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A World of My Own, Part Four
Books for Fantasy Gamers, some suggestions
Campbell's work on mythology, including this one, are good inspiration for ways to think of the gods, the meaning of ritual, and the place of mythos in individual lives.
Classic sword and sorcery by a master of the genre, with the iconic characters of Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser
Wolfe is a fine writer. His series on ancient Greece are also well worth a read.
My favorite Cherryh series, in its presentation of cultures, their decline and their strength, and their conflicts.
What are the gods anyway? A wonderful mix of fantasy and science fiction forms a unique read.
Robinson is one of my favorite young authors of contemporary fiction, and this, I think, is his best.
Another classic in fantasy, with dragons, hatching grounds, and human relationships to dragons in a heroic vein, with dragons as allies.
This is a stellar translation of the Old English epic!
If you haven't re-read the Grimm brothers as an adult, you should. There is more in them than you probably remember, and things children do not see that adults will.
The Historical Ages continued
Eighth Age, The Great Sundering
The Empire of the Moon survived its infncy, but it was a troubled state. Uztarragul made many enemies among the wyrms. He was arrogant. He was greedy. He used people armed with mooniron to slay other dragons and allowed mortals into the hatching grounds to break his enemies’ eggs. He was a wyrm the other wyrms wished to be rid of.
He was also a wyrm other wyrms sought to emulate. His methods were effective, and he had, through the use of wizards, warriors, sorcerers, and priests, come to command more land than any other wyrm. He grew fat, and the Qans grew fat with him. Dragons in other hunting grounds raised their own Qans and made their own bargains: Bazhkagul, Elzira (estranged from her son since the murder of her mate), Ruzhaskagrral, Malikangrrahl. These new dragon lords were committed to ridding the world of Uztarragul and taking what was his. They were also committed to remaking the Empire of the Moon into a body that would serve them all, not just one. The plan was Elzira’s, but it was Ruzhaskagrral that carried it to completion, luring Uztarragul to the hatching grounds by destroying his mate’s eggs and then tearing him apart, giving his meat to the loyal Qans of the Syndicate to feast upon.
Ruzhaskagrral demanded from the dragons of the Syndicate independence as his compensation for taking the risk of battle with Uztarragul. He would be an ally of the Syndicate, but his hunting grounds, the Ruz, would be separate, entirely his own and his heirs. This remained true until the line of Ruzhasgagrral was obliterated by the Chaos Lords during the Ninth Age with the aid of Grazhak, the Wolf.
The new Empire of the Moon kept a public face, the face of the Qan, believed by many to control the whole of the Empire from Hesperidae, the City of the Moon. However, the reality of rule and the face of it are very different things, and the Empire remains a land ruled entirely by Wyrms, the Syndicate of Conspirators, descended from those who decided upon Uztarragul’s death and the consolidation of the wyrms’ power over the great hunting grounds of the East. The Qan is more important in the rituals of Hesper than he is to the governance of Ska, though his is the voice in which the decisions of the Syndicate are delivered to the people.
The Syndicate acted as one body, and through their unity conquered the other dragons of the East until they and their hatchlings were the only Wyrms left. Hatchlings left the East to exercise their youthful exuberance in the West and the South, far from the control of the elder Wyrms. Their children did not leave in flights, but returned to the self-reliant patterns of the first wyrms, and so, though they were a plague to mortals, they often fought one another, allowing the peoples of the lands they attacked to survive, however desperately.
It was at this time that Audaz walked Anwyll, beginning his pilgrimage at Karnak. He appeared in the City of the Quartered Dark under the Harvest Moon, when leaves turned crisp and rusted on the trees. He met the leaders of the Second Alliance, once again at war with Ska. The Qan, U Ro, despised in memory and popularly called the Blood-Drinking Emperor, loosed a new weapon upon the Alliance, necromancers who forced the slain to enter battle again, their bodies slaying friend and brother on the field. Audaz walked into a weeping city. Women knelt before him, their faces bloodied by the knives ofmourning, and begged him to allow the souls and bodies of their kinsmen to rest. Audaz had mercy, and the Bargain of Souls was struck. Necromancy would fail on the battlefields of the West until the Second Rise of the Rat, so long as the peoples of the Alliance and their descendants rejected necromancy and its works. This is the bargain that keeps Tryshtar free of necromancy, though many superstitions not part of the bargain itself worked themselves into the culture. The best known of these additions to the terms of the bargain is that taboo which holds a woman corrupted should she touch or remain near a corpse. Corpses are certainly unpleasant, but they are no more dangerous to a woman than to a man, and being near one will not result, under normal circumstances, in the possession of any foetus the woman bears. Many, of course, believe the superstition wholeheartedly, and those who do not are widely distrusted.
