Nations and Places

Section 1: Nations

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Nations and Places

Table of Contents

Preface

A Map of the World

The Calendar of Gushémal

Section I: Nations

Section II: Places of Renown


Part 2

General and Historical Overview

Kristo Pharlee

Historical Overview (continued)

A Personal Account of the Tragedy

Historical Overview (continued again)

Postscriptum


But then, in the king’s great hour of need, another courier appeared at the castle’s gates – one of the veterans who had travelled with Pharlee. Surely he would bear a message from the advisor, Teargelt believed, but found that his advisor had done much more. The veteran (his name is not found in the records we have) explained that Pharlee ensorceled him, so that his own mouth could carry the wizard’s voice, while his eyes and ears would carry sight and sound back to the chief advisor. Thus, the veteran said, the king could treat him as if Pharlee himself were present, not just his conduit of speech.

Teargelt accepted the explanation right away, even though some courtiers raised the question how this could have been possible. A wizard’s normal magic could not affect that which already exists, after all – the spell described by the veteran should have been impossible for a wizard. Priests, it was reasoned, might be able to pull off this effect, but not a wizard. Unless that wizard had expanded his powers in an unnatural way.

Teargelt put the question to the veteran – yet it was not the soldier who answered but Pharlee’s own voice. “Your highness,” the wizard spoke through the soldier’s mouth, “the courtiers only know the rudimentaries of magic. In those terms, they are correct. To my great fortune, our convention here has been joined by a selection of clerics who assist us in our inquiries. What the courtiers are not aware of is that both clerical and wizardly magic can be joined; it is through that joining that I can now speak to you.” (This conversation took place in the Royal Audience Hall and was recorded by the court scribe, therefore we have the rare occasion to know the actual words spoken.)

The explanation was sufficient for the king. There were kernels of truth in the words, enough that the courtiers quieted their protests.

After that first explanation, Pharlee apologized that he had underestimated the dangers. “Yet rest assured, my liege, that my colleagues and I are aware of the problem and are working to resolve the matter. We have devised some ideas about what the darkness consists of. Unfortunately, we have little information that could ascertain the nature of the darkness – wherefore we cannot draw up plans on how to combat it. Your highness, I would ask you to send a selection of wizards and clerics into the zone, guarded by a troop of experienced soldiers. I am aware that the most powerful and knowledgeable wizards are secluded in our abode here, yet there are still enough in Keroull who could provide us with the necessary information. Moreover, the highest priests of the clergies are at your disposal. Considering the threat we face, it might be prudent to call upon their services.”

Hardly had Pharlee finished speaking that King Teargelt called for the clerics and put the wizard’s advice into motion. Three days later, the expedition sent out from Markellavey.

It never returned.

A week later, the zone suddenly expanded to encompass a diameter of ten miles.

When the news reached Markellavey, Pharlee reacted in outrage – and fear wavered in the words spoken from the still features of the veteran. “Your highness, the dark zone must contain evil far beyond what I imagined. If the powers of the priests and wizards could not protect them, then we are in grave danger. I urge you to consult with the lords of the provinces that they levy troops and rush them towards the zone, that they may stand firm against whichever leaves the zone.”

The king asked, “You believe that the evil will enter our land?”

Pharlee’s voice answered, “My liege, it has already entered Keroull. I see no other purpose but an invasion in this; an invasion of unholy creatures that gather in the protective shadow. We must prepare! We must not let the fate of our noble expedition go unpunished!”

“Then should we not send our army into the zone, towards the evil?”

For a moment, the wizard did not answer. Then, more firmly than before, he said, “The enemy may have prepared places of ambush within the darkness. In my opinion, it is too dangerous. Let us be the ones who ambush the foe!”

None would disagree with that notion, not a single one of the courtiers who openly disliked Pharlee. So it was done as the advisor said. Not all the lords allowed their soldiers to leave their shires – another sign of the king’s weakness and the provinces’ strength, not to mention their interior squabbles. Especially the northernmost rulers decided that the troubles of distant Glessynbur did not concern them. Yet the army that gathered around the zone of darkness in the month of Glymarion 3098 – two months after the plan had been agreed upon – numbered more than ten thousand men, levied from more than half of Keroull.

