The lands of the Bronze Coast
Please note that in the History section of this article are a number of illustrations. The artists responsible for these illustrations have been credited for them. Please see the 'Bronze Illustrations' page to see these credits.
The Eastern Coastal Plains of the Sea of Pearls
To the east of the mighty Plain of Bronze lies a stretch of highland, running from the river Nykosa in the north to the Sembian lowlands of far west Shabak in the south. These heights are the worn remnants of an ancient chain and in places still rise up to form imposing mountains to echo ancient glory. At the southern edge of the Kusmulia teeth, lie the still daunting Yggras Peaks but here also is an ancient road. Take this road east through the pass and it will rise so that soon you will see a plain before you beyond which lies the vast Sea of Pearls. Although the land is fertile, little is grown here and no civilisation flourishes. It is a part of Allansia that is now only known for its frequent storms and a beleaguered peasantry beset by marauding bandits who grandly call themselves warlords.
Yet were you to venture down from those hills and cross this land you might stumble across the ruins of some ancient town or city, long abandoned by civilisation. Listen closely to the wind as it whistles through those ruins for it carries with it the whispers of ghosts who would tell you of things past.
This is my land and I have learnt much of its ways over the years. I have visited the ruins of mighty Arxan and listened to the ghosts of Talesh. I have braved the attentions of the warlords and shared bread with the peoples of the plains. There is much to tell, for the history and culture of the civilisations that flourished here is rich and diverse in its tapestry. Yet knowledge of this history, beyond its borders, is confined to the great libraries of Titan and vague remembrances in tavern songs. My aim in these few short passages is not only to impart upon you an impression of the land and its history, but also to warn you of a danger from its past which may be growing once more.
Read on and impart what you learn to others so that the memories of this coastal realm do not fade.
Much of the Kusmulia lies in what was Bellisaria, upon which these passages do not focus. However, a great deal runs along the edge of what was Arxan's country. The ruins of Arxan are located near the sea on the shores of the river Sharok. The coastal plain here is narrow but well sheltered, and in fact the Kusmulia meet the sea just south of Arxan.
Further south lies the Anashim River, the southern border of what was the realm of Arxan. Although Arxan stretched its boundaries beyond this river they never contracted from it.
Beyond the Anashim lie the lush verdant fields of Pangara, so called because of the winds that circulate here and the tornadoes, which plague the inhabitants. These fields are where most of the inhabitants of the plains dwell, although there are very few of them. Midway across the fields the Great Dike cuts through like a giant scar. The ancient fortification was built during the Wars of Origin almost 800 years ago and appears to many as just a natural fissure in the land.
From Marenden in the west (the only remaining town on the coast) runs eastward the Maren Road along this dike, eventually into the pass which divides the Yggras Mountains from the Kusmulia Teeth. On the other side of the pass lie ancient ruins. These were used by the peoples of the coastal plains as guard posts to prevent unwelcome visitors from the Plain of Bronze entering the pass at this point. The ruins, however, like the road, predate the coastal civilisations of the humans and are of uncertain origin.
Squeezed between the Yggras Mountains, and the Scarthorns lie the Mid Marches. Like the Kusmulia Teeth they are the worn remnant of the ancient mountain chain. They are similar to the Kusmulia in terms of vegetation although the shelter of the two mountain ranges keeps them cooler. Although a seemingly easy path to the plains the traveller should beware this region for not only do orcs, goblins and trolls roam here but so do many others including giants. Some even claim to have seen Black Dragons here, although there has been no documented evidence of these great beasts in the region for over two centuries.
From the Mid-Marches at their eastern end spill the many tributaries of the mighty Taleshor River. The Taleshor runs down from the hills into the coastal plains and on to the sea where Talesh once stood. The river itself divides the plains of Pangara from the Gibrak plains to the south. This lush fertile tract stretches down to the Ahakbad River in the south. On its southeastern tip is the infamous Jinn Mire. Do not venture there. Powerful spirits of malicious intent dwell there forever trapped within its confines by powerful elven magic. Those who have ventured there have never returned and their fate is self-sealed for all have been warned!
