Nations and Places

Section 1: Nations


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Nations and Places

Table of Contents


A Map of the World

The Calendar of Gushémal

Section I: Nations

Section II: Places of Renown

Part 1

General and Historical Overview

Kristo Pharlee

Historical Overview (continued)

A Personal Account of the Tragedy

Historical Overview (continued again)

Post Scriptum

General and Historical Overview

There are few people in this world who have not heard of the fate of Keroull. Once a realm much as many others, it was a nation best known for its knight-errants of the 30th and early 31st centuries. Some called it the home of valor and courage – although most of those people were Keroullians themselves, since other nations rather preferred (and do prefer) to see themselves in that position. Keroull had good trade relations with its neighbors, particularly the Thousand Islands.

Its southern neighbor, Cayaboré, was often an enemy rather than a trade partner. The Keroullians never quite accepted the rigorous system of Cayaboré, themselves partial to a somewhat more liberal organization which granted a goodly amount of freedom to the provincial dukes and earls, rather than concentrate it in the king’s hands. Strangely enough, there had never been a time when both did not maintain an embassy in the other nation’s capital – not even when the countries were at war with each other. All in all, though, it is not surprising that Cayaboré never considered Keroull a major threat; they only went to war a full five times from the 28th to the 31st century – while Cayaboré records more than forty large-scale conflicts on its other borders during the same time.

Keroull, on the other hand, considered Cayaboré its most important neighbor. Most Keroullian strategies were targeted on Cayaboré, usually trying to barely avoid war while achieving their goals. Contemporary writers report that occasionally the Keroullian kings were frustrated and galled when the so-called Dragon in the south did not so much as blink despite the current schemes, simply because Keroull often was not important to Cayaboré. (But they were still observed; the wars are proof that Cayaboré has always been a watchful nation.)

All in all, Keroull was not a particularly remarkable realm, except by its size. No match for the vast Tonomat, it was still one of the few sizable lands of our world, along with Arrufat, Ibrollene, Cayaboré, the Blue Land (or Imperium Romanum Novum), and Kraznyczar. That alone was probably its most striking feature. Its dealings with other nations were on par with those of any other of the ones I have numbered above, its contributions to society were as varied as they were numerous, but still, nothing out of the ordinary. In 3044 A.E., an aristocrat of Ibrollene said, “If Keroull were to vanish tomorrow, I would only find out when my tailor told me he had no more tweed from Markellavey.” His words may reflect more the nobleman’s own attitude about all countries aside from his homeland, yet the fact remains that there seemed little that one would miss about Keroull.

Then came the year 3098 A.E., a year that changed all that.

The first signs were ignored by the king – Teargelt VII. – in the capital of Markellavey, tales of dark creatures haunting the shadows, of graveyards that were dug open, of people snatched from their houses. Each tale alone made for no more than an oddity, a yarn spun by peasants afraid of superstition and the night. The king’s chief advisor and court wizard, a man named Kristo Pharlee, said that there was no reason for worry. The constellations in the night sky were seen by most villagers as a time of bad omens, and there had been an apparition in the heavens, fiery streaks that rained down one night. Pharlee assured Tehrgelt that those streaks were not an omen of evil but merely a natural occurrence, a discharge of divine power in the heavens that happened infrequently.

Teargelt saw no reason to disbelieve his advisor. For twenty years he had relied on Pharlee’s advice, rendered in a dispassionate voice that bore no ambition beyond his current position. Indeed there were voices during those two decades who claimed that in truth Pharlee only lacked the royal crown to be the king of Keroull. In all matters of dispute, it had been his advice that decided the matter. Often the wizard would send out orders without consulting the king, signing in his name.

What more could this man want from life? He already had power, he had everything that Keroull had to offer. Let us now consider what kind of a man Kristo Pharlee was (or is?), from the vantage point of his own brother, Eyan-Makellan.



Kristo Pharlee

“As long as I remember, my oldest brother wanted more. One of my earliest memories is seeing Kristo with a sword, practicing strokes. He must have been around sixteen years old back then; he had been inducted into the wizard’s academy a while earlier, and he’d grown as much of a beard as his young years allowed. I remember that Kristo visited our family regularly, two days every other week – which was always an occasion for our mother to tidy up the house even more than ordinarily and cook lavish meals. So it wasn’t surprising at all that I always looked forward to my brother’s visits, and my own time was set by the time remaining until his return.

“I loved him. He loved me back, I think, there wasn’t a time when he didn’t have a present for me, even though sometimes it was no more than a show of his skills like a light show. I thought that being a wizard would be such a wonderful affair that nobody would need anything else, yet all the time Kristo was trying to improve his sword fighting, as if he were going to be a soldier. Whenever I asked him about that, he would laugh and tousle my hair. ‘One day I’ll tell you, Mak, when you’re all grown up,’ he promised, then he returned to his swordplay with some extravagant moves to delight me. And most likely distract me.

