After the fall of the great civilizations of Men at the end of the Age of Light, much of Erâth was laid to waste. Entire continents were rendered uninhabitable, and the rest of the lands were overrun by darkness. Twisted creatures took form, encouraged by the rampant spread of the Duithèn. The once-great cities of Men, already in ruins, crumbled and decayed, their ashes scattered by the violent and poisonous winds. What was left of the race of Men was scattered, divided and lawless, fighting amongst themselves for survival.
The age that followed, some two three thousand years or so, is referred to as the Second Age of Erâth. It charts the recovery of Erâth from the destruction rained upon it by Men, the rebuilding of kingdoms, and the eventual corruption of Men by the Duithèn.
(i) The Waste
To accurately trace the history of the Second Age of Erâth, we must begin by looking at what was left of Erâth in the aftermath of the great wars of the First Age. No part of Erâth was left unspoiled, and in Cathaï alone remained any trace of green and wild untainted by disease or darkness. This one refuge may have been the saving grace of Erâth, for without it it is likely the Portèn would have had little power to restore life to Erâth. As it is, some parts of Erâth remain in ruin to this day, and the survival of the race of Men is due to the power of the Portèn.
The Decay of Erâth
The destruction of Men touched all parts of Erâth. Golgor, once home to the eldest kingdoms of Men, was left scorched and blackened in the North. Every city was left in ruins, some no more than ashes and bones. Poisonous winds from the North carried ruin far across the wide deserts of central Golgor, leaving death in the forested mountains of the South. What Men may have survived succumbed to disease, starvation and the fierce wilds within the following decades, and it is believed no Men now live in all that land.
Narün, home of the Mirèn during the end of the First Age, had borne the brunt of the attacks from the lands of Men, and was by far the most devastated of the lands of Erâth. For scores of years, fires raged among the forest homes of the Mirèn, driving what few were left into the scarred plains and hills. The weapons of Men had carried disease as well as flame, and this spread far and wide across Narün. Infecting the Mirèn with lethal swiftness, it ensured the utter demise of these people as they breathed, withered, and died within days. Where this disease settled on plants, it twisted them horribly, shriveled their roots, scarred their leaves, and left them to die in silent agony. Where there was no forest, there was plain, and this burned with rapid wildfire until nothing was left but scorched and dry earth. In places where the blasts had fallen heaviest, the ground itself was cracked open, or turned to glass. What few Mirèn survived both fire and disease had to contend with the remaining beasts, mutated savagely into reckless machines of death, killing for sport as much as for food. Over the course of a century, all vegetation in Narün was extinct. In short order, the rest of life in that land followed, as species upon species died – first those that fed on vegetation, then those that fed on those creatures, and finally those that fed on them. Nothing yet lives in all of Narün, and bitter winds sweep the land for hundreds of leagues.
Aélûr and Thaeìn were decimated in similar measure to Golgor, but perhaps because the influence of disease was less here (different realms of Men had used different weapons of destruction), what damage was done was largely by fire. Again, cities were left in smoldering ruins, the lands were scorched, the forests killed. The South of Aélûr, already given to darkness before the end of the First Age, was changed little, but the destruction of the North allowed the creatures of these lands to roam freely, claiming the burning hills for their own. The people of Thaeìn, by contrast, found refuge in the mountains, and in spite of cold and hunger, were able largely to escape the burning of the plains below them. Creatures of darkness arose in these plains, spread from Aélûr.
Faerün had never been largely inhabited by Men, and indeed its cold, mountainous and frozen countenance prevented much from living there at all. What few settlements of Men did exist died out swiftly, cut off from the rest of civilization and unable to sustain themselves without provisions from abroad.
Cathaï, uniquely, was spared much of the destruction of the rest of Erâth, but nonetheless found itself in the grip of darkness. Men survived here, though driven from the burning ruins of their cities, and survived in the hills, fending off the creatures that marauded the countryside. The Illuèn, also, survived in this land (although smaller populations dwelt elsewhere in Thaeìn and Aélûr), and this may have contributed to the unusual preservation of Cathaï.
Oríthiae, alone among the lands of Erâth, was left untouched by weapons of Men. Its people survived into the following centuries, separated by such vast distances from the rest of the world that they came to believe they alone were the sole survivors in Erâth. Their fate, ultimately, was not the rapid death of flames, but the slow perishing of souls over years. Overcome with grief at the demise of their world, and wrought with agony at the belief that they were responsible, the population of Oríthiae began slowly to die out. Their lives were long; in the time before the end of the First Age, these Men lived for some two hundred years or more. But this long life brought to them only a small delay, for the women of Oríthiae ceased to bring forth heirs. The population of this country grew ever older, lingered, and died. With such a fate, it is certain that, eventually, there was but one, single person left in the entire land. One can only imagine what madness he must have been driven to, doomed to wander alone the deserted ruins of Viura Râ, gazing at the end of the world unto the ending of his own, forsaken life.
The Power of the Portèn
The eradication of the Mirèn from Erâth was certainly the most devastating consequence of the great Wars of the First Age, but it is important not to overlook the near catastrophic damage done to the Portèn also. Creatures of plant and animal, the race that made all things grow, were also nearly wiped out by the mere fires of Men. Every leaf and blade of grass that burns causes harm to these beings, and as their very existence is intertwined with the life of Erâth itself, had their destruction been total, it is sure Erâth would have not long survived past the devastation.
As it was, the Portèn were nearly extinguished, but not quite. Though gravely weakened, they remained in every land bar Narün, and as they have never returned to that land, it consequently has never had life again (and probably never will). In Cathaï only did they remain in any strength, and it was from here that they themselves began the rebuilding of the foundations of Erâth. For without the life of leaf and grass, no other life can exist.
