Distant Lands: Arluntalath

“… in the south of the great lands East of Cataclysm and of the Great Black Mountains, there is a land of great riches and fertile fields the like of which the author has rarely seen, this land being ARLUNTALATH. The approach to this land from the West is called the Heavenly Spires- aptly named, in this traveler’s opinion. From the gently sloping loam and silt refreshed by the annual floods, many pillars of solid stone hundreds of feet tall jut skyward as if summoned from the Earth by the call of divinity to reach towards the heavens. Men are but specks on their sides, and their circumference could hide a small army or caravan in its entirety. These great titans, for all their beauty, are far from safe. The massive and myriad varieties of insect that once and still are the bane of the men of Arluntalath make their nests here, and still range well into that land to hunt.  No men make their home here, for fear of these very opponents, and the traders do well to remain on the paths regularly cleared by the nearby lords.

The pillars gradually reduce in density, until one reaches the Midways. Here it is said that the society of Arluntalath was born from the local people long oppressed by the Raven Kings, their fledgling society protected from plagues of vermin by the castles that top the pillars here. From such a lofty vantage, the movement of the large insects in the silty ways beneath the columns of stone can be seen for many leagues away. Upon these pillars, whose sides have long been carved into narrow stairways, farmers often seek higher ground when the great spring deluges crash through the Midways with unstoppable ferocity.

Here also is the capital of the former kings of Arluntalath, of which not one has been seen in nigh on two hundred years. Their former capital of Peregelond built almost entirely on and around an oddly shaped spire whose top is much larger owing to massive overhangs. At the base of the spire is a massive trader market, catering to veritable flood of merchants that follow the seasonal floods of water. The best time to make the trip is in the mild winter, but to prevent being trapped by the coming of the erratic flood season, most overland traders brave the unconscionable summer heat and humidity. This constitutes the only inland settlement that could be appropriately called a town, or indeed, a city. Since the overlords of both the castle and the entirety of this land were long since disposed of with no heirs, the castle town and its hinterlands are (uniquely in the Midways, and indeed all of Arluntalath) ruled not by one family but a council of yeomen (though long ago they raised themselves to nobility) that own the farmlands in the hinterlands. Their forces jointly conduct raids and stage defenses against the insectoid menace, and they have on retainer at least one mercenary company at all times to make up for the breadth of their territories and their relative lack of organization. All other lands in Midways are ruled entirely by the current owner of the nearest castle-spire.

Moving further East, the true core of the land is revealed, as fields and fields of beautiful violet flowers show themselves in splendor. This flat and fertile land is known as the Floodplains of Mihairan (after their erstwhile conqueror) or simply the floodplains. Here to floods come down from the mountains, but where in the Pillars and Midways these floods can tear stone foundations wholly from the Earth, the floods here tend to be gentler. This flower is the namesake of the land in its whole, “arlun” also being the formal name of the color it produces when processed into dye. Those more inclined to descriptive terms would call the color and plant it by its common name- indigo. It is this crop and the practice of agriculture that gives the nobility of this land their claim to the fabulous wealth they often display. Other crops such as fine tobaccos, delectable teas, soft cotton and dyes of deep red and a regal yellow are also grown to great profit, but none is so common nor so significant as the arlun flower and the color it produces. The cloth is seen as a sign of nobility, and indeed the word itself is often used in this form. Traders from all lands brave sea routes on the east coast or the dangers to reach the Midways and beyond for this regal hue. In lieu of currency that requires mineral wealth the Arluntalath is acutely lacking, bolts of cloth richly dyed can be used as an impromptu currency, and often are. Personally, the author found the color produced by the dye rather gaudy and unpleasing to the eye, though perhaps ubiquity of its appearance in wear, decoration, and landscape may have tired the author’s affinity towards it.

