(ii) The New Realm of Men
The War of Darkness left indelible changes on the kingdoms of Thaeìn also. The populations withdrew into their towns and cities, and men travelled less and less. The edges of their territories grew wild, and the creatures of darkness encroached on their lands. The trees and forests grew and expanded, and the dominion of men grew ever smaller, until there remained in each kingdom only one place worthy of being called a city. Many of the other towns were abandoned and left to ruin, or inhabited by such sparse populations that the town was barely kept alive.
Out of the gladness of their victory grew eventually a kind of grim resignation; little had changed since before the War, and much was worse than it had been. The kingdoms of Thaeìn grew apart, and then grew bitter. Sadness filled the hearts of men, and the ages of glory seemed lost forever.
The Fall of the Dragon Lords
In the North, the realm of the Dragon Lords found itself in ruins. They too felt the decline of Thaeìn, and the loss of their king and his Dragon was a blow from which they did not recover. They had entered the War at the eleventh hour only to prevent the victory of the Duithèn over Erâth, but it now seemed that much had been lost regardless. The Dragon Lords had never been a people of light, but their darkness was not of the Duithèn, and they now found themselves plunged ever deeper into their own despair.
The son of the king took up his father’s rule, but he was overcome with grief and sadness, and did not tend to the rebuilding of their people. Their lands had been spared, as the War had not touched the North of Thaeìn, but it made little difference; their people were dying.
The Dragons, also, were spent. They had never been great in number, and they had lost many in the War. Dragons are long-lived creatures, and many that had come into existence at the dawn of the Second Age were those who had fallen in battle. The grief of the Dragons was deep, and with great sadness they bid farewell to their man-kin, and went into the mountains. Here they stayed, moving from their caves only to crush the creatures of darkness that occasionally entered their realm. Gradually, their fire faded, and they fell to a long slumber, waking not for many, many centuries.
The people of the Dragon Lords carried on, but without their dragon-kin, a part of themselves was also lost. The new king’s failing rule drove his people further into despair, and they slowly ceased to build and to grow.
Over many centuries, their population dwindled, until only a handful of villages in the outskirts of their cities remained. The towns became abandoned, and the people now faced the inevitable extinction of their kind. To their surprise, they found they that welcomed this revelation; for so long now had they seen no purpose in the lands of Thaeìn that they realized their only real desire was to leave Erâth, whether in the hands of men or the Duithèn.
So it was that the kingdom of the Dragon Lords fell. Their women no longer bore sons, and the lands grew more desolate as their population aged ever more. The Dragon Lords had been the proudest and most noble of the kingdoms of men of the Second Age, but now, like their forefathers in Oríthiae in ages past, they faced the long night of extinction. They grew fewer, and fewer, until there was but a handful of Dragon Lords left in all the world.
Despite their overwhelming desire to leave Erâth, these last few held council and decided that one of their number should dwell forevermore in the lands of the North, as a final token of respect to the Dragons. Should the Duithèn ever return, or any other threat present itself to the Dragons, he would wake them from their slumber so that they too might escape doom. He would be given eternal life, providing he did not leave the lands of his people.
And so it was that the Dragon Lords fell, and it was the greatest loss to Erâth borne from the War of Darkness.
The Fate of Erârün
The Kingdom of Erârün welcomed the return of their army and their king, and the tale of Daevàr, slayer of the king of Darkness, spread far and wide and became legend. Great monuments were erected to honor the memory of the fallen, and a stone likeness of the king some fifty feet high was raised outside the walls of Vira Weitor. A statue of Starüd, king of Kiriün, was raised also beside this, to honor his fall in their kingdom. For many years, there was prosperity, and the men of Erârün began the process of rebuilding their broken homes.
But the age of prosperity was not to last. Daevàr could not forget the shame of his deception of Starüd, and knew that Starüd’s death was at least in some part of his own making. He withdrew increasingly from the ruling of his people, leaving his duties to his aides and counsellors. He found he could not look out from the towers of Vira Weitor without deep bitterness and shame, and knew that he must leave his kingdom.
After many years, he slipped unnoticed past the borders of Erârün to the South, and was not seen again. He left in his place Lord Farath, whose rule was not that of his own. Farath was unable to see what might lay ahead for the people of Erârün, and instead saw only that, should they not rebuild, the kingdom of Erârün would fall. Sadly, he was also not unaffected by the sudden power vested in him by Daevàr’s abdication, and found that this power could be used for his own gain. As such, the city of Vira Weitor grew ever greater, while the rest of Erârün grew ever poorer.
The people of Erârün grew discontent, and felt betrayed by Daevàr for leaving them in the faltering rule of Farath, who they would not call king. Farath, who was soon interested only in his own gain, did not quell the unrest of his people, and soon outright rebellion was upon the land.
