Shadows Gather Darkly
Geographers of the modern world are only just beginning to understand its true dimensions and features. Explores and merchants bring back knowledge of lands beyond the sea and the Khanates, but a great deal of territory is still uncharted.
This gazetteer contains information of much of the known world for the casual browser.
The name Erebian is derived from the ancient Emphidian word for sunset and the Erebian Peninsula is the the western mainland of the primary continent of Aerth. Today the peninsula consists of the nations of Tierra, Algandy, Duchy of Lavasse and Chaubrette. Geographers generally describe the Arokose River up to the Meore River as the eastern boundary of the peninsula. It has coastlines on arms of the the Glaive and Mergeld Sea to the north, the Hadran Sea to the west, and the Deorsk Ocean and Coradian Sea to the south.
The Stranded Isles
A few words will suffice for these forlorn islands which are located dead west of Ellesland in the Hadran Sea. They are permanently covered by a pall of mist, for they lie at a point where the winds are still. We must rely on mariners’ tales for our knowledge of the isles – as, for example, in the logbook of Olo of Cornumbria, whose ship was becalmed there for ten days. Olo wrote that ‘the sea was like a pane of blue glass, the mist like drifting strands of silk.’ Several of his crew claimed to see wild naked figures leaping among the cliffs by the shore, but there is some evidence that they had by this time resorted to drinking salt water. Few have any reason to journey to this forsaken corner of the world.
It is believed that the Hearth Fire (the ember blown, according to legend, from Balr’s smithy) ensures the safety of the realm as long as it remains alight and within the King’s tower. The folk of Glissom believe that if the Hearth Fire is ever lost then Balr will once more be released upon the world and will come to terrorise men.
The North-West Mainland
The people of Chaubrette, Algandy, Kurland and Tierra – the four great kingdoms of the north-west peninsula – view the Elleslanders with contempt – uncouth barbarians at best, they think, with no culture, no great achievements, just sodden ruffians with coarse manners from a damp, misty isle. The occasional wars that have been fought across the Glaive, the channel separating Ellesland from the mainland, have resulted in ill feeling and have surely fuelled this prejudice.
There are strong blood ties between the royal families and aristocracy of the mainland nations – even with some of the lords of Albion (Earl Montombre’s wife, Talia, is a niece of the King of Algandy). Peace has predominated in the last twenty years or so – fertile land, profitable trade and a comfortable life, even for the peasantry, have aided in maintaining this quiet. The Crusade has even provided a means of allowing the ‘robber knights,’ who had been causing much unrest throughout the mainland for many centuries, an acceptable outlet for their aggressions. The Age of Chivalry is flowering in many of these lands, and for many of the others, it is a time of enlightenment, refinement and learning. The perfect gentle knight in Algandy lives a very different life to his rough Elleslandic cousin.
The Land: Geographically, the countries of the mainland are generally higher and more mountainous than Ellesland. The climate is similar, warmed by southwesterly ocean currents from the tropics. The lands are densely populated and large tracts of forest have been cleared for farming. However, some 10-30% of the countryside is wild forest, and areas that appear close together on a map may be quite isolated from one another. This is particularly true of Algandy, whose woodland areas have an ill and eerie repute.
This is a deep rift-valley that cuts like a scar through the Drakken Peaks. The wind that screeches along it carries a permanent bitter chill. From some mountaintops along the edge of the Gouge, one may look down upon thick clouds crackling with an intense storm. The crashing thunder may indeed be, as the myths claim, the gnashing of the dragon Helgyrak as he stirs in his sleep.
