Nations and Places
Section I: Nations
Section II: Places of Renown
“On the western shore of Shane’s Sea, the Cayaborean kingdom begins. Soft, sandy beaches that stretch for miles on end, alternating with rocky expanses jutting forward into the foamy sea. Sprawling cities that encompass beaches, their fortifications and quais reaching into the waves. Flags flutter in the breeze above the quai, the red dragon raising its head lustily in the wind. Ships glide across the sea, bearing the same dragon insignia; the bulbous merchanters as well as the sleek galleons of war.
“And above, more often than not, one sees the elegant wings of a horse dragon swerve on the winds, its armored rider firmly perched in the saddle, his eyes overseeing and guarding the borders of the realm. Seeing the dragonrider, that is when you know that you have reached Cayaboré, the dragon’s home.
“From the shore of Shane’s Sea to the forested mountain chain of the Laru’sedna in the west, from the mighty blue streams of the Pyu’ur River in the south to the wasteland of the Deadcrossing in the north, that is where the dragon rules.
“His seat, the capital of Hallowton, lies one hundred miles inland, where the Three Rivers join. In the crook of Mazhestik and Balangor’s Stream, the Great Temples raise their prayers to the Heavens, led by the daily calls of the Sacred Speaker to Dicerius. To their eastern side, on Balangor’s stony lip, the Royal College of Wizardry spirals its towers and auditoriums, while to the north, built on top a magnificent stone bridge over the Haeskold River and sprawling onto both its sides, there is the headquarters of the Royal Dragonrider Corps, with the horse dragons’ endless cackles and cries. Adjacent to it lie the halls of the Avionics Force, the large ballooning structures that contain the gargantuan shapes of our airships with their brightly gleaming, cylindrical hulls, ready to launch into the sky with a full complement of sailors, propellant wizards and a flight of horse dragons hanging from the perches below its hull.
“And at the joining point of the Three Rivers, amidst the houses, the villas, the roads, the market places, the manufacturies, the people, there is the dragon’s home. Built of granite from Laru’sedna, Castle Elbyon is the culmination of many architects’ dreams. Set within a ring devoid of buildings, evermore filled with throngs of supplicants and merchants supplying your every need, the castle walls tower over Hallowton with their promise of protection and guidance, the darkness of the granite perfectly painted over with shimmering white. Within the walls, one will find a strange combination of corners and curves, wondrously shaped like the land of Cayaboré itself, with lush, lovingly tended gardens growing anywhere, even on top of the buildings.
“At the very center of Castle Elbyon, there is a triangular structure from which three stone beams reach out in the directions of the Three Rivers, of Mazhestik, Balangor’s Stream and Haeskold. Here the Dragon King Rychaleu IX holds court, hears the pleas of the supplicants, and gives the orders to protect his realm; here he receives the adoration of his people who know that under the dragon’s wing they are safe.
“And often you will see his highness in one of the gardens, with his wife Castadebask, watching their children at play, foremost among them crown prince Armyron who one day shall become the dragon whose wings encircle our realm and keep it safe.”
“Yes, I remember that awful day only too well. It was the late summer of ’39, a pleasant year all around. The crops were looking fine, they had gotten the right amount of sun and rain to provide us with the best harvest in ten years. Our neighboring nations also had been unusually still that year; Rek’atrednu in the north most surprising of them all. We had almost gotten used to the brastoks trying to push their demonic legions over the Deadcrossing every few months, uncaring about the weather. But in ’39, the airships had patrolled for naught, and all the fodder our dragons received they had caught in the forests.
“There were one or two skirmishes in the mountains, some ratpeople raiding a few villages and easily cut down by our patrols. A few cases of Udrynpox appeared around Jorovic, but the priests of Decalleigh were fast enough to not only contain the pox from spreading but saved every single one of the victims. It seemed a miracle; that disease commonly is hard to eradicate.
“Ibrollene was once more to busy with themselves to bother us, the Topay Coalition happily paid their tributes, while Kraznyczar was having trouble on its border to the Blue Land. Scores of cúchulain broke through the dense forests and harassed their eastern villages. The Kraznyczarians thought that the wild dwarves must be controlled by the Romanii, that it was an overture to war, and so they left us alone.
“It was so perfect a year I was contemplating retiring early and finally buying that farm I had been dreaming of for thirty years of serving in King Rychaleu’s forces. I had already written out the request, signed it and sealed it. The scroll was lying in a drawer of my desk when one of my aides rushed in without bothering to knock first. His face, pale and shocked, kept me from shouting at him.
