often a form of punitive action taken against misbehaving nobles. Roads connect most places here, and it is rare to find a stream without a bridge. Both the Old Coast Road and the Freegate Road are very well maintained by the viscounts that oversee their routes, and visitors should expect to encounter an inordinate number of tollhouses and way-stations along them.

 

The City of Eretheria

It is interesting to note that the city of Eretheria, known also as the City of the King, is missing a defensive feature common to almost every other city in the world—a wall. Destroyed during a siege by the Ihynish army during the Akrallian wars, the walls of Eretheria were never rebuilt following the Treaty of Syrin, and the city was permitted to grow without such a check on its growth. Stretching lazily across gentle hills and along white-sand beaches, Eretheria is a city of some 120,000 diplomats, politicians, ambassadors, nobility, and assassins all living in the very lap of luxury on the shores of the Syrin.

Central to the Eretherian skyline is Peregrine Palace, the sprawling palace complex that houses both the Congress of Peers and the High Council of the Alliance itself. The oldest sections of the palace were supposedly built by King Perwyn himself, including the 800 foot high tower at its center that gives the palace its name. Roosting in nooks and small windows along its height are a veritable flock of peregrine falcons that keep the city’s famous population of white pigeons in check. The tower’s base is located just behind the ancient throne room of the King himself. The throne remains unoccupied on the dais, awaiting for the heir’s return, but the rest of the chamber is the meeting place for the Congress of Peers, who mill about the floor shouting and quibbling among themselves. The base of the tower itself, once kept as a reliquary for the legend of Perwyn, now has a new inhabitant: the body of Perwynnon, kept in stasis and lying in state for the past twenty-five years, upon a bier of white stone and clad in his silver armor. New additions to the palace include the elegant domed chamber that constitutes the meeting place of the High Council as well as an entire wing given over to the Arcanostrum for its exclusive use. Few outside of the staff-bearing know what goes on in that part of the complex, and none have yet dared to ask—the local Master Defender is not known for his good humor.

The city itself is a charming muddle of twisted streets and beautiful gardens, where one might find a brothel across the street from an elegant manse. To the untrained eye, this seems confusing, but those in the know quickly explain that the city is separated by political faction rather than by economic or social class. Consequently, Eretheria is actually a compilation of five or six smaller cities all crammed into one metropolis, where each group of regional nobility oversees their own market, noble, common, and merchant districts. An exception to this organizational rule is the diplomatic quarter, which encircles Peregrine Palace and is where of all the Alliance and foreign ambassadors keep their homes. It is also important to note that, though a variety of competing factions are always present in the city, Eretheria is neutral ground, both for foreigners and the Eretherians themselves. No soldiers beyond personal bodyguards are permitted within the city limits, no Eretherian noble is permitted to attack or lay siege to the city, and security within the city limits is actually handled by the Defenders of the Balance.

One thing that all who visit Eretheria remember above all other things are the gardens. Designed and created by the Builders, the Gardens of Eretheria are a chain of horticultural gardens incorporating breathtaking mageglass architecture accompanied by the most breathtaking magecraft available. Each is a levitating hunk of earth, floating anywhere from five to fifty feet off the ground, and each  a compliment to the last as they spiral slowly inwards towards the center of the city, where Peregrine Palace rests on the shores of Lake Elren. The surroundings of the shallow lake form the final garden, situated at the heart of the diplomatic quarter. Graceful arched bridges of mageglass cross the lake in a half-dozen places while water lilies and swans float between small pleasure craft and ferries. The garden is open to the public and lit by illumite torches by night, making it one of the greatest attractions for visitors to the City of the King.

 

Culture and People

 

The people of Eretheria are a complicated people, in many ways the perfect mirror image of their political background. Here, the worth of a person isn’t so much what they know as who they know, how long they have known them, and how important they are to that other person. Eretherians are constantly playing a game of status with one another, trying to prove their importance in the community or in the family through whatever means necessary. The idea of community and the importance of social acceptance is paramount to Eretherian life. On the bright side, this makes most Eretherians come across as diplomatic, capable, and affable companions, however this impression is equally as common as those who see them as sycophants, liars, and opportunists.

Eretheria is a land of plenty and, in its own way, it is sheltered from the hardships that plague most of its neighbors. Most Eretherian peasants have never seen a troll or a nurling, let alone an arahk, and the only warfare they have experienced is the limited and rather civilized conflicts conducted between local knights and viscounts. Thanks to this, most Eretherians are inexperienced when it comes to dealing with non-humans and many refuse to believe in the concept of an ‘intractable enemy.’ There is always a deal to be made, an agreement to be reached. It may sound naïve, but Eretherians are confident in their ability to compromise and find common cause with any they meet.

