- The Aldabreshin Archipelago
- The Great Forest
- The Ice Islands
- The Mountains
A vast array of islands extends through the southern sea; its northernmost tip a few days sail from the southern cape of Caladhria and its most distant reaches far beyond the equator. The Archipelago is divided into around one hundred individual domains, each consisting of between two to five significant islands and any number of smaller islands, uninhabited islets and other rocks and reefs. Many of the islands have active volcanoes, particularly in the central reaches. The larger islands are lush and fertile thanks to the annual, torrential rains which sweep up from the southern ocean. The Archipelago can offer a few things which the mainland lacks, such as silk and cotton and most notably gemstones, of far greater size and clarity than Gidesta’s meagre offerings. However the Archipelago as a whole is poor in mineral resources, prompting trade with the mainland especially for metals. This may be one reason why the Aldabreshi do not use coin. All exchange of goods and services is based on a complex system of barter.
Each domain is ruled by a warlord whose name indicates his authority before his personal name. The Shek domain is ruled by Shek Kul, the Daish domain by Daish Kheda and so on. Each warlord customarily takes multiple wives whose personal name is followed by the name of the domain they have married into. Thus Laio Shek, Gar Shek and Mahli Shek are Shek Kul’s wives. A son is named in the same style as his father, so Daish Kheda’s son is Daish Sirket. A daughter is named in the same style as her mother so Daish Kheda’s daughter will be Efi Daish until her wedding.
A warlord has absolute power of life and death over his subjects. He is their lawgiver and judge, in person and through each village’s headman. He is their leader in time of conflict with neighbouring domains, both in hand-to-hand fighting and as commander of each domain’s warships; galleys to carry swordsmen and archers, and triremes to ram and sink an enemy’s vessels. In peacetime the warlord is responsible for his people’s health, sharing the Archipelago’s impressive tradition of medicine with all local healers. In time of plague, he must enforce quarantine of afflicted islands and if necessary, supervise the slaughter and burning of entire communities to prevent a pestilence spreading.
A warlord’s most important role is as the domain’s astronomer and augur. Omens and portents seen in the stars and planets of the heavenly compass, and observed in the natural world of the earthly compass, guide every aspect of Aldabreshin life. The Archipelagans worship no gods and consider mainland religions foolish superstition.
This philosophy is at the heart of Aldabreshin loathing of magic. The Archipelagans consider sorcery irretrievably disrupts the natural world, corrupting these vital omens. Every Aldabreshin also interprets day-to-day omens for themselves, taught such lore since childhood. Independent seers and soothsayers travel between the domains on the trading routes. If they gain a reputation for wisdom, they can trade their predictions for food and other goods. If they don’t, they will starve.
Each domain has extensive libraries holding the accumulated wisdom of generations on all these subjects. So when the mainland’s inhabitants refer to the Aldabreshi as southern or shoeless barbarians, this is far from accurate. The Aldabreshin stargazing tradition has led to notable advances in mathematics as well as an advanced understanding of astronomy, while their abhorrence of magic had seen their technical expertise in metal working, ceramics and glassmaking develop far beyond equivalent crafts on the mainland. The Archipelago also has valuable resources in medicinal and culinary herbs and spices highly prized by mainlanders. The Archipelagans have considerable skills in using alchemy in warfare; encroaching mainland ships have often been driven off with hurled clay pots and metal gourds which burst asunder, sending showers of burning fragments in all directions. Their notorious sticky fire which proves impossible to extinguish until the flames have consumed whatever it has touched. It is further rumoured that the Aldabreshi can even deliberately spread pestilence among their enemies.
A warlord’s son will inherit all his father’s power and obligations. Since these responsibilities are absolute and extensive, a warlord will choose the son best suited to this demanding role rather than allowing the eldest to inherit as a matter of course. Disappointed sons have been known to rebel against their chosen brother, or against their father in anticipation of disinheritance. A variety of customs have developed to remove such a threat. While outright execution is considered unwise and likely to prompt ill omens and misfortune, some domains practise barbarities such as blinding, castrating and imprisoning surplus heirs whose names are never mentioned again. The most benign solution is to prevent such surplus sons from learning to read or write, since this leaves them incapable of ruling. This also has the advantage of keeping spare sons alive in case a designated heir is killed or dies through misfortune or external malice. However this practise is rare.
