Briefly Concerning History

(A preface to a Thalindorian introduction)

Stories are unavoidably made in the image of their maker. Our collective story, ‘history’ certainly is; which is another way of saying that it is equal parts wonderful and terrible, and all parts messy. In fact, many dismiss history as unkempt to the point of meaninglessness, devoid as we are today of all the necessary context (namely, experiencing it first hand) that could give it any truth or bearing on the present. ‘Context’, these hypothetical naysayers say, can only be established subjectively through interpretations of dubious evidence, or by relying on the subjective and fallible records of eyewitnesses. These subjective interpretations and records can be assembled together (at least where they agree) and, together with a selection of surviving artifacts, build a foundation of seeming truth and reality out of which may arise a visage of the past- but upon investigation, we see that that foundation but stands upon another, older one; assumption after assumption all the way down, piled atop one another like crumbling tells. The truth of history, it seems, is based on the truth of history. Is the historian’s problem yet apparent?

This dilemma inherent to the study of history is more pressing than many realize. While we snub the past and chase ‘novelty’ in experience or invention or thought, we turn at times, full of stupefaction, and marvel at how it could be that billions of souls seem caught in the very crux of this ancient, crusted thing of history. Today, numerous contradictory interpretations of history damn one great swathe of humanity or another to a hopelessly dark eternity, while committing select others to ceaseless bliss. In fact, based largely on interpretations of history, I guarantee that to someone somewhere you yourself represent a most grievous evil; and perhaps to another, the highest good; and to many others you are an afterthought with no immediacy, worth less than the device they hold in their hand as they scroll past your social media posts without blinking; worth less, it would seem, than the cat video that gives them pause.

History, story and truth are, after all, siblings. Where sources, information, and vested interests abound (and indeed, they do), the searcher for real truth can sink deep into quagmire. Efforts to escape from it fare even worse. There two (at least) great pitfalls, here; first that despairing of ascertaining truth one might decide that it is an illusion altogether; or second, that despairing of ascertaining truth one might arbitrarily assign it to something, or anything, on a whim or fancy.

Regarding history, however, there is some sort of permanent foothold for the objective rationalist: for there was, of course, exactly one way things *really* happened. That fact cannot itself be proven, yet it is known. Viewed through many perspectives? Of course. Interpret-able in a multiplicity of ways? Indeed. Unknowable, it turns out, in the final calculus? Well, perhaps. Ultimately, however, singular and ruthlessly objective in its reality? Unquestionably. There is really only one narrative, however intricate and lovely it’s countless details, subplots, and characters may be.

Indeed, history is a powerful ally in the hands of the wise- or the ambitious. For the truth-seeker, a promised land of absolutes in the sea of man’s tumultuous subjectivity; for the politician, an infinite faerie realm of manipulative possibility. Beware the past! Nothing can be accepted blindly, even when true, for all story is recounted with an argument; a poniard of perspective. If you cannot see it glinting, held before the tale-teller in his very hands, check behind his back. History is the master teacher, the grand pedagogue; but no less the charismatic dictator. Wielding story, men may lead themselves and other men to greatness- or to deplorable evils; bereft of story, we wander weaponless in a dangerous world.

The Siege of Gidgal

In the ancient west long ago there was an Island. It is the way of islands to rise and fall, growing and shrinking with the tides of the ages; to be discovered, named, and peopled; then deserted, forgotten and unnamed; only to be rediscovered, renamed, and repeopled again. So it was with the Isle called, in those days, Minal. It was unremarkable in size: forty miles from its gentle-sloping shores in the east to the abrupt and treacherously ragged western dropoff, but scarcely ten miles across, at its narrowest, from north to south.

Geographically speaking, Minal was almost the eastern-most outlier of the Great Western Archipelago, called the ‘Wall of Vikun’ (Vikuu Valeske) and the Utuno Dolimath Duari. It lay two hundred miles off the southern coast of the land of Vikun, in that day a thriving nation of fishers, mariners, and traders. Minal was fifty miles west of its nearest sister island and the true end if the Archipelago: the great Forest Island of Fenar, but it was some six hundred miles from the Straights of Gidgal, which lay far south across the Sea of Telcar and the vast Bay of Shiva, where the stars were bent and the incessant winds blow hotly westward.

How the original people of Minal came to live there none now knows, but the first of it’s immigrants were Kozuli refugees of the brutal Shivan conquest of Gidgal (the capital of Kozul), fleeing the sack and rape of that ancient and once-lovely city. The particular refugees that came to live on Minal were thrice-rare: first, in that they had chosen (or had been forced) to stay and weather the long and horrendous siege of Gidgal, which was true of less than half of the city’s people; second, in that they survived the siege up to the point of the breakthrough, true of perhaps just an eighth of those who stayed to endure it; and finally and most tragically, that they alone of the perhaps twenty thousand survivors managed to escape the city alive when at last the terrible siege came to its end.

The siege of Gidgal was the ending stroke of a conflict that had lasted for a hundred years; the Arlhah’c Nule (War of Tears) of the southern lands, in which the grand Shivan Empire was born, the Arahi people nearly utterly destroyed, the Shuko tribes forced into nomadic exile in the Uroduruk Wastes, and the ancient coastal realm of Kozul was wiped out and its people enslaved. These last three peoples formed the Koté Alliance, an unlikely and unpunctual union that unsucessfully attempted to halt the Shivan Golden Age of imperial conquest.