“Father encouraged Kristo in his efforts, but Mother slowly grew concerned that this love for the blade would keep my brother from studying at the academy. It was a mother’s worry, no more. Kristo never let anything intrude into his studies, his grades were always at the top of the class. Yet I sometimes wonder if Mother saw something else in this, something that I could not see, either as a child or as a grown man.

“My brother entered the king’s service a year or two after his graduation, at a time when I was laboriously learning to read under the tutelage of our village’s Darawk priest. His visits home were becoming more irregular, but still something to cherish in every regard. For me, especially, since Kristo brought home tales of the court and of grand adventures. Sometimes he would bring home books and read them together with me – inconspicuously teaching me to read, and doing a much better job than the priest. ‘Athalwolf the Red’ was his favorite book. Naturally it became mine as well; I can still quote passages to this day. Perhaps there was a sign here, in the tale how the knight Athalwolf was wrongly accused of treason, and how he took vengeance of all that had cast the blame on him, finally becoming a king himself. Or perhaps it was just the adventurous nature of the book that attracted him.

“The only thing that I noted was that his attitude changed in those days. Before he had been given to laughter and showing his emotions, but in the early days of his service to the king he grew quieter, colder to those who didn’t know him. To me, he became more of a modern day Athalwolf – although he stayed as kind and loving to me as ever. This has never changed, not even in our last encounter.

“I had no aptitude for wizardry, nor for fighting with a sword, yet numbers had caught my eye quickly. When I turned seventeen, I was called to Markellavey to serve in the Royal Treasury – no doubt due to my brother’s recommendation. We spent much time together in those years, dreaming of how we could improve our country. There were many faults in the realm. Many I saw in my work at the Treasury – bad accounting being the least worrisome of them. No, gold was misspent all across the land, to please the whims of the provincial lords who had far too much sway over the king’s income. As both Kristo and I saw it, the only reason why the lords paid their taxes was that they knew most of it would flow back into their pockets, thus leaving the king weak and nearly powerless. ‘Unmanned,’ Kristo called him. Later he would use his position as chief advisor to improve the situation somewhat. I would rise to be the Adjutant Treasurer, kept from the highest rank by my commoner birth – one more reason for both our disenchantment with the realm.

“Still, do not believe that we disliked our homeland. Not at all, we wanted to make it better, like so many other people do – and we had found a place where we could actually do something.

“My brother never had much truck with women, he was always so busy. While I married my wife only a few months after reaching Markellavey (and our first-born arriving a ‘miraculous’ six months after our marriage), Kristo only had a fling here and there, nothing steady, nothing that would take his mind off his business.

“Then he met Halla, a shield maiden in the royal guard. She was not the most handsome woman in the world, but there was a spark within her that attracted Kristo. In so many ways she represented the ideals of chivalry, but grounded in a realism that none of the books had. She was an earthy woman – one who challenged the male guards to rough fights and often won, one who never dreamed of the ideal love but took a mate whenever she felt like it (much like Kristo had done before, in fact.)

“They were made for each other. Of course nobody else saw it as I did, or as they did. Sickening rumors abounded at court about Kristo and Halla, of witchcraft going either or both ways at the same time, and whatever. My brother had always been seen as a cold man, that his heart could not possibly moved by any emotion, not pity, certainly not love. Some, in fact, doubted that Halla was anything more than another toy of the court wizard. I know better. I have seen them in private, visiting my family – Kristo doting on my children the same way as he had treated me -, and they were happy together.

“But then Halla was sent on a mission up north, to accompany and guard an ambassador. She never returned, neither did anybody else of the mission. Somewhere in the Elfadil Desert, it seems, that they were murdered.

“My brother was devastated. He knew about the incident sooner than anybody else, while the court had only the latest notice from the mission and the next had only been overdue a day. I’m sure that he used magic to find out about Halla, though he never told me any details. For a month, he simply vanished from Markellavey – I was the only one whom he told about this. ‘Mak, I’ll be gone for a while. Take good care of your kids.’ That was all he said, not a word about the king, not a word about his business as wizard and royal advisor.

“Was it back then that his heart broke? I can’t say for sure. After he came back, he resumed his duties as if nothing had happened – proving to the court only that emotions could never take hold in his soul. I could tell that he still grieved, and that he would go on grieving for as long as I knew him.

“Yet, as dear as Halla was to him, I don’t think she was the single cause of his change. Her death played a part, yes, but there were other things in his life that darkened his soul. After some years I realized that he only smiled at my home, with no more than my wife Liodburga, my children, or I present. He rarely laughed in those days, as if a shadow accompanied him all the time. The shadow deepened whenever we spoke of the realm, of the slow progress we were making in our efforts.