The most common solution is castration to remove these men from the domain’s bloodline before either selling them as slaves or setting them to work on one of the merchant ships trading between the domains. Occasionally they remain in their home domain as advisors, though only known by their personal name and stripped of all birthright. This has led to a caste of eunuch book-keepers and scholars serving many warlords. Those who become sufficiently wealthy will purchase their own slaves, often young boys to be gelded and raised as their heirs in lieu of the sons zamorin cannot have. Some men born to limited prospects and preferring intellectual pursuits voluntarily go under the knife to join this caste.
Since zamorin are naturally beardless whereas frequent shaving is seldom practised by Aldabreshin men due to the lack of metal for keen razors, it’s customary in many regions for gay men to go clean shaven. This custom isn’t universal and in any case, some men prefer to keep their sexuality a private matter rather than adopt this public display. There is no stigma attached in either case. Who any individual might choose to love or share their bed with is considered nobody else’s business.
A warlord’s wives supervise all the domain’s craftsmen and women, all the farmers, hunters, spice gatherers and fisher fleets as well as managing all significant trade between the domains. They visit and correspond with their counterparts, the wives of other warlords, to obtain raw materials and to exchange finished goods, as well as whatever other resources their domain might need. Each domain will have its specialisms in particular crafts and generally individual wives will each have a defined area of responsibility requiring an in-depth understanding of all aspects of that skill. Over her lifetime, a talented wife may move from one domain to another, perhaps several times, looking to increase the scope and value of the trade which she handles.
A warlord’s wife is expected to bear children for the domain. Most will be fathered by her husband but she is entitled to adopt a child if she proves barren or to take a lover if her husband proves infertile or impotent for whatever reason. A warlord has no unquestioned right of access to his wife’s bed and she can and will order her personal slave, a bodyguard highly trained in swordplay, to keep her husband away if she so chooses.
As an island race, the Aldabreshi are well aware of the dangers of inbreeding. It’s not unheard of for a warlord’s wife to take her personal slave as a lover, to bear a child benefiting from the vigour of wholly unrelated blood to improve the domain’s bloodline. A warlord will rear and educate all his wives’ children regardless. As the Aldabreshi say, “the wind may sow the seeds but the farmer who tends the seedlings reaps the harvest.”.
Most trading galleys are under the ultimate command of a warlord’s wife. They travel along defined, agreed sea lanes and visit the particular islands and trading beaches designated by each domain’s warlord and his wives. That domain’s fleet of triremes will make sure that all visiting boats keep to permitted waters; knowledge of short cuts and back channels through a domain can prove vital in time of conflict and thus is seldom shared. Some warlords permit traders access to all of a trading island. Others forbid them from leaving the beach sands. Some let their own people mingle freely with visitors. Others restrict any such contact. On all such matters, a warlord’s word is law.
There are a few independent traders, men and women, owing no allegiance to any warlord. These will be specialists such as those who carry the courier doves so vital for communication from domain to domain and also travelling scholars, trading their knowledge for more learning and for the necessities of life as they travel. There is also illicit trade in alcohol and narcotics whose use is widely disapproved, most notably for corrupting an individual’s ability to interpret vital omens, dulling their acumen for trade and blunting a fighting man’s skills. Brothel galleys also ply their trade along the merchants’ sea lanes and at the trading beaches.
A significant class of independent traders are slavers. Slavery is an Aldabreshin custom widely misunderstood on the mainland. The majority of Archipelagans are free men and women, not all slaves to the warlord caste as is often believed. Slaves can be valued, bought and traded for their specific skills, notably the body slaves who guard every warlord, his wives and his children. It’s believed that such a slave’s lack of allegiance elsewhere secures a higher degree of loyalty, untainted by ties to home or family. That loyalty is rewarded with lifelong sustenance and care. A favoured slave may be allowed to trade on his or her own behalf and even amass sufficient wealth to trade it for their freedom. If a warlord fathers a child on a slave woman, both she and the child are considered free and can expect lifelong support and favour.
On the other hand, a callous or cruel warlord or his wife can make a slave’s life utterly wretched. Body slaves can be gelded to prevent romantic attachments elsewhere or have their tongues cut out to make sure a domain’s secrets are not shared. They can be killed without question. Other slaves are bought to man the oars of trading and fighting galleys if a warlord prefers to keep his islanders working at their crafts or raising their crops. Some warlords see such slaves as a resource to be cared for. Others are content to work them to death and replace them as necessary. Where an island has some mineral resource to exploit, especially when that is a hazardous process such as collecting sulphur from a volcanic crater or mining gems, slaves will be customarily purchased from the mainland and worked to exhaustion and death. Such slaves are readily identifiable by their unkempt hair and beards, if not by their fetters or manacles. There is seldom any hope of escape; a slave cannot run very far on an island and will have nothing to barter for passage on any boat.
