Nations and Places
Section I: Nations
Section II: Places of Renown
There is a saying my old mentor, Savuar Tû, was fond of. He kept repeating it to me often, whenever I would claim that a certain area of research wasn’t worth studying since there were so few facts to support it. “My dear Demercur,” Master Tû would say, “all knowledge begins with a premise and an idea. Then we seek for facts and compare our findings with our premise. Should the facts support the premise, we may accept it as an approximation of the truth. Should the premise fail to reconcile with the facts, our idea was clearly at fault. Yet it does not change that it is the beginning of all knowledge, and in lieu of hard facts, we have to work with the ideas that we have.”
Of course Master Tû did not mean that one should believe all the rumors the truth of which he cannot ascertain. Far from it. Indeed it is the educated man’s task to sift through the rumors and tales for the kernels of truth that may – or may not – lie at their core. Much is speculation, yet to speculate does not mean to err.
It is with that in mind that I include this section on Lands Beyond Our Ken, places of our world that none of our fellow people have visited. (Or, I should say, that we have no proof of any indeed visiting those places. Tales are not that difficult to come by, though the question remains whether those are the products of an overworked mind, or the memories of actual encounter.) One might reproach me for giving in to speculation, relying on the tales of – now rescued – shipwrecked sailors or folk tales whose origin cannot be specified.
Yet surrender to speculation – albeit with a keen eye and a sense of doubt – comes far easier to someone who lives as close as I do to an abode well beyond our ken, yet as indubitably real as the Tonomai Empire. The land of Modayre is a mystery to all, except quite probably to its inhabitants. We deal with them, we use the wonderful appliances from them, yet we have not the least idea of their land. It is enclosed within a circular mountain, but none has ever crested that mountain to gaze inside. Are the Modayreans humanoid like most of our kind, or are they another race entirely? We do not know. All we can do is speculate, support our speculation with what facts we have and hope to one day find more information.
After all, all knowledge begins with a premise.
“See the ship move towards the horizon. Does the ship’s load grow heavier? Or do the waves of the ocean drag at it more than they have before?
“If either of that were true, why has there not been a single sailor to make such an observation? Why, instead, do the sailors wonder why the land should sink away into the sea the further they range out?”
Thus begins one of the most contentious chapters of Master Totlehan’s book, on whether the world is flat or round. As we know, the question has never been settled, and many a Darawk priest has sequestered himself in prayer to find The Seeker’s enlightenment – to no effect that I know of. (In my opinion, no answer should have been expected. It is not The Seeker’s way to grant knowledge without the applicant’s having exerted his intellect or at the very least his feet, much less when the question is as momentous as this.)
Some rejected the entire book flatly, on grounds that its writer was a dwarf, moreover one who never cared to divulge information on his origins. Totlehan appeared in Sirap towards the end of the last millenium, carrying enough money to establish himself in Ibrollene’s capital city and lead a life of luxury. Nonetheless he stayed well apart from society, rarely venturing out of his villa – located near the center of Sirap -, and thus creating an aura of mystery around him. His servants were soon much sought after, to inquire of them what went on inside the house. After all, a dwarf from nowhere had acquired one of the most prestigious buildings in the city, clearly had money aplenty – that raised a great amount of curiosity. Was he a deposed king who had fled with his tribe’s treasure? Had he robbed the songdwarves’ magical realm? What was the mystery behind him?
I am quite certain that Totlehan started many of those rumors himself. Looking over the documents I have gathered myself, as well as the biographies (such as the highly recommended “Dwarf of Mystery” by Derrol Flaynd), my sense of the man is that he was quite vain and well versed in human society. He knew which levers to pull to create the best effects, and I don’t think he had any intention of being a recluse. Instead his goal was to immerse himself in society as deeply as he could.
