The known land of Asmer is divided into three distinct continents…
The southeast continent of Izeltazzar is home to the Yacathan, Jalant, Nornar, and Izeltazrim.
The southwest continent of Haramor, contains Kordrove, Irlspyre, Brethnur, The Harr, and Golishtan “The Great Sand Sea”.
All are surrounded by the Stormtalon mists, which even flow across the Aeradaunt, the ocean that separates Ertalon from its southern neighbors.
Ertalon, the largest of them, is home to the nations of Skalaunt and Rheligor, which are divided by the free port city of Tanthalas and the fiercely independent baronies and holdings of the Firefall.
Between those empires is a region of predominantly wild forests that contains a webwork of trails, studded with many small, isolated valleys. This region of independent vales is known as “the Firefall” (because of a legend that a great rain of fire came from the sky and burned back the mists to create them), and the two opposed empires are Rheligor and Skalaunt.
The mountains of Ertalon are honeycombed with caves and are the deadly haunts of wild beasts, lurking monsters, outlaws, and desperate outcasts.
The two empires are largely policed and peaceful, but in the Firefall humans “keep to the trails and vales.” The vales are valleys, mostly rolling wooded country, well-watered with brooks and springs, and ruled by self-styled lords (a vale lord is really just a warrior with a castle, who is served by knights, and holds sway over a market-town/market-moot and a cluster of farms around it). If one of the empires takes over a vale, and the other vales learn of it, they rise together and make war on that vale until “the evil gauntlets of the tyrants” are destroyed or driven out.
Some of the longest established and best-known of the three dozen or so vales include Darrakas Hold, Mreskor, Staghult, Ornshield, Mahltattan Hold, Hlumndur Hold, Larthing, Tarnsword, and Delnthroun. (Their rulers go by such titles as the Duke of Darrakas, Lady Mreskor, the Lords Staghult [four co-rulers], the High Duke of Ornshield, and so on.)
Daring adventurers and peddlers travel the trails between the vales and empires, and new inhabited vales appear when adventurers can tame wild sections of trail, usually around a fortified inn. Adventurers who spill the blood of dragons (which burns and smokes on contact with steel), or discover ancient discarded magic items and destroy them in the right manner rather than using them, can unleash power that literally “pushes back” the mists permanently, to claim more territory.
Unbeknownst to the general populace and all but the eldest or most powerful priests and wizards is the fact that dragons, dead, undead, and just long sleeping, lie buried beneath the Firefall, and are both the reason it remains a “no man’s land” between the two empires, and a potential titanic power source that could destroy half of Ertalon as easily as help to conquer it. The Ertalonar saying “Lest you wake the sleeping dragon” (which in colloquial use means “Be careful” or “you’re being foolish/rash/crazy” or “Please reconsider”) refers to this, even though almost everyone alive today who says those words isn’t aware of which dragons (and where) they’re referring to. Occasionally, floods of monsters erupt from the Stormtalons to overrun a vale or an area of trails, and that territory “goes wild.”
Cleared land that isn’t inhabited by creatures that farm and build fires (i.e. humans) for long enough will “fade away”—that is, the mists will start to steal in and swallow them.
Commoners live in caves, forest “huts” (lean-tos that use a row of trees linked by woven wattles as one wall, and half-toppled trees (whose tops are interwoven with the standing row, and that lean diagonally from their roots to the standing trees, to form a diagonal that gets roofed over with more wattles, the bound boughs of living trees, turf cut and laid, mosses, etc.), and harkalback homes (the harkal is a huge, placid, slow-moving land turtle that grazes plants; the empty shells of dead harkuls are large enough to be used as dome-like walls and roofs for rounded-earth-furniture simple dwellings). The forests around the vales are teeming with life; food is a problem for no one. Staying alive while hunting is another matter.
