The Beacon

The Ancient Beacon of Greatvale, also known as Cynric’s Light, Cynric’s Rock, or simply The Beacon, is a massive stone monolith on the southern tip of Wulfred’s Byland, which juts into Fralin’s Deep. The name “The Beacon” refers to both the monolith itself, as well as the light or lighthouse on top. It is both symbol of Greatvale’s economic power, serving as the most important lighthouse leading to Folkhame, and a bitter reminder of its monarchist roots, as it is home to the Tomb of the Elders, formerly known as the Tomb of the Kings or the Royal Crypt.

Legend holds that around 5450 PC, Wulfred of Dunburgh embarked with 5 ships and 400 settlers to join a colony in the newly discovered Sunset Lands. Wulfred was accompanied by his wife, Fralin, who was pregnant at the time of departure. A few weeks into the journey, a great storm from the west blew the ships off course and toward the Sunrise Lands. The storm thrashed the small fleet, sinking two ships and severely damaging the ship that Wulfred was on. The stress of the storm sent Fralin into labor as the remaining ships all but abandoned hope of survival.

A large wave crashed against Wulfred’s ship and the vessel began to break up. Though he tried desperately to reach Fralin below deck, the ship had already gone under, and he was left with no choice but to cling to a broken piece of the hull. For two days, Wulfred floated on his makeshift raft, mourning his wife and unborn child. On the third day, as Wulfred lay close to death, the storm broke, and a ray of sun shined through the clouds onto him. Wulfred managed to look up and saw a great rock with a fire burning on its top.

A small boat from one of Wulfred’s ships, which had been out searching for survivors, saw him in the light and moved quickly to rescue him. Two ships had found safety in a small inlet near the great rock. Hoping to attract help, or at least anyone who had survived the wrecks, members of the crew climbed the rock through the storm and nursed a fire on the top. Other crewmembers set out in small rowing boats, using the fire as a navigational aid.

Soon after they brought Wulfred aboard, a crewmember spotted another piece of debris that looked as though it had a person on it. While the boat rowed toward the debris, it appeared as though the person slipped into the water, leaving only dark figure on the raft. When the boat pulled along side, the crew was shocked to discover that the figure was in fact a baby wrapped in a blanket: Wulfred and Fralin’s baby. They assumed that Fralin had survived long enough to protect her child, and, having seen the boat approaching, finally let go. Wulfred, though still very weak, took the baby into his arms and discovered it was a boy. He called his son Cynric, after his beloved wife’s father.

The Beacon has been lit nearly continuously for all of The History, serving as the most important lighthouse in guiding ships through Fralin’s Deep up to the Great Tidewater. Sources differ on whether or not the Beacon remained lit during The Catastrophe and The Lost Time, though the official position of the Folkdeed is that the Beacon was never extinguished. Various taller structure have been built on top of the Beacon to increase the distance that it can be seen from, including the current Leofric Tower, named in honor of one of the Great Fathers of the Folkdeed. A small, secondary fire, however, is always maintained on the top of the actual Rock in honor of the Elder Folk.

The light itself is capable of being manipulated with dried plants and other chemicals to signal incoming vessels. The light is made approximately two times as bright while Greatvale is at war. Red light means that the city has barred ships for quarantine purposes.  Green light is shone for one week after the election of new Rædgivers. The light is dimmed significantly for one day following the death of a former Rædgiver, while the light is dimmed for one week if a Rædgiver dies in office. The light is only extinguished entirely if someone akin to a national icon dies. This honor has only been granted to eight people in the history of the Folkdeed, including Eadlin Lahwita.