“’The king!’ he cried, pausing to catch his breath. ‘My lord, the king… he’s…’
“I felt my heart grow tight all of a sudden. ‘Speak, man! What is the matter?!’
“’The king is… lord, he is… dead.’
“I stared at him as if he had gone mad. How could that be? Assassination? Where were the alarms? The assassin should have been shoved before my feet right now, rather than my aide reporting – and he should not have been shaking this much. The aide – Varwettan – was a seasoned soldier who had seen his share of cruelty on a battlefield, not one of the weaselly scribes who fainted at the sight of a drop of blood.
“’How?’ I cried. But Varwettan only quivered, fear convulsing his face as he slid down to the ground.
“Something terrible had happened. Something that had turned a veteran warrior into a heap of sobs. I grabbed my sword, fearing that it would be no protection at all, and rushed out of my office, down the corridors to the royal quarters. The guards jumped aside at my approach, and I only stopped at the entrance to Rychaleu’s sleeping quarters.
“’Stop!’ Hiylar, high priest of Decalleigh, shouted and jumped in front of the door. I almost shoved him aside when I noticed the golden glow of his skin. The protection spell against disease? Active? Then Rychaleu must have died of… But only the day before, he had been riding his dragon for a hunt, and at the evening feast he had danced with the queen. He had been so vigorous!
“‘You must not enter, my lord,’ Hiylar said urgently. ‘It is too late for his Highness.’
“Hiylar closed his eyes for a moment. ‘The boils, my lord. His flesh has been turned to boiling liquid. There is… nothing left for you to recognize.’
“The boils. I shivered, and I understood Varwettan’s reaction. The disease hit from nowhere, killed within hours. Like a grassfire it spread, infecting dozens, hundreds within days. Entire cities could be emptied of life within a week. But the last outbreak had been more than sixty years ago! Had not the priests assured Cayaboré time and again that the disease was extinct, that it would never assail them again?
“And now it had taken his Highness. Before anyone else had been hit… A suspicion grew within me, but I contained it for the moment. ‘What will you do, reverend priest?’ I asked soberly.
“Hiylar shook his head, his resolve weakening for a moment on the verge of tears. Only a moment, then he nodded and said firmly, ‘What I must do, my lord. Nobody must leave the castle. We will send out by magiscribe the order that everybody who had been in physical contact with the king within the last three days must report to the nearest temple and be immediately confined. All clothes of his highness must be destroyed, also his dragon. I understand he was riding yesterday?’
“I nodded. Silly of me that I felt tears about the royal dragon being killed. It was only a dragon, and my liege was already dead. But Rychaleu’s death was so unreal that it would take a while before its full extent truly registered on my mind. I exchanged a few more words with Hiylar, then I wandered back to my office. May the gods forgive me for thinking only coolly about how to continue. The crown prince was only thirteen years old, a sheltered naïve child that had not even begun to shave. He had shown some signs of growing up to be a good man, perhaps even great, but that was still many years off. Rychaleu had planned to ease Armyron into the kingship, give him a taste of the soldier’s life so that he would understand the meaning of war.
“All that had never happened, and now Armyron was already king. Only the ceremony was missing. But he couldn’t rule, not yet. His mother Castadebask was an airhead – very nice, friendly, but less brains than a mule. She could not be allowed to step onto the throne in her son’s stead. That would have been the certain downfall of Cayaboré.
“No, there was only one person near the throne whom I trusted to do the necessary things. But I could not proclaim myself steward of the realm! Who would believe that I wanted the power only for so long until Armyron could properly take over? I felt I had to make sure someone else would suggest me for that role, and I was just considering my options when I opened the door to my office.
“It was pure coincidence that I looked down in time to see the boiling red liquid stain the carpet, rivulets flowing towards my boots. A skeletized hand lay just beyond the door, wearing a ring that Varwettan had always treasured.
“The boils had claimed their second victim. The disease was on the loose. Everyone could be infected, no matter how healthy he felt at the moment. Fear chilled my heart, as I realized that all my planning to become steward could have been rendered moot already.
“Two days later half the people at Castle Elbyon were dead. Twenty priests of Decalleigh worked constantly to cleanse the places where human beings had turned to liquid. They had cast spells of protection on everyone still alive, keeping the disease outside of the body – or trapped inside. My skin tickled all the time, the golden glow irritating me when I raised my hand. Had the spell been fast enough to secure me? Or would I suffer the telltale shivers soon?
“A dozen priests from other orders were all over the place, trying to raise the spirits of the survivors, but their own spirits were downcast enough. There had been outbreaks of the boils at the dragonriders’ base, the college of wizardry and the river harbor. Hundreds had died, and thousands had fled Hallowton. Perhaps carrying the disease with them to places that as yet had been untouched.
