Nations and Places
Section I: Nations
Section II: Places of Renown
The land which today is known as Tonomat is much smaller than it used to be some two centuries ago when it reached its largest expansion. There are a variety of reasons for the shrinkage, most of which I will deal with in the historical overview a little later. For now it shall suffice that the empire has lost many of its valuable outlying provinces, most notably the holy city of Leahcim, and is now reduced to less than its original size some five hundred years ago.
It needs also be noted that there is some confusion as to what is Tonomat in recent texts. Some of the regions considered part of the empire in classical treatises on geography have by now declared their independence.
The Tonomai Empire covers a considerable area on the northern part of our continent, reaching from Shane’s Sea (called the Baranian Sea by the Tonomai) around the Elfadil Desert to the Redrob Fault close to the northern coast of Gushémal.
About a century ago, Tonomat lost its provinces along the eastern coastline – where now a series of small kingdoms reside who have reverted to the ancient religion, prior to the Tonomai One God. (A very few maintain the monotheistic religion of the empire, but they are no longer under the empress’s rule.) The border there is a jagged line, defined by heavy fortifications on both sides.
The northern border runs for the most part along the Redrob Fault, a canyon that is partially filled with water from the ocean. Partially, I say, since there are places in the Redrob that cut off the flow of the water. The first two hundred miles of the Fault could properly be called a relatively narrow stretch of ocean; then the Fault grows dry, except for occasional lakes that are fed by short rivers and rain water. Earthquakes are rather common in this area, which probably is the reason why both the Tonomai and their northern neighbors avoid it. Few settlements dot this area, which are quite detached from the empire. (Once I visited one of those settlements and found to my surprise that they still revered the old gods. None of the villagers had ever heard of the Tonomai Empire, they believed themselves to be subjects of a king. In later research I found that they had merely continued the line of kings who had ruled the area in the olden days, increasing the numeral behind the name every generation or so.)
Tonomat lost most of its territory in the west, and now its border runs in an almost straight line down from about the middle of the Elfadil Desert (the joint of the so-called hourglass) to the town of Nerusha on the coast of Shane’s Sea. Once it had been a flourishing city, with trade ships from all across the coast anchoring and unloading their wares in its port. Today not much is left of the once proud harbor. On average some ten ships sail in per week, a measley amount compared to the riches of once. The city now persists on land-bound trade, which hardly makes up in money what the city has lost. As a result, Nerusha shrunk by about half, although little of the old town quarters can be seen, for its stones have been re-used for new buildings.
What was the reason for Nerusha’s fall, you might wonder.
For one thing, none of the cities on the eastern coast trade anymore with Tonomai towns – they prefer to sail the longer distances to the Arrufat peninsula, or to Cayaboré, or to the Thousand Islands, or to the north, to cities like my own beloved Chazevo.
For another, most of Nerusha’s trade was bound to the west, to the wealthy lands that once formed the pride of Tonomat. And not least of all was it there that the religion of the One God originated, in the city of Leahcim, some two hundred and fifty miles from Nerusha. Leahcim is at a river crossing, a natural center for trade where the Denya flows into the Legnezre. Both rivers are not only wide enough to provide for easy sailing, they have also made the land lush and fertile. Many settlements, many cities have grown along their banks, and most have grown rich from their lands and the artisans the wealth has attracted over the centuries.
In the old days the cities were not unified under any single ruler, rather they formed fragile alliances – depending on whether there was any definite threat in the area. Most of the times it was one other alliance of cities, and warfare erupted regularly.
I therefore find it surprising that such a unifying – and monolithic – religion as that of the Tonomai could have developed there. And even more surprising how quickly it rushed across the area. But that should be dealt with in more detail later.
What is important to say is that one hundred and fifty years ago, the Divine Speaker himself led an army from the southlands into the Tonomai Empire, to take vengeance for the Unholy Assault on the Arrufat peninsula. They succeeded in wresting almost all of these rich cities from Tonomat.