The king himself stayed in Markellavey, with Pharlee – through the veteran’s mouth – advising him on how to position the troops and prepare the ambush. The generals agreed with some of his proposals, appended them in other cases. But Pharlee was as well informed as the king himself where the soldiers were located and what their plans were.

Could anyone see the irony in this? According to our sources, a few seem to have recovered their distrust in Pharlee, wondering why the advisor had not bodily returned to the castle, and neither had any of the wizards at his secret meeting place. Yet the king was always swayed by his chief advisor’s words and his assurances that the wizards and he were working to assist the army in the battle ahead. Moreover, Pharlee’s suggestions were always sound – which his erstwhile detractors had to admit grudgingly.

On the twenty-first night of Glymarion, the evil broke out of its shadowy shelter. Skeletons, those raised from the graveyards in the preceding half-year; undead zombies who had once been the villagers within the dark zone; ghouls created from the latter numbers as well as some of the abductions reported earlier. They made up the bulk of that army – supported by less familiar and less numerous creatures of evil -, but their commanders were of an even more fearsome sort. There were vampires, the night scourges – some of whom must have been ancient while others were freshly created, also from the ranks of the abductees. And some of those vampires wore faces familiar to the Keroullian generals of that battle, for those faces belonged to the wizards, high priests and soldiers of the expedition from Aqualun of that year. They had been turned into undead creatures, enthralled to their masters. Their magic had not completely been lost, and it was loosened on the Keroullian army in short order. Aside from them, other magical forces attacked the Keroullians as well – the spells cast by blood wizards, the unholy wielders of magic who draw their power from the blood of living beings.

The Keroullian siege force was routed in short order. The men’s fright rose when they saw their comrades first slaughtered – then reanimated to fight as a zombie in the enemy’s army. Within half an hour of the attack, Keroull had lost more than three thousand fighters, all of whom were added to the ranks of the undead forces. The crackle of magic discharges hung in the air, brightening the night and revealing so much terror that the living soldiers fled in despair, as quickly as they could.

Some held firm, tried to put the plans for ambushes in motion, but not one ambush worked. In every single case, the undead army seemed to know exactly what was in store for them.

When the morning came, the undead stood victorious. We do not know whether they celebrated – if so, only the necromancers, the blood wizards, did. The vampires had to take shelter from the sun, after all. Not a soul was left alive on the battlefield, except for the necromancers, whose souls were already tainted by death.

But the final act of the drama had yet to unfold. News of the disaster reached Markellavey on the 23rd of Glymarion through the surviving soldiers who had fled and now come to the castle, to defend it and recover their honor. (That was what the majority said; some only passed through the capital, telling their tale and causing a panicked exodus of the citizens.) Teargelt screamed at the veteran, that Pharlee must bring help immediately, somehow, anyway. The words that the court scribe notes have little cohesion, seem almost inarticulate. The king was losing his mind, it appears.

Pharlee said calmly through the veteran’s mouth, “Now it is time. I will return to the castle, with the wizards, and together we will see our land freed from the festering boil, your highness.”

“Hurry!” the king shouted, still desperate and his mind as frayed as before. During the next day he repeated often that Pharlee was their last hope, while more news reached the castle: the undead army had continued to move towards the capital, beating all of the scant resistance. Glessynbur had fallen on the night of the 23rd, the very day when the castle learned of the original defeat.

The castle’s defenders numbered now one hundred forty-eight men, all equipped from the royal armory. Teargelt had girded on Lochlyen, the sword of his ancestor Chustaff, who had united Keroull from the three kingdoms that had existed before. (Chustaff lived in the 25th century, officially the Year of Union was set as 2467 A.E.) A blessing preserved Lochlyen’s edge, that it was as sharp as in the days of Chustaff. The king’s lieutenants were given other swords of renown, among them Nyblun and Hronwert. The blade that was second only to Lochlyen was kept for Kristo Pharlee: Trugmar, which had been forged by the swordsmith Anwasson in the fires of the Deadcrossing’s lava in the 27th century. (Documents of the day, preserved by Darawk priests, state that Anwasson went into the Deadcrossing with only two apprentices, no protection except for a single talisman. He returned alone, scarred by heat and falls and what might have been taken for clawmarks – bearing the finished Trugmar for his liege, King Ernolf III. Ernolf would win two wars wielding the weapon.)

