(ii) The Twelve Kingdoms of Men
During the Second Age there were established twelve kingdoms of Men, spread across the three remaining continents of Erâth: Cathaï, Thaeìn and Aélûr. Of these, three were founded in Cathaï, four in Thaeìn and five in Aélûr. Each kingdom governed their own small territory of the world, though much of the world remained uninhabited except by the creatures of darkness.
It was the power of the Portèn that made it possible for men to regain the world, but Men soon forgot the influence of this race. The Portèn, for their part, were happy to leave the world of Men to itself, having restored what they could of Erâth, and retreated to long slumber, unnoticed and ignored by Men. This left the lands of Erâth open to the conquest of the Duithèn and the Namirèn, and the Sarâthen were too few to do much more than hold them at bay. This left Men to resist the powers of darkness alone, and it is for this reason that the lands of Aélûr, and in particular Cathaï, long the strongest refuge of the Portèn and life itself, were the first to fall to darkness.
The Three Kingdoms of Cathaï
In the continent of Cathaï grew three distinct realms: the Valdrün in the hills and forests of the North, Pulväen in the central wooded plains, and the Piral in the islands of the South. Uneasy tension reigned between these three peoples, with Pulväen and Valdrün mistrusting each other, and the Piral periodically raiding the other two from the coast.
The Valdrün grew amongst the rich forests in the hills and mountains in the North of Cathaï, and their towns were often built into and amongst the trees themselves. The trees in this land grew tall, and the Valdrün spent much of their time dwelling hundreds of feet above the forest floor. This was lucky for them, for dangerous beasts roamed the forests beneath. The Valdrün were masters of ambush, hunting from above with arrow and spear. The use of stone was largely unknown to them, but they were masters of the craft of wood. Great stairways connected them from treetop to treetop, and wound up and down around – and sometimes inside – the massive trunks. The Valdrün were the only Men in Erâth during the Second Age who kept a knowledge of the Portèn, as this race were initially fond of their desire to cause little harm to the world around them.
The Piren, in the South, were a more violent race. The islands on which they lived were sparse and offered little, and in consequence it was necessary for them to journey by sea to the mainland of Cathaï from time to time. Their fierce nature led them to conduct raids on the coastal towns of Pulväen, and less frequently, the Valdrün (these latter rarely settled the coasts, as the North of Cathaï largely bordered the sea with prodigious cliffs). They developed a mastery of the ocean, and their vessels grew large and potent. They would journey the fifty or so leagues from the main island of Scaer, and return with spoils and riches. Pulväen was often able to offer resistance, and more than one Piren longboat ended its life at the bottom of the sea, but the Piren returned more often victorious than not.
Pulväen, in the central lands, had a keener instinct than their neighboring peoples. They came to master the art of potions, and were known as great healers. Their brews could be poison as often as elixirs, however, and they were not generous with their abilities. Growing to have longer life than most other Men of the Second Age, they built great halls on the hills, and channeled the springs and streams, using them as a source for their powers. This kingdom was greater than the Valdrün or the Piren, and it was so that they ultimately became the dominant force in Cathaï once the Duithèn cast their influence over these kingdoms.
The range of these kingdoms, great as they became, filled little of the wider lands of Cathaï, and roaming the further wilds were the beasts and creatures of the old world. Here in Cathaï alone were these creatures little twisted by either the Duithèn or the fallout of the Wars of the First Age, and while the predators posed a danger to the peoples of Cathaï, they did not seek deliberately to kill or feast on Men. As such, the greatest threat to the kingdoms of Cathaï were each other. Pulväen and the Piren waged minor battles as the seafaring people pillaged their towns, but the Valdrün kept largely to themselves. Encounters between them and Pulväen were initially rare, and mostly did not lead to fighting.
These three kingdoms reached their height around two thousand years after the end of the First Age, thought the influence of the Duithèn was already spreading some two hundred years before that.
The Five Kingdoms of Aélûr
In the West, the lands of Aélûr gave rise to five separate, yet often connected, kingdoms. All dwelt in the North, where the land was bare and rocky. What grew was faded, as the restoring power of Portèn had been less here than elsewhere in Erâth. Much of the terrain was mountain, and in the northernmost parts volcanoes of huge size spat fire into the air, and flowed molten rock to the western seas.