The educated reader will no doubt be wondering wherever the food that feeds this land issues from, and that is the primarily the work of the yeomen- thought that name originally applies to free landholders of non-noble status, of which there are now none. Long ago when the men of Midways first issued from there to take the floodplains of Arluntalath, most common men were entitled to their own land where they could grow crops as they wished. However, the farms that were bigger, more profitable, nobly owned or some combination thereof inevitably bought out these independent farmsteads and reduced their owners to mere tenants or otherwise vagabonds. It is these tenants that now take responsibility for growing most of the food that feeds the Arluntalath, primarily out of thrift- the richest crops require backbreaking physical labor and allow the noble owners to exact larger rents. Furthermore, these tenants are given the worst lands, making any growth of profit even less likely. Still, the tenants are, by reckoning of common law and practice, free men with rights, most notably the right to bear armaments and fight in wars. This right is under no circumstances to be afforded to the massive slave population, which works the land directly for the lord, inevitably suffering in the growing the very crops many of their freer brethren desire. In the floodplains, no more than a fifth of a noble’s lands is ever turned over to growth of food crops and divvied up amongst hundreds or thousands of tenants with meager plots. In the Midways, this division of land can allow up to three fifths set aside to tenancy (for the sake of defensive levies), which is why the lords of Midways tend to only be unimaginably rich, as opposed to disgustingly so. This is a well documented source of resentment amongst the lords of the Midways, who see themselves as dying for betterment of their idle, richer brethren. Even in minor crop failures, famine is not uncommon, and meat is rare amongst the nobility and unheard of entirely amongst the lower classes. In the author’s observation, both classes’ wealth was only matched by their expenses, primarily towards luxury. It had come into vogue to import by sea massive blocks of rare and beauteous marble for use in building and patronage of the artists of all classes. The author suggest this obsession is as vain as it is impractical, and suspects that it is impractical as it is expensive.

The lands of the floodplains are incredibly fractured- a noble of only a few dozen acres could very well be independent, if those acres are rich. Of all the the lords of the floodplains, perhaps one in five of them swear fealty to some Duke or higher ranking noble, and none of the Dukes swear fealty to someone above their rank- in normal times, no such rank exists. The tendency towards independent farmsteads is so strong that any expansion seen as particularly aggressive is severely chastened immediately by neighboring lords, and dukedoms often disintegrate on the death of their ruler. Despite the nobility’s origin as martial servants of the realm, they long have long since become primarily concerned with trade and the vagaries of the market. Indeed, while in other lands the traders and foremost men of wealth are not noble, here all the wealth comes from the land, and the nobility own all the land. The gilded merchant and the puissant marshal are one and the same. Guilds of the trades are made weak by the slaves imported from distant lands- many of which possess skill in crafts. Much longer lasting than any dukedom are the coalitions, large bands of neighboring nobility that effectively agree to cooperate for the purposes of trade, and of which any number from none to ten could exist at any time. These coalitions, in addition to the more or less common culture ties this land together. Furthermore, all the nobility are entitled to sit in a massive council, typically held in Peregelond, in which common laws are decided, and, in the author’s observation, universally ignored till convenience suits their acknowledgment. This same council is empowered to elect an Archduke to which all the lords of Arluntalath owe fealty and service. Only three men have held this office, all in immediate succession of each other. The office has been vacant since, and the last council called more than three years ago. The state of kinglessness is well regarded by the nobility, as they view all kings as tyrants and any potential overlords -regardless of title- as just short of that.

The nobility are almost entirely in control of the country as a whole. The clergy of their strange religion is almost entirely at the mercy of their local lords to build churches and patronize their religious services. The religion seems to be in worship of an obese god of the rains and harvests that half the nobility claims descent from. The clergy once were powerful augurs, supposedly capable of predicting and controlling the weather with great accuracy by sacrifice of the insects that menaced the lands (and often take the form of the Great other in religious texts). It can be surmised they were reduced in power similarly to the former kings. The religion itself is held together by a singular popular holy book (supplementary texts falling out of common usage with the dissolution of the organized church) and by the calendar, with which the religion is inextricably tied. Interestingly, the obese god of the rains is commonly depicted as being borne on a pall lifted by thousands of slaves. This supposedly gives divine justification for the slavery practiced so eagerly in these lands; without slavery, god would fall from the sky. Interestingly, the author found that an older image of the god beautifully painted onto the wall of a long abandoned monastery did not feature this imagery.