Tanthalas: Lawless Port City
On the coast of the Firefall, between the two empires, on an bay (Ormrarr Bay) in the Aeradaunt Sea (and offering access to exotic, faraway seacoast city-states and lands such as Brethnur, the realm of many horses and farms, that exports vegetables in plenty; Felamont, the tall port city of wealth and learning and mercantile schemes and inventions made everyday practicalities; Irlspyre, the rival city of Felamont, and a place of much wealth and small everyday “takkalan” [clockwork mechanisms]; hot and verdant Jalant, the large land of the dates and fruits and dusky-skinned dancers; grim and mountainous Nornar of the dragontamers, with its many miners and masons and its Wyrmking; and jungled, nigh-lawless Yacathan, the realm of the snakeheaded uolori), stands Tanthalas, an independent, crossroads trading-port.
Tanthalas is a lawless, damp place of fogs and cobbles and drab stone buildings, where murders are commonplace, warehouses are linked above the streets by elevated thrail-lines (“thrails” are small wheeled hopper-cars used to move wares about, along a labyrinthine manpower-driven railway where one to three men push or pull a single laden car, from warehouse to warehouse, or out on overhead loading-spurs where the contents can be lowered by rickety crane into ship’s holds or decks below), and “coins are king.” Where there are no thrail-lines, catwalks and laundry lines fill the skies.
Tanthalas has the Rovers, a militia of about twenty strong who were supposed to assemble to a distinctive warhorn, but those few old warriors lacked uniforms and hadn’t assembled for years now; their last motley mustering had resulted in six grim men with badges and old blades gathering, taking one look at the bloody brawl raging between two rival crews who’d hit port the same night—and headed to their various homes, doing nothing.
Not that there was any formal code of laws for them to enforce, these days.
Balconies and external stairs are increasingly fewer and boarded-over, streets wind and slope, and much business is done in the crowded “flagonhouses” and the upstairs clubs (where merchants can rent rooms to make deals in). It’s said more illicit or misrepresented cargoes flow through Tanthalas than anywhere else—and it’s also said that Tanthalas is a city where you can buy anything, if you can find the right vendor, and for a stiff fee have almost anything done—including murder. But beware, for both the Heirophar and the Rheligorn priests have well-paid (and seemingly unlikely) spies everywhere…
A dangerous, seemingly endless forest prowled by monsters and brigands, this “no man’s land” between Rheligor and Skalaunt is ruled by the sword. Some of its barons—“the Mad Baron” of Dusklow, for one—are widely held to be as dangerous as any desperate outlaw, and the heart of the Firefall is an unmapped maze of treacherous bogs and marshes. The rivers are all collectively known as “the Firefall,” though in Tanthalas, the three rivers that meet the sea within the city are known as the Sword, the Serel, and the Taele.
The Sword is fordable at Ormsford, and the Serel is fordable at Rivenrock (in both places, guideropes span the river to aid crossings in high water or at night). Four high mountain passes (Four Daggers being the most perilous) and one easy level route (Barantur’s Ride) link the Firefall with the two realms that adjoin it; the Firefall is otherwise ringed by one continuous mountain range that is known as the Semper Mountains on its flank with Rheligor, the Dragonfire Mountains on its border with Skalaunt, and the Elvarr Mountains “around the end” farthest from the Aeradaunt Sea (of old, these ranges were collectively known as the Ember Mountains, and this nae survives in some ancient ballads and writings). One barony, Nol’s Skull, lies ruined and uninhabited; those who take refuge there soon vanish if they tarry, presumably falling victim to local predators.