For six and a half years of partial siege Gidgal (and, sheltered behind it to the west, the rest of Kozul) had survived because of the virtue of the city’s location and the marvel of its construction: for it sat fully astride the great god-carven channel through the Gidgal Isthmus that gave the city its name.

When the war turned against the Koté Alliance, when Shuko was destroyed and when the Arahi were no more; when the glistening armies of Shiva covered the earth a million strong, the last of the retreating Kozuli forces broke in through the Shivan picket around Gidgal for the last time. Crossing the channel, they made strong the bulwark of their capital. They long held the Channel Mile-Crossing against numbers ten, twenty, and fifty times their strength, and for ten years the Shivan commanders were content to slowly attrit the Kozuli defenders by degrees and inches.

The manner of the defense was this: the Channel was a hundred feet deep at it’s lowest, and was bolstered by great pillars of rock and hewn stone. Over the channel at it’s narrowest point (still some thousands of feet across) spanned a monstrous bridge, The Span of Gidgal, borne up by massive stone and iron pillars and reinforced by interwoven lengths of strange alloys and feats of engineering lost to time; impossibly long; marvel of the southern world. Both ends of the bridge were terminated in great fortresses; and on the near side where lay the citadel proper stood the Great Wall of Kozul, ninety feet high, thirty-five feet thick, shod with iron and marble, buttressed by battlements and towers high and innumerable, implacably strong.

When, after a decade, the Kozuli’s defenders dwindled and the passage of the channel and loss of the eastern bridgehead was threatened, the Farfortress was razed in retreat and the mighty, priceless bridge was cast down into the gulf in defiance, lost forever; thereafter all the vast lands of Kozul on the Tormand Head became a giant island indeed, apart from the rest of Vehmsii. So began the full-siege of Gidgal, and it was long and terrible.

First came the Years of Assault, in which Shiva attempted to land en masse behind the city to encircle it. The sea-battles off the northern coasts of Tormand are legendary in the history of naval warfare, but the Shivan ships were endlessly replenished while the Kozuli navy diminished. The landing secured and the city fully encircled, the Shivan war-engineers next attempted to break the walls by force during the years of battery, in which great siege engines of both sides traded blows across previously unthinkable distances, with massive stones and missiles hurled across the great gulf. Every time the Shivan invaders concieved and raised up a more massive weapon of previously unsurpassed size and range, the Kozuli would build in secret a greater to outmatch it; and this went on for three years.

In the fourth year of battery and the seventh year of siege, by combination of treachery, machinery, or sorcery, the wall of Gidgal came down at last; the last city of the Koté to fall, the end of freedom in the south, and then there was little hope for any of those who remained alive inside it. By Land and by sea, the Shivan marauders poured into the city; a ravenning horde of death and enslavement, infuriated to madness by having been made to wait.

By some hideous art long prepared, the invaders sent great gouts of flame before them as they advanced; incinerating centuries of lives, gardens, and architecture in a matter of days. A decade of siege had lifted the heights of Chivan sadism still higher than it was normally wont to be, and the Kozuli that were too noble or poor or stupid to flee in the years earlier met grim fates indeed. 160,000 souls had been trapped in the city for the full siege; by the time of the breakthrough their numbers were less than 20,000. Of these perhaps 4,000 were still alive on the third day of the breakthrough, and these remainders were small bands; ragged husks of men and women and, somehow, their terrorized children; gathered into clumps or enclaves that were being extinguished, one by one.

It is the story of one of these enclaves that I wish to tell, of they who would later come to be known as Those that Lived; they who not only weathered the siege but finally escaped it and thier beloved city; drifting ashore to the Isle of Minal like a boat of the damned.

Voxae the Mariner: Part II

Link to Part I

As I mentioned earlier, Voxae left the halls of the masters when he was seven (which was rather younger than the typical age of 10) in order to return with his father and mother to the East. He was enchanted already with the fire and passion of the Eastshores, land if the burning sunrise; though for a time that desire would lay beneath rather than atop the surface of his heart. Upon reaching the age of 13, Voxae announced to his father that the time for his Vilusa had come, and his father did not restrain him. Even though the Vilusa did not typically begin until the age of 20 (and for some even later), it was not a thing delayed or restrained by the fathers of the Aerni, and so to prevent or forbid Voxae from beginning his journey, even in his extreme youth, would have been a thing unheard of.

So Voxae left, more or less with his family’s blessing, and made his way swiftly and restlessly westward across the forests of Vhem, reaching and climbing the Haltassa (‘Great Table’; later the Deeprun Plateau). The sisu of Aern was hot in his heart and drove him on almost in a sort of fury, so that his mind and feet were sure and he rarely rested long in one place, even though the distances he covered with each leg of his journey were vast beyond the endurance of older men.