The yeoman rarely if ever rebel, and indeed yeoman and noble seem united in the repression of the slave class, which is oft so cruel as to be truly unnerving. Well up to a half of the population is composed of slaves from all lands, so the threat of rebellion- especially during famine- is constant. Dyers and other craftsmen or house and bed-slaves were likely to only be branded, but gruesome executions by drawing and quartering, being fed to exotic predators, and being hunted or shot for target practice were not uncommon punishments for the less immediately valuable field slaves.  Indeed, the situation of the fields is so cruel that even the slaves of greatest strength were reduced to weakness and death easily and often. On one occasions, an orch of the variety known in the west as a minotaur was employed in the turned of some machinery that crushed the indigo in the process of manufacturing dye. The demands of its labors had deprived it of all fur and reduced its presumably once powerful muscles mostly to skin and bone, with its horns cut off for sale and for the safety of the slave drivers. The monster’s eyes had long gone blind, and teeth long ago fallen away due to lack of health. With no hair or muscle, the hands of the beast that once could’ve separated a man from his arm with hardly a twist seemed to the author as fragile, spindlier, and grotesque versions of human hands. Fearsome and deadly as those beasts may be, the author may prefer any such adversary as they were meant to be after seeing that unfortunate specimen. Pity for an enemy the author has fought many a time encouraged the purchase of the slave so as to release it from atrocious life and bondage, much to the chagrin of the noble escort and the owner. Still, was offer was far too great to refuse for such a worthless specimen; no sooner had the bargain been finished had the slave drivers brought out a newer, fresher beast, to no doubt be reduced to a similar state.

In another case, when the author visited with his host the large estate of an independent count whose sister was the host’s dear mother. On touring his lands we came upon the barely upright hovels of some of his field slaves- many of theses shelters were not tall enough to let a man stand beneath their thatch roofs. One of the slave drivers halted the procession, as he saw one slave had used some of the land immediately outside his hovel to grow a garden for food. The slave driver accosted him, accusing him of stealing seed and, damningly, labor from his rightful owner. ‘If you have time for the growing of these, you have the time for the growing of more indigo for the Mighty Procas(lord) Lucion.’ The slave insisted that he had not enough to eat, and that he would surely die next harvest without more food, and begged on his knees for redress from punishment he knew was forthcoming. Without a word, the slave driver uncoiled his weapon and before the eyes of the entire noble procession and enumerable field slaves began to whip the slave to death. Neither lord nor freeman nor bondsmen seemed much perturbed by this development.

Roads pervade every part of the floodplains of Arluntalath, but most are so poorly maintained as to be worse than simply hewing to the sides of cultivated land. The only roads that are regularly navigable are those leading to the four ports of Arluntalath. This network of roads winds inexorably and indirectly towards its destination, as in their eternal wisdom the many dozens or lords whose lands it borders or passes through decided that it should only pass near the richest crops of indigo- naturally, without actually crossing through them. The result is a two day trip that can easily be extended to a week, or more if the season is still tending towards floods. Further, none of the four ports are connected directly by road- either ship or another trip back up the network of damnable Indigo Road (as it was wisely dubbed) are required to reach one from the other. Neither is preferable- captains will gouge you, as they are aware of your inconvenience. In addition to the circuitous nature of the road, the nobility along it will frequently attempt to tax those of non-noble standing to pass through their lands. Traders will often get by with light taxes or none at all, since they serve profit better by buying and selling in the cities or along the road, but without noble escort expect fully to be just short of robbed at every other turn. Even with noble escort, the necessity of serving the local lord’s pride (and the obvious non-commercial disposition of the party the author traveled with) required us to stop and answer hails at every otherwise taxable juncture. In lean times, when multiple harvest of cash crops or staples have failed (either by unseasonal flooding, a shortened growing season, or, in two recorded instances, a horde of locusts), this right to taxation is exercised more liberally on traders by the pauperized lords, which naturally upsets and lords of coalitions ‘downstream’ of them. The author gathered that this was the principle cause of a number of the more prolonged and deadly wars in the region’s history.