“He had devoted so much to our ambition, yet so little came of it. In my mind, that was what affected him most over the years. So few of his hopes came to fruition, there was so little to show for the years. Frustration is what drove him to the arcane and dark arts.”

Eyan-Makellan Pharlee,

Sirap, Ibrollene (ca. 3101 A.E.)



Historical Overview (continued)

Continuing in our tale, the matter seemed settled and King Teargelt concentrated on other affairs that seemed more important, such as trade with the Thousand Islands. (It is worthwhile to remember that the old rule was still maintained there, before the coup d’état in 3122 A.E.) A terrible storm had laid waste to the merchant fleet of Keroull the preceding year, and many of the remaining ships had been cracked open by an extraordinarily cold winter’s ice. The ports of the southern coast, closest to Cayaboré, froze up altogether, something that had not happened in living memory. Only a few ships in the northernmost harbors survived, since they had been secured on shore – there, normal winters infrequently brought ice, so that countermeasures were quite familiar. As it was, Keroull could no longer send out its fleet to trade with the Thousand Islands and had to rely on their ships – paying hefty fees for the uncommon service. King Teargelt was in constant discussions to lower the fees, and spent large amounts from his treasury to rebuild the fleet.

The lords of the provinces grew increasingly uneasy, though, and their demands had always held great sway over the king’s decisions. So, in the early spring of 3098, Teargelt consulted his chief advisor. Pharlee repeated his assurance that nothing unusual seemed to be happening, but to appease the territorial rulers, he would ask the most experienced and powerful wizards of the land to convene in a secret place and investigate the matter.

Teargelt was relieved that Pharlee had such a splendid answer to the problem and agreed immediately. The call went out, and from the academies and towers of Keroull, the wizards arrived first at Markellavey – where they were hosted by Kristo Pharlee in his customary dry manner, despite the luxuries heaped upon them by the king. In Destrab, the fourth month, the wizards left the royal castle for their unknown location, accompanied by a squad of veteran soldiers as well as Pharlee himself.

Without his advisor by his side, Teargelt had little defense against the demands of the lords. He sent out more squads of his royal troops, to investigate the disappearances and the upturned graveyards, leaving only a hundred soldiers at the castle. From the treasury, the king diverted funds, originally destined for the rebuilding of the fleet, to the lords so they could raise more troops themselves. (How much of that money vanished in the lords’ coffers is unknown. The following events make it impossible for today’s historian to learn details about the provinces; we have only some records from Markellavey at our disposal.) Pharlee would surely have found a way to avoid these payments and taken better care to keep the castle and king better protected, Teargelt knew.

A fact that should have aroused the king’s suspicion, I believe. Pharlee could have predicted what demands the lords would pose, yet he removed himself from the castle and consciously left the king to fend for himself.

But let us return to the tale: Destrab passed, not bringing any more tales of woe. Although his treasury was emptying at an alarming rate, King Teargelt thought that the country was returning to peace. From the court records we know that he was planning to raise new taxes in the fall, so that he could resume building the fleet the next year. If things had gone his way, Keroull would still face a very bad year, with decreased incomes from trade, and very powerful lords. To regain his own command, the king would have to work very hard – but again, he put his trust in Pharlee, that his chief advisor would find a way to make it happen.

Then the month of Aqualun came, and with it a courier from the provincial capital Glessynbur in the South, near the Deadcrossing. He brought unsettling news, enough for Teargelt to yearn for his advisor by his side. Twenty miles to the west of Glessynbur, darkness had fallen over the land, consuming a circular area of some three miles in diameter, with several villages swallowed up by it. It seemed, the messenger reported, that a wall had risen from the ground, as if the night had never left at daybreak. Courageous souls had entered the darkness – inside, they could see the stars in the night, but they could also hear curious noises from the distance, some sounding like industrious woodworks, some like nothing the men had ever heard before. A few tried to travel more than some one hundred yards into the darkness, to find the source of the noises, but none of those returned.

The master of Glessynbur demanded urgently that troops be deployed, to aid him. Since Glessynbur was an important province, Teargelt agreed to send twenty soldiers back along with the courier, as many as he thought he could spare. Already his castle’s defenses were thinned, but eighty men should be able to hold its walls against a siege.

The king needed the advice of Pharlee, but he did not know how to reach the wizard. Days passed, with royal scouts – more of the castle’s defenders – ranging out to find where the secret convention of wizards was held, to no avail. The trail of the wizard’s convoy died only thirty-five miles out from Markellavey, in the small town of Vinneymak, the last place that the convoy had been seen.

 Read on in Part 2!