Such brutality is the foundation of mainland disapproval of Archipelagan slavery. Notwithstanding such disapproval, there is an ongoing trade in slaves from the mainland, centred in the independent trading port of Relshaz. Anyone condemned as guilty of transgressing Relshazri law will be sold as a slave. Many neighbouring countries allow debtors to be sold into slavery as the ultimate sanction for their creditors. Mercenaries profiting from unrest in regions such as Lescar further increase their earnings by selling any prisoners they take in battle.
Caladhria is a peaceable realm bordered by Lescar to the east and Ensaimin to the north. Its western coast runs from the Gulf of People to the Cape of Attar, facing the western sea while its shorter southern coastline faces the most northerly domains of the Aldabreshin Archipelago. Hidden coves along this rocky southern shoreline have sheltered pirates from time to time but since they mostly prey on Archipelagan ships, Caladhrian barons haven’t been overly concerned.
The common people are ruled by barons each holding a modest fiefdom, generally with one market town and a number of villages sheltering artisans and labourers, interspersed with tenant farms and yeomen holdings. Caladhria was swiftly conquered by the Old Tormalin Empire as the barons of yore had no hope of opposing the Imperial Legions. However the Tormalin Emperors were content to leave the established noblemen in place and when the Old Empire fell, the barons simply secured their own territories, sparing the realm the worst of the Chaos.
Barons pass their titles and their holdings to their firstborn sons. Daughters cannot inherit in their own right so in the absence of a direct male heir, the title passes to the next closest male relative of the baron’s bloodline. The new baron then becomes the guardian of the deceased’s widow and any daughters. If there is no such male relative, a baron may appoint a guardian in his will. In the absence of such a will, the brothers or brothers by marriage of the deceased baron’s widow may petition the parliament to be appointed guardian of the barony, the widow and any daughters. Neighbouring barons may also petition the parliament if they consider such claimants unrelated by blood are unfit for such responsibility. Women have no standing to present their own requests to parliament and few rights in law generally.
The barons hold a quarterly parliament, gathering in one or other of the realms (few) significant towns such as Ferl, Trebin, Peorle or Duryea at each solstice and equinox festival. Attendance at least once a year is required of every baron. Whether or not a baron is present, laws passed by the parliament are binding on them all, passed by a simple majority of the five hundred nobles entitled to vote. In practise, few new laws are ever passed since disputes and debate frequently fail to reach any conclusion before the five days of a festival are finished. Caladhria’s neighbours joke that if the parliament had been asked to approve of oil lamps, the entire country would still be using candles.
It’s always widely said that the only reason Caladhria is so peaceful is it has nothing of value to prompt anyone to invade. This isn’t entirely true; the fertile farms produce grain, fruit and livestock which the barons and their favoured merchants sell for a handsome profit to the cities and fiefdoms of Ensaimin and to Lescar and beyond.
Dalasor is a broad region of grasslands to the north of Lescar and Tormalin, bounded on its southern edge by the river Drax. These plains run north to the foothills of the Gidestan mountains where any precise boundary is purely conjecture.
The Dalasorians are nomads, living in large extended families, each ruled by a patriarch. Men, women and children dwell in large tents as they following the grazing with their herds of horses and cattle. Livestock and crafts are traded between families and with merchants from neighbouring countries at seasonal fairs held at traditional sites along the river Dalas and the Dalasor South Road, both of which arrive at the Gidestan coastal town of Inglis. These seasonal fairs also see fosterlings and apprentices exchanged among families, to strengthen friendships and alliances, frequently leading to later marriages and new business ventures. Merchants from Ensaimin and Tormalin often visit the quarterly festivals to offer the nomads the goods and luxuries which they cannot make for themselves.
Dalasorian men and women are rightly praised and respected for their horsemanship and their skills as mounted fighters with lance and bow. Raids on their herds are seldom successful. Consequently young men and women so inclined can readily find employment among the mercenary companies of Ensaimin and beyond.
