History of the Sylvan Elves
History of the Sylvan Elves is an Official GemStone IV Document, and it is protected from editing.
- 1 Chapter One - Early History, Approximately ca. -130,000 to ca. -60,000
- 2 Chapter Two - The First Sylvan City, ca. -45,400
- 3 Chapter Three - Ithnishmyn and the Elven Nations
- 4 Chapter Four - The Sylvan High Council
- 5 Chapter Five - The Trail of Ages, ca. -36,567 to -22,460
- 6 Chapter Six - Nevishrim, ca. -22,460 to -15,490
- 7 Chapter Seven - Despana War and Chaos, ca. -15,400 to -15,180
- 8 Chapter Eight - Journey to Nevishrim
- 9 Chapter Nine - New Lands, Approximately ca. -15,180 to -3000
- 10 Chapter Ten - The Legend of Haloiyand and Alandalor
- 11 Chapter Eleven - The Final Forest, ca. -2985 to present
Chapter One - Early History, Approximately ca. -130,000 to ca. -60,000
In the earliest of days, a vast forest covered most of the lands between the DragonSpine Mountains and the eastern coast of the continent. Within the forests off the eastern seaboard dwelt the race of elves. They were, from the first, an ingenious people and quickly learned to fashion hide dwellings suspended from the trees. These were easily disassembled to accommodate a nomadic lifestyle, a lifestyle that was designed to conceal their colonies from the threat of the colossal drakes that sailed the wide skies above the canopy of trees.
As time passed, the primitive tent-dwellings evolved into semi-permanent constructions that featured some rock walls and hearths, but retained the hide ceilings and upper walls of their earlier design. The people learned first to adorn the hides of their dwellings with painted symbols, and then to make pottery to contain food and water. They domesticated a sturdy breed of antelope living in the forests, and were soon moving their limited belongings via travois. As the colonies grew in size, they divided into smaller groups for protection and traveled the forests, always careful to conceal any evidence of their movements. Their woodcraft skills increased, as well as their survival abilities, with every generation.
With the advent of the Ur-Daemon Wars, the elves parted into smaller bands and learned to move only in the darkness of night. Even so, many perished. The ur-daemons learned to conceal themselves within the forests and attack the drakes from below. Unsuspecting elves would wander into a concealed monster and be devoured before they realized their misfortune. Legends tell of invisible ur-daemons suddenly coalescing out of the shadows of the trees and swallowing whole elven families.
At the end of the darkness, as the ur-daemon menace was called, the elven population was greatly diminished. However, Arkati aid, chiefly from the goddesses Lumnis and Imaera, gave them a helping hand. In clearings rent in the great forest by the battles between drake and ur-daemon, the elves were shown how to grow crops that would feed them through the cold seasons. With the ancient menace of the drakes at an end, they embraced agriculture. Soon most colonies had abandoned a nomadic lifestyle, staying in one region to tend quickly expanding croplands. The elves soon moved from utilizing available clearings, to felling trees on their own in order to expand the cultivatable fields, and colonies grew as land-holdings grew. The graceful tent-dwellings of the past evolved first into timber structures, and then into those built of stone and brick.
Some elves held to the old ways, resisting the invitation to join their brethren in the burgeoning towns. These disparate groups gradually joined into one colony, disdaining all 'hard buildings' in favor of old-style hide dwellings, and retaining only those possessions that could be easily carried from place to place. The colony became more reclusive, retiring into the depths of the ancient wood where no direct sunlight could reach the forest floor. They remained closely allied to Imaera, and out of that association a religion emerged that had as a basic tenet the belief that they must resist the temptations of the civilized tribes. And in the towns, the word sylvisterai became a common term that referred to the reticent offshoot of elves, meaning 'one who embraces -- or marries -- the forest.' And so, the designation sylvan was born.
As the elven hamlets expanded and divided, seven houses emerged as centers of power and around these grew towns that quickly evolved into cities. Written history emerged, and a great library was raised to house it. It was not long before other elven cities followed the example set by Ta'Illistim. Trade was brisk between the cities; however, in the forest, the sylvans discouraged visits from outsiders by any means they could concoct short of outright churlishness. Trade with their elven cousins was both discouraged and limited. And since rarity in most cases breeds desire, the fine sylvan styled bows, jewelry, leather goods and other handicrafts gained great value among the seven cities.
Emissaries were routinely sent from each of the cities, bearing invitations to the sylvans to settle within the boundaries of their respective city, with promises of wealth and luxury. The sylvans received each contingent with cool courtesy. However, the answer was always the same. And as pressure to join a political family grew, so did the sylvans' uneasiness.
Chapter Two - The First Sylvan City, ca. -45,400
Sylvan artistry grew from primitive origins dictated by the necessity of constant travel into a rich, inherently stylized art form. They made bows and crossbows of exceeding beauty and balance, as well as silver and mithril tipped arrows, bolts and knives. They fashioned pottery that was as light as it was strong, and decorated with their elegant, elongated figures and symbols. Their hide tent-homes were decorated with all manner of designs, and their textile goods were as durable as they were soft and light.
As the sylvans gradually accumulated possessions, the idea of a permanent home began to be mentioned and then openly supported. The high council was called to weigh the pros and cons of such a concept and make a ruling on it. There was considerable concern that settling in one place would pervert their intrinsic beliefs and turn them into facsimiles of their cousins in the elven cities, replete with all the dependencies and 'vices' (according to sylvan ideas) the sylvans eschewed. After ten days of deliberations, the council decided in favor of a permanent city. This had not been an easy consensus. However, it was agreed that the sylvans could give up the wearying seasonal migration and still maintain the beliefs they held dear.
They chose a location that was remote and well protected by a dense, old growth forest. And the tents they built there grew into elegant multi-level constructions that both rested on the ground and hung suspended among the tree boughs. The architecture of these dwellings -- colonies of homes that resembled a fleet of ships with sails billowing in the forest canopy -- became one of the sylvans' most distinctive and timeless accomplishments.
The first colony was christened Ithnishmyn. A fabled city of beautiful dwellings and tall trees, cradled in its embrace the population grew rapidly, often increased by wandering bands of sylvans who had not previously known of the prime colony. These small aggregations, most numbering only a few related family groups, were enticed to stay in Ithnishmyn by the art being created there and by the allure of a burgeoning variety of collectives that studied all manner of forest and plant lore. Although the colony was, within a few hundred years, easily the size of a small city, its impact on the surrounding forest remained negligible. This belief in the sanctity of the forest was joined to their strong separatist stance regarding their relations with the elven "open-air cities," and these two tenets formed the cornerstones of both the sylvan political system and religious theory.
In Ithnishmyn, the distinctive guild system the sylvans would embrace for the remainder of their history was born. With settlement, the people were freed to quickly surpass their former achievements in all areas of endeavor. The arts and sciences leaped ahead, as the sylvans made discoveries relating to pigments, sculptural techniques and all forms of textile arts. Their archery acumen, already superior during their nomadic years, reached new heights of excellence. And among all areas of study, those who surpassed standard levels of accomplishment were recognized. A formal system of ceremony was born, aimed at honoring achievement and status, and those individuals exemplifying qualities that defined the top of their professions were given the title of master.
These masters began to form schools of study and to take apprentices. They began to formulate ideals and ethics that governed their respective fields of expertise. As these loose schools of study grew and were defined and refined throughout the passing years, families acclaimed for their mastery of various disciplines gained both power and renown. They formed academies, headed up by one master, or a group of masters led by a premier individual, called archmaster. These groups, imbued over time with complex systems of philosophies, guidelines and ceremonies, were not limited to the arts, but also included all manner of disciplines, such as the specialty of civic service and leadership.
Eventually, a council was called, inviting all extant masters residing in Ithnishmyn. They agreed to form a governing body, called the D'ahranal, which would hear all matters of controversy or need among the many Academies. This elected group would also serve as an advisory cabinet to the high council, ruling on matters dealing with commerce or conflicting ideology among the disciplines. And to facilitate the election of 'cavalots', as the leaders of the assemblage were called, the D'ahranal congress was divided into three groups, Kytawa, Fresiawn and Tyesteron. Each of these was designated as a D'ahranal, encompassing many disciplines within a generalized umbrella.
Sidebar: Introduction of Mithril and Silver
It is known that the early sylvans were expert in some disciplines of metal work, primarily the skills of making arrow tips, knives and jewelry. The origins of the metal they used have been a mystery, since it is certain that the sylvans did not mine the ore themselves.
In ca. 4955, a respected Ta'Illistim archeologist named Relian Degaloth, working under a generous grant bequeathed by the great Aies Library of Ta'Illistim, set out for a cave rumored to lie within dense forests east of Old Ta'Faendryl. Degaloth searched with no avail for a number of years. Finally, he stumbled upon a small colony of sylvans living in the thickly forested territory. He was intrigued to find that they still built dwellings and followed practices believed to be common in the days of the fabled city of Ithnishmyn. Following all known protocol of sylvan courtesy that he could remember, Degaloth managed to convince the reticent villagers to allow him and his research group to dwell with them for a time.