“Ironically I was indeed steward of the realm, receiving all the information first hand and having to decide what to do. Queen Castadebask had died within six hours of her husband’s passing, and so had several of the highest advisors. After a single day I was the highest ranking official in all the realm still alive – short of the crown prince. One of the Decalleigh priests I had assigned to constantly supervise the boy and to do all that was in his power to save him, should he be taken by the boils. ‘I would do that anyway,’ the priest had told me indignantly. ‘Make sure of it,’ I retorted calmly, ‘or you will find your blood boiling, with or without the disease.’
“My own office was unusable. After Varwettan’s death, all the furniture had been burned, including many memorabilia that I had collected over the years. The throne room had been treated similarly, with the only exception of the throne itself. This had been treated with a powerful protection spell and brought to the temple of Decalleigh, in the hope that all traces of the disease could be removed from it. For the moment, though, I had set up several tables in the open, with a tent over us to shade us from the sun. The weather was cruelly beautiful, no rain, only clear sunshine, with a slight, cool breeze. Twelve priests of Darawk were manning magiscribes, receiving reports from across the land and transferring my orders. Soldiers guarded them, and three of my oldest companions served as my advisors. Their heads might have turned as gray as mine own, but they were still as sharp as ever. In that regard, I felt as secure as I could.
“If it weren’t for the fact that Armyron insisted to be present all the time. He distracted me every now and then, with the golden glow suffusing his face. And a strange, unexpected expression on his face. He wasn’t crying, as he had the moment I had told him about his parents. Instead he looked attentive, watching me… He was only thirteen years old, yet his pose, his face reminded me of the wise, regal looks of his father.
“After a while, when I was reading a magiscribe report from the northern border, Armyron suddenly spoke up, ‘Can it all be a coincidence? I mean, the boils hitting the wizards and the dragonriders at the same time as the castle?’
“I tried to focus on the report as I answered, ’My liege, please be assured that I will do anything to –‘
“Armyron’s voice cut through my concentration. ‘You will listen to me, steward of the realm! And you will answer my question!’
“My first thought was that he was only a petulant child that desired attention. Then suddenly I became aware of his words, and I remembered the ugly suspicion I had at Rychaleu’s doorstep. ‘Forgive me, your highness, I… it shall not happen again.’
“’Very well. Now, please, give me your answer. Uncle Hendro.’
“A cold tickle ran down my spine when he added that name. He hadn’t called me his uncle since his tenth birthday, and now he tacked it on consciously to take the sting from his orders. ‘My answer is… I have not had much time to think about anything but handling the immediate tasks. But you’re right. The boils hit strategically and cut off the head of our defensive forces in one swoop. It doesn’t look like a coincidence.’
“Armyron nodded grimly. ‘That means we are under attack, doesn’t it?’
“’Yes, my liege,’ I confirmed and began scribbling orders on a magiscribe paper. ‘But this is not the main point of attack. It is merely a distraction.’
“The boy might have grown up much in the past forty-eight hours, but he was not adult yet. ‘How dare you… People are dying all around you! Hundreds are dead, among them my father, my mother! How dare you call this a distraction?!’
“I handed the magiscribe paper over to a priest who copied it to several destinations I had indicated. ‘My liege,’ I told Armyron calmly, ‘people die in war. Thousands die. Many thousands die. Furthermore, just to disable our chain of command does not serve any purpose – unless you invade the country with regular armies. Our armed forces cannot be coordinated properly, so the enemy believes, and therefore Cayaboré can be taken easily. My liege, the deaths here are a distraction.’
“Armyron swallowed hard, fighting down his rage. ‘But… Who is the enemy? And what can we do? Can you coordinate the armed forces?’ He sounded almost businesslike at the end, no small feat for a little boy.
“I gave him a smile. ‘Let us hope and pray that we can do it.’
“Armyron nodded, his teeth clenched together. ‘Right. Uncle Hendro, you know who did this. Tell me.’
“’No ordinary human can carry the boils to any destination and infect specific people. No mortal person who would probably die from the disease long before reaching that destination.’
“Armyron’s eyes became slits and his voice tiny. ‘Rek’atrednu,’ he whispered. ‘The undead are attacking us. But there was no troop movement on their side, was there? The airships that patrol the Deadcrossing did not report anything.’