The people of Erârün sought to overturn Farath’s rule, but his army was now loyal to him, and quickly subdued any uprising that emerged. Violence continued to mount, and culminated in a march of some hundreds upon the city of Vira Weitor. The soldiers of Farath stood their ground, and the blood of many peasants was shed on the fields, but not before the statue of Daevàr was brought to the ground, and that of Starüd beheaded. It was as great a tragedy as that country had ever seen, worse than the losses during the War of Darkness for the deaths of so many were wrought by their own kinsmen.
Before the violence could mount higher, though, Farath died suddenly in mysterious circumstances. Many have since implicated his son, who was cunning, and took over the rule of Erârün in his stead. Durath was not benevolent, but he had insight and wisdom, and saw that the kingdom of Erârün was on the verge of destroying itself. He met with the people of the land in person, and vowed to make things right. His speech was soothing, and the people of Erârün were comforted. They returned to the fields and the mills, and did not see that Durath had in so calming them assured his lordship of Erârün.
Much of the work of restoration ceased from that point onwards, and all but a few of the coastal towns were abandoned, some crumbling into the sea as had the cliffs of Falèn. The great aqueduct that had been rent to flood the armies of Aélûr was left in ruins, the waters of the mountains flowing over its broken edge and onwards evermore to the Sea of Aélûr. It never recovered from the darkness of the Duithèn, and was henceforth known as the Black River.
The line of Farath was now assured as lords of Erârün, and for the rest of that Age governed the people of Erârün.
The Fate of Kiriün
Kiriün was struck harder by the War, with both the loss of many men and their king, in a foreign country. Starüd’s son, Kirüd, became king of Kiriün and would have nothing more to do with the kingdom of Erârün, whom he felt had betrayed his father. The battle-weary soldiers of Kiriün, returning home, found their lands now embittered against the very men they had fought and died side by side with. They knew the courage and the glory of the men of Erârün, but the people would not hear them. Sadly, they turned to the rebuilding of their own kingdom, and slowly the alliance between Kiriün and Erârün was forgotten.
But Kirüd was not content with ceasing trade and relations with Erârün. So deeply did he believe in the corruption of that kingdom that he sought to protect his own at any cost, and began the building of a great wall to separate the two kingdoms. From the low mountains to the South, stretching fifty leagues to the Reinkraag, a barrier fifty feet high and twenty feet wide in places was erected, effectively cutting off Erârün from Kiriün completely. The building of the wall took many decades, and continued beyond the life of Kirüd. His grandson, Kiriâr, oversaw the completion of the wall, by which time most had forgotten the nature of Erârün entirely, and that other kingdom was well into its own decline under the rule of the line of Farath.
Without trade, Kiriün grew poor, and their people hungered throughout the year. Their crops were less abundant, and many villages died out or were abandoned. Despite their desire to oppose Erârün in manner and philosophy, the people of Kiriün grew likewise into despair, and soon they too became a sparse population. At their worst, some 50,000 people only remained in each kingdom, though those numbers have grown again since.
The line of Starüd remained unbroken in the kingdom of Kiriün, and unlike Erârün remained gentle in their rule. Like Starüd, though, his descendants lacked great conviction or will, and saw only to the survival of their people, and did not care for rebuilding or the rising of their kingdom once more. Always a wary eye was kept to the East, uncertain of the intentions of Erârün. Though many miles of plain separated the wall from the nearest villages of Kiriün, soldiers nonetheless patrolled the wall, though sparsely, ensuring the defense of their kingdom. Only one portal existed in all the hundreds of miles of that great barrier, and it was kept ever closed to those wishing to cross it in any direction.
For many hundreds of years, Kiriün declined, and then remained where it was. Year upon year its people worked, lived and died, and the memory of the War faded, as it did in the thoughts of all men. But the resentment and bitterness lived on, even if the reasons behind it were forgotten. Such is the fate of men, that grievances be carried across generations, and betrayal is never forgotten.
So the kingdom of Kiriün fell into decline, and lived poorly through the Third Age.
The Fate of the Hochträe
Since the founding days of Hochträe after the fall of the First Age, the people of the mountains had kept largely to themselves, and shunned the world outside and around them. They were the only realm of men to not pursue martial skills as they rebuilt their lands in the early centuries of the Second Age. Instead, they chose to devote themselves to the restoration of what land they could, living only in the high peaks of Thaeìn’s tallest mountains. This can perhaps be traced back to their origins before the ruin of the First Age, as a notable people of peace.
It was for this reason that the people of Hochträe were unable to be corrupted by the Duithèn; they bore no great skill in fighting, nor even a strong will to resist their darkness. They merely turned away from the Duithèn, and ignored them. This infuriated the Duithèn, who then moved on to devastate the kingdoms of Erârün and Kiriün to the South, but they were powerless to being any real harm to Hochträe.