During that time, the elf discovered that these sylvans knew of an extensive cave at the bottom of a deep ravine some leagues to the east. After months of gentle yet persistent persuasion, he convinced them to take him there. After a harrowing descent into a chasm, he was shown the cave's mouth. The caverns proved to be a complex series of tunnels and chambers that honeycombed the heart of the cliffs that covered it. Deep in that catacomb, he made a discovery that would define his life's work.
In a cavern so large it could have easily held the whole of the Ta'Illistim library, Degaloth found a stone structure, its walls resembling a barricade of massive tree trunks. At first, Degaloth thought them to be made of the petrified boles of actual trees. However, closer examination revealed them to be carved, with perfect detail down to the intricacies of the bark on each tree. Beneath the sheltering roof of these leviathans were hundreds of large amphorae, most in pristine condition. They were decorated with an amazing panorama of imagery, depicting daily life of the early sylvans. As significant as this was, the contents of the containers proved to be the crowning glory. At first Degaloth thought that the jars held only fine, white sand. However, when he began to empty them, he found the sand was merely protective filler that had preserved hundreds of scrolls and illuminated hides through the ages. These relics, covered with pictographs and early elven characters, gave a definitive window into the belief systems and mindset of the first sylvans.
Degaloth managed to transfer most of the amphorae -- and their contents -- back to the Aies Library. He spent the remainder of his life studying the treasure and deciphering the secrets it offered. After translating a portion of the scrolls and hides, Degaloth determined that the cache was put into the caves in approximately -36,567. At that time, the sylvans were preparing to abandon the city called Ithnishmyn and set out on a precarious migration. The scrolls were an amazing accumulation of sylvan history. According to an account Degaloth found therein, prior to depositing the collection within their containers, the sylvans had committed the whole of it to memory, a rich oral history preserved for their descendants should they never return to claim the treasure they left behind within the cavern.
One of the amphorae was decorated with imagery depicting a small, heavily built people interacting with stylized figures identifiable as sylvans by their elongated statures and particular body postures. When he began to translate the scrolls held within the jar, he was amazed to discover it related a meeting between another race and the early sylvans. The 'short hearty mountain people' (as the translation described them) brought the 'gleaming metals' in trade for archery equipment, hides and pottery. The text went on to describe frequent rendezvous at the distant western edge of the forest, where the boundary of the great wood met the tumbled rock plain.
Although, during the years of his life's work, some of Delagoth's peers proclaimed the scrolls were obviously a forgery, Delagoth maintained to his death that his magnificent discovery at the Ma'Henrith Caverns was authentic.
Chapter Three - Ithnishmyn and the Elven Nations
A few hundred years after Ithnishmyn was established a group of elves, sent out from Ta'Illistim to search for unknown rivers and hamlets that could be annexed, became lost and inadvertently stumbled upon Ithnishmyn. Huge banks of ferns and rare forest flowers growing on every side adorned the feet of the colossal trees, and within this idyllic setting was the 'fleet' of graceful sylvan dwellings. Having been cut off from sylvan art and architecture for a number of generations, the intruders were awed by Ithnishmyn's beauty.
After showing these visitors the normal sylvan hospitality for a few days, it was clear to the sylvans that the time had come for them to leave. However, the question of how to accomplish it was a conundrum for the sylvans. There was strong dispute among members of the high council, whether to allow these elves to return to their homes bearing tales of Ithnishmyn or to prohibit their departure. It was decided that preventing them from leaving could only effectually be accomplished by killing them, and this was unacceptable. So, in hopes that the elves would not be able to recall their convulted route of arrival, the elves were blindfolded and, guided by sylvan guards, marched in a zigzag route for a hundred leagues away from Ithnishmyn. Despite the precautions, one of the Illistim elves was a particularly gifted woodsman and managed to memorize their path. Within a month of their return to Ta'Illistim, a caravan was being readied to retrace the journey, equipped with a detailed map to guide the way.
Tales of Ithnishmyn's beauty ran like wildfire through Ta'Illistim, and soon jumped to other elven cities. The initial map was copied again and again, and distributed at great profit to the hordes of adventurers wishing to make the pilgrimage to the fabled city of the sylvans. The elf who had originally drawn the map, based on her careful mental schematic of the long, arduous trip, registered the map under the strict Ta'Illistim copyright laws. It wasn't long before she had formed a business with tables of scribes all busily drawing copies of the original document, an enterprise that made her very wealthy. Called the Ransefel Map of Sylvia, named for its author, Sistryni Ransefel, the map became a famous icon throughout the Elven Nations, and copies of the original editions that survived through the years became valuable artifacts. Those featuring Ransefel's signature were eventually deemed priceless.
Visitors began to make the journey with goals other than trade. They came to study the sylvans, to convert the sylvans to various religious cults, and numerous other ambitions. Some had less savory purposes; a small black-market specializing in young sylvan slaves was born in covert areas of the elven cities. Knowing the futility of keeping the tide of visitors out, the sylvans decreed that all who managed to reach the distant city must register their arrival, and none could stay longer than the three days considered by the sylvans to be the bare minimum of hospitality, unless invited to do so by the governing council of hierophants. It was believed that among the rare individuals to be given such permission was an ascetic scholar named Raolawei Ly'Setta who exchanged his knowledge of the written elven language for permission to remain among the sylvans for the remainder of his lifetime.
Their coffers swelled by an unprecedented success in trade and commerce, wealthy elves living within their gilded mansions learned of Ithnishmyn's reclusive mystery and set about gaining a look for themselves. A flood of expeditions began to cross the forests between elven cities and Ithnishmyn, and as the intrusions became more and more numerous, the sylvans grew disquieted. The disturbing occasional disappearance of sylvan children was a primary concern. Basic sylvan philosophy forbade them to harm anything that posed no visible threat; nonetheless, various individuals with the Ithnishmynian council proposed that the intrusions of outside politics and beliefs constituted a formidable threat to the sylvan way of life.
The high council was called to address the 'elven problem,' and Eislemar Nathlai, the charismatic leader of a popular political group, drove its discussions. He proposed that the council allow no more emissaries from the elven cities to enter Ithnishmyn. He suggested methods aimed at turning away determined intruders that included incantations holding the potential of injuring those who resisted them. The issue of the missing sylvan children was a persuasive argument, not to mention other youths who were known to have willingly left, lured by the promise of wealth and success to be found in the Nations. Lastly, the disruption of sylvan religious practices, caused by curious visitors and determined evangelists, was an aggravated problem. At the end of the day, the majority of the council was repulsed at the thought of potentially harmful spells directed at their unwanted visitors. Unable to reach a decision, they agreed to reconvene and the council adjourned.
A final council was held during the festivities celebrating Imaerasta. On that holy night, the councilors ruled against any aggressive magic directed at their distant elven cousins, however unwelcome they were. Instead, they decided to abandon their beautiful city and set out across the continent in search of a location that was distant enough to dissuade visitors and forested enough to provide a suitable home. Eislemar was selected as the leader of this quest.
Chapter Four - The Sylvan High Council
The origins of the sylvan high council passed out of general knowledge long ago, however some legends support the idea that it was Imaera who taught sylvans the ability to channel knowledge from one generation of councilors to the next. Since the ability does not extend throughout the general population, it is safe to assume that it was god-given rather than inherent. It is a fairly common belief that a sacred scroll still exists, bearing the names of every member of the high council from the first, down through all successive generations. Within that parchment rests a powerful magic, a force that is kindled through secret ceremonies to psychically link all whose names are on it.
During the days of Ithnishmyn and later, in Yuriqen, hierophantic talent was historically sought among sylvans of early age, from five to fifteen years being considered optimum. Youths who passed a demanding battery of tests were observed for a year before being given instruction that spanned approximately twenty years. Often, the rare individuals would lose their faculty at the onset of puberty, and would then be gently released from the demanding regimen of training. However, in the infrequent instance that a candidate's ability increased rather than diminished, and the individual's temperament and judgment were deemed suitable to the task, he then participated in a ritual of initiation. The ritual, called Arg'Hamim, bestowed upon the initiate the right to wear the robes of an acolyte, an ivory tunic with an indigo or green mantle. Green denoted the general assembly, while the indigo signaled individuals of esteemed rank. While it was considered a great honor to rise to the rank of acolyte, few ever ascended to the high council, since only the death of one of the reigning councilors created a 'chair' for a new member.
Although entry to the high council was so limited, the role of an acolyte was a full and honored one. While acolytes generally performed governing or ceremonial functions, they were free to choose professions of other sorts while waiting for the chance to ascend to the council. Many took up teaching positions, as their comprehensive training provided them with the best education available to sylvans. Many of the greatest sylvan philosophers and historians wore the 'indigo mantle'.