Dalasor is reputed to have been the home of the Plains People, third of the ancient races and long since vanished. The only remaining evidence of this lost race are the earthen ring fortifications and barrows that dot the grasslands, though some scholars believe the current nomads have more ancient blood in their lines than is commonly acknowledged. The nomadic tribes certainly practise religious rites which no other country shares, often centred on these earthworks or around the sites of ancient trees where saplings are planted and renewed through generations.
Popular superstition in Tormalin ascribes these earthworks and trees to the Eldritch Kin, a race of supernatural beings supposed to live between this daily reality and the Otherworld, able to travel between the two realms of existence through shadows at dusk and dawn and through rainbows. Some myths suggest the Eldritch Kin wiped out the Plains People for some unspecified but mortal offence.
Ensaimin is a broad region between the White River which marked the most westerly expansion of the Old Tormalin Empire and the Great Forest which divides Tormalin speakers from the Kingdom of Solura. There is no central authority and holdings range from frankly insignificant fiefdoms held by self-proclaimed lordlings through to the mighty city states of Selerima, Vanam, Wrede and Col, ruled by powerful coalitions of merchants and guildsmen. There are any number of substantial market towns in between these city states. Ensaimin thrives on trade and both goods and towns are defended by the mercenary companies paid for with the coin earned through such commerce. Trading relationships reach to Solura in the west and Tormalin and Inglis in the east while substantial dealing with the Archipelago mostly passes through the port city of Col.
This wealth supports two important centres of learning; the universities of Vanam and Col. Long established rivalry divides the universities, though individual scholars may correspond and even co-operate on occasion. It has long been the custom for noble and merchant families across what was once the Tormalin Empire to send sons and daughters with an aptitude to scholarship to one university or another. Lescari and Tormalin scholars tend to head for Vanam while Caladhrians are more apt to travel to Col though there are always exceptions. Col’s university also has some ties with Soluran scholars who study under their king’s patronage. Both universities have regular dealings with Hadrumal’s wizards and libraries.
Ensaimin’s ambitious merchants and would-be landholders increasingly look northward into the sparsely populated foothills. In recent generations they have encroached on lands claimed by the Mountain Men, deeming them open for the taking given the lack of villages or tilled land. This has caused ill-feeling and on occasion, open violence between lowlander and upland communities. More recently, Ensaimin adventurers have proved eager to see what opportunities lie across the eastern ocean in Kellarin.
This inhospitable region is bounded by mountains to north and south with a vast, marshy plain between them. Inglis is the only city, established on the eastern coast at the mouth of the Dalas river, to turn raw materials into finished metals, furs and other products. This now very wealthy city is tightly controlled by the guilds who dominate every aspect of the trade in timber, pelts and mineral wealth from Gidesta’s mines. Logging, trapping and mining camps are largely seasonal with the predominantly male population heading southwards to wait out the cold snowy winters in the villages some way inland from Inglis. There are a few permanent settlements in more sheltered valleys, often founded on the original holdings established by the Mountain race, with whom Gidestans have long intermarried.
This vast tree-covered region divides the lands that once made up the Old Tormalin Empire and the equally ancient Kingdom of Solura. Only one route cuts through it; the Great West Road. The Forest Folk still live deep in the greenwood, hunting deer and boar, gathering nuts and fruits and shifting their semi-permanent camps from season to season. Sometimes camps will combine. At other times, larger groupings will divide and go their separate ways. Forest life can be hard and hungry, not at all the leafy idyll which more settled people imagine.
Ensaimin’s expansion has seen the Forest’s edge retreat steadily westward as trees are felled and lands are cleared. Increasing numbers of Forest men and women have left their families and traditional ways to travel the Old Empire’s roads, wandering as far as the eastern ocean. Since singing and music are highly prized talents among the Folk, they seldom have trouble paying their way, working as minstrels and entertainers. Such wanderers will sometimes settle down in some distant country, only to take to the road again after many years, in many cases.
Since Forest customs don’t include formal marriage and short term sexual liaisons are widespread, the Forest Folk and indeed anyone with the red hair so common among them, now have a reputation for loose morals among the more staid inhabitants of Ensaimin, Caladhria and beyond. Differing concepts of personal property also lead to misunderstandings and accusations of theft.
The Forest’s traditional deities are Trimon, god of music and travellers, Larasion, goddess of weather and wells, Halcarion, goddess of love and luck and Talagrin, god of the hunt and of wild places. Divination through the runes is still widely practised by Forest Folk.