The Ahakbad River runs out from the Brak. This is a canyon running east-west, its walls being made of the sheer mountains of the Scarthorns to the north and the Greyspires to the south. Within the Brak stands the mysterious, ancient and now seemingly deserted city of Angar-Ulak, built into the very rock of the mountains around it.
At its western end the Brak opens out once more onto the southern Marazid steppes and the northern edge of the vast Plain of Bones, running southwest for many, many days. South-east journeying will take you past the mysterious Tarnaladrim Wood, said to be a remnant of the One Forest, and into the Sembian Lowlands and the realm of Shabak.
The storms in this region are not quite on the same scale as those experienced in Shabak but are almost as regular. The combination of the heat and the stormy weather is a breeding ground for those most violent children of Pangara, the tornadoes, which have plagued the inhabitants of this area since their arrival.
In the south the propensity for stormy weather is compounded by those storms which rumble down from the peaks of the Yggras and Scarthorn Mountains.
The shelter from the heat
of the Plain of Bronze provided by the hills and mountains to the west,
combined with the plentiful rainfall, has made this whole stretch of coastline
extremely fertile. The northern parts of this region are hilly and here
the coastal plains are at their most narrow.
The people of this area are now scattered among tiny villages and settlements across the fertile plain, trying to make their living as farmers or herdsman, whilst desperately trying to avoid the attentions of warlords or orcs. The people are scared and apprehensive. There is no government. Only the power of the warlords.
In the south the people tend to be similar to the Shabaki. Their skin is an olive brown, their hair usually a deep black, and their eyes brown. In some areas there are villages where the people still bear features reminiscent of ancestors from the Isles of the Dawn.
In the far north of the region there is a greater tendency for the people to have fairer hair and skin. For a person to have blue eyes is not uncommon enough to warrant surprise or special attention.
The warlords themselves attempt to adhere to wearing the traditional attire of the ancient warlords of the Rise who themselves were imitating the battledress of the Isles and Hachiman. They grow their hair, including facial hair, in the same style also. The warlords hold court in the ancient ruins of deserted cities.
On occasion there have been attempts to form co-operatives between the isolated farmers but the warlords have soon intervened to stop these.
Some warlords claim noble
descent from the kings of Talesh and Arxan to bolster their positions,
but this is dubious. The fact that the ancient warlords themselves were
of no relation to the kings of the land seems to hold little relevance
to the present warlords.
Before the splitting of the lands and the creation of what we now call the Sea of Pearls in around the year 1000 OT this area was covered by the One Forest. It is said that spirits from that time still haunt the plains and tell of sites once sacred to the ancients. However, this period's history is shrouded in such uncertainty that to dwell on it would be to invite error.
The Rise of Civilization
Of particular note were the tribes led by Kroven and Semril, both of who claimed descent from the legendary Halfhand brothers. Their kinship more often divided, rather than united, them and this rivalry was something that would be handed down throughout the generations. Kroven settled in the north on the river Sharok, and to the south the people of Semril settled on the site that was to be called Talesh.
Such was the strength of Sukh's wrath in the eastern sea that the humans named it the Sea of Perils, for attempts to traverse it were always ill fated due to its tempestuous nature. Thus it was that they concentrated on the land around them.
For many years humans joined forces to concentrate on reducing the threat from the orc hordes that often swept down from the hills and mountains, leading many of the orcs to flee to Shabak, swelling the numbers there. Yet despite the orc threat from the west and the mighty storms being thrown in from the sea in the east, humans remained strong in their resolve to stay here, for life was still better than the restless, fearful, nomadic nature of existence on the Plain of Bronze.