Upon the lamented occasion that a high council member passed out of life, the beating of a large drum, called Rantylan (or The Summoner) alerted the sylvan population of the occurrence. The surviving councilors gathered and spent a three-day period of attending the body. During this time, ceremonies were conducted that were reputed to include a rite that suspended the departed member's knowledge within a prepared amphora. What was done with the councilor's body after that was unknown.
A high council quorum occurred immediately after the three-day mourning, and the congregation of councilors did not disband until a new council member was elected. A three-fourths majority was necessary to be elected. Once the new councilor was chosen, the high council called a general meeting open to any sylvan who chose to be present. There, the identity of the new councilor was announced, followed by a brief ceremony of welcome that included a presentation of the departed councilor's mantle to the new recruit.
The following day, a closed ceremony was conducted, suspected to include the immersion of the waiting 'soul' into its new host, bringing with it knowledge and wisdom gleaned from the years of past lives. At dusk, the Mystery was accomplished and a public ceremony followed it. Stripped of all clothing and possessions, the new councilor was escorted through the throng of sylvans gathered to witness the event, attended by two high-ranking indigo-mantled acolytes he had chosen to stand with him. Fragrant flowers and herbs were showered over the trio as they processed, carpeting the ground beneath the candidate's bare feet. Arriving at a semicircle composed of the reigning high council members, the new councilor repeated a ritualistic pledge to serve the sylvan people and was robed in the dark green tunic of the high council. Finally, a heavy mithril chain was placed around his neck, signifying his link to the sylvan people of the past, present and future.
Chapter Five - The Trail of Ages, ca. -36,567 to -22,460
As the city of Ithnishmyn was dismantled, the remarkable fact of its minimal impact on the forest surrounding it was never more obvious. The sylvans set out on their journey, and where once had been a city unrivaled in beauty and scope, now only a few imprints on the ground remained, and one large circle where a towering Council House had stood.
When next a caravan of elven tourists arrived, they found nothing but the trees. Their guides assured them that this was indeed the famed city of Ithnishmyn, however they retained a belief that they had been swindled. As other groups arrived, found nothing and then departed in disappointment, a legend began to spread through the Nations, holding that greedy elves of another city had secured the exclusive rights to visit the city and all others were being led to an alternative location. Other stories gradually appeared, saying the sylvans had all died from a cataclysmic plaque, that a fel magic had swallowed them, and all sorts of other fanciful explanations. The fact that the sylvans had simply walked away from their lovely Ithnishmyn was too outlandish a concept for belief.
Meanwhile, divided into seven groups, the sylvans slipped away through the forests, finally congregating a few hundred miles west and somewhat south of Ithnishmyn. Many had incidents on the road that took family members, and aggressive beasts occasionally threatened the way. Two of the seven groups had to split into smaller bands to avoid elves seen in the distance.
Under the security of a dense offshoot of the forest that had sheltered Ithnishmyn, the sylvans regrouped. The rejoining took a good amount of time, reckoned to be at least a number of years. While they awaited those who had not yet come, they built shelters that echoed the tent-like designs of their past and passed the seasons recounting the adventures that had marked their various passages. Finally it was agreed that all who could arrive had done so, and the sylvans held a council, the first since the autumnal council that had made the decision to send them on their present road. It was agreed that the Sylvans would set out once again on the spring festival of Ivastaen, called Dra'Elstin, and travel until winter forced them to stop. Thereafter, they would construct dwellings and remain at that location until spring thaw allowed them to take up their journey again.
While the decision to proceed with this plan was deemed auspicious by a respected reader of signs, the plan eventually proved less than fortuitous. The sylvans spent a month breaking down their camp, it having turned into a semi-permanent town over the years, leaving as little evidence of their inhabitation as they had at Ithnishmyn. Traveling for two months, they arrived at the edge of a vast plain. Tall grasses stretched to the horizon with nary a tree to break its progression. Clearly, an expanse as devoid of trees as this was viewed as extremely suspect by the forest dwellers. However, the sheer size of the prairie, added to their impatience to move away from established elven lands before their progress was detected, prompted them to seriously consider the idea of crossing it.
Signs were cast at a number of points along the edge of the grasses. Most were less than promising. However, Eislemar was becoming impatient. He had grown querulous with the months of waiting for straggling groups to join the main body of the sylvan host. And now, he was met with yet another obstacle blocking the glorious journey to a new land. He was disdainful of this damnable grassland and urged the council to allow him to lead his people across it. His popularity and positive demeanor were persuasive to the councilors, wearied as they were by the years of travel. The council was swayed, and despite the debatable omens, the decision to journey across the grassy prairie was made.
At dawn on a bright day in the month of Phoenatos, the sylvan nation began the march across the grasslands. The density of the grasses was their first obstacle. Soon, they realized that their methods of navigation within the forest were not very effective here. Directional hints, such as moss growing on the boles of trees, were absent where only the sky above could point the way. The sylvans had marched for three weeks when it was discovered that a few outlying members of the company had disappeared. In coming days, others disappeared. Some vanished with a sudden scream that ended as quickly, and as inexplicably, as it began. Others were lost without a trace.
After three weeks within the grasses, despite all protective measures they undertook, more than 200 sylvans were missing. The sylvans took to referring to the prairie as the Golden Anvil, named thus because of the sun's burning heat overhead as well as the perilous nature of the place. Finally, a council was called, and it was decided to retrace their way back out of the grasses. Unfortunately, this journey took four additional weeks and cost almost 900 lives. During that time, a sighting was made of an immense wyrm that coursed through the grasses as effortlessly as a fish glides through water.
During the last week of the retreat, one of the wyrms happened upon the weary sylvans. Seeing the colossal beast bearing down upon his people, Eislemar took up a position to challenge the beast, standing directly in its path. His arms and staff raised, he concentrated on the effort to summon all magic known to the unified sylvan collective and direct it coursing through himself.
Eislemar's power was great. He cast back the wyrm with pulsing waves of magic. However, as he saw the creature stunned by his assault, he grew proud. He judged that he could turn it away, and at the same time tame it to do his bidding by working with its frightening intellect.
As Eislemar's people ran, Eislemar studied the immense beast he opposed. A final group streaked by him, calling pleas to him to join them before the creature recovered from its stun. He nodded reassurance as they fled past. Shaking off its confusion, the wyrm slowly glided toward him. He watched its great, baleful black eye look back at him, as if judging his mettle. As the monster rose up before him, towering more than thirty feet overhead, Eislemar realized he might have made a fatal mistake. It crashed down, cleaving the earth as its bulk disappeared into the gash as easily as if it was sliding down through muddy water. The impact knocked Eislemar off his feet, and he felt the ground tremble as the wyrm's bulk was consumed. He glimpsed its barbed tail disappear from sight. Abruptly quiet descended, leaving only the whisper of the waving grasses to mark the beast's passage into the earth. Eislemar breathed a sigh of relief and began to get to his feet.
The wyrm resurfaced directly beneath him, its open maw engulfing Eislemar. Stragglers still running for safety witnessed him disappear into the gullet of the colossal wrym as it rose up into the sky, arced and then disappeared again beneath the ground.
While the sylvans retreated out of the grasses in unorganized ribbons, they occasionally heard screams as stragglers fell victim to the Golden Anvil's horror.
The traumatized sylvans spent an additional six weeks on the edge of the grassy plain, hoping that more of their people would escape from the prairie. When finally it seemed likely that no one else would escape, another council was called.
Since some of the councilors had been lost in the disaster on the prairie, a quorum was determined and the remaining council members began a discussion of their viable options. The atmosphere was heavy with grief, for all participants had lost relatives and friends and leaders. A decision was reached to pull back from the deadly plain and find a way around it.
The sylvans resumed their journey, traveling west along the tree line bordering the grasslands. Weeks passed, though they never again glimpsed any of the plain's behemoths. The trees offered both shelter and reassurance, and gradually the sylvans fell into an easy travel rhythm. The routine of arising at dawn, walking until late afternoon, and then setting up camp became second nature, and the memory of the horrors they had faced on the grasslands began to recede. Abundant game and berries supplied them with food, and with their expert knowledge of the woodlands, they had little trouble finding springs and streams. Finally, the forest turned from west to south, and the sylvans traveled deeper within the bordering forest, often losing sight of the heinous grasslands.
The beginning of winter had arrived, and they decided to build a more substantial camp to wait out the weather. On the distant western horizon, the peaks of the DragonSpine Mountains could be glimpsed shimmering in the crisp sunlight. They called that first winter's camp Moarnishim, and there, the missing -- those lost on the terrible march into the grass -- were counted and a stele was raised with their names incised upon it.
As cold and snow settled over the woods, the sylvans noted that the tall grasses of the prairie sea merely turned a straw gold color, and lost none of its robust vitality or height.