The baronies of Qorn (“KOO-orn”) and Jarantur are notoriously suspicious of outlanders, and the folk of Klavvad expect trouble and are always heavily armed, their houses and shops bristling with traps and everyone having pacts to call on neighbors for armed aid in an instant if they make the right cry or signal. Conversely, Yulgaunt, and Mreskor are known for being the homes of enterprising, far-traveled “trade with anyone” sorts. Larthing is infamous for being friendly to outlanders only—and being aggressively hostile to anyone they know dwells in the Firefall. Wevurembur and Xindurparth are baronies ruled and dominated by shapeshifting women who welcome outcasts and the misshapen, and Dragondeath is named for a “false pass” leading up from it into the mountains towards Skalaunt (where it ends in impenetrable rock walls that sport fierce waterfalls in spring runoffs), where the rocks are littered with the heaped bones of gigantic ancient dragons (who, judging by the bite and claw marks on the crumbling bones, fought each other to death in or above this dead-end vale).
The climate for the entire area of the Firefall is mostly temperate, with the interior of the Firefall being swept with occasional storms off the sea. The winters are harsh in the forested and mountain areas, although their summers tend to be mild. The swamp areas have much less bitter winters, but their summers are brutal.
In the mountain areas, the passes can often be closed with up to 20 feet of snow during the darkest part of winter.
Be wary of the children of Hylhaven, for their ancestors rode out of the mist and left them a strange breed. Also hold tight to your purse when purchasing horses from them or you will go home with nothing.
Be wary of the children of Hylhaven, for their ancestors rode out of the mist and left them a strange breed. Also hold tight to your purse when purchasing horses from them or you will go home with nothing.
– Advice given to children not born of Hylhaven
Outlanders don’t know a windblown whitenose from a good mount so sell them your culls. And keep both eyes open when riding near the mists, for we never know who will come that way.
– Advice given to children born of Hylhaven
The majority of Hylhaven’s people live in fortified dwellings known as “manors.” The oldest manors were built along the country’s mist line. According to Hylhaven folktales, these firstmanors were named for the mounts that carried their riders there. These are Bellmare, Skewbald, Oldblack, and Mooneye.
The next generation established of Swingletree, Roanred, and Twofoals. Like the earlier manors, these had watchtowers and fortifications facing the mist, while presenting a more welcoming front to visitors coming from inland.
A daughter of the Twofoals household established her own manor further inland at Amble and her granddaughter founded Broomtail. The lead groom of Bellemare crossed the mountains to build Rosegrey. As herds and families grew, the manors of Blueroan, Dobbin, Highwhite, and Faintstar were built. Highwhite and Faintstar are the most elaborate of the manors and the least fortified, sitting in the middle of rich pasture land.
At some points, descendants of Mooneye, Oldblack, or Skewbald established a smaller manor which completely failed and is no longer are occupied (one of the “ruins” on the map). The other ruins on the map, between Amble and Broomtail along the mist line, is a manor that may predate the current settling of Hylhaven. Opinions are mixed on this among Hylhaveners, with the majority view being that nobody was there before they arrived.
Mooneye, Oldblack, and Skewbald are no longer occupied. These three are called the lost manors….and named in certain circles as the “mad” manors. Bellemare is the only one of these first manors to still fully occupied.
Each manor is run by the herdowner, and each manor gives a unique title to that herdowner such as the Barwin of Bellemare.
Outside the manors, and their herds and pastures, there’s a number of scattered farms known as treadings. These small farms are considered independent, but they may call upon the nearest manor for additional help in times of harvest or shearing (sheep’s wool being Hylhaven’s most popular export after horses). The head of such a household holds no particular title.
All manors trace their herds back to the fifty “firsts” that crossed into Hylhaven from the mists. The people of Hylhaven also claim they descend from fifty common ancestors—causing no end of bewilderment among outsiders, who often can’t tell if those from Hylhaven are talking about people or horses. This confusion has led to odd legends of all sorts. Hylhaveners have no such problem or, as they say, “people have two legs, horses have four, and trust an outsider not to know the difference.”
Those who live beyond the boundaries of Hylhaven are commonly known as “outside the Fifty.” This term can be twisted into an insult to a horse, its rider, or both, depending on the Hylhavener’s intent. When dealing with foreign kings and other nobility, the Knab of Highwhite generally represents the manors of Hylhaven and often is mistakenly portrayed as the queen of Hylhaven by foreign chroniclers.