Beneath the Beacon lies the Tomb of the Elders, where it is said the remains of Wulfred, Cynric, and their descendants, who became Kings and Queens of Greatvale, were entombed for millennia until the Long Campaign. The Tomb is maintained by the Order of the Sun, the only royal order that was left intact following the Long Campaign. Its members, extremely small in number, are drawn from the royal families of the other realms, all of whom are somehow related to old Kings of Greatvale. Usually unwanted sons or heirs of defeated foes are sent to live out their days in the Tomb, where members are forbidden from leaving once they enter. While the people of the Folkdeed, including the Witeger, near universally condemn this practice, the Ealdormoot has respected the covenant made with the Order at the Foundation of the Folkdeed.

Every year on Elder Folk Day, the Gaderungs escort two wreaths to the Beacon, where the Witeger lays them at the locked entrance. One is in honor Wulfred the Elder and his son Cynric, while the other is in memory of the victims of the Kings of Greatvale and in protest of the continued existence of the Order of the Sun. Once the wreaths are laid, the entrances is unlocked from the inside, and the wreath honoring Wulfred is taken while the other wreath is ignored. If the Order wishes to communicate with the Folkdeed, the previous years wreath, rotted and decayed, is set outside with a letter attached. The wreath is then brought to the Rædgivers, who burn it without reading the letter. Officially, no letter has ever been read or replied to, but there are rumors that this is not entirely accurate.

Fire Flies and Sorrow Eels

Spotted throughout The Hidden Lands are water sources inhabited by two animals involved in a symbiotic relationship, one fire-based, the other water-based. Both feed on a victim’s spirit if they come too close to an inhabited lake or river. Fire-based “insects”  lure victims in by distorting their reflection in the water as an image of their greatest desire – food, lovers, items, whatever – and when the creature reaches into the water for it, they immediately turn into water themselves. Their soul is devoured by the water-based creature therein. It feeds on the sorrowful memories of said victim and entering them into an eternity of reliving them, but discards the positive energy of that particular creature to feed the fire-based “flies.” However, if the “flies” ever actually touch the water, the entire water source and the creature therein will turn to a stunning gold-inlaid blue marble. If obtained, this marble is rumored to be the most precious item on the entire continent and is believed to heal all illness, grow any plant when buried, and even raise the dead or turn back time.

Many explorers and fortune-seekers have met their ends searching for – or attempting to outsmart – these creatures and the water sources they inhabit. One survivor of a exploring group reported that his entire outfit of 37 men and women fell victim to the enchanting images superimposing their reflections in the water and, upon attempt to retrieve them, were engulfed. A few even tried to escape, but according to his report, their stifled cries and desperate reaches for land appeared to be nothing but treacherous waves splashing on the rocky shores. Shortly after relaying the story to a stranger in a pub, the traveler lost his mind in mourning for his lost friends.

Images of the creatures are disputed among eyewitnesses and ancient documents uncovered throughout the land. The fire-based creatures are rumored to travel in swarms and to be very small, flighted, and warm to the touch — a key factor in their ability to lure victims toward the water at night when temperatures plummet below freezing. Some say their wings do not buzz, but hum – softly, and lyrically like a mother’s lullaby and often to a tune that is familiar or even meaningful to the victim. Once at the water’s edge, the victim instinctively looks into the water, expecting to see their own reflection, but actually visualizing the object of their deepest desire.

The water-based creature is even more mysterious since nobody has ever actually seen it. Drawings on scrolls and the walls of ancient mountainous cave settlements suggest that it is a long, eel-like creature with an enormous gaping mouth lined with long, grotesque, needle-like teeth. Because sorrow is never seen, but felt, the monster lacks eyes and instead has seventeen humanoid “arms” projecting from its face and neck, used for grabbing its victims in the water and shoving their weeping souls into its mouth. Legend has it that when victims seem immune to the charms of the firefly-like creatures, the water monster will wave its “arms” above the water to create the illusion that someone is drowning in an attempt to appeal to the heroic side of passersby. Legend also says that the fangs of this creature, when removed from the skull, collapse into ash that burns the skin of someone that has been dishonest, deceitful, or treacherous. Oftentimes, parents of the human race would use this story and wave skinny sticks or animal bones at their children to scare them into telling them the truth when they’ve gotten into mischief.