The month of Glymarion was coming to an end, when on its twenty-eighth and last evening, a company of hooded riders approached the castle’s gate. At their point Kristo Pharlee rode, signaling his return to the guards who gladly lowered the drawbridge and opened the gate. While the riders entered, King Teargelt climbed from the battlements to greet his advisor effusively. His words were recorded by the court scribe, but those were the last letters the man brought to paper. The page of his notes still exists, covered by blood. The scribe’s own, we presume.

What happened in the courtyard after Pharlee’s arrival? We cannot say for certain. None of those who have survived the debacle ever spoke of the horror in more than vague terms, including the younger Pharlee, Eyan-Makellan (who at the time was inside the castle and hadn’t yet heard of his brother’s return).

We can only assume that Pharlee responded to the king’s greetings with a cold statement, then ordered his companions to doff their hoods and cloaks, revealing themselves to be indeed the wizards that had secluded themselves three months earlier – but now their skins were pale, without blood’s warm glow, their eyes seemed to burn in the night, and their teeth had turned into the fangs of the vampire’s brood. Some were still alive, yet they were also changed, their faces consumed with a dark passion. These wizards had succumbed to the temptation of blood magic, offered them by Pharlee during their ill seclusion.

All attacked the assembled guards at once, using the moment of frightened realization. Screams echoed through the night. Magical fire brightened the darkness momentarily, like a storm that had broken loose in the courtyard. Terror gripped the castle, when the vampiric wizards continued their onslaught, quickly joined by the undead army that had reached the castle under the cover of night. The slaughter continued through the night. Only five souls were left alive in the morning, all of them bearing the family name of Pharlee: Eyan-Makellan himself, his wife, and his three children.

On the first day of Gloreshton, Eyan-Makellan was called to the Royal Audience Hall. His is the only report that we have of what occurred in the castle that day:

 

 

A Personal Account of the Tragedy

“The wizardess had once been called Herlindis. I had seen her a few times before, on visits from her academy in Dyekieron, and I hadn’t liked her much, as self-aggrandizing as she had been. Seeing her now, I pitied her. The greed for blood was painted in her face – not to swallow, but to feed her magic with it. She had lost her haughtiness, driven by a primal urge and little more. Strange that I could think so clearly and rationally about her fate, when everyone in the castle had been murdered the night before. Perhaps I truly am the brother of Kristo.

“I did not fear Herlindis. I knew that she lusted for my life, and that of my family, but I also knew that she would not dare draw a jot of our life force. She was my brother’s pawn, perfectly under his control. In later days, she would probably develop better control of her urge – I had read about blood wizards in the short week since we had first heard about their appearance -, but now it was only Kristo’s will that kept her on a leash. Still, that was more than enough.

“Two vampires had been set to guard my family and me throughout the night. They were ancient and powerful, never showing the least desire in drinking our blood, instead showing us great courtesy. (To a degree, I am grateful to them. They spared my children the sight of our friends and acquaintances being murdered, including those of our friends whom these vampires themselves killed, taking their victims to a separate room.) At the first sign of daylight, the vampires had left, to be replaced by two men who looked like ordinary human beings – except that their eyes were empty. Ghouls, a vampire’s or blood wizard’s thralls, they kept us safe.

“Then Herlindis had entered our quarters and told me that Kristo wished to see me. She did not once mention my safety, clearly taking it for granted – as did I. I had already known what my brother had become. Not through fact or through words, but through the pieces of a puzzle put together in my mind.

“So it was that the blood wizardess brought me to the Royal Audience Hall, leading me to corridors that were filled with signs of battle, broken furniture and armor, spots of blood drenching the walls, scorchmarks from exploding fireballs and other magic. No corpses were in sight; most likely because they had been re-animated into zombies. The realization did not frighten me at all. My family and I were safe, that was all I cared to know.

“The Hall was much as I remembered it, with no sign of the previous night’s carnage. But few of the seats were filled, which was uncommon, even at an hour this early. Those present in the seats were blood wizards, those who had joined Kristo’s secret convention. They chatted amongst themselves, clearly pleased with themselves. As soon as we entered the Hall, Herlindis left my side and joined her friends. Neither of them paid much attention to me.

“Sitting at his desk before the throne pedestal was the court scribe, Sibragt, his hand holding a pen hovering over a page, ready to note every word spoken. If his clothes weren’t torn open by claws, the chest beneath caked with dry blood, he might have appeared the same as the previous day.