Audaz’s pilgrimage took him to all the peoples of Mahdi, and with each he made a separate bargain, so that the world’s customs regarding death, what is taboo and what is not, how corpses are treated, and what is held to be true of the spirit, were set by real-life conditions at specific times. In other words, the customs of death and terms of death present at this time may not be eternal truths at all, but only such parts of the truth as appealed to, or repelled, mortals of the past.
Audaz went on pilgrimage. His brother, Ruhe, went on the march. Wyrms are not well beloved by Ruhe, for although strong and given to violence, they refuse to engage on the field of battle, remaining in the air, scarcely ever risking their own skins, and thus marring the combat in which he delights. It did not suit Ruhe that dragons thought to settle near Karnak, his city, and so he joined with the forces of the Second Alliance to slay them. Once begun, it was not an easy thing for the god to stop, and so Ruhe marched with his army of Battle Horns, his own knights, devoted to him amongst all the gods. Ruhe and his army marched north, slaying dragons, giants, and all other creatures that crossed their path. Ruhe’s march prepared the West for the rise of its own empire, although this was not in his mind as he went to battle, and certainly he would not have done so had he known it would benefit Elladine, the mother who abandoned him and his brothers.
The Ninth Age, Rise of the Young Gods
It might be supposed that with Mahdi, Vetrais, Grazhak, the Nine, the Three Brothers and the Three Sisters, there were sufficient gods, however, it seems gods, like mortals, must breed, and breed they did, as dragons and men fought over the land. Now, the Elder Gods are honored in every land. They are shared by all peoples, and even by those monsters with sufficient intelligence to recognize gods and contract with them. This is not true of the Young Gods, gods more focused in their actions, less powerful in their natures, and, some say, mortal as any other created being because of their remove from the first creation. It is argued by Dannaeval, the Fifth Seer of Izhradda, that as the descendants of the Ancestors have shorter lifespans, lesser magical power, and diminished physical prowess in comparison with the original stock, it is also true that the younger gods are lesser powers, and mortal, substantively different from the Elder Gods. It is certain that the Young Gods are not as widely worshipped as the Elders, and in some communities remain unknown.
There are many Young Gods, each with its own story and domain. A full listing and description of each deity is provided in the proper place in this guide, but here a few of the more important younger gods will be discussed to show how their rise also affected Anwyll and the development of the empires and kingdoms.
All the Young Gods are children of the Brothers and the Sisters. Demen the Rat, Lord of Madness, for example, referred to by Audaz in his bargain with the Second Alliance, is the son of Rache and Ihira, as is the very popular God of Luck, Mangel. Berenice, Goddess of War, is the daughter of Ruhe and Delektai, partaking of both their natures in what some insist is a civilizing and softening of the penalties of combat. Kronen, Lord of Law, is the son of Audaz and Kasia, and it was only with his birth that we call civilization, the courtesies, rules, and rituals of social behavior, those restraints on mortal nature, became possible.
The rise of new gods remains possible, should enough spiritual power become concentrated on Mahdi, enlivened by Grazhak and given intelligence by Vetrais.
The rise of the Young Gods was a time of divine upheaval, for they were not welcomed by all the Elders, and some are still held in disfavor by various members of the Nine. Grazhak took advantage of the distraction of the other divinities to open a path to the Beyond. This time he did not hae the help of Elladine, but of an ancient Fey wizard and cleric, Vis Alrudda. Whether this was the wizard’s true name, or a name he put on as an actor puts on a mask, is not known, but it is the name by which he is known. Vis was already old and wicked when he fell in with Grazhak. He was in love with his own possibilities and so when the Suneater told him what he wanted and provided directions to the means by which it could be achieved,Vis was happy to oblige.