This island off the western Caladhrian coast appears on no maps or charts. Only trusted sea captains know the secret of first finding it and then navigating safely through the magically enhanced mists which shroud its approaches. Visitors generally find themselves unable to see the sun when they’re on the island, making navigational calculations impossible.
This is where Trydek, first Archmage, established his sanctuary for the mageborn during the violent years of the Chaos following the fall of the Old Tormalin Empire. The name also now refers to the city of scholarly halls, libraries and ordinary cookhouses and other shops that serve the mageborn and mundane population alike.
Beyond the city, the island is fertile and temperate, chosen by Trydek for that very reason, so his followers would be able to provide for all their own needs. Farms and villages across the island supply the city with most of daily life’s necessities while trade with the mainland secures luxuries and specialist goods and services.
The Ice Islands are a cold, largely barren and infertile chain in the eastern ocean, far to the north of Kellarin. The sparse habitable land is home by the Elietimm, a race akin to the Mountain Men or Anyatimm as that people call themselves in their own tongue. Mountain history tells of a violent rift long ago between those who favoured keeping Aetheric magic separate from political power, to serve all the people, and those who wished to see rulers’ authority enforced through Artifice.
Those who were forced into exile got their wish. Each holding in the Ice Islands is ruled by an Aetheric adept, imposing his or her will from a fortified stronghold with armoured men ready to persuade or to execute the unwilling. Not that there is much opposition to these despots; the land is so harsh that cooperation is essential for survival and besides, Aetheric magic enables the island rulers to see into any man or woman’s thoughts in search of treason. Punishments assaulting the mind are rightly feared far more than any physical retribution.
This reliance on Artifice was nearly the islanders’ undoing when catastrophe struck Tormalin Aetheric magic. This was considered to be a deliberate attack, confirming hatred and suspicion of the mainland, all the more so when famine followed.
The Ice Islanders support themselves with farming and rearing small herds of hardy goats through the short summer as well as through fishing and hunting whales, seals and seabirds. Necessity has seen remarkable ingenuity such as the creation of new fertile land by piling up seaweed and household refuse within stone retaining walls. Considerable use is made of the islands’ natural hot springs while the natural rise and fall of the tides has been harnessed to drive mills and similar mechanisms.
In recent years, the Elietimm have looked southward again, eager to claim the warmer, richer and unexplored expanses of Kellarin. This soon brought them into conflict with the scholars, mages and Tormalin adventurers seeking the colony lost in the Chaos. Rebuffed, the Ice Islanders are keeping to their own waters and keeping their own council for the present.
Kellarin is the common, current pronunciation of Kel’Ar Ayen, the name given in the dying days of the Old Tormalin Empire to the uninhabited land discovered on the far side of the eastern ocean. This is a hazardous voyage even in good weather due to the ocean’s current and storms. Wizardry has proved vital to regular, safe travel across the perilous waters.
Since the land and the ruins of that first colony were rediscovered, once the threat from the Ice Islanders was dealt with, three main settlements have been established. Vithrancel is a growing trading port, the first landfall for all ships and voyagers from Einarinn. Hafreinsaur is a smaller town at the head of a deeply cut bay further south where the colony’s first substantial holding was built. Edisgesset is an inland camp for those exploring the new land’s mineral and other resources.
Opposition to the Tormalin Emperor’s initial hopes of claiming this land for his own House led to Emperor Tadriol the Provident declaring Kellarin was henceforth under the suzerainty of Temar D’Alsennin, last survivor of one of the princely houses which had established the first colony before the Chaos. Since then, the Sieur D’Alsennin has further marked his independence from Tormalin and its nobles by inviting men and women of goodwill from any realm to join in the exploration and settling of this empty country.
This was the first country conquered by Tormalin’s legions as the Old Empire expanded. It was divided into six provinces, each ruled by a Governor, namely Sharlac, Marlier, Carluse, Triolle, Parniless and Draximal.
When the Empire fell, these governors claimed these territories for their own and styled themselves as dukes. Within a few decades, these dukes were arguing among themselves over who should be styled High King, as a rival to the Emperor of Tormalin. No Lescari High King was ever crowned but dissent among the dukedoms persisted through the generations. From time to time, rivalries and broken alliances would see skirmishing along their borders. Occasionally open, bloody warfare would break out. This saw mercenary camps and fighting companies established across the realm, most notably along the river Rel in Marlier and in the increasingly independent territory of Carif, also known as The Carifate, on the Parnilesse coast.