All of this makes the people of Eretheria sound gullible and ignorant, and this simply isn’t true. Eretherians are very well educated and even the peasantry can read and write after a fashion. As their nation plays host to people from all over the world, Eretherians rub elbows with all kinds of people and absorb all manner of interesting information. Most Eretherian knights are at least nominally acquainted with Kalsaari dances and no self-respecting countess would be unaware of the latest fashions in Akral, Saldor, or Rhond. Eretherian parties are the most diverse and socially important affairs in the West, where Benethoran knights can be seen conversing with Eddon soldiers and traders from the Free Islands share drinks with Delloran merchants. So, while it can be said that an Eretherian socialite has never been to a real battlefield, it certainly shouldn’t be claimed that they have never met a real soldier.

While the nobility party and carouse, peasant life in Eretheria is far less exciting. The lower classes of this region are better off here than most any other commoners in the world, thanks to fertile farmland, secure borders, and an excellent infrastructure. Left out of the hustle and bustle of Eretherian politics entirely, peasants lead boring, uneventful, and peaceful lives farming and bringing their wares to market once or twice a season, depending on the crops they grow. With so little to do and less to worry about, Eretherians are famed for the pastimes they have developed. It is thanks to the taverns and common houses of Eretheria that such games as darts, dice, magestones, and even playing cards exist in the world. Furthermore, the legends and folklore of this ancient land are likewise rich and textured. Bards and minstrels travel the Eretherian countryside freely, and are given free room and board at any tavern they enter should their songs and tales prove entertaining. Figuring most prominently among Eretherian legends are those surrounding Perwyn and his noble knights as well as frightening tales of the woodkin and selkies spiriting away children or laying curses on innocent young lovers. As Eretheria is a land in which the community is always at the front of everyone’s mind, it is not unusual to find entire villages crowded inside the local tavern, listening to stories, playing dice, and gossiping among themselves.

In some ways, peasant and noble life are not that different. Political and civic power schemes are constantly working in the back of both classes minds. Poor farmers seek to marry their sons to the daughters of wealthy smiths or innkeepers just as nobles try to cheat one another out of their lands or levy taxes on a neighboring territory’s grain. Being direct in Eretherian society is a taboo, as etiquette and politeness count for more than any other factor when trying to obtain something. Rival villagers may spend weeks trying to gain revenge on each other through elaborate pranks where, in other countries, a simple fist-fight would end the dispute. To the Eretherians, this is simply the way it is done—anything else would be barbaric and crude—but to the foreigner it can seem a bit perplexing. It is important to remember that here social embarrassment or exile is far more frightening than even death, and an Eretherian will go to great lengths to avoid it. It is curious to note in this regard that the most serious punishment that can be levied by most Eretherian courts—rated even higher than the death penalty—is banishment. In Eretheria, you need to be part of a group to be worth something or, to use modern parlance, you need to be ‘cool.’ Without it, you are nothing more than a renegade, a criminal, or an urchin and utterly without defenses in this country of competitive cliques.

 

Recent Events

Eretheria featured very prominently in the political landscape of the Illini/Delloran Wars. As soon as war was declared diplomats from Saldor, Rhond, Illin, and Galaspin descended upon City of the King to try and influence their allies in Eddon, Veris, Akral, Ihyn, and Eretheria to enter the conflict. Meanwhile, Kalsaari and Delloran diplomats worked to counter these offers. Duels were fought, assassins deployed, and gold flowed like a river through the streets. Everybody was a spy for everybody else.

In the midst of this mayhem emerged a remarkably deft and talented young man whose original name has been lost to time, but who the history books remember as the Falcon Knight, Perwynnon. Perwynnon, according to legend, wasn’t even a native Eretherian, but his charm, political acumen, and skill with a blade made him a force to be reckoned with in short order. For a solid year, the rumor-mills of Eretheria were overflowing with tales of Perwynnon’s heroism – rescuing this damsel, dispatching this villain, saving this village or that. In the midst of such derring do, Perwynnon, a staunch pro-Alliance voice, began to build a coalition among the most influential counts and viscounts. When he at last presented himself at the Blue Party – the yearly ball held in Peregrine Palace celebrating the end of the campaigning season – he made a splash never to be forgotten. He defeated two assassins while at the party in two separate duels and then declared himself a descendant of Perwyn himself. The nobility he had courted supported his claim and, not wanting to be left out of what was an intoxicatingly good time, the rest of the nobility followed suit. Perwynnon was king of Eretheria – the first in 1450 years.

Perwynnon marshaled his knights and vassals to war immediately, moving to defend Galaspin which had, by that time, been entirely conquered by Banric Sahand of Dellor. It was at the battle of Calassa that Perwynnon and all the heavy cavalry of Eretheria charged into the flank of Sahand’s armies, routing them from the field. Such a charge had never been seen before and is unlikely to ever be seen again.

Perwynnon did not long outlive his victory, however. Within two years, his body was found in his bedchamber. Everyone assumed poison, but the cause of death was never determined and the list of potential poisoners too long to investigate. Besides, the nobility had grown tired of their hero king and, though the public mourning was elaborate, behind closed doors everyone seemed silently glad there was no king for them to bow to. Eretheria is, if anything, even more chaotic than before the war, as now the idea of a king is no longer so foreign or outlandish and many seek to become heir to the Falcon King’s legacy.