When the winter's ice had thawed, the sylvans took up their journey once again, traveling south until they noted that the forest had begun a gentle curve to the east, signaling that they had rounded the western edge of the Golden Anvil. A ceremony was held to celebrate that fact and afterward, the sylvans reached an easy decision to continue south, soon drawing out of sight of the dreaded grasses.
They chose a route that took them mostly south and somewhat east, and as they traveled, the sylvans continued the practice of traveling during the warm months then making camp to pass the winter. The names of these campsites became the stuff of legends, tales filled with significant events, such as marriages, the birth of children and the death of elderly sylvans who had known Ithnishmyn. The names were added to a holy scroll, Moarnishim the First, Elderium the Cold, Rashanlican the Fair, Danaaron the Blessed (denoting an unprecedented number of births), Haralican the Rocky, Tennebros the Hungry, Fallaroon of the Shadows, Tremaramie of the Caves, Hallabran of the Glade, and on and on. Each had its stories and each had its children, sylvans born while the people spent a period of rest before taking the long road back up again.
As the people journeyed south, they passed through lands of great beauty. However, remembering the disastrous outcome of venturing out of the forests, they avoided any meadows or clearings and clung to the trees, a practice that added substantial lengths of time to their travels. Finally, they arrived at an impressive old-growth forest with mountains to the east and abundant rivers. Tired of the years of constant migration, the sylvans decided that they had finally found a worthy home. They called it Nevishrim, a term meaning Pearl at Mountain's Foot.
Chapter Six - Nevishrim, ca. -22,460 to -15,490
The sylvans built their new town, first utilizing the simple dwellings they had used during their journeys. However, more sophisticated dwellings made a rapid appearance, as did landscaped grottos dedicated to prayer and holy stone formations dedicated to the deities. For the sylvans differed from the other elves. They held fast to Arkati worship, honoring both the Light and Dark gods. In their philosophy the Light balanced the Dark and both were holy.
A ruling council was appointed and within Nevishrim, the system of hierophants ascended. Likewise, in that city the guilds came into being and in less than a generation, became established and successful. Nevishrim soon rivaled the memories of Ithnishmyn, and its moderate climate, far to the south from the original city, nourished bountiful shade-tolerant gardens. Generations passed and the sylvan population grew, finally reaching the glory it had been in earlier days, and then surpassing that. They were a peaceful people, one of grace and prosperity, a people that passed their lives in an effort to create beauty and order.
Always, sylvan scouts patrolled the perimeter of the city-forest, for lessons had been learned during the days of Ithnishmyn. These sylvans did not wish to have to leave another of their cities. And thus, it was the scouts who first brought word of Despana.
The high council considered the first reports of the threat. Having grown cautious from past tragedies, they pondered these initial reports with all due concern. They decided to form a skilled league of scouts to monitor the situation and report anything they learned back to the council. This elite band was named the Eranishal, and it numbered 170 sylvan scout/warriors. Similar to rangers, they were hardened individuals, adept at archery as well as skilled in the ways of tracking and passing invisibly through the forest. They were lead by a captain named Oriahn Delsechal, a sylvan whose ancestor had been lost on the Golden Anvil and whose mother was respected as a gifted soothsayer as well as a member of the high council.
Within a few weeks spent organizing, training and planning, the Eranishal set out to find out what they could about the rumored threat. Soon, they found what they sought. Oriahn observed Despana's minions and was filled with foreboding. He saw the true immensity of the coming threat and made a decision to contact elven contingents grouping to oppose the evil armies.
As the Eranishal was admitted into the camp, their elven hosts were amazed. No sylvan had been glimpsed in years, not since the deserted remnants of Ithnishmyn had been discovered years before. Here stood the stuff of legend, living sylvans and powerful ones at that judging by their arms and bearing. The elves, shocked by the loss of ShadowGuard, a site less than 100 miles to the east, welcomed the sylvans and fervently sought their allegiance against the forces of Despana.
Knowing how the high council would view such a pledge, Oriahn was dismayed. He fully suspected that the council would favor withdrawing into the forest to wait out the conflict. And yet, after seeing the threat first-hand, he knew such action was not a viable option. So he pledged the aid of the sylvans in the coming conflict, and the following morning, set out with his men to bear the news to the council.
On his return, the news he brought and the pledge he had made caused virulent dissent. Many were aghast at the very idea of opposing such evil with the possibility of its consequences on the sylvan population. At the same time, the stories of Despana's might, seen firsthand by members of the Eranishal and recounted in great detail to the council, was a sobering fact. The council trusted the Eranishal and eventually - with great trepidation - Oriahn's decision to ally with the elves was blessed by the high council as a necessary endeavor. Plans to raise an army were begun. Oriahn was placed in charge and the Eranishal was split into two parts. The first group became Oriahn's legion commanders, in charge of units of sylvan archers, trackers and foot soldiers. The other group was to remain in Nevishrim under the command of Ranishal, Oriahn's First Hand, their mission to protect the council and population of Nevishrim if worse came to worse, and Despana overran the combined elven army.
Chapter Seven - Despana War and Chaos, ca. -15,400 to -15,180
The sylvan army marched away, venturing out of their protective forests to join the gathered hosts of elves opposing Despana. After the initial skirmishes, the fighting became constant and the land was torn by battles fought between the elven allies and Despana's terrible host of orcs, trolls and barbaric humans. Crops rotted in fields, hamlets burned and as winters counted off their months of dismal cold, people starved. As the years passed, Oriahn sent irregular missives back to Nevishrim bearing less than hopeful news. These were sent via trusted members of the Eranishal who followed a long, convoluted path aimed at protecting Nevishrim from outside knowledge of its location.
For the long, arduous years that the sylvans fought with the elven army, no sylvan other than the Eranishal messengers was allowed to return to Nevishrim. This hardship, over and above the horrors they witnessed on the battlefields, was what survivors of the conflict later claimed was the worst sorrow of fighting in that war.
Back in Nevishrim, as years passed, new recruits were trained and sent away from the harboring forest to join Oriahn's sylvan troops. These were always sent out with much ceremony, as well as much sorrow since the people considered it likely they would never return.
On the battlefield, Oriahn had formed a horse guard, having received good warhorses from other elven units who admired the sylvans' tenacity and courage. Oriahn trained up a cavalry, which augmented his archers and foot soldiers. The sylvan legion, called the Wood Guard among the ranks in deference to their strength, was stout and brave and carried many a day in battles through those harsh years.
In -15,195, allied with a top-notch army of Faendryl elves, the Eranishal legions managed to rout a significant portion of Despana's hordes at the Battle of Harradahn. This pivotal conflict seemed to turn the tide, as Despana's army slowed to recover their dead and wounded, then began to retreat. The combined elven troops followed them, harassing their flanks and driving them on. The wounded and dead were abandoned as Despana's troops fled, and the Faendryl took these and made use of them, prying information from them.
As the autumn of -15,188 cooled into winter, the sylvan army joined their Faendryl allies on wooded slopes surrounding the valley on which Maelshyve Keep stood. Despana's army was spread out across the valley floor below, still numbering in the tens of thousands. It seemed an impossible force to the war-weary sylvan soldiers.
During the war council prior to battle, Oriahn was told that the elves had planned a magical assault that would leave Despana's army open to attack. Oriahn was to sweep in with his army and rout any legions that escaped the magical battery. That seemed a relief to Oriahn, knowing the extent of his troops' exhaustion. As he sat his warhorse in the first line of the Eranishal, he watched the Faendryl sorcerers advance onto the field.
As the lesser demons were summoned into existence and spread across the valley, their fiendish howls raising clouds of crows and sending wildlife streaking in all directions, the warhorses reared in panic, throwing some of their riders to the ground. The screams of the orcs and trolls were soon echoing off the surrounding hills, creating a chaotic din that swept the Eranishal into its embrace. Sylvans who had been thrown from their mounts tried to quickly regroup, and the effort seemed to be working for a brief time.
Then, the first of the Faendryl sorcerers lost control of the terrible creatures they had called. With so many of the sorcerors never having cast the spell before that day, and in such a vast context, it was inevitable that some would falter and lose concentration. While most of the attacking demons stayed on course and devoured their way through Despana's armies, a few suddenly looped back, bearing down upon the elven host. Two demons, kin in fire and fury, found the sylvan army. These terrors engulfed most of one of the three companies of the Eranishal, spouting great gouts of flame that enveloped the soldiers in a horrible, fiery death. As the demons flew on across the hills, incinerating stands of trees as well as animals and fleeing horses, Oriahn could do naught but witness his men scream and die. The fact that there were no surviving enemies to rout was an empty consolation.
Chapter Eight - Journey to Nevishrim
The sylvan army buried their dead and spent a few days to rest and mourn the lost. The Faendryl seemed as stunned as their allies, and made no attempt to contact the sylvans following the battle of Maelshyve. Other allies also withdrew and, in coming weeks, seemed to drift away. All who had witnessed the holocaust seemed to exist in a stunned, depressed fog.