Eadlin Lahwita

In 942 AC, the Ealdormoot of the Greatdale Folkdeed authorized a military campaign against Carmadh over a trade dispute.  This action was criticized by Eadlin Lahwita, a thirty-two year old woman serving as Witeger at the time. In her estimation, this military action was unwise and likely to cause greater difficulties for the Folkdeed.

Because the war was popular with the people and the leaders of the government; it was likely to be waged even over Eadlin’s objections.  In spite of this, Rædgiver Derian Eoredmann ordered that Eadlin be arrested as a traitor and a threat to state security. He dispatched the elite Ealdorweard to take her and bring her to the Dread Prison in the Eastvale mountains.

Eadlin Lahwita offers bread and dates to the captain of the Ealdorweard.

Eadlin Lahwita offers bread and dates to the captain of the Ealdorweard.

When the soldiers of the Ealdorweard arrived at Eadlin’s home, she greeted them with a plate of bread and dates: the meal that the founders of the Folkdeed had shared after the Long Campaign to be rid of the Last King.  She said to them, “Brave sons of Greatvale, share with me this humble repast.  And then you may do as you must for the protection of the Folkdeed.” It is said that the soldiers took the bread and dates in silence and then, without uttering a word, left Eadlin in her home and returned to the Folk Keep where they slew Derian Eoredmann.

She served the remainder of her term as Witeger, and even helped guide Greatvale through the consequences of their campaign against Carmadh, which she had correctly foreseen.  After her tenure, rejecting calls for her to seek the position of Rædgiver, she returned to teaching law at the Boroughræden School for those seeking to earn their citizenship.

In Greatvale, she is seen as embodying the virtues of freedom of conscience and resistance to tyranny. She is also seen as a symbol of peacemaking and diplomacy instead of war. The name Eadlin remains one of the most popular names for girls in the Folkdeed to this day.

The Kastan’ose Civilizations

A Brief History of the Djunna, the Last Surviving Civilization of the Kastan’ose Valley

Compiled by Aelfwine Theodwita, Senior Historian of the Gaderung of Education, 1213 AC

The Kastan’ose Valley Civilizations represented a unique amalgamation of cultures in their golden era, from roughly 600 PC to 806 AC. Born from the gathering of several distinct nomadic tribes drawn to the Kastan’ose River and the rich vegetation of the surrounding Kastan’ose Valley, these civilizations were born not from the blood of conflict but rather from fires fueled by mercantile and aesthetic competition. For more than a millennium the Kastan’ose Valley contained some of the most materially affluent and culturally rich societies within memory; of more significance, however, they created what may be the most advanced cultural community to have ever claimed the Sunset Lands as home. While the Kastan’ose knew something of the vastness of the world (Lu’Amina as they called it) they held to the concept that to know one’s land was all that was needed to live a fulfilled live. Know the Kastan’ose Valley they did, for even at the height of their population, the densely packed Civilizations knew never to exploit their land beyond its limits to recover. Left undisturbed, the Kastan’ose Valley Civilizations would likely inhabit their homeland today. Instead, their end came from sword and swine…

To understand how they died, one must understand how they lived. The Kastan’ose Valley, which follows the Kastan’ose River due west for roughly 40 leagues after its birth in the snowcapped Mithulan Mountains, lies near the northwest coast of the Sunset Lands. The Valley was a natural breadbasket, with citrus trees lining both slopes and a thin grain called leshhni growing on the banks of the river. Birds and amphibious life was plentiful, and herds of a dog-sized rodent (the now extinct shna’mina) roamed the foothills nearest the Mithulan Mountains. It was here that nomadic tribes, at least thirty that we know of, began to settle in the Kastan’ose.