A goal which he surely achieved, becoming a mainstay and major topic of Ibrollenian society throughout the thirty years of his residence in Sirap. Always surrounded by the air of mystique as well as his airs of recalcitrance, he was much lauded but also reviled. His funeral pyre was accompanied by another pyre on which as many books could be burned as his detractors could purchase. (Of which I am sure that Totlehan would have smiled smugly in private. Vanity and desire for money went hand in hand with him.)
That background, though, did much to vilify his books and ideas in many a serious scholar’s eyes. The general populace, of course, reveled in the chance to partake of the mystery, to have a chance to see through it to the core and learn of secret teachings. Instead, they were presented with the thoughts of a man who might as well have been a Darawk priest. (I am quite aware how my superiors will react to this statement. Fortunately for me, they have decided to ignore me for the better part.) Totlehan was a seeker of knowledge, of profundity. There were no mystical sources of knowledge he tapped, and neither did he proclaim them. People assumed he did, including a great number of Darawk scholars.
Nonetheless, I should conclude this excourse on Totlehan’s life. It serves to underline how divided the scholarly community is on the various ideas Totlehan proposed, especially the idea of a round world.
Totlehan said that the world was round, like a ball. Therefore, a ship travelling across the horizon would seem to sink – since the horizon, actually the curvature of our world, would rise up. He went on to calculate the size of our world, arriving at a measure of some twenty-five thousand miles around the supposed ball. (His calculation is in dispute even among those who accept his first premise. Other results range from ten thousand miles to gargantuan seventy thousand miles.)
What we call the world – Gushémal – is considerably smaller than Totlehan’s figure. Even the ten thousand miles of the lowest estimate leaves quite a bit of space left. Space which might be occupied by ocean as Master Rahrmont Vrah of the Mercurham Darawk Academy has stated, claiming that our gods would not leave any vast lands outside our reach. On the other hand that seems a waste on an incredible scale – as most of Master Vrah’s students agree. Let us not forget either that we have indications that there may be gods aside from those we know and worship. Darawk himself has hinted in several of his proclamations and dialogues at such other gods, although he has given no indication of where they would rule and whether they are submissive to our deities. (Far be it from me to doubt the supremacy of our pantheon, yet the existence of a rogue divine being such as the Tonomai One God makes the idea of other deities more palatable to the thinking mind.)
Sailors have circled the lands we know – except for some tracts in the furthest south, where Robhovard merges with the land of the Furrag. Therefore we can, with some reason, call our home an island. An island that far outpaces any that we know within Shane’s Sea or before our coasts.
Taken together with the various tales of lands beyond, it seems likely that ours is not the only island in (or should I say, on?) our world. Gushémal is more than this island.
As much as custom dictates that we refer to the known lands by that general term, I suggest that we find a specific word for our island. It would make further discussions on this topic easier and more comprehensible. Obviously I know that my lowly contribution may very well be ignored, yet I will make my own suggestion, based on research I have detailed in an article for Historical and Geographical Studies (No. 23, Vol. XXXIV, Faithold). So I suggest that we henceforth refer to our home island as Cotechi.
The westernmost edge of Cotechi is made up by several lands with which we have limited traffic, barred as most of the passages are by the Laru’Sedna Mountains. Yet many of our fellows have travelled there, on the – more or less – regular trade routes. Especially the Cayaborean traders have provided us with many illuminating facts of the lands on the other side. As such we know the contours of their coastline, and we know that the endless ocean stretches away from them, with only one or two islands that can be reached with a good ship. Steady winds in that area preclude any further explorations, and very few have ever tried to brave the winds and the barrenness of the ocean for better than a week.
There might be more islands in that area, perhaps one approaching the size of our own Cotechi.
Indeed there are indications of one such island, namely the tales of so-called snake dragons. A special breed of the draconic kind, quite unlike the comparatively stocky races we know in our home, there is hard evidence of the snake dragons’ existence. There is a skeleton on display in Faithold, oft examined by scholars (and occasionally, the arrangement of the bones is slightly altered, due to new findings). Other bones have been found, though never belonging to one skeleton.
