Distant Lands: The City of Cannibals, Part I

“View of the Port of Livorno’’ by Cristofano Gaffuri

The City’s Founding and Earliest History, and its General Character

The City of Cannibals, known also as Kataifa, was founded near the end of the Era of the Dead. It is said by the chronicles that then a dead lord fled with the wind with his human lover, hunted by his former compatriots. There amongst the clouded, sunless skies and great fields of ice, he found a bay of warm water, fed by warmer waters flowing in great rivers from the unknowable heights. Always in the city the sky is dominated by the great mountains and distant shelves of ice, from whence the rivers flow fast and warm. Abetting the mountains and icecaps, he found the great coastal plains, and there came to rule the tribe of Thamems, who homed around the harbor now used by the city. He gave them magic and literacy, and taught them to work steel. His sons and grandsons interbred with them, and with the Faldems and Demrens, and those three tribes together saw the founding of the city, then known by another, forgotten name. The combined might of the three great tribes raised the first great works of the city, and brought all of the twenty and one tribes of the surrounding coastal plains under his rule.

It was around this time that the 1st War of Kataifa began, when the dead lords found the city and began their attacks. The nascent city’s defense was fierce, but it was said that the onslaught of the lords and their servants could not be stemmed. The war lasted three hundred and a half years, it is said, continued by the distant lords and the long-lived descendants of the Founder. The eastern cape of the city’s harbor, now covered with monuments, was once wholly a great complex of fortifications to defend against attacks from the sea and sky, such was the extent of the violence and struggle between the parties. The war was ended only by the final death of the lords over the sea, and only then could the city flourish.

The founder used his newfound peace to complete his greatest project yet – the flooding of the coastal plains through irrigation. He moved all the peoples of the lowlands onto great hills or tors he ordered raised, to give them dry land to live on. Then, the four great rivers nearest to the city and their tributaries were cunningly dammed or opened at their glacier mouth. As a result, the coastal plains west of the city for thirty miles and for twenty north have been flooded by the rivers’ waters, for the purposes of agricultural production. The shallowest pools are used for rice, but over time many have been deepened, and are used for mariculture. Closer to the coast and beyond it, saltwater fishes and great sea cows are kept, the latter let out to graze on the floor of the Shaded Bay. Stones lain in curving patterns demarcate the boundaries between plots, and they are flattened on top to allow foot traffic over them. In days of old, one could walk from the city center to the bay and the great ice caps without ever wetting one’s feet. In some intermediary period, the children of the city and tors took to carving their names or personal marks (or various obscenities) on the tops of the stones. For this reason they are colloquially referred to as childestones.

I confess, I travelled long and far in the city surrounds, and ne’er chanced to find a barren pavement, and I learned from my chaperon Gavaed that finding an unmarked stone to emblazon was a badge of honor among the youth of the city. I asked of him how he managed such a feat, but evidently the discussion or revelation of the stone wreaks bad luck. 

In later days, canals were cut through the mariculture farms, and new stones lain to mark them, no doubt to the endless delight of the children. These new canals linking the city to more distant centers and the coastal plains were of great use in their day and solved many issues with transportation, so much so that the senator responsible for their construction received such universal acclaim that his line remained seated on the Higher Council to continue his work until it was extinguished in the time of Bitter Waters. Such was his success that even now the waterways are simply referred to as Coraed’s Cuts (him also being an accomplished military commander and duelist, this apparently being unusual in the city’s history) or simply coraeds. On these waterways, poleboats, gondolas, and even galleys on wider ways sped to destinations and resurrected the nation’s strangled transportation – the childstones being entirely too thin to bear vehicles. Curiously, many of the records have also claimed that great fleets of sea cows were used to pull the heaviest vessels where the berth would not allow oars- that is, most of them.

Apparently the coraeds were so loved by some of the city inhabitants that the chief political conflict preceding the Bitter Waters was the extension of the canals into the city by flooding the streets in a controlled manner, this being fortuitous for the flow of commerce and movement in the city, as well as the employment of the poorest city denizens. Before B.W. and the subsequent upheavals flooded the city and rendered the point moot, the conflict between the affirmative faction of coraedites and the opposed podites consumed the city in riots on several occasions, and the distinction survives to this day, though it is a mostly hereditary mark.