“’No, your highness. They reported an increase in the smoke rising from the crevices in the wasteland. That could be a – literal – smoke screen to hide an army. I have just ordered H.M.A.S. Skylight to investigate, with the senior Darawk priest on board. Eagle and Cloudfire are to carry high level wizards into the Deadcrossing to detonate a line of gas pockets between the smoke and our forces. That should buy us a little time.’
“The future king’s face tightened. There was a twitch in his eyes as he was thinking, and finally he said, ‘That sounds good. Uncle Hendro, they might try to spread the boils among those troops as well. The Decalleigh priests must cast protection spells on our soldiers, especially the airship sailors.’
“I smiled. ‘Already taken care of. It won’t be enough, since there aren’t that many priests out there, but we’ll try our best anyway, my liege.’
“’Yes, we will, Uncle Hendro,’ Armyron confirmed. ‘And we will win.’
“Today, I am proud to say that the reign of King Armyron IV began indeed with a victory. It was not an easy victory, nor was it fast, but Cayaboré did win. And ever since, Armyron has proven to be a king worth serving under; a king who has understood the meaning of all the lives at risk, a king who has taken up the task of learning every detail about our defenses and about our enemies. I wanted to lay down my position as steward of the realm on his eighteenth birthday, but at his urging I stayed at the post for seven more years. It was my task to run the realm while he spent the time studying at the Darawk academy and in fact chose to serve (himself!) as a soldier in the ordinary line of duty in every branch of our armed forces. If my only achievement during those twelve years as steward has been to buy Armyron the time to learn what is needed, it is an achievement I will proudly take to the next life.”
“The realm of Cayaboré is certainly among the most powerful of nations found on Gushémal. By necessity it is powerful for it is surrounded on all sides by mighty nations that have ever been bent on expansion. Yet Cayaboré has been thriving for many centuries, despite Kraznyczar to the south, despite Ibrollene in the east, the Thousand Islands on Shane’s Sea and what today is Rek’atrednu in the north. (Even before the northern land fell under the control of the brastoks and the necromancers, Keroull had been a strong rival that had never been trustworthy.)
“As a result of so many enemies, the Cayaboreans have closed their ranks very tightly. Every single person is included in the defense of the realm, every one is in a clearcut chain of command, whether he or she is a soldier, a priest, a wizard, a merchant or a farmer. All know their place, all receive their orders from the king, all are truly interwoven into the realm.
“At the age of eighteen, every able-bodied person is inducted into the armed forces for three years during which they receive intensive training. After that, in regular intervals, they will return to their units for repeat practice, and in case of a war, they will immediately go back to active status.
“But even before being drafted, they have extensive training in school. Schools are plentiful in Cayaboré, and attending school is mandatory until the age of fifteen. Aside from reading and writing, mathematics, history, and basic courses in understanding magic, there is a wide range of physical education, including weapons drills with mock swords and spears.
“Those who display sufficient magical abilities are required to take extra courses for a year, whereupon they can decide whether to pursue a career in wizardry. Such a career is widely popular, since the state sponsors the applicants to the colleges of wizardry – where the teaching also includes military tactics and strategy -, and the wizards are well regarded servants of the state.
“It might surprise outsiders that Cayaboré would thus promote wizardry, since in other lands the wizards are notoriously independent. But in the dragon’s realm, they are in fact part of the armed forces, although a wizard automatically receives an officer’s degree. His level of freedom is considerably higher than that of a soldier (or ordinary officer), yet he undoubtedly is part of the great fighting machine that Cayaboré is.
“The same goes for clerics. Basically, every kind of worship is permitted – provided that the priests and their followers pledge their unwavering support for the king. It is therefore not surprising that a number of believers in the Tonomai god live in Cayaboré, and that their priests are as well regarded as a priest of Haguen.
“All clerics are subservient to not only the king but also the Sacred Speaker, the High Priest of Dicerius. (A strange thought that the priests of the Tonomai god have to answer to a believer in a different faith, but this only goes to prove how tightly knit the Cayaborean society is.)
“Priests also regularly serve in the armed forces, and all can be ordered to perform special services. Especially important and especially closely tied into the web of the state are the priests of Darawk. They are one of the pillars of our society since it is from their ranks that the teachers of our children come, the keepers and dispensers of knowledge. They maintain the vast libraries of Hallowton and the other cities, they work closely with all other branches of clerics, wizards and scholars in general to improve the dragon’s realm.
“And they provide one further important function as they man all the magiscribe stations across the land. Every city, every town, every village has a Darawk temple, small though it might be, but each is connected via magiscribe to Hallowton, wherefore steady contact is maintained. The same function Darawk priests perform in the armed forces, allowing each unit to stay in touch with headquarters.”