Within Hylhaven, the Knab is considered no better than the Barwin of Bellmare or the Skart of Faintstar. As the holders of the largest herds in the current generation, any one of the three can call the Canterfield, a formal gathering made up of all the herdowners and farm holders. Canterfields are rarely called because they require whoever requests one to feed all attending. Only in a Canterfield can matters pertaining to all of Hylhaven be decided. As Hylhaveners dislike being told what to do, Canterfields are never popular and most consider it a duty of all attending to make them as costly as possible for the fool who called one—or perhaps that is the excuse given later for the excessive consumption of food and drink.
Most maps indicate that the land east and southeast of Hylhaven is solid beneath the mist, and that the kingdom is southeast of The Harr, north of Golishtan, The Great Sand Sea. It is thought that the proximity of the mists keeps Hylhaven wet and green, when it should be giving way to the barrenness of its desert neighbor. In some areas, it is said that the mists cover deep waters or treacherous bogs. This is particularly thought to be true of places were rivers run into the mist as well as to the west and south of Roanred and Twofoals.
Rheligor is a large, stable, verdant land of dirt-poor farmers who are devoutly religious but chafe under the oppressive rule of priests of The Six, who between them control almost every aspect of life, enforced by patrols of holy warriors. Their world-view, supported by all the faiths (the deities of which dominate different portfolios that are in theory interlocked and balanced against each other, with every worshipper “drifting” between them throughout life, moving to be dominated more by one or another as circumstances and their inclinations permit), is known as “the Way.”
Everyone not of Rheligor (such outlanders are called the “Unholy” in Rheligor) call the holy soldiers of Rheligor “Warriors of the Way.” In Rheligor, everyone has enough to eat and drink, but almost no freedom. Invention, debate, criticism, and creative expression are all stifled by the priests, who confiscate weapons and “fell devices” (inventions), and who train the populace (and expel troublemakers into the Firefall, or even put them to death for some deeds), whose days are measured and regimented with frequent prayers.
At the far end of Rheligor from the Firefall, the Stormtalons are being slowly pushed back, year by year, by “the Bloodprayers,” powerful holy magics worked by the priests of the land that involve human sacrifice, and that somehow “burn away” the mists so more land is free of them. “Blood temples” are built in this new land, which is very productive (because it hasn’t been farmed for generations), and priests directly control farming there and the coins made from it.
Although the Rheligorn priests habitually present a united front to the “Unanointed” (the commoners or farmers), there are ongoing struggles, large and small, between the priests of the six gods, and within each of the six clergies, both over matters of doctrine and worldly policy, and for personal power. Rheligor is thousands of years old, and has been one land since the Time of the Warpriests, when clergy took up arms and threw down the scores of petty lordlings who each ruled a fistful of farms, and incessantly made war on each other. Their nigh-ceaseless strife had brought ruin to crops and farmers, and famines to many, for some centuries, and reduced most of Ertalon to food-raiding—while giants and other emboldened beasts strode out of the mists to slaughter and despoil at will. There was a High King of Rheligor once, sages say (and “Rheligor was his name,” a few claim), but the priests always add firmly, “and will never be again.” If there is strife in Rheligor, it is swiftly hushed.
The most bitter battles are between individual priests, and are matters of whispered threats, flurries of flashing knives in the dark, and murders made to look like holy sacrifices or punishments of the gods, after the fact. All Rheligorn know priests strive against priests—and that right now, the mightiest contest is between Eldoul of Pelasper and the other “Elders” of all the faiths, and the fierce-tempered, raven-haired young priestess Rusarsylle of Vraevre, who leads oppressed young priestesses who hunger for reform.
Rheligor is vitally necessary to most of Ertalon (and even Felamont and Irlspyre, across the sea), because Rheligor is the breadbasket that feeds everyone in the cities in abundance, keeping food cheap and plentiful. Rural folk everywhere in Ertalon can feed themselves, but if a hard winter precedes or follows a bad growing season, the farms and hamlets have no food to spare to send elsewhere.