The inhabitants of this land curiously reckon their trading cities as disreputable places, filled with foreigners, thieves, and barbarians, but nonetheless necessary to their country’s enrichment. Such was the apparent shame of the author’s host that he would not suffer to him to see Rosuminas, Doisprezoras, Sibithrond, or Bucaras, those being the principal ports, as it would unfairly represent his country. Thus the author was given no chance to describe any such place, and finds secondhand account of them unreliable at best.

As a man of martial bent, it would be remiss of the author to not describe the military practice of this land. The common method of war is highly ritualized, at least in the sense of observation of certain norms. Towns and manors are rarely ever taken and nearly never sacked, and crops grown for profit are only ever burnt in the most bitter wars- but crops grown for food are often the focus of military engagements as one side moves to protect their food supply from another’s incursions. Often wars only end in the recognition of defeat and a ‘small’ tax; rarely, a few acres of land may be transferred. Sieges in the floodplains are nonexistent, as the castles of the Midways long ago gave way to manors, sometimes fortified, more often not. In truth, the martial culture of the floodplains outside of the auspices of the nobility is so far decayed that is hardly bears mentioning. In the Midways the common men are often organized into regiments bearing long pikes, as extended reach is invaluable against their insectoid enemies, and a large enough organization of these pikes can close off the space between two pillars in more condensed areas. This extended reach is also seen in the nobility’s signature weapon, the long-axe. This strange weapon is long as a battleaxe, but by means of masterful craftsmanship, much lighter, allowing it to be held in one hand. From horseback this weapon makes their noble owners truly deadly, being highly effective against the thin extremities of their chitinous foes and in spread out engagement against men. The weapon is used universally amongst ennobled fighters and is seen as a sign of status. Proper usage requires a great deal of training to use properly, as when the author’s host graciously allowed him to give one such long-axe a swing, the weight of the axe felt most strange and unwieldy in his hands. The host laughed, and said that the men of foreign parts were oft disinclined to ‘the fine weapon of nobility’.

Arluntalath is, in all its parts, a beautiful land. The spires of the Midways and beyond are naturally awing, though the fields likewise have a beauty to them. The most breath-taking moment in the author’s survey of this land came when he was allowed to ascend the Eastern-most spire-castle, called Piatraliu. Here is where the edge of the Midways is generally regarded- indeed this is the furthest east pillar of the Midways, castle or no. The towers of the crowning castle command an inspiring view of both the Midways to the west and the deep indigo fields to the East. The shining rays of the setting sun peaking just above the pillars and breaking the rays between them to cast long lines of light across fields of night is a memory this writer will take with him to Paradise. Alas, it must be taken with him, for Paradise Arluntalath is not. The men of these lands are monstrous in habit, consumed by gaudy accruements. The base cruelty the likes of which are nearly beyond the author’s fathoming are likewise easily and often practiced by the men and Paradise is great only by the light of the Lady, not by the blood of slaves. The falsity of their faith and the ease with which these countrymen turn to bloody themselves seems to the author to suggest a land altogether more removed from Paradise than the author’s native land.”

-from “An Meneletham” by Boridhren of Stonewall

Translator’s Afterword: Boridhren of Stonewall was a former warrior and mercenary captain of some renown that traveled with the Inkmaker Company. His literacy derives from time spent studying the Lesser Mysteries at the University of Minas Mallembrog. Some time after the destruction and dissolution of the Inkmakers (in which he was convincingly presumed dead) he reemerged and claimed to have had a religious revelation. Immediately thereafter he left the lands of Calador in search of the earthly embodiment of Paradise.

Long-Axe- If untrained, -4 to hit, -2 to damage and no stat bonus if using one-handed or -2 to damage and no stat bonus if using two-handed. Only one attack every other round, has Clumsy modifier.

Otherwise, 1d8+1 damage with Reach, Clumsy if dismounted.

Standing in ranks with someone using this weapon is ill-advised. Doing so causes the weapon to go down to one attack per two rounds and to gain the clumsy modifier.

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  1. Distant Lands: Previews – Profane Ape

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