After five days, Oriahn called a meeting of his commanders. He told them that they would be packing up the following day and returning home to Nevishrim. Not even that happy news could stir the company out of their malaise. However, in an army, discipline triumphs over emotion, and the army began the homeward trek.
They crossed hills and valleys, traveling quietly. No track was left to show where they had passed, and there was little conversation among them to mark the passing of hours, days and weeks. Oriahn wondered if he remembered the way back after all the time that had passed, and was glad that he had scouts who had made the journey now and then through the years. As the Eranishal approached a tall hill, scouts brought word to Oriahn that there was an unnatural quality about the landmark, foremost being the fact that there had not been, to anyone's memory, a hill there before.
Oriahn called his mages to him, a select band that had helped greatly in shielding the sylvan army from the fire demons. These individuals ventured out toward the promontory, wielding spells of protection as they went. They soon returned, having gathered hints about the oddness of the hill. These wizards had encountered the same malevolent fluctuations in the fundamental magical power once before, at Maelshyve. It was deduced that one of the demons had escaped over the lands and taken refuge in the strange, black hill. And had probably made the hill, judging from its extreme angles and sheer cliffs. Erosion could never have created such a landmark.
Oriahn's whole being cried out for him to order his army to silently withdraw from this cursed place and find another way back home. However, as dawn began to tinge the landscape from grey to soft morning colors, he knew he could not leave the monster skulking safe within its lair, free to kill again once it was hungry enough. He ordered his troops to withdraw across a wide valley and take shelter on a mountainside far enough away for safety. He left orders that the army was to withdraw and journey on to Nevishrim within three days time, whether he had returned or not. And taking a guard of three soldiers, he set out to confront the enemy.
The sylvan army was too far away from the terrible hill to see any of the battle. However, lightning flashed across the sky and the ground rumbled and shook during the following night. Dawn of the second day brought an uneasy quiet, although plumes of dense smoke drifted up from the hill and filled the sky around it. And that night, the lightning and the tremors resumed. The following morning was as quiet as had been the day before, likewise with columns of smoke rising from the promontory. The soldiers were restive, having slept little as a result of worry for their general as well as fears born of their last encounter with a demonic entity.
As the sun rose into the sky, a sharp-eyed scout sent up a yell. Two dots could barely be seen crossing the valley floor, traveling toward them from the hellish hill. A cadre of the general's personal guard set out at a run to meet them, although the returning survivors were yet miles away. As the party finally arrived back, two soldiers were carrying the unconscious body of Oriahn while Nepheral, his bard and one of the three chosen companions, was supported between two other men.
Healers quickly took charge of Oriahn, while Nepheral was questioned as to whether the beast lived. They also questioned whether it was safe for the army to remain there while the healers tended Oriahn's grievous wounds. Bearing considerable injuries as well, Nepheral managed to stammer out that the demon had been slain. The other two companions had died in the battle. With that, Nepheral slipped into unconsciousness and was hurried away to the healers' tent.
The Eranishal camped on the slopes of that valley for a month, it being judged too dangerous to move Oriahn during that time. Finally, a litter was fashioned to carry the commander and the army made ready to travel. Despairing of their ability to save their leader, the army empaths hoped to reach Nevishrim with its resources of experienced healers and stores of medicinal plants.
As the army reached the edges of the great forest that sheltered Nevishrim, scouts were sent ahead to alert the city. The remainder of the troops followed more slowly, bearing their commander on his litter. He had never regained consciousness, wandering in a feverish haze of delirium and occasionally calling out and talking to people he saw within his darkness. After journeying for two weeks through the forest, barely stopping to rest, the army met the advance group of sylvans sent to aid them on the final miles of their long journey home. The litter was handed off to individuals who were fresh and the exhausted soldiers were given illistery, a light sylvan drink that drove away fatigue, aches and pains, leaving one refreshed and energized.
As the army marched silently through the gates of Nevishrim, the city's whole population was gathered around the arched entrance to greet them. However, the throng was utterly silent, with only the soldiers' footsteps and an occasional clank of steel and rustle of cloth to be heard. Then, whispered welcomes were voiced, as families found and reclaimed their own, and the proud sylvan legions disbanded, fraying quietly away like wisps of smoke.
The litter bearing Oriahn approached the gate. Suddenly, the general awoke and looked at his litter bearers, surprisingly with a coherent expression. He ordered them to stop just beneath the arch of the gate leading into the city, and set his litter down. They obeyed and his closest advisors drew close. With an expression of inestimable sorrow and deep weariness born of his years of service, he told them to raise the city's population as soon as possible and journey away from that place. He told them to seek seven great trees and there build a new home, away from the Cities of Elves and from war and greed. When they begged him to not talk and save his strength, he told them that he would never reenter the city, since to do so would risk bringing the shard of evil within him to his people. And a few moments later, he died.
Chapter Nine - New Lands, Approximately ca. -15,180 to -3000
Once again, the sylvans dismantled a beloved city and prepared to journey into unknown danger in hopes of finding a new home. They left a stone monument where the city's gate had been, to mark the passing of their hero Oriahn. And mourning him, as well as all those who had bravely fought Despana's aggression, they set out following a southern direction that would lead them around the tip of the great mountains and eventually to the western side of the continent. They prayed that no other elves would be found there, to wage wars or lure away the sylvan youth or interfere with the sylvan way of life.
They finally veered from south to west, and the road was ever long. They quickly resumed their old ways of traveling, moving during the summers, then making semi-permanent camps to wait out the cold of winter. During the cold winter months, they told stories and birthed babies. As they found new regions, they made studies of new creatures, plants and trees they encountered on the way. Eventually, the sylvans encountered an arid country, where the hills were covered in scrub bushes and small, contorted trees. However, when a small band of elves were spotted in the far distance, they quickly pushed through this land, moving steadily to the west.
Chapter Ten - The Legend of Haloiyand and Alandalor
As the great DragonSpine Mountains filling the distant northern horizon began to recede, the sylvans turned their path to the north, angling up across a rich land of rolling hills interspersed with verdant forests. Bands of humans were occasionally glimpsed in the distance, however the sylvans were adept at concealing their movements and no contact was made with the nomadic humans, with one exception. While on a hunting excursion, a party of sylvans happened upon a group of human corpses, their demise obviously due to attack by orcs, since there were also orc carcasses there. The humans had apparently made a good stand before being overwhelmed by sheer numbers. Having clearly been dead for a number of days, the remains had been worried by scavengers. Hearing a small growl, the sylvans whirled, expecting another of the scavengers had returned to the feast.
Instead, they saw a small human child. It was filthy, its clothing torn, and scratches covered the child's arms and legs. The sylvans finally managed to capture it, whereupon, it was discovered that the child was a girl. Not a few of the sylvans were left with bruises as the girl fought for freedom before they managed to bind her. Once she was fed and wrapped in blankets to ward off the night's chill, the girl-child fell into an exhausted slumber and the hunting party carried her back to the main sylvan colony, unsure what else to do with her.
Haloiyand the Wise was older than anyone could remember including herself. The ancient sylvan was one of the wise women/soothsayers of the sylvan population as well as a respected member of the high council. She was tribal leader, midwife to mothers, reader of omens and signs, and matriarch of a large, sprawling family.
Haloiyand was one of the staunchest advocators of a 'no contact' policy when it came to other races. When her youngest daughter came back to camp with a young human, Haloiyand advised humanely killing the girl for her own sake and theirs. However, her daughter Regalan had never managed to have a daughter, however much she longed for one, and was much taken with the scruffy little human child.
When Regalan pleaded with Haloiyand to be allowed to foster the girl, Haloiyand finally agreed with certain caveats. The girl was to be watched for seven years, and should she prove to be lazy, or a danger to any of the sylvans, she would be sent away on her own, to survive or perish as fate dictated. Thus, the council ruling on the issue proclaimed the agreement. Within weeks, the child showed a marked ability to learn commands that were given her, and a quick intelligence that benefited her fostering family. Ideas of banishing her were mostly forgotten after the first year.
At the time the sylvans found her, the girl was about ten years of age. When she evidenced no inclination to speak after her ordeal, the sylvans decided to call her Alandalore, a name that meant 'the lost is found.' Although silent, she quickly adapted to a life spent traveling by day and setting up camp in the evenings. She seemed to pick up the sylvan language, because when the sylvans began to ask her to do things, she readily made attempts to do as asked. Haloiyand's family quickly came to care for her, and at the end of Alandalore's second winter with them, Regalan asked that she be formally adopted into the family, a sprawling conglomeration of loosely related sylvans that numbered around sixty people. The girl went through the ceremony, nodding where needed and melded effortlessly into the fabric of the familial group as if she had been born to them.