Today they have very much returned to the disparate ways of yore, a plethora of cities, none of which feel great friendship for each other.
Looking at the actual Tonomat, one has to distinguish several zones. There are the coastal regions which are obviously well watered, with a mild climate. The seasons change noticeably, but neither winter nor summer are extreme.
Olive trees are the major produce of these regions, with their numerous and important uses. Olive oil can be used for food, but also for lamps, while the trees are burned. The oil is also an important trade item and has contributed to the wealth of the coastal provinces. (Of course, more regular produce is also grown here.)
Going further inland, the climate becomes more severe, tending towards the dry and hot. The further one travels, the more obvious it is that there is a desert ahead, with the vegetation growing sparser and of the hardier varieties. One should not make the mistake of so many of our fellow men and women to think that nothing of value grows there – that most of Tonomat is a desert.
Little could be further from the truth. Yes, the Elfadil borders on Tonomat – but that is all the desert one can find in the empire. In fact, one has to say that there are two major distinctions in the inland areas of the empire: those that are watered by a river, and those that have to rely on rainfall alone.
Clearly there are several areas of each kind, not interconnected. In the areas without a river, the vegetation is quite hardy, but it is enough to support herds of camels, goats and the like. One can find almost no regular farming in those regions, the people tend to be nomads who follow – or guide – their herds. As such these people do have similarities to the Gerouad (or sandpeople), who are said to be relatives of the Tonomai. The nomads have a rigid code of honor, and they view themselves as the ones most loved by the One God, because he has given them the ultimate freedom, rather than imprison them in villages or cities like peasants, artisans or merchants.
Other regions have a permanent river – like the mighty Cheselain which originates in a small mountain near the Elfadil, circles around the Alquibrian mountain chain a bit further south and then meanders down to Nefah, where it flows into Shane’s Sea. These are commonly farming land, with several cities around – much like the western regions around Leahcim. Unlike those, the towns here have maintained a tight trading relationship, and their merchant families improve these often by intermarriage. In fact, one can say that a single family rules over the majority of the cities along the Cheselain – if one ignores that it is split into a myriad of branches that insist on their financial independence. Nonetheless they feel very much part of a single unit, a tribe, if you will. The tribal thought patterns persist in the Tonomai mind to this day, but it should not distract from the fact that they are a highly civilized and cultured people.
Then there are regions where the rivers dry out every summer and only fill in the rainy season. The farmlands here are of a different variety, produce much less than their cousins along, say, the banks of the Cheselain. Still they have provided quite a decent living to the locals. Generally these are not as tightly knit a group as those with steady rivers, and they are often not very dependent on farming. If that should become more difficult they will quickly gather a herd of animals and take up a nomadic lifestyle, leaving their villages with nary a second thought. When times become better, they return to their homestead. As such, these regions often are a mixed breed, with farmers and nomads sharing the land.
the God’s clarion call echoed through the land,
by the maiden’s golden voice,
shall you hear my law, that you are now one!
go of your swords, let go of your arrows!
my law, and follow it that you shall attain perfection.”
sweet words sought the ears of the people, and the people listened,
the maiden came to them, to tell of the God’s kindness, of the God’s
am one, but my arms are many.
am one, but my might is unmatched.
am one, but the one is more than the many.”
maiden told how the God had walked with her,
he had raised her from poverty and pain,
she told how he could raise the people from their own troubles.
my law, and my justice shall be yours.
your knees to me, and my force shall be yours.
me your faith, and my kindness shall be yours forevermore.”