“’I’m sorry, Mak,’ my brother commented, and only now did I see Kristo, in his chair next to the empty throne – the chief advisor’s seat, not the throne itself. He smiled gently at me, as if we were at my home, away from the eyes of the court. Maybe we were. Everyone beside us in the hall was Kristo’s tool. ‘There hasn’t been time to clean Sibragt. I’ll have that done in the course of the day, when there’s a pause in business.’

“I nodded slowly. ‘What is he?’

“Kristo shrugged. ‘Only a zombie. Enough for his task. Maybe I’ll turn him into a ghoul later on, lest he rot and stink too much. Sibragt, make a note of that.’ (That was the only time that I felt disconcerted, when Kristo addressed the scribe about Sibragt’s own fate.) He shook his head and sighed. ‘Cook is preparing breakfast right now. It will be served in half an hour or so; fortunately the castle’s stock will last very well, considering that there are only twenty-seven mouths to feed now. How does steak sound to you? Steak in the morning…’ He sighed again. ‘Only the king allowed himself that pleasure before. Well, that is over, and we can share in the repastes.’

“I asked, ‘Are you now the king, Kristo?’

“Irritatedly, he said, ‘What? No, of course not. You know that only a descendant of Chustaff can rightfully be the monarch of Keroull. I am only the court wizard, after all.’ He got up from his chair and stepped down from the pedestal to stand before me, stroking his white beard. ‘Oh, Mak, things will be so different now. What use do we have left for Keroull? Let this land henceforth be known as Rek’atrednu, the Land of Justice! Sibragt, have you got that?’

“The scribe did not look up, his fingers continued to write, while he spoke in a mangled voice, ‘Yes, my lord.’

“’The Land of Justice?’ I commented. ‘Kristo, it does not seem just what you have done here. You have taken lives, many of them. You have overthrown the king.’

“’Have I?’ Kristo smiled, then snapped his fingers. ‘But Teargelt is still on his throne.’

“The door which led to the royal quarters opened. A man stepped out, wearing the purple robe of the king over Teargelt’s steel armor. The clothes were clean of blood. So was the face, empty and dull, but very much the king’s own face. But sticking through his chest, cleaving the armor on both sides, was Lochlyen, King Chustaff’s sword, its edge as sharp and dry as ever.

“Walking in measured steps the creature that had once been Teargelt stepped up to the throne, turned around and sat down. Lochlyen’s tip, pointing out from its back, cut into the silk pillows.

“’You see now,’ Kristo said, ‘that the king is still where he ought to be.’

“’You killed him. With his own sword.’

“Kristo nodded calmly. ‘More than he deserved. Chustaff would have put him in a dungeon and let him starve. Teargelt was a blemish on the history of Keroull.’

“’Which now is Rek’atrednu,’ I said.

“My brother smiled. ‘You’re absolutely right, Mak. I ought to get used to that name quickly. The Land of Justice.’ He put his hand on my shoulder. ‘Mak, we’re going to give honor to that name. Our people shall know justice, true justice, not the paltry shadow doled out by noble fools.’

“I said nothing. After a while, Kristo began to frown and dropped his hand from my shoulder. ‘You’re not convinced, are you, Mak? You see the lives taken and wonder how this could be justice.’ He shook his head slowly, then walked a few steps away, to stand next to the court scribe. ‘You see Sibragt here, devoid of the mind he once had. You think that his body should lie in a grave, not sit here and take notes. There was a time when I would have shared your outrage. But it really doesn’t matter. He still fulfills his function, he might do so for a century hence – which is far more than he could have done as a mortal being. And his life force has made me stronger. Along with others, Sibragt has given me the strength to lead our country into a bright and just future. A future that shall be a good place for living.’ He paused, patted the dead scribe’s shoulder casually, then strode back over to me. ‘Yes, Mak, I still value life. In fact, I value it more than I ever did before. Not because it fuels my magic, but because I have felt its power. Life is so precious, it needs to be supported. It needs to be treasured.’ Kristo sighed. ‘Was it treasured before? No, it wasn’t. You and I have spoken so many times about the injustices of our land. Some years ago, you yourself wondered whether a rebellion would bring about a change for the better. You said, ’’’Perhaps blood needs to be spilled to bring a new hope.’’’ Mak, you were right. The few have to give their lives, so that the many can live better. That is the justice I will bring to Ke-, to Rek’atrednu.’