Grazhak instructed Vis Alrudda in the creation of the Outer Gates, those strange circles of standing stones found throughout Anwyll, subject to much speculation among wizards and clerics as to their virtues and dangers. With giant laborers, the stones were set in place according to Grazhak’s instructions. Then Vis, drawing on the power of this world and upon Jakoba’s hidden world, provided each Gate with a unique key. The key to some gates is an action, to others a gesture. The key to some gates is a series of complex combinations of elements: actions, words, signs, and sounds. The Gates remain a mystery for this reason, and, as Grazhak knew but did not tell Vis, the investment of so many keys in so many gates drained all life from the aged Fey, so that his bones marked the last gate in the far south until they became dust and blew away. This left Grazhak in possession of all the keys, to share them as he wills.
Grazhak used the Outer Gates to bring the Chaos Lords into this world, making it more hospitable to him and less lonely, perhaps, but more dangerous for mortals. The first Chaos Lord of note, mentioned in the Book of Tides by Kemal the Sea-Farer, was the Horned King of Amasyr, whose Palace of Sacrifice was constructed and furnished completely of bone. The Horned King encased himself in bone walls, sat upon a bone throne, as his descendants still do today, drank from skulls, and set bones into the floor of his council chamber. Thankfully, Amasyr is not a near neighbor of Anwyll, and so the peoples of the continent have never had occasion to war with him or his army.
It was the Chaos Lords who brought an end to the line of Ruzhaskagrral. The great dragon’s hunting ground became a federation of deformed and demented princelings, as it is today, beyond the Empire of the Moon, sometimes its ally and sometimes its enemy.
As the Young Gods became known, traveling among the peoples to show their power and gain adherents, the remains of the army of the Second Alliance that had followed Ruhe on his march against the dragons of the West came to rest on the coast. Ruhe returned to the games of the gods, but his knights were not wholly abandoned, for a young god came to them, Berenice of the Chariot, and she showed them a different way of war, a way that offered them not only the thrill of battle, but an opportunity to build lives, cities, and, eventually, their own empire. The knights gathered the people of the mountains together and raised the keep of Bar-Holt. It was in that keep, at the Calling of the Sun, that the Empire of Tryshtar was born.
Tenth Age, The Scaling
The Great Wyrms were a plague on mankind from which, despite the march of Ruhe and the actions of the Second Alliance,t he peoples of Anwyll could not escape. Short tespites were gained, but no end to the devestation and death they caused. Then, carried on the hands of the Great Crone, Balraga, the Scaling struck the Wyrms. The Scaling is a disease known to strike only Wyrms and their kin, the Dragonmen. It begins with small tears in the scales of the beasts, followed by an ever increasing loss of their scales, until there is only meat open to the air, and even this begins to fall off the bone. There is no cure. The only hope of the remaining dragons, not themselves Great Wyrms at all, and the Dragonmen against this pestilence is a direct appeal to Balraga herself tht they do not contract it. Where weapons failed, the peoples of Anwyll were saved by divine mercy.
The Scaling made possible the riseof the Tryshtar, the Empire of the Sun, from an embattled keep on the western coast of Anwyll into a mighty empire able to fight, and win, in open battle against the Empire of the Moon. The first of the Empire’s great victories, through which the Jarae Heights and the pinnacle of Ihirat were gained, took place at Cymbranur under the first Emperor of the Sun, Mikhail Yshteroth. Wyrms fell from the sky in vast number, some felled by mooniron tipped arrows, but more by theScaling. Demoralized without their dragon leaders, the armies of Ska fled, leaving their dead behind.
The Emperors of Tryshtar did not immediately seek to bring war into Ska. First, they consolidated their gains, constructed cities and farms, planned defenses, and developed their engine of war, the Legions. Berenice taught them the virtue of the long path, and Elladine gave them the strength to pursue it. The Emperors pledged themselves to Elladine’s service, and so it was that if Ska had dragons behind their throne, Tryshtar had a goddess. Only when the Emperors of Tryshtar believed the Legions and the Great Houses ready for war did they again leave their homeland for Ska.