God’s words were strong, and those that claimed to be divine began to
lowly, ugly heads turned to listen to the maiden’s words,
the caress of her sparkling voice,
fear grasped the false gods who had held sway for so long.
shouted to the people never to listen to the maiden,
her words were born of madness,
God himself was born of madness.
maiden heard the false ones’ pleas,
she asked the people where the false ones had been when their fields had
their harvests were taken by storm,
bandits came to steal their herds.
they granted justice when a man was wrongly accused?
they given succor in despair?
they offered a law to the people?
good law, one that was just and fair?
my law, and be one.
my law, and be just.
your voices to spread my law,
your blades to spread my law,
you shall bring justice,
you shall destroy pain.
my law, and be Tonomai!”
the beiqua (Holy Book of the Tonomai),
“It was a grassfire that swept across the Denya and the Legnezre, a grassfire of belief and conviction. The maiden had travelled to every city, every village and hamlet, to tell of the One God and his new law. But after the first weeks only, she never met with distrust or ignorance.
“Always had there been people to the villages that had heard the maiden’s words, or had heard of them. Like the fire that rushes across the steppe, that is so fast that an antilope cannot hope to escape its flames, the word was spread. Everyone anticipated the maiden’s visit, to hear in person what she had to say. And when they heard the maiden, they knew that a new age had broken.
“Even the priests of the old gods felt themselves affected by the tales. They heard the law and compared it with their own teachings, with the justice and kindness of the old gods. The priests found them wanting, and under the cheers of the populace they cast down statues of their deities, painted over reliefs and mosaics with clean white, eradicated all memory of the ones who preceded.
“The temples quickly found a new purpose when the maiden was invited to bless the shrines, to make them the holy places of worship to the One God. Happily she followed every call, no matter how much strain it put upon her. For the One God gave her strength, his power flowed through the maiden and replenished her whenever fatigue stretched out its tired fingers.
“The old gods were driven from Leahcim the first week after the summer solstice, after the One God had painted his sacred symbol into the sky. A month later, a hundred miles up and down the Legnezre, all temples, all houses were white, and on everyone, the sacred symbol was drawn in golden paint. And the people bent their knees three time each day in prayer to the One God who would grant them justice and kindness.”
“I heard the voices of the gods, I saw their faces. Great Manlohal bowed his wizened head to me and asked, ‘Have you seen the maiden?’
“Furor took hold of me, as I looked in Manlohal’s divine eyes to respond, ‘No, I have not. I have seen the filthy demonspawn who claims to bring a new law to the river valley.’
“’Then,’ Harumar, Mother Of Us All, asked, suckling a babe on her breast, ‘she is not as pure as I have heard?’
“’No, Great Mother, she is not. I have seen her, clad in filth, clad in shame, clad in sin; and I have heard her tell of the greatness of her new law.’
“’Tell us about that law,’ Manlohal demanded.
“I bowed my head. ‘Forgive me, Lord, that I have listened to the law which is not Yours. It is as base as the mud a pig wallows in, and I feel the dirt in mine own soul.’ Manlohal’s gaze burned hot on my back, so I knew I had to continue, ‘The law tells that all followers are equal, that none is elevated above, neither priest, neither lord, neither anyone. It tells of punishment that is to be received by all who injure another, whether in person, by order, or whether the pain is in the mind.’
“I heard Harumar draw a deep breath. ‘If that is true, it is good. Mortals are mortals, their deeds ought to be judged alike.’
“Manlohal grunted, ‘The priests should be better than the others. They are the ones who rever us most.’
“’Yes!’ I cried out. ‘That is the point! The maiden’s law is evil, Lord, Great Mother! The law is not of You, it is demonspawn. You must not allow this to continue, for if it does, the people will draw away from you. It is You who make the law, not mortals!’
“Harumar asked, ‘Does the maiden proclaim the people should follow another god?’
“My heart was burning at the question. ‘No,’ I had to answer faithfully, for the Great Mother Of Us All had asked me. ‘I have not heard the demonspawn maiden tell of another deity that is to be worshipped.’
“Manlohal grunted again. ‘Then it is settled,’ he decided. ‘Let the law be told, and let our own priests make sure they are given the proper place. They have our favor, they are filled of our divinity, so they will find the way.’
“’You will not stop it?!’ I cried in despair.
