Aelfwine Theodwita

On the 4th day of Windmath (4 Othalul) 1174 A.C., Hendryck and Æthelhilde of Fiscerehæfen welcomed their first born son, whom they named Aelfwine, after Æthelhilde’s grandfather, a renown sea captain in that same port city of Fiscerehæfen.

From a young age, Aelfwine demonstrated considerable intellectual acuity and his teachers in the city’s Leorninghus noted that he was an avid reader and consumer of stories. His parents, however, saw him entering the family business: a fleet of merchant ships engaged in trade along the west coast of the Sunrise Lands, from Carmadh down to Cape Verunnu in the south.  Fortunately for Aelfwine, the Boroughmoot of Fiscerehæfen mandated a minimum of eight years of schooling for the children of the city. And so, while his parents would have happily placed him aboard ship as a midshipman at the age of nine, Aelfwine was required by law to remain in school for another four years.

Aelfwine was seen as a serious child, rarely smiling but nevertheless demonstrating a biting wit.  It was said that his wit was so dry even as a child that his comments in response to his classmates’ taunts would send his teachers into fits of laughter and leave his fellow classmates dumbfounded.  Wyverun Larsmith, his teacher at the Leorninghus, told a story of a day when a larger boy, Brand, was picking on Aelfwine. After the older boy had finished his rather pedestrian insults, Aelfwine simply said, “Were the bliss your family must feel on account of your collective ignorance something we could bottle, we’d never have to trade with Carmadh for poppies again.”

Aelfwine struggled with mathematics and the practical sciences, but excelled in history and lore and was said to be able to recite the entire list of Kings and Queens of the Old Kingdom from memory.  Once, when challenged to do it by a fellow student who did not believe he could do it, he not only recited the complete list of monarchs, but followed with a complete list of all the rædgivers of the Folkdeed in chronological order.

After his eight years of compulsory education, Aelfwine’s parents removed him from school and put him to work in the family shipping trade.  Aelfwine worked well but not consistently; he was easily distracted, especially when working on something mundane.  Whenever he was missing from where he was supposed to be he could invariably be found on the docks, talking with the mariners who’d come in from all around the world, asking them to share stories of their lands.  He had a fantastic memory and voraciously consumed all the stories he heard, including the folklore and tall tales.  He also demonstrated an aptitude for languages, picking up some of the Carmadhi, Trade Tongue, and Vulgar Thuva-Tha that he heard being used.

At the age of fifteen, Aelfwine was sent on his first sea voyage on a trading mission along the northwest coast of the Sunrise Lands past Carmadh and the Vardani peninsula.  It there he first encountered mariners from the Chain Islands who told even more fantastic tales of the peoples of the Sunset Lands. By this time, Aelfwine had perfected a method that would serve him well the rest of his life: he could draw out tremendous amounts of information from people by engaging in what would otherwise seem to be casual conversation.  It would be on this trip that he would discover his calling: he wished to chronicle the history of the peoples of the world of Kadamu-nur-Shadju-a.

Returning to Fiscerehæfen, he made his wishes known to his parents who did not support his desire to return to school and insisted he remain with the fleet.  He approached Wyveryn Larsmith, his former teacher, and arranged to meet with her by night to continue his studies when possible.  At one point, his father became aware that he was sneaking out at night, but assuming that his son was finally behaving like a normal young man, he ignored it and even made an effort to look the other way.

When Aelfwine reached seventeen years of age, he was ritually disinherited by his parents, who expected him to continue with the merchant fleet in order to make a living.  But Larsmith had been more than tutor to Aelfwine, she had been his advocate and managed to procure a grant from the prestigious Stærwritere Academy in Folkhame to continue his studies there.  Aelfwine’s decision to enter the academy rather than continue in the merchant fleet was not taken well by his parents. As part concession to his parents and part need for funds for books, he continued to work the summers aboard ship, honing his skills at gathering lore while picking up new languages.

After six years of study, Aelfwine was granted the status of Theodwita or “historian” by Stærwritere Academy and was selected by the Gaderung of Fiscerehæfen to serve as official historian for the city.  Aelfwine was somewhat unorthodox in his style in that he spent far less time over dusty old tomes than his colleagues and far more time gathering lore from ordinary workers.  He continued to make sea voyages a regular part of his work, traveling up and down the coast and even along the Chain Islands gathering lore as he traveled.  He would often remark, “One fishwife will spin a tale of fancy that is mocked by even a few words of scroll, but twenty fishwives from twenty different realms offer a shared insight that shames the most learned scribe.” He was of the belief that all the peoples of the world had preserved fragments of the Elder Lore and that only by listening to the stories passed down among the peoples of the Lands Under the Sun could one hope to reconstruct the shared history of humanity.