No boat has ever navigated the length of the Gouge, but an extraordinary edifice called the Rathurbosk crosses it at one narrow point. This is a sprawling bridge-city covered with marvellous edifices and honeycombed with innumerable chambers and corridors that run throughout its structure. Particularly remarkable is the central tower, supported by flying buttresses, which houses a time-keeping device. The rulers of Krarth constructed the bridge in the distant past in order to facilitate trade with the lands to the south. Elaborate laws were established so that merchants would know the Rathurbosk was a safe place to go and trade. The visitor will approach the Rathurbosk through sprawling township that has developed on the south side of the Gouge. The townsfolk trade with the bridge-dwellers and offer their daughters for marriage. If he arrives after dark, our visitor must stay at an inn in the town, as the gates of the Rathurbosk are closed from dusk till dawn. In the morning, he may approach the sweeping structure. Perhaps a moment of trepidation takes his breath away as he gazes down into the dizzying gulf and wonders at the sorcery that supports this unique bridge. He will sign his name in the gatebook (or have it written for him) and then pass through into a tiered plaza that climbs the curve of the bridge. Evidence of decaying grandeur surrounds him in the broken windows patched with animal hide and the moss that covers the cracked flag-stones. Militia in their ornate uniform will greet him and politely request his weapons. If he demurs, they will point out that the traders who come here prefer things this way. The weapons will be returned when the visitor leaves, of course, but if he refuses to be disarmed then he must turn back now. Otherwise he will be directed past one of the naming-spires that stand at points throughout the Rathurbosk to a tall building across the plaza: the Flynt Ridd tavern. A high doorway admits him to the common hall of the tavern – a narrow cathedral-like chamber that extends up several stories. Through the perpetual haze of smoke^ ^, gable-windows from the more expensive guestrooms can be seen overlooking this hall.
The hereditary keepers of the Rathurbosk are organised into a number of ancient clans, each with its own specified function. The duul Guidor clan are the administrators, and their head is called the Collector – i.e. the collector of tolls and trade taxes. Many of the subsidiary families who were originally instated as the armed garrison have become absorbed into this clan, so the duul Guidors also enforce the law. Trilothi duul Guidor, eldest son of the present Collector, is thus head of the Rathurbosk Guard. Our visitor may meet such notables as Hiabour the librarian, Vaturien the message-taker, or florid Gutmooto, who keeps the Flynt Ridd tavern – and he may end up doubting the sanity of any of them!
The Mercanian Coast
The Mercanians are a loose alliance of tribes or clans. Agriculture is the foundation of their economy, but in centuries past they frequently supplemented this with raids across the Mergeld Sea in their fearsome dragon-prowled ships. Mercanians are famous for their seamanship, and they were able to raid the Cornumbrian or Erewornian coast as easily as that of Albion. Usually a lookout would spy the raiders approaching and the villagers fled from their homes, leaving the Mercanians to pillage what they wished and depart without bloodshed. Actual violence rarely occurred, but still the Mercanians gained a reputation for ferocity surpassing even the Keltoi in Thuland. They have kept their reputation to this day.
The raids each summer needed extensive and costly preparations – not always with a guaranteed return on the investment, as a hostile lord might be ready to repulse the attack. Eventually some Mercanians thought of a way to avoid this. Initially they colonised a chain of islands north of Thuland, naming them the Orcaides. Seeing plentiful lands and a comfortable climate in Ellesland, they settled and built homesteads in which to pass the winter months. If troubled by the local lords they fought at first, eventually agreeing on a treaty resulting in the rise of the nation of Cara Fahd. A kingdom of farmers and warriors, Cara Fahd was feared throughout Ellesland. However, even it’s proud, strong folk could not stem the armies of Cornumbria, Ereworn, Thuland and Albion forever. By the time her enemies were finished, Cara Fahd lay in ruins and the orcs were scattered across Ellesland.
As time passed, most of the orcs of Cara Fahd integrated themselves into larger Elleslandic society. Many viewed the Mercanians as uncultured brutes, and many orcs began to abandon the old orc ways to better fit in with their newly adopted neighbours – forced to eke out a living along the margins of society. Many Mercanians turned to farming and became much like the lord’s other vassals.^ ^
Rapine and pillage is one way of acquiring wealth. It is not without its share of risk. The Mercanians today are better known as traders than as raiders. The greatest of the jarls have filled their coffers with the fruits of trade around the Coradian ports. It is not unknown to see a Mercanian trading vessel even as far south as Opalar, or wending its way up the jungle-bound waters of the Mungoda!
The people of the Trackless Ooze, the Kingdom of Lyakhov, Yggdras Isle and the Gnawing Waste are united by racial, geographical, linguistic and economic factors.
The Land: The Mercanian coastline is an extremely mountainous stretch of land. Its coastline is, in proportion to its area, longer than that of any major country in the rest of Aerth. There are a number of main regions in Mercania: Vestland; Østland; Trøndheim; Ork Mercan; and Sørland.