“A breath from Manlohal hurled me back, cast me against the nearest wall of the temple, shattering me. ‘You dare question your gods?’ he cried in holy fury. ‘Begone from my sight, mortal!’
“And the gods did not come to the river valley, as they relied on the strength of their priests to repel the unholy law. They did not see it was more than a law, and that its dark promises were held out to the clerics as well as to the peasant folks. Only when the One God was named to be the father of the new law did they come to the river valley, but their strength had weakened. The people followed the new law, they followed the One God, they did not follow the gods’ ways.
“I did not dare to face the Lord or the Great Mother Of Us All again, for fear that I could not find them again.”
“Was the maiden as proper and innocent as the beiqua claims? Were her words, was the religion of the One God as successful as the verses insist?
“The Tonomai histories all agree on that, but they are almost without exception based on the beiqua alone and repeat all the glorification of the holy texts. In a society as deeply religious as Tonomat, that is not surprising – but it hardly serves the search for truth.
“What sources do we have aside from the Tonomai propaganda? Well, there were some people from the river valleys who wrote down their own accounts of the events. There must have been many more, for despite the claims of the beiqua the cities along the two rivers held a very literate culture who delighted in books. Unfortunately the fanaticized believers in the One God have burned so many that we know much too little about the river valley of that time. Among those books surely were numerous reports of the maiden’s calling.
“Some were rescued from the bonfires, by people fleeing the fanatics, or by visitors who could not bear to see the treasures go up in flames. A scant number of books survived, brought to Darawk temples well away from the Tonomai uprising. Alas, their reports are not necessarily credible, either. They were often written by men believing in the old gods, and thus they did their best to make the One God appear a demonic influence. The maiden, the pure carrier of the One God’s message, was often depicted as a filthy, evil woman who used her female appeal to sway the rulers of the cities. (You can immediately see the contradiction in that sentence. If the maiden never washed and was always covered in mud, she might have been the most beautiful woman of Gushémal, but no nobleman would have looked at her in the first place.)
“So, is there a way to find the truth?
“The only way at our disposal is a precarious one. We have to look at the beiqua, at the surviving texts of the time, at the reports by Darawk priests about the river valley prior to the arrival of the One God, and then we have to decide which facts are never contradicted – believably, that is -, and which appear often enough that they are probably not the invention of one writer. The result of this work will be wrought with doubt, for so much can be seen in a different fashions. And in fact, among the scholars of our time, there are many different interpretations, which cover a very wide range.
“What we can say is that the maiden existed. There is not a single text which disputes her presence and her involvement in the religious fervor. What is disputed is that she was the source of the fanaticism, and that she fanned the fire. A very few texts claim that the maiden was disgusted by the furor she had caused and preached against violence. Interestingly enough, these are the only sources which mention her name, Vesheyl or Wasyel – which are close enough to common names of the time that they might be right.
“I tend to believe this interpretation. The writers of these texts were apparently levelheaded people who stood above the emotional turmoil of their time. According to them, Vesheyl found the One God and received his divine law – which probably was changed and adapted in the beiqua. She then spread the word, and she must have had enormous charisma. It is beyond question that the religion spread very quickly, like a ‘grassfire’, as the famed Tonomai historian Afah’aku Ubas wrote. It probably took longer than the few weeks that the beiqua insists on, but after two years, I would say, the entire river valleys of both the Denya and the Legnezre had accepted the new faith.
“Still, Vesheyl apparently wanted only to install a new law, not a new god. In fact, there are signs that she did not even mention the One God until the law had been spread well around the river valley, perhaps half a year into her campaign.
“One writer claims that she always wore the sign of one of the old gods, to her very death. That god was the river valley’s Umahar, protector of the poor in general and orphans in particular, and the symbol is a protective hand. (This also implies that Vesheyl was an orphan, but we have to be careful about such conclusions.) What lends credence to this claim is the fact that the protective hand has been appropriated by the Tonomai faith, and a slightly changed version of Umahar’s symbol can today be found on the Maiden’s Throne, the seat of the Tonomai empress.