In the early days of the Second Age, when darkness still covered the land and the Portèn had yet to begin their work of growth, Men had retreated to the mountains and caves, seeking what refuge they could from the terrible beasts that roamed freely over the lands. When the trees began to grow again, and the grass turned green, some Men in Aélûr refused to leave their caves, and founded Onderkråg (the Under Realm). Instead, they chose to turn their underground dwellings into vast systems of caves, and built their kingdoms out of the living rock under the mountains of Aélûr.
At the height of the power, one could travel beneath entire ranges of mountains through the connected caverns of Onderkräag. The ceilings of their greatest cities were high beyond measure, and great roads winded beside vast underground rivers connecting their towns. Underground lakes provided much of their sustenance, as Onderkräag were not the only living creatures under the mountains. Small, blind creatures were hunted by the people of Onderkräag, while huge beasts with a dozen legs and jaws of poison hunted them in turn. As a result, these people became vicious, masters not only of mining but of fighting and killing. They grew accustomed to deep darkness, and though were weakened in the sun, were a formidable enemy in the deeps, or without the light of day. This bent towards darkness also made them one of the first peoples to succumb to the Duithèn.
In the far North, eking a living from the dust and poisonous, volcanic air, dwelt a people whose mastery was of flame. They took for themselves no name, but were referred to by the other realms of Erâth as the Fire Lords. How they survived in a land barren of vegetation is a mystery, but here they dwelt, channeling the fire of their mountain home. Like the Men of Onderkråg, they too spent much of their time dwelling beneath the surface of Erâth, but they did not care to carve out their own caverns, but rather inhabited the tunnels and caves left behind by the ancient flows of lava. They knew instinctively when eruptions would occur, which peaks were yet to spew forth fire, and which chose to sleep through the ages. They discovered that the molten stone, once cooled, had unique properties, and honed the craft of turning this stone to tools, and ultimately weapons. Thin shards of this glassy stone were as sharp as dragons’ teeth, and had the strength of steel yet remained light to wield. Their jagged, curved scythes of black stone were terrifying in battle.
In the East of Aélûr dwelt a race of Men who grew to prodigious heights – the Reusun. Most of this people reached over ten feet in height easily, and were as broad as they were tall. They minds, however, did not grow as their bodies did, and remained a simple people, easily overcome by darkness when the time came. Their strength was unparalleled, and taking stone and branch, they would often batter and kill any who strayed within the boundaries of their realm. They did not grow a great kingdom as such, but dwelt in wood and mud huts in wetlands and marsh, in small settlements and villages. Even fire was precious to them, feeding often instead on raw meet, and what roots could be scrounged from the boggy and gray land.
Further South than any other people of Aélûr, the Men of Schärkrûn dwelt in dark forests, and gained a command over the small creatures, and to a lesser extent, the great ones. Their towns were hidden deep amongst the trees, and ventured seldom into the plains beyond. Anything that crawled or slithered on the floors of the forest was under their command, which was greatly to their advantage as many of these creatures possessed bites and stings that would kill a man in minutes. Such command was instinctive; they were unable to control the creatures directly, but rather the small vermin and insects seemed rather to know, and often actually protected the people of Schärkrûn from the larger predators of the forest. It was not uncommon for a host of spiders to descend upon packs of wolves hundreds of times their size, decimating them with lethal bites and stings. As such, the greater beasts of the forests learned to keep back from the villages of Schärkrûn, retreating into the lightless depths of the woods and fighting instead among themselves.
By far, though, the greatest kingdom of Aélûr was Urkûl. Great forgers of steel, they were also insidious and subtle, borrowing skills from the peoples around them. They gleaned the craft of fire from the Fire Lords to the North, and the skill of mining from Onderkråg, and combined these skills in the forging of vicious and lightweight weapons, and great towers of steel for their dwellings. This people were the closest in design and construction to the Men of the First Age, though their towers of steel rarely grew beyond three or four stories, and they failed in their attempts to forge glass in anything more than small panes. The steel thus formed the foundations of their civilization, but stone built the rest.
The people of Urkûl had some skill in fighting, also, but their primary strategy was brute strength. They were populous, and in attack could overwhelm their enemy by sheer numbers. All men of Urkûl were warriors, even those whose primary role was teaching, or healing, or farming. It was Urkûl the Duithèn approached first, recognizing their power and strength, and knowing they would be instrumental in their planned conquering of Erâth for the powers of Darkness.