In early autumn, the sylvans found a lush vale sheltered within the foothills of the western DragonSpires and prepared to winter-over. The forest was thick there, with old-growth trees that towered up for hundreds of feet. Stones were dug from the soil and piled up to form hearths, while the soft hides of the dwelling walls were suspended from the larger trees found within the surrounding forest. Fallen trees were sought to provide firewood, as well as dried dung left by the teeming herds of deer and antelope inhabiting the area. Herbs, mushrooms and berries were gathered and fish and meat were dried. The sylvans prepared for winter.
It was a happy time of year, the sylvans enjoying the cool days and brilliant fall colors. Alandalore busied herself helping bring in food and firewood. While it was reckoned that she was 12 or 13 years of age by then, her odd silence made her seem older. She worked with the other children of the family with a steady concentration that gained approval from her elders and easy camaraderie among her peers. She was also a favorite among the very young children, as her patience and gentle demeanor were a sure refuge when one of them had some mishap or other.
As snow piled up around the trees and the dwellings of the sylvans, the people spent much time within their shelters, telling stories and teaching all manner of lore to the adolescent members of the households. While they had a written language, much of the sylvan lore and past history was passed on orally due to the constraints of weight while traveling. Haloiyand had taken a couple of young sylvans on as apprentices in the healing arts, which included the study of known herbs and investigation of new varieties they encountered on the trek.
As the wise, old woman taught, she began to notice that the girl, Alandalore, was using chores, weaving, or any number of other excuses to be in the vicinity of these instructional sessions. Still not quite willing to trust her -- a human -- fully, Haloiyand moved the classes outside, choosing to cover the intricacies of tree bark in the dead of winter rather than in the spring when it was a treat to be out of doors. Her apprentices muttered and complained of chilled hands and feet, but complied dutifully with their master's peculiarities. Within a couple of days, Alandalore could be seen in the proximity of the small group, gathering fallen branches for kindling, searching beneath snow banks for new green shoots to use for tea, and any number of other tasks that were usually dreaded at that time of year.
To the relief of her apprentices, Haloiyand moved her lectures back indoors, and soon Alandalore was nearby, helping her adopted aunt with meal preparation, weaving and working leather for robes and boots. In resignation tinged with a measure of curiosity, Haloiyand began to speak a little louder, insuring that the young human could hear what she was saying.
As early Charlatos arrived with its stirring of life within the trees and earth, the time came to test her two apprentices on what they had learned. This inquiry was an arduous examination that took the whole of the day and required precise answers as well as an in-depth understanding of the tenets beneath the answers. Haloiyand knew her apprentices had been dreading it, for should their performance indicate that they did not have a capacity for the lore, they would not be allowed to continue their instruction.
A brief ceremony attended by the two novices and their families was conducted before the questioning. As she intoned the rites dedicated to blessing the lore of healing, Haloiyand glimpsed Alandalore huddled in a corner of the dwelling, busy weaving some braid with her packet of wooden cards, too concealed in shadows to be noticed yet close enough to hear what was said. As the prayer ended, the students' families arose to depart for the testing itself was considered a mystery and not to be overheard. Haloiyand noticed with approval that Alandalore was gathering up her loom and wool as well. Just before the girl ducked beneath the curtain leading outside, Haloiyand called her name and directed Alandalore to take a place beside the apprentices. Seeing sudden dread in the girl's eyes, the old woman felt satisfaction, anticipating the girl's failure and a reason to deny her the opportunity for future eavesdropping.
As the first question was put to Alandalore, to the amazement of Haloiyand and her apprentices the child spoke for the first time during her years with the sylvans, answering the query in a sweet voice with almost perfect inflection.
The day passed, questions and answers flowing in an endless exchange between the ancient dame and the three who sat facing her. When night finally witnessed the end of the examination, Haloiyand was pleased that her two students had done fairly well. She excused them, telling them that they had passed and would be welcome to study again the coming winter. Then she turned and peered down at the small human child kneeling silently before her with head bowed in fatigue. Clearly, the testing had been much more arduous on her since she had not been prepared as had the other two. Nonetheless, the girl had passed the test. In fact, Haloiyand could not, in her long memory, recall a young sylvan who had done better. She told the girl that she would expect her to attend to classes the following winter. Alandalore replied, murmuring only, "Yes Grandmother," in a meek whisper. However, Haloiyand could plainly see the triumph in her eyes.
In the month of Olaesta, the sylvans broke camp and prepared to move north once again. The camp had been a tranquil and happy one, and for this, they called it Tralastigan. They wrote its name on a holy scroll beneath other places where they had spent a winter or more. For the sylvans believed that naming a place was a holy thing; it gave an anchoring spot within the chaos of the Otherworld to any souls who had passed from this life to the next, should the soul become confused and not find the way into the Realm of the Dead.
Alandalore began her training the following winter, and continued for many seasons thereafter. She was an adept pupil, and Haloiyand gradually lost her distrust. However, there was always something about the human that the old sylvan could not accept. If Alandalore noticed this, she said nothing about it.
During Alandalore's tenth year of study with the old wise woman, the sylvans experienced an unusually severe winter. Game was practically nonexistent and snowdrifts deeper than a sylvan's height ringed the colony. Hunting was dangerous, as were simple pursuits such as gathering firewood.
One morning, it was discovered that Haloiyand was missing. There had been snow the previous night and it was supposed that she had ventured out during darkness and become lost. Search parties were dispatched, but the threat of more snow hung heavily within the thick murk obscuring the sky. Dusk fell at an unusually early hour that afternoon, and so, observing the cloud cover cloaking the sky and fearing the loss of more people, the councilors postponed further search until the following dawn.
Lost in thought about a new herb she was studying, Haloiyand trudged through the snow and darkness on her way back to her dwelling. Pondering the complexities of the plant, she was intrigued and suspected it held properties that would prove to be very valuable to her people. The tingling sensation of chill in her hands and feet finally reminded her that she had been walking for quite some time. Looking around, she realized that she could not see even the faintest glimmer of light that would steer her back to the colony. She began to retrace her way, following her footsteps. However, as snow began to fall in a heavy onslaught, her path was quickly obscured.
Alandalore waited until all within the hyrrad (as the sylvan dwellings were called) were asleep. Then, she wrapped herself in multiple layers of the simple lengths of wool her kinsmen used as cloaks, and stuffed some dried meat and berries into a satchel. With this, Alandalore crept out into the heavy snow. Guided by her intuition, she stumbled through snowdrifts, searching for any sign that Haloiyand might have passed that way.
The following morning, it was discovered that Alandalore was also missing. Heavy snowfall obstructed any further search parties. As the colony waited throughout the day, sitting within their dwellings and watching the snow blow into deep banks, expectations of rescue sank. As dusk stole in beneath the heavy clouds, a meeting was called in the main council house. It was gloomily decided that rescue parties would go out in search of the bodies when the snow stopped.
Just as the assembly ended, a commotion at the back of the tent captured the interest of those crowded within the dwelling. The crowd parted to accommodate two snow-covered figures stumbling toward the fire at the center of the assembly. Alandalore walked slowly forward, her arm clutching Haloiyand, who leaned heavily on her. They wore ice-coated cloaks, and icicles hung from their hair. As the pair stumbled forward through the silent sylvans, an audible gasp was heard. Then, breaking out of the shock that gripped them all, one of the council cried for aid, and a flurry of activity exploded.
Haloiyand eventually recovered, and Alandalore, having fewer injuries from the cold, nursed her for many of the weeks it took for the older woman to heal. No details of the rescue were ever revealed by either woman, although they were often asked how the young human managed to find Haloiyand, lost as she was within the clutches of such a snowstorm. From that time on, the two were constant companions. When the sylvans resumed the journey north, they shared a hyrrad. Finding that Alandalore was an accomplished artist, the two began a comprehensive digest of herb and tree lore, decorated with Alandalore's beautiful illuminations.
Years passed and the two gifted scholars spent their lives in happy collaboration, passing their accumulated knowledge down to many generations of young sylvans. In time, the massive Digest of Herb and Forest Lore was completed and presented to the high council, firmly establishing the pair as a cultural treasure. After many years, Alandalore's physical appearance of age surpassed that of Haloiyand, and one cold winter, the older woman found herself nursing her dying human friend.
After Alandalore's death, it was observed that Haloiyand seemed to age quickly, although by sylvan norms she should have expected many remaining years of life. She passed to the Otherlife after two more winters, and her body was wrapped in herbs and linen and buried next to Alandalore. A legend is told, though, that the hearts of both women were lovingly carried with their people to Yuriqen, and placed in an honored resting place within the last city of the sylvans. Whether this story is factual, or was meant in a symbolic context, is unknown.
Chapter Eleven - The Final Forest, ca. -2985 to present
Years of travel had been hard on the sylvans. One summer found them traversing a dense, pristine forest. It was an impressive wood, complete with streams, old-growth trees and bountiful game. As they passed beneath its expansive canopy, walking through banks of ferns that reached to the waist, the sylvans began to covertly consider the notion that they might finally be at the end of their great trek. At first, the idea was merely mentioned in passing over a campfire, or by way of sharing idle chat while watering the travois beasts. Gradually, it grew into an item of conversation, and as the hundreds of sylvans crossed the forest floor, leaving hardly a footprint, they began to map the wood with a growing desire to finally settle.