Eleventh Age, The Searing
The Great Wars of Empire were fought as dragons fell from the skies or died in their lairs, wasted by the Scaling. During these wars, Tryshtar grew and the Empire of the Moon shrank. By the end of the Eleventh Age, Tryshtar, the Holy Empire of Elladine, had reached its present Eastern limit. Although there are border engagements, and even major wars, the frontier itself has not meaningfully changed since then. Each Empire tests the other for weakness, but it seems the eastern limit of Tryshtar and the western limit of Ska have been reached.
Ska was weakened by the loss of the Great Wyrms, and the Great Wyrms came to fear they would disappear from the world. Not only did adults die in dozens, even hundreds, due to disease, fewer eggs hatched than before, and the hatchlings that did crack the shell seemed somehow weaker than before. The Wyrms looked upon the future and knew terror.
When a dragon is afriad, it turns to magic, and so the Great Wyrms turned to magic in the East. They discovered a way to match mortals to dragons, bind the blood together forming a new creature entirely, more resistant, although not immune, to the Scaling, stronger than most of the world’s races, and allied to them by lineage and self-interest. These are the Dragonmen, the Khans of the present day. A Khan does not yet sit upon the Dragon Throne of the East, but this may be because they find life off the throne more profitable and more fulfilling than life upon it.
The last great shudder of the Scaling was the Plague of Dravakur. This emptied the southlands of all their dragons, save for a residual population on the island of Erakoz. The rough tribesmen of the south began to develop into comunities, then into federations, and finally into the kingdom of the Storm Kings, Tyre, at the beginning of our own Twelfth Age. This kingdom has become steadily more troublesome to Tryshtar as it allies itself with Ska, pressing north as a young, ambitious troublemaker, greedy and without scruple. The largest loss of Tryshtarite territory recorded in any war was lost to the Storm Kings at Bar-Ym.
Tryshtar did not have dragons. Ska did. Despite Tryshtar’s successes on the battlefield, this disparity continued to be a problem. Every combat between the two empires required that Tryshtar enter willing and able to lose more men than Ska, and she was less and less willing to do so. The Malki, high priestess of Elladine, discovered the cure to this ailment in divine intervention. With Elladine’s help, willing dragons could offer their bodies to the sun. Elladine seared the disease from them with Holy Fire, and this purchased their gratitude and loyalty. The dragons remained proud, greedy, arrogant and vicious, but they would use their attributes as warriors in Elladine’s cause, expanding her empire, and, upon occasion, when the rider suited them, allow themselves to be ridden by knights, wizards, and clerics. Thus, balance on the field of battle was achieved.
In the aftermath of the Searing, when fewer dragons living further apart made contagion less frequent, a prophet, or perhaps more than one prophet, arose on the plains of Danaan in the south. According to legend, this prophet was blind, born without eyes, and for this disfigurement abandoned to the sun and the wind as an infant. A horseman and his wife, unable to have children of their own, took the abandoned child in and raised him on the steppe. The wind spoke to him, and he translated the wind’s words for the people of the steppe. As a prophet, he grew powerful. In his last years, the winds began to speak in a different voice of future things, and he told his people of the winds’ words. After he died, his prophecies were written down by Callam, a bard, and brought north. Many versions of Danaan’s prophecies circulate in Anwyll, differing significantly. The House of Hesper in Bar-Sardra retains Callam’s original text, though the version he wrote might not contain Danaan’s true words either, but have Callam’s own thoughts thrown in as salt to bread.
Danaan the prophet did not often speak clearly, so it is a great game among bards and devotees of prophetic mumblings to apply his statements and bursts of poesy to every current situation and impending disaster. If Danaan was told the future by the winds on the plain, he chose to hide the truth of it well. Of course, he might have been merely a madman who became a power and so entered the historical record as a holy man.
The Present Age
The present age has been dominated by the rise of the Storm Kings in the southlands. Now calling itself Tyre, Realm of the Storm Kings, the southlands are yet rough and rude when compared with the older empires. The Storm Kings are not always able to control their nobles, who have more individual power than the Great Houses of Tryshtar. As in Ska, there is no central army in Tyre, but the Storm Kings summon the nobles to battle, and the nobles bring their private armies with them. In this arrangement the king summons an army that is not his and which may choose not to serve him, or he may fail to summon the army and the lords act with their militaries independent of his will. There is no Dragon Syndicate behind the Storm King’s war cry that mortals must obey it.
