Distant Lands: Elhugardh

“…from my time with the Dwarrows of that citadel Irmen-Barad, the author learned that to the far north of the mountains exists a series of valleys most isolated from the rest of the world. Only one pass into this land was known to the local Tomb-folk, and even this pass was inconsistent in its ‘annual’ opening each summer. One other pass is said to  on the far northern side of this mountain realm, named in few other records as the Elhugardh, but it to is rumoured to suffer from similar inconstancy.

The native inhabitants of this land, in addition to being reclusive to the point of not maintaining the passes, were also rumored to be men of such wild and fantastic power that no invasion has ever been successfully carried against them since the time of Cataclysm. It is said that the facades of their palaces are awe-inspiring carvings of majestic sky-serpents, colored with all the hues known to men. The waters run clear and fast from the mountains, the soil is soft and ready for seed, and the gold itself runs in streams and veins across the hills and cliffs. Generally, the ability of the inhabitants was regarded by Dwarrows as an exaggeration; being well covetous creatures, this same incredulity was not thrown on the claims of the land’s richness. The author was most intrigued by the stories of this land, and was in good fortune to find that a Dwarrow captain was endeavouring to mount an expedition into this land to found his own citadel, as the most adventurous Dwarrows oft do when their subterranean habitats wax over-crowded. It was generally believed at the time that this summer would be warm enough to allow passage into the valleys, in keeping with the general trend of the year’s unusual heat.

Indeed, at the onset of summer, scouts returning from the field claimed that the passes had been cleared of ice and snow, and thus the author attached himself to one Farin, son of Frar, who sought to carve a holding, in both a physical and political sense, out of the Elhugardh. He had serving as his lieutenants were his brothers Frain and Tharin, as well as a close friend Moin, son of Morin. Also in attendance was Farin’s only surviving son, named Frar, and also there were numerous fortune seekers in attendance such that the party as a whole numbered three hundred of myriad trades, though the great body of them was martial, as those were loyal to Farin who once had commanded the garrison of the citadel.

Thus the pass was found and crossed with those dwarrows and their supply behind them. The author noted that the pass was in fact a long abandoned highway carved into the mountains by the Raven Kings- undoubtedly, this land too fell under their once mighty sceptre. The altitude of the crossing certainly is the cause for the infrequent openings- not every summer burns hot enough to truly thaw the accumulated ice and snow. As the pass lowers, land gradually opens out into a wide valley, where indeed the riches of the land described were found in abundance. Great scars of gold ore gleamed in higher mountainsides, and streams were easily sifted for nuggets and grains. The entire facade of a bare hillside could well be mutton-fat jade, and the entire body of covered hills often overgrown with trees ready for timber. The air was clear and clean, the streams so pure that the author would wager on reading ten feet through them, and the game abundant. Wild flax nonetheless suitable for use grows abundantly as grass in other lands, and great venomous lizards longer than a man and taller when standing on hind legs prowl the land in search of prey. Some specimens are comparable in size to boars and well eclipse a man while standing, and even still larger ones exist closer in size to horses- thankfully, this species appears to feast on the plentiful . In addition, the author’s further surveys of the land revealed the riches in the form of platinum and a rare metal known as white gold. The dwarrow armorsmiths noted with elation that coveted feather-silver can also be found here in greater abundance than anywhere else in the world, and both tin and copper are often found in close vicinity to each other. The dwarrows of the expedition were overjoyed, knowing well their riches, and after the march was ceased each day, those of the party that could would go out and pick from the ground and streams and hills such wealth as to put kings to shame. Each day they would range about for wealth, and return -with only a few sudden disappearances- with the stars to slumber on piles of mutton-jade and gold and other things. So much was the weight of the acquired wealth that the baggage train was sorely overburdened, till eventually the wealth was left where it was found.

Of all these riches the dwarrows were well pleased, and eager to press even further in pursuit of greater treasures- particularly the coveted wyvern scales, said to gleam as any gem, and have great and auspicious properties in craft. The horns of these serpents, in truth more akin to antlers of a deer, were said to also carry great magick within them. And paramount on their minds were the pearls once held by those creatures, said to be as large as a man’s head and artifacts of unimaginable power. The humble author,seeking no longer such material wealth as once he was wont to, was nonetheless awed much by the profusion of resource evident all across the land. But before long, the nature of the land did much to discomfit him. Veins of such lucre should have been mined long ago for their ease, and the game should have been depleted by some measure from hunters. People did inhabit this land, and a group of them assailed the party, but owing there lack of organization, poor bronze weapons, and nigh nonexistent armor were turned back with ease. Aside from that assault, the author was sore tested to find any sign of human habitation once departed from the Old Kingdom highway. Game trails, roads, structures, settlements, all were far from evidence. Many trees of that land were of an age to suggest lumbering, but on closer inspection, the author attests that he found no tree the elder of fifty years in the whole span of that country, in any part.