During this time inter tribal hostility was dampened and the united tribes named the land they had secured Ovaran, the Fertile Refuge. The borders of this land stretched over the hills to the edges of the Plain of Bronze, although in truth the hills were still wild, filled with all manner of beast and were never controlled by the Joint Clans (see note 1 in the further notes section below). Peace allowed the settlements to grow into more important towns, principal among them being Talesh and Arxan. The deserted city of Angar-Ulak, ancient even in the Time of Heroes, was developed in the Brak far to the south by the people of Stran dwarf-friend (see note 2 in the further notes section below). Later, in the great days of the mercantile era of the Bronze coast, Angar-Ulak became an important trade point between the peoples of the rest of Allansia and those of the coastal plains.
The Time of Conflict
Between 1450 and 1500 OT the population of this land was swelled by refugees from the Wars of Unification on the Shabak peninsular. The influx of Shabaki laid the seeds for future trade with the Shabak peninsular due to cultural links. More refugees from the civilisations that remained on the plains to the west also made their way into Ovaran due to the wars being fought there with Shabak as well as due to the rumours of a better life on the other side of the mountains. However, pressure on resources became greater causing tensions to rise between the clans, particularly Arxan and Talesh.
In 1507 princess Elisana, direct descendant of Semril and head of the disgruntled Taleshian clans proclaimed herself Queen of Talesh and its surrounding lands in direct defiance of Kroven II, Chief of the Joint Clans of Ovaran. This sparked the protracted Wars of Origin, a series of conflicts between the various clans lasting for the best part of a century (see note 4 in the further notes section below). By 1540, great walls had been erected around Arxan and Talesh. Even Harthire fortified its defences as Bellisaria was drawn from time to time into the war. Mercenaries from the Plain of Bones were also used on occasion. However, conflicts to establish supremacy of the coast were always short-lived, with the boundaries constantly shifting.
The Great Dike was built by the now Kings of Arxan with the ever disputed town of Marenden standing at its eastern point. This effectively divided the kingdom into North and South Ovaran and ended the Wars. The use of the name Ovaran was short-lived after this, however. It was during this War that the clans really polarised around either Arxan or Talesh to one degree or another. In many ways North and South Ovaran became more like countries than simply regions. North being ruled over by Arxan, south by Talesh. However, within both countries what can best be described as princedoms or dukedoms had been established by other clans who took the chance to establish these semi-autonomous realms during the War. The system then could best be described as feudal. The lords of each semi-autonomous realm, by whatever title they gave themselves, had a large degree of power in their own domain, but owed allegiance to their overlord in either Talesh or Arxan. It was at this time that each of the lands took on the name of their ruling city and the old name of Ovaran was soon forgotten.
The Growth of Trade
In around 1580 refugees from the Lost Isles began to land along the coast of eastern Allansia. Having fled their land due to the wrath of Lorodil they found themselves in the midst of the fury of Sukh, and were gradually driven ashore. The greatest concentrations of their landings were in Shabak and along the coast near Talesh, although they were by no means confined to these locations.
The effect on the culture along the coast was profound. The seafaring skills of the people of the Lost Isles were of such a standard as to outstrip even those of the Shabaki. It was quickly recognised by the powerful merchant classes that these skills could be used, so peaceful acceptance of the peoples of the Isles in both Shabak and along the coast followed. Some leaders from the Lost Isles did rise to prominence, but despite a level of integration, the refugees for the most part established their own districts. Such districts included the Islian quarter of Talesh, and in Shabak within the city of Bakulak, where a community remains to this day (although the descendants of the refugees of the Lost Isles are in the minority in Bakulak with the majority being descended from those who arrived later due to the trade routes).
Without wishing to venture into the histories of Shabak it is worth noting that so influenced were the Shabaki by the ways of these foreigners that we can still see the ripples today in Shabaki religion. For example Kukulak, the Khulian name for the storm god, corrupted to Kulak by the Shabaki, soon replaced the Allansian name of Sukh (although the same god was still being worshipped). For instance the great Temple of the Storm God became known as the Temple of Kulak in Bakulan. Also, modern Shabak is the only place in Allansia where humans worship The White Goddess, called The White Lady by the Shabaki (although the Allansian elves do revere her as Iatro).