Yet no live beast has ever been confirmed, and so one might conclude that this kind is extinct. At the very least it might be close to extinction since reported sightings occur every now and then, describing an extremely long and thin dragon that (on some occasions) speaks in fine meantongue, far exceeding the limited vocabulary of an emperor dragon.
The majority of the sightings take place in the western lands beyond the Laru’Sedna, although tales about snake dragons (or mythical creatures sufficiently similar) can be found as far away as the Arrufat Peninsula.
Then there is also this snippet I have found:
“A seabeast it was, I tell you. Smashed our ship off the western coast to smithereens, dragged the crew with its tentacles down, and there were sharks, and all. All blood. All red.
“I clung to a plank from the ship, just kept my arms around it, and I didn’t think. How could anybody have thought much at that time? My shipmates were dying. I heard screams. Gurgling, drowning. And being eaten. A shark rammed me, I remember that rough skin, clawing into mine, even though it was just skin. Like teeth! Teeth on the skin…
“I don’t know what happened afterwards. Somehow I stuck to the plank, and somehow I must have found others. Tied them together into a raft. Must’ve been that way, only I don’t remember. Just the blood. Mine, that of the others. Why wasn’t I eaten, too? I pray every day for an answer, you know? Any temple I pass, I’ll go in and ask the gods.
“Perhaps a week passed, before I woke up again. You know, starting to think again? I was on a beach. Beautiful white sand, palm trees lining it. Like a dream. Only it wasn’t, since I was hurting like hell and hungry and thirsty. I remember crawling up the beach, crying for help, but I was only croaking. More like a nightmare, come to think of it – you know, the one where you try to scream but you can’t?
“People appeared, then. I wasn’t all too lucid, all I noticed was the water they gave me, and that they had a stretcher with them. I was put on the stretcher, carried to their village. Only later did I realize that they must have known I was there, dying. Didn’t make much sense, but none of the people who took care of me could explain. They didn’t speak my language, you see?
“They didn’t say much at all, come to think of it. Brought me food and water, nursed me back to a semblance of health, whereupon I was bathed and cleaned. Two women, elderly matrons, took care of that, silent as the others. They just ordered me about with hand signals, resigned that I couldn’t understand them, anyway.
“After my bath I was given a tour of the place, wearing fresh clothes like the locals did. A strange place it was. Houses of wooden beams and papery walls, surrounded by a biting smell that was almost like fire but not quite. The angles of the buildings were all wrong, if you can understand that. They weren’t built like any houses I’d seen before – the basic layout was different. As if you had normal architectural designs and then intentionally smudged up the plans.
“They took me to the only stone building there – it looked like a broken cone, sort of like a volcano, made of dark stone, perhaps granite. The entrance was a hole that looked to me like a dragon’s maw, one that naturally grew from the stone rather than chipped away by a mason. Somehow I couldn’t imagine any of these people working as masons. They were fishermen, carpenters, that’s all I could tell of them.
“But the stone building, it was so different. As if another race had built it.
“Guess that’s a probable answer. There was a woman inside the single room within the building – a large hall with an open roof, straight through the broken ridge of the cone. She wore a white robe that was much like the papery walls of the regular houses, and she was barefooted. I can remember that clearly, because I was wondering why her feet weren’t bloodied from the rubble and the shards covering the ground. I was wearing sandals, and the shards were cutting into my feet all the while.
“That wasn’t the big mystery here, though. The woman watched me enter, waved the villagers by my side away, and then she asked what my name was.
“Sounds simple, doesn’t it? But I understood her. She was speaking meantongue, my own language! I was ecstatic, wanted to rush forward and tell her my sorry tale, ask her where I was.
“I wanted to, but couldn’t. For some reason my body didn’t obey, and I simply stated my name. Just like that. She asked me where I was from, to describe my home, and I did. Instead of firing back questions, getting my due answers, I simply replied to her, in all the detail she wanted.