It was high in the passes of the Haltassa that Voxae first encountered the great jackal Onowaetha, and its obsidian eyes stalked him for six months waiting for him to tire, that it might devour him. But Voxae was tireless and fearless, and he evaded the Jackal many times so that at last the great Jackal itself became tired. One night as it slept exhausted, Voxae crept silently up and caught Onowaetha by the tail. Onowaetha awoke then and could not escape Voxae; and at length he relented. Now Onowaetha was ancient and very wise, and knew the stories and guise and language of many birds and beasts and men, and he tested Voxae with many tricks, riddles and proverbs of escape and elusiveness, but all of these Voxae resisted and answered, and finally Onowaetha was mastered.

From that day forward Onowaetha journeyed with Voxae. At times he would give him counsel or warnings, though Voxae was rarely quick to listen, preferring rather to follow his own desires and thoughts. One day it came to Voxae that he wished to learn the ways of the northwestern coastlands, so Onowaetha led him him up the Firehalen (Stairs of the North) to the frostbitten shores of Karche. Voxae lived with the Frostlords for two years; he fished in the ice-holes and hunted the great frost-wyrms and the terrible ivory bears of the north, and from the warlords of Karche he learned the sword and the spear, to beat an armed opponent when barehanded, and to calm oneself in the frozen, bitter wastes of the world; and in all these things the fiery spirit of Aern helped him greatly so that the Karchan Lords marveled at the southern man’s fortitude. But at the end of two years Voxae tired of the cold and the north, and he bade farewell to the lords of Karche, desiring instead to see the great subterranean fires of the Red Tuar.

So Onowaetha took him far south to the northern slopes of the Suroceshti (the Greypeaks), and led him through cavern and grotto to the very entrance of Sakhriathol, City of Fire, Mighty citadel of the Red Tuar. And the Jeweled Kings of the Greypeaks received Voxae and led him down, down to the hearts of the mountains, and there he saw the great smithies and fires of the Red Tuar, where molten steel and adamant ran hot and red like the waters, and great steams and smokes moved the engines of the earth. And he stayed with the Mountain Kings for three years, and he grew in craft and strength, and his eyes and mind were attuned to the deep places of the world so that he ever saw in shades of dimlight where other men might see only blackness; and from the Red Tuar he first learned of the terrible fire-mountains across the Eastern sea, in whose fearsome hearts it was said that deepsteel could be forged.

But at length he tired of the deeps, and so he left the Kings of the Mountains desiring instead to to see the Eastern edge of the North, and after long journey he came to the southern Ciryashar, the Ice Teeth and gnashing floes of the northern world. And seeing these terrible ivory obstacles looming up before him, Voxae burned with desire to enter the frozen ice to see the lost Grey Tuar; so Onowaetha led him sure-footedly across the great trackless spires, and there Onowaetha and Voxae together dared perhaps the greatest of all the dangers of the Western World, second only to the vast gaping desert-waste of Arahi in the far south. But the wisdom of Onowaetha and the great burning or Aern could not be conquered, and finally the two intrepid adventurers passed through the frigid Teeth and knocked upon the icy gates of Sorac, the last fortress-home of the forgotten Grey Tuar.

There Voxae stayed three years, for he was grown great beyond the pale of men in strength and knowledge, and he was become a master of cold and fire, sword and hand, speech and lordship. There in the forlorn northern seas he wrought many great works under the dominion and grace of the mist-like Grey Tuar; and here he learned of the second realm and of the spirits, and of the great evil that terrorized that plane, and how to recognize the ancients by name and perception. He delved the ice and built mighty towers and walls and great rafts against which the glaciers cracked and melted; and the Grey Tuar showed him terrible artifacts of the Tuar wars and their many battles with the Devourer and his servants. And at the fullness of his might he wrought from the ever-ice crystals of the north and the rubies of the Red Tuar the legendary Raxecirye Qualcerne (the Ice-gem of Blazing Fire) that is also called the Ciryacerne (Iceflame), which never melted and brought warmth and cold to it’s bearer as desired.

This great effort consumed Voxae for nearly two years, and when it was complete the Grey Tuar were aghast and even alarmed with the beauty and subtly of the artifice of this man, unheard-of, and unlooked-for. But when the great Gem was complete and three years with the Grey Tuar were ended, Voxae grew tired of the Icy Sea, desiring at last to return to the warm south and to seek mastery of still greater things. And Onowaetha was with him as he again journeyed south, and they were nearing the great inland waters of Keadsili (that is, the Eyelakes) when suddenly they were waylaid by a company of Black Tuar, coming in many hundreds from a recent raid, and Voxae was overmastered and taken deep into the dungeons of Zukazalir, below the Silver Mountains that rise above the Keadsili. There they daunted him for days, seeking to wrest from him the secrets of the Ciryacerne, but he would not divulge a word to them even under torment of pain, and despair near to death.

Even as he cried in his last anguish, and his eyes dimmed and his end seemed close around him, Onowaetha stole silently into the heart of the fortress, and slewing the guards he came upon the Ciryacerne and swallowed it, and finding Voxae at last he rescued him, suffering many wounds in the doing, and devouring many of the Tuar he led the weakened man finally to the surface and the shores of the Keasili; but he did not tell Voxae he had devoured the great gem.