“So the founder of the religion may never have shared that faith. That casts an interesting light on the beiqua’s tales. On the other hand, even though Vesheyl may have believed in the old gods to her death, she definitely spread the One God’s law, and thus his faith. And she clearly held an important position in those early days. Whether she was the leader of the believers, the first empress, that I doubt. The river valley society was dominated by males, and I find it hard to believe that they would easily bow to a woman. (If one looks closely at historic texts – and even the beiqua – one can conclude that the first real empress was enthroned about twenty years after Vesheyl’s death.)
“She probably was no maiden in the proper sense of the term. Some writers even allude to her having been a prostitute; that may have been to discredit her. Certainly though there are reports of her children, especially her eldest daughter – Atavi – who supposedly inherited her position in the religion. I suppose that calling her a maiden elevated her in the minds of her followers, so that she would seem completely pure.
“She must have been a strong woman, a good speaker, and a woman very skilled at convincing people. After all, Vesheyl started a religion that would consume a quarter continent within a little over a century.”
“Acheen was still reeling from the invasion of the horsepeoples from the north. The Karuth had ridden across half the land, devastating villages and towns, raiding gold and women, spreading fear and panic. None of the proud Acheen warriors could stand in their way, they were ridden down by the horsepeople or killed from afar by the arrows of their bows.
“Questions still ran through the land. How could the Karuth stay on their horses and shoot their arrows with such precision? How could the uncouth and undisciplined invaders mount successful attacks on well trained troops?
“They withdrew as quickly as they had come, like a storm that raced over Acheen and then passed. One day, it seems, the Karuth ravaged everywhere, then all that was left were spent arrows and burning building, while the horsepeople rode back to their steppe home.
“It had been only a few months since the invasion when the Tonomai came from the west. For years they had satisfied themselves with their tiny valleys, and now they tried to attack mighty Acheen. ‘A mouse wants to trample a camel!’ the great vizier has been oft quoted. Yet the people of Acheen remembered all too vividly the miserable hordes of Karuth.
“The Tonomai armies were small, perhaps counting three thousand men altogether. Acheen had more than thirty times that many soldiers. The outcome should have been easy to predict.
“But the people feared more battles, feared more cruel raids, and so when the Tonomai approached, they found most city gates open to them, and the lord of each region laying down his arms in surrender. All was done to welcome the invaders, to keep them from ravaging the city. At first it worked perfectly as the Tonomai warriors entered the town, accepted the surrender and then set up their camps outside of town.
“But then their priests began preaching in the market places, insisting that the Acheen give up their gods and bow to the One God. The clerics left no doubt what the soldiers outside town would do if the Acheen did not follow this command.
“What were the Acheen to do? Take up the faith of a new god, a foreign god, and betray all their traditional beliefs, only to forgo the terror of a single day? Their souls would be in eternal terror!
“Some did accept the Tonomai religion, and there are reports of mass conversions. The convertites all were called Tonomai from that point onward and taught to forget about their Acheen heritage. They also were forbidden from talking to their relatives who hadn’t taken up the new faith.
“Families were torn apart, and some were forcibly reunited when the recalcitrant members of the family were converted by force. All such force was brought to bear by the new Tonomai, not the river valley people. I am sure that a good number of the convertites were infected by the fanaticism, and that this drove them to more cruelties than the threat of the armies could have done.
“Most Acheen maintained their own ways, and after a month that had been granted to each city, the Tonomai army entered the city again – this time with weapons drawn, and they brought the promised devastation to the town. […]
“When finally the Acheen army reached the Western region, with a contingent of no less than twenty thousand men, their biggest surprise was that they could not directly face the Tonomai. (Their army had by now swelled to twice its original size, with new soldiers recruited in the towns conquered in Acheen. The priests of the One God worked hard to make sure the new recruits were fired up by the same holy fervor as their comrades, and more often than not they succeeded.)