It is possible that this will change, and the Storm Kings force a more efficient military arrangement into being, for certainly the Great Houses of Tryshtar were once far more powerful and independent than they are today. This former power remains in anomalous lordships such as that of the Duchy of Caradoc, who maintains an independence of actiona nd will envied by the other Houses of the Empire of the Sun. It is in Tryshtar’s interest that the Storm Kings remain weak, and many secret protocols, arrangements, and actions are devoted to this end.
In their rude state, the peoples of Tyre are prey to superstitions the great empires do not hold. Among the most useful to Tryshtar is the hatred Tyrians bear for the Kindred. The Kindred of the southlands are by this hatred made the natural allies of the Empire of the Sun, and, as a result of the Kindred Rebellion of Tyre, a large body of disaffected and militant refugees crossed the mountains into Tryshtar which does not hesitate to make use of them. The southern Kindred also brought strange cults from the south with them, such as the cult of Demen, which seeks to return the exiled Lord of Madness to the world. The southern Kindred also hold a series of apocalyptic writings known as the Prophecies of Cassalyr to be sacred texts. These prophecies are gaining currency in southern Tryshtar, producing some discontent, especially among the slaves on the great plantations.
The prophecies of Cassalyr promote ecstatic violence in rituals that remove all fear from believers. They declar that the present age, the Age of the Veil, is the forerunner of the Coming Age, when Demen, the Lord of Madness, will return, the Young Gods forget their elders, and the Storm of the last days begin. The Storm will be a time of complete liberty in all its destructive force. All will serve Demen under the leadership of the cult forming in these days. All social norms will fall away and mortals live naked by their desires and their will alone.
The Empire of the Moon is not free of troubles in the present age. A sizeable portion of its northernmost territory has been lost to a band of cunning trolls, the Terluk. These trolls are not as the trolls of the forest, nor even like the stronger trolls of the mountains, for they are intelligent, capable of forethought, alliance, and even sorcery. The kingdom of Terluk has been forged by their efforts, stolen from the Empire of the Moon for over 100 years. It may not last much longer, but today it is a force of disruption in the East.
In addition to the Terluk, the Chaos Lords of Ruz, and the separatists and pirates of the Reaping Lands and the Broken Causeway, trouble Ska as well. Ska appears to be a much troubled land, an empire experiencing a slow decay and ultimate dissolution.
Tryshtar has its troubles as well. Barzun, a wealthy city of silver, turquoise, and copper mines, was invaded by Chaos Lords through an Outer Gate, and is now a city unto itself. As the city was never easy to reach, and the Empire’s Legions are deployed in tasks from which they cannot easily be diverted for an expedition against a single city without putting more of the Empire at risk, the situation has remained the same for 75 years: Chaos Lords rule the city. Every year that passes strengthens the position of the Outsiders in Barzun, making the eventual campaign against them, often discussed but not yet executed, increasingly difficult.
In addition to the loss of Barzun, Tryshtar has also suffered two civil wars in the Age of the Veil. The first brought the Yshteroth back to the throne 2,000 years ago, and the second, almost complete, removed them again. The latest civil war, the Narashka War, was propelled by a personal vendetta the House Narashka pursued agains the House Yshteroth. The Narashka strengthened their vendetta by appealing to a wider discontent and dissatisfaction with Yshteroth rule throughout the empire and among the other Houses. The Yshteroth emperor was a weak and lazy man who allowed his more active and intelligent wife, a woman who acted wholly in the interests of her brothers and other relatives, to rule through his mouth and from her chambers. Women are not trained to rule the Houses, but to view the interests of their menfolk as always paramount and sacred, regardless of the other Houses and the compromises that form political life, and so they are not suited with this education to ruling an empire.
Officially, the Narashka War is over and Mikhail Narashkia sits on the Sun Throne as Mikhail IV. However, the legions were divided by the civil war, and even now there is a continuing struggle between loyalist (Narashka) and traitorous (Yshteroth) factions. Trade was disrupted, and remains so. Slaves abandoned the plantations, and thus agriculture is weakened, the roads disrupted, and banditry flourishing. The monstrous races grew strong as the legions and the forces of the lords were busy fighting one another.
This is Anwyll in the present day: an Eastern empire in decay, a rising kingdom in the south, and Tryshtar rebuilding itself from attempted self-destruction.