When they had journeyed for almost a day and again reached near to the shores of the greatest of the Keadsili (called Kedir Gorgon, Greateye), Onowaetha knew that death was come upon him. Now Voxae was recovering from his wounds but bitterly mourning the loss of the Ciryacerne, and did not know that Onowaetha had devoured it to save it. Onowaetha then revealed to Voxae that he had devoured it, and that even now the Iceflame was sustaining his spirit though his body was dying. And he gave Voxae then a terrible choice: to abandon the Ciryacerne, restoring Onowaetha to life, although there was no certainty for how long; or to reclaim the gem and surrender Onowaetha to death, allowing his spirit to depart the world forever.

Now Voxae loved Onowaetha, but he loved the Ciryacerne even more. And he lied to Onowaetha and said “I relinquish the jewel!” But even as he did Onowaetha perceived his heart, and he spoke and said “No, Voxae, for you have decided. Indeed did I myself decide this when I submitted myself to you on the Great Table seven years ago. Take back what is yours, and I shall depart.” And Onowaetha’s spirit departed from his body, and lo, there was the Ciryacerne in the Jackal’s mouth. But when Voxae laid his hand upon it, the Jackal bit his hand and would not release it. And the spirit of Onowaetha spoke to Voxae and said “As it was fated, so it has happened. And this artifact is now bound to you as is this wound; that on the day you lose it you shall lose your very life; and it alone shall stop this wound from spelling your death.” And Voxae prized apart the laws of his friend, and taking the Ciryacerne, he arose and left that place- but despite his efforts to staunch it, his hand bled freely so that he thought he would soon surely die of it.

Indeed, before the sun set on the day after Onowaetha’s death, Voxae swooned as he strode and fell face first as one dead, upon the earthy shores of The Greateye.

Voxae the Mariner: Part I

Long ago in the time of the Guardians, before men had yet set foot upon the eastern shores or the Great Mouth was unmasked, there lived a man called Voxae. Voxae was a farmer of the lands in the very furthest east of the known world; that is on the Eastshores of the Great Inland Sea. In an short and unbroken line of the firstborn, Voxae could (and did) trace his ancestry right down through the ages to Aern (that is, The Flmae), youngest daughter of Atema, the first of all men. He therefore belonged to those people who have gone down in the histories as the Aernori; the Men of the Flame, and his father one of their mightiest princes.

Now of the eldest sires of men little is known (and less is told), but surely it has become demonstratively clear that of the gifts given them by the guardians the people of Aern were surpassingly blessed with courage, indomitable spirit and a fierce determination; less, with great patience, or caution.

All of this shall become clearer as we continue, but somewhat of Voxae’s exposition should perhaps be known before we begin his tale (which is rather long and is retold here only with great abbreviation) in earnest. In those days men lived long; many lives of their lesser kindred that live on to this day, at least; the longer time in which they might grow acquainted with a world in which they were still some of the shortest-lived and youngest of the many other races. Less in stature than the Gii of the mountains; less in mind and subtlety than the Kentari; slower and less nimble than the Llito; weaker than the Tuar; and bereft of all but the very barest of glimpses and perception of the second realm of the Thari (the Spirits) and Faeiir (the Wild Things); the question could be (and was) fairly asked of them, living as they were amongst so august and halcyon a company of other peoples: what use were they able to make of their short lives, however long they would be judged by the standards of today?

It is a question that all the more may be asked of those who now follow, all these long years later- we who trouble the earth for a far shorter duration, and that with greatly reduced potency than our sires, the mighty men of elder days.

But we have now come a long way now from the life of Voxae the Mariner.

As I said earlier, Voxae was a man of the Aern, a farmer of eighty years, who had for the last sixty of which dwelt in the Eastshores near the Great Inland Sea (as it was then called) which is now called Nulset, the Sea of Tears. The first seven of his years were spent in West Vhemsii under the tutelage of Albe the master and all of his various understudies (in this way his childhood was similar to that of all of the Aerni). After the completion of these formative years his father Vorxes had returned with his wife and son into the east. Since they day Voxae returned to Eastshore with his father (who was a man in his prime, of some hundred and fifty years) he had left the hills of the great Sea only once at the age of 13, but he was gone long, and returned at the age of 30 a marked and married man, with a strange name, bearing strange gifts and burdens, and wedded to a strange bride: Noetlin Keadine.

Noetlin was not of Aern but rather of Kead the Eye, eldest son of Okri, the second man. Kead fathered the Kediir, the Men of Sight, perhaps the greatest juxtaposition possible for the impulsive and fiery Aerni: stern of glance and slow to act (but unflinching once underway), Kead and his offspring leaned much from the great seer spirit Mira, Handmaiden to the Empath and wife of Okri, and were farsighted and wise beyond all men that were or shall ever come again. Noetlin was eldest daughter to the chief of the Kediir, Asu, and the sisu (that is, the spirit-essence and enduring identity) of Mira was strong in her heart and her being.

Now it was the way of things in those days for Aernorii men, after learning for some years at the feet of his father and other teachers, to leave the place of his family and to enter the wilderness for some time to commune with the spirits and the gods, and returning, to seek a bride and his place in the world. So it came to pass that when Voxae was 13 he tired of his instruction at the hand of his father and resolved to leave the east, venturing vaguely west and north on the Vilusa or ‘Voyage’ as it was then called, to find what adventures and destiny might await him.