As such, Hochträe was uninvolved in the War of Darkness, and were largely unaffected by it. The Threads of the Duithèn between Aélûr and Cathaï, while they existed, wound far to the North and the South, and avoided their land entirely. The Hochträe had little interest in the battles of other men, in any case; they did not heed the cares of other kingdoms, and would be content should all the race of men but themselves fall to darkness.
So isolated was their existence that it did not even enter Daevàr’s mind, as he was preparing for war, that the people of the mountains might come to their aid. Few people considered them, and for many they were little more than a myth, an entertaining tale told by the fire. And so while the War of Darkness raged and the blood of men was spilled, Hochträe looked down from their monasteries and wondered that men could hate each other so.
The people of Hochträe, having ignored the Duithèn and the battles of men, turned back to their own, and for a while lived once more in peace. But they had not reckoned on the men of Aélûr, the skøltär and the other beasts of Aélûr that had been estranged in Thaeìn and fled to the mountains – the same they called home. Within a matter of decades, the people of Hochträe found themselves faced with a sudden new threat, and while the kingdoms of Erârün and Kiriün were rebuilding, they waged war of their own.
Though the people of Hochträe had little skill in war, they nonetheless devised cunning ways to defeat the creatures of Darkness that now sought to encroach upon their lands. After the first of their villages fell to these creatures, they knew they must have a way of calling for aid; a messenger on foot could take three weeks to travel from one village to another, and by the time an entire host returned, the village was burned, its people slaughtered. They soon began to erect great structures of wood near the highest of their peaks, and crafted into them a system of lenses and mirrors, that could focus the light of the sun and direct it in almost any direction they desired. Should the sky be darkened, fires could be lit beneath, and again their light sent far across the valleys. Within hours a warning call could be received hundreds of miles away, and the people of Hochträe could rally in short order.
Another invention of Hochträe, unique in the world since the fall of the First Age, were flying machines. They discovered that when the air inside a thin structure lined with canvas was warmed, it would rise high into the air. They soon crafted ways of securing baskets and platforms to these structures, and could float far across the valleys from peak to peak. With aid from large fans, they were able to direct these air vessels as they pleased, and these formed a formidable defense against the creatures of darkness. The people of Hochträe were able to hurl stones and arrows down upon their hosts, yet remain far out of reach of the greatest of their weapons.
The invasions of the creatures of Darkness into Hochträe lasted for some hundred years, and eventually began to diminish. The Hochträe had successfully defended themselves, but had in the process learnt the art of killing. Despite having had little other recourse, the people of the mountains felt a great shame at having become masters of war, and vowed that they would never descend from their sanctuaries, lest they be tempted to enter into battle once more.
The Forgotten Valleys
When Daevàr left the kingdom of Erârün, he journeyed for many years alone, passing aimlessly through villages and into the wilderness. He saw around him the evidence of war; where he crossed battle fields, the bodies yet lay where they had fallen, decayed now to skulls and bones. Shields and swords there were also, but he took none for himself, vowing that he would not fight again, should his very life be at stake.
With such death and destruction surrounding him, it was a great astonishment when, after many years isolated in the wilderness of Thaeìn, past the low mountains to the South, he came across a place nestled among the foothills and fields that appeared utterly unspoiled by darkness, death or disease. It was spring when he first came into this land, and he was struck by the simple beauty of the land. It seemed that the sun nearly always shone, and the trees bore untainted fruit and the brooks flowed clear and clean.
It seemed such a place should not exist in such a world of darkness, and so Daevàr named it Consolation, and it gladdened him to know that perhaps all had not been lost. Daevàr of course knew nothing of the failing rule of Farath.
Daevàr built a simple house, and lived in that land, forgotten, unto the end of his days. But he did not die alone; gradually, others found their way to the land, and Daevàr welcomed them to Consolation. They did not recognize him for their old king, and he did not remind them. Together, they began to build a small town, and vowed that they would not grow to the likes of Erârün, and would remain hidden from the rest of Men. Almost no one ever left Consolation, and those who wandered there found such welcome and grace that they too were enlightened, and stayed.
So grew the realm of the forgotten valleys, and it remained Consolation throughout the Third Age. Long after Daevàr had died, the village around his old home was known as Daevàr’s Hut, even after it was home to many hundreds and the house the old king had built was long gone. The men of Consolation spread out from there, and the valley became filled with farms and towns – all small, and unambitious. The people of Consolation built only what they needed, farmed only what they could use, and found their lives remarkably improved for it. Over time, the valleys rang with a sound unheard since the Age of Light – the laughter of children.
Consolation was a good place, and a secret one. Bordered by mountains on the North and hills to the East, West and South, it remained unknown to the rest of Thaeìn, and indeed, Erâth. The people there lived through the centuries contentedly, becoming increasingly sedentary, until memory of the outside world had faded. There were occasionally those who would journey beyond the borders of their land, but few returned, and those that did reported little. The people of Consolation began to believe they might be the only living men in Erâth, and this did not bother them much. In return, the world outside fell and declined, and knew nothing of Consolation.