The Mercanian Coast contains the highest parts of the mountain range known as the Flint Knives. The mountains, over 1000m tall, are a complex array of sharp and rounded peaks, called fjell, and high plateaus, called viddler. The range includes the Dovrefjell in the north and the Jotunheimen (“realm of the giants”) in the central region. The latter is one of the highest peaks, over 2469m tall.
Vestland is characterized by the steep descent of the mountains to the sea. During the Ice Age, glaciers cut deeply into former river valleys, creating a spectacular fjord landscape. The longest and deepest fjord is about 127 miles long, and, in places, its rock walls rise abruptly from the sea to heights of 1308 m (4291 ft) or more. Three lowland areas contain most of Vestland’s population and agriculture: the southern coast of Boknafjord, the lower parts of Hardangerfjord, and the coastal islands. These islands are formed by the strandflate, a rock shelf lying in some places just above—in others, just below—the level of the sea.
Østland comprises the more gradual eastern slopes of the mountains. This is a land of valleys and rolling hills. The lower parts of the valleys contain some of the best agricultural land. Østland and Vestland are connected by a number of valleys, the most important being Hallingdal. Sørland comprises the extreme southern tip, the focus of which is the city of Stavanger. It is characterized by particularly pleasant summer weather.
The Trøndheim, located north of the highest mountains, resembles Østland, with a landscape of hills and valleys converging on fjords. The focus of this region is the broad Trondheimsfjord, which is sheltered from the sea by peninsulas and islands. A great deal of agricultural land is located around this body of water.
Ork Mercan is a vast region of fjords and mountains. Most of the population is settled on the strandflate coast and islands.
Forests cover slightly more than one-fourth of the Mercanian coastline’s land area. Primarily deciduous forests are found in the coastal districts of Vestland and Sørland. The principal species are oak, ash, hazel, elm, maple, and linden, but in some locations birch, yew, and holly may be found. As one progresses to the east and north the forests contain increasing numbers of conifers. Thick boreal coniferous forests are found in coastal regions and in the valleys of Østland. These forests are dominated by pine and spruce, but also contain birch, alder, aspen, and mountain ash. Wild berries, such as blueberries, cranberries, and cloudberries, grow in most woodland areas. In the far north and at high elevations are tundra regions. The tundra is a treeless heath, with vegetation consisting mainly of hardy dwarf shrubs and wildflowers.
Reindeer, polar foxes, polar hare, wolves, wolverines, and lemmings are common in the north and in the higher mountain areas. Elk, deer, foxes, otters, and marten are found in the south and southeast. Both freshwater and saltwater fishes abound. Salmon, trout, grayling, perch, and pike are common in the streams and lakes. Herring, cod, halibut, mackerel, and other species inhabit coastal waters.
Mercania’s principal mineral resources include modest amounts of iron ore and copper.
The Trackless Ooze
This is an area of marshes, lakes and desolate land cobwebbed by foetid rivers. The people who live here dwell in reed huts that sit on stilts above the dank ground. The life they lead is not one to be envied – poling themselves along the cold waterways on crude rafts, they forage for water-rats, fish and edible fungi. They must salt and store what they can in the summer months. Winter often brings blizzards and a deathly coldness that lies on the land like a shroud until the spring comes again.
Along the coast live the Vassklavi fisherfolk. For them, winter can be a good time. If the sea freezes they may range far on the ice-pack – even as far as the Isle of Yggdras, where the meat of bears and wolves can be had. Through a genetic quirk, many individuals of this people have what is sometimes called ‘cuts in the eye’ – jagged black sections across the iris.
The Gnawing Waste
This is a wild country of glacier-split mountains, merciless blizzards and soaring conifers. These white-skinned, brown-haired people are reindeer-herdsmen and hunters. Dour and uncommunicative, they worship their ancestral spirits in hearth-altars and show no interest in strangers.
To the east lies the uncharted Svartgard Forest. The people of the Waste believe that amid the black boles of strange silver-needled firs lurk all manner of primeval terrors: Atrols, flickering Eidolons, macabre Ghouls and more. No one ventures there.