Now the Guardians had appointed to each tribe a region over which they had dominion (and within which they were to stay) with wide open lands in between. The Guardians had also at that time already made forbidden the crossing of the Great Sea that would later be called Nulset and Setilolath (Sea of Darkness) and many other names, but in these days in the Sortr is was first called the Qualcerne (bursting fire) and the Essoligdhe, that is, the Rising Light or Sunrise, for the first Aerni explorers of that region came upon that great and terrible water just as the light of Dawn reached the breaking point over the flat east horizon.

The sun burst in that day over the sea with the force and terrible beauty of a red, fiery explosion. This light it is said kindled something deep and dormant in the hearts of these sons of fire, children of Aern the flame, and they did not forget, being drawn eastward and indeed ‘flameward’. Voxae was one of these, who even in the hearing of that great exploration and later in coming to dwell in the very foothills of the sea was kindled and ever smoldered with the passion and fire for the sea and for the East.

But I am running ahead of my story, again.

Link to part II

Rupik the Pitiless: Part I

In the Jadewood on the Deeprun lived an outlaw known as Rupick. He was cold and he was vile; he was seldom seen by men. In his youth now long ago he was a fisher’s boy in Dradik; by age of twelve the boy had crossed the sea and back again.

When he was scarce fifteen he took a lover in the city, though little could he offer her of marriage, bliss or life. So he left her there in Dradik and he sailed the seas a deckhand; what little coin he made he saved to make the girl his wife.

Off the dreadful shoals of Wairk did Rupik learn the ways of water, and sailed he clear to Narne with ladened cargo bay to sell. He dove for pearls and rockfish in the coves of craggy Tartar, and learned he every yarn and tale that mariner would tell.

He journeyed far and deep, and grew from deckhand up to bosun; by age of twenty Rupik had the charge of twenty men. His eyes were fierce and dark; his voice would echo like a cannon; He led his crew and cargo safe through every wreck and fen.

Once when his ship was moored upon the coast of wooded Fenar, a caravel of raiders swept around the horn at speed. His crew was full ashore when Rupik spied the pirate schooner; no hope of any help had he, though desperate was his need.

Swiftly came the warship on to swarm the Dradii freighter, the gnarled and fetid captain standing rashly in her prow; but swifter still assayed the thought of Rupik, master-sailor, and “anything but capture, even death!” did he avow.

The People of Veris: The Stromgk

The Stromgk (sortr. ‘Oldest’) awoke first in the deep years, before the wars of the guardians, first of the Peoples of Veris and without parallel. While they were unlike the gods and the spirits, being bound to the physical sphere and shape of Veris, still their hearts burned brightly and deep in the second realm, and their thought reached far. The Stromgk looked first on the empty darkness of Veris when the earth was young and hot, and for a thousand years they held counsel with the earth, the guardians, the stars, and the spirits. Out of their deepening knowledge they brought forth the greatest and loveliest creations and artifacts of the ancient age, and their like shall not be seen again. They made physical the deep realities of the universe; great works of beauty and understanding and power that clarified and amplified the very nature of What Is.

When the wars of the guardians began and the earth was assailed by chaos they were its great defenders, and when the tumult of those days finally abated it was to the Stromgk appointed the shepherding of the fledgling young peoples that then awoke. Thus the Stromgk, never numerous nor dominion-seeking, became the benevolent sages, godlike artificers, and rarefied lords of a primeval age.

These shepherded, following peoples were indeed prolific, and some if not all indeed did seek dominion. None of these after-comers had even one part in five of the mastery and insight of the Stromk, but they were comparatively blunt, stunted, and impotent. As the centuries and peoples multiplied, as these younger and more prolific races imitated and learned from the Stromga, and as the lesser peoples ascended inexorably to prominence until they filled up seemingly all the earth, the spirits of the ageless Stromga sank ever lower. Not from envy or pride, but in despair: for they saw that all things forever were but a diminishing echo and reverberation of greater things past, and they foresaw in these followers the doom and ignominy to come.

For while even an echo of a mastersong retains its fading beauty unsullied, the Stromgk endured instead the endless replaying and clumsy adaptations of the unskilled, decade after decade in every science and art form, as mortality and nature capped and atrophied the ability and progress of every individual and race. This terrible progression became a drudgery and eventually a torture to the aesthete Stromgk, watching each generation growing less and less like the original lesson, growing diminished and crude and base, until the beauty and purity of life was garbled beyond memory and recovery even by the most masterful, learned, and long-lived of the lesser races.

The world around them was filled to the brim with mediocrity and worse, for under the surface it seethed with strife, malice, and suffering; most of all it teemed with the waste and vainglorious arrogance of youth.

It is a curious matter indeed that the Stromgk, in all of their ancient glory and voracious passion for understanding and beauty, were tasked by the gods with the shepherding of such unlovely and clumsy peoples. What unrecorded conversance have the Stromgk made with gods and spirits over the fathomless days of the first age of the earth? In what bitterness have they sought relief from this burden? Who in Veris can conceive of the agony of immortal perfection in an age of endlessly declining repetition? And of course, who now can answer for the Stromgk- fallen and changed as they are- and exiled?