The very presence of these mercenaries helped prevent any lasting peace ever being negotiated. The profits to be made through supplying the dukes and their armies gave merchants and nobles alike in neighbouring countries no incentive to urge the Lescari towards peace. Even the money which the increasing numbers of exiles in Ensaimin and Tormalin sent home to help their kith and kin only helped sustain this misery.
In recent years however, an alliance between those exiles and rebels within Lescar has seen the selfish abuses of the dukes challenged and upheaval across the realm. It remains to be seen if lasting peace can ever truly come to Lescar.
Mandarkin lies beyond the mountains of Solura’s northern border. It is a cold and barren realm where serfs live in fear and in thrall to tyrannical nobles supported by loyal wizards. Violence is said to dominate every aspect of Mandarkin life.
Mandarkin nobles are known to covet Solura’s fertile plains and have attempted many assaults through the mountain passes over the generations. Flanking attacks have also come through the Wildlands in the far west and through the Great Forest. Mountain Men have made common cause with the Solurans on more than one occasion to repel the Mandarkin, irrespective of any lost, common heritage.
Einarinn’s mountains stretch from the western edge of Solura all the way to the eastern ocean coast. There is one broad pass through the higher ground towards Inglis and another open area of upland north of the Lakeland of northwest Ensaimin. There are also higher, more perilous mountain passes at the heads of the main tributaries flowing into the River Dalas. These allow access to the untamed, unsettled lands of Gidesta and beyond that to another still more remote mountain chain further north.
These highlands have been home since time out of mind to the Mountain Men, one of the ancient races. They are shorter and more stockily built than lowlanders and fair-haired with blue eyes. Such colouring is unusual across the lands where Tormalin is spoken, though it is more common in Mandarkin, leading some to suspect the Mandarkin are descended from Mountain stock.
The mines and forests north of Inglis have seen increasing co-operation and intermarriage between the miners and trappers and the men and women of the Mountain settlements. For the most part, such integration is peaceable. The further west one travels, the more closely the Mountain Men adhere to their traditional customs, living in remote valley settlements. The Mountain race worships Maewelin, the Mother and Misaen, the Maker, their own deities. Those who have more dealings with the lowlands may pay lip service to Tormalin’s pantheon but will still mark all life’s rites of passage with their traditional practises and no other.
Mountain dwellers do not consider the land is there to be owned by anyone but each valley settlement has rights agreed for generations over the woods and the animals which live there and the ores that can be dug from the ground. Specifically these rights belong to the women of each settlement who remain where they are born lifelong, tending hearth, home and family. The men of each settlement work in the forests and mines, trading on behalf of their wives, mothers and sisters. A young Mountain Man looks to earn a substantial amount of gold or coin as soon as he can, so that he can travel to the other valleys and hope to find a wife. The sum a prospective husband can offer is considered evidence of his worth as a worker and a provider for his future family.
Husbands, sons and brothers are also increasingly expected to defend the valley settlements and the women’s lands against encroachment from the lowlanders. Recent years have seen growing tension and periodic violence in the foothills north of Ensaimin.
The River Rel runs from the high ground between Dalasor and Ensaimin and forms the border between Caladhria and Lescar. Accordingly this broad river carries vast quantities of goods and raw materials, livestock and people from the interior of the former Old Empire to the coast.
A trading settlement established on the river’s muddy delta has grown into the independent city of Relshaz, whose wealth has grown further through trade with the Aldabreshin Archipelago, exchanging Aldabreshin luxuries for mainland materials and vice versa, through the sailing season from spring to late summer. This commerce is so profitable and so important that a deep water harbour has been built exclusively for Archipelagan galleys and triremes and many Aldabreshi warlords have built residences and storehouses along the waterfront for their designated merchants to live in year round. Slavery is a significant element of trade with the Archipelago; while neighbouring realms may look down on the Relshazri for lowering themselves to such dealings with barbarians, they fail to acknowledge their own role in sustaining that trade by allowing their own people to be burdened with slavers’ chains.
The Relshazri are almost a race apart these days, born of mingled mainland blood. Families with a greater or lesser degree of Aldabreshin ancestry are commonplace and unremarkable. Mainlanders and mixed-blood slaves who manage to secure their own freedom will often leave the Archipelago to settle in Relshaz, with no stigma attaching to their former lives.
