© 2012, Elizabeth Cook
He sings the story of the world, the verses of the age. His words begin with the beginning; when the giants built their great road, when the dwarves carved Dorrundelve from stubborn rock, when the Wyr of the elves spread its branches from coast to coast, when the half-beasts were born.
He tells of the centuries passing.
He sighs over the giants’ wars, the fierce clash of great beings bringing about their own demise. He marvels as the dwarves uncover their greatest treasure, the cold fire of the stars caught in stone, which will gleam for all eternity. He witnesses the sailing of the Elitheriel, the elven ship sent across the Brightling Waters in search of isles out of myth. He reaches a ghostly hand out to Lanaeia, daughter of the sunset, who watched her love fade over the waves, and who watched the sea until she died.
He treasures sorrow for her lingering spirit, and for the elves’ dream of the isles. As the dwarves tunnel ever on, as the half-beasts prowl through the wilds, he looks south toward the first men to come into his sight.
In boats too small for the rage of the ocean they struggled ashore, three lost to the deep or dashed upon the rocks for every one whose feet touched solid earth. When those who lived gathered themselves together they tore apart the last of the ships that had brought them through a watery hell. The hulls that they pulled to pieces made them shelter, and fed the flames of a fire that danced higher than five men for many nights.
Then they settled to learn their new land, large islands so near and yet so far from the great continent that they did not yet know of. They called their islands Ethurisia, or “sad wind”, and did not choose chief, lord, or king. These first men had little more than tools of stone, and they had to teach themselves to know the olive tree, to bring the grapevines to the trellis, to craft the nets that they never took far out.
For these first men, surrounded by ocean, remained afraid of the ocean— because of fear, they did not grow into the men of whom he sings the longest.
He paints a picture of an empty land where the giants once stood and where the elven trees are receding. Half-beasts ignore it, and though small and large creatures creep toward it, things of night, things of whimsy, and things of blood, he can tell that they are not meant to settle there. He knows, as one who knows past, present, and future, that those who will fill the hollow centre of the land are coming. They are also men, and also sea-borne. But theirs is a very different homeland than the first men, and their ships are larger, and their hands can work both stone and steel.
He sings their fleet into appearance under the silver light of the moon. He sings of the sun rising and gilding their prows in gold, he sings of their sails blanketing the eastern horizon, he sings of their keen eyes catching sight of land. Loud calls to adjust sails and rudders, and bodies crowding on the decks to look forward.
They brought their gods and goddesses with them in shrines, statues, amulets, stories, and prayers. They rejoiced that Pontus, Thalassa, and Fortuna carried them forth, unscathed by storm and guided true by the night sky, to find lush land. They thanked Euthenia for their still-good, still-abundant stores of food and seed and drink. They said that Soter guided them to a place of safe landfall, and that Homonia whispered the proper name for their landing place into many ears – Denople. Denople, the first city of an empire.
If, at that time, they had been able to hear his voice, they would not have believed his recitation of their gods’ fates, some to dwindle and some to change with time in this new place. Nor would they have welcomed his gestures toward the quiet ones among them, ones who murmured to sky and wind and water during their passage over the Eastsea, offering up spells or rituals for safety from parchment or memory.
The whisperers were scorned by their fellow men, and many of them fled together when the people landed. They disappeared into the southern reaches of the vast new continent. Those few who stayed behind hid who they were, and mankind would hear no praise for the whisperers who had gone or the whisperers who had stayed… not even his. Despite the love and fear the men send heavenward, they never were, and never would be, a listening people. Yet he is fond of these new men, bold and bright and ignorant of themselves. And so he gives life to detail as he sings of what they built.
Where they landed they began to work. Though they named this new continent Greater Halendon, after the homeland they had left, other than this they did not look backward. They purposefully neglected the ships that might go back the way they came, floating wooden bridges, bridges to the past. Instead they directed their energies into carving out lives where they stood.