It is a rare thing to speak of a peaceful encounter when more than one people first meet. But the tribes that settled in the Kastan’ose found no need to engage in competition; both resources and land were plentiful for wandering groups that rarely accounted for more than several hundred. Interactions were fueled by curiosity, not survival. Soon, specialization occurred among the various groups. While all had enough to live comfortably, the resources of the Kastan’ose were not spread equally. The Djunna, settled near the beginning of the river at the foothills of the Mithulan, began to hunt and eventually herd the shna’mina. The meat soon became a delicacy throughout the Valley. Other tribes traded in citrus, or fish, or in the case of the northwestern most tribes the strong wood from the evergreens of coastal plains. These tribes remained separated geographically, and by localized customs, but became deeply intertwined economically.

As the languages of the Kastan’ose tribes began to meld, allowing for more efficient trade, the different ideals and myths of the once nomadic groups began to spread and intermingle. As mentioned earlier, there was a word for the world at large: Lu’Amina. Of much more importance, though, was the Lu’Kastani. The former translates to “our world,” the latter to “our land.” Knowledge of the Kastan’ose Valley was of the utmost importance to these tribes. To know the world beyond the slopes of the Valley was unimportant, and left to a handful of impetuous youths. To know the land surrounding the Kastan’ose River itself, specifically to understand how to draw her resources while focusing on conservation of the intertwined systems within the Valley, became the focus of their varying religions and philosophies. Regardless of the gods or spirits they worshiped, all people of Kastan’ose held this concept as central.

The Kastan’ose were among the few people to be unaffected by the Catastrophe, so isolated were they. The first contact the Kastan’ose had with an outside group was with the Mith’lani, or “men of stone,” in 806 AC. The Mith’lani, natives of the Mithulan Mountains, had developed a mighty war machine fighting off incursions from the barbarians to the east of the mountain range (located near what is now called the Bay of Fingers). While they were in truth men of flesh and bone their iron swords and simple plate armor fooled the Kastan’ose, who knew nothing in the way of metallurgy, into believing they were of the Mountain itself. The Mith’lani descended into the foothills near the beginning of the Kastan’ose River. The Djunna were overwhelmed; armed with nothing but the long throwing spears used to hunt shna’mina and with no armor of any kind, they surrendered within a few days of the invasion. The Mith’lani used their captives’ habitations as a forward barracks, and forced the Djunna to gather as many shna’mina as possible to be slaughtered for the army. Many Djunna resisted, as this order was tantamount to an assault on Lu’Kastani itself. It is estimated that for every five Djunna who lived before the invasion, three were killed in this first week. The rest submitted.

With a foothold in the Kastan’ose Valley the Mith’lani planned to march west and seize as much land as possible, possibly continuing past the valley to the coastal plain. This plan was halted by an unexpected unification of the Kastan’ose people. It seems the Mith’lani underestimated the importance the Valley itself held to the Kastan’ose people as a whole, regardless of their cultural differences. Despite their technological advantage, for three cycles of the Moon the Mith’lani were cheated their easy conquest by a people who knew their land as intimately as they knew themselves. This continued until the night of the third full moon, when the Vazj arrived from the Sunset Sea.

The coastal city states that existed en masse at the time were razed to the ground by these mysterious peoples. They quickly marched through the plains and into the Valley. Within a week from their arrival they had marched to the Mithulan Mountains themselves. The Kastan’ose and Mith’lani were killed in equal measure, a slaughter so immense that few details of these vile men (if they were men at all) exist today. It is believed that the Vazj marched east over the Mountains all the way to the coast of the Middling Sea. Whether they changed their direction to the north or south, or somehow departed into the Middling Sea, no one knows. They vanished as quickly as they arrived, leaving behind nary a single Vazj body or artifact, only death and destruction.