“Then she nodded. ‘You will do. The land of the Ryuujin is not safe for my child. I task you, Leam Hsi, to guard my offspring and protect it until its birth. Do you understand your function?’
“’Yes,’ I said, and that is all I remember. The next thing I knew I was on a ship – a strange sailing boat, built at the same wrong angles as the houses in that odd village. I knew all the ins and outs of the craft, how to steer it, how to repair it should the need occur, even though I’d never seen a ship of its kind before. I also knew that I was going home, to fulfill my task.
“But where was the child the woman had spoken of? There was nobody beside me on the ship, only several crates full of food that would last me for a month – and an egg. A giant egg, as large as myself. For an instant I wondered if this was some kind of food reserve. And then I was down on my knees, crying, begging forgiveness for – I don’t know what.
“It was a strange sensation, as if my mind wasn’t my sole property anymore, as if there were somebody else within my head. The egg was more valuable than my own life. I didn’t even question that! Can you imagine? Sitting next to a giant egg and bawling your eyes out? Wanting to pick up a cudgel, stand over the egg and defend it from all foes?
“I can’t explain it. Never have been able to, never will.
“I reached the shores of home some three weeks later, after crossing the ocean in a relatively straight line. The stars allowed me to chart the course decently, but don’t ask me which course that was. As soon as I anchored the ship before the coast, I forgot all about it. Along with everything I’d ever known about navigating the sea. Just gone. A blank space.
“I remembered everything else, and I was pretty much able to pick up the pieces of my life. Except for that strange egg. It’s in a special room at home, behind a padlocked door, with barred windows. Nobody is allowed to enter, not even myself. I have often wondered about that, and I have often stood before the door, ready to break open the padlock, and every time I break down in tears again.
“Where was I? And whatever does this mean?”
Master Citales mentions in a footnote to the above story that his conversation with Leam His took place in 3071 A.E. What would have been a meaningless anecdote has become of great interest because I discovered a sighting of a very snake dragon in the town of Borenmouth in 3073 A.E., along with a note that it had completely destroyed the home of a sailor named Hsi. Although that may be a coincidence (since apparently that name is not entirely rare in that area), it does match strangely the sailor’s tale of secreting a giant egg – perhaps that of the snake dragon – in his home.
Obviously this is conjecture and hardly fact, yet it is an inspiring coincidence. There might very well be an island to the west of our Cotechi, one that is the homeland of the snake dragons. Let us call it Ryuujin, as stated in this tale. I do not claim to understand the connection between the woman’s offspring and the egg. Perhaps it is a figment of the sailor’s imagination, implanted in the incredible events he lived through. And perhaps there is some truth to his tale.
As with so many other things, we shall have to see.
 I would be remiss not to mention my research on the word’s origin. The earliest texts referring to our world in general date to the twenty-third century, purporting to be copies of texts from the ninth century after the Elven Flood. It is a curiosity in more than its age, written for the better part in an Ancient Elven dialect, while the rest seems a precursor to human languages – in particular a tongue spoken by some Robhovardian tribes in the vicinity of Cornevan’s Atrocity.
It is a prayer to Dicerius, apparently, but at the same time represents an historical account of our world. Here it is where the name “C’rigush Te Mal’erc” occurs, to describe the “World of Man” – as literal a translation as possible – in distinction from the divine world. This name is from the ancient human language, rather than the Elven worlds surrounding it. In all likelihood, the Elvish was the language of one of the copiers through the centuries rather than the one spoken by the first writer.
A very interesting note here is that the text also employs another term – “Cotechi” – for this world, but in a far more limited way, as a collective name for the lands the writer knows. From the specifications in the prayer/history, they seem to be more or less identical to the places we know today. It is my assumption that Cotechi refers to a part of C’rigush Te Mal’erc – what today has become Gushémal.
Read on about the lands beyond our ken on the second page!