Over two hundred thousand strong, they bent their backs to their crafts. As the walls of Denople began to rise upon its seaside hill, and the summer fields about the hill fell under the plough in hopes of a late crop, they also came together to choose their leader. She who had given them their ships was long gone, but in Denople they called for her son, he who had captained their swiftest vessel and who had ever gone bravely before the rest. They elected Arsenius Hecurion as governor of Denople, as Emperor-to-be.
The first winter was hard, but when spring came more had been born than had died. The children born on Greater Halendon were stubborn and hearty, some to be warriors and some to be builders, some to roam far and some to keep the hearth fires. For this Arsenius and the people offered great thanks to their gods. And though Denople was still rising, and though Arsenius had drawn plans for a temple, when the spring melts passed he donned his helm to lead thousands of warriors westward.
They went with eager hearts, and lived in tents and out of wagons. Moving inland, the thousands roamed west and north and south, mapping as they went, and clearing the land of creatures hostile to them. Many were strange and twisted-looking, either wily or bestial or quick, alien to these men. Yet they were met and vanquished, and Arsenius’ host moved on. Now and then dreams came to Arsenius, telling him where a city should be raised. But when he asked each time if it was the right place for his great city, the city to rule all others, always the answer was no.
He returned in time for the harvest, and that winter was better. They were far too many for Denople and the lands around, and by the third spring all was ready. Arsenius appointed another governor to manage Denople for him, and brought many of his people west to build the empire’s second city.
Words in verse describe mankind’s progress westward, northward, southward. The song soars for Arsenius’ marriage in the sixth city, Farneth, to Rhea the Golden. Notes ripple over their children. The three girls born of one labour; clever Margarithe, lovely Helena, and sweet Sara; and the one boy, Gaius, with his mother’s gold hair. As Arsenius’ family grew so did the numbers of his people swell, and they began to proclaim him a king, the founder of a country rather than the founder of cities.
Then, not long after Arsenius traced the outline of the third of the three great lakes upon his maps, and knew his fiftieth year, he finally came to a place where hills built up to a plateau, hundreds of miles across. And he knew that this was the place to build his city of Tour.
Arsenius called all the best craftsmen to him, from the newest city of Acadeum back to Denople on the Eastsea. They came travelling from near and far on the rough roads that had been laid down as men expanded their domains. They came with their tools, their families, and their visions of the city to be. A quarry was dug, pale grey stone was pulled forth, and Arsenius oversaw the laying of the first cornerstone.
More people flocked to the capital as it grew, and though Arsenius governed Tour and no longer went forth to clear new land, many others did so in his name. And while he was already acknowledged a king by all, with the building of Tour his station was to change yet again.
For the capital was so long in its completion, in doing justice to splendour, that during its construction men were putting names to regions they had settled in addition to cities alone. And Arsenius was appointing lords over such regions to expand and protect the borders of civilization, and to keep the peace where he could not be. As regions formed and grew, people began to call that which held the many smaller things together an Empire, and Arsenius, their Emperor.
Thus was the Empire of Tourmaline born, and the Hecurion dynasty begun. A fifth and final child was born to Arsenius and Rhea on the day that their palace in Tour was completed, a girl with a mark on her right palm, who would grow to a grace and wisdom to eclipse all those around her. By a dying breath she was named Celesta. Rhea the Golden did not rise from her couch again, and not three years passed before Arsenius followed his wife beyond the veil.
Young Gaius became Emperor as his father had decreed, and he had many advisors left to him. Among them were Regius Caedamon, who wed Helena, the wise Alexander Bonin-Petrel, whose family had been of highest rank in the old country, the priest Dursus Igaredes, a man of Kratos, and Gaius’ own sister Margarithe. While Sara wed Regulus Caedamon, brother to Helena’s Regius, Margarithe alone of the three sisters did not marry, but remained at Gaius’ right hand from the day he was made Emperor until the day he died. And Margarithe raised Celesta as if her sister were her child, with great care and instruction.