A curious habit of the land made each night far more frigid than the more temperate, even outright pleasant days might suggest, and each morning there was all around for as far as the eye could see a great profusion of dew on the the trees and grasses. Notably, this dew was disturbed almost never, and when it was the responsible being always was some beast of the land. Even the wildlife of this land had a strangely furtive disposition, so much that no birds or any other animals could be heard to sing or vocalize by anyone. The dwarrow column, having received one attack and suspecting there was some native nation within this land, grew uneased and restless with those people’s apparent absence, as they had expected to fight with them and suspected some foul device was prepared against them, that would be the expedition’s doom. Eventually, there were calls for a return to the citadel whence they came, or to the pass at least, and the number of disappeared at that point had been growing to some twenty odd dwarrows, contributing also to the apprehension. And though Farin did try to claim that the land was empty of men, and that those who had assailed them were bandits similarly making use of the opened passes, the popular will prevailed. The expedition reversed its path, to regain the road, then pass, and from there scout the land more thoroughly, to ensure the expedition did not stumble into poor investment.

But or the party reached the pass, though after the road was again found, the natives of the land did once again test the expedition, this time in greater number and at better advantage, for where they ambushed was where the road wound along the mid length of a hillside, and thus from above they could run down and harry the dwarrows. And perhaps a thousand or more there were, and though they like their fellows had poor armament, numbers and their sudden attack near turned those of the expedition fully to rout. Then, as if from nowhere, great lines of startling blue flame did alight amongst the assailants ranks, followed as soon as seeing by a massive conflagration and noise that consumed all near and left naught but ash. Again and again these sorceries rained down upon the attackers, but as they were well pushed into the column then the flames touched dwarrow, provision, and brigand alike. After they realized their peril, immediately the attackers fled down to a man, and those of the column could do nothing but go for cover, and thankfully those secondary assailants did not bring anymore fire again on the column, instead choosing to harass those fleeing. And after some time approached the remnants of the column with a rainbow hued banner those who had rescued it, and there the first men ahorse of the land were seen. Though similarly armed in bronze and leather, amongst them carrying the rainbow-hued device was their principal ruler, a young lady with hair dripping down below her horse’s sides. And also with them were men claden in light yellow cloth, that lay on them in the style of robes tied to the waist with belts, and they heralded the benefactor in that Old Tongue. She was Nikerosa, called Taker of Eyes, and did request of the party that they should accompany her back to her court, as she was much curious as to what foreigners had to say and show her, for few did come into this country from without. The dwarrows were suspicious, as many had fell to her reckless works, and all told half the column had been lost in both supply and persons, but fearing punishment of the terrible kind inflicted on the bandits, the leaders agreed to have their party conducted to her court.
Nikerosa’s court was in truth more a compound, of many wooden buildings of somewhat slipshod construction spreading over some area and connected by covered paths orbuilt next to each other. Most such buildings were housing for her retinue of priests, warriors, and servants and facilities necessary for life. However also in great profusion were large storehouses in which tribute from surrounding areas was collected and stored, and therin found were great quantities of gold and white gold and simple works of bronze, and also food and hides of the native lizards, as well as pearls said to come from the inside of those lizards and clams from the rivers. And in the approximate center of the compound was a courtyard, uncovered, where Nikerosa from elevated platform would watch follies and games held below in the grass and mud. Nikerosa soon grew bored of the tales of the party and author, as it seemed, and turned back to her follies, which we soon discovered she loved so much that they took most of her time. Most of these were sad affairs, as most of the performers were men and women blinded by Nikerosa, who would then have to fight each other in groups or alone with wooden sticks, or form structures with their bodies, or dance and jape and kick each other about, and other such acts that do not bare repetition here. If any blind man or woman did not please her or refused to participate, they face fearful punishment, as in the case of one man, who wet himself from terror and stood still during on of the melees. Nikerosa’s wrothful invectives would not move him, so with a word like wind whistling right next to one’s ear, she undid him totally, and sprayed his viscera over the entire back half of the court, and tore all the grass and soil behind straight from the earth. Her usual disposition was that of mirthful cheer during these distractions, and indeed loved them so that her guests were soon forgotten, excepting the demand that the party leader’s and author attend her follies with all her own notables in attendance, and one incident in which two warriors fought in full outfit for her amusement, ending in the blinding of the loser in addition to other injuries on both sides.