The city is also rightly known for its monuments, with impressive architecture in every quarter, more than can be fairly described. The whole of the Lover’s Cape – that is, the eastern cape of the harbor, where the city first bloomed – enclosing the natural harbor is given over to palaces, monuments, and governmental functions. The placement of the monuments and geography of the bay are such that those entering the city must gaze upon them. The great stele recounting the founder’s flight across the great sea stands at the southern tip, and is thus most obvious to new arrivals when taken with its prodigal height. Just beneath it, the cubelike Five Monuments of War defiantly face the open sea from their raised perch. On the harborside stands the 100 descendants of the founder that together convened the First Senate, immortalized in stone. Also salient are the two palaces dedicated to the founder and his lover, colloquially referred to as the Lord and the Lady, their arched roofs now used as storerooms. Aside from the stele, the dominant structure of the cape is the grand citadel, still the seat of government and center of a massive defensive complex used in the wars that marked the city’s founding, called Calaga. Though most of the defensive structures were later disassembled for building material and space, the entirety of the cape’s geography was altered by the construction, the very earth lifted up into hills and terraces, with the citadel on top. The serpentine polygonal masonry that shored up the earth and deterred climbers remains to this day, and following them serves as the roads of this city section – as the upper parts remain unflooded. Calaga also boasted rather extensive underground sections, now mostly sealed, as they flooded earlier in the city’s history and various horrors from the deep sea inside the world managed to find their way up. Many of the earliest dignitaries were buried in those now flooded halls, and sure enough, even here in the corners of the earth opportunists and grave robbers have taken to venturing into them (usually illegally) to recover burial goods. Such mercenaries that survive frequently find themselves sent to the ice mines, though Gavaed divulged that an equal flow moves the other way, brought back by the machinations of the buried’s less sentimental scions. 

In modernity, the primary military facility of the city is Tarrifa, another massive defensive complex thrown up on the small promontory of land immediately opposite the Lover’s Cape, forming the other half of the harbor entrance. Tarrifa, it is said, was raised in the course of a week by the city inhabitants in order to stem the flow of the raiders that tormented the city following BW. As such, it is made of the polygonal stone that much of the poorer and older city sectors boast, as opposed to the regularized bricks used for newer and richer constructions. Despite this, the men of Kataifa are cunning in stonework and the castle complex and keep are a match in size for the largest of my home land, and bigger even than Calaga’s extant citadel. It is said that the northwestern corner of the city – formerly sharing the name of the fortress – was mostly disassembled in search of stones that would fit together properly. While most of the city is abandoned, it seems almost a recent development in many places, thanks to the efforts of the city government. Almost as if the inhabitants had gone out on some lunch-time affair, and would return at any time, though the illusion is shattered if you dare to venture into their flooded waiting rooms. Not so in the Tarrifan quarter remains- most of the buildings are reduced to a few foundations stones that jut above the flood waters, crowding about in patterns eerily suggestive of the former streets and byways. For the most part, the street markers remain the tallest monuments in this section, though here they stand no taller than most men.

However, no description of the city is complete without mention of it’s beauteous color. Early in the city’ history, massive deposits of lapis lazuli were discovered in the hills abutting the great rim mountains, and in the base of those mountains themselves. Though the chief material of the city is drab gray stone, at every corner in every quarter beautiful art wrought of the ultramarine stone predominates the eye’s gaze. The aforementioned street markers, placed at every city intersection of more than three streets, are aside from their base entirely made of the stone. In times past, the household was considered unfit for habitation without an engraved nameplate composed of the stuff- even now the plates of each house’s inhabitants sit in alcoves beside the main doorway, though the fillings have mostly decayed. The richest houses are missing theirs, for their names were emblazoned with gold, silver, or platinum. So common was the material in this land that even the meanest and poorest citizen could adorn themselves with the stone.

Though common, the city as a whole so appreciated the stone that even the grandest art bore it still. Just as paper can hold the noblest of human ideas on one side and scandalous fabliaux on the other, so too was lapis the medium for nearly all sculpture in the city.While a common profession, the brightest of the azuresmiths – sculptors and cutter of lapis lazuli – were celebrities in their day, and their names last to the present. Every child knows of  Igdaen and his restoration of the Lover’s Spire by refilling the lapis that had fallen out of the black stone relief, Ilvaed and his friezes on and around the grand fountain in the center of the Mariyan district, Getaed and his 211 heroes – the likenesses of the city’s best, carved in tablets of varying size and scatter through the city. Mocaed Warmaker conceived the first two Monuments of War, those great cubic protrusions, lapis friezes on a black stone base. His apprentice Faren finished the third, and her Mare of the Sea still rears over the capital’s docks. Mocaed Palacemaker made the Lord’s Palace, and his grandson Gitaed finished the Lady’s. Bolaes and Beria for their frescoes, Daraen for her multi-faced rings, Anraed for the Twisting Column, and on and on it goes… the pantheon of azuresmiths stretches practically from the city’s founding up until BW. The very richest citizens employed their ilk and bedecked their home exteriors in shocking blue friezes, usually depicting some ancestor’s success and genius in some affair. Frescoes bearing varying shades of the ultramarine dye and imported colors adorn most halls in government buildings and richer households, though their beauty and vivacity are much corroded by water. 

The habit of a city dweller was incomplete without some piece of lapis lazuli jewelry, most usually an amulet frequently of unworked stone. The dyes derived from the mineral often found themselves employed in the dress of the inhabitants – while other colors were popular, ultramarine was the color of choice for formal affairs. In the city’s later days, even the meanest districts were adorned by banners and lines of flags, varied in color, but of course, predominantly blue. 

Not for no reason was the city called the Blue City, before the Bitter Waters.

Note: I’m breaking up this Distant Lands post, because its currently at 14 pages 1.15 spaced and no one wants to read something that long in one go. So, here we are. The first 3.5, with the next part coming tomorrow, with a map! Enjoy…

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