“The Tonomai had never established any links to the towns and cities of Acheen, rather relying on their tent camps. Even the new Tonomai had been made to cut all their links, so that the army could constantly stay on the move. It was split up into a multitude of small units which could hide easily, aided by the locals who knew the area perfectly.
“The battles that occurred were beestings by the small Tonomai units who attacked at dusk and withdrew after at best an hour of fighting. The Acheen pursued their opponents, but those had returned to their hiding places.
“When the famed Acheen army could not best the Tonomai, rumors about the One God’s might spread – and tales arose that said the old gods had died, or that they had been killed by the Tonomai deity. At first, there were instances when the old gods themselves appeared to help the Acheen, but as time went by these events became rarer and rarer, adding fresh fuel to the rumors.
“As a consequence, more and more Acheen took up the foreign religion, adding to the ranks of the invaders.
“After two or three years – the sources make it difficult to ascertain the exact time -, the Tonomai force had grown to a strength equal to the Acheen army, and now the opponents faced off for the first time. A terrible battle ensued. According to the beiqua, no Tonomai but seven thousand Acheen were killed, and the remaining three thousand scattered all across the land. Obviously this account is rather unbelievable, but so are the surviving Acheen documents which claim that the Tonomai force numbered thirty thousand men, and while half the Acheen soldiers were slaughtered, so were twenty-five thousand of the invaders. The truth is probably that both armies suffered horrible losses, but the religious furor of the Tonomai made them continue the battle until they could claim victory.”
“Conquering Acheen was the most important step in the Tonomai ascent. From its original river valley, the One God’s faith suddenly encompassed a realm that reached from the Elfadil Desert to Shane’s Sea, its eastern border nearly touching the ocean. A vast realm that was overrun by the fanaticism of the Tonomai and that would within few years be completely united in the faith in the One God.
“It was at this time that the beiqua was written down. If you remember how powerful the Tonomai priestesses must have felt at this time, you can understand the tone and mood of the book much better. They had felt the strength of the One God, as he granted them the magnificent, impossible victory. There was an entire realm, a large populace to be turned to the new faith, and the clerics took to the task with all the fervor that had fueled their warriors in the battles before.
“The Tonomai weren’t untouched by the society and culture of Acheen. If you study the culture of the river valleys, you will see that the beiqua reflects relatively little of their ideals, and much more the rigid society of Acheen. Some of the laws in the beiqua have been quoted almost word for word from Acheen lawbooks. Yet the strongest difference is that in the river valleys, women may not have had many rights, but they certainly weren’t sequestered, nor were they considered property. That was common practice in Acheen – and that is probably the source of the illogical structure of today’s Tonomai culture.
“On the one hand, women are the servants of men – be they the father, an elder male relative, or the husband – and are expected to follow every command to the letter. The beiqua does allow them to hold property, but puts numerous limits on their freedom.
“On the other hand, the highest class in Tonomai society is the clergy – which consists exclusively of women. There are only priestesses who worship the One God; they are the superiors of all Tonomai, including the men. Nonetheless there are also rules on their behavior. Compared to the strict and rigid code that other women have to follow, the priestesses are very free to act as they want. And this, I believe, is because their code of behavior owes to the river valley culture rather than to that of Acheen.
“The men were dominant in the river valleys, yet they did not curtail their women as seriously as the Acheen did. Those liberal rules were applied to the priesthood, no doubt because the beiqua was written by priestesses who wished to maintain their own freedom. I assume that they were satisfied with the standards of the river valley culture, with the limits they had to live with – all they knew aside from that were worse examples. Sometimes I wonder whether the priestesses wanted these rules only to last as long as they were needed to convert the Acheen. After all, by continuing the suppression of women, they condemned their own gender to a life of servitude. I cannot imagine that the priestesses were happy about that.
“Then again, it is difficult to judge their opinions.”