The forest was vast, populated with both deciduous and evergreen trees. This wood extended from the western borders of a river that would eventually mark the boundary between the wood and the human empire, to the rocky slopes of the DragonSpine Mountains on the eastern perimeter. The sylvans named the river on the western boundary of the forest Andemyon, meaning the Edge of All. They explored in all directions, finding mile after mile of rich, healthy forests with trees so tall, they dwarfed the heights recorded for the trees that had once sheltered the fabled city of Ithnishmyn. The sylvans were cautiously pleased.
Eventually, as the sylvans delved deeper into the fabulous wood, they discovered a wide swale of silver-leafed aspens. This expanse of trees was mysterious and magical in nature. They marveled at such a discovery. This was the epitome of everything they had imagined and hoped to find during the years they had journeyed: a wood, spanning hundreds of miles, with a semi-sentient nature at its core and a deep resonance coursing through its roots. The sylvans passed through the forest, careful to observe all reverences in order to lessen the impact of their crossing.
They were not prepared for what they found within the guardian perimeter. Passing through the beautiful silver-leafed trees, they emerged into a forest of immense modwirs. The trees appeared to be as old as the mountains flanking their eastern edges, certainly the oldest living things the sylvans had ever examined with their intrinsic understanding of these matters, and the travelers were amazed.
They spread out to explore, traversing the modwir forest in groups, then rejoining at dusk to compare stories of what they had found. The forest's bounty of herbs, ferns and roots, not to mention the huge trees themselves, was a rich discovery. Added to that, trails created by deer and other animals wended through the wood in abundance. Finally arriving at the forest's heart, the sylvans found seven colossal trees growing in a lopsided ring.
The trees were huge, larger than any the sylvans had ever seen. As they walked beneath the giants, they marveled at the age and power coursing through the ancient boles and roots. Within the first week of finding the trees, the sylvans held a ceremony dedicating the forest to their patron goddess, pledging to guard it for all time. This forest they promised never to forsake, no matter what the provocation.
After consulting the local forest spirits, they called the forest Yuriqen, or Trees of the Sky alluding to the leviathan height of the modwirs. Initial construction was begun, aimed at gaining access to the lower branches, as these towered hundreds of feet above the forest floor and were wide enough to accommodate two or three sylvans walking abreast. An elaborate system of stairs was designed, and as the sylvans gained access to the forest canopy, they began construction of elegant dwellings and promenades. They began to build a city that would surpass any that their ancestors had created before.
As the vaulted heights of Yuriqen's dwellings rose amidst the branches, sunlight blessed the expanses of canvas and the clouds caressed the facile ramparts. Never was a city more integrated within its surroundings, embracing the trees that gave it support. Graceful domiciles extended upwards, spanning hundreds of feet, and walks bordered with ivy and other flowering vines wound their way along the tops of wide, mossy branches. Gradually, different disciplines found refuge in individual trees, their members discerning a concentration of specific magical energy within each of the giant modwirs.
Yuriqen was everything and more than the sylvans could have imagined. Plants growing beneath the leviathans matured faster and more bountifully than anywhere else they had known. Songbirds filled the expansive canopy overhead. The city grew as years passed, and the winters seemed mild and forgiving beneath that beneficial cloak of aromatic needles. The sylvans prospered within the shade of Yuriqen, and they gave thanks to the underlying energy that fueled their prosperity.
As the population grew, the D'ahranals, having been only nominally influential during the years of travel, began to wield greater power, quickly growing to their former authority. They gradually assumed control of various sections of the sylvan city. And guilds within the three D'Ahranals, present in the old days but lacking much influence, came into their own. Additionally, a fourth D'Ahranal was born, called the Lassaran. This group was initiated by and primarily composed of individuals who embraced the habit of venturing away from the home forest in search of groups or family members who had been separated from the main host and lost in the past.
Yuriqen grew into a city, both from the standpoint of territory and population, and in doing so, the councilors and leaders of the D'Ahranals became aware that its borders needed protection. Never again would they take the chance that outsiders would find them and force another march. A border guard was established. Called Ne'Yuscarl, it was composed of elite archers and woodsmen found among the existing sylvan army. A perimeter ring was identified, threading through the outer edge of the aspens in a trail that marked the sylvan perception of their boundaries. The Ne'Yuscarl constructed camoflaged lookout platforms in the trees along this ring, and prepared to mount a perennial watch.
Fighting was infrequent along the border of the Veil, called thus as an abbreviation of 'Silver Veil', as the sylvans named the aspen forest. By the end of the second century, the distinguished Ne'Yuscarl had enough members to monitor the entire area between the forest's edge and the outer perimeter of the Veil. And thus, in most cases, they were able to turn away any rare human intruders long before they reached that boundary.
However, as a added deterrent, led by the great sylvan mage Ranilyn Sigheart, a 'working' was accomplished, using new and ingenious methods she developed. A magical rite that lasted days preceded the spell's invocation. As Ranilyn spoke the final words of the spell, energy coursed through the trees, streaking through the trunks and curling its way though the rich dark soil beneath the trees. She and her cadre of associate mages had succeeded in placing a powerful warding magic within the roots and boles of the aspens of the Veil. This magic was not deadly; instead it inflicted a disarming confusion upon any soul who entered the wood without knowing the sister incantation. Called 'Rithowan', the second spell turned the effects of the former from disorientation to a heightened awareness and perception. All members of the Ne'Yuscarl were taught the Rithowan upon initiation to the Guard. Only a handful of mages, though, were considered strong enough to periodically refresh the effectiveness of the 'Nanrithowan', as the warding portion of the magic was called.
The renewal of Nanrithowan's power grew into a bi-annual celebration. Held in the month of Olaesta as the aspens were donning their beautiful raiment of leaves, the festival offered entertainments by actors, bards, jugglers, dancers and musicians, as well as a sumptuous feast. Lasting well into the early hours of the following morning, the festivity was characterized by all manner of capriciousness and foolery, symbolizing the effect of Nanrithowan's magic.
Yuriqen was a bountiful protector, and the sylvans lived within its embrace in harmony. The seven trees each became a specialized center, with residences, shops and temples. Promenades arched through the heights, their sides protected by thick ropes of braided vines. The widest part of the great oval created by the trees' placement extended east to west. Sitting at the center of the oval's northern side was the largest of the modwirs, a giant called Yr'Thrumh. The only one of the giants to have stairs that reached the ground, the tree was dedicated to the 'Circle,' or loosely, the combination of all things and all energy contained in the world and the power encompassed by that whole. Here was found an expansive central plaza, its edges ringed by impressive residences. The high council met within one of these, as did the high congress of the D'ahranals. Also within Yr'Thrumh was the great hall of the Kytawa, its entry guarded by two towering sculptures of pelicans, with arched necks pointing their beaks toward the ground, as though to inspect anyone entering the dwelling.
Traveling to the east across the graceful hanging bridges, one reached the next modwir, called Yr'Tael. This tree's symbol was the sunrise, for it guarded the east. Within its vast branches were found many scholars and halls of learning, for the magnificent Temple of the Dawn was located within the tree's highest branches. Not surprisingly, there were a number of schools offering clerical instruction to be found in Yr'Tael. The breathtaking morning view of the DragonSpine peaks glistening in the dawn's light from the bridges of Yr'Tael was a common subject for sylvan artists.
To the southeast of Yr'Tael was Yr'Nyx, a popular location featuring much of the city's loveliest architecture, since Yr'Vyx was the home of the dance, a symbol of all things artistic and fine. Not surprisingly, the Fresiawn was to be found in the branches of this modwir, along with many shops offering musical instruments, artwork and apparel.
Yr'Vara stood southwest of Yr'Nyx, its wide avenues named for all aspects of the realm of dreams. For dreams was this tree's symbol. While no D'ahranal had built a great hall there, the tree was a center for poetry and literature, and featured both libraries and book merchants in abundance. It was also a favored haunt of lovers of all ages, since its paths and bridges were considered the loveliest in Yuriqen, and in many cases the most shadowed and private.
Sitting west of Yr'Vara was Yr'Shryv. It was ironic that this tree sat in closest proximity of Yr'Vara, with its lovers and romance. For the symbol for Yr'Shryv was the Otherlife, or death in some interpretations. Here were found the dwellings of those specializing in the embalming arts, as well as sylvans who were known as seers and soothsayers. Academies for mages and sorcerers also made a home within the branches of Yr'Shryv, and many small shops offered various charms and incantations for all manner of uses, such as to ward off bad luck, or attract a lover's interest. Legends and stories told of the restless souls of departed sylvans, called Others, sometimes walking along the dark, twisting alleys of Yr'Shryv.