When Celesta had grown past the cusp of womanhood strange word rushed through the Empire of Tourmaline, for the song of Greater Halendon was never one of men alone. He recalls the first meeting of men and elves on the edge of the Silwyn Wyr; tired men caught unawares by the appearance of the fair and slender folk, whose delicate and impassive faces were crowned by hair the colour of autumn leaves and spring’s new earth. He traces men’s first steps forward, their eyes wondering at pointed ears and silent movement, at cloaks blending into foliage and at garlands upon unfurrowed brows.
Yet here he speaks not simply for the story, for the myth and for the truth, but for a listener; Celesta, she of the mind and heart far beyond her years, caught the sound of his voice as no human had before, and as he knows no human will again.
A small part of his unending story served as her guide. She dressed in greys as he had sung, and went swiftly to the Wyr, whose name had fallen to her ears from his incorporeal lips. The meeting of Celesta and the elves was caught in human and elven art alike, and shaped the link between their peoples for centuries to come. For unlike the other humans they had met, this last child of Arsenius came to the elves in grace and spirit akin to their own, in royal dignity and in youthful sweetness. Her mind drank up their language even as her tongue could speak the words in their accents, and Methansarel, brother of the birch, was quick to fall to bended knee and offer her his hand.
The children of Celesta and Methansarel were the first half-elves ever to be. Celesta remained beneath the branches of the Wyr for the remainder of her days, and with the aid that she persuaded the elves to give to Tourmaline, humans learned of and went in search of the other races of Greater Halendon.
Celesta ushered in what he calls the years of great exploration, when men went abroad not for new cities, but for new knowledge. Men came to the Halflings’ abodes under the hills of Kinbriar, where they were seen with amazement, and then welcomed with good cheer. Men doggedly hiked north to the Peaks of Limn and beyond, to find the dwarves if not to be admitted to the underground city of Dorrundelve. Their path was never clear; they learned of dark places and evil creatures, and many men of Tourmaline perished. Returning from dwarven lands they discovered and skirmished with the half-beasts, who resemble humans more than either race is wont to admit.
Then come what he feels to be the long years, the long years of Tourmaline. He murmurs this passage of time with a melancholy that betrays what is to come. The years when Emperors and lords began to denote “son of” as “ben”, so that Gaius became Emperor Gaius ben Arsenius Hecurion, and his first son was Emperor Arsus ben Gaius Hecurion.
The years when men took up the elvish names for goblins, orcs, ogres, and the like, and beat those threats back into the wilds, so that they could be forgotten. The years when the practice of slavery, abandoned when their ancestors took ship, rose upon the tide of prosperity and again became a part of human life. The years when the men of Tourmaline settled nearly to the desert at the southern tip of Greater Halendon, and then, daringly crossing that desert, they built the city-state of Ober on the coast, a city apart from the Empire and yet paying tribute to the Emperor. From Ober small ships were launched, and the men of the great empire found the first men on the islands of Ethurisia.
In hundreds of years the first men had not changed, only growing brown with sun on their skin, and they eagerly traded their olives, grapes, and pearls for Tourmali steel, fine linens, and dyes. Soon the first men began to trade their criminals and their unwanted into slavery, and both Ethurisia and the city of Ober flourished.
But the very gold and silver of Tourmaline, which had fostered art and restored slavery, which had built great palaces and allowed for wondrous new inventions, grows sickly-sweet in his mouth. The precious metals come to taste like base brass, and indeed, the coins of Tourmaline are being debased and devalued. And he knows the storm upon the wind, the discontent of those who envy disparate riches, the callousness of land’s stewards, and the sting of those who feel dishonour in their ways.
Still, decades pass. Pontus, Thalassa, and Fortuna are forgotten by all but a few who live along the Eastsea. Euthenia and Soter were dwindling even as Tour was rising, and are now long gone, whilst Homonia has paled before her elven counterpart. She is become a mere handmaiden to knowledge, skill, and prophecy. Kratos took up sword and lightning bolt as his name changed, subject to the frailty of any name passed down through the centuries. Selene and the Maia blurred even as Kratos did, and their domains have altered and have grown as the waxing of the moon. Eos has fallen to a new god of sun and summer, Ponos to the dwarven god of craftsmanship, Eunomia to a greater goddess of civilization.