The Rebirth of Magic
In the next one hundred years conflict was held in check by trading concerns and the wealth of the nations helped maintain contentment. The ships of the coastal powers, like their Shabaki neighbours to the south, began, in this period, to travel far and wide forging profitable trading links taking with them the goods and wares of their fertile plains and bringing back with them other cargoes of an exotic and desirable nature. Such was the reputation of the wealth of these nations that even the Sea of Perils was mistakenly called the Sea of Pearls by visiting merchants, thinking that the Sea itself was producing treasure. In the bazaars and souks of cities such as Arxan, Angar, Talesh and Marenden merchants from across Allansia mixed with those from the Old World and to a lesser extent Khul (Khulian trade routes being more rare given the nature of the journey). Links with the Isles of the Dawn that could have been exploited (given the ethnic bond) were at first not considered. This was because the Isles were believed to have perished in the eruptions from which the refugees had fled. By the time this error had been realised by the coastal nations the Shabaki had set up an exclusive deal with the Emperor of the Isles, which, frustratingly for the coastal nations, the Shabaki did not really utilise for many years to come.
This era of peace and prosperity had allowed civilisation to blossom leading to the construction of mighty temples and palaces. Learning and scholarly pursuits were augmented by the arrival of sorcerers who had begun to arise throughout Allansia in 1700. This was the zenith of culture along the coast.
In 1748 the event known as the Mystery of Angar-Ulak occurred. Seemingly at its modern height of prosperity Angar-Ulak was found deserted overnight, yet the inhabitants of the city were never found. Many rumours circulated but none knew the true cause of the happening. Certainly the most popular explanation given was that of dread magic, yet no sorcerer alive at that time had the power for such a feat.
The damaging effect on trade as a result of The Mystery' was short-lived but it raised tensions in the area. These tensions were augmented by the rise of the Steward Council in Arxan led by the belligerent Lord Torthrak. Relations between the coastal powers quickly worsened which lead to conflict. This deterioration continued for over 200 years. Collectively the wars fought in this period are referred to as the Wars of Descent (see note 6 in the further notes section below). They were fought principally between Arxan, Talesh and Bellisaria but sometimes taking in Shabak as well. It was during this time that many of the merchant classes fled the coast for Shabak, diminishing the mercantile base of the Bronze Coast but increasing the commercial profile of Shabak. There were episodes of peace in those years, but they were short in duration and tense throughout.
But it was not just external conflict that was eroding the foundations of the coastal nations. Internal turmoil began to play its part also. The Great Storms of the late 1830s served to destroy crops and therefore cause trade to stagnate further. This, combined with the pressures of conflict, caused dissatisfaction among the population to rise. In 1841 the exiled warlord Leil Bo Ren arrived in Allansia on one of the few Shabaki trading ships making the journey to the Isles of the Dawn at that time, for although the Shabaki had established a number of trading routes, they were not near the zenith of their seafaring culture. However, they were soon to focus more intensely on this aspect with the beginning of the reign of Bela I in 1844 OT.
Travelling to the area around Talesh Leil sensed the dissatisfaction and feelings of injustice held by the peasants. He found a community of descendants from the Lost Isles, who were not as integrated into the Talesh community as in Shabak, and with whom he had some connection. Tapping into their frustrations he roused many of them into rebellion regaling them with mythical stories of their glorious past and promises to recreate the benevolent lost society of the old country. His message was carried throughout the lands of the coast and many of the peasant class flocked to his flag, regardless of whether they had ties to the Lost Isles or not. Leil's lieutenants wore the same battle dress as their leader. Thus was born the Rise of the Warlords that was to play an important part throughout the rest of the Wars of Descent.