The Nomad Khanates
An expanse of temperate grasslands and scrub lies to the east of the New Selentine Empire. It has never been explored or mapped; its exact limits are unknown. Somewhere further east and south are the strange tradition-steeped lands of Khitai, Yamato and Sri Raji. More southerly are the rich countries of Minj and Batubatan. In the south-west, the grasslands must abut the far fringes of Opalar. But a traveller wishing to visit any of these exotic places would take the seaward passage along the Gulf of Marazid, not travel across the grasslands. These wild plains are the home of nomad peoples as fierce and untamed as the landscape they inhabit.
The Ta’ashim Lands
Ta’ashim is many things: the name of a region, of a faith and of a people. The Ta’ashim states today occupy the part of the world where, a thousand years ago, we would have found the remnants of Kaikuhuru and the southern provinces of the Selentine Empire.
Several states are known to have existed in these lands in the pre-Selentine and early Selentine era. The earliest among these was the Kingdom of Nabat, which for a brief period extended as far north as Ibrahim. The Nabataean form of writing developed into the Jezant scipt used in all Ta’ashim languages and used in the Coor’ve, the holy book of the Ta’ashim faith. Selentium gained control of the Nabat Kingdom in AS 26 and established most of it as the Selentine province of Harogarn Petraea. With the coming of the empire, the Selentium Church spread into the desert realms. The Church was established and to a considerable degree supplanted the existing religious beliefs, which were based mainly on astrology and occultism. The Harogarn province, however, lasted less than a century before the empire crumbled.
After the collapse of the Empire’s control, it took hundreds of years for a central authority to build up. The unifying force that finally made this possible was Ta’ashim – literally, ‘the Word of God’ – an intricate blueprint for life and worship, set down by the Illuminate Akaabah in the sixth century AS. A century after the Illuminate’s death, his teachings had made possible the creation of an empire of more than five million souls.
However, divisions soon formed in the Ta’ashim world. Differences of geography, language and doctrine saw to that.
The lands of the Ta’ashim are intrinsically richer in the kind of commodities that are easy to transport such as silk, pearls, precious metals, etc. Merchants are held in high esteem. This contrasts with the north, where most communities must be as self-reliant as possible and most resources are such things as timber and furs, which are not cost effective to transport over long distances. Poor roads, lawlessness and the plague have all contributed to stifle trade in the north (except around the Coradian Sea and up around the coast to southern Albion). The overall effect of these factors has been to make the Ta’ashim countries more peaceful and generally more advanced, though at the cost of losing the raw aggression that drives the northerners to expand their domains.
Land: The peninsula containing the lands of Zhenir and Marazid is essentially a vast plateau, rimmed on the east and north by mountains and sloping gently to the west to the Gulf of Marazid. It contains some of the largest sandy desert areas in Aerth, notably the Kaikuhuran Desert in the south. The climate is extremely arid and no permanent streams exist.
Various minerals, including gold, silver and rock salt, are produced.
The Mungoda Rain-Forest
Finally, our travels have brought us to the ‘Dark Continent’ of myth and legend, which remains almost completely uncharted.
The Land: Much of this continent comprises the giant Mungoda river basin. Across the hinterland spreads the luxuriant growth of the Mungoda Jungle. Inland, above the flood plain of the Mungoda and its tributaries, fantastically tall trees like the pillars of a cathedral reach far up into the azure sky. An impenetrable canopy of green-black screens out the daylight so that little undergrowth is to be found on the forest floor. Walking through a spongy morass of fungi and rotting vegetation, a traveller could almost fancy he is walking on the ocean bed, as the tropical light is tinged a flowing green by the spreading leaves above. Orchids and many other flowers provide splashes of rich golds, blues, and reds to this eerie scene. Tangled stands of poison ivy twine around the trees. Monkeys chatter and crash from branch to branch, alarming exotically plumed parrots that take flight at once in a blaze of copper-gold and emerald.
Closer to the rivers, the jungle takes a different form. The headwaters of the Mungoda tributaries lay down a rich loam when they flood. Silk cotton trees, more than 50 metres tall, rear like castle buttresses from the mud. Around their squat bases sprout ferns, cacao trees, palms and a profusion of flowering bushes. Further down river, jungle of this sort gives way almost entirely to palms, as there are no longer enough nutrients in the floodwater to satisfy the giant buttress-rooted trees. At its mouth the Mungoda River is several miles wide. The extensive mangrove swamps of the Cosh Goyope^ ^ region fringe the river, particularly to the south.