And a Queen of the Dead has risen over all those gods and spirits of the deepworld that the men of Tourmaline carried with them, a Queen over things both vengeful and comforting, a faceless herald of sleep.
Only the patron of rulers has retained a face and name similar to his origins, he and the ever-present wanderer, she the insinuating desire for change, travel, and adventure.
So the deities, the mightiest of all, suffered from time just as he foreshadowed. And in the hearts of men there is no recognition of the profound changes to their pantheon, as the old die and the young cannot remember, and only he can survey all the long years of Tourmaline.
Finally, they draw to a close. But their ending is cruelly abrupt, for they end only with the end of Empire – after gods, customs, speech, and men’s knowledge of the world have all been drifting loose on the wind. The last of the long years see all the troubles of the Empire swell, barely contained by Emperor and Empress, by advisor and by priest. But the discordant strains break through as he begins to sing of Emperor Idas ben Gaius VI Hecurion.
Melancholy for the decline of Tourmaline turns to anger. Idas the grasping, Idas the hasty, Idas the tyrannical. Under him friendships dissolved, slaves rebelled against harsher whips, gold sank deeper into the pockets of the unworthy, and a great many of those who had sworn life and service to the throne rose to their feet with cries. Rose to their feet with spear and shield, with the intention to redeem honour or to claim spoils, a great host of the young and the old, the rich and the poor. And when they called upon the Emperor in his Palace to reform self and Empire, when they demanded the freedom of slaves and the birth of chivalry, there was no answer.
And yet, as they called upon their foolish Emperor, still unwilling to turn blades on him, the singer knows that there was a higher answer to their calls. He knows that the patron of rulers deserted Idas Hecurion. The non-Emperor awoke alone, in his magnificent but empty trappings, a man of vice surrounded by enemies of his own making— and he fell to the madness that had long been gnawing at his soul.
The last and least of the Emperors of Tourmaline perished unwed and childless, in a fit of raving lunacy from which even his oldest slaves turned. Though human lore tells no more of Idas, he who sings this story of Greater Halendon saw how Idas’ body was abandoned in the crypt below Tour, wrapped only in a piece of linen that had been nearby.
He hates to linger in the chaos of the next seven years in which the broken pieces of Tourmaline are reforged into two separate kingdoms. For he knows the great horror is yet to come. With Idas’ death the Caedamons laid claim to leadership as descendents of Helena and Sara. But the Diarmads scorned these remnants of Tourmaline’s old order, and called allies to them with wealth and influence, promising some that they might keep their slaves. And the Orstones, a family of little rank but great might, knights one and all, also sought victory and the allegiance of the people.
The elves retreated into their forest, dismayed by human follies. Half-elves chose between forest and strife. Some Halflings hid under their hills, while some, who had ventured to live with humans, vanished to unknown places. And the dwarves in their wondrous halls ignored the war brewing far south of their mines, even as the half-beasts, the orcs, the goblins, and many others crept close like scavengers.
Three factions, not a one to secure the old Empire, and only two kingdoms to be. In the north the Caedamons freed slaves and rallied their forces, aided by the Bonin-Petrels whose ancestor had served as advisor to Gaius I. In the center, the Orstones formed up in rows of lances and shining helms with those who shared their ideals of chivalry and their desire to gain rank in a new order. To the south, the Diarmads secured lands and brokered their grand alliance, bringing many kinds together under one banner and one warcry. Corianus Diarmad, only child of his family, pledged himself to Penelope of Haspar and brought all the hoplites of mighty Haspar to his cause.
The Orstones were destined, after long and desperate fighting, to be crushed between Diarmad and Caedamon, between spear and sword. The last of them were captured by the Caedamons in the north, stripped of the crest that had marked them as lords of Tourmaline, and imprisoned. With the Orstones’ defeat both Diarmad and Caedamon chose to declare their kingdoms, the Kingdom of Thrayn and the Kingdom of Boria. Thus ended the seven years.