As the hostess was well preoccupied, the author turned instead to her clergy, those that had been clothed in yellow and had heralded her originally, and with whom the author shared a common language. They were keepers of both the religious ceremonies that kept Nikerosa in favor with their principal goddess, known as Pallotar, and also whatever knowledge of writing and history is known of the land, though the former function is primary. For it was revealed to the author through careful questioning that the reason of Nikerosa’s skill was not any magic as known to University or to those favored by god, or even to those savants that dwell far without society in his homeland, or indeed like that magicks found in any land he had visited. He learned that such puissance over reality is given not by study or divine favor, but by understanding of the antique language of the land, not that used by most of it inhabitants, but that spoken by the great sky-serpents who once inhabited these valleys and mountains. When heard by non-speakers, the languages seems as a great reverberating hiss or growls that press on the ears most unpleasantly. And those who bore this understanding, usually manifesting before adolescence, were called Speakers, and reckoned as living gods by the people of the land, for with a mere word there will is fulfilled totally, and always clergy would come from far away and attend them. And they also revealed the political situation, in that as each of these people were gods, none should rule over the other, and thus the land was greatly fragmented. Indeed, the author later learned that no true governance exists in this land, beyond the extraction of tribute from villages by the nearest Speaker. And Speaker’s would often not fight one another, for their quarrels were destructive in the extreme, and levelled forests and hills with ease, and destroyed everything about them, so much so that these fights typically only happened in the occasion of manifestation of a Speaker too near another, when that one wants to overthrow the other. However, the author soon learned to his misfortune that on great occasion no little antagonism would arise between Speakers or groups thereof, and entire regions would be consume in horrific, transformative war.

There clerics did help the author greatly in coming to understand the land, and even consented to show him their scriptures and magic, but surprised the author when he realized that their own rites were not pleasing to divine bodies but instead magic of school of Enchantment which rules and melds the mind. Indeed, from the author’s time in the University, he recognized them as such despite the lack of annotation in their usage and application, which was sore required, for these rituals were dangerous to the psyche applied to in the best of times and outright destructive in the worst. And the same applied to many potives, seemingly for calming and affecting compliance, but likewise deleterious if not dosed or applied properly, the which information they also seemed to lack. And strangest of all, the clerics seemed to be genuinely unaware of the source of their power as arcane, and also feigned unawareness of the purpose of there rituals, but this the author would not believe, for the effects of their other magicks should be obvious to them. This topic the author did not broach with them, for he feared their reaction at either their secrets being discovered or their religion uprooted, but did not from stories told and Nikerosa’s own disposition and the rituals did seem to take their negative effects. Indeed, it seems most Speakers, and particularly the two the author had met, have some innate instability of character, undoubtedly a result of the rampant and haphazard usage of mind-altering rituals, and the side-effects and addictive quality of the prescribed medicines. The author likewise did not convey this observation.

The lower classes of this land are not oft seen by anyone, the author was told, but at his request the clerics did transport him to one of the villages of Nikerosa’s domain, as these such villages apparently hold the greatest portion of the population, and the author was sore curious to see how they may have lived, and how for so long they avoided being seen. And upon coming to the village, the author saw clearly the issue that had prevented their detection, for their houses are not as those in other lands, and indeed are partially beneath the ground, and their only constructed parts are the roof and supports, and even that is often covered with dirt and foliage. For those in this land are known as the Furtive-Folk in their own tongue, and hide themselves well, for fear of the wrath or domination of the Speakers or brigands, though by proximity in this instance has rendered this village unfortunate.  Indeed all the people of this land wear hoods, and show not their faces to those around them, and meeting eyes is considered sometimes a grave social misstep. Mothers will beat their their children who met eyes for too long, it is said, so to better teach them proper behavior. All from the highest monk to the lowest brigand hold these habits, but only some Speakers, as Nikerosa especially cares little for these mores. Those of the village owe in homage anything that may be asked of them from Nikerosa and her retinue, and this includes valuables and crafts, as well as labor or permanent slaves. The monks and the guard of Nikerosa and of other Speakers will come through and take at their will those children or adolescents that show most promise to them, by strength or by intellect, and those parents are always powerless to stop them. And for this reason, and for the violence of the land, these villages are managed more directly by those very old, for living as long as that is rare and venerable.