North of the Mungoda Jungle, the land rises gently to form the Thanagost Peaks. Majestic conifers and breathtaking waterfalls may be seen as one climbs out of the drenching jungle into the sharp landscape of the highlands. A few isolated tribes of hunters live here, scattered among the lower valleys. Higher still, beyond the ancient plateau, the mountains rise dizzyingly until they are lost in snow and clouds, and probably no living thing has ever seen the topmost peaks.
Beyond the Thanagost range, the land drops steeply towards the rim of the desert. In places the slopes are vertical up to 600 metres, leading to the desert-dwellers’ name for these cliffs – ‘the Wall of the World.’ Doubtless the unexplored Desert of Songs holds many dust-choked ancient ruins across the drifting sands. According to archaeologists and anthropologists, a prehistoric civilisation here had the custom of burying their dead here in cave tombs – niches and tunnels cut into the rock-face.
The Mungoda is deep enough that an ocean-going vessel could sail more than six hundred miles upstream. The town of Paru is a large sprawling town one hundred miles up the Mungoda estuary. It lies on the fringes of the Cosh Goyope swamplands and consists of hundreds of bamboo huts built on stilts out over the water. Plank waterways connect the huts, but the most common mode of transport for the people of Paru is the dugout canoe. Food comes from the river and from trade with other tribes upstream, so it is possible for a native to live his entire life out on the Mungoda without ever venturing onto dry land. The nearest huts to the shore are where the poorest people of the town live – and even these are at least two hundred metres out over the water! Townsfolk pole past on rafts with their wares and a bustling river market develops by midmorning. In net-corrals encircled by planks, visitors will see natives farming the Ngokla, a hideous trilobite crustacean considered to be a great delicacy.
In any world that has not been thoroughly mapped, strange stories of distant lands are rife. Aerth is no exception. Many travellers have found that when they tell outrageous, sensational stories people are more in awe of their exploits.
Sailors tell of the Ascians, people who cast no shadow. They live in the far south, close to the equator, and are apparently soulless, forced to serve the shamans who keep their shadows in sealed huts.
There are many places beyond the boundaries of this map which travellers have visited and returned with stories and tales, from Khitai, Minj, and Yamato to Batubatan, and Sri Raji. The folktales of Minj speak of the Drifting Pavilion of the Mystagogue, which floats through the skies and which only an enlightened adept can ever hop to reach. In an isolated wayside inn among the mountains of Batubatan, one can hear fireside tales of Gungun the Witch, a horrid entity who skulks about her hut of human bones – or of the Sacred Vistas of the Moon, a place within the heart of the unscaleable Mount Tlingat. Sailors bring back tales of distant Yamato and still more distant shores: of castles of living coral rising from the ocean depths, of ghost-hulks whose rotting timbers creak with the weight of stolen gold, of lights that seem to mark out submerged cities, of islands patrolled by unliving monsters, of exotic ports full of dark pleasures and deadly perils, and of comely wenches who dance on the grey waves and entice poor mortals to join them in flickering palaces built from stormclouds.
There are many tales and fables to be heard: of the acephalous natives of the tropical islands of Adamastor, the fierce women warriors who once dwelt in mountainous Emphidor, the gleaming phantoms who dance in the sky above the Rymcheald Sea, the glimpses of the Infinite Paradise that a thirsty man may see when staggering, close to death in the Kaikuhuran Desert, and of the carnivorous undergrowth of the Mungoda.
Finally, a host of rumours recount the famous places of ancient treasure: the desert pyramids where the God-Kings sleep in death; the Garden of Columns; the marvellous Tower of Brass which is located at the source of the River Isis; the lost city of Rakundus, outpost of the Selentine VIth Legion in the grasslands of the far south; the Temple of Faresh in the mountains along the Marazid Coast – this temple is said to be walled with gold, and it towers and undying guardians flicker with a blue fire; the creeper-clad ruins of the Mungoda Jungle, etc.