The creation of Thrayn in the South and Boria in the North opened doors to the true carnage of war and the true bitterness of hatred. Though the men of Greater Halendon thought they had known these things already, they were mistaken.
He keens the verses of the Thirty Years’ War between the two human kingdoms, halves of the dead Empire that was once great and harmonious, siblings grown to implacable enemies. He sings of the champions, knight and warden, hoplite and Principe, who meet and fall in the dust of no-man’s land, their bloody glory rarely preventing the clash of arms. He sings of Sir Erissey of Boria, who implores both armies for peace at they met at one of the three great lakes – only to fall beneath warriors of both sides when his words go unheeded.
He sings of the widowed, the widowers, the orphaned, the hunger and thievery that run rampant in the human world. These are the high years for those creatures, whether evil or no, who thrive whenever mankind falters. The wilds grow and so do their denizens, and this encroachment later swells the following of man’s new goddess of civilization.
Some hundreds of thousands of men and women fall. He watches as Tour is conquered and lost, conquered and lost again; the city’s great stones are ground to rubble, and the long frontier from broken Tour, to the great lakes, to the Eastsea, moves north and south like a tide.
The elves grow ever more elusive as they share in his fatigue with humankind, even as the Halflings hide and the dwarves shape their treasures. It is the whisperers, outcast by their fellow men, who return to quell the madness raging across Greater Halendon through an even greater madness. The sound and the fury of the world above was long in finding them in the heart of the earth, but now the din moves them to desperation.
In the 29th year of the war he looks to their sanctuary in the south, to the western foot of the Galopachians, to a place on the edge of an ocean of dunes where there is an oasis by a hill. Knowing as he knows, he is relieved and he is grim as they emerge upon the crown of the hill, from their world beneath the world where the sun never sets and the seasons do not change. Time has made them wizards, runemasters, sorcerers, and their dwelling where the arcane is as air to breathe has made them different from the few whisperers who remained above when the ships landed on Greater Halendon.
Their march north was long, yet unseen and unknown, until they came to the place where the two main hosts were encamped.
Where the kingdoms had fought to a stalemate the earth groaned and split, lightning rent the air, ice and wind and water stole heartbeats, and fire raged in great columns and waves. And he knew that in this maelstrom the whisperers’ fate was not to be that of Sir Erissey, though they also stood between two forces, just as he knew that their cruelty and their wisdom in destroying the armies of the kingdoms would not be forgiven.
Thus was the peace forced at the end of thirty years, not for repentance or fatigue, but for fear of the arcane powers. His music slows over the retreat of Thrayn and of Boria, of Diarmad and of Caedamon. As the kingdoms curl in upon themselves to lick their wounds he watches the scattering of wizards, runemasters, and sorcerers, many of them undone by what they had wrought to end the war, and hated more than ever.
Few have the will to return to their sanctum below the world where they knew no such strife. A number of them stay to dwell within the grotto nearby the very place where they loosed magic on their fellow men, and nearly all of those who settle within the realm of men make beds a short way beneath the earth, out of remembrance for the world they had known – and out of a desire for safety as Thrayns and Borians hunt for them.
He watches the hunts’ failures and successes by night and by day, until the hunters tire of their chase and return to their crafts. He watches the eerie forest rise about the ruins of Tour, under which awful things soon come to make their lairs. He watches the Halflings’ reappearance, first timid and then bold after the character of that small folk. He watches the Borians’ clumsy attempts to resume contact with the elves and the dwarves, and he watches Thrayn’s fractious politics and greedy claims to land.
In encompassing all of what men call Greater Halendon, all that was and all that will be, he does not find it long before he sings into the years of renewing prosperity in the human kingdoms. When Isabella Diarmad, and Hadrian ben Hector, are Queen and King of Thrayn. When Alistaire ben Uther Caedamon, and Gwyndolyn Catriona, are King and Queen of Boria. When the pantheon is nigh unrecognizable from when their ancestors landed upon the continent, and when the heroes and the blackguards of Tourmaline and the Thirty Years’ War are faded from memory.
In the world of men there is room for new heroes to be sung.