In the ages that followed, what happened- with a pace so glacial that it went unnoticed by the dying peoples- is that the counsel of the Stromgk grew cryptic and withdrawn. Pace by pace, year by year, they retreated into silence, insularity and isolation. The doors of their high places opened to fewer, and then rarely, and finally not at all. Over a millennium the Stromgk passed in stages into the ether of legend until the mortal races, never overly patient with these shepherds even in the best of times, came at last to neglect them utterly, altogether.

And so it was that when the Wars of Darkness came like at last like a storm; when the need of the shepherdless peoples was dire; when death and evil were full grown and when at last the mightiest of them in desperation searched and sent and reached the great citadels of the Stromgk, they found the gates standing open and the great halls deserted. The Stromgk had vanished. In the end, it seems, they proved unable to endure so agonizing a purpose.

While even the legendary and mythic embellishments of the final days of the Stromgk are now themselves many thousands of years old, and the precise nature and account of their departure will never be known to mortals, the ancient tales and legends coalesce around a theme; a theme in which there is, perhaps, some element of truth: that there came a day at last when the greatest among the Stromgk used all of their might and their unsurpassed learning toward a singular, terrible objective; an attempt to escape forever the monotony of their eternity; an attempt to make one truly new thing, a great thing; a terrible thing. And so in one hand they took the masterpiece that was themselves, and in the other hand they wielded the fullness of their ability and art; and finally in some mad ambition and desperation they stole the right of the gods, and brought both hands together with it, to make craft of their very essence and being- to change it forever, to augment it with the gifts and natures of the other creatures and natural forces of the earth.

No greater thing has ever been attempted (nor indeed may ever be again) in all of the history of Veris- and none more disastrous.

For the attempt succeeded, after a fashion, and the Stromgk were indeed changed forever- but not in the way they intended.

The Lay of Ember Earthenhold

from The Pages of Erise, “Collected Poetry of the North”

The snow fell deep on dark Northold,
the day was damp, the night was cold
when softly marched the host untold,
coming from the Northern-wold.

Her rooftops whitened swiftly now
that autumn’s death was final-
how the flakes of silky whiteness plowed
the fields of that forsaken town.

It crested on a hilltop round
The clustered buildings on the ground
Trembled softly with the sound
Of marching, marching, underground.

For long lay waiting forces strong
here tromping now in horrid throng
those under-men that fortune wronged
had waited, waited, waited long,

With hatred forced to lands unkind
The under men grew coarse and blind
now ravaged south in hope to find
somewhere new their caves to wind.

They come! They come, with fire and drum
They come with tune and flute and hum
They come with death and terror wrung,
They come with darkness ‘bout them hung.

For seeing not their souls yet burn
With fire bright and pain unearned
As slowly they the tunnels spurned
And towards the hated surface turned.

To come in wrath and just accord they
Struck with skill at northern hoards and
Stomped they over kings deplored with
wrath of passion then un-stored

Twas on that day, the fifth December
When the under-men met Ember
Those that stood that night remembered
Evermore his words un-tender.

Slow began his song of woe,
As softly notes began to grow
The under-city’s torches glow
Went out like matches on the snow.

Crescendo building every second
Ember’s voice now quickly beckoned-
Soldiers sprung from fen and bracken
stalks revealing branches weaponed.

Terrible his voice now rising
Upwards flew he, greatness sizing
Giant’s limbs now enterprising
Forth from Ember’s form despising

Trembling notes rocked earth as nature
Buckled ‘neath the weight of stature
As an arm reached out, a fracture

Leapt from Ember’s feet; his aim sure
Tearing soul from body dying
Echoed screams displaced the crying
voice as one from heaven scrying

melody still amplifying
Reaching sounds as yet unfathomed
Darkness fled for fear of chasmed
fire leaping from phantasmal visage-

Ember’s height then spasmed
Echoed ringing still was heard
Though Ember now spoke not a word
As slowly passed away the herd

Of soldiers sprung from moss and fern
Great fissures healed upon the earth
The singer’s form now shrank and birthed
A man of common form and girth

He stood and righted self with mirth
A smile on his youthful face
Contrasted chaos in his wake
As strode he from that fateful place

where hero sang with frightful grace
So many years from then is told
The story of the Emberscold
When earth rose up and swallowed whole

The marching men of Underfold
And though the people never knew
The whereabouts of hero true
It often was remarked by youth

That hills and forests sang anew
The songs of Ember Earthenhold
The hero of the northern-wold
The man of smile and laughter bold

But terror sharp, and anger cold.

Sahaei and the Wyrm: Part II

Link to part I

Sahaei rose again up onto her tiptoes as she cradled the cup, the brownish water inside glinting in the sunlight. Walking back to her place in the sand, she kept her eyes on the merchant and imagined her arms to be new palm shoots swaying with her steps, fluid as the liquid in the clay cup. The kippa rose and fell as she walked, sandaled feet sinking into sand, and the small surface of the water was still like an oasis pool.

Unbidden, her thoughts touched for an instant on a memory- the gritty, burning taste of a mouthful of sand- the price she had paid years ago for a few spilled drops of water. Her concentration faltered and her brow furrowed- but her mind flitted nimbly away from the memory, and the trace of it vanished as quickly as it had come. She paced forward.