The city is ruled by elected magistrates, voted into office by the merchants who always keep a weather eye open for the mood of the populace. From the Magistracy downwards, all Relshazri guard their independence fiercely. There are no bridges from the mainland on either side, only rope-hauled ferries which can be easily cut in time of attempted invasion from the land. The delta’s many channels have long since been turned into canals for the ready movement of goods and wares across the city from sea shore to river wharves. Along with the main river channels one either side, these canals can all be blocked with heavy chains to foil a water borne assault. The Magistracy’s taxes pay for a very well equipped and trained City Watch who are all the more feared because the universal sentence for all but the most trivial crime is condemnation to the slave pens.
Solura is the ancient kingdom lying beyond the Great Forest. Those woodlands and the unconquered realm of Ensaimin formed a buffer between the Kingdom and the Old Tormalin Empire, such that these great powers never came to blows. The country is divided into substantial provinces ruled by Lords, a few ruling Ladies and a handful of Dukes. All owe fealty to the King, currently King Solquen IV. His capital city Solith, is in the heart of the realm, beside the Lake of Kings.
Compared to Tormalin-speaking lands, Solura is sparsely populated with comparatively few village. The people tend to live in extended families in substantial, defensible farms and in the market towns where they gather to trade and where craftsmen ply their businesses. The Solurans do not worship any gods as the Tormalin speakers do. Rather they follow the philosophies and teachings of the wise men and women who founded the Houses of Sanctuary maintained by Aetheric adepts. Solstice and Equinox holidays are brief and ritual observance is limited to settling debts and grievances under the auspices of the local Adepts.
With hostile Mandarkin to the north and the barbarians and savage beasts of the Wildlands beyond the Great River of the West, Solura’s border lords maintain their own armed retinues and also regularly hire mercenary companies, often sustaining these soldiers of fortune for years at a time. Even lords in peaceable regions maintain a standing force of soldiers and are ready to fight whenever danger might threaten. The nobles are supported both by the Houses of Sanctuary and their adepts’ Artifice and also by the mages of the Orders of Wizardry. While Houses of Sanctuary remain independent of the local lords, only answerable to the king, the nobles are answerable for the continued good conduct of the Orders of Wizardry who have sworn them their loyalty.
A small group of islands in the middle of the eastern ocean proved the vital stepping stone to reaching the coast of Kellarin. However this secret was lost for generations, along with the first colonists from the Old Tormalin Empire.
The Ice Islanders soon discovered these islands, along with alliance of mages, scholars and Tormalins seeking the lost colony. The Elietimm soon made an alliance with a gang of pirates from the hidden harbours around the Cape of Winds. Between them, they looked to hold these mid-ocean islands and block the safest route to Kellarin. Once the pirates were driven out and the Elietimm retreated however, a permanent, independent settlement was established on these islands.
It serves both as a mid-way trading point for merchants from both Kellarin and Tormalin as well as a base for those defending this vital route. Since a good number of Hadrumal’s wizards have become involved in assisting the sailing ships, Suthyfer has increasingly become a new centre of magical scholarship, notably for the exploration of the differences and conflicts that arise between Artifice and Elemental magic.
Tormalin is reckoned to be the oldest of Einarinn’s realms. The Empire expanded from its early beginnings around the capital city of Toremal, first looking east and south to claim the long peninsula reaching beyond the isthmus of Zyoutessela into the Cape of Winds. After that, the legions marched north and west to claim and hold Lescar, Caladhria and Dalasor. In fact, Dalasor was never truly conquered in more than name only. Attempts to expand still further into Ensaimin met with considerable resistance and the legions soon retreated back behind the White River. Expansion into Gidesta stretched Imperial resources to breaking point. The last Emperor before the Chaos had already been dubbed ‘The Reckless’ by the Convocation of Princes before the unravelling of Aetheric magic contributed so much to the Old Empire’s collapse.
The Old Tormalin Empire fell twenty four generations ago by Imperial reckoning which counts a generation as twenty-five years, rather than the thirty-three years of Soluran custom. The country retreated to its first major boundary, the River Asilor, during the Chaos. By the time peace returned, any appetite for Imperial expansion had long since gone, along with the Aetheric magic expertise required to sustain far-flung outposts.