While the slaughter was immense, it was not complete. Of all those killed, it was the defenseless Djunna who survived. The exact reason is a matter of speculation; the most popular theories hold that the Djunna were able to hide in the thick forests where they were forced to hunt, or perhaps the Vazj showed uncharacteristic mercy and spared the defenseless slaves. For whatever reason, the Djunna were the only living women and men left in the Kastan’ose Valley. Lu’Kastani had not been spared such mercy, though, and what the Djunna inherited resembled in no way the fertile land settled by their ancestors.

The only detail of the Vazj army that we know of today is their use of some sort pig or boar as a war beast. They stood as high as a man’s breast and likely weighed as much as a warhorse. It is believed that the Vazj released them before their army moved forward; this stampeding juggernaut of gnashing teeth and goring tusks would cause massive damage to an enemy before the army itself ever arrived. Their existence is known primarily from the many skeletons buried in layers of rock and snow near the zenith of the Mithulan Mountains. It would seem they were not prepared for the bone-aching chill of the peaks.

Within the Kastan’ose Valley, however, they carried out their mission with horrifying efficiency. A land once composed of lush vegetation and thick groves set among rolling hills became a cesspool. The swine, and the army that followed, devoured or otherwise destroyed most of the intertwining systems of life that defined the Kastan’ose. The river was dammed by the felled forests, and today the Kastan’ose Valley is little more than a lifeless swamp interrupted by intermittent hills. The only plant still found in the area is the leshni grain. It is on this alone that the Djunna survive.

At the end of the invasion, over 400 years ago, nearly three thousand Djunna survived. Today, there are barely four hundred. They are a ghost, a vestigial reminder of a once great civilization. They are phantoms passing through a 40 league long graveyard.

Rumors spread through the northwest of the Sunset Lands, though, that could bring the Kastan’ose Valley back into the forefront of the land’s events. Civil war is brewing throughout the Duchy of Gurefren, the region’s main power, its political stability worn thin from expansion beyond the northern highlands into the plains and coasts surrounding the Kastan’ose River… To the west, in The Sunset Sea, strange ships are said to have docked on the Isles of Empty. It is said that these vessels carry not just men, but herds of beasts standing high as a man but with the girth of cattle. It is said they carry these tusked beasts by the score… and to the east, something stirs in the Mithulan Mountains, and on the tongues of all Djunna is repeated one phrase, Mishallan Shin’Amina: The World’s Bane.

Vardanit

The mountainous territory of Vardanit occupies the stretch of land connecting the northwestern peninsula of the Sunrise Lands to the rest of the continent, cutting off the outcropping to the west of the mountain range which provides the shortest journey across the Middling Sea.  However, most who can afford to choose to embark from the bay to the south instead, given the harsh nature of the Vardan climate and terrain.  Only one road is maintained through the Vardanit, and travelers from outside are generally advised to keep within its borders for their own safety.

Vardanit and neighboring Carmadh

Vardanit and neighboring Carmadh

The most easily ascertained features of Vardan culture include the production of beautifully worked silver and velvet products and a rich collective repository of epics, poetry, and songs.  Vardan food centers on goat or lamb stew, usually roasted and served over rice or large square-shaped flatbread with boiled eggs.  Almost all Vardan men perpetually chew the leaves of the garn plant, which seem to work as a mild intoxicant.  Vardans have a reputation among those who visit them for long-windedness and involved, perhaps even misleading, speech, but this impression can be attributed somewhat to the Vardan diglossia.  As a mark of respect and honor, Vardans will usually only address outside visitors in the higher register of their language, reserved otherwise for educational and religious arenas and more closely related to Thuva-Tha, the elder tongue.  Thus, knowledge of the everyday, lower register of the Vardan language is limited to the Vardan themselves and those few determined traders who have spent decades trekking through the mountain passes of Vardanit.

