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.