Tormalin’s Emperor is not an absolute ruler in Aldabreshin style nor even an overlord in the Soluran fashion. He is responsible for overseeing Tormalin’s laws and legal system, for managing the realm’s dealings with foreign countries and powers, for maintaining the Imperial legions and in time of war, for military matters, commanding and delegating command as appropriate. The Emperor holds his throne with the consent of the Convocation of Princes, who award each newly crowned Emperor an epithet reflecting their opinion of him. The current Emperor Tadriol the Provident succeeded Tadriol the Prudent, who succeeded Tadriol the Tireless.
Since the Chaos most emperors have been awarded complimentary epithets, with the exception of Modrical the Hateful who seized the throne soon after the Chaos and was murdered shortly afterwards. The line of succession does not necessarily pass from father to eldest son; brothers and nephews can succed to the throne as each Emperor looks for a worthy successor among his blood relatives. If the Convocation of Princes does not see fit to confirm an Emperor’s chosen successor, a vote will appoint a new Emperor and thus a change of dynasty will ensue. Tadriol is the tenth dynasty since the Chaos and the Provident the thirty-fourth Emperor. Aleonne the Gallant reigned for fifty six years. Decabral the Pitiless for only three. Most reigns endure for two or three decades.
The Princely Houses of Tormalin rule over most people’s day to day lives, with almost all of the common people formally swearing fealty to them or finding themselves informally obliged to obey the wishes of the richest and most powerful family in the locality.
These extended noble families own most of the land and control its resources, its roads and its rivers. Within their own holdings, nobles have considerable autonomy, answerable first and foremost only to the head of their family. Each family or Name will have a senior line and any number of cadet branches. The head of the family is titled the Sieur and he has ultimate authority all the family’s affairs and commerce, managing their often extensive and complex dealings in consultation with the most trusted and able relatives of his generation, male and female. A Sieur’s wife, the Maitresse, wields considerable authority in her own right, even if a woman will never be formally considered the head of a great household. Junior noblemen are styled Esquire and noblewomen Demoiselle. Noble rank is signified by the style Den or D’ before the family name, hence Den Rannion and D’Alsennin, unless a family has once held the Imperial throne. In this case the prefix becomes Tor or T’, hence Tor Tadriol or T’Aleonne.
While Tormalin appetite for conquest and Imperial ambition on the mainland has been in abeyance since the Chaos, these Noble Princes and their Houses are keenly interested in the newly discovered lands across the eastern ocean. There is also growing interest in Aetheric magic, with many Sieurs ordering their archivists to search out any scraps of lore that might lurk in a House’s libraries and records. Many princes are keen to see newly trained adepts offering their House the benefits of immediate communication with distant places and other such Aetheric enchantments. Tadriol the Provident has talked of giving a new university a charter specifically to encourage such scholarship.
The search for Aetheric lore has extended to temple archives as it has become apparent that Artifice was closely tied to religious observance in the Old Empire, with priests and priestesses often trained as adepts, frequently mastering the most advanced enchantments. Tormalin’s ancestral gods were Saedrin, highest of all, keeper of the keys to the Otherworld. He is traditionally flanked by Poldrion, god of the dead, who ferries their shades across the river of death to Saedrin’s judgement at the threshold to the Otherworld. Raeponin is god of justice while Ostrin is god of healing and hospitality. Drianon is the goddess of hearth and home while Arrimelin is the goddess of dreams and inspiration.
As the Empire expanded, the Tormalin incorporated the worship of the Forest and Mountain deities into their pantheon, along with Dastennin, god of storms and the sea, whose origin remains obscure. Some scholars suggest this may have originally been a Lescari cult but would be unwise to suggest this in any of Tormalin’s ocean coast ports where Dastennin is particularly revered by mariners.
Zyoutessela is Tormalin’s second city, straddling the isthmus before the Cape of Winds. Using the portage way, merchants are thus able to convey their valuable goods brought down the coast by tall-masted ships sailing from Inglis across to the galleys who ply their oars in the safer waters of the Gulf of Lescar. Even the bravest sailors hesitate to risk the highly dangerous passage around the Cape of Winds. Blacklith, Bremilayne and Kalaven are the other significant safe harbours on the rocky and inhospitable ocean coast, battered by storms and brutal tides. Consequently all four ports are now involved in trade with Suthyfer and Kellarin. Derrice and Regin are substantial ports and market towns on the Gulf coast while upland towns such as Sitalca, Angove and Savorgan are known for their fine wines. Zafer and Ast are known for horsebreeding while Moretayne is famed for its cattle. Solland on the Lescari border is famous for its hot springs and healing waters