This realm is crisscrossed by countless unnamed dirt cart-lanes, that wind among its many farms; only the three “Ways” (large, raised, graveled roads with side-ditches, made wide enough for three wagons abreast) are ever shown on Rheligor-approved maps, the Gulund Way, the Rellath Way, and the Semper Way (which runs along one bank of the River Semper, the official boundary of Rheligor.
From the capitol, Halantharm “the Holy,” patrols of armed priests issue and return frequently, moving around the realm along the Ways from settlement to settlement (and exploring the back lanes more infrequently and at deliberately irregular times, seeking invaders and “the ungodly” (anyone up to something suspicious). Outlanders usually find it easier to travel in Rheligor with guide-priests, who vouch for them but also keep a sharp eye on them.
The port of Klemmath, on Rhelmath Bay, is the busiest, most tolerant, and least “holy” of all settlements in the land; it, Chansarl, Tarellath, and the capitol can properly be called cities, and the other settlements are towns (there are dozens of small, unmapped hamlets and villages).
The offshore islands of Jaskyng Rock, Xalankh Rock, Yiskar Rock, Qeskurr Rock, Ilm Rock, Warslar Rock, and Yngorl Rock are just that: bare, inhospitable rocks, home to seabirds and sometimes visited by those who seek crabs and clams. Yngorl has several pebble beaches where ships can be beached; the others offer no harbor or shelter at all; they all have tiny seacaves, but these are shunned as haunted, because of old fell or cursed wizards were tossed into them after death.
The larger islands of Myskarn and Haelskarn are home to a few hardy fisherfolk and boatbuilders who tolerate visiting (inspecting and tax-collecting) priests but not-so-privately consider themselves independent of Rheligor, and will trade with outlanders before they’ll be more than just civil to a priest of Rheligor.
Juluth is a cape named for an infamous, long-dead dragon slain (by many desperate humans) there, and the Godseye is a cliff that naturally (that is, with no help from any sentient hand) strikingly resembles, when seen from out at sea, a lone gigantic, staring eye. Just which god the eye belongs to depends on who one is talking with.
Skalaunt is a mercantile land of small, competing farms and businesses. Its people all do militia duty, and so can muster into large armies when necessary, and are trained and dominated by wizards who all report to the emperor archwizard, the Heirophar, who founded Skalaunt (or so it is widely claimed, though many folk know the true founder was a Heirophar before the current one) and rules it as a usually benevolent tyrant.
No one in Skalaunt believes in The Six, instead venerating the Flame, the embodiment of inspiration and creativity within us all. Invention, creativity, and innovation are all encouraged, and Skalaunt is becoming a land of mines, mills, and forges.
Skalaunt is also acquiring a nobility of wealthy merchant families the Heirophar has “anointed” as worthy leaders of the land—in return for their social and financial support. Dark things happen to nobles who speak out against the Heirophar’s policies and actions. Using mercenaries (including the young folk of impoverished Skalauntan families) and conjured monsters, assisted by minor Skalauntan wizards given the choice of death under the Heirophar’s spells or undertaking this service, the Heirophar has for years sent forth ships to conquer islands rich in timber, metals, and edible beasts.
Though the Skalauntan forces haven’t yet assaulted any important overseas port, such places expect that to change soon—and are increasingly alarmed and angered at the ongoing Skalauntan conquests. Skalaunt is a much younger empire than Rheligor; some of the Withered Sages of Rhol, who have drunk foul potions that snatch vitality in return for longer years, can remember times before the first Heirophar seized power. Back then, there were five rival kingdoms: Malrammar and Launting, the two coastal realms, being the largest, strongest, and most prosperous, and the lesser realms of Skalossoes, Dreealth, and Thentorn.