These five races existed, if not in peace, at least in tolerance. Seldom were outright battles fought, but nor did exchange or trade exist between them. Rather, they tended to their own, growing their own strength, thinking – at first, at least – of only their own survival.
The Four Kingdoms of Thaeìn
The central land of Erâth, Thaeìn, was home to the last four kingdoms of Men. Neither taking for granted the life of the land like the realms of Cathaï, nor twisted by the darkness of Aélûr, these countries were the humblest of the Second Age, and lived in comparative peace with each other. For thousands of years, like the other eight peoples of Men, each kingdom’s own survival was paramount, and there was little aid offered between the four realms of Thaeìn, but nor was there enmity. Because of these modest beginnings, the people of Erâth were the only ones to survive through the ending of the Second Age, and into the Third.
In the South, the people of Kiriün were great cultivators, bringing life to the grass and plains of Thaeìn. The lands here were ever green, tended with care and understanding of the delicate nature of growing things. Their towns were seldom large, preferring to dwell in small communities and villages. Only their capitol city, Courerà (Heart of Erâth), could be considered a great town, but even here, the king’s palace was little more than a grand house of wood, built respectfully from neighboring forests. Even within the Great Hall, an enormous oak grew a hundred feet through the roof and to the sky above.
Because of their untroubled nature, Kiriün bore no great warriors, and was subsequently the first to fall when the forces of Darkness finally descended upon the lands of Thaeìn. It was, in fact, this effortless invasion of a peaceful people who bore no ill will against anyone that convinced the three remaining kingdoms of Thaeìn to unite against the forces of darkness and defend not only themselves, but all the peoples of Thaeìn.
Also in the South, east of Kiriün, was Erârün, Kingdom of Stone. These were great masons of the Second Age. They did not live in the mountains themselves, but rather carved grand cities from the stone, and heaved tons of rock from cliff to countryside for the building of their towns. In parts a coastal country, some of the grandest cities of Erârün were built from the sea cliffs, descending in countless levels to the waters below. Their country was fair, though not as full of growing things as Kiriün, but streams and fresh were not found everywhere. The greatest achievement of Erârün, and possibly the greatest architectural constructs of the Second Age, were the vast aqueducts that spanned hundreds of miles and carried fresh water from the mountains South to their towns and cities.
Their skill with stone also allowed the people of Erârün to build the only true roads of the Second Age, great stone pathways that led from each major city outwards throughout the kingdom. Stone slabs, some ten feet long, were laid into the ground and fitted with such precision that, far past the ending of the Second Age and into the Third, not a weed could grow in the cracks between them.
In Thaeìn lived also a people who chose not to descend from the mountains after the restoration of the Portèn; instead, the ascended yet higher, and founded Hochträe, the Mountain Realm. The people of Hochträe lived in small villages in the valleys between high peaks, and built a life around livestock and pasturing. Descended from a small group of people who, in the First Age, had not held with the widespread belief in technological advancement, they remained a spiritual people, and great temples were built on the highest peaks. The most dedicated and disciplined men and women of Hochträe lived in these monasteries, giving their lives to the pursuit of balance, and enlightenment. In this, they were the closest people of Men to the Illuèn, who in a similar way were dedicated maintaining light throughout the remaining lands of Erâth.
The people of Hochträe invented also something unique to the second age – flight. Inspired by legends of flying machines from the First Age, the people of Hochträe discovered that air, warmed, could keep large weights afloat in the high atmospheres where they dwelled, and soon crafted huge balloons, capable of carrying a score of men over great distances. Their balloons inevitably fell back to the ground – they were unable to maintain great quantities of fuel for the fire they needed to heat the air – but it proved a valuable way of maintaining contact with remote villages, especially during the long and harsh winters.
The fourth kingdom of Thaeìn, isolated in the North, were the Dragon Lords. Soon after the fall of the First Age, the poisons and darkness that prevailed took some of the flying beasts in Erâth, and changed them. They became the Dragons, truthfully a race unto themselves. The people who had survived in the North of Thaeìn had also to survive these ferocious creatures, some of whom had the genuine ability to send great plumes of flame hundreds of feet before them. But, in the twisting of their bodies into great winged beasts, the forces that changed them also gave to these creatures uncanny intelligence; not quite the intelligence of Men, but something other. The Dragons recognized the importance of Men, and for all the terror they inspired, they rarely attacked the villages of these people. The lands in which they lived were dark, though a more wholesome dark than that spread by the Duithèn; the North of Thaeìn, like that of Aélûr, was home to numerous volcanic mountains, whose great heat may have contributed to the development of the Dragons themselves.