“’I assume that my family will have the treasured lives you speak of?’ I asked.

“Kristo frowned at me uncomprehendingly, then he shook his head in confusion. ‘Obviously, Mak,’ he muttered. ‘I want you to run the Treasury. Liodburga and the children could live in the castle, but I thought about giving them Whitford Manor, the royal retreat. The children can play in the park, and you know that Methilda will love being around the horses. She can have the pony she’s been pestering you about for months. Although we ought to wait a year before allowing her to ride, she’s only four years old, after all. Of course you’ll have living servants. They can take much better care of the little ones.’

“’And if I want to leave?’

“Kristo’s face fell. He half-opened his mouth, then closed it and turned around to gaze at the windows set high in the walls of the Hall. ‘I have given it much thought, little brother. You have so much of Mother in you. You even smile like she did. She wouldn’t have understood this, not right away. Perhaps if she saw that good would come out of the terror of these days…’ He turned back to me. ‘You can do whatever you want, Mak. You are my brother, and I love you. In the coming days I will mindcast your image and that of our family to each and every undead in this land, that they know and obey you. Leave, if you will. Go to Cayaboré, or Ibrollene, or the Thousand Islands. But think on it, that is all I ask of you. Think what we can achieve. Mak, you – you could be my direction-finder, to keep me pointed in the right way.’ He took my hand, cradling it to his chest. ‘Promise me that you will think about it, please.’

“Was there a trace of fear in his eyes? I cannot say for sure. Sometimes I think it was there, the fear that he could not stay true to his own hopes, that he wanted to rely on me. I did not realize this on that morning, or I would never have left. Kristo is still my brother. To hear talk about him having become a monster is so difficult to bear – and hard to believe. I should not have left him.”

Eyan-Makellan Pharlee,

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

 

 

Historical Overview (continued)

Five years after the younger Pharlee wrote the texts I have quoted, he left Sirap and returned to his homeland. We do not know what happened to him, nor to his family. His wife went with him, and his eldest son, Hanno, followed a few months later.

No more than fragments are known of what has been happening in Rek’atrednu since that day. Few living souls have ever managed to leave it. The merchant fleet has never been rebuilt; Eyan-Makellan speculated that the undead could not manage to build and/or crew seaworthy ships. There are fishing boats, though. (We know that for certain, since there are refugees arriving every now and then on the shores of the Thousand Islands and Cayaboré.)

Although popular myth has it that no living souls remain in Rek’atrednu, Kristo Pharlee has not reneged on that part of his statement. (Of course it needs to be remembered that we only know of his intents through the biased words of his brother.) At the very least, the blood wizards of Rek’atrednu need to be fed. We can also assume that the living provide a base from which to recruit new blood wizards; otherwise, their ranks would die out in the course of time. Necromancers are living people like we all are. At best they can prolong their lives for some two or three decades beyond the normal span, but no more.

Kristo Pharlee would today be well over one and a half centuries old. There are signs that he still exists (I hesitate to use the word “lives”) – which is impossible if he remained only the necromancer that he had been in 3098. I cannot believe that he would permit himself to turn into a vampire, since that would enslave him to the mind of the vampire who has drunk his blood. Perhaps he has become a brastok, the supreme form of the unliving. Then he would seem to be a living being in every respect, yet have the abilities of a vampire – without any need for blood as nourishment – and could expand his magical powers at leisure.

 

 

Postscriptum

There is another part of the story that I would like to mention. In the first paragraphs of this article I spoke about how Keroull was seen by the outside world, and how the people of Gushémal were shocked when they learned of the invasion of the undead.

One result was that suddenly all wizards were considered suspect. If a man as – apparently – trustworthy as Kristo Pharlee could turn out to be a necromancer, what about the wizards of other lands? Some rulers banished their court wizards immediately, others were executed on the spot, without any questioning. The majority escaped such punishment, mostly because they hastened to swear the strongest oaths of loyalty and denounced necromancy – both done in a Decirius temple, binding their own souls to the God of Justice in lengthy ceremonies. Breaking an oath like that would bring divine penalty on their heads. That was the only way for wizards to retain their lucrative positions at the courts of kings and princes. It still took several years before the general suspicion faded away.