Their splendid knights made war on each other often, but were too evenly matched for one land to prevail over another . . . until the coming of the wizards. The local hedge-wizards had not enough power to hurl down castles and shatter armies, but the Princes of the Five Thrones in their pride and folly took to hiring ever-more-powerful mages from “over the waters,” and those wizards could destroy kingdoms, and did, until there were no kings or knights left, only wizards waging war on each other for the kingdoms they had conquered from within. One mage hurled lightnings, another dragged hosts of monsters out of the mists, and more than one rode dragons and made from the air . . . but in the end one was mightier than all the rest, and bound the lives of the few wizards he spared into scepters of power.
That one was the Heirophar, and he proclaimed the new empire of Skalaunt, with those who’d served and aided him as its petty towerlords under him. Their descendants—and replacements, in the case of the few who were foolish enough to defy him or covertly seek to subvert his aims for their own ends—are towerlords still, and Skalaunt has no proclaimed rival of the Heirophar. Yet everyone in the empire knows the rising merchants chafe and grow ever more restless, emboldened by the overtures of wizards of other lands over sea, that they meet in their tradings, and drink and talk with, planning other futures for Skalaunt than the iron fist of the Heirophar. Not that the merchants are of one mind, or would submit to a commonly-agreed-upon ruler. Some want to see the Five Thrones rise again, others prefer “the Vailaunce” of twelve city lords ruling in publicly-voting council as Baera Vailaunce once organized the Free Fleets of the seafaring traders of Felamont, of old . . . and some want warriors to found their own realms and forge new boundaries by the sword, with all wizards high and low being put to the death on sight.
Yet as the old saying of Ertalon so eloquently puts it, “Some harbor more wants than all the world can meet—and there are many, many such folk, and no end to their wantings.” Rheligor and Skalaunt clash from time to time, but huge wars haven’t happened for a long time—because adventurers continually arise (and are caught) between the two opposed empires, because life in both empires suffers so much when they clash directly, and because the last two wars between them dwindled into wary skirmishes when armies raised by either side broke off the fighting and declared independence, occupying their own holdings in the Firefall or plunging into the Stormtalons in search of new lands in which to dwell.
From his capitol of Felfalcon, the Heirophar holds court (in a nigh endless palace he supposedly inhabits but is seldom seen in), ruling Skalaunt with an iron fist. From the grim fortress of Sarmeld, his snout-helmed, plate-armored warriors ride tireless patrols, guided by trained vultures aloft, to harry or destroy invaders coming out of the Dragonfire Mountains from the Firefall, and monsters marauding down from those same peaks.
Many places in Skalaunt show the hand of the Heirophar, from Beltyr (“BELL-teer”)—so alive with wild, crawling magics in the wake of a spell-battle he fought there that even to carry some minor enchantment into that village is to court death from gathering, snarling lightnings—to Haelros (“HAIL-rose”), where those out of favor are sent to work in the choking dust of the chalk mines, to enrich the fields of the rest of Skalaunt; to Launtalar, formerly the proudest and richest port on Ertalon’s coast, now cut off from the rest of Skalaunt by the destruction of all roads to it, and forced to ship its fish to the rival ports of Daunsking and Malatur (Launtalar has become the most welcoming home to outlanders in Skalaunt, and the seat of the fiercest resentment of the Heirophar, but he keeps fear stronger than hatred by showing up from time to time to topple a tower into rubble and corpses, or send great floods of fire racing along the cobbled streets).
Qorvale is an important gem mining center, where the Heirophar’s spell-encaged monsters guard storage-caverns of the cut and polished stones, so they can be released sparingly into the wider world and so keep prices high, enriching the Heirophar and no one else. Skaun Vale is a beautiful, verdant agricultural valley that can feed the realm if need be, but the Heirophar keeps it as the private hunting preserve and breadbasket of his palace and the Skalauntan nobility; his guards are Lorkreskur, and they see to it that no wagons not badged to them enter or depart.