Over time, the Men of the North began to understand the nature of these creatures, and soon, they came to know one another. The Dragons recognized that Men could provide for them without the need to scour the sparse countryside for prey – their livestock made ample meals, and they needed little compared to the great populations of Men. For their part, the Men of the North realized the Dragons could be a formidable ally, should their lands ever fall under attack.
These Men became known as the Dragon Lords (a misnomer – they did not lord over the Dragons; no Dragon would allow itself to be so commanded), and over time, an elite caste emerged – the Dragon Riders. These brave warriors were allowed to be carried along on the wings of these great beasts, and this symbiosis allowed the power of the Dragon to be combined with the cunning of Men to form a terrible force against their enemies.
The Dragon Lords kept themselves aloof from the other three kingdoms of Thaeìn. They did not seek their alliance, nor their subservience, but asked only to be left in peace themselves. For the most part, this was not difficult; a great distance of marsh, mountain and rock separated the North of Thaeìn from the South, and the journey between was long and treacherous. As such, it was not until the attack of the forces of Darkness, and the invasion of Kiriün, that the Dragon Lords made themselves known to the Kingdoms of Men.
The Illuèn and the Sarâthen
A race that must not be ignored in the development of the Second Age is the Illuèn. Throughout the First Age, they had been the inspiration and the driving force behind the accomplishments of Men. It was only as Men’s greed overcame them, and they forgot the Illuèn, that they receded from the lands of Men, and remained in small numbers in the farthest forests of Erâth.
With the great destruction of the world, many of the Illuèn were killed themselves, and many others, like Men, sickened and died. But the damage to the Illuèn was far greater than the mere death of fire and disease, for their very life is bound to the light of Erâth itself. In the centuries of darkness following the collapse of the civilizations of Men, what remained of the Illuèn began to die also. Only in Cathaï, and the southern forests of Thaeìn, could the Illuèn survive, and it was here they built their havens of light. Little known to Men, the Illuèn kept hidden, dismayed at what Men had done, and grieving for the loss of their kin, the Mirèn.
However, with the influence of the Portèn, the Illuèn were able to venture forth once more, and found themselves in a world twisted by darkness, but with a small hope of restoring the lands of Erâth. The Men of Erâth, living poorly in Cathaï, Thaeìn and Aélûr, appeared to have no great desire for war again, and the Illuèn took it upon themselves to aid in the restoration of Erâth by keeping at bay the forces of darkness.
Unknown to Men, the Illuèn in secret fought back the beasts and creatures of darkness in Thaeìn, and Cathaï, leaving the lands clear for the repopulation of Men. For their continued survival, Men owe the Illuèn a great debt; but it is the fate of Men that they should not recognize this, and remember the Illuèn only in vague legend. Few Men ever met the Illuèn for the first three thousand years of the Second Age, even though they kept much of the lands safe from the creatures of darkness.
It is tragic that the Illuèn would be betrayed by Men a second time, and it is at the end of the Second Age that the Illuèn began their slow and final ending.
The Sarâthen, too, should not be forgotten. They had encouraged the Portèn to rebuild the flora of Erâth; they were also responsible for the survival of the Illuèn, helping them to find the safe havens from which they could rebuild. The Sarâthen were aware that, should the two remaining races of light, the Illuèn and the Portèn, leave Erâth, there would be no hope of keeping back the Duithèn and the Namirèn, and Erâth would be lost forever to darkness.
Yet, the Sarâthen remained scarred by the great destruction of Men, and desired no longer to influence the development of Men. Their early wisdom had failed, and they found themselves crippled by uncertainty. If their foresight had not been able to predict such great destruction, what faith could they put in any other vision they might have?
The Sarâthen instead turned to themselves, and built a refuge in the remotest part of Thaeìn, and resolved not to interfere with the course of Men until they knew where they had failed, and what might be done to prevent such a cataclysm again. Perhaps merely their noninvolvement could be enough to keep the development of Men from reaching the point of creating such terrible destruction. The Sarâthen spent the thousands of years of the Second Age meditating and pondering, and their existence was all but forgotten by the race of Men.