Those settlements that manage to hide from the Speakers instead contend with roving bands of wandering brigands of the sort encountered twice by the expedition, who though poor warriors find through numbers and warlike disposition that they similarly are able to extract tribute from various osts, and do so. These nomads normally give great berth to any places known to house Speakers, and the column was fortunate in their assailant’s greedy pursuit of them into Nikerosa’s lands. And these nomads make it difficult for those in villages to move about in any way, for they may be killed or enslaved. But of the two, dominance by these bands was much preferred, as their demands were oftimes lesser and this displeasure far more tolerable, and no settlement in the whole of the land is reckoned to be free of both. Perhaps for these tributes and reductions the craftsmanship and technical skill of those within is poorly developed; houses are slipshod, made of nearly uncut lumber, and all clothes hang loosely on the body. Also all jewelry consists of simple bands, installed with irregularly shaped jade, and weapons are made from beaten bronze and are near ineffective against armor. Even saddles have no stirrup, and all food is eaten nearly raw or roasted on spit over fire- no implements for heating food otherwise exist. Farmcraft is limited to gardens hidden away in the forest, or else they would not be hidden, and any domesticates are kept within the home of the owner. Once, it is said, the monks that now attend the Speakers were master woodcrafters, and their scripture do possess incomplete instructions to such, but this art too has nearly fled the land.

The author soon found that for all these cruel fates suffered at the hands of bandits and cruel demigods, the people of the land considered themselves comparatively blessed, and considered the lands all about them to hellish wastes inhabited only by barbarians and fiends. The word for their own land most closely translates to “Paradise”, though the author finds such a notion absurd. Their disdain for outsiders is so much that even their usual habits were enhanced when dealing with the author, who in no way could one of those settler to speak with him on the conditions of the lands or even to stay at the sight of him, and instead had to hear of all from attendants of Nikerosa. None of them would dare step outside their own lands on pain of death, for they think fully the world outside a worse fate. Even the Speakers, who normally well stand above the laws and customs of these Furtive-Folk are bound by this rule, for it is known that should they leave this land their powers should fade entirely. The clerics of this land did tell the author that the general contempt of this land’s inhabitants for others came from its history, and did relay that history thusly.
The first inhabitants of this land were said to be the great serpents that wound through the sky, though unwinged, for these creatures were will and magic incarnate, and cut through the Veil with their soul just as their bodies sailed through air. They carried pearls in one of their dozen hands, and lived for a thousand thousand years each, but their time came as well, for all were dead before the first men settled the land. The cause of their demise is not recorded in any of the massive monoliths with the carved language of the wyverns. All else that is known of these creatures is from their remains, found on the highest mountaintops with their brilliant monochrome scales scattered about. Those that found this land benefitted well from the great profusion of natural resources and from the powerful magic said to still imbue their pearls. The land prospered, and the people with it. But then a great calamity- undoubtedly the Cataclysm- swept through the world, consuming it in invasion by hellish legions of wild and dangerous men. And these invasions sought also to despoil the Elhugardh, which for all its natural defenses feared the worst and suffered much at the hands of invaders. Then the Pallotar, the first to harness the language of the wyverns, rose and led her people to victory over the invaders, and brought the mountains higher than before, and bestowed her gift on others within the land and ascended to living godhood. And for a good time, the realm again prospered, separate and safe of the world around, and all who chanced the passes met their complete doom at the unholy voice of the Pallotar and her Speakers. But the wheel turned again, and the Pallotar after three centuries of reign was undone by some forgotten treachery, and there followed a war between the Speakers of uncertain cause and means, so that all known is that one faction was called themselves the Blood of the Wyvern. Undoubtedly this led to the land’s current state, for the fixed record terminates after that accounting.

The state of the land is well accounted for in all its parts; in the process of trying to survive and escape, the author ranged far across it, and was much disappointed to find the constancy of condition. Everywhere, violence and silence rules the land. The Furtive Folk are equally furtive, the bandits equally rapacious, and the Speakers equally deadly no matter what corner of the land on treks too. The events befalling the expedition are too horrific to account in full here, but in summary the misfortunes of Nikerosa and later another Speaker named Eutrina suffered at the ignition of an aforementioned regional civil war found the convoy far within the land without allies, and thereby the host was reduced by vicious attacks and exposure. The remains of the convoy alone regained the pass in early autumn, but were so desperate to put their backs to the land that the crossing was attempted, and here only the author survived, and then only by the Maiden of the Sun, Erien Anorwen, blessed is Her name, and even then only in a much reduced and weakened state. As for her Earthly Paradise, which so long the author has sought, any man who knows this land well knows that it no such place, but indeed more akin to the hells of Cataclysm, that the author likewise shudders to speak of.

Thankfully, the author’s escape from that land did allow him to enter into more pleasant lands, and after departing the again from the dwarrow citadel Irmen-Barad, he found himself…”

-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.

In this particular case, it seems that Boridhren did in fact write a more detailed account of his escape from this land, but did not copy it as he did his other works, as the University has ony heard of such through the claims of other travelers.



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