In a northwest direction from Yr'Shryv stood the modwir called Yr'Mez. This giant was home to the Tyesterons, and their impressive great hall featured a large practice arena as well as a lofty archery range high within the trees upper reaches. The symbol of Yr'Mez was sunset, and the residences within its branches had a glorious view of the same most evenings. Weapons and archery merchants were numerous along Yr'Mez's wide promenades, and its bridges were wider than any other tree, to allow the frequent passage of militia groups.
Finally, standing between Yr'Mez and Yr'Thrumh was the modwir called Yr'Weth, a tree boasting a symbol meaning life. A large percentage of its residences were family homes, since this tree offered the quietest neighborhoods among the trees of Yuriqen. Included though was the impressive Hall of Healing, a stately dwelling that seemed to capture light and fair breezes. There the sylvan healers were taught their craft. When the Lassarans were granted official D'ahranal status, they built their great hall in Yr'Weth, for to the west stretched the distances that extended the siren call.
While the sylvans were in general a serene, even-keeled people, their social interactions tended to be weighted with all the ceremony and custom they had carried with them through the long years they journeyed across the continent. While various aspects of the social customs had been greatly relaxed during the years of travel, once Yuriqen offered them homes, safety and a comfortable living, the sylvans embraced their ancient traditions. Their extended families were tightly knit and usually large. A family generally lived in one multi-leveled dwelling, and interacted on a constant basis. The raising of children was shared among the household's adults, and aunts and uncles carried as much authority as a child's parents. Familial loyalty was considered almost as important as loyalty to the council and one's D'aharanal. The obligation of bringing honor to the household was considered of paramount importance, and it was one of the first objectives to which a young sylvan pledged oath.
Marriage was more than a union between two sylvans; it was considered a solemn oath that was not to be broken unless all other recourses had been exhausted. During the long years spent journeying to Yuriqen, the union between sylvan individuals often relied, out of necessity, on two individuals choosing each other. In Yuriqen, such unofficial practices soon disappeared. Marriages were usually arranged between families, and were designed to bring about honor for the houses more than to facilitate any sort of romantic alliance. Often two sylvans who were betrothed had never met prior to the engagement ceremony. In some cases, where two households were closely allied, such as ties within a D'aharanal, the attraction of a suitable sylvan youth to a likewise interested girl was deemed auspicious, and the betrothal of the two combined both political and emotional goals. Ultimately, the happiness of the pair was considered important, but children resulting from the union were the ultimate goal.
The basis of sylvan religion was a faith and attendant ceremonies with Imaera at its heart. Thus, it was logical that a newly married couple resided with the bride's family. The strong, matriarchal chain had sustained the sylvans during their long years of hardship and it stood them good stead in the years of plenty as well. Households welcomed the new grooms into the family, considering them as brothers equal to any man related by blood.
Childbirth was a family affair, a ceremony wherein women of the family cemented their bonds as sisters, mothers and daughters, while they helped the new mother through the painful process. During the labor, the men of the household gathered to tell family stories that reached back through the generations. When the new arrival was announced, the birth was joyfully though quietly acknowledged and, if the labor had been a long one, the household retired to rest. On the sorrowful occasions when either the baby or mother or both did not survive, the family retired and regrouped the following day to mourn together.
Newborns of either sex were appreciated equally. Offspring were given the name of the household in which they were born, and their successes in life honored both parents, as well as the family in which they were raised.
In some instances, a family observed that one of its children preferred a same-sex partner. These individuals were not considered to be any less worthy than others; rather it was viewed as a different, though valid path. The child often communicated this preference to the elders of the household, since nothing was considered wrong about the choice.
In that case, the arrangements for a union were handled identically to those of the other children, although the number of available partners was more limited. While limited choices often meant an alliance that was not deemed as profitable, it was known that the happiness of the prospective marriage partners directly affected the happiness of the household at large, and this meant much more than wealth or political gain. Once a partner was found for the child, the marriage ceremony was celebrated as joyfully as any other marriage. However, in choosing which household the pair would make their home, the details were somewhat more complicated. These negotiations were settled during the betrothal, usually benefiting the more successful household, or else the household that offered the best potential for children. For it was always expected that at least one member of a same-sex union would choose a surrogate partner in order to bring the blessing of a child to the household.
As years of plenty replenished the decimated population of the sylvans, this expectation was relaxed. In later years, bringing honor to a household via service or excellence in a chosen endeavor was viewed as a worthy contribution.
A household was based on the authority of the matriarch, however her mate or a chosen son was expected to join her in making decisions that affected the good of the whole. If the husband of a blood daughter of the household was the best choice to head the family, he was offered the opportunity to assume the important role. The decision of who was to stand as her consort rested with the matriarch. Though typically understated among sylvan families, it was undoubtedly the single most defining symbol of power within the structure of a household.
The sylvans practiced a religion dedicated to Imaera. It celebrated the advent of each season with a rich holiday featuring feast, song and prayer. While sylvans were a conservative people, they embraced life and the joyful living of it with exuberance. The quarterly Holy Days, interspersed with other, lesser holidays, provided a year rich with festivity and spiritual relevance. However, it should be noted that the sylvans always recognized the importance of endings as well as beginnings, and to this end, a second school of worship was recognized, drawing those who wished to dedicated themselves to a darker goddess than Imaera. Recognized throughout sylvan history, from the time of Ithnishmyn to Yuriqen, this conclave worshipped the goddess Gosaena, celebrating her domination of death and the mystery of Otherlife. The acolytes, monks and priestesses of this religious group were easily identified by their grey robes, as well as by their silence.
Compared to the rest of sylvan history over the centuries, recountals concerning the closing of Yuriqen were sketchy. Legends told of a usurping sorcerer who found the city and attacked it by inflicting the Silver Veil with a disease that either defoliated the trees, or else turned their lovely silvery leaves as black as night. While it was more probable, considering the location of the city, that any enemy threatening it would be human, accounts were consistent in describing the assailant as a rogue Faendryl elf. Certainly, the might needed for one individual to threaten such a magically protected stronghold as Yuriqen was considerable.
Myrdanian he was called, and he was reputed to be beautiful of feature, a tall elf with long golden hair and compelling grey eyes. Initially, he approached the sylvans seeking friendship. The fact that he was admitted to the cloistered city gives testament to his compelling personality. He was an admirable intellect as well as an accomplished musician. He played harp as skillfully as any the sylvans had ever heard. As they grew acquainted with him and fell prey to his charisma, the sylvans began to believe that it might be time to drop their walls and seek their lost brethren, the elves.
One ancient councilor among them, Alesanderie by name, sensed his duplicity, and on a moonless night, she crept into his sleeping chamber, determined to breach his mental bastions. Using an influsion of rare forest herbs, she poured a few drops upon his lips as he slept, and incanting a magical spell that worked in tandem with the drug, she beheld the threat of the beast within him. However, the sorcerer awoke and lashed back at the intrusion, and dealt Alesanderie a mortal blow. But she was of sturdy stock, and she lived long enough to regain consciousness one last time and communicate the vision she had of Myrdanian to three of her fellow councilors. This was enough to warn her people.
A few days later, the five most powerful councilors took Myrdanian unaware, binding him with a concentrated version of Nanrithowan, which rendered him senseless. They transported him out of Yuriqen and to the edges of the sylvan forest. While the three councilors who had witnessed Alesanderie's dying visions advocated death to the sorcerer, the others disagreed. Death had never been the sylvan way. So it was decided that Myrdanian be left at the forest's edge until the effects of the spell wore off, a time span that promised to be less than swift.
The sorcerer managed to keep himself alive amidst the torture of weeks of nausea, confusion and disorientation. Then, finding a suitable location on the southern side of the sylvan forest, he began to build a tower.
For years the sorceror waged an onslaught against the sylvans, sending dark magic and foul beasts against them. Finally, in desperation, the sylvans decided to invoke an escalated version of Nanrithowan, a spell that would effectively seal off the city to any further attack, but at the same time, seal in the residents. They had knowledge of a nullification spell, however once they cast the intial spell, they knew they would have no hint of a safe time to work its partner. They would be completely cut off from the rest of the world. The Lassarans were given the choice of leaving Yuriqen or staying. Many chose to leave, seeing it as their destiny to carry sylvan knowledge to bands and families that had been lost during the long, arduous journeys.
These emissaries stealthily departed the Silver Veil and made for the east in search of their kindred, carrying with them the history of Yuriqen.
As orcs and other beasts under the sorcerer's dominion assaulted the sylvans' magical barricades, the preparation of the spell began. It was a fearsome undertaking, for it required the lives of those invoking the magic to seal its conclusion. Seven councilors died invoking the spell. Magic rolled through the forest, enveloping all fel creatures creeping through the trees within its terrible grasp, and they died a torturous death. As dusk settled on the Seven Modwirs, the whole population of Yuriqen stood on the western bridges watching the sun sink below the horizon.
They vowed to hold the forest even though it took isolation for the rest of their lives as well as that of their descendants.