The War of the Wizards
Bellisaria was swept away in the north soon to be followed by Arxan, which was all but a ruin anyway. The joint remnant of the once great armies of these two nations flew south across the plains to unite with Talesh. But the fortifications there were also weak. Having made a stand to no avail the united force made its way to Angar-Ulak. There the forces of the chief Warlord of the region, Jiran Bo Ren, had been holding at bay the forces of chaos in the Brak. The united force joined with Jiran's but the Enemy now came at them from both East and West in seemingly endless numbers. The beleaguered humans fought on but were overwhelmed. Those that survived the battle told the most amazing tale. They said that when they were on the point of defeat strange mists began to pour from the depths of the city from which came the ghosts of men, dwarfs, elves and giants. These long dead warriors attacked the forces of orcs and chaos spawn destroying them utterly.
The mysterious Ride of the Four Races as it was called in legend won the Battle of the Brak but the fabric of the nations was already destroyed. Once again a fragmented and homeless people journeyed onto the coastal plains but this time civilisation did not follow them.
Immediately following the War the area was riddled with orcs and goblins. The vacuum left by the removal of the dominant powers of Arxan, Talesh and Bellisaria was eventually filled by the rise of the bandit hordes and little has changed since then. The leaders of these hordes proclaimed themselves warlords, although, with the exception of the clothes they wear, they have little in common with Leil and his men. The continual raids of these bandits and the fluid and fleeting nature of the power they wield has prevented any large-scale civilisation.
(2) Stran, Dwarf Friend: The people of Stran were also wanderers across the Plain of Bronze. They made their way north of the Plain and for many years lived and formed close friendship with dwarfs. Hearing tales of a great city in the Brak from their dwarf friends and yearning for the southern climes once more they made their way back south to the Brak and settled in Angar accompanied by a small group of dwarfs.
(3) The Invaders: The timing of the invasions of these men corresponds closely to the landings of Gavrao I in Shabak. Many scholars have alluded to the fact that the two forces originated from the same place and may even have been two parts of the same larger force. However, Shabaki records are shrouded in uncertainty on this point. It is interesting to note, however, that the dialect spoken in Bellisaria had many similarities with the Shabaki language and that certain names, including Gavrao, were common to both.
(4) The Wars of Origin: Although involving at one point or another most of the Clans the two primary factions were Arxan and Talesh. Each of these clans claimed lineage dating back to the Halfhand brothers of legend. This had been a point of contention between the two clans dating back to before the migration. The premise for the War was based on Arxan's right to claim suzerainship over the clans of Ovaran. The original reason for Arxan Chiefs holding the title Chief of the Joint Clans was not so much their lineage but more the skill they had shown in joining the clans to fight the Orcs and then the Northern Raiders. However, increasingly the lineage claim had been used to bolster authority. Talesh clan leaders believed that at the very least their lineage was as important and even went so far as to denounce Arxan's claims of lineage as false. Similar accusations were levelled at Talesh by Arxan. Thus each questioned the origin of the others lineage and the Wars of Origin got their name.
(5) Prince Daegor of Arxan: Prince Daegor was, in fact, the ruler of Arxan at the time, despite the fact that Arxan was a kingdom. The reason for his title being Prince' and not King' was that his father, who had been King, had died whilst Daegor was visiting Bellisaria. Arxan custom had it that the Prince heir had to go through a rite of passage before assuming kingship. Thus, Daegor was still Prince Daegor when murdered in Bellisaria.
(6) The Wars of Descent: The Wars were named retrospectively. They have a two-fold meaning. First they marked the descent of the civilisation from its zenith to its nadir. Second, the Wars were once again ascribed to the original claims of ancestry of the Clans.
We already know that some of the warlords have tried to expand their influence outside of the coastal plains. It was not chance that brought the eastern warlord to Sukumvit's Trial of the Champions a few years ago. It was the allure of the money to buy an army, have no doubt.
Some have said that they have seen orcs fighting within the bandit hordes, others even whisper of sightings by moonlight of elves.
More worrying still are stories that strange tattoos have been found on the bodies of fallen bandits, in the style of a sword within a circle. Could this mean that the Circle of the Sword has survived the centuries? Worst still does this mean that someone has found. No! Dare not even think it!