Halfway back to the merchant Sahaei passed under an awning, giving her eyes had a brief reprieve from the sun now high overhead. She slowed. She knew better than to halt on her way, but what she saw there silenced the warning, and suddenly she stopped. Her palm shoot arms swayed forward past her body in an imagined breeze before slowly coming to a stop in front of her; finally returning gently to her chest, where she clutched the small cup in whitening hands. The motion was beautiful in a simple and sinuous sort of way, not that anyone saw it- for everybody now was staring, as Sahaei was, out across the desert dunes and deep into the horizon and through the mirage shimmer of it’s edge- staring at a rising wave of dust and sand a hundred feet high; staring most of all at the rusty glimmer and silver flash of sunlight on polished bronze and steel.

The pounding of the horses’ hooves would not be audible until they were much nearer, of course- but soon afterward they would be drowned out by the terrible cries of the Shivan raiders that rode them; finally, by the cries of their victims.

Sahaei turned, and ran.

Link to part III

Sahaei and The Wyrm: Part I

Long ago, in the windswept deserts of the southern world there lived a young girl named Sahaei. Sahaei had grown up in the household of a merchant who had many wives, although her mother was not one of them. Sahaei had never met her mother. The women told her many times that it was for the best, but Sahaei always thought that it would have been wonderful to have known her mother, no matter what she had been like.

Fortunately or unfortunately, Sahaei had only rare opportunities to wonder about her mother, because she worked very, very hard. She cooked and she cleaned, she sewed and she mended, she scrubbed and she dyed, she cared for the many infants and smaller children of the merchant’s household, tended the merchant’s various animals, and anything else she was ordered to do. Her most important duty, however, was carrying the merchant’s wares to and from the market stalls each day with the help of the old mule, Zabir. It was mainly because of this task that her skin, which had always been dark, now shone like bronzed obsidian and her arms were strong and nimble as hempen rope.

Zabir was a lazy old mule, and he was moreover the merchant’s favorite animal, so Sahaei would often be made to carry his load of the merchandise as well.

At the market, Sahaei would sit next to the merchant. She would fan him with palm branches when he was hot. She would fill his water cup from the skins when he was thirsty. When the merchant had customers, she would assist him with displaying one good or another; holding up a rug or a robe or a bolt of cloth while the merchant sold and haggled. More than anything, however, Sahaei was silent, and in so being became an excellent listener. She listened to the sweeping of the wind through the sewn awnings of the market stalls; to the jingle of coins, harness, and brass weights, and to the travelers and caravans that came through the marketplace. Mostly she listened to the merchant, who was a fascinating person to listen to: he was the smartest, most engaging man she had ever met.

Sahaei had not met very many men.

One day, she was sitting alone with the merchant at the market, fanning him with a large palm branch. It was hot; it was always hot in the desert. Sahaei and the merchant sat in the shade of the awning over his market stall, which today was loaded with brightly colored, deliciously soft fabric from Shiva, a great city across the desert to the west. Sahaei longed to feel it’s slipperiness against her skin, but Zabir had been looking particularly lazy that day and the merchant had made her carry the water skins and the market stall on her back instead.

The merchant had not had many customers and it was nearly midday. Sahaei knew that that was not a good thing. She wished someone would come talk to him, but for hours they sat alone, with few customers and no buyers, and at last the merchant began tapping his foot. This was quite a bad sign for Sahaei; the merchant only tapped his foot when he was about to kick someone. Of all the people the merchant enjoyed kicking, Sahaei was his very favorite, so today she decided to try to head him off.

She set down the palm frond and stood up.

The merchant’s left hand went around Sahaei’s right wrist like a steel cuff, his knuckles white. She was pulled down roughly, her right knee sinking with a dull thud into the sand beneath the rug on which they sat. The merchant leaned so close to Sahaei’s right ear that she felt the bristled hairs of his beard sticking into her hair and cheek.

“Where are you going?” The merchant’s lower lip hung open, as it did whenever he was angry, showing the yellow-brown snarl of his bottom-front teeth, the sourness of his breath filling the inches of space between them.

Sahaei held up the merchant’s empty kippa. She smiled and shook the cup, gesturing towards the water skins. The merchant’s eyes narrowed. He worked his lower jaw back and forth, grinding the jumble of his teeth like dry stones.

“Bah!” he spat, releasing her, and he struck her roughly with the back of his left hand. Propelled by the shove Sahaei barely stumbled, but used her left hand to brace herself while keeping the merchant’s kippa safe in her right. She had earned a particularly savage kick the first (and last) time she had allowed the small, delicately crafted clay cup to touch the ground. That was three years ago, when she was eight. Since then, Sahaei had become a proficient balancer. She turned back to ensure that the merchant was again facing towards the market, then she balanced her way over to the skins, walking on tip-toe, which helped her focus completely on balancing.

The skins were tied up to one of the posts that held up the awning of the merchant stall, so that Sahaei could lift them with one hand while holding the kippa in the other. She switched hands to hold the kippa in her left hand, freeing her right to raise the water skin to the correct height. Once the water was just beginning to dribble from the mouth of the skin, she quickly switched hands again; the hand holding the cup went up to hook her little finger into the finger-loop atop the skin, and as she hooked the skin she dropped the kippa into her right hand, bringing it quickly beneath the trickle of water. Not even a mouthful of the water was wasted.