The Vardan themselves are highly hospitable but maintain strict privacy about certain aspects of their culture, especially those pertaining to religion.  Rumors abound among neighboring peoples about their practices, including that they worship either demons or fire, and perhaps also incorporate cannibalism into their rituals.  The only one among these wild tales to be corroborated is the report that some groups among the Vardan historically view handling fire or burning brands as a mark of holiness, although no outsider has observed this practice for some fifty years.  During the brief Carmadhi occupation of the southern reaches of Vardanit, Carmadh military conducted brutal raids on Vardan settlements with objection to the fire-handling ceremonies as a pretext, driving the practice underground if it continues at all.  Since the end of the Carmadh occupation, the Vardan have continued in the principle of dapet, or necessary concealment, which allows them to lie without moral consequences if directly asked about inner tenets or practices of their religion.  Thus, any information gleaned about them since the Carmadh occupation must be regarded with some suspicion.

It is known for sure, however, that the Vardan worldview prizes balance.  Part of this emphasis on balance involves a belief in reincarnation, which among other factors leads to a great affection for infants and children in Vardanit.  Since any new-born Vardan may in fact contain the soul of a recently-deceased loved one, children are highly favored and often seem spoiled to outside visitors.  Through a series of rituals and tests, religious practioners among the Vardan are sometimes able to determine the previous identity of a newborn.

The other reason for this devotion to the young is a marked lack of fertility among Vardan men.  (Some outside researchers have posited that the garn plant which plays such a central role in male Vardan social life may have cumulative contraceptive qualities, but not enough studies have been conducted to prove conclusive.)  Vardan society, then, is monogamous in structure, reflecting the cosmological concern with balance, but male outside visitors are regularly boarded alone in the room of a daughter or young wife.  Like lying under the auspices of dapet, intercourse under such circumstances carries no moral consequences for the family or the traveler, but instead is officially viewed as a contribution to the continuation of the entire people.  (Some reports have emerged, however, of altercations between husbands and such visitors should anything but discretion be exercised afterward.)  Vardan society is therefore matrilineal, tracing family lines and religious belonging along the only path that can be determined for certain, and outside males are sometimes “localized” through marriage with Vardan women, though the opposite is never true.

The Vardan, living as they do in isolated settlements carved from (and sometimes into) the stone of their mountains, tend to be self-sufficient and have little use for centralized authority, traits which contributed to their intransigence and repression under the Carmadhi occupation.  They have historically offered refuge to exiles or refugees from other realms.  Vardanit does, however, contain one single leader in the person of the Danthag, literally the “people’s best.”  The Danthag is believed to be the one Vardan in each generation capable of containing two reincarnated souls, specifically those of the first mother and father of the Vardan, and so symbolically serves as both to the entire people, never expressing one gender to the exclusion of the other.  In a furtherance of the Vardan concern with balance, the Danthag lives within a large cavern in what Vardan believe to be the exact middle of their realm, thus forming the physical, religious, and political “center.”  In practice, however, the Danthag’s power lies more in the realms of ritual and, in extreme cases, conflict resolution, with local governance performed within smaller areas by a yazdan, or “least person,” whose rhetoric is traditionally constrained by an extreme modesty but who nonetheless exercises near total control within their domain.

The Hidden Lands

The Hidden Lands are the home lands of the human race.  It was here that the first human civilizations were born including the great civilization of the Elder Folk, whose great legacy, the Elder Tongue, is still used in the world today. It was from the Hidden Lands that the other two great continents of the world were settled: the Sunrise Lands to the east, and the Sunset Lands to the west.

After the collapse of the civilization of the Elder Folk, memory of both their civilization and of the Hidden Lands faded into memory.  Some say that the Hidden Lands had been removed from human knowledge by magic; others denied that the Hidden Lands had ever really existed.  After the journey of Meharanganar Toreanastrarax of Denesatiriux and Daegal Swordsmith of Greatvale, the Hidden Lands were reopened. The realms of the Sunrise and Sunset Lands are reluctant to colonize there for fear of bringing on a curse, but intrepid explorers and fortune seekers will travel there seeking fame or riches, but not without peril.

The Hidden Lands

The Hidden Lands