His theories were controversial and he was often mocked as one who was less historian than bard.  In 1204, at the age of thirty, he presented to the Grand Conclave of Historians a theory about the origins of the peoples of Carmadh based on his reconstructions based on folklore and oral history.  The speech generated two controversies.  First, traditionalists felt the integrity of the Conclave was being insulted by such unorthodox methodology that allowed for such fantastical theories.  Second, Wigmund, a scholar from the Folk College at Oxbridge accused Aelfwine of having stolen his research.  On a trip to Carmadh to previous year, Wigmund had come into possession a very rare long lost scroll that contained actual documentation of much of what Aelfwine had concluded through his methodology.  Once it became clear to the Conclave that Aelfwine could not possibly have had access to or known about the document, they realized that Aelfwine had truly forged something new.  Aelfwine’s casual manner and fondness for interviewing ordinary people had blinded many in the Conclave to his exceptional skill, and carefulness, as a scholar.

The following year, he was selected by the Gaderung of Education to serve as a Theodwita Folcdædes or “Historian of the Folkdeed,” a special honor for someone of his profession.  In the succeeding years, he published the first ever history of the early patronages of the east as well as an exceptionally popular, if not somewhat controversial, biography of Eadlin Lahwita. At the age of 33, by recommendation of the Gaderung and upon confirmation of the Ealdormoot, he was elevated to the rank of Ealdwita or “Senior Historian,” the youngest person ever to be named to that rank.

In recent years, Aelfwine had been formulating a theory about the links between the ancient houses of the Sunrise Lands with some of the realms of the Sunset Lands, but felt that his research was limited by the fact that he had never been to the Sunset Lands.  And so, with permission from the Gaderung of Education, in 1210 A.C., Aelfwine chartered a ship from his family’s company and sailed west along the Chain Islands toward the Sunset Lands.  He eventually arrived in Thumbport in the Bay of Fingers and, having hired a local guide, headed west toward Mithulan and the Kastan’ose.  Hearing that Aelfwine had at last arrived in the Sunset Lands, Aelfric the Wise, Convener of the Gaderung of Education only remarked, “We shall have to see what Aelfwine’s time overseas will yield.  I can only assure you this: our understanding of the world is very likely to change profoundly.”

The Mith’lani Records – Prologue

“I’m sorry, Thalvic, but if your demeanor was as bitter as this swill in front of me, I’d throw myself from the highest peak of the Mithulan Mountains within an hour of your company.”

Thalvic bellowed with laughter from deep within his rotund belly for what seemed like an eternity. Aelfwine Theodwita withdrew a handkerchief from a pocket in his sleeve and began to remove the spittle that had flown from Thalvic’s gaping maw onto the historian’s plain brown cloak. Both men wore similar weatherproof cloaks of heavy flax, lacquered to keep out the snow and hail, though the traditional Mith’lani feather, hide, and bone fetishes that adorned Thalvic’s cloak were notably absent from Aelfwine’s. Even with an ocean and half a continent between him and Greatvale, the historian retained a distaste for all things ostentatious shared by many in the Folkdeed.

Thalvic wiped his mouth with the back of his hand, obviously fighting back a few remaining laughs.

“So you dislike svanka?” Thalvic asked. “This is the lifeblood of the Mith’lani! You wish to know what it is to be a child of Mother Mithulan? Then drink deep the milk from her teats my brother!”

With a slap on the back that nearly knocked Aelfwine to the floor, Thalvic refilled the historian’s iron tankard. The scent of the svanka, a liquor made from fermented lichen and flax, sent Aelfwine’s head spinning. It was his belief that to learn of a people’s history, one must understand the people as they exist today. Learning of the Mith’lani was proving to be as much a physical challenge as it was an academic one…

“I meant no offense, brother.” Aelfwine spoke the Mith’lani words slowly, but with an impressive level of fluency.

“Nonsense, is already forgotten!” Thalvic meandered back to his bench opposite the historian. As he lowered his significant girth, the wooden boards groaned – it was a testament to Mith’lani craftsmanship that they held at all.

“Brother, continue where you were. You were preparing to ask another question I believe?”

“Yes, I was.” Aelfwine paused momentarily, considering the consequences of his next question. While his host was showing himself to be a paragon of hospitality, he also knew that strapped to Thalvic’s right thigh was a traditional nuthlak hunting knife. In the Mithulan Mountains an insult was met in one of two ways; with a hearty laugh, or with tempered steel sliding across your throat…

Aelfwine withdrew a piece of parchment and dipped his quill slowly into his inkwell.

“Thalvic, why did the Mith’lani invade the Kastan’ose Valley, before the Vazj arrived?”

The large man stopped mid-movement, his tankard frozen just in from of his parted lips. Slowly, he set the drink down on the wide table in front of them, and met Aelfwine with a stony gaze. Aelfwine met the rock grey eyes across from him, knowing that to look away would be tantamount to suicide. Thalvic kept his gaze locked on Aelfwine for what seemed like an eternity.

Finally, the silence was broken.

“Let me refill your mug, historian. And you best fetch another piece of parchment.”

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.