Zabir the mule was, as usual, a completely unappreciative audience for this feat of dexterity.

The bright water plinked and spattered into the cup until it was nearly full. Sahaei carefully lowered the heavy skin with her little finger in the loop, being so very careful not to touch the skin with her left hand. Finally it was fully lowered and she could switch the kippa back to her left, allowing her to close the mouth of the skin carefully with her right hand; with that the ritual was ended. Sahaei breathed again, turned, and tip-toed back towards the merchant’s hunched shoulders and the market.

Link to part II

Sahaei and The Wyrm: Part III

Link to part I
Link to part II

Sahaei lay on the ground for a moment or two, thankful for its cool, reassuring solidity; thankful for how much better it was than the spinning, falling, crashing vertigo of moments ago; thankful in spite of the throbbing pain that now assailed her from too many body parts to name. Her mouth was open; there were little pieces of rock and dirt in her teeth. Her eyes were still closed and it was hard to think of much else. Her heart was pounding in her chest with such force that she could feel it pressing against the ground, pulsing and fighting with her rapid breathing in a dissonant rhythm. She flexed her fingers against the rock and felt them dig slightly into the wet, grainy texture, making a heavy tearing sound as she closed her fingers slowly, painfully into a fist.

When Sahaei finally allowed her eyes to open, she discovered that there was dim light in the cave around her, a dappled indigo sort of light that did not flicker; rather it seemed to pulse and thrum slowly, now stronger (but never truly bright), now just barely visible. In the purplish light she could see that the walls of the small chamber were oddly formed- smooth in some parts to the point of being nearly polished like a dull mirror, while in other parts the jagged bones of rock stuck out from the walls, which sloped steeply upward. She rolled her head slowly, painfully to the side and looked up into darkness, waiting for blurred vision to clear. When the light reached its strongest she could just barely make out where the walls came together, far higher than she could reach, in a seamless dome of jagged, broken rock.

With her head still on the ground, Sahaei stared at the rocks that littered the floor of the cavern. They glinted softly in the pulsing light. When the light swelled particularly strong, some of the rocks glimmered almost as if they were great azure gemstones. Some of the rocks were translucent, at least, and in the thrumming light they threw fantastic shapes against the walls with great blue shadows and brilliant cyans. Sahaei counted the time between the pulses; one… two… three… it took about eight seconds for the light to reach its zenith, and one.. two… three… about eight more for it to dim almost completely away into a deep, violet darkness.

As she lay mesmerized by the thrumming light, her heart rate and breathing slowing, she suddenly heard a sound that drove all other thought from her mind. It was ever so faint, just barely present, but it was there: the trickle and drip of water running down a rock. Water! Her heart leaped at the thought, and she found herself at last strong enough to move. Sahaei slowly (and painfully) rose up onto all fours. Her legs shook, and her knees were torn and ached, but she stilled herself to listen and hear in which direction the water-sound was coming from.

She heard nothing; not even the faintest drip or trickle.

Her heart almost burst at the silence. The will to move left her and she collapsed, roughly, onto her stomach; the air rushing out of her lungs as her excitement evaporated. It had been just a cruel trick of the cavern. Her lips were so cracked with three waterless days that the groan she made came out as nothing but a painful whisper. She laid her head back down on the rock to watch the lights glinting off the cave walls. She watched them swell to fullness and dim away once, twice, three times, ten times; but it was no good. Now all her mind was afire with familiar, helpless, crushing thirst.

Shes stopped. There it was again. The drip-drip trickle. It was like the shifting of dried lentils in the hand; and glorious, wild, impossibly faint. She pressed her ear to the ground. The sound was louder. She cupped her hand around her small ear, and she heard the sound so clearly that she made an involuntary croak of joy and desire. The water sounded like it was running right beneath her head, in the very rock below her.

Sahaei rose to her knees and tore at the rocks with cracked fingers. She pinched and she pulled, searching every crevice, frantic. All were firmly seated; the whole rock was one solid block of stone and earth, welded together by eons of pressure and the weight of the very world.

Almost imperceptibly a slab rocked in her hands. She gasped. with all her strength and both of her small hands she wrenched on the tiny crevice between two edges of the rocks and felt the tell-tale give of it coming free, and then it was gone, flung desperately away down the cave with a thunk and a clatter. She could hear the water now, and beneath the first great slab the rocks were looser, giving great sucking sounds as the cavern floor turned muddy with the emerging underground spring. She pulled up stone after stone, heaving away large ones with both arms, until there, at last, was the flickering gleam of the subterranean stream; just an infinitesimal vein of the immeasurably great underground courses of water; perhaps a handsbreadth deep and less than two wide, but it was enough. For an instant Sahaei was paralyzed, marveling at the iridescent beauty of the water in the thrumming violet light, awash with the intensity of her desire for it, waiting for one moment before she would plunge her head into its coolness.

In that moment she heard a voice, near and quiet and terribly deep, as if the very cavern around her was speaking.

“Child,” the voice asked, “Are you thirsty?”

The great voice filled the cave with sudden warmth and a presence that enveloped Sahaei; she was pulled around, whether with her own will or despite it, to face the voice- and there, not more than an arm’s length away, were the immense, shimmering, indigo eyes and face and jaws of a dragon.