For nearly five hundred years, the Portèn struggled to regain their strength, and what they could encourage to grow did not last long, was faded and grey, and often poisonous to the taste. Yet there were creatures that were changed by the Duithèn to subsist on these poor plants, and in this was the change of much life on Erâth. From the creatures of nature rose beasts of malice and evil, some of which grew to monstrous size and dwelt in the mountain caves. Indeed, the strength of Portèn is evidenced by their ability, even weakened, to resist the power of the Duithèn and the Namirèn, who certainly would have made an end of them had they been able.
But the Portèn resisted; they regained their strength, and send their roots far to the lands beyond Cathaï. Seeing that Men still endured in Thaeìn and Aélûr, they visited these lands before Golgor, and began the slow and arduous work of reseeding life in Erâth.
The Portèn are naturally slow creatures, and do not mind the toil of ages. The Sarâthen conferred long with them during the centuries that passed, united in their grief. The Portèn were overcome with sadness by the extent of death and ruin, and the loss of the Mirèn, ever their closest ally. The Sarâthen, for themselves, were distraught at the thought that it was their lack of foresight that had led to these terrible consequences, and sought to make reparations to the world of Erâth, no matter how long it should take.
So it was that, slowly, Cathaï, most of Thaeìn and the northern parts of Aélûr were made green once more, and Men came out of the mountains and the caves and were again able to live on the lands of Erâth. It was not all equal; many of the wondrous plants and animals of the First Age were no more, and what did grow was of more ordinary stock. Grass, wheat, and corn; oak, ash and fir; trout, hawk and bear; these are what now grew and lived in the lands of Men. They shared the world with the twisted creatures of darkness, who continued to exist despite the renewal of the land.
Although encouraged by the Sarâthen to rebuild Erâth for Men, it was with mistrust that the Portèn went about their slow seeding. The Portèn do not forget, nor does their memory fade with time, and with every day and year that passed they regrew another league of land, and avoided contact with Men entirely. They also vowed their efforts would not be for Men, but rather for Erâth.
Only after a thousand years was enough of the lands of Men restored such that the Portèn felt their work complete, and they now turned their attention to Golgor. But too much time had passed, too great was the devastation, and too vast the land. Golgor, origin of Men, was overrun entirely by the vile creatures of darkness, lorded over by the Duithèn. By now, however, the Duithèn had realized that life was yet needed in Erâth, if their dominion was to be complete; it was not the destruction of life they sought (unlike the Namirèn, who yet understood the importance of restraint in dealing out death), but the total spread of darkness through the world. But the Portèn were yet needed for such life to exist, and as such an uneasy truce was struck. The Portèn were to be allowed to regrow small parts of Golgor, provided such growth not be green or vivacious. Their desire to regrow Erâth was stronger than their disgust at the greed of the Duithèn, and the Portèn consented. It is for this reason that Golgor remains inhabited to this day, but not by such life as is known anywhere else in Erâth.
The Rebuilding of Men
For centuries, the populations of Men dwindled, isolated from each other, until only tiny settlements remained, scratching their living day to day from rocks. Many grew too few in number to sustain themselves, and died out entirely. Many more fell ill to disease, or prey to the wolves, and fled into the wilds to starve. The lives of Men, once spanning hundreds of years, shortened to fifty or sixty years at best, many falling at less than half that age. With terrible shortages of sustenance, Men fell to fighting amongst themselves, killing for no more than a single mouthful of food. It is rumored that in the distant darkness of Aélûr, some groups of Men fell ultimately to cannibalism, having no other option left for their survival.
It was the slow restoration of Erâth by the Portèn that saved the Race of Men from extinction. At first, the changes were imperceptible; the growth of plants was still gray and stilted, and what did it matter if there was more of it, when what plants did grow were thorned, twisted and black? Then, slowly, each successive generation remembered less disease, and fewer assaults from beasts, and began to wonder whether they might venture from their hovels into the wider lands.
The first scouts got little way before encountering resistance from the twisted plants and malevolent creatures, but each time they ventured forth, they were able to push a little further, until, after decades, they found themselves at the sea and knew they had reclaimed at least some of the land.
There were extremely few groups of Men remaining by this time, and, each believing themselves to be last of the Race of Men in Erâth, chose a site to be the founding of a new kingdom of Men. Some chose to dwell in the plains, some remained in the mountains, and some ventured to the sea and founded villages on the coasts and the cliffs of the ocean. Each found within themselves a strength, a power to command a small part of the world – for some, the dominion of animals, others the growth of the land – and set themselves to use this power to grow their kingdom. Not one, however, chose the pursuit of wisdom or the advancement of knowledge. It is sure that some ancestral memory remained that it was such pursuits that led to the waste and the devastation they were only beginning to recover from. Only the Sarâthen knew that it was not the pursuit of knowledge that led to war, but the failure to understand the responsibility to use such knowledge wisely.
The new kingdoms of Men grew, across the lands of Cathaï, Thaeìn and Aélûr, spreading from the seat of their power and raising small villages dotted across the country. Eventually, they began to come across villages not settled by their own people, and it was so that Men became aware of themselves again, and knew they were not alone.
Such encounters did not come with trust, however. Men did not fall to outright war, but each kingdom wanted little to do with the others at first. Mistrust prevailed, wary of the subtle influence each people seemed to have on the land and Erâth. Their languages had become changed also over time, and communication was often difficult. No one people desired to abandon their own tongue, protective of their own identity, and it is here that the origins of the Common Language are to be found. Soon enough, though, the different peoples became aware of the need and the advantage of at least minimal trade with the other peoples of Men, and so were born the new